Wednesday June 18, 2014
Eighteen years ago I worked for part of a summer at the mountain campus of my university. Wayne was the kitchen manager; Brendt was a cook. I got along with both of them – they were easy to work for. However, they had a fearsome reputation among the kitchen and housekeeping crew as big-time bad boys. So, out of curiosity, one night I went to hang out with them at their cabin. I discovered they were just big-time drinkers and not fearsome whatsoever. For the rest of the summer, though, I didn’t consider them friends, just work people.
But somehow, after I left there, I stayed in touch with Wayne. We became friends of sorts while I was still in college. We had similar tastes in music at the time, so we swapped CDs and I’d go over to his place to have a beer sometimes. Over the years, we continued to stay in touch. Some friendships are immediate and last forever. Some friendships come and go. And some friendships, like this one, are unlikely to start, but somehow stay the course over time.
In recent years, I’ve developed a tremendous respect for Wayne. He quit drinking in 2005 and started to engage with life in a way that few people do. He has tremendous energy, curiosity and passion for his hobbies. He constantly challenges himself and recently completed a Masters Degree with very high marks while working full-time. I find him inspiring because he shows that you are not defined by what your life is now – you can do anything you really want to do. Last year, Wayne made big efforts to come meet up with me on my Range Roaming tour several times. Few others would do that, and we had very good times.
Today, he and Brendt (who lives in Rapid City) come pick me up in Custer in the city park. I haven’t seen Brendt since 1996 – the summer we worked together. He is the same, just older. Like all of us! He is still mellow and quiet and quick to smile. Wayne looks healthy and happy.
Off we go to hike Harney Peak – South Dakota’s highest peak at 7242 feet. The guys grew up in this state, so I think it is appropriate to climb the state’s highest peak with some native South Dakotans.
The trail is 3.5 miles one way with an elevation gain of 1,100 feet. It’s an easy trail that climbs through the pines to the bare-rock summit. It is an extremely popular trail for all ages. Poor Brendt has a back injury, so isn’t as fast as he’d normally be. We all get up to the top eventually, though.
Wayne has become very interested in amateur radio operations in the last few years. He has started to participate in a group where individuals climb peaks (activators) and make contact with other radio operators from all over (chasers). They accumulate points for contacts. So once on the peak, Wayne goes about setting up his radio gear and attempting to make contact with the ‘chasers’. I love it because he is getting questions from all sorts of people at the summit about what he is doing. He is getting his own ‘standard six’ questions, and for once, it’s not me being the one interrogated by well-meaning tourists.
We spend about three hours up there on the peak with the most ideal conditions you could ever request. It’s warm, clear, sunny with little wind. Just perfect. I’m happy to just soak in the views and the good weather with old friends. I could not have asked for a better day.
That night I head back to the membership RV resort where Wayne is staying with his 5th wheel trailer. I do not know what to make of the place – it feels like it is straight out of the Stepford Wives or the Truman show. It feels so fake and perfect – everything is immaculately groomed, including the people. There is a pool, tennis courts, a putt-putt course, and all sorts of social activities planned. I feel like I have landed on another planet, it is so far removed from my experience. When I go to take a shower at the amenities block, I walk in and see a stall with a toilet, so I walk down to the end to find a shower. Then I realize that each stall is a private bathroom – each one has a toilet, sink and shower. Whoa! I’m surprised there isn’t someone at the door handing out towels. Of course, no one is here anyway, because all of the sites are full hook-ups, so none of the patrons have to leave their RVs to shit, shower or shave. I can see the appeal of this type of place to some people, but it’s just way too sterile for me!
Then, I do something I’ve never before done in my life. I sleep in an RV. Please do not kick me out of the bicycle touring community for my sins. I’d never come to a place like this on my own, but it’s all okay because I can hang out with my friend, whom has been coming here with his family for a very long time. It’s all a change of pace from the bike tour, and that is always welcome for a day or two.