Harney Peak is the highest point in the Black Hills of South Dakota at 7242 ft. tall, the highest mountain between the Rocky Mountains and the Pyrenees of France and Spain. People don’t typically climb it, though there is some excellent rockclimbing available if you like that sort of thing. It’s a 3 mile hike each way from the main trailhead at Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park, a fairly gentle climb from the lake parking lot for about three quarters of a mile, then maddeningly downhill for another three quarters of a mile or so (maddening because you know you’ll have to go uphill for so long on the last part of your return trip “down the mountain”). There’s a little stopping point at the bottom, where there used to be an outhouse. Then it’s uphill the last mile and a half or so, relatively mild for awhile, then steeper than fuck and exhausting for an old man. When I worked in the Black Hills 40+ years ago, I hiked it alone the first time I went up. I was 18 and had to be somewhere in a hurry that evening, so I mostly ran. I made the trip up to the old fire lookout tower in about an hour and a half, and the downhill trip in about 45 minutes. Needless to say, I’m not so fast any more, even though I sometimes try to think I am. A friend of mine, who used to live in the Hills, and who used to be my friend, and I would hike it every Labor Day weekend for about a dozen years, but I’ve only walked up it about 3 times since the mid-’80s. We’d always see at least 2 or 3 young couples which always seemed to include a “smokin’-hot” young lady. Well, you had to be fit to make the hike, and they always seemed to be quite fit. The difference in September 2015? I hiked alone, was a LOT older, it was later in September, still warm but not hot like Labor Day can be. I still saw a couple pretty girls, one who was intriguingly far ahead of the young man who I perceived to be with her. I saw a couple couples who shouldn’t have been there at all, a couple mismatched couples, one member of each couple who I could tell would make it, and one who had no chance at all. Like I say, steeper than fuck and thin air too, so if an old fart of 59 isn’t smart enough to pace himself, he’s going to be stopping for breath about 20 times in the last quarter mile or so of the trip up. Luckily I had plenty of water, but also had too much crap with me. Mini-binoculars, a camera, a canteen (well, thank goodness for that), a brownie or two, plus the usual pocket stuff. Great cell phone reception up there. You naturally think “middle of nowhere,” but the Black Hills are pretty well populated. It’s maybe 5-8 miles as the crow flies from there to Keystone or Hill City, so the cell towers are in “line of sight” from the Peak. Which, in typical western U.S. fashion, is named after an Army general whose men retaliated for a “massacre” by Sioux warriors in Nebraska by raiding a Sioux camp, chasing women and children into creekside caves, where they shot with abandon, killing many of the Sioux women and children. Needless to say, he pissed off Sioux and white men alike. Not sure why he’s associated with the mountain that the natives called Hinhan Kaga, but it’s a great place to call your daughter, take pics of other tourists and have them take dork pictures of you, and get great views of the pine beetle devastation that has taken over huge chunks of the Hills.
On the trip back down, after I (surprisingly, it seemed at the time) hadn’t died on the way up, I was in too big a hurry part of the time, realized how stupid that was, since it was late in the day and I wasn’t traveling with anyone who could call the ambulance for me if I wiped out. So I strolled at a reasonable pace, saw a handful of people, and enjoyed the trip and the view. When I had almost reached the halfway point I saw a guy about my age having a rest; he said hi and I said hi back. Now, I’m sure that other guys aren’t like me, that they are more secure when “in-between” girlfriends, and don’t feel creepy if another guy tries to strike up a conversation. But, as for me, I naturally (to my paranoid brain) think that when another guy, a stranger, tries to chat me up, that, instead of saying “Hi, how’s it going,” he’s actually trying to say “Hey there! Wanna buttfuck?” But, all kidding aside, I was on vacation and in a more expansive mood, so I agreed to walk along with him the rest of the way to the parking lot. He had come in from one of the other trails and was headed toward Sylvan Lake. As we walked along, and as I (thankfully) ascertained that he was NOT trying to hit on me, he told me an entertaining, if not fascinating, story about his vacation:
I’m from (small town in South Dakota). I’ve been smoking weed off and on for at least 30 years. But, you know how either you or everyone you know is now married or divorced or moved or involved with their kids, or go to bed at 9pm, or whatever, so that even if you wanted to suddenly strike up a party on a Friday night, you wouldn’t have any takers? Well, it’s like that with pot. As a young man, I knew several places to find pot, then would quit for weeks, months, even a year one time I think in the early days of my marriage, even quit whiskey and went to occasional beer. Then I quit that marriage, heh heh. So, now that it’s legal in several places, and it’s mostly hard to find for me, I said to myself, “Fuck this, I’m goin’ to Colorado.” So, I just got back from there.
I wanted to, once in my damn life, be able to LEGALLY buy the damn stuff. I’m so fucking sick to death of the idiotic drug laws in this country. Oh, I don’t mean coke or especially meth or heroin or designer drugs, but pot, what the fuck. You ever see that chart, that clickbait on the internet, with the headline of “Pot Overdose Deaths Remain the Same as Other Years,” then something flashes up with “Zero?” Yeah, that’s how dangerous pot is. Whiskey is a lot worse, I’m here to tell you. Blackouts are big fun.
Anyway, I ended up in one of the big Front Range towns in Colorado, walked in to the store with my cash. Yeah, it’s pretty crazy; you walk into the outer area of some nondescript storefront that you found the location of on the ‘net, then you wait for a minute to be buzzed in and present your ID. Out-of-staters are only allowed to buy a small amount, a quarter ounce of leaves or buds and maybe a cookie or two.
So, I was let in, and had my own personal “weed-barista,” who happened to be a gorgeous young woman. She was trying to tell me things like “This is an indica, it gives you a good head rush, but not so intense that you can’t function, though it’s better for doing things around the house than going to work or something. And this one is good for just vegging out after work.” Or something like that. But, what I heard from Little Miss Hottie was more along the lines of “So, you’re from South Dakota, huh, old feller? I’m betting you’re not going to be in Colorado long enough to smoke all this legally in this state, but that’s none of my business. This weed here, my lover and I like to smoke it before we have sex. It makes my pussy open up, slowly but powerfully, like the petals of the most perfect rose you’ve ever seen. It’s that way every night. I bet you wish you were young enough to smoke some of this with me.” Well, that’s basically what my mind heard from her. I just pointed at a couple canisters of buds, and said “an eighth of that one, please, and an eighth ounce of this other funny-named one, please.” She complied, I paid, I crudely folded the package into the pocket of my pants, and got out of there. Then I shopped for a while, ate, and went driving around looking for a place to look at the stuff. I opened it up, which made the whole car smell like Willie Nelson’s bus, and got worried that cops would stop me and think I’d been smoking it; it smelled that strong just outside of its outer container, not even lit up, just sitting there in its little container. It’s legal to have it in Colorado, but not to smoke it in public or in a vehicle. Well, I couldn’t wait to get back home, so I stopped at a motel and repackaged the stuff, hidden behind something in another container. It would fool a drug-sniffing dog for about a millisecond, but, inside another container, it didn’t have any smell I could pick out. So, I was fairly certain that no cop could just pick up on the tell-tale smell in a routine traffic stop. I made damn sure not to drink any coffee the morning I took off back to South Dakota, and didn’t need any bathroom breaks, and didn’t make any stops anywhere, where a cop with a drug dog might just happen to be. Yeah, if my luck was that ridiculously bad. Once I crossed that last state line, hell, I’m just another tourist from another part of the state, driving around the Black Hills in early fall, and then back home.
Funny thing, though, the trip wasn’t as much fun in a way. I did the same thing last year, and it’s GREAT fun to have it back home, knowing you bought it legally, maybe bent the law a bit on the way home, then had it at home for as long as it lasted, where it was none of the local cops’ business that one citizen had a bit of weed. Great WHEN you get home, because when you get home, in most South Dakota counties, it’s a fine, and a suspended sentence, and when you hit your county line you know that you wouldn’t have far to go to get to court if you did for some unknown reason get stopped. But you can’t speed, and you don’t dare smoke it till you get home, and you have to drive so damn carefully. You know, when I’m on vacation normally, I can just bomb around and enjoy the view, not worry just because this redneck state won’t legalize it. I’ve gotten speeding tickets before; big whoop.
We reached Sylvan Lake, shook hands and parted ways. I heard from him later this fall; he was almost done with the stuff he’d brought back and didn’t regret having it. I mentioned that Bernie Sanders wanted to decriminalize it, that Canada was thinking of doing that also, and we agreed that, sometime in the next batch of years, maybe even in our lifetime, it might be legal to buy it closer to home. Or maybe not. Who knows?
(high in the Black Hills)