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The silent morning broke to conversing crows. Waking to their caw is welcome over any man made noise. The day was to be one of reprieve from windy highways to hike in the Black Hills re-energizing my legs and my being. The destination was Harney Peak(7,242 feet). The highest peak in South Dakota. A sacred area where the famous Oglala Lakota Medicine and Holy Man, Black Elk, received a great vision.

Crazy Horse Memorial MonumentIn route to the trailhead I could see the distant Crazy Horse Monument standing 563 ft. tall staring into the eastern rising sun. I knew I’d return later. Missing the trail parking area I was soon at Mt. Rushmore National Memorial. A monument I had little interest seeing. The presidential faces of Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln chiseled into sacred land of the Lakota’s after the broken Treaty of Fort Laramie is considered a disrespectful undertaking. The Black Hills were “given” to the Indians who originally resided in the area. When gold was found by trespassing settlers the land was retaken resulting in the Great Sioux War of 1876.

Mt. RushmoreNot wanting to stay long I was allowed to enter the memorial for trail information and a few photographs. Although an impressive sculpture, history and common sense told me this was in the wrong place. I left for the trailhead and noticing the parking area was no place for the truck and trailer Crazy Horse Monument became the next stop.

Construction on the monument began in 1948 by Polish-American sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski. Chief Standing Bear of the Oglala Lakota people asked Korczak because he and other chiefs wanted the white man to know that Native Americans also have great heroes. There is some controversy by certain Native American Groups of defacing a mountain but the work continues supported by most. In addition to the monument there are currently seven buildings including the well planned Indian Museum of North America. I watched an introductory video of the construction, perused the buildings and took a guided tour for a closer look at the monument. Impressive is an Crazy Horse Memorial Monumentunderstatement. The exhibits are meticulous and seeing people from native tribes working in the museum providing historic information was good. I highly recommend visiting the monument which is supported only by private funding.

The day worked out well since making the hike on the difficult northern route would have added to the previous day’s exhaustion. The following morning I broke camp at 4:30AM and left the site at 5:30. An 8-point buck bid farewell strolling in front of the truck to see his bedded mate a few yards away. Off I went through the hills to find the southern route.

Black Hills National ForestI’m not sure if the morning caffeine didn’t kick in but I couldn’t find the trail head. The icy road became steep and I engaged the truck into 4WD crawling upwards with areas of no guardrails only to find no trailhead. I drove down the unprotected side of the road to a dirt road encountering a locked gate. Reversing the trailer wasn’t an easy task. It took numerous attempts to back out onto a thankfully rarely used road this time of year. To give the destination another try I went back to where I was sure the trailhead was then down again. With no luck I stopped in the town of Custer with disappointment. Looking at the map a final time and not easily deterred I drove the seven miles up the dangerous road again to finally find the trailhead at Sylvan Lake.

Packed for Camp and the RoadConditions were full on winter with hard packed snow. Fresh covering snow provided enough to see deer and coyote tracks who are smart enough to use a man made trail when humans are nowhere to be found. The backpack had more than needed in case of an emergency in those conditions. With the heavy load and being behind schedule I had to make good time to Harney Peak 3.5 miles out. The trail was moderate taking a few hours to reach the sacred area Black Elk would have his vision quests. The fire tower was built by the Civilian Conservation Core (CCC) in the 1938, an organization my grandfather Chokas was part of in Connecticut. Winds were gusting up to 60 MPH and I ate as much and quickly as possible in the tower to refuel for the Harney Peak Lookout Towerreturn. After a few minutes of personal thoughts and prayer I kept a brisk pace to stay warm and cut time knowing long roads were ahead of me. Fresh coyote and deer tracks were in my inbound tracks. I wasn’t alone and it felt good to have unseen company watching me in the forest.

Hungry FriendsReturning to the truck at 1:30PM a change of clothes was made and I was ready to drive down the unprotected side of the steep, winding, icy hill for the last time. Similar to leaving the campsite I was shown out by deer.

I slowly regained strength and awareness for the trek back to I-90W. The stress of not finding the trailhead, driving the icy roads and maintaining a fast pace on the trail was draining. With snow falling and more mountains for the truck to climb and descend it would make for a long day and stressful driving…

Up next…White knuckled driving and thoughts of turning back.

Peace – Greg

“Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.” – Mohandas Gandhi

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Stacked and PackedPutting plan in action I picked up the U-Haul trailer to load my possessions. I thought I was over zealous getting the largest trailer my truck could pull but after trimming down everything fit with little room to spare. Eight AM on November 19 a short good bye was said to my incredible Aunt Jane. The Toyota, trailer and I were westward bound. Wheels in motion to start a new chapter or maybe this is a new book. My mind was racing, “Whoa! Am I really doing this?!”. Thoughts and emotions were churning as I kept driving.

Interstates 84 and 80 provided the western route to the first overnight stop in Pennsylvania 500 miles away. Soon after entering the interstate two red tail hawks, spirit guides, lead the early stage of the journey. I was fortunate to see this raptor along with others many times while crossing the country signaling I was being watched. With the heavy load the ride was uneventful only stopping for gas and slowing for deer grazing casually on the side of the busy interstate.

Uncle Den's Train SetTen hours later I was in Greenville, Pennsylvania. A town once known for manufacturing automobiles and railroad cars. With industry long gone the town has become financially distressed. Uncle Dennis put me up for the next few nights to visit and see the model train set he builds piece by piece by piece. The trains, tracks, and towns are as you would imagine to see 60 years ago. The complexity of the different number of trains and crossings almost require a locomotive license to be at the helm of this train set. The following day I met a special cousin, Vicki, catching up on the many changes in our lives and was reminded as always she’s my elder by 22 days. The time was good to see family during the early stage of this journey.

Leaving Rockford, ILThe next morning the trek resumed. Light snow was in the air and I prayed it didn’t fall any heavier. Travel continued on Interstate 80 until sweeping around Chicago connecting to I-90 making for another 500 mile day stopping in Rockford, IL. After the motel check in I hauled in the next days necessities and a sleeping bag which I find more comfortable (and safer) than bedding in quick stop motels where the “Free” breakfast is marginal along with rubberized hard boiled eggs. A nearby Starbucks saved me with a venti dose of caffeine to begin the day ending in Mitchell, South Dakota, 600 miles later. Not much to see in this truck Ready for the Huntstop town with gas stations and motels. Same routine, check in, necessities and sleeping bag. Early next morning pheasant hunters and their canine companions from Alabama were preparing for the fields. The dogs were more excited than the hunters after a 12 hour drive and six hours of sleep.

The Plains of South Dakota delivered severe headwinds trying to push the Toyota and me back to Connecticut. The drive was unnerving since the Toyota is the shape of a refrigerator towing a giant block. Not aerodynamic to say the least. Completing only 300 miles both the Toyota and I were done for the day which worked well being near my only other planned stop, the sacred Black Hills. A tourist center was just Home in Custer State Parkoff the highway and when asking about camping I was looked at rather strangely since few camp in the winter months. I was reminded it was the off season and cold. Fortunately, one campground was open and my response to the cold was cold is relative. I surveyed local shops for food and supplies pulling this large white and orange container. Driving through parking lots was no easy task since it was the weekend before Thanksgiving and Christmas shopping madness had begun. I found needed items, refueled myself with yet another Starbucks and the truck with a treat of high octane gasoline.

Ramen and ChickenCuster State Park was outside of town and my residence for two nights of solitude being the only camper on the premises. In short time the tent was erected, sleeping gear thrown in and water boiling. If you’ve followed the U.S. Tour posts you know ramen noodles are a personal staple. They were again, only this time I had (store) roasted chicken to add instead of tuna. Nice!

Brutal head winds, navigating through Rapid City, locating and setting camp made for an exhausting day. I was looking forward to sliding into a -30 degree sleeping bag even though temps were in the low 20’s, which, by the way, is barely cold to winter campers.

Up next… Mt. Rushmore by accident, The Crazy Horse Memorial, a hike to a sacred area that almost didn’t happen.

Peace – Greg

“When you remove the risk, you remove the challenge, when you remove the challenge, you wither on the vine.”  –  Alex Lowe

Thanks for returning to the Peaceful Pathfinder blog. (Pardon my sabbatical.)

This post is dedicated to my sister Danielle who who provides encouragement while seeing a second brother pursue new opportunities in other regions of the country. Keep smiling Danielle!

Each birthday I plan something special. This year I decided to celebrate the milestone of turning 50 in Portland, Oregon. This was my fourth trip to a very diverse geographic region of the country wanting the Pacific Northwest experience one more time exploring more of Oregon and visiting friends in Seattle. After returning, a few busy months passed and I encountered crossroads of staying in southern New England or make a major life change and journey to the Pacific Northwest. Not wanting regrets the decision was made to go west. A decision I’ve made more difficult than needed with an overactive mind and personal situations. Challenges from layoffs, effects of an ended relationship, and physical issues took their toll. I can’t explain it all exactly. Being stuck, hitting a wall or the dreaded mid-life crisis was in my path. Years ago I told myself a mid-life crisis would never happen. No way! Well it happened and I’m moving on doing my best to leave behind what’s no longer serving me. Time for a lot of new including uncertainty and adventure.

German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” Well, I survived the storm and there’s been an upside of personal growth through travel, a new connection with nature, reading the right books and being with the right people. Currently there’s a relief since the past year provided healing and recovery from health, heart, and ego which bites me now and again (Must be the stubborn Taurus in me.).

Society says at this point in life I should be married, have two point something kids, own a home, have a lot of stuff and work so much I hardly see family. I’ve wanted all of it, even the amount of work if that’s what it took to support a household. These events haven’t happened for reasons I don’t know why. I am where I am and what the future holds is unclear. I can only be the change I want to see and major changes are in process. I’ve sold or donated bigger items of furniture, downsized and minimized personal belongings and will be bringing my life to Portland to see where I’m directed. The drive will be a 3,000+ mile journey where I plan to make road reprieves visiting family in western Pennsylvania and spending a few nights in the sacred Black Hills of South Dakota. Traveling this time of year may present weather obstacles effecting roads and towing a trailer the size of my truck will add to the driving challenge.

The decision leaves behind family and an incredible circle of friends who fulfilled my life with camaraderie, outdoor recreation and support. Being a person of connection, the distance away won’t be easy especially through the holidays. Many friends are as close as sisters and brothers and are part of my tribe. Along with people, I’ll miss the four seasons but there will be glacier covered mountains to climb, rides along the coastal highway and fly fishing in beautiful streams and rivers. Do I have fears and doubts? I sure do and it’s a matter of working with and through them. Faith and trust are by my side.

When starting this blog a goal has been to share interesting trips of India, a 10,000 Mile U.S. Tour and other journeys. Travel was more than sightseeing it was also to provide opportunities to investigate new places to live and experience culture outside of areas I’ve resided most of my life. The Pacific Northwest has been on my mind for many years and I won’t know the experience without making the leap, no matter my age, time of year, or any reason. With personal interests in hiking, camping, climbing, tracking, fishing, hunting I look forward to the experiences.

Thanks for joining this journey. I hope the related posts are intriguing and provide insight to similar circumstances you may be encountering. Feel free to drop a personal note or question as I believe in paying it forward from advice and experience.

Up next… Packing up and beginning the cross country trek.

Peace – Greg

“Do one thing every day that scares you.” Eleanor Roosevelt

 

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