While there are still a couple of possible impediments that could stop my trip it now looks like a go and I’ve switched my mindset into travel mode – getting excited, but so much to do. After confirming I can reach my reserved campsite (and getting all the paperwork) I then planned the long drive out, stopping in Rapid City and Sheridan before hitting Tie Flume.
The drive to Rapid City is really boring (having done it multiple times) – straight north on I-29 to Sioux Falls, then all the way across South Dakota (hitting every rest stop for relaxation and stretch). That’s probably 12 hours. But it gets me close enough to Sheridan that then on Sunday I can do brief drivethru of part of the Black Hills, make a side-trip to Devil’s Tower and pick up the only dashpoint of this drive near Gilette. When I finally see the Bighorns on the western horizon I’ll know I’m really on my way.
The rest of trip is wide open – no plans. According to Forest Service many roads are still closed which simply means I’ll do less driving (sightseeing) than I usually do. But another dashpoint will provide an opportunity to explore a new area I’ve never seen. And studying my maps I see several other daytrip explorations. The Bighorns “Mountains” are more like an elevated plateau with a few peaks (except for the Wilderness Area which I won’t visit since no way am I prepared for backpacking). Much of the country is meadow and grassland instead of woods, which is part of what I enjoy. Forests are nice but inhibit most vistas so with the more open environment of the Bighorns it’s possible to get that sense of huge untamed open space that I love.
It’s interesting that on my first trip to this area, 12 years ago, I hardly had any preparations at all, no real pain, just made it up as I went along. Now it seems like I’m doing the moon landings, extensive checklists, tons of equipment, much of the trip scripted to the hour. Somewhere the spontaneity element has disappeared. But the two subsequent trips also demonstrated the problems that can arise without this extensive preparation. Sheridan is a nice *little* town with minimal shopping available so it’s a lot easier to take something I don’t need from my base where I can easily buy things than to end up there and missing something crucial. But it’s also interesting how technology has taken some of the adventure out of outdoors travel, replacing it with convenience and less chance for mistakes – a tradeoff, for sure, but I’ll probably opt for the modern way.
The one gadget I agonized over getting (and didn’t) is the GPS/satellite tracking system. I’ve monitored this technology over the years and it has gotten better, but not any cheaper (in fact, compared to the first time I checked it out it’s more expensive). We get used to always available communications, for convenience, but also when solo as a “safety net”. But the few remaining wild places in the U.S., still totally missing most of the electronic signals, takes that away. This new gadget communicates directly to a very expensive system of low altitude satellites and thus is basically available anywhere. Coupled with GPS it’s possible to inform someone exactly where you are on a real-time and continuous basis. And if things get really bad there is a universal 911 rescue button which could easily set you back $5000 if you actually push the panic button and get your helicopter rescue (presumably you’ll need it and therefore the cost (vs your life) is a reasonable tradeoff). The gadget itself (multiple versions) is not outrageously expensive, but the comm service is unreasonably expensive (still measured against your life it’s cheap). The newest versions even permit 100 or so tweet-type text messages per month as well as unlimited tracking reports.
While such a device has the obvious appeal of safety, especially as I am planning a solo overland hike to dashpoint (have done that twice before, had a minor crisis the first time when my GPS failed and I had to find my way back to car without trail or any other landmarks except my memory – fortunately I have a bit of wilderness skill and thus got out of that tight fix.) But heading out overland (not on trails) to entirely random point (where other people are unlikely to go) is a non-trivial risk, especially for my age and physical condition (even a youngster could fall and break bones, crawling back a few miles in rugged country while in pain is not my idea of “adventure”). So I was torn between the safety element of this new technology (someone is Omaha could check the website where the tracking is and see if I need help, even the texting might get help) and the unreasonable cost (more justifiable if my trip were longer, like a week backpack), but also while communications is convenient and adds safety, it’s also a tether that ties one down, back to civilization, which is exactly what I’m trying to escape.
Last year, especially exacerbated with the bad weather, I was too connected. Instead of being in outdoors, on my own, mindset I was constantly checking in. I’d drive to a scenic lookout where the wireless towers along I-90 could reach, and then chat (on phone), text, write emails, read news, etc. Hardly an isolated experience. While I consider electronic gadget now an essential part of outdoors (a Kindle with many books is a lot better than the multiple paperbacks I used to carry, GPS is a must) I don’t want to be so tied back to civilization and home that I miss the whole point of going to remote areas.
So hopefully this year I’ll find a better balance. Use my electronic toys to enhance the trip, still allowing me to immerse my self in the solitude, peace, and mindfulness of a truly outdoors experience. This isn’t a grand adventure like Everest or some untamed river, but it’s probably the most I can do at my age and condition. Many have asked why humans seek refuge in wilderness and nature and for me it’s simple – being out in the conditions (sorta) where we evolved brings up a different way of thinking/feeling than we have in our civilized lives. It’s a rare experience and if it works out (i.e. the hassles don’t overwhelm the relaxation) it recharges one. Our awareness increases: subtle changes in light, wind, temperature, clouds, etc., become more intensified; the life around us becomes more visible (esp. the moose that may come tromping by); smells and sounds get more intense. We evolved to have great sensitivity to nature (our life depended on it) but we lose that in the wired civilization where an entirely different set of sensations must be detected and sorted out. But also is the “boredom” – simply, except for some excursions there isn’t much to do (and in fact avoiding too much “traveling” is critical to these trips). So we slow down. Contact with other people is minimal. The phone isn’t ringing. There is little traffic or other machine sounds. Time slows down. And, of course, that initially means it feels like there is nothing to do. But doing nothing is, in fact, doing something. It’s just different. Instead of all the stimulation coming from a man-made world, now the stimulation comes from real nature and from inside. That’s why I really enjoyed backpacking, when I was still able to do it. And in this case the Bighorns, vs say Glacier NP or Yellowstone NP or Yosemite NP (all nice, but …) is much better.
So I need to get on with my huge checklist and hope no last-minute issues prevent the trip and bright and early Saturday morning I’ll be rollin’, rollin’, rollin’ and then lots of sitting.