I was so focused on writing my post last night that it wasn’t until I was ready to go to bed that I saw that the window of my room was wet and that the rain was still coming down hard. This morning, when I looked out, the rain had stopped but the sky was low and ominous. (An aside: If you’re getting these by email, the pictures don’t come out nearly as well as if you look at the post on the website.) In the breakfast area of the hotel, various Weather Channel forecasters silently warned of impending disasters in what seemed like every section of the country, including the one I was about to drive through, which had a “severe thunderstorm watch.” I googled what to do when driving in a thunderstorm. Keep driving if there’s nowhere else you can get inside. Just don’t touch anything metal. I also learned what else not to do when there’s lightning: poop. Really.
So I rescued my ice packs from the lobby freezer which Robert the night clerk had been kind enough to let me use (no freezer in room fridges) and was on the road by ten, with a full tank of gas and a clean windshield (one thing I’ve learned on this trip is to travel with a spray bottle of window cleaner), and a minimum of five and a half hours of driving in front of me. The rain came a little over an hour later, thick and heavy, and I dropped my speed to a manageable seventy (my relationship to speed has changed in four days).
One of the benefits of having lived in Seattle for twenty-eight years is a lot of practice driving in the rain (though it doesn’t rain nearly as much there as people think it does) but I was still grateful when it stopped after less than an hour and the skies began to clear and I made my first stop of the day at a beautifully designed rest stop. The air was soft, the sun was warm. Expansive was the word that came as I walked in the gentleness I felt all around me. I felt my heart opening some more and wished I had time to stay there and really soak it in. This was not what I expected to feel in South Dakota.
I considered taking a side trip to see Mt. Rushmore and even flirted with the idea of driving through Sturgis (I’m not sure what I thought I would see there), but instead took my daughter-in-law’s advice to take the 30-mile loop through the Badlands. You get there by going through the town of Wall, the major features of which were giant metal grain silos and Wall Drug, which was like a mixture of downtown Las Vegas in the ’70s and Seattle’s Pike Place Market, only with gun paraphernalia. It was the perfect place to get gifts for the grandkids (Socks, their dad said, they’d like socks and, thanks to modern technology, he could help me choose them.)
With the exception of some industrial eyesores I passed along the way, I don’t think there is anything I’ve seen that hasn’t had its own wondrous beauty. But nothing compared to that 30-mile loop through the Badlands.
If I’d thought I wanted to spend more time at the rest stop, well, multiply that many times over to get a sense of how much I wanted to linger in the Badlands. But the sky was growing threatening again and I had almost three hours of driving left, so I acted the part of the grownup and made myself stop stopping.
Tomorrow is my last day on the road. It’s only about four and a half hours to Minneapolis, so I plan to stop at the world’s only Corn Palace before I head out of Mitchell in the morning. I know my friends will be relieved when I am no longer a speck on their Find My maps (I love that they’re tracking my progress) and I have much to look forward to when I arrive in my new city.
But I confess to having very mixed feelings about this trip ending. Yes, I am very tired. Yes, many of the hours behind the wheel have had their challenges. But I have loved the emptiness all around me, an emptiness that felt full with an invisible life force. There is a depth to the silence that I haven’t experienced before, a thrumming underneath that I could feel if not hear. I loved learning the ways of the road, seeing the courtesy extended other drivers when merging or passing. I have a different relationship with semis, partly because I know that most of my worldly goods will soon be traveling in one on this same interstate.
Tonight, about thirty miles out of Mitchell, the rain started thick and heavy again, and the truck that I had just passed at 80 came around my left and pulled in front of me when I slowed to 65. It was dark by then and I was grateful when the rain stopped after about fifteen minutes. But I kept that truck in front of me, its lights guiding me, anchoring me to the road, helping me find my way home.