On the Wall of Wind and Rain

The Badlands are exactly what they say they are. Bad Lands. The American desert will punish you for doing nothing wrong. All we wanted to do was pass through and pay our respects. Instead we got walloped.

High on the ridge overlooking the Bad Lands.

It’s rare that we stay in one place for 4 nights, but the Buffalo called and said they wanted us to come to the big game, eat pancakes and check out cool art with an excursion to an historical side show, so we did. Sheri got a hot tip on a BLM site in the Badlands from the attendant cleaning the restroom. She lives the nomadic life, like Frances McDormand in the movie Nomadland, but with a happy disposition. Take the exit for Wall, SD and turn right. Go about 8 miles down and it’ll be on your left. “Best. View. Ever.” With those kind of credentials, we took the advice and off we went.

The ridge is popular, but not for tents!

Five years ago we did the Badlands in Betty. You remember Betty; our pre-pandemic Class A gifted motorhome that took us from D.C. to San Diego and lots of National Parks in between. A Badlands storm swooped into the Sage Creek campground, shaking Betty to earthquake territory while all the tenters scooped their wet gear and sped away. It was a seminal experience for us where we both ridiculed the tenters for not taking cover earlier and thanked Betty for her protection. The irony is strong.

The afternoon: ironically drying out the Hests from the wet night prior.

The view on the rim overlooking the landscape was spectacular. Perched high up on a ridge, the Badlands stretched out in front of us in all of its dramatic glory. Apple’s weather app forecasted rain from 8pm-10pm, clearing through the night as storm clouds were building on the horizon. We set up camp with all of our tie-downs, we cooked, we prepped for the 8pm rain. We imagined that the RVs were all shaking their heads, like we had, at the stupid tenters, not knowing this was not our first rodeo. They didn’t know about Death Valley or Capitol Reef or Tom Sawyer in West Memphis. We knew it would be Bad, but we had a plan.

Italian Wedding and a View at sunset. All is well.

Best case, it’s just heavy rain. No problems. Worst case, we lose the tent. We went through the get-out-of-dodge checklist while cooking Italian Wedding Soup on the stove. Eric would stabilize the tent while Sheri secured the bedding in 30 gallon garbage bags. Wait it out. If the tent failed, aka poles collapse or nylon rips, abandon tent, grab what’s secure and get into the truck. Hests go in the bed, garbage bag in the cab. Wait it out, assess at clearing. We had a brief chat about a motel room or cabin and jinxed on nahhhh. The Badlands may knock out a pair of tourists in a Tesla with Gucci tent, but not us.

Ominous horizons.

The lightning storms leading up to the bewitching hour were magnificent. One half of the horizon lit up in fireworks as bolts of lightning struck the broken terrain. We tucked into the tent just before 8, went over our contingency plans again and reminisced on bad weather experiences. The rain came and went, heavy at times and around 11:45, Sheri took her shoes and socks off, proclaiming the worst of it gone; time to get comfy. For sure, the worst had missed us. Famous last words.

Building wind presses on the Grand Hut.

At 1 a.m., Sheri woke to rain falling on her face. Shaking Eric awake, she pushed panic back. Eric tried to throw on some clothes, but the storm was faster. He pushed all his weight into one side of the Grand Hut 4, the 50 mph swirling winds pushed back holding the tent in a tenuous balance. Horizontal rain penetrated under the rain fly and in through the air vents. Water built on the tent floor. Sheri stuffed the garbage bags with pillows and sleeping bags protecting them from anymore of the inside-rain. Two AARP members threw themselves against the soaking wet tent wall working to keep the Grand Hut from collapsing the poles and falling over the edge.

is it too late to leave?

Within a half an hour, the storm cell had moved on. Wet and tired, but with most of the gear spared from waterlog, we assessed the damage. There was a half-inch of water pooling on the floor, the poles were further bent, but overall the tent held. The ground around the tent turned into into gumbo mud, which clung to anything touching it like dirty cement. Sacrificing our bath towels, we dried the standing water and unrolled the damp but serviceable bed rolls. Within thirty minutes we were back in our bags, tired but victorious. We joke at how the RV’s were probably surprised to see us standing.

The popular Gumbo Hoka model.

Before dozing off, Eric checked the weather radar one last time. Unbelievably, another cell had built and the magic iPhone set the countdown to impact at 16 minutes. So much for winning. We bailed. Beds in the truck bed, bedding in the backseat, butts in the front of the cab. Keep telling yourself it’s more comfy than airline seats. Eric re-staked the tent to see what we could salvage in the morning and gumbo mud stole his Hokas. The Badlands simply do not lose.

Blissfully over-confident before the sun sets.

Bent, gumbo’d, exhausted, with the remnants of our gear thrown in the bed, we were the first off the ridge as we skulked by the RVs before they had a chance to get out of their soft, dry beds. Hopefully the Grand Hut would be serviceable for a return to home. Nothing had been lost to the edge, but it was all thrown into the truck bed wet and muddy. Hopefully we would move south far enough to get ahead of the severe cold front moving in from the north. Hopefully, some location with sun and calm air would allow us to affect repairs. Another night on the ridge was out of the question. According to the forecast, the worst of the weather was yet to come. Time to flee to a diner for hot coffee and a breakfast sandwich to figure out Next Dest.

Cheery Brianna and Heavy Metal Rush @ The Sunset Grill in Kadoka, SD

On the Wall of Wind and Rain