Wednesday, September 9, 2009

On The Road - For Real

While we’ve been officially living in our RV since July 22, on Monday September 7 we began our “for real” start of life on the road. We departed Dale, WI and made our way into MN stopping at the Hope Oak Knoll Campground south of Owatonna where we spent our first night. Our site was a pull-through so we didn’t have to unhitch the trailer. Charlie, the campground owner, took us under his wing and guided us to our site after checking us in. With the Labor Day weekend winding down we had no trouble finding a spot. And true to its name, the park was loaded with mature oak trees (Burr Oaks). It was breezy and quiet as we sat sipping Altano Duro, a French red wine. 2006 vintage for those who keep track of such things.

Since we had never un-hitched, preparation was minimal before we departed on Tuesday morning. We stopped for breakfast at the newly remodeled “DJ’s Café” in New Ulm, MN on Highway 14 (well worth a stop). This is a town with a decidedly strong German flavor. The New Ulm Chamber’s booklet stated that the town touts having the “second oldest family-owned brewery” in the nation, the August Schell Brewery (oldest bragging rights go to the Yuengling Brewery, Pottsiville, PA). The brewery offered seasonal tours, the last ending on Labor Day weekend. Too bad we missed the cutoff, however, touring a brewery didn’t seem too appetizing at 9:00 a.m. The B&L Bar advertised that it has the “world’s largest selection” of Schell’s on tap. That may be the case and might have been open and worth a stop. Charles, Tom’s son-in-law would likely have enjoyed getting a brewery label. Perhaps during another swing through New Ulm.

By 2:15 we pulled into Huron, SD, birthplace of Cheryl Ladd (Cheryl Jean Stoppelmoor). Who knew? We setup in the “Memorial Park” campground situated on the city’s northeast corner alongside the James River. The site wasn’t nearly as scenic as Hope Oak. Pulling into our site reminded us of pulling into a spot at the outdoor theater – side-by-side on gravel sites. Behind our site was an earthen levee with a walking trail. One can imagine the park underwater when the James River crested its flood stage. The weather service issued a flood warning in March of this year but that the river would only crest its flood stage by a half foot. We assumed that the top of the levee was the top of the flood stage? The evening weather forecast was for thunderstorms, possibly severe.

Late Tuesday evening through early Wednesday morning the Huron area was hit with heavy rain and plenty of lightning and thunder. Not so much as to cause any real alarm. The rain stopped before we left but it still made for a messy take down (wiping cords, hoses, drying the slide-out before we departed). Next stop: Wall, SD.

We made a gas and breakfast stop in Highmore, SD at the “D&K Outpost” café on highway 14. The café walls were adorned with lots of western icons (saddles, horns, heads of long dead game). Descriptive menu breakfast selections included words like “the cowboy”, “the cowgirl, “the trucker”, and “the biker”. Oddly, references to “the birder” or “the full-timer” were absent.

We arrived in Wall, SD an hour earlier than expected. We’d forgotten that the west half of SD is Mountain Time (just east of Pierre, SD when traveling Hwy 14). Everyone should visit Wall at least once in their lifetime. At the every least, to validate the seemingly endless catchy (and not so catchy) highway billboards seen long before reaching Wall. This will be my third stop in Wall over the course of 50 years. Anyone who has traveled west and stopped at Wall might be wondering, “why Wall?”. Or, “why Wall again?”.

First, it put us within easy striking distance of Rapid City where we plan to spend a few days assimilating into becoming residents of the “Great Faces, Great Places” state. Second, we hoped to catch up with long-time friend, G. David Jones. Tom met Dave in the 70’s when Dave worked at Conkey’s Bookstore. It was Dave who suggested (and courageously vouched for) Tom when Tom applied for part-time work at Conkey’s. We last saw Dave when he was living in Door County. We had heard via a mutual friend that Dave had moved to Wall in 2004.

After parking at the “Sleepy Hollow” campground we phoned Dave and agreed to meet. We found each other in front of the Wall Café (entrance No. 4 for anyone familiar with Wall) and walked in for lunch. We ate under the watchful eye of a life-sized wooden statue of “Chief Gall”, a battle leader of the Hunkpapa Lakota and who played an important role in the Battle of Little Bighorn. On the winning side.

Having been completely taken by the beauty of the Badlands following numerous trips and visits, G. David elected to move to Wall putting him in close proximity with the land that had ensnared him. Anyone who knows Dave for very long knows that he has long harbored a desire to write. The Badlands provided his inspiration and in 2007 Dave published his first book, “The Wall: Christopher in the Badlands”. A Western written in blank verse, it chronicles the story of one man’s journey through the Badlands just before the 20th century. Now one would think with those the crazy Wall billboards that there ought to be one about Dave? Naturally we bought a copy of his book, already signed by the author. We’ll catch up again with him for breakfast. With Chief Gall’s blessings.

Wait a moment! This is a week in September. The last blog entry was in August – where have we been since? Stay tuned for a recounting of our exciting and long overdue visit to “Island A-75, eh?"

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