I am finally back home and currently sitting in my office at Kalitta Motorsports World Headquarters in beautiful (yet currently rainy and dreary) Ypsilanti (Township), Mich. pecking away on the keyboard of my laptop. The Camping with Todd journey has met its end, but there are still a few things I would like to share with you, dear reader, before we close the book completely.
Before I left for the NHRA Western Swing trip and reason for this blog, I knew that I had a lot of things planned and that I would have to keep a journal to keep track of all the wonderful happenings and to keep a pretty tight schedule in an effort to keep my head from spinning too far off its axis. I was fairly proficient at the whole process throughout the last 22 days (Geez, 22...really?! No wonder my bed felt so good last night!). I kept notes on where I hiked and for how long. I knew how long I could stay at each attraction and so forth. With that due diligence and the spectacular guidance of the navigation system (I named her Cindy, as she was the only voice I heard for a lot of the 7,000+ miles...and, yes, regretfully I must admit to you, dear reader, I did talk back to her a few times...) in the Sequoia, I hit every mark on the schedule, within a few minutes, all the way through...almost (more on that later).
Little Bighorn Battlefield
After I left Grubby's home and hospitality in Bozeman Tuesday morning, The Sequoia and I were again Eastbound and down with one stop planned between Bozeman and Keystone, South Dakota - Little Bighorn Battlefield Before I got the junction of I-90 and Hwy. 212 where the battlefield resides, I made a stop to get the Official Fast Food Meal of Camping with Todd - McDouble, small fries, and a medium Diet Coke. Sadly, dear reader, I consumed several Official Fast Food Meals of Camping with Todd at McDonald's on the odyssey, but I digress (and diet!).
Once I pulled on to the property of The Little Bighorn Battlefield, my spine began to tingle. Just looking out over the rolling hills and ravines and know that so many people had lost their lives there gave me an uneasy feeling. I went ahead and parked in the designated lot and got out to look around, reluctantly.
The field is eerily cluttered with white stone grave markers. Almost every one reads the same, "U.S. SOLDIER 7TH CAVALRY FELL HERE, JUNE 25, 1876". General Custer's men were buried where they fell (later to be interred at a more suitable location). The fewer dead of the Lakota and Cheyenne were taken away and buried elsewhere. You can read more about the details here (please do read more). I took the path down to the ravine where so many lives were lost. It was very unsettling, so I made a bit quicker steps back up the path and back to the Sequoia. I studied about the Battle of Little Bighorn, and Custer, and Sitting Bull ages ago in school, but there really is a lot to the story...some things I knew and some I didn't. If you do get a chance, do some research (online, of course).
I left the Battlefield and pointed the Sequoia toward Hwy. 212 and Keystone. The drive was magnificent. It was a beautiful day with a few spotty clouds. I even drove up on a wildfire. All sorts of fire-fighting personnel were in the area. The fire was close enough to the road that the smoke was thick, but thankfully I never saw any flames. Kudos to the brave men and women fighting this blaze and all others.
As I kept seeing motorcycle after motorcycle on this leg of the journey, a thought popped in my head from something I overheard at the race in Seattle, "Sturgis is next week, I think." Sir, whoever you may be, you were very correct in that statement. As I left Montana and passed through a brief stint back in to Wyoming, I entered South Dakota and into what I have renamed and will forever now proclaim as the V-Twin Sea. You couldn't swing a dead cat (calm down, PETA, it's just an expression) without hitting a Harley or a biker, especially when I rolled into the Black Hills area and Keystone. By this time, I was tired, a bit grouchy, and needed a shower and a good night's sleep. The Sequoia did its best Moses (not Charlton Heston) imitation and we parted the V-Twin Sea to get settled in for the night. My third and final check on my life's to-do list would have to wait for a fresh start and fresher Todd the next morning.
Mount Rushmore/Crazy Horse Mountain
Ahhh...Mount Rushmore. I have wanted to visit Gutzon Borglum's masterpiece for as long as I can remember. I'm sure, dear reader, that my not-so-subtle hint in my previous blog entry clued you in to where I was going next. Indeed, now I can say, "Oh yeah, I've been to Mt. Rushmore. It's Majestic." Check that one off the list.
I walked around Mount Rushmore National Memorial with this stupid grin on my face, all under the watchful eyes of George (the prince of powder (wigs) and the voice of Valley Forge, the Alpha of Rock), Tommy (the Monticello Madman), Teddy (speaking softly and carrying two big drumsticks), and Abe "Don’t Call Me ‘Braham" (the boss of the beard and the badass of the bass line) for about two hours taking photos of every angle I could find...
I absorbed all I could and even had a chat with Don "Nick" Clifford, one of the carvers on Mt. Rushmore, in the gift shop at the Visitor's Center. We talked about his work on the mountain, of course, and even about his stint with the Mt. Rushmore baseball team. Did you know (sorry, Bob Frey) that there was a Mt. Rushmore baseball team? Neither did I! (Nick even signed one of his baseball cards for me...freakin' awesome!)
Todd: What position did you play?
Nick: Outfield and pitcher.
Todd: Which did you prefer?
Nick: Oh, definitely pitcher
My two hours of allotted time were up at Mt. Rushmore, and I wanted to spend my third and final hour in the Black Hills at the work in progress, Crazy Horse Mountain...
The Crazy Horse Memorial is already spectacular to visit, but I can only imagine what the magnificence of the final sculpture will be (slotted to be done in 60-70 years, so if I'm still kickin' then, please, dear reader, roll me up to see it). In 1948, Korczak Ziolkowski began work on his Crazy Horse masterpiece to remind the "white man" that the "red man" had heroes, too. Korczak died in 1982, but his wife, Ruth, and his family continue his beloved work. I really do hope I get to see the finished piece someday.
Okay, three hours on the schedule for the Black Hills were up and it was time to get the Sequoia pointed east...well, remember how I told you earlier that I almost hit every mark on the schedule...here is where I strayed, and I'm going to take this public opportunity to blame Cara and the fine folks at Black Hills Aerial Adventures for luring me into my abrupt course deviation...just kidding!
Todd: I've never been on a helicopter ride.
Inner Todd: Screw the schedule! Let's go for a ride in the whirly bird!
Inner Todd won. I decided on a course in the hangar/building (they have several to choose from) and then boarded the black Robinson R44 Raven (I had to look it up. Online, of course) with my pilot for my deviation, Cara. Cara was super friendly (She told me she was going to read this, but she really was super friendly) and she was great pointing out points of interest including the incredible Cathedral Spires. We cruised by those and then there was Mt. Rushmore (enter spine tingling (the good kind) again)...
And then a few minutes later, We were eye(s) to eye with Crazy Horse (tingle (still good kind) overload)...
After we landed and I said my goodbye to Cara and the gang, and since the schedule was already in utter shambles (exaggeration), I stopped to have lunch at the Ponderosa Restaurant in Palmer Gulch somewhere between Crazy Horse Mountain and Mt. Rushmore (about 17 miles apart) and made a rare stray from the Official Fast Food Meal of Camping with Todd.
After consumption of a pretty good hamburger (not too far of a stray...) and subsequent digestion, it was really time to get going east again. I was hoping to get to Minnesota that night before stopping, but I could tell when I left the Black Hills and got back onto I-90 that the Land of Ten Thousand Lakes was probably not going to be my resting place for the evening. I made it to the very nice Holiday Inn Express in Mitchell, South Dakota (yes, the home of the famous Corn Palace) before my weary eyes went dark (with visions of Mt. Rushmore, Crazy Horse Memorial, and helicopters still dancing through my head).
Yesterday morning I woke up refreshed and recharged (and still grinning from Mt. Rushmore, Crazy Horse Memorial, and helicopters) and ready to tackle the 14-hour ride back home. "Home", that's a word that I hadn't thought of in quite a while, but it did have a nice ring to it. Homeward bound I went!
Reflections and Racing
Fourteen hours is a long time to think and reflect, and I did A LOT of that! Many of the thoughts swirling in my head were about the amazing journey that was coming to an end and some thoughts were about life in general and how the entire experience was something my soul was yearning for (even though its owner wasn't necessarily listening). And, some thoughts were about my awesome Kalitta Motorsports race team and how privileged I am to be where I am. Team Kalitta had a great Western Swing. We won 11 rounds in eliminations including three semifinals...great job by all the Kalitta Motorsports crews!
Speaking of crews, I want to take this opportunity to salute all the crews of Kalitta Motorsports, the crews of other NHRA teams, and the NHRA Safety Safari who travel the highways and byways of this great country FAR more than my little, drop-in-the-bucket trip every year to bring you the best auto racing on the planet (Applause)!
And also speaking of drag racing, (WARNING! Here comes a shameless plug by Todd.), please be sure to pick up the latest issue of Drag Racing Action magazine (Nov. 2012) at your local newsstand (or Kroger, or Wal-mart, or (insert favorite retailer here)). There's an article in the issue, which just landed on my desk today, about our illustrious leader, Connie "the Bounty Hunter" Kalitta, written by yours truly...
My 22 days on the road were a profound experience. I challenged myself (I hiked to the top of a mountain in Sonoma!) like never before and met every goal. I spent 12 blissful nights in my tent. I hiked 50 miles (the predetermined goal). I watched and reported on the greatest race team in the world for three events, and I was honored and humbled to share the entire experience with you, dear reader. I listened to Sirius XM satellite radio A LOT in the Sequoia, mostly "80s on 8" and "90s on 9" (my g-g-g-generation) and was reacquainted with a Jackson Browne song that I haven't heard in years, That Girl Could Sing. The subject matter of the song doesn't fit, (at all) but one lyric struck a chord (pun intended) with me. I twisted it around a bit to this...
It could have been almost anywhere
with the possible exception of where
I wanted it to be.
That sums up the trip for me. There were no expectations, but everything was just what I needed before I knew I needed it. Thanks again for reading (me applauding you)!
Todd has left the blog...for now. I leave you with this...