Teeth Brushing In Public Restrooms, Peeing in Cans, & A Visit To Badlands National Park
Written September 26, 2012
Today has been one of the most amazing days of the entire trip. I’ve been looking forward to some sightseeing activities for a while. Most of the states I’ve been through so far are very dense with vegan restaurants – which of course is a wonderful, wonderful thing – but I’m ready for a change of pace and to see other parts of the country that I’ve never seen before. The month of October is sure to be one heck of a time too. My mom is joining me this weekend, for a week on the road, then I’ll be flying to Hawaii to meet up with a friend for a week (as part of the road trip), and then I hope to be in Vegas for my 30th birthday, and another friend will possibly join me for the last week of October, as I begin to tackle vegan eats while driving UP the west coast. Thrilled is an understatement. The second half of this journey is going to kick major tooshie (as if the first half hasn’t all ready!).
But first, I almost pooped my pants.
Around 6AM I awoke to what sounded like someone on a skateboard whooshing by Gerty’s tail end, scraping a rock along her back and side. It was one of those situations where the sound made its way into my dream. It became part of my dream though I don’t recall what I was dreaming about. I just know that when I opened my eyes I said to myself, “That sound was definitely real! Someone is outside the van!!”
As the hypothalamus signaled my sympathetic nervous system to kick into gear I began to wake up…rather quickly. As a result, my sympathetic nervous system sent out impulses to my glands and smooth muslces to tell the adrenal medulla to release epinephrine and norepinephrine into my bloodstream. These “stress hormones” caused an increase in my heart rate and blood pressure. At the same time my hypothalamus released corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) into the pituitary gland, activating my adrenal-cortical system. “The pituitary gland secretes the hormone ACTH (adrenocorticotropic hormone). ACTH moves through the bloodstream and ultimately arrives at the adrenal cortex, where it activates the release of approximately 30 different hormones that get the body prepared to deal with a threat.” Thank you, Chuck and Josh of the Stuff You Should Know Podcast by How Stuff Works! :)
All of this happened within a few seconds, of course, and so I lept from the bed, put my glasses on, and peered through the curtains to the side view mirrors to catch a glimpse of the person, so I could decide if I would grab the hammer and mace and start screaming wildly or start her up and take off like a vandal. As my crusty eyes adjusted I found the culprit! A WATER SPRINKLER! Yes. The sound I couldn’t place but what most closely resembled rocks and skateboards whizzing by were lawn water sprinklers. Every few minutes they sprayed directly and firmly across the back and one side of Gerty. While it sounded terrible I forced myself back to sleep. It felt like a close call but thankfully it wasn’t even close… to a .. call? Um. Anyway. :) Here I am brushing my tEEth!
Rockin’ my Sweet Ritual tee!
I went back to sleep for an hour or so and then got up and went into the gas station to use the restroom, grab some water and peanuts, and snap this pic of my “mobile restroom” for all y’all who have been asking what I do when I don’t have access to a traditional bathroom. I’ll tell you what, GoGirl has saved me more times than I can recall. And I feel more sanitary using my make shift toilet than some public restrooms I’ve encountered. Just sayin’. And since I know it’s on your mind, no I don’t use this “toilet” to go number two. I reserve that for toilets that go flush. ;)
After using the facilities I drove Gerty up to a gas tank, filled her up, and hit the road for Badlands National Park! Woo!!!!
I haven’t been to many national parks in my life. Definitely none of the “big” ones. Which is why I plan to visit a handful while I’m on the road! And what a way to start!!! I now understand what my friends meant when they tried to describe the Badlands and could only say, “It’s nothing like I’ve ever seen. Almost too hard to describe.” I started through the east entrance and the very first overlook set the stage for an incredible drive through the diverse landscapes of this Park. On many occasions I found myself speechless, close to tears, or actually saying “wow” out loud.
This is what I saw off of the first designated overlook area. Absolutely stunning. I’m still in shock at how great the pics came out considering that I’m just using a camera app on the iPhone. Breathtaking.
What’s also incredible, and nearly impossible to get my head around, is that these formations were formed over 20 million years ago. MILLION! 20 of ’em! And that’s just the newer, top layers of the formations. They’ve been taking shape for well over this amount of time . Some of the older (darker/lower to the base) sections of each formation came to be that way as far back as 75 million years ago. That just blows my mind.
As you drive and stop along the road that runs through the Badlands National Park you kind of end up following or being followed by some others who are doing the same thing. That’s just kind of the nature of everyone stopping at the same lookouts and driving the same route. A group of three must have noticed that I was by myself and offered to take a pic of me. I said no the first time but they insisted. Now I wish I had a “Will Travel For Vegan Food” bumper sticker in my hands. Hehe ;)
Despite other onlookers everyone moved at their own pace, and I think I was there during an off-tourist season so it wasn’t terribly crowded, which was nice. This made for a few occasions where I was totally and completely alone while looking over one of the expansive, colorful valleys. I love the quiet that enveloped me. I’d stand close to an edge, look all around, take a deep breath in and then out and settle deeper into that moment. Just settle and be still with the surroundings. I’m not really a “woo-woo” kinda person but I found myself welcoming the silence and peace and calm that accompanied the experience. When things are quiet like that it becomes easier to allow the senses to pick up on things I typically overlook during my day-to-day tasks. Like the sweet breeze across my face, or the crunchy eating-cereal-sound the gravel and pebbles made beneath my feet as I’d slowly walk back to the van. I loved it all. I loved watching people take pictures of each other, of them gasping together over the natural beauty that lay before them, of discussing plans to hike, to camp, to be together. It was really lovely. I never really paid attention to those things when I was on vacation with others.
After an hour or so of looking at the most beautiful rock formations of my life I realized that I had severely underprepared for my visit to the Badlands. By the time I got to South Dakota I had finished most of my snacks and water, and didn’t have anything substantial to eat for dinner. Luckily there is a restaurant within the park. I pulled in just as I was feeling dinner hungry – my body was still on Central time though I’m now in Mountain time. What’s even more lucky is that the restaurant had two veg meals on the menu, a vegetarian taco and a black bean burger – both of which could be veganized. I opted for the burger with a side of sweet tater fries. It was pretty good. I also happened to notice the table of three, sitting next to me, made it a point to order nachos without meat and also ordered the vegetarian items on the menu. They definitely ate the dairy stuffs but it was cool and unexpected to see vegetarians during a non-popular season at a national park in South Dakota. Random.
While munching down lunch I decided that I’d camp out in the park since it would be getting dark soon and I also heard that the wildlife comes around this one campsite area. There are two campsites in the park, one of which has electrical outlets and proper bathrooms, the other has neither. Guess which one I opted for? Haha.. I already go in a can, what’s the big deal?! ;) This particular campsite is all the way on the other side of the park, which is fine by me because I haven’t seen any of the wildlife yet and honestly, I REALLY want to.
I didn’t have to wait long to see some free-roaming, protected wildlife! Within a few minutes I drove up on a heard of longhorn sheep that were grazing alongside the road. Myself, and a few other cars pulled over to get out and take pictures. It’s not the first time I wished I had a cool camera with a cool lens that would allow me to get closer, crisper shots from a distance. I love photography but am not so in love with how much it costs to own the type of equipment necessary. Regardless, my iPhone does a pretty bang up job.
Less than a mile down the road another group of sheep crossed the road. They’re MUCH closer to the van this time. I cautiously step out, as to not disturb them, and one of the babies with a stubby, adorable, little nose lies down, right there on the side of the road. I stayed for several minutes taking as many pictures as I could. It was so incredible. When the dust and foot steps of other park goers settled, it would become quiet enough to hear the sheep graze, pulling on individual pieces of grass, casually pressing their hooves into the ground as they meandered along. Soooo cool!!!!!
I would have been totally satisfied with just the sheep sighting. Two sheep sightings! But then, as I round a bend I see them in full view. Bison! Gigantic, just like the text books always depicted, wild bison. Hairy-faced and necked, heavy in the front, lighter in the rear, spindly legs, and wide eyes. Real, wild bison. I thought I was going to shoot through the roof of the van. I pulled over and got out. They were a bit farther away so it was more difficult to get good pictures. But man, these animals are stunning! My goodness. Once I took a handful of pictures and calmed down I got back in the van and then happened upon a larger heard of bison, and another, and another. At one of my last bison stops I also saw dozens of prairie dogs bouncing around, sitting upright, flicking their tails as they bounced away. Eeehehehehe, so cute!
I’ve only seen animals like these on TV or in books. Between the backdrop of the landscape, these incredible wild animals, and an impeccable sunset, I could not have asked for more. What a beautiful, beautiful day.
Ya know, there’s something to be said for having experiences like this solo. To turn inward for celebration instead of depending on someone else to validate the excitement of a particular event. There were times throughout the day when I found myself wanting to jump around, be silly, talk about what I was seeing, or grab an arm in excitement but all I had was me. I didn’t even have cell service to call and share it with someone that way. But there’s an element of deeper understanding of those feelings, when you’re alone. At least, that’s how it was for me. While it would have been just as wonderful (or a different kind of wonderful) to share this day with someone else, there’s a part of me that felt honored to share it with me. :)
I’m now at the free overnight camping location within the Park. It’s pitch black here and I’m snuggled up in blankets and pillows. Time for sleeps and then heading to some monuments in the morning.
I’d like to leave you with a poem that has circulated the interwebs via video over the last few years. Here’s the written version (link to video below).
HOW TO BE ALONE by Tanya Davis
If you are at first lonely, be patient. If you’ve not been alone much, or if when you were, you weren’t okay with it, then just wait. You’ll find it’s fine to be alone once you’re embracing it.
We could start with the acceptable places, the bathroom, the coffee shop, the library. Where you can stall and read the paper, where you can get your caffeine fix and sit and stay there. Where you can browse the stacks and smell the books. You’re not supposed to talk much anyway so it’s safe there.
There’s also the gym. If you’re shy you could hang out with yourself in mirrors, you could put headphones in (guitar stroke).
And there’s public transportation, because we all gotta go places.
And there’s prayer and meditation. No one will think less if you’re hanging with your breath seeking peace and salvation.
Start simple. Things you may have previously (electric guitar plucking) based on your avoid being alone principals.
The lunch counter. Where you will be surrounded by chow-downers. Employees who only have an hour and their spouses work across town and so they — like you — will be alone.
Resist the urge to hang out with your cell phone.
When you are comfortable with eat lunch and run, take yourself out for dinner. A restaurant with linen and silverware. You’re no less intriguing a person when you’re eating solo dessert to cleaning the whipped cream from the dish with your finger. In fact some people at full tables will wish they were where you were.
Go to the movies. Where it is dark and soothing. Alone in your seat amidst a fleeting community.
And then, take yourself out dancing to a club where no one knows you. Stand on the outside of the floor till the lights convince you more and more and the music shows you. Dance like no one’s watching…because, they’re probably not. And, if they are, assume it is with best of human intentions. The way bodies move genuinely to beats is, after all, gorgeous and affecting. Dance until you’re sweating, and beads of perspiration remind you of life’s best things, down your back like a brook of blessings.
Go to the woods alone, and the trees and squirrels will watch for you.
Go to an unfamiliar city, roam the streets, there’re always statues to talk to and benches made for sitting give strangers a shared existence if only for a minute and these moments can be so uplifting and the conversations you get in by sitting alone on benches might’ve never happened had you not been there by yourself
Society is afraid of alonedom, like lonely hearts are wasting away in basements, like people must have problems if, after a while, nobody is dating them. but lonely is a freedom that breaths easy and weightless and lonely is healing if you make it.
You could stand, swathed by groups and mobs or hold hands with your partner, look both further and farther for the endless quest for company. But no one’s in your head and by the time you translate your thoughts, some essence of them may be lost or perhaps it is just kept.
Perhaps in the interest of loving oneself, perhaps all those sappy slogans from preschool over to high school’s groaning were tokens for holding the lonely at bay. Cuz if you’re happy in your head than solitude is blessed and alone is okay.
It’s okay if no one believes like you. All experience is unique, no one has the same synapses, can’t think like you, for this be releived, keeps things interesting lifes magic things in reach.
And it doesn’t mean you’re not connected, that communitie’s not present, just take the perspective you get from being one person in one head and feel the effects of it. take silence and respect it. if you have an art that needs a practice, stop neglecting it. if your family doesn’t get you, or religious sect is not meant for you, don’t obsess about it.
you could be in an instant surrounded if you needed it
If your heart is bleeding make the best of it
There is heat in freezing, be a testament.