Saturday 10/12: We had received several tips to check out Rapid City, SD and decided to spend one night there and conquer Mt. Rushmore the following day.
We had to take Route 90 from Wall to Rapid City and it was by far one of the toughest we have encountered so far on this trip. Thankfully, Donald had given us a heads up before we started the drive. Even with the warning, nothing could have prepared our hearts for what we were about to see.
As you may recall, South Dakota got hit with a monster blizzard just two weeks prior to our arrival. Four feet of snow, came out of nowhere and left everyone unprepared and in shock. Not only were hundreds of towns left with mounds of snow, many were still left without power when were there – two weeks later. And then there were the farmers. Because the storm was a “freak storm” and unseasonably early, the livestock and animals had not yet gotten their winter coats and fur to keep them warm for the winter months. Thousands, thousands of cattle and horses were killed in the storm.
There was nothing the farmers could do. There was nothing the animals could do.
Because many of the farms line 90, as you drove down in either direction you saw one of two things. Vast open farms for miles and miles without a cow or horse in sight. You knew there were supposed to be cows there, but they didn’t make it and now it was just open grass. And, more heartbreaking, you saw the helpless cattle and horses that didn’t survive. Many of which you saw lined against the fences close to the highway, the assumption is that they were trying to escape and when they got to the fence, had nowhere to go. At some points you would see 10-20 pilled on top of each other in valleys or near the fences, the assumption is that they tried to gather close together to keep warm.
The clean up has begun, but there is still so much that lies ahead for the farmers and these communities. Billions of dollars lost for the farmers, their lives broken apart by mother nature. Not to mention these helpless animals.
Our hearts go out to the families and the farmers who lost so much in this catastrophic storm.
After some time decompressing of what we had just witnessed it was time to park Stella and take a walk around Rapid City and breathe. Rapid City has a small downtown area, exposed brick buildings and western feel.
Although Rapid City is the second largest city in South Dakota, you wouldn’t know it. It is a very spread out city (divided by mountains), the historic downtown feels small and cozy. Because of it’s close proximity to Mt. Rushmore, Rapid City has been nicknamed “City of Presidents.” As you walk throughout downtown, on every corner, you are greeted by life-size statues of our nation’s past presidents. John Quincy Adams, Roosevelt, Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Clinton – they are all there! The City of Presidents project began about 13 years ago to honor and recognize the other Presidents that didn’t get as much face time as those four guys carved into the mountain. Fair enough, right?
We popped into the Firehouse Brewing Company for a snack. Sitting at the bar, watching wedding parties come and go between the ceremony and reception (today was clearly a popular day to get married in Rapid City), we enjoyed talking to several folks from Rapid City including our bartender and the manger of Firehouse.
As a seat opened up next to us, in came Jack Mason. Jack was in his 60s and on his own journey cross country. He was driving his daughters car from Virginia to his son in Vancouver – all by himself! He shared his last two weeks of adventures with us, his love for beer and his humor that had us laughing out loud. Jack reminded us a lot of Michelle’s dad and his great sense of humor and jokes. As small of a world as it is, Jack lives about 25 minutes from where Cate’s sister is in law school. Sharing conversations about breweries and great beer, who would have thought they would be talking about Devil’s Backbone Brewhouse in Lexington, Virginia – a favorite of Jack’s and of Cate’s sister Julie. Small world indeed.
Unfortunately, we didn’t know anyone in Rapid City, which meant it was a hotel night for us. After scourging different websites and checking prices, we headed over to the MainStay Suites. Once again, someone was looking down on us and decided that we needed to get a little lost on the way to the hotel before checking in.
Michelle waited in the car while Cate went to check us in (aka make sure they had a room available). As she was patiently waiting the front desk clerk said to the young man checking in before us (looking at his license); “Oh New York, how is upstate New York?”
Nice young gentleman: “Oh, I am not from Upstate, I lived in Manhattan.”
(Cate’s ears perk up)
Which lead to Cate kindly interjecting herself into the conversation to ask where in Manhattan and what in the world he was doing in Rapid City.
Meet Ben. Ben is our age, was living in downtown Manhattan. After working for 8 years in NYC in a very demanding job, he decided it was time for a change. He quit his job, started making plans and jumped in the car. He has been traveling across the US the last three weeks and hopes to get to San Francisco by the end of the month to meet up with some friends before continuing his travels.
Sound familiar? Yah, exactly.
We spent some time with Ben, talking about New York, each of our separate travels (where we have probably been in the same towns or the same highways), what’s next for all of us and the possibility of meeting up on the West Coast. It’s kinda wild to think that we lived less than 10 miles from Ben in NYC for years and years and it took us getting to Rapid City (and getting lost) to meet each other. He was just about finished checking in, if we had been 5 minutes later, we probably never would have met.
We have been keeping in touch with Ben throughout the last two weeks and hoping to see him in Oregon or Washington or California.
Also, if you find yourself in Rapid City for whatever reason, head to the MainStay Suites. Not only are the rooms uber clean and cozy and comfortable (and have full kitchens), the breakfast is unreal. Fresh fruit, oatmeal with toppings and fixings, great hash browns and endless tasty coffee. Oh and real eggs!