Are You Serious?
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"Twenty miles! Are you serious?"

"Yup. It's just about 20 miles."

Stunned, I left the ranger station, walked back to the Jeep and told Karen. She was incredulous.

"Are we going to make it?" she asked.

"I don't know."

We were in the first week of our trip - just two women with a Llasa Apso in a Jeep packed with supplies for our month long camping trip across the United States. We left Boston three days earlier and camped in the Badlands National Park campground the night before. It was July of 1993, and unbeknownst to us, the thunderstorms we survived in our tent that night were the beginning of the maelstrom, which caused the mighty Mississippi to overflow its boundaries in the following days for almost its entire length, flooding a good portion of the country. Happily unaware of such things, Karen and I were heading towards the Wounded Knee Memorial in the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. The two of us had an interest in the history of the Lakota Indians and we wanted to see where that nation met its final defeat in 1890.

  
 
We traveled that morning on the Badlands scenic route and then took a dirt road, which headed south towards the memorial. Since we had left the campground, we mostly saw some awesome rock formations, which form the Badlands National Park, wildflowers everywhere, several small herds of Pronghorn Antelope and an endless dirt road, which traveled forever into the horizon. Miles passed by without seeing another soul or any sign of civilization at all. Roughly an hour into the trip, I began to look for a gas station because were below half a tank, and I figured I'd better fill up rather than chance going without.

At first I didn't think too much about it - an avid photographer, I drove Karen crazy by stopping, shooting a scene I particularly liked, and then continuing on towards Wounded Knee. At first she would leave the Jeep with me and walk around while I shot, but eventually, she would just wait inside the Jeep with the dog. As the miles passed and the needle on my gas gauge continued to go lower, I began to worry about our gas situation.

When the gas gauge was a little below a quarter of a tank, I pulled the Jeep over to pull out my map and looked for the nearest town. We were on the border of the national park and the Indian reservation at this point, and towns were few and far between. By this time, Karen had noticed I wasn't talking very much - a very rare occurrence indeed - and asked what was wrong. She agreed we should find the nearest town and fill up, even if it took us out of our way. So, plan in hand, we headed towards the dot shown on the map to be the town of Interior.

One of the first things I noticed on my first trip to the American west was that the distances out there are deceiving. The wide-open spaces played havoc with my perceptions, and I just simply could not judge how far we had traveled, or if we were near or far from any particular object. The town never seemed to arrive. After an unbelievably long time, we finally pulled into Interior. The tiny town with a single main road surrounded by a few buildings didnít have a single store or business of any kind, let alone a gas station. Now slightly desperate since we saw not a single soul in the town, we decided to head back towards the Badlands National Park because we had seen a small ranger station, and we hoped someone could help us. It was at this point we found out that the nearest gas station was about twenty miles away in the town of Manderson.

"We're on fumes," I muttered, as I started up the Jeep and pulled out of the ranger station parking lot. A standard shift, I began throwing the Jeep into neutral in order to roll down whatever slight hill the road offered. As we went further south, we began to see an occasional house, surrounded by pastures with horses. It was beautiful country if you like, as I do, rolling, open, hilly country. Being a warm day, we had the roof off the Jeep and should have been quite enjoying ourselves, but worry was definitely gnawing at both of us. Neither one of us said much as my driving became rhythmic - speed up, neutral, glide, speed up, neutral, glide.

The houses began to cluster together, and it was obvious we were nearing a more substantial town than Interior. Karen and I both began to breathe easier. The gas station appeared on our right - one of those establishments, as I was to discover as we continued our trip, ubiquitous to the American west - an all-in-one store where you can buy everything you need, from groceries and liquor, to gas and animal feed. I pulled up to one of the two pumps, ecstatic we had made it when I heard Karen gasp.

"What?" I asked.

"The note says, 'No Gas Until Tomorrow."

"What note?"

"The note on the pump," she said. "It says, 'No Gas Until Tomorrow.'" For the second time that day I asked, "Are you serious?"

"Look."

A small, handwritten note taped to the gas tank in big block letters spelled our doom as Karen began to laugh.

"It's not funny. We're going to have to camp here," I said, looking around at the dusty station. "I don't think we can make another mile. Do you think there's a hotel?"

Still giggling, Karen looked around the town with its slab houses spread out among the rolling hills and said, "Why don't you go inside and ask?"

I walked into the store and waited while a beautiful Lakota woman with long black hair and a gorgeous face waited on the only other person in the store. The place was small, not very clean or well stocked. It had canned goods, cleaning supplies and snack foods. When the woman finally asked if she could help me, I asked if there was a hotel in town and she shook her head no. I asked if there was somewhere we could camp near the store until morning. She, once again, shook her head no. Frantic, I told her we couldn't drive another mile and could we at least sleep in the Jeep on the store's property until the delivery the next day.

"Why would you want to do that?" she asked.

"Because the note said there will be a delivery tomorrow," I responded.

"What note?" she asked.

At this point, a little more than annoyed, I snapped, "The note on the tank that says, 'No Gas Until Tomorrow."

"Oh," she said with a sardonic a smile, "that note was from yesterday. I forgot to take it down."

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