It was the summer of ’76 (yes, 1976: I’m not that old) my wife, soon to be six year old son Ken, Jr., and I lived in Eagan Township, a suburb of the Twin Cities in Minnesota. All three of us are Easterners by birth, and we decided to celebrate the Bicentennial that late spring by taking a camping trip across the prairie, emulating the treks of the pioneers a hundred years before.
(The more perceptive of you are already shaking your heads and bracing yourselves for the impending crash…)
Before we left, we went to the local Sears and Roebuck’s to purchase some new camping gear. What did Mr. Sears ever do with Mr. Roebuck, anyway? Do you know? I sure don’t. He’s probably in the same place that Mr. Montgomery put Mr. Ward. Same place the K-Mart folks will be putting Mr. Sears before too long, come to think of it.
I bought all the equipment we needed: a tent, three sleeping bags and air mattresses, a small outdoor stove and ice chest, both decorated in the color du jour, avocado green (“See, honey, they look just like your fridge and oven at home, don’t they?”) and a few sundries. They all bore the endorsement of legendary Boston Red Sox outfielder Ted Williams, a personal hero of mine, so I knew they had to be of the very best quality and utility.
We packed my compact Audi Fox sedan and headed south on I-35 to the scenic town of Albert Lea, Minnesota, thence west on I-90 to our first overnight stop, Sioux Falls, South Dakota. We pulled into a campground, where I began to set up our tent, “assisted” by not quite six year old Ken, Jr. My wife contented herself with the role of spectator, laughing and cheering with irony. I read and puzzled over the instructions for assembly (I meant to put it together in the back yard for practice before we left, I swear I did.) Fortunately, a friendly but slightly scary looking, in a Paul Bunyan way, dude came over and offered to help me with the tent. With one eye on the tent, one eye on his blue ox Babe, and one eye on my wife, Paul erected the tent with me. He seemed in no hurry to leave, so I offered him a cold Hamm’s (“Brewed in the Land of Sky Blue Waters”) which he opened and consumed in one swift motion. I offered him another with my thanks. He finally caught the hint, and with a last look at my wife, off he went, back to his Wagnerian soprano of a spouse and his two Viking linebacker sons.
The evening passed without incident. We woke up at dawn to the sound of a gentle rain pattering the canvas. We decided to break camp, pack up, and move on down the road to our next destination, Chamberlain, South Dakota, on the banks of the mighty Missouri River.
Unfortunately, our campground appeared to be under the mighty Missouri, as the gentle morning rain turned into a torrential, forty-day-and-forty-night, build-an-ark kind of downpour, making pitching a tent, with or without a leering Paul Bunyan to assist me, problematic. I drove into what the folks in Chamberlain colloquially call “town” and found a motel room for the night.
The next morning, we pushed on to our main stop, Rapid City and the Black Hills. Fortunately for us, the rain had stopped by this time. Unfortunately, it was replaced by a gentle… SNOW! Overnight temperatures were forecast to plunge into the low 30’s; this was early June, mind. Once again, we were forced to stay in a motel. With limited funds due to the purchase of my super-duper, Ted Williams-endorsed and now useless camping gear, we stayed at the Peacock Motor Lodge. VACANCY, the sign proclaimed. Rooms for let—with roaches, $4, without, $8. You know the kind of place.
The rest of the trip went without much incident. By the time it was over, we had been underwhelmed by the Corn Palace in Mitchell, S.D., overwhelmed by the Badlands, underwhelmed again by the carvings on Mount Rushmore (I had pictured them much bigger than they were,) and experienced the urban splendor of Pierre, Bismarck, and, yah, sure, you betcha, Fargo.
Oh—the Audi picked up a crack in its windshield that I didn’t notice until I flipped up the sun visor somewhere in SoDak…
Road Trip from Hell
© 2008, Kenneth M. Rhodes
16 August 2008
*If you are interested in reading more of Kenneth M. Rhodes works please go to http://nc_penman.writing.com/
(Kenneth M. Rhodes 1950-2009)