On the Road – Week Seven (the final installment)

Part XXVIII: South Dakota – Fourth of July with the Heads of State
From my overnight location in Spearfish, I drove south into the Black Hills National Park. It was delightfully quiet, which turned out to be foreboding contrast to later stops. I tried to go about taking some less traveled roads through the park to see more backcountry. As it turned out, I took a farm road. It started well – lovely meadows and trees – when suddenly there were cows everywhere and the road got really muddy. A little slipping and a lot of mud stuck around my tire wells. Thankfully no problems greater than that. Eventually I got to the lake I was aiming for, with lots of Independence day weekend campers hanging out, just waking up to get their day started. Some people fishing.
From the lake, I continued south to make my way to the Crazy Horse Memorial Monument. Things began to become a little busier. I had a strange feeling around this massive monument under construction. Or at least around the museum area dedicated to it. I could not figure out what made me feel strange. The money they are raising through it is all good – to help continue construction of the monument dedicated not just to Crazy Horse, but to all of the Native American chiefs, forgotten and not, and to build the Indian University of North America, a medical school for Native American Indians, and an artifact repository. Just got an odd vibe.
From there, I made my way to Down to pass over the Wind Cave Park and drive through the Custer Grasslands. To be honest, the bison there looked sleeker than the ones I saw in Yellowstone – both a little smaller and with smoother coats. I worked my way north through these rolling hills to arrive at Mt. Rushmore, which was crazy busy. So many people milling about, taking pictures, eating. Both of these massive mountain carvings reminded me of man’s desire for immortality. If we can’t find a way to physically last forever, we’re going to do our best to make sure things that come after know we were here. I do not relate to that desire. Yeah, they sure are some big heads.
From Mt. Rushmore, I continued east, across more grassland, to arrive at the Badlands, another stunningly beautiful landscape in the American West. I was not struck with power, the way I was in Shoshone, but I definitely was struck by something among those incredible results of erosion and weathering. The color bands of sediment are strikingly sharp and the shapes made are wild. The scale felt particularly hard to understand and appreciate. A visit to the badlands necessitated a side stop at the city of Wall and the Wall Drug Store, you may have seen signs and bumper stickers all over the world. It is pretty much a carnival of things you don’t need for sale, plus some drugs, food, and free water (what they used to begin their climb to notoriety during the depression). I continued east for a bit longer until I decided I had to stop for the night, parked next to what turned out to be a cow pasture, and got myself to sleep.

Part XXIX: Cedar Rapids, IA – A Great Night’s Rest
You might tease me for making that the section title, but after several nights in the back seat of my car, I slept like the dead in a real bed – totally unaware of an apparently vicious thunderstorm. I got to sleep in a real bed thanks to a pair of twins I rowed with in college whose family is/was living in Cedar Rapids (they were in the process of moving). One of the twins was out of town on the moving venture, but the other took me down to Iowa City to see the college town, his favorite book store, and a wacky pizza place that puts all kinds of stuff on their pies. I got a slice with eggplant parmesan and one like a black bean taco. Weird but yummy.
What everyone says is true. There is a whole lot of corn growing across the Midwest. It is everywhere.

Part XXX: Rock Island, IL – Quad Cities
The next morning I rolled out of Cedar Rapids and just a little way east to the Illinois border and the Quad Cities. There, I got my oil changed and met up with an IG friend I met in Mysore. Back in India, she was leaving shortly after I arrived, but was kind enough to show me around town and get in a little bit of acro play time! Here in Illinois, she and her husband welcomed me into their home, took me to the studio she practices at, out for dinner, and gave some suggestions for entertainment. I did spend most of my full day there putting in some work for the upcoming yoga teacher training I will be helping with in Wooster, but loved the practice, food, and made some peach and cherry cobbler for us to enjoy. Nothing crazy, but they were very enjoyable folks to spend a couple nights with.

Part XXXI: Chicago, IL – Chi Town
Next was a quick drive to Chicago for the weekend. I started downtown at a yoga studio that has created a very substantial presence on IG. The woman who co-owns and -runs the studio has an incredible practice and I wanted to see what it was all about. At The Lab, they offer hatha style classes in which you just progress from posture to posture, holding each for several breaths and building towards a peak posture, but no vinyasa between postures. I ended up taking two classes back to back with one teacher, the first focused on back bending and the second on arm balance transitions. It was good. After the second class, Carmen (the woman in charge) blew in like a hurricane to get some pictures for their IG account, granting me a brief taste of her incredible intensity. Pictures taken, I was introduced and chatted with a few of the teachers and regulars, giving a brief overview of my travels and acquiring a place to go for dinner – The Chicago Diner. Surprisingly enough, it’s a vegan/vegetarian place (as you may know, and I was repeatedly shown this weekend, Chicagoans love their meats) and it serves really tasty foods. One of the teachers, the one who got The Lab to start their IG presence as it turned out, joined me there and we had some great conversation over the delicious dinner. I got the Buddha Karma Burger – a curry spiced vegan patty with grilled pineapple and sprouts and more.
After dinner, I made my way out of the city to Aurora area to spend the next two nights at the house of Songbird, who you may remember from the camp near Wooster. She is living out there working on a master’s program and real work. I had so many people to meet up with in Chi Town! There are a lot of people there, I guess. First, the total strangers at the Lab, then Songbird, followed by a very near stranger Saturday morning who was recommended by my friend in Rock Island, then three friends from Wooster who just happened to be up for the weekend, and finally another friend from Mysore. Big weekend.
Saturday morning, I hit up a vinyasa class at the Zen Yoga Garage, recommended by the friend of a friend I was to meet up with. It turned out to be a very enjoyable class choice. I hung out with played with my new friend briefly, but she had to be on her way, so I next headed downtown to the lake to meet up with my Wooster friends randomly in town (discovered when they saw me post on IG from Chicago) to attend the Taste of Chicago food festival and West Fest – a small community music festival in West Town that they had originally come to attend. Neither festival was particularly entertaining on its own – lots of people, over-priced food – but the company was delightful and the food was rather tasty, plus entrance to both was free.
Eventually, I made my way back out to Aurora to spend another night at Songbird’s, and try my first deep dish pizza, near as I can remember. In my east coast opinion, it’s more like cheese pie than pizza, but it certainly isn’t bad. The next morning, we made our way to the Brookfield zoo with free entry thanks to her Intern pass! Spent several hours there and saw and experienced pretty much everything that it had to offer. Definitely tiring, sufficiently entertaining, the zoo has some good exhibits and excellent rehabilitation projects. It was really great having a knowledgeable companion along, pointing out some interesting behind-the-scenes information for the exhibits.
After several hours, we returned to her home, I said my good byes, and drove back downtown to see another Mysore friend. We had a nice time catching up on the last few months over a very tasty Italian dinner and under a lovely summer evening, then hit the hey early because she had to teach ashtanga in the morning, I had several hours to drive through more corn fields to Columbus, OH, where I am now! Tomorrow I’ll be back in Wooster, getting ready for the teacher training ahead of me and planning for what’s next. Stay tuned.

About 10,000 miles covered and twenty-five states (and one District of Columbia) at least passed through in seven weeks. A heck of a lot of yoga studios, new friends, and incredible sights. The one thing that sticks out to me most from the trip is just how beautiful and kind so many people are through-out this country. They’ve got to be the majority. Let us lovingly rise up to calm these loud, hateful, fearful small groups who seem to be tearing this country apart. It can be done.

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