Doug and Laurel Go West

Day 3: Tuesday 7/1/2003

9:45 AM
Odometer: 927.4 miles
On the road out of Spearfish near the Wyoming border

Day 2 was not at an end. The dream was over but the nightmare had just begun…

I couldn’t sleep. That’s not a camping thing – it’s been a problem, on and off, for most of my life. It started to rain a bit, and gust a lot, which was fine, because it gave me something to watch. I was a bit nervous when a side of the tent would billow, but I had complete confidence in our tent, just as I used to have complete confidence in my first girlfriend, my judgment, and my government.

According to the next day’s news, the winds reached 75 mph on the ground, and we were on a mountain.

Around 1 AM there was a ZZZ sound, and the bottom of the door flap was open. Wind swelled up the tent like a box kite. Wait- do box-kites swell? I don’t know. The wind swelled up the tent like a sail on a cubical sailboat. The zipper at the bottom had come undone! So I tried to zip it back up, but because of the wet and the noise and my mathematician-like night vision, I was having a hard time finding the zipper.

“Uh?” said Laurel, waking up.

“I’m trying to zip up the tent flap.”

“Uh?” she asked.

“The zipper on the bottom opened, and I’m trying to close it.”



“I said, ‘There is no zipper on the bottom of the tent flap’”

The tent rocked back and forth as the tear (for that is what it was) widened. I grabbed it to hold it shut, and Laurel joined me. We had to fight it very hard as the winds picked up. She was losing the battle with her side. The tear began to creep vertically up the seam, and the metal supports began making angles that were Bad.

“Maybe the storm will die down,” I opined.

“Kraaaaccckkk,” replied the storm.

After several stupid ideas were shot down, Laurel came up with one that was smart, if not particularly heroic. Abandon ship.

We got wet, but not as wet as you would think, as we transferred the contents of the tent into the car. We forgot to transfer the towels we had left to dry on a line, but (uncannily) they were dry the next morning. I forgot to transfer one other thing.

Doug’s camping tip #3: If your only footwear is a pair of tennis shoes, then don’t leave them in a rainstorm all night.

We then enacted phase two of Laurel’s plan by driving the car onto the tent to weigh it down, and then phase three, which was to try to get some sleep in the car.

The night was horrible. For me. Laurel got to sleep pretty quickly, after saying something that made me mad. “This is the worst thing that ever happened to me while camping.” That sentence was too close to “What else could possibly go wrong” or “Things can’t get worse” to suit me. You don’t have to believe in fate to know enough not to tempt her.

But I drifted and woke up eventually with Laurel and the Sun. The 1/8 mile walk to the bathroom was murder on my bare feet. Stones, wood-pieces, weed-pokeys and ash vied to make a Happy Mosaic on my soles. When I got out, I begged Laurel to bring the car around, so I didn’t have to walk back.

On our way to the Rapid City Target, Laurel mentioned that she got a few weird looks when she slowly backed the car off of the tent. “That couple must have had some fight,” I’m sure people were thinking. Also on the way, Laurel’s “Things can’t get worse” hex took effect. It took effect on me. Delicacy prohibits going into details, but suffice to say it lasted half of the day and had to do with poop.

We had planned on getting our friend Jeff (“Let’s bet on how long before they sleep in a hotel” Jeff) a T-shirt when we visited Crazy Horse. Laurel and I had been as youths, and couldn’t wait to see its progress. His face was done. Neat! Crossing the gate would have been $18. We looked a bit more, turned around without going past the gate, and proceeded to Target to get a new tent.

Target was like another world, the world I’d left two (only two?) days ago. The culture shock was immense, like the episode of Lost In Space where Billy Mumy found himself on Earth but instead of staying he just picked up needed supplies and left.

We bought flip-flops for me (I was wearing Laurel’s which are literally five sizes smaller than mine) and a new tent and ice for our cooler and no chocolate bars because I forgot Doug’s Camping Tip #1 until we were gone.

Given that we’d lost a second half-day (the first was on Sunday when Mikumi had his emergency) we decided to eschew the caves and head straight on to Deadwood. I was hoping to play a hand of Poker in Deadwood, because that is where the great Wild Bill Hickok poker story took place, and the epitome of the Wild West city. I had seen a casino brochure, so I knew they had at least one place to play. Deadwood turned out to be lousy with casinos, each one very small. Don’t think of Las Vegas. The buildings were the size of old-west buildings, but each one had within a low-limit casino with a few slot machines and gaming tables.

Look, I’m not the type of city-slicker who believes that people who live in historic towns should have to keep everything as it was in 1876 on the off chance I happen to stop by and want to experience a living history museum. I am completely copacetic with the idea that they sold out to try to attract tourists. It’s their choice. I hate liberal purists who microwave their Miso Soup and get mad that the Brazilian government gave electricity and hamburgers to the cold and starving Usukmi tribe. But Deadwood was clearly redesigned without a trace of love. The historical buildings were there, the museums were there, the gift shops and casinos were everywhere, displayed attractively, but it was clear that no Deadwood resident over 40 sat on the development committee. The place reeked of consultants from the East.

They did have a $3 all you can eat breakfast buffet. I hadn’t had eggs, bacon, or sausage in 3 days. I think my poop issue might have been partially caused by my body’s being modified to run exclusively on grease and gluttony. I got the buffet, felt great eating it, and my problem cleared up by lunchtime.

We arrived too early in the day for Poker, but I did play (and win) a little blackjack, and got to hang out in the bar where Wild Bill was shot. According to the historical diorama and the pictures on the T-shirts, his “dead mans hand” was black aces and eights, and the nine of diamonds. He lost the hand and then was shot in the back by someone he beat the previous night.

There would be a Wild West shoot out later in the day, but Laurel and I decided not to wait. When we go back to South Dakota’s Black Hills some day, I want to go back at night and play 5 card draw in Deadwood.

The casino limits were all $100 which was nice in that it kept the really scary people away. Everyone in town was very friendly, not in the Disneyland “I am smiling at you, but only looking forward to my own death” way, but a “Hi! Where are you from?” sincere way. They are pretty good actors down in Deadwood.

[later] When I was in college, I stayed with Melanie’s family for Christmas. I got along well with her wee twin brothers, telling them jokes and giving them horsey-back rides. My friend and colleague, Jason, is in the office across from mine. He is smarter than I, better looking, and in good shape. It turns out he went to the Illinois Math and Science Academy with Melanie’s brothers. Not in the same class – they were older. Older.

Anyway, Jason found the website of a South Dakota artist named Dick Termes, who specializes in Termespheres. These are six-point perspective paintings done on spheres. Here is how he would paint a picture of a town square: He would imagine himself standing inside a glass ball in the town. Then he would paint what he would see from there. So the bottom of the sphere would have the sidewalk he was standing on, the top would have the sky, etc. It’s hard to describe – go to the website.

So, when Jason heard I was going to South Dakota, he showed me the website and I got excited, too. His address was in the Black Hills, but the site did not mention a gallery. I emailed the artist, and he wrote back with his phone number. “My gallery’s in my home – call before you come to make sure I’m there.”

It was a short drive from Deadwood. His house is a series of connected domes, the gallery in the first. The website could not possibly show the greatness of his works. They are 3D objects, meant to be viewed that way. The Termes gallery has them hanging at all levels, with various sizes, like Christmas Tree ornaments. He has a mechanism that keeps them slowly rotating.

To see a Termesphere is to be transported to another place. You are in a Cathedral. You are in a town square. The man’s art is incredible. Unfortunately, it is also expensive.

He is also a nice, interesting person to talk to. It turns out I’m not the first enchanted mathematician who has made the pilgrimage, but I may be the first non-famous one. A math professor is in town now, giving seminars for Youth, and visits frequently. His name? John Conway. (John Conway is a mega-great mathematician who is the creator of some puzzles and games such as Conway’s Life that got me interested in Math when I was very young) Mr. Termes told me how he was getting interested in four dimensional objects, and someone recommended a classic book on the subject. It turned out that its author had been staying with him for the past few days, in his loft.

Given the inside-outness of his work, I suggested he do a portrait of a person from the perspective of his heart or his brain, and Dick said that he thought it an interesting idea, but he may have just been being polite. We talked math a bit, art a bit, the World Wide Web for a bit. I didn’t want to leave because I was surrounded by such incredible artwork. I volunteered to help him staff a boot at the annual AMS-MAA meetings, but he said that although he gives talks, he doesn’t really do the booth thing. I think I made a faux pas. Wouldn’t be my first. He also mentioned a recent work, a huge portrait of 1800’s Deadwood, commissioned by the city, and currently hanging there. And I missed it. Damn Damn Damn.

I bought a T-Shirt for Jason. He may have grown too big for me to give horsey rides to, but he’s still young enough to carry off a T-Shirt.

[later] We are approaching Devil’s Tower. It was spooky when Laurel said exactly what I was thinking as I was thinking it: “Man, the West got the good scenery.”

[later] The best view, in my opinion, is right outside the gate. You see the regular world and then this… thing rising above it. As you get closer to the tower, it gets harder to appreciate its massivitude. But you get to see beautiful amazing detail. I saw one detail that isn’t in the literature: one of it’s columns looks like a praying monk. I pointed it out to several people, including Laurel, and all saw it as plain as day. We took a picture, but don’t have a zoom lens, so it is going to be hard to see.

At some point today I was thinking I would like to spend a week just in the Black Hills of South Dakota. We could drive all day Saturday, spend the week, and drive back the following Sunday. They are gorgeous, and there are plenty of things to do. Literally, as I was thinking this, Laurel said, “You know, I’m thinking we can spend a week in the Black Hills.”

Although I thought of the Beatle’s song Rocky Raccoon often, I didn’t sing it aloud once. I am capable of restraint.

Laurel just said, “Each day has a theme. Day 1 is worry about Mikumi. Day 2 is have a great time that ends in disaster. Day 3 is wait in a line of stopped traffic for something to happen.” We are riding behind a house on a trailer, waiting to get off the highway for a leg-stretching. If you are keeping score, it is 4:20 PM, we are at 1045 on the ol’ odometer, 4142 feet high and at 44 degrees, 16.79 minutes North, and 105 degrees, 29.528 minutes on the old G.P.S. We are in Gilette, having left Devil’s Tower and are on our way to the bighorn mountains, evidentally formed in 1927 AD due to fallout from the fall of Sodom and Gamorrah.

I think I’m going to make a flat-earth web page, with all sorts of information from the Flat Earth society, and all. The motto on top will read, “At least we are not creationists.”

[later] We found a campground at the foot of the bighorn mountains. I took an evening shower, and returned to my campsite to find Laurel in a staring contest with a quite good-looking deer.

The night was calm, as were we in our new tent. We slept well.

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