Chapter 11 Storm Warnings
As I entered the Dakotas the weather grew hotter. I took off my shirt and rode bare backed. The roads wound through the badlands, the sun reflecting cruelly off the light colored sand.
That evening I decided to stay in a camp ground so I could get a shower. Exhausted from the hot day, I went to bed early.
As usual I laid out my plastic poncho on the ground, put my sleeping bag on it and then put the loose end of the poncho up over the motorcycle, making a little tent. I lay down and went right to sleep.
I was suddenly jolted awake. It was dark and a strong wind was blowing. I looked around and realized that my motorcycle had been blown over, fortunately away from me. I struggled out of the sleeping bag, picked up the motorcycle and headed it into the wind so it wouldn’t be blown over again.
I looked up at the dark sky and saw parts of the horizon lit up by lightning. I decided to go to the camp office, a little cinder block building at the entrance to the campground, and see what was going on. The wind, however, was so strong that I had trouble making headway, and at times was almost crawling.
When I finally made it in the office door, I found the rest of the campers already gathered there, listening to the radio.
“What’s happening?” I asked.
“According to the radio there’s a tornado coming right towards us,” replied the camp owner.
“What should we do?” I asked.
“There’s not much we can do,” said one camper. “We don’t know if the tornado will hit us or change direction. We’ve got nowhere to go underground, so we can only wait it out!”
I suddenly felt very small again: powerless and vulnerable. Things were totally out of my control here and there was nothing I could do to regain it.
I went to the door and looked out at the fantastic play of lightning that now was visible all around the horizon. I could not see any tornado, but the wind was stronger than ever, screaming past the building. One camper told me that according to the radio it was over 100 mph.
Time crawled by, with most of the campers sitting on the floor, waiting for the storm to pass, hoping the tornado would not hit the camp. At about midnight the radio announced that the tornado had played itself out. Everyone cheered.
Although relieved that nothing had happened, I for one was not cheered. This event had revealed again my inability to handle the bigger challenges life brings. Who can fight with a tornado?
I thought again of that close call at the intersection in Minneapolis. Just when things had seemed to be coming together for a new start in life after graduating from college, here was the reminder that life was more of a wild bronco than a comfortable motorcycle saddle.
As the wind died down, I made my way back to my camping spot, again picked up my motorcycle, remade my tent and crawled into my sleeping bag.
Mount Rushmore. It certainly was a rush to see the four Presidents carved into the mountainside. The size of the sculpture was overwhelming when seen from close up. How could a man plan and execute such a vision?
As evening was approaching, I checked in at one of the camping areas in the park. Near my spot was a pop up camper. The owner chatted with me as I set up my little “motorcycle tent,” and told me about the wildlife in those parts: lots of bears, coyotes, and even mountain lions.
I came away from that conversation feeling a bit unsettled. “That guy will go into his nice, safe camper while I have to sleep outside on the ground,” I thought, “Who knows what may turn up in the night to visit me?”
I climbed into my sleeping bag and was soon asleep. Later in the night I was awakened by something. I sensed a shape moving to the left of my head. I turned to look and an animal growled loudly in my ear! I was not sure what it was, but it was big and loud–possibly a bear!
A wave of panic swept over me; here I was, zipped into my sleeping bag and couldn’t possibly defend myself if I tried! Again I was forced to recognize my smallness, my being way too weak to handle this situation on my own; I could do nothing.
I heard the animal moving away and quickly got out of my sleeping bag, stumbling over my food box.
“Of course,” I said to myself, “it smelled my food! That was really foolish of me to keep that so near me.”
I took the box and put it up in the branches of a tree. “That may not be completely secure,” I thought, “but at least if another animal comes, it will go after this instead of me!”
As I climbed back into my sleeping bag I realized I was shaking from the intensity of the experience. “I sure hope that no other visitors come; I’ve had enough for one night!” I thought as I zipped up the bag.
Yellowstone Park! It was a beautiful, majestic, startling place. As I cruised the roads through the forest, I felt a sense of freedom and a regained sense of control.
When I reached the edge of a stretch of woods opening onto a meadow, all the traffic suddenly stopped. As I sat behind the stopped cars, I looked around to see the reason for the delay.
There, just 50 yards away, walked the reason: a big bear. He looked at the line of cars filled with tourists staring at him. Then suddenly he sniffed the air. He swung around and looked right at me and then began to lope in my direction.
I stepped on the gearshift, dropping it into first gear, cranked on the gas handle and moved out the line of traffic, putting the cars between myself and the bear.
The roar of the motorcycle startled the bear and he turned and loped off into the woods. Several tourists shook their fists at me as I went by.
“Yeah, easy for you to be upset,” I thought, “You are safe in your cars while I’m sitting here out in the open with my food box to attract the bear!”
Picture from internet