I never really knew where Mount Rushmore was. I knew it was somewhat remote, but I didn't know just how remote it was. You will notice that there is no iconic photograph of a monument accompanying this posting. It was not for lack of trying.
Friday morning I awoke in Rapid City, South Dakota. This was my first time in any Dakota, and I didn't want to linger. First, I had to charge up Nikki to full range, because the next stop is Lusk, Wyoming. Which, at 135 miles, is one of the longer distances between superchargers. Mount Rushmore is between the chargers, but it is maybe 20 miles out of the way. If I was careful, I could do it.
So, I set the GPS and started into the mountains. As I climbed up into Sitting Bull territory, the snow started. And kept on going. The road was starting to get covered with snow, and the turnoff to the monument itself was up hill and unplowed. I'm not sure I would have even tried it in a Model X with snow tires. So, like a wuss, I reluctantly turned back to Rapid City to get another full charge. I had a conference call while charging, so everything worked out okay, but I didn't get back on the road until about 10:00 AM.
The road between Rapid City and Lusk is treacherous. The journey to this point had been on the Eisenhower Memorial Interstate System, but now I was on plain old US Highways. To be fair, they are interstate-like in road quality, but there are no rest areas and very few towns, and the worst mobile phone coverage of the trip.
As I left Rapid City the second time, the snow started getting worse, even though I was technically going around the mountains. I had good reason to slow down, so I stopped worrying about running out of charge, and started worrying about making it to Wyoming through the snow and hills. It is hard to tell from the map whether I would have to go up some steep hills to get to Lusk.
At the intersection of US 382 and US 18, the snow was getting pretty deep, and my car started sliding as I turned on to US 18. The road ahead was hard to gauge, but I wasn't about to go up there if it was going to be high and tight. So I pulled into an auto parts shop to collect my wits and decide what to do next.
Options on the table:
Forge On - don't be a puss.
Stay There - there ware a couple of hotels in Hot Springs
Get snow tires - I was right there at an auto repair shop for crying out loud.
I called my brothers and colleagues in Denver looking for advice, and got plenty. While I was on the phone with my brother, the guy from the auto repair shop came out and asked if everything was okay and if he could help out.
"Do you have snow tires?" I asked.
"Not for one of those", he said pointing at my fancy citified auto-mo-bile.
At that moment, I noticed an huge snow plow coming down the road.
"Follow that guy!", said my brother, Alex.
Which I did. Following behind a snow plow at 50 miles per hour on mountain roads is a weirdly comforting. The feeling I get when there is a giant truck clearing the way for you is probably the same feeling that a 22 year old girl gets from dating a 45 year old dude. It feels safe, if you can get past the grunts, the noxious emissions, and the mess that it is making of your undercarriage.
The plow got me into Hot Springs, but turned off north, and I needed to go south. Luckily, there was a bone-stock Tercel in front of me with 13" skinny tires. I figured if he could do it, so could I, so I followed him onto Rte 18 West. The snow cleared up about 20 miles out in the no man's land between Hot Springs and Lusk. It reminds me of my time on Mars, only without all the lushness.
Also, can someone stop "Turn the Page" by Bob Seger from coming into my head whenever I'm on a "Long and lonesome highway..."?
Things cleared up a lot when I got into Wyoming. There were still flurries, but not enough to mess up the roads. The next hundred miles were almost pleasant, and certainly a relief.
The supercharger in Lusk is at a Motel. I stopped in and chatted with the desk clerk and got my bearings. Barring unforeseen circumstances, I would be able to get to Cheyenne and then Denver by 8:00 PM.
I had not eaten, but there wasn't really much around the Lusk supercharger, so I bought some elk jerky and a Diet Pepsi and hoped that some better food would turn up.
Between Lusk and Cheyenne was just as deserted as the previous segment, but much less of a hassle. I had plenty of charge and was able to go at a good clip through some beautiful and rugged hill country.
I will report that I had a ruben from Arby's on the road. I tell you that so that you may judge.
The Cheyenne supercharger is at the local mall. The decision to put superchargers at malls is pretty brilliant. There is always a food court and people to watch, plus if you don't particularly like shopping, it gives you an excuse to update your wardrobe.
The road grime on Nikki was too much to bear, so it was time for other car wash. This time, it was not quite as cold, so I was able to pressure wash without fear of caked ice. The wheel wells were completely crusted with gross sand, snow and ice mixture that was a bitch to remove. I ended up spending $10 in quarters, most of that was pressure washing inside the fenders.
As I left Wyoming, civilization began to encroach, and there were more and more exits, each with a unique blend of dried salted meats and carbonated beverages. The traffic got pretty dense around Fort Collins, so I cranked up the heat for the ride into Denver, where I charged up again before heading over to my brother Philip's condo to spend the night on his futon.
The forecast called for massive snow in the mountains the following day. We'll see how that works out.