Go West Young Max! (so much has happened)
These last few days have been an absolute whirlwind. After nearly a full month in Minnesota, both Kelly and I were feeling the itch to get going and see some new things. We may have gone a bit too far, literally. We have travelled over 800 miles since Thursday. We have seen forests, grasslands, Badlands, and Black Hills. We have experienced not one, not two, but five separate instances of hail pelting us mercilessly. We even had the terrifying experience of having a brake line burst! It was a crazy week, and completely exhilarating and scary and wonderful all at the same time.
Here’s what happened:
First we travelled from the deep forests of Minnesota to the rolling hills and farmland of eastern South Dakota over the course of two days. We stopped in the Detroit Lakes region in Minnesota, and then in Big Stone City, right on the border of South Dakota. We set out from Big Stone City on our way to Sioux City, South Dakota to check out a winery. Driving along, happy as can be, when we notice the clouds are just spectacular and look like smoke in the sky – swirling and gray and soft at the edges.
Unfortunately as it turns out this means they are filled with evil and wind and hail. The rain that was unleashed from these clouds can accurately be described as epic. It was very difficult to see and drive through. Buckets of rain is an appropriate description for what we were dealing with. Bad enough on its own, until we heard the distinctive knocking of hail on the roof. Time to pull over!
Being stuck in a hail storm on the side of the highway is scary. It is a very helpless feeling to have your home pelted by hail. It was unpleasant, but it was over after about 5 minutes. We started driving back down the road, only to have it happen again about 10 minutes later. Pull over #2. Waited it out. Then we once again started cautiously driving again and lo and behold… one more time. The last time was the worst. The hail was very large, which was bad enough, but as the storm continued, I noticed with horror that the hail was starting to blow sideways across the highway in large swaths. The winds were intense. It became clear to me suddenly that this could be a tornado situation. There is not much you can do in a vehicle on the side of the road in a tornado. I had the impulse to grab the dog and go hide in the bedroom, which I did. As I frantically scanned a place to hide, I realized that of course it is really no safer back there than in the front. There is no basement in the RV, no safe place to cower. I came to my senses and moved back to the front seat so that if I was going to meet my demise, at least I could see it coming.
In a flash, I noticed there was an underpass ahead about a half mile down the road. Creeping slowly ahead and squinting to see, I rolled forward to find a whole group of cars huddled there, blocking the road entirely. I managed to squeeze our big beige butt into an open space, and OK, I might have cried. Just a little, just for a minute, because it was really scary.
But it passed, as storms tend to do. The rain slowed, the hail stopped, and the wind thankfully lessened. The car is covered in tiny little dents, but we suffered no obvious damage. A great sigh of relief that it wasn’t worse.
Feeling relieved and a bit harried, we carried on our way, to arrive to this picturesque winery.
We purchased a bottle of wine to help ease the nerves from our drive – worked like a charm. The air after the storm was clear and cool and we relaxed and had a nice evening with a little wine-and-frozen-pizza party (only the finest).
Unfortunately, the calm didn’t last long. A 2:00 am thunderstorm woke us up with a start. I groggily grabbed my phone to see radar saying 60-70 mph winds with, and I quote, “damage to mobile homes likely”…Really? “Likely?” Who are you and how do you know so much, weather service? “Possible” seems like a more realistic word to use here…. So yes, hail #4 reached us in the middle of the night, and it was fierce. I have a new respect for the RV for putting up with all of this hail so admirably. Only the southern tip of the storm hit us, so we missed the worst of the winds. Damage not so likely after all I guess!
We woke up and went into Sioux Falls for lunch and to check out the falls. Cute little town.
Then we set off for Fort Pierre National Grasslands, a stop that put us close to Badlands National Park, where we planned to go Sunday. Fort Pierre has ample opportunities for “dispersed camping”, which means boondocking. No hookups, no campground, no nothing, just empty land that you are legally allowed to stay on if you so choose. And choose we did! It was really exciting to be in the middle of nowhere, all alone, nothing but miles and miles of grassland around us.
We had a nice peaceful little night – a bit windy, but that’s what you get from a grassland.
We set off in the morning very excited to go to the Badlands, our first National Park of the trip! As I was driving along this dirt road (pictured), I casually pressed the brake as I began to go down the other side of a gentle hill. I realized with horror that the brake pedal would push straight to the floor without resistance. Before SCREAMING, I also realized that at the very end of my pressing it, it would in fact apply the brake and stop the vehicle, which as you can imagine I promptly did. I managed to suppress the scream. A quick call to Kelly: “Hi, so, my brakes don’t work?” Kelly: “What…?” What indeed. We hopped out and peeked below the left front tire, where we found a splatter of brake fluid covering the underside of the RV like blood from a gruesome murder scene. Kelly used his forensic analysis skills to determine the source of the problem. He got down on the ground and poked around until he found the culprit – a brake line hanging down with brake fluid rushing out onto the ground – now there’s a smoking gun if I’ve ever seen one.
Please take a moment to flash backwards to our glee and excitement at being in the middle of nowhere. Yep! So, what to do? Lets see, it’s Sunday, Father’s Day nonetheless, chances of finding a mechanic? Slim. Time for a little DIY-brake repair by 2 complete amateurs. Sounds like a recipe for disaster, but it was really our only option. A closer look showed us that the line had burst along one of the connector bits, which was fortunate. It was patently obvious which part needed to fit back into where.
Kelly “MacGyver” Reid pulled out his trusty paper towel and duct tape, cleaned off the area, snapped the two lines back together, and roped that sucker off with a disturbing amount of duct tape. And believe it or not, by some miracle, it worked! I know, I was skeptical too, trust me, I’m the one driving the thing. But for all intents and purposes, it appeared to be driveable.
So we got back on the road. Driving slowly, verrrry slowly, and testing the brakes frequently to make sure everything felt alright. Lo and behold, time and time again, braking occurred. Thank goodness. With every press of the brake, confidence grew. Despite the newfound confidence, we were definitely not going to take the RV through the ups and downs of the Badlands. Cue: The car. We sure are thankful for that thing. We parked the RV and set out with the dog in the car to explore.
The Badlands did not disappoint.
Spectacular sights, and very interesting geologically, with layers of fossilized soil and sediment.
After the Badlands we marched onward to the Black Hills, where we were greeted with cooler air and pine forests, a refreshing change from the harsh Badlands.
And no, I’m not quite finished, because if you’ve been counting that was only 4 hailstorms, and I promised you 5. Last night, at midnight, I woke up to the feeling of electricity shooting through the air. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a storm that I could feel so strongly in my body. And again with the hail. Loud, large hail. I hid under the covers, as though that would do anything. The sound of high winds in an RV is not something I will get used to. It only lasted about 10 minutes, which we were thankful for.
So as you can imagine, we are 100% and completely exhausted and ready to take a little break. We plan to stay in the Black Hills area for the next week or so and focus on work, and of course get our brakes checked out by someone who’s tool belt includes options a bit fancier than duct tape and paper towel (no offense Kelly). Here’s hoping the weather gets its act together!