Sunday, November 11, 2018

The Touring Series: Festus And The Bombed Out Town

A Guitar Ted Productions series
 Thanks for joining me again on another adventure in "The Touring Series". This tour was dubbed the "Race Against Death Tour". This tour occurred in August of 1995. The three participants, Ryan, Troy, and your's truly, left from Cedar Falls, Iowa to try and get to Winter Park, Colorado in two weeks. Here I am reproducing the tale as it was posted on the blog in 2009. I also will add new remarks and memories where appropriate at the end of each post. 

 Once again, there were no cell phones, internet, social media platforms, or digital cameras in use by we tourers in 1995. I will post images where I can, but this tour wasn't well documented in images, so there probably will be very few sprinkled throughout. A modern image will be used only where it depicts things I want to clarify, like where we were in that part of the tour via a map image, or the like.

The "Touring Series" will appear every Sunday until it ends. Look for past entries by scrolling back to a previous Sunday's post, or type in "Touring Series" in the search box to find more. 

The "Race Against Death Tour" rides into another blazing hot summer day on a lonely stretch of State Highway 44 in South Dakota.....

As we rolled along, the heat increased and the cloudy haze began to give way to more intense, bright sunshine. We were going through water like crazy with the temperatures hitting around 100 degrees that day. So it was that we came to a tiny spot in the road that on our maps said was a town named  Witten. We pulled off the road to see what looked like a feed mill and grain elevator operation in a dusty, unpaved "cul de sac" with a few houses back behind that. We noted that there was a little water spigot located right behind a small shack. We didn't need to knock, as our conversation alerted a few of the operation's employees to step outside in the blazing heat to see what the heck all the commotion was about.

After one of them gave the okay to use the water spigot, he quickly ducked back into the air conditioned shack, leaving a short-ish, wiry fellow to speak with us. I quickly found Troy taking my bottles so I would have to be the one to talk to this fellow. Ryan sort of shadowed me for a bit, but when it became apparent this guy was slightly odd, he too shrank away, leaving me to deal with our latest "V.I.P".  Actually, I thought this guy was okay, just sheltered, shall we say?

He kind of was a cross between that character on the 60's show "Gunsmoke" named "Festus" and a town drunk. We'll call him Festus since I didn't get his right name.  He was not what you'd call "sensitive to cultural differences", and I am not going to sugarcoat his language here. This is exactly how it went down in '95. Anyway, you have to think of his dialogue in a western drawl....

Festus: "So, where ya'all headed?

Me: "We're going to the Black Hills, and then to Rocky Mountain National Park."

 Festus: "So, yer goin straight up 44, eh? That's Injun country, ya know. Those folks is a little waspy. 

Why I carry me a pistol by my side on the seat in the truck whenever I go through there.

Me: So those folks aren't too friendly?

Festus: "Well theys shoot ya soon as talk ta ya, but it depends on what yer doin'.

Me: "Huh! No kiddin? "
He then goes on to tell me he trades in horses. He says he carries large sums of money at times from the sales of the animals, and that he needs the protection of the side arm.

 Festus: "Did yew know that it's zactly two hunnert miles from here ta the race track at the edge of Rapid City? Two hunnert miles! From right here!" He points to the ground at his feet.

Me: "No kiddin?"

 Festus: "Yep! And didja ever go up in any of them caves? "He goes on to tell me of a family vacation where he describes the stalagmites and stalactites as "icicles" that shown like "jew-wells" in the lights and "didja know its a constant 49 degrees in there?

Our route from Witten to Wood, South Dakota

Well, you get the point by now, I am sure! Troy and Ryan finally tore me away from this guy and we were off to the road, but not before Troy could voice his fear of the Native Americans. He had overheard Festus'  comments about the "waspy" folks and heard "guns" and was thinking we should re-route. I said that we were not in danger of anything. Heck, the guys that Festus was afraid of were after his horse money, and we had nothing any Native American could want. We were about as poor, destitute, and stinky as they came. What would they point a gun at us for? Our stinky chamois? And with that we went off down the road again.

It wasn't long though, and we were in need of more water. We saw a spot on the map and aimed our bikes for there. The town was named Wood, and it was slightly off the road. As we approached on the blacktop leading into this tiny town, we saw busted off trees, broken buildings, and there wasn't a green leaf to be found. A small pack of dogs took up to barking and gave chase as we rode up to the first outliers.

It wasn't so much like a tornado had hit this place, even though it may have, but it looked like one of those WWII pictures from my high school history books. Bombed. That's what Wood looked like. A bombed out town. We scattered as the dogs approached. Ryan with his frame pump held high, ready to strike, me barking back, and Troy yelling at them in a stern tone of voice. The dogs finally relented, we rolled up to a gas station, and searched for something to drink.
This tour would be one for the ages if this was the only weird day we had, but it wasn't, and it wouldn't be the last. Oh no! Anyway, the guy in Witten! I could have listened to him talk all day. What a character! I'd never met anyone that sounded like a character straight out of an old Western movie, but this guy was a dead ringer for the "typical" cowboy.

Then Troy's reaction was a surprise. He really was seriously scared to go down Highway 44 any further. I was not scared at all. (Although not more than 24hrs later I would be.) These people in this area seemed okay with me as long as we didn't get crossways with anyone, and as I said, we had nothing of value which anyone would want. We actually did look fairly odd and destitute ourselves, in a way. Hauling all our belongings on two wheels and living on the road.

  The town of Wood has lived on in my life as a reference I use when people get all proud about somewhere they've been and I haven't been there. I listen politely, then I ask them if they've ever been to Wood, South Dakota. I usually get blank stares with that comment. Then I look very proud and walk away. Ha!

Next week: The Tour continues to the shock and horror of our overnight stop......

1 comment:

graveldoc said...

Quite the entertaining story, Mark! This reminded me of a couple springs ago when my touring buddy and I bike packed in the mountains of N.W. Arkansas. One morning as we were on a gravel road entering the Ouachita National Forest, a local chap driving on the rode stopped to chat for a while. Turns out he was a contractor for the Forest Service doing work keeping the roads clear of fallen trees and brush. He told us a story of a horrible incident that occurred just months before when a poor unfortunate young woman was kidnapped from a nearby town, taken into the forest near where we were, and murdered by her kidnapper. Our contractor guy talked of his carrying a sidearm in his truck and advised keeping a can of "wasper spray" as a sort of deterrent like pepper spray. His story sort of gave us the "willys" and we kept our eyes peeled constantly and looked over closely any motorized vehicle we encountered for the remainder of our tour. By God's grace, no incidents occurred! Not trying to hijack your story, just want folks to be careful out there. Also, I've read of many folks touring cross country and speak of nothing but experiencing the kindness of strangers and having no scary encounters.