South Dakota Badlands - 8 Days in the Saddle
By William Perry
Two days of silence broken only by moments of brief connection with the sounds coming from the bike and the schizophrenic collision of every day thoughts has ceased. Every so many miles, an Adele song, “Rolling in the Deep” would play in my head, reaching a fevered pitch bringing me out the dark — schizophrenic.
Moments of clarity have return, sighs of relief, deep breaths surge to my core, all fear and trepidation are gone. I’m reminded of my own capabilities and of what I’ve got stored down below ready for retrieval if or when I ever had to have it. I can interact with each and every person with whom I come in contact with no interference of expectation or environment, of who they are in the world or who I am. All pretense has faded away, there is no lost effort on how to act or what to say. Mere faith in myself is replaced by power and empowerment. The jumble of thoughts has stopped. I’ve been returned to myself.
Veering from Highway 385 onto 79, then onto the first unmarked road heading east, the Badlands are nowhere to be seen but the expansive Pine Ridge Indian Reservation offers enough gems to keep my camera clicking. The reservation is 2.7 MILLION acres, more than twice the size of Delaware and is home to the Oglala Lakota American Indian tribe, descendants of such famous warrior chiefs as Sitting Bull, Red Cloud, and Crazy Horse.
Originally part of the Great Sioux Reservation established under The Treaty of 1868, the reservation faces grave challenges. I left the reservation with images captured both on camera and my mind, that are evocative, beautiful and especially poignant when you contrast them with the harsh reality of the human lives there.
In essence I always endeavour taking away only the good from a place whose “bad” is in such opposition, doesn’t feel right to me. Love may be what makes the world go round, but awareness is what makes the turn worthwhile.
With the exception of Haiti, life expectancy is lower here than anywhere else in the Western Hemisphere (men – age 48, women – age 52), infant mortality rates are the highest in the United States, and many families have no electricity, telephone service, running water, or sewers and must use wood burning stoves to heat their homes.” There are several grass roots organizations assisting with agricultural education and wellwater management.
Surrounded by steep drop-offs to the Badlands, I visit an Oglala Lakota scaffold burial platform (representational, I presume). I’m a HUGE fan of the Old West so I knew what it was and while struck dumb by the Carhenge discovery - for another article.
“I walked on shore.killed two deer, wounded an Elk and a deer; saw the remains of some Indian camp, near which stood a small scaffold of about 7 feet high.underneath this scaffold a human body was lying, well rolled in several dressed buffalow skins and near it a bag.containing sundry articles belonging to the disceased.” - Captian Lewis circa 1805
After a time on the road, a sign was too much of a temptation to ignore so I pursued the arrow into a high plains pasture overlooking the edge of the Badlands. Asanpi Bleza “thin milk” was a Brule Indian warrior and the only known casualty of those seeking refuge in the stronghold during the Wounded Knee era. His bones were found by John Swallow, Sr. in 1948. Since Asanpi Bleza died without ceremony or burial, the family in 1948 conducted rites for him near the spot he was discovered.
By this time I’ve traveled via dirt road completely around the South Unit of the Badlands (meaning the reservation, which is NOT part of the National Park although they are purportedly working on some agreement). There are no access points for the sunset shot I plan to capture so I head to the North Unit. Clarification — there are no LEGAL access points. I’m aware I’ve been trespassing at certain points of the day, although I never knowingly violated posted signs. And every footfall has
been VERY respectful. I’m certain that makes no difference, but I feel better about it. I endeavour to leave no footprint, and take only the memory.
Rolling down some back-road cloaked in the bliss of anonymity, one arm in contact with the handlebar at the point that encourages my wrist to flop carefree at the end of it, head bobbling to a slow rhythmic beat that doesn’t match my rousing vocal accompaniment to Life is a Highway that’s cranked up so loud it’s oozing from the crevices of the Yukon-like displaced mortar.
THIS is temptation. It signifies a certain head toss to the grinding pressure of today’s world, a ballsy show of throwing caution to the wind. If you take the time to look at it, you’ll get the same glint in your eyes.
I thought for a moment, that by selling everything I own would enable the purchase of a few acres here, on which I could move or build a small house, delivering my bobbling head into town once a week for provisions in THIS.
I don’t succumb. Others in my life would highly disapprove and I highly value the others. I continue along the road with a slow-mo melodrama moving frame by frame through my brain.
It conveniently loops from the part that shows me walking up to the house, knocking on the door, engaging the owner in negotiations, taking the keys from them, watching them drive away into the sunset. My melodramas never include the pragmatic part about what I’d do with all my crap spread out from Ireland, my farm, my home in Victoria and my frequently visited daughter’s place in Montreal.
Not many of us ever throw this degree of caution to the wind. But who among us hasn’t entertained the thought of running away from home, even if it’s for a mere few harmless days? It’s a bit risque and for the first time in my long history, I see it for that.
I fully understand the longing. Few things in our lives are as liberating, empowering, and rejuvenating as a solo road trip.
So I ask all of you with latent and repressed open road wanderlust sitting at home fantasizing about the cloak of anonymity, arm draped over your knee, or resting lightly on handle bars, aren’t you late, for nowhere in particular?