I wake up to the bubbling voices of my coworkers/compatriots, but as I’m wont to do on mornings where we’ll be departing, I spend the first bit of the morning packing everything up – all I’ll have to do is have my coffee, say goodbye, and then Spesh and I are off on the solo part of our adventure. By the time I’m satisfied with the progress I’ve made, I zip open the tent to find that I’m alone, all the cars gone but ours. Um.
When Spesh returns from the bathroom, he fills me in: the other teams have headed into town to break their fast, visit the nearby animal sanctuary, do town-like things. We, on the other hand, are headed out into the wilds to visit three parks – two National, one State – and we don’t have time to hunt them down. I feel a bit empty – hugless? – as I drink my coffee, pack the car up. Well. That’ll teach me to sleep in I guess.
So first, it’s Bryce Canyon National Park, in weather that threatens the lip of the canyon and then breaks over the edge, spilling snow from the sky onto everything:
The weather means it’s not particularly prudent to drive the dirt road up the length of Capitol Reef National Park as we’d wished, but we do get to drive across it, and with the way it feels like home, I’m surprised that it’s so empty:
Finally, we pull up to camp at Goblin Valley State Park1, and while the signs report that the campground is full, the group site’s open to sharing – and I meet a fellow PCT 2016er at the desk!
The morning comes, and I get to re-make a missed connection – my friend Blackout, also of the Class of 2016, just started working here for the summer; we have a lazy super-busy morning of blog- and email-writing and coffee, waiting out the time until his lunch. He grabs us and a box of Cap’n Crunch once he’s ready, and we perch above the goblins as he shovels cereal into his mouth straight from the box2. He’s done eating pretty quickly, so he takes us on a wee-short loop hike of Carmel Canyon.
We walk ahead of Spesh, look at lizards and flowers, climb the necessary scrambles, and it feels like we haven’t spent nearly a year apart, like we haven’t gone back to our lives, haven’t been off the trail. We’re still walking, both of us, though the paths we’re walking are different now. I’m so thankful for the people we find that are our people, our trail family, in this moment.
And then he’s off, back to work, and we’re off, back on the road.
We spend an evening in civilization with M and A, and then another further along the road with Kurtanna after my dentist appointment that stretches later than I think it will. It’s nothing exciting, as everything goes swimmingly but the anesthetic, but that’s pretty usual for me – I take forever to numb up, but when I do, I’m too numb, and I can’t feel my face for the rest of the evening. Spesh hears entirely too many rounds of Can’t Feel My Face; apparently, it’s only funny the first few times.
After a lovely, lingering morning, wherein I can finally feel most of my face and Kurtanna spends some quality time with us, we’ve gotta hit the road again – it’s about five hours to South Dakota, to Wind Cave National Park, where Spesh intends to get his geology nerd on and I hope to see some cool rock shit.
We both get our wishes in spades.
We wish we could linger longer, but the fragility of the environment means they won’t leave us casuals in the cave alone by ourselves. Le sigh. We spend some time in the museum, reading the interpretive signs, like the one that lauded the two white “discoverers” of the cave when it’s been known to the local native peoples since time immemorial3; looking over the objects on display, like a flyer advertising the “Freak of Nature” cave, a sacred place to the Lakȟóta people, to tourists; watching the movie on the development of the park, that discussed the extinction of the buffalo as the fault of the American Pioneers as opposed to the policy of the United States Army.
It feels like whitewashing, and I’m left pretty off-kilter about it, in wonder that we think it’s alright to give such misinformation to people, particularly kids. The argument, I imagine, is that it’s better than the alternative, spoiling them early to the harshness of the world – but is it? Is it really?
The road has no answers, only more miles.
I’m rolling it around in my head all the way to North Dakota, to the Southern Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, where the gnats bite at our bug headnets until first the rain, then the night, chase them all away.
In the morning, I wake to the sound of hooves half-imagined – we did see feral horses and bison on our way in, maybe I’m projecting – and am greeted with the sight of first one tick, then another, crawling on our tent. Lovely.
We’re super careful packing up, and then, after coffee and another frustrating trip to this park’s museum4, we drive the scenic loop:
I’m calmed by my child-like wonder, but don’t know how I feel about that. We have to be able to enjoy things, I know that, but I’m worried that I’m going to notice things like this for the rest of the year. Maybe that’s more of an argument for indulging in that wonder where I can.
Our time with Theodore’s park is over soon, too soon, but then I could watch feral horses being horses for days. Responsibility calls us north and east, though we do more of the northing than the easting today; we set up camp at Graham’s Island State Park on the shores of Devil’s Lake, and I learn a thing after using their lavishly-appointed comfort stations:
The wind seething through the trees is an adequate metaphor for my feelings, but eventually, it becomes old, tired, overwhelming; sometimes, you just need earplugs to get any rest.
In the morning, wind still fuming, I take the earplugs out and break down camp for another day on the road.
 I smell a breakout post…
 Hikertrash 4 Lyfe
 In the park’s defense, they do tell the Lakȟóta creation story on the tour, it’s (as painful/fucked up as it is to say) tangential to the creation/development of park itself, and there is an art piece that depicts it right next to the sign about the “discoverers”; one can also grab a pamphlet that outlines the story near the work. That said, the interpretive signs near the piece are a bit confusing, and it feels weird to me to place these two things on the same footing as one another – particularly since (a) the entrance the “discoverers” found was so small it would’ve been a helluva lucky find on their own and (b) the native peoples have known where it was for forever. It seems possible that the “discoverers” were told approximately where it was by one of said natives.
 This time, it’s not settlers, but hunters that brought the bison low, and though that’s closer to the truth, it feels like a much more egregious error.