After 12 days of cold and solitude fasting my senses in the Badlands, I arrived at my friend “Ranger Rene’s” house in Custer, SD late Thursday afternoon. I went to highschool with Rene, she was a fellow deadhead and best friend of my highschool crush. She’s been living out here for twenty-some years working as a National Park ranger, and has worked at nearly every park in western South Dakota and eastern Wyoming. She and her boyfriend Chris are both avid climbers and cavers, and their house becomes somewhat of a flophouse for climbers and outdoor adventurers on the road throughout most of the season. So there are always plenty of interesting folks coming through, and over the years visiting out this way, I’ve made friends with quite a few of them.
When I arrived no on was home, so I took the opportunity to get a much-needed shower after seven days of no bathing, to do my pile of laundry, and to tidy up my van. Right as I finished up all that, Rene and Chris, their roomate Mordy, my new best bro Buckman rolled up the driveway, soon followed by two chill dudes Matt and Josh who I hadn’t met before. We fired up the grill and lit a fire in the fire pit on her back patio, and spent the rest of the evening drinking and dining, playing music, smoking funny cigarrettes, laughing and catching up on things. It was a great “homecoming” to an area I think might just be my home from here forward. I’ll be staying in the Black Hills for awhile looking at properties, while continuing to cherish the outdoors fishing and filming wildlife.
Near the end of the night my friend Buckman, a former park cop turned irie climbing guide at Devil’s Tower, asked me if I’d help out with a climbing guide certification test he was overseeing. I was to play the part of “client 1” and be led up two different routes in the spires near Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park by Chris as part of his climbing guide exam. For me, not being the most experienced climber, it was a wonderful opportunity to hang out with my friends and get a free climbing lesson covering all the basics. Everything went without a hitch and we enjoyed a blissful early afternoon hanging off rocks and goofing around in the wilderness. Buckman was plenty serious about the exam however, as well as Chris. All in all it was a great balance of work and fun.
On the way hiking out I saw a fisherman casting trout spinners into the lake and asked him if he’d been getting any bites. He enthusiastically responded, “Oh yeah! I’ve caught 15 so far.” How could I resist such good fishing?! When we got back to Rene’s I immediately grabbed my rod and jumped on my motorcycle heading back to the lake in hopes to catch dinner before we all headed out to a concert in town. The first fish I caught was the largest rainbow trout I’ve ever caught, and I caught three more good-sized rainbows in short order, keeping only the biggest two. I could have stayed there and fished till dark, but we had plans, so I cut it short and headed back to Rene’s with my trophy fish. I filleted and fried them with some potatoes and veggies and enjoyed my first fresh trout dinner of the season, providing Buckman with a dinner plate as well. Then onto the show!
There’s a fairly new theater in Custer called the Beacon, and they were kicking off their season with Jamal Crossland, a creative and gifted banjo picker, one of the better known contemporary musicians out of Wyoming. The show was nearly sold out, no one was wearing masks, and by the end of the night a whole lot of people were dancing and getting rowdy. We all got a little drunk and lit and had a blast. We brought a good-sized crew back to Rene’s for an afterparty where things got even sillier. We ended up having an “interpretive broom dancing” contest, which is pretty much just as it sounds. We did interpretive dancing to an odd selection of music while holding, balancing, and doing tricks with a broom. It was silly and raucous, and the perfect way to cap off my first full day in the Black Hills this year. I think I’ll stay awhile. It’s so beautiful here, rich with wildlife and wild people.
I’m currently writing this from a hot springs spa in the southern Hills, just having soaked in hot mineral baths. I’m gonna have another soak, smoke a spliff, do some yoga, and then head back out to Sylvan Lake to catch dinner. Life is good in the Black Hills.