There’s a buffalo outside my tent and it’s getting closer. Actually, there’s a whole herd of them. I try to remember the buffalo encounter instructions I read on the informational sign yesterday. More than a little hungover, I can’t remember shit.
I spent the evening partying with a few couples on Grand American National Park tours. The kind of tour we should all do while young, and few of us do. It’s just not the same if you go after retirement when you can afford an RV.
Badlands is beautiful territory. I spent a good part of two days riding gravel roads, yelling back at plague-ridden prairie dogs and making up stupid songs. Then the wind shifted and suddenly riding further into the park felt like a bad idea. In the historical fiction novel I’d been reading, The Personal History of Rachel Dupree, the main character is constantly worrying about wind and water and the survival of her remaining children. This isn’t a place to mess around. I didn’t have enough water and the streams I passed were too muddy to pump from.
My route for the next few days followed Highway 14 East. The wind was howling out of the north, which makes for lopsided leaning. If I angled myself right, my bike caught the wind like a funky sail and gave me an extra kick. Occasional gusts of wind and passing trucks made it extra exciting.
I learned how to find campsites in small towns. Basically, go ask someone. I ended up a fishing spots and playgrounds. I found out the hard way that anything near a grain elevator is bound to be noisy. Especially when the trains pull in at 5am. I am still obsessed with the grain elevators, possibly because they make me nostalgic for some Fisher Price toys I played with as a child.
At Midvale I turned north, directly into the wind tunnel. Due to the slightly hilly geography, I could see practically the whole 22 miles laid out straight ahead of me. For 15 miles I yelled right back at the wind. I can only imagine what Dave thought when he pulled up. I’d talked him into joining me for a weekend of riding. I’m sure I looked completely insane by then.
For two days I had a tour guide to explain all the mysterious farm stuff. And more about shooting animals than I ever wanted to know. We camped at a fishing pond and explored a farmer’s field and stopped to look at wagon ruts and baby cows. The wrong cycling partner can really bum out my trip but the right one makes it so much better. Except when they leave.
Dave told me that a woman had been gored by a buffalo a few days ago in Custer. The newspaper account said she had ‘approached’ the animal. The Park Rangers reiterated that you shouldn’t do that. They recommend staying at least 200 feet away. I guess I broke that rule but the buffalo started it. I was just sitting there in my tent, reading a book and eating granola.
I stopped taking pictures when the buffalo started to look at me. At that point, I was certain that my photos would end up on a “Pictures Taken One Minute Before Death” clickbait list. I scooted further back into my tent and tried to look really boring. I considered zipping up the door, but having a herd of thousand-pound animals around me and not being able to see them would be too scary. Anyway, a thin layer of Big Agnes nylon was not going to stop a charging buffalo. The buffalo at the door snorted. Another one to the side answered.
Then they left.