Road Trip XI, Days 37-42: Dancing Madly Across the Midwest, Or, Team o’ Destiny, Now with Extra Scenery!

In case it has, ahem, escaped your attention, last week (March 29) marked the 40th anniversary of the Carolina Tarheels’ first national championship, in 1982. That date matters quite a bit to The Mate, and even more to me, because that’s the day Michael Jordan baptized me into Tarheel fandom with what’s known as “The Shot.”

The rest is history. (Photo courtesy NCAA.com)

Up till then I had been more of a Duke fan if anything, but being back in Chapel Hill, on spring break from college, when The Shot fell–that was total immersion. I’ve never lapsed.

Fast-forward 40 years and six days, and guess what: our team is once more playing for the national title…in the same exact city where MJ helped them win in 1982.

Now, in case you’re someone for whom college sports means little or nothing, I’ll just briefly refer to a certain rivalry game that occurred last night, where a certain 42-years-tenured coach of a certain rival school to UNC ended his career–or rather, had it ended–by those selfsame Tarheels. Not sure if I speak for all Carolina fans, but truly, for me, if “we” lose tomorrow, I won’t care so much, because “we” already beat Duke twice on the most blaringly national stage possible.

But I’m still looking forward to one more day of sports babble, one more evening of texting far-flung fellow fans while alternately cheering and doing calisthenics for extra mojo.

We’ve even taught some of our friends this trick. Pushups work best!

Amidst the madness, however, Road Trip XI continues! We left Milwaukee last Tuesday, and spent two cold & dank but otherwise VERY happy days at the home of old friends with lots of dogs and cats. The Mate & I managed one uncomfortably windy ride along the Mississippi, and then relaxed with critters and pie.

UNC pie!

Leaving the frozen north for the slightly-less-frozen latitude of I-90, we crossed into South Dakota and chose Sioux Falls for a recreation stop. It was too windy to ride, so we decided on a walk–till our first glimpse of the falls stopped us in our tracks.

Seriously??? How have I gone so long without knowing about this place?

The more you explore, the more waterfalls you find.

RiDICulously intricate: like a flattened, pinkish Rivendell

However, when I stopped to read the signage, my awe changed to sorrow. Turns out that incredible sight is actually a remnant, blasted and quarried to a shadow of its former self. A view from the observation tower provided the gritty perspective of the whole scene, surrounded by the ugliness of industry.

“But can I blame those white folks from 140 years ago?” I thought. “They were so excited about electricity. How are they any different from me, driving across the country using fossil fuel even when I know better too?”

We drove on, sobered by these thoughts despite the thrill of that beautiful pink water garden. Crossing the Missouri River, I glimpsed yucca plants, and decided: It’s official–we’re back in the west!

Missouri + yucca = West!

But from there, the land got REAL western. As in bad. As in Badlands.

RAVie posing for her car commercial

We’d driven through the Badlands decades ago, in the summer. This time, entering under rainy skies, we made a startling discovery: those jaw-dropping crags aren’t made of natural cement, as they appear. They’re made of MUD.

This kind of mud.

So every drop of rain simply reduces each elegant, striated mountain into, eventually, something like this:

I’m mellllting!

Trying to hike across this stuff was like trying to hike on oiled ice. I’ve never felt any substance so slick. The Mate & I managed a couple of miles, hiking as much sideways as forward, trying to stay on grasses…

…with limited success…

Somehow it never looks like this in those Westerns!

…but eventually we gave up and tried a shorter, drier trail. This one featured some fun obstacles, like

Yikes. Even more so coming down.

…but also some amazing color.

What’s so bad about this?

Speaking of color, just a glimpse at the Yellow Mounds on our way out:

Makes me want to eat a popsicle

Seriously, this park is one of the most accessible in the country: just a stone’s throw off the interstate, and entirely driveable.

But on foot–so much the better!

And oh yeah, it comes with bighorn sheep.

I did not photograph what happened next.

We finished up that day by driving into South Dakota’s Black Hills. Since we knew nothing about this area, I booked a motel with full kitchen for three days so we could explore. And oh my goodness, did we ever.

We started with the George Mickleson Trail, a state-run, 109-mile rail-trail that winds through some of the most amazing scenery any bike trail gets to boast of.

Yeah.

Unfortunately, the snow patches kept increasing in size as we rode, making me nervous. Liza’s tires did great, but she’s no mountain bike, and I really didn’t want to fall. So we called it quits after 90 minutes of so, but 100% we’ll be back in a warmer season if we’re ever able.

Although leafy aspens can’t be any prettier than this, can they?

The Black Hills are most famous for Mt. Rushmore, but we didn’t care to visit. That’s just no way to treat a mountain, in my opinion. We did glimpse the Crazy Horse work-in-progress from a ways off…

a LONG ways off!

…but didn’t opt for the tour. I do feel better about that monument, since a Lakota leader commissioned it, but still…I prefer my mountains whole, thank you. Which is why I fell deeply in love with nearby Custer State Park.

If only it weren’t named after a war criminal! But that’s not the mountains’ fault.

Sylvan Lake is dammed, but that’s not its fault either.

The dam itself is breathtaking to walk out onto. But…where does the trail go?

Oh. Gonna need a sharper set of hiking poles.

Heading out of the park, I snapped a shot of the single-car “tunnel” which gives some indication of the ultra-mountainy road up to the park. And lo and behold, what does that dashcam shot show but…

…our Tarheels, journeying with us through all the mountain beauty.

So…go mountains. Go Heels. Go tradition, and marriage, and teamwork, and the Church of the Great Outdoors.

But Monday night, in New Orleans? Especially, Go Heels!!!!!

6 thoughts on “Road Trip XI, Days 37-42: Dancing Madly Across the Midwest, Or, Team o’ Destiny, Now with Extra Scenery!

  1. Thanks, Mark! Fun fact: one of my earliest Tarheel memories, before I cared about such things, was of you turning on the ACC tournament during class…probably circa 1977. I thought it was all so silly back then…🙄

  2. Wow, you guys did SO much on your trip! We fell in love with the Badlands and Custer State Park, and felt exactly the same as you did about visiting Mt. Rushmore (didn’t do it). But we did happen to be at Crazy Horse during a Volksmarch, and that was an interesting experience to hike up to and onto the monument. You certainly don’t let snow/mud/cold weather slow you down!

  3. I think I remember that post of yours about the Volksmarch! I’d definitely do that too. As to not being slowed down…lately that feels less and less true, as the poor ol’ planet spins ever-crazier weather our way. Not her fault! But home is starting to feel further away than we wish… Thanks for visiting, as always!

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