Tag Archives: south dakota

A Pandemic Roadtrip


Rolling hills of NE Wyoming, after the thunderstorm

Recently, I found myself in the Lower 48, with a car and no where to park it.  The smart move was to sell the car in Minnesota, but the lure, and frankly, the need for a road trip was too strong to resist.

The rumor was that Canada would allow Alaskans to cross the border to return back home to Alaska.  There were also several reports, that the final judgement was up to the individual border patrol agent at the port of entry.  I decided to roll the dice, pack up the little 300zx, and drive the car back to Alaska.

This would be the twelfth time I have driven the AlCan, or the Alaska Highway, as it is more commonly known.  I knew it would be a different sort of trip, but I didn’t know what to expect in these anxious times, so it was hard to predict how different it would be.

I drove I-90 across South Dakota.  I have not driven the interstate for ages, as I try to avoid them, when I can.  This trip, it seemed like the smart move.  The interstate made it a lot easier to avoid people, plus I wasn’t sure if the small towns in South Dakota,  Wyoming and Montana would care to see a car zip through with Alaska plates.

Day one’s goal was to get to the Black Hills National Forest, just past Rapid City and into Wyoming.  The weather was hot & sticky, and the air conditioner in the car had recently stopped blowing cold air.  An attempt was made to fix that, but with working windows and a T-Top, I wasn’t overly put out by the heat.  The 90 degree weather did force me to take the top off before I made it out of Minnesota.


Aladdin General Store

I veered off I-90 and took SoDak Hwy 34 near Spearfish.  The hot & humid weather had been building dark storm clouds on my horizon for a while, so I stopped to put the tops back on the roof of the car.  Immediately after, the wind picked up, the sky darkened even more, and the sound of hail hit the recently replaced glass tops.  The cell phone gave me an automated message that I had never seen before: Tornado Warning in your vicinity until 7pm. Then the rain came down in absolute torrents.  I was impressed, but I pressed on.  There was no place to stop anyway.  I followed a truck’s set of taillights as best I could, and continued on.

I eventually drove through the storm, and it was beautiful weather on the west side of the Black Hills.  I stopped briefly in the community of Aladdin, Wyoming: Population 15, Cell Coverage: zero, wonderful country: as far as the eye could see.

Not long after Aladdin was the campground I was looking for in the national forest.  Within minutes, I had started some charcoal, and was setting up camp among the tall pines of the Black Hills.





Mighty Missouri

In hindsight, taking U.S. 212 may not have been the best idea. There were two major detours, which ate up a lot of time and had me seemingly driving around in circles for hours At one point, according to the GPS, I had driven 50 miles only to get one mile closer to my destination. That was discouraging.

Heavy winds had me at 50 mph much of the day and without the overdrive, so the mpg dropped into the dreadful range. The ride at 50 mph on nicely paved roads is actually quite smooth in The Rover. It gives you a lot of time to think, and I hate to admit it, but I spent much of today dreaming about flying down US 212 in my old ’66 LeMans.

The gas tank had developed a seepage from at least one lower corner seam. Frustrating since the tank has been on the truck less than 3 years, but no sense crying over gasoline stains on someone else’s driveway. I tried an odd remedy, and coated both lower seams with Ivory soap. As strange as it sounds, it did stop the leak and when I stopped for the night the tank was still bone-dry on the outside. I have no idea how long it will hold up, and I do have a tube of Seal-All for backup, but so far the bar of Ivory has held its own.

With the late start due to soaping up the gas tank, and with the detours & headwinds, I would have stopped 90 miles back at Fisher Grove, but the park was closed, so I pushed on to Whitlock which edges the Missouri River. By 6:30pm the winds had died down enough to get into overdrive and everyone in SoDak seemed to have gone to dinner. The highway was quiet; I drove for miles and miles where the only things I saw join The Rover on the road were the pheasants. I didn’t realize how much I missed pheasants until I saw them flush from the shoulder as The Rover approached, gliding through the air, then hitting the ground at a run and zipping through the grass with only their tailfeathers showing their route. I do miss pheasants.

I stopped to fill up a couple of towns back. The station was old school, requiring me to pump the gas before I paid for it. I almost forgot how to go about it. When I went inside, someone asked if that was an International I was driving. I told him it was a Land Rover, all the while secretly happy he hadn’t confused it with a Toyota. Eventually, I found out he wanted to buy my truck, so I asked what his offer was. “Are you serious?” He asked. “Yep,” I replied. “Well, I don’t rightly know. What would you take for it?”
“At this particular moment in time, I would take a 1966 Pontiac LeMans with a 326 and a Hurst 4 speed. ” I said.
There was a period of awkward silence, so I added: “I’m not fussy about the color.”