Southeast of Sturgis lies the Badlands National Park. The Black Hills National Forest around Sturgis is just that – a lush forest with white and black rock faces peppered throughout. 40 miles east in the Badlands, things are very different.
This landscape looks like something out of a sci-fi film, the moon or somethine else spooky. (Or the Cappadocia Region of Turkey if anyone’s been there.) It’s a barren place with colored rock formations that change in the sun. Settlers and Indians crossed this area but I don’t know how. I guess that’s how it became known as “Bad”. I passed through here in the morning to avoid the intense heat that was sure to come in the afternoon. Without a tree in sight, there is no refuge from the sun here. Maybe one for Man vs. Wild and that dude from the Discovery Channel??
On the way to the Park in the morning, stopped in a town called Scenic, just on the outskirts. With grey clouds and cool temps that early in the morning, I felt like I was pulling into a ghost town. Not a person in sight and the beginnings of this barren wasteland setting the scene all around it. How do these small towns survive?? Tourism.
Across from this bizarrely labeled saloon, I stopped into the gas station for some dino juice. Inside, I met Mr. Ahrndt. After paying, I started for the door. He asked me if I wanted a cup of coffee. As he said, “It won’t cost you nuthin'”, I realized he was asking me to stop and chat with him. You see, Scenic, SD has a population of 10. Yeah, 10 people live here. And he was understandably bored.
For the next 40 minutes, I stood there, he behind the counter chain smoking (yes, inside the store) and I in front, in my full weather moto get up, and we talked about his life. With flies buzzing around our heads and surrounded by the most disheveled convenience store I’d ever seen, we got to know each other.
Mr. Ahrndt was, by my count, somewhere between 77 and 81 years old, pretty beat up and completely ravaged by the effects of smoking for most of his life (constantly hacking). He’d grown up in the nearby Rapid City area, played kicker in college football in town and went on to pro football before his knee “gave out”. He was also a boxer in his youth, having fought ‘Willie Epps’ boy’ ?? at Madison Square Garden when he was 19 years old. A big deal for anyone – especially for him as his grandfather had been the bareknuckles champ in Germany in his day (bare knuckles!!). That was his big chance but the other guy was ‘just a bit faster than him’, as he said. He knocked the other guy down in the 3rd round (amateur rules) but the bell rang before he could do any more damage. And the other guy had more points. Bummer.
Mr. Ahrndt was also a verteran of the war (WWII I presume). Late in life, he traveled with a friend to the Philippines and eventually met his new wife, 50 years his junior. 50 years. After he met her (don’t drink, don’t smoke, she’s religious and she don’t take shit), he spent 3 weeks living with the girls family, doing the ‘proper’ thing as he said it, getting to know them, and they him, before asking them for their permission.
She accepted and he put her through nursing school and on the path for a better life once her visa goes through and she can move here to be with him in Scenic, SD. Population 10. Hourly wages for McDonald’s employees in the Philippines is apparently $0.16/hr so I don’t blame her.
He’d just had a few operations (‘took out my belly button’ cause I’m beat up inside from all that boxing’, pancreatic cancer, bladder disease and ??) and more to come I’m sure.
Mr. Ahrndt was a good guy and not at all who I thought he’d be in the 5 second interaction we had before I stopped to talk. I assumed he was a curmudgeon – with narrow views and all that. I was surprised but shouldn’t have been. He’d had a good life as he said it and knew what was right and what was wrong. It’s KILLING me that I didn’t get a photo of him.
I could have spent all day listening to him – and learning. But I had to motor..