Quick: tell me three things about South Dakota!
It’s okay if you can’t. Mom could only come up with 2 things, and I had never even heard of South Dakota before we got here. Anyway, it turns out that South Dakota is such a rad place that Mom and I decided to stay here for an extra day to hike a longer version of the trail that had been hidden behind the blizzard the day before.
Sometimes walking in white dirt can be a real slog when it sucks up your legs and tries to pull you into the ground with slips and sucks, but South Dakota was supportive of our hiking. Even though it had snowed the night before and everything was covered with a fresh suggestion of white dirt, we walked on it as if we were regular dirt. Now that there was sunshine, the rocks that were craggier than Clint Eastwood’s cheeks were decorated with sparkles that twinkled in the sunlight, as the fresh white dirt did on the ground.
When we got to the rock where Mom had done sledding without a sled, we stayed on the solid white ground and snuck behind the mountain instead. What we found back there were even more mountains shaped like a brand new packet of fresh hotdogs. Behind them, regular-shaped mountains lumped into the distance, and beyond them the prairie spread out into forever. “I thought this whole state was prairie before we got here,” Mom said. “Prairie, and I guess Mt. Rushmore.”
“What’s Mt. Rashmore?” I asked.
“It’s a mountain with the faces of three important presidents: Washington, Lincoln and Jefferson,” Mom explained. “And Teddy Roosevelt is on there too for some reason.”
“Wow! What a coincidence that the mountain just so happened to look like those 4 famous Americans. Cheesology sure is amazing. Can you imagine if Aaron Burr won instead of Jefferson? That would sure be weird. Then the mountain would just be 4 guys, 3 of whom happened to be presidents. Or, what if it was George Washington, Harriet Tubman, Joan of Arc, and Alanis Morrisette? People would have been SO confused until 1995!”
“Um, it’s a sculpture. A really, really big sculpture,” Mom said.
“Oh. That’s kind of weird.”
The main event of this trail was a climb to a castle on top of a tall mountain, but to get to the castle we would have to walk an extra mile off the main loop, and honestly I was getting a little tired and Mom’s whining was getting a little tiresome after so many weeks of exploring. Mom had stopped taking out hats for pictures, and when she asked me to stop I usually just lay down and rested while she did her ceremonial dance, chanting my name and snapping her fingers. The vim had gone out of her dance too, and now she mostly just waved The Witch and me and then kept moving. So we weren’t going to climb to the castle, we really weren’t… But then Mom was just so enchanted with staring at the rock-hotdog (“rockdog?”) bunches of South Dakota that when it was time to take the shortcut, she followed the signs to the castle instead.
We climbed out of the trees and into the bright sun that only shines that intensely on the highest ground around. Then, the trail cut into the rock in the shape of a staircase. I felt like I was accompanying Tyrion Lannister up the Giant’s Spear to the Eyrie (Mom was Tyrion, of course). I really hoped that this castle didn’t have a moon gate, where an evil queen could kick dogs that made her insecure all the way to the prairie below. Mom would really freak out if there was something like that up there, since she’s really bad with heights (even the inert ones). As we got higher, Mom’s movements got smaller and smaller until we were standing at the place where the mountain stopped and only the steps to the castle remained to climb. Inch by inch, Mom became paralysed.
“Come on, Mom! Let’s go see the castle!” I said, looking curiously up the stairs.
“It’s just some crummy fire lookout,” Mom said, shrinking lower to the ground before my eyes.
“No! I bet it’s a castle and there’s a throne in there and everything!”
“Get away from there!” Mom squawked.
“I’m not even close to the edge,” I pointed out. “The edge is behind you, see?” When Mom looked behind her, she crouched even closer to the ground.
“Yes, we are close to the edge. We must be 1000 feet up, and it’s icy. And there’s snow on everything so we can’t see where there are holes.”
“There are railings,” I showed her.
“GET BACK FROM THERE!” she screamed. When Mom gets like that, there’s nothing to do but lead her slowly back down to where the ground is more traditional. So we turned away at the castle’s gate and crept back down to where Mom could walk and speak normally.
Soon, we met a dog and his man. We had seen them earlier in the car kennel, but because of stranger danger we had pretended we couldn’t see them and walked past as if they were invisible. Now that we were on a trail (where strangers are allowed to talk to each other), the stranger explained that he was another refugee from Michigan, and he and his man were living out of their truck and hiking around the country until it was safe to go home again, just like us. “Have you been to the Badlands,” The Man asked Mom.
“No. I don’t even know what the Badlands are…” Mom said.
“Oh man, you’ve got to go to the Badlands,” the Man said, like the Badlands were made of the most delicious cheese and bacon he’d ever tasted. “It’s only like an hour away. You can’t go home until you’ve visited them.”
“But what are they?” Mom asked again.
The Man took out his Witch to show Mom what a Badlands was. She took a mini step back as he held out his arm to show her. Looking at the same Witch was a sure way to get hexed with the boogeyvirus.
As we walked away from The Man, I asked, “So, Mom, what is a Badlands?”
“I’m not really sure,” she thought. “Most of what he tried to show me was a video selfie of him talking about napping in his car. All I saw was something like a canyon in the window behind him.”
“Let’s look it up when The Witch is talking to us again,” I suggested.