Before leaving Ft. Luxury in Rapid City, SD, we feasted on a luxurious breakfast compliments of the hotel. Chef Knak helped himself to extra fruit. We enjoyed a shave, shower, and at last we enjoye a portion of a deep cut action movie "Uncommon Valor" as we packed up for the day.
The weather was great and we swung by the Black Hills visitor center where we got some ideas on where to hike and filled up on water. In the spirit of easing into it we decided to head to the Black Elk Wilderness Area of the Black Hills National Forest, which overlapped with Custer State Park. Between the elevation, the steepness of the climb, and the weight on our backs for really the first time we had a tough ascent to what ended up being the highest point east of the Rockies. A former fire lookout station called Harney Peak. It was constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the 1930s New Deal pushed by Franklin D. Roosevelt. Since being deactivated it serves as a beautiful place for pictures, dealing with incredibly windy conditions, and hanging out with an inordinate amount of chipmunks. I always have felt a special love for chipmunks going back to my childhood in Hartford, WI where we had a little rocky outcropping that a few chipmunks called home. Every morning waiting for the bus we'd feed them peanuts. Needless to say, it was awesome to see them happy and in their element. They were even happier probably due to the blizzard that left a lot of destruction and downed trees for them.
After a time hanging out at the lookout we headed down the hill a bit and started to look for somewhere to camp. We were nervous there wouldn't be a space flat enough for the tent but we eventually found something and set up camp. I decided with the amount of trees, I'd give my ENO hammock a try overnight despite the cold. I'm glad I did, but it was rough between the wind and a low of perhaps the mid-30s. I was just excited to do proper dispersed camping. With the first bit of separation Knak and I have had we both naturally saw it as an opportunity for a bit of solitude. First, I spent an hour or so laying in the hammock watching the clouds race overhead as the wind charged through the valley whistling between the pines. I decided to put on a couple Talk Talk albums and l just kept watching the clouds.
I couldn't help but feel incredibly thankful that this all worked out. Thankful that Greg was up for the adventure. Thankful that the school saw the value in our journey. It has been a resounding success and we're not even halfway through. After a bit longer here in Deadwood, which so far hasn't been as casino-tacky as I feared, we're headed to the northwestern portion of the Black Hills in Wyoming (they allow campfires!) and tomorrow onward to Devil's Tower and Bighorn National Forest.