Day 12.

Day 12 - Kadoka, SD, to Lincoln, NE

Run - Medicine Root Loop Trail, Badlands National Park, SD

From the eyes of Chuckwagon.

Today I woke up on a very firm motel bed in Kadoka, South Dakota. Not a sentence I ever thought I’d be writing. Good things from this morning: I am a big fan of firm but not “too firm” beds, and about a half hour after waking up we were on the road to Badlands National Park which is about forty minutes west of the town of Kadoka. Already, before we took the exit south to enter the park, out the south side window I could see the sandy peaks of the badlands peeking out, taunting us!

“Silly humans! Turn around before it’s too late! Out here you will find nothing but dust, crumbling sandstone, sunburn, and the whispering wind!”

The first thing you have to know about me as a runner and as an outdoor enthusiast, is that I LOVE the desert. The plains of North Dakota were alright, but there was far too much grass on the ground up there for my taste. I guess it’s just the last four years that I spent in the greater Los Angeles chaparral that has gradually shifted my tastes away from snowcapped mountains and arboreal hillsides. Sure, the dense, spiky, drought-resistant chaparral of the San Gabriels has its own charm, but the hardiness of those plants is nothing compared to those which have the nerve to inhabit the both chilling and altogether scorching expanse of the Mojave Desert. The Mojave is home to America’s most otherworldly national park and my personal fave: Joshua Tree. Unless you grew up in Arizona or in the “Other Desert Cities” (that’s the name of the exit on 10 West that leads to J-Tree) then for most inhabitants of this country, your first trip to Joshua Tree National Park is gonna blow your fragile little mind. Spiky and awkward Joshua trees, grippable human-sized boulders stacked three stories high, and ecstatic 4.5 magnitude skies (that’s super super dark) within a two hour drive of the crowded metropolis known in English as the City of Angels.

Alright, alright, I’ll stop gushing about Jtree. Just go there, and experience its majestic desolation for yourself! Just be sure to bring enough water and try not to poop in the desert, even if you bury it, because it’s a very high use national park and poop does not decompose very well in such an arid environment, even buried six inches underground.

---- BACK TO SOUTH DAKOTA ---

Our Badlands run began up the Saddle Hitch trail, and when I mean “up” I mean almost 300 feet of gain in a half mile up a sandy, haphazard trail that was so steep is could’ve been formed by flash flooding just as easily as it could’ve been pounded into existence by the feet of weary hikers. Once we crested the hill, we were greeted by the area’s original inhabitants: three bighorn sheep. They were just chilling on top of some little 10m rock outcropping staring us down. They looked friendly enough, but with those big ol’ horns, we decided to keep our distance and trotted off into the second part of the trail: the Medicine Root Loop. It was pretty uneventful as runs through the grasslands of South Dakota usually are, but peaceful in its own way. Once we finished that loop, we hopped back onto the Castle Trail, which runs the perimeter of the sandy hills we had climbed up in the beginning. This means the trail switched from a single track meandering through a buzzing mess of prairie grass, insects, and flowers, to a scavenger hunt up and over pseudo-Utah slickrock (bleached white) to find the next red pole denoting the trail. Without those poles we surely would’ve been lost among the spindly rock formations. Good thing I brought along Sadie’s handheld water bottle, which included an EvoHemp granola bar and my phone just in case! Ready for anything, even on a 6 mile run. Honestly, after a pretty harrowing experience with dehydration and injury while on a 14 miler in the San Gabriels last summer, I’ve decided that if I’m running somewhere unfamiliar, far from civilization, with lots of exposure, I’m gonna bring water, food, and a phone just in case I have to be shirtless in the backcountry for a few hours finding my way back home.

Excited for the run tomorrow! Now that we’re back in the flatlands of Nebraska, we get to run on a paved rail trail. It’s the kind of trail that I learned to run on back in Indiana, and it’s one of the easiest ways to get in miles!

Facts/stats of the day:

Miles driven: 460

Miles ran: 19.9

Elevation gained (feet): 1498

Big horn sheep who watched us run by: 3

Increase in Alzheimer's deaths since 2000 (percent): 89

Help in the fight here: http://curealz.org/heroes/running-road-trip