In order for you to understand what happened yesterday, you need to know a couple of things about us.
Number one. When Peter is on vacation, he hates to have a plan. He doesn’t want to HAVE to be anywhere at any particular time. He wants the freedom to experience whatever comes along, for however long he likes, without the pressure of a ticking clock.
I know this. And I appreciate his extemporaneous ways more than I used to. Believe me, I do.
Number two. I like plans. Plans make me happy. Oh sure, I like to have fun as much as Peter does, but I like to know ahead of time what it’s going to be and when it’s going to happen.
So, after sixteen years of marriage, we have come to this compromise. He allows me to “plan” our vacations, but I do my best to keep those plans as vague and loose as I can.
It shakes out something like this…
I research hotels and cabins and other interesting places to stay, and I make reservations accordingly. (If Peter had his way, we would just stop driving each evening, look around, and try to find a place to stay. How this is less stressful than having a reservation, I still do not understand.)
Anyhow, I also research things to see and do all along our route. Then I create a beautiful timetable on which I chart the drive times from location to location, the possible activities on each stretch of road, and the details of our destination/accommodations each night. However, I don’t schedule anything that would HAVE to happen at an exact time. No tours or theater performances or ferry rides or anything of the kind. We might do those sort of things. Or we might not. We will see how it goes. And—after sixteen years of marriage—I’m chill like that. Or at least I try to be.
Well, the plan for this week’s vacation was just about perfect—a harmonious blend of structure and spontaneity—except for one enticing event.
When I was researching things to do in the Black Hills, I happened upon the website, and I just had to go. I thought the kids would love it. And for reasons I can’t explain, bison have a special place in my heart. When I called for reservations, though, the only availability was 1 p.m. yesterday. So I booked it. It was pricey, but that didn’t matter.
I was ridiculously excited about this bison tour. But when Peter saw it on the timetable, he got tense just talking about it. I assured him that it was the only scheduled activity all week and that we had plenty of time to get there from Mitchell, SD.
You can probably see where this is going.
Yesterday morning I roused the kids at 6 a.m. I was trying to get us on the road by 7. Of course, packing the car and eating breakfast took longer than I hoped and we pulled out of the parking lot at 7:30. I was planning for a very quick stop at Wall Drug—just long enough to drink our free cup of ice water, take a few pictures, and say we’d been. But when we were climbing back into the car, the kids decided they needed a second bathroom break. And the stop grew in length.
During our brief Wall Drug visit, Peter also ran into the ranger station and asked for some advice. He told the ranger that we needed to be in Custer by 1 p.m. for a jeep safari trip. “Should we just stick to the Interstate?” Peter asked. “Or do we have time to go through the Badlands?” The ranger told him that we had plenty of time to go through the national park. He directed Peter down Hwy 240 to the south and the east, then northwest on Hwy 44, then south on 16. “You’ll make it in good time,” the ranger promised.
When Peter relayed this plan to me, I was skeptical, but I wanted to believe. And I wanted to allow him his flexibility. So off we went, into the Badlands National Park.
We had no cell phone reception for a time, so we had to rely on the ranger’s paper map. At first we enjoyed sharing this unusual and spectacular terrain with the kids. But after a while, we grew concerned that the ranger might have been wrong. Time was ticking, and we were nowhere near Custer.
When we regained a cell phone connection and could check the GPS, it confirmed our fear—we were not going to make the Buffalo Safari Jeep Tour.
We have a choice in moments like that, a choice of how to respond. Disappointment? Anger? Blame? Or maybe the silent treatment to express what a martyr we are? These are tempting reactions, to be sure. And like most of you, I’ve tried all of them a time or two over the years.
But yesterday I knew immediately that I needed to take a different route. Not taking the safari tour was disappointing. But responding to that disappointment with something other than grace could have made it disastrous. Lashing out in anger or pouting in self-pity could turn an unfortunate situation into a really bad one.
So we called the Buffalo Safari Jeep Tour office and told them what happened. Then we set out to enjoy the rest of our day.
We pulled over on the side of the road and ate a picnic lunch. We finished our drive through the Badlands at a more leisurely pace. And we arrived at Mt. Rushmore at exactly the right time to tour it between thundershowers.
After Mt. Rushmore and Crazy Horse we decided to drive down to Custer State Park to try to see some bison on our own. Peter was determined to find me some buffalo. We started around the main Wildlife Loop and loved seeing the prairie dogs and the dear. Then Peter decided to get serious and he drove off the main road and onto the gravel roads—where the jeep safari might have gone.
We bounced along for quite a while with no luck, and I was about ready to give up. But suddenly we came up and over a hill, and Peter nearly shouted, “There they are!” And sure enough, the first few bison of the herd were crossing the road right in front of us. Then they kept coming and coming and coming—big bison and baby bison, dozens of them, right by our windows, so close that we could have touched them.
Then, lo and behold, coming along behind the herd were several Buffalo Jeep Safari trucks. We relished the fact that we actually had the better view—meeting that bison herd head-on, rather than following them along from the rear.
So, by providence and Peter’s persistence we were blessed to see a herd of bison up close and personal, and we were filled with even more gratitude and wonder because of how it happened.
We finished the day by checking into a darling little cabin at Trailside Park Resort. It isn’t a wilderness camping experience—the resort sits on the edge of the quaint town of Hill City—but the cabins are new and clean and comfortable.
All in all, it was a memorable and magnificent day.