The Lost Day

Rapid City, South Dakota | A Life Exotic

Alternate title: Ya Got Trouble, My Friend (Right Here in Rapid City!)

Remember our disastrous roadtrip to Cornwall which turned out to be a great lesson in the worst misadventures making the best stories? Add this to the ledger of life examples.

When they make a film about our lives someday, this is the part where the narrator will swoop in with a dramatic voiceover and say, “They should have known it was all too good to last.”

Following our relatively brief sweep through Rocky Mountain National Park, we checked another state off the list and spent the night in Cheyenne, Wyoming (just barely inside the southeast corner of the state).

It was actually a surprisingly balmy evening, considering how chilly it had been in RoMo. We sat on the ground in a Walmart parking lot and made tinned spaghetti and meatballs on our little camp stove, then ate it sitting in the open door of our campervan (don’t worry, you’ll get a visual of this bit eventually).

We were feeling pretty good about our roadtripping skillz. (They should have known it was all too good to last!)

We awoke around 7am the next morning to a text from Amity’s mom telling us that we were in the middle of a storm. That can’t be right, we thought. Surely we would be able to tell!

So we pulled back the little curtains from within our cozy campervan nest, and saw this:

Cheyenne, Wyoming | A Life Exotic

And in another ten minutes, it looked like this:

Cheyenne, Wyoming | A Life Exotic

Just a little bit apocalyptic.

We scrambled to get dressed under our blankets, and hustled inside to discreetly brush our teeth in the Walmart restroom (both tasks at which we’d become remarkably adept by this point).

By the time we fired up the defroster, snow flurries were starting to fall. We booked it over to the local Starbucks to use the wifi and plot our course for the day, and after less than an hour inside, we had to shuffle through half an inch of snow on our way back to the van.

We drove from Cheyenne up through the corner of Nebraska to get to Rapid City, South Dakota – a drive that should normally take less than five hours, but took us all day long in conditions that quickly deteriorated into a very windy blizzard (on the upside, there were snowy tumbleweeds!).

We made it to our destination after dark… checked the weather…

Rapid City, South Dakota | A Life Exotic

… decided that we had finally been beaten by Mother Nature, and booked a hotel. Fortunately, the off-season in cold weather climates means you can get a two-bed hotel room including breakfast for $36 a night – sold!

By the next morning, we were feeling rejuvenated and soooo optimistic (the after-effects of indoor plumbing and cable TV), so despite the fact that the temperature was now hovering between 0-1°F, off we went with a course set for the Badlands and Mount Rushmore.

We thought it best to fuel up first, so we pulled into the last gas station before the highway – and as I mentioned, it all went downhill from there.

We turned off the van, attempted to pump gas with frozen fingers, and realized that YOU CAN’T USE SAM’S CLUB FUEL STATIONS WITHOUT A SAM’S CLUB CARD. UGH.

After that bit of embarrassment, we went to start it back up… nothing. The engine wouldn’t even turn over. To add insult to injury, the woman who’d been pumping gas next to us came over and timidly offered, “Um… a lot of liquid just came out from under your van… I just thought you should know.”

Fortunately, we were saved by a gas station attendant who was appropriately named Lucky (a.k.a. the official angel of South Dakota).

Needless to say, we didn’t make it to Mount Rushmore that day – but to paraphrase Meat Loaf, one out of four ain’t bad, right?

Rapid City, South Dakota | A Life Exotic

We found ol’ George on a bench outside of the Target where we waited for the tow truck (after calling from Lucky’s office and directing them to the mechanic he recommended).

So that’s how we ended up here:

Roadtrip USA Car Troubles | A Life Exotic

I wish I could remember the name of the mechanic’s place, because they were equally amazing and helpful. After a brief spell in which the phrase “cracked engine block” was thrown around with alarming nonchalance, they determined that it was simply a faulty starter and a popped coolant hoses – both quick fixes!

With nothing lost except a day of sightseeing, we drove off (sloooowly and gently) in Kokapelli to treat ourselves to what we felt was a much-deserved comfort meal at Firehouse Brewing Co. – the coolest spot we found in RC!

Firehouse Brewing, Rapid City, South Dakota | A Life Exotic

As the name suggests, it’s a brewpub housed in the old city firehouse, still complete with those cool firetruck doors, a fire pole coming straight out of the bar, and walls covered in patches from fire departments across the country.

Firehouse Brewing, Rapid City, South Dakota | A Life Exotic

We went a little overboard after surviving on PB&J sandwiches for a week and ordered about half the menu. A beer float in one of their amazing stouts was the final step in turning our day around from awful to alright.

Firehouse Brewing, Rapid City, South Dakota | A Life Exotic

I honestly can’t give enough credit to Lucky at the gas station, Shawn at the campervan rental company, and the guys at the mechanic. They made a pretty rough situation significantly less nightmarish, and even injected some a few much needed doses of humor into our day.

When Amity and I were in the very beginning of planning our roadtrip, I read what quickly became one of my favorite books: Blue Highways by William Least Heat-Moon.

Bit of road trip planning inspiration on this gray morning!

A photo posted by Julie (@alifeexotic) on

It was the perfect dose of inspiration for getting out on the road, but it also gave me a bit of melancholy. The memoir describes the author’s own solo roadtrip taken around the back roads of America in the 1970s. Far and away, the best parts of the book are the anecdotes about all the wonderful, interesting, generous people he met and befriended along the way. However, this feels like a mark of a bygone era, and I was sure that we wouldn’t be able to find the same opportunities 35 years later.

At the risk of spreading the cheese on too thick, Rapid City (and Lucky in particular) gave us a Blue Highways story. As much as we loved our little campervan bubble, it was nice – and important, I think – to get to know someone living in the destinations we passed through on our journey. A good roadtrip is made up of people in addition to places.

And the next day, we DID make it to Badlands and Mount Rushmore! More photos and less rambling coming up next time. Promise.

tl;dr – Our van broke down, it got fixed, we drank beer.

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