A couple years ago, I wanted to go on a soul searching mission. To go by myself out to the West. Ah hell, I just wanted to get away for a weekend, someplace different. If I found something to put into my soul, awesome.
I found out that I can be pretty goddamn stupid and unprepared when it comes to being an adult.
My destination was the Badlands of South Dakota. I packed up a cooler, a small travel bag, and booked it to Interior, SD. Checked into a strange roadside motel, did a little sightseeing that first night to get amped for the next day’s huge hiking/driving opportunities.
The next day, after driving my poor little station wagon through muddy back roads (my car looked like the jeeps in Jurassic Park at this point), I arrived at the longest trail in the National Park. I brought a water bottle and my phone, thinking this would be all I’d need in case of a little emergency.
Now, all day long, a massive storm system had been hovering to the west, not really coming closer. I didn’t have a smart phone at the time, so I wasn’t able to check the weather predictions. At the time of setting out on the trail, the dark clouds were still in the same position they had been in all day.
The trail is marked by little brown posts every few hundred feet, seeing as though it goes through open hardpan mudflats/desert/grassland. There are no trees. Just otherworldly rock structures, hard mud, and rolling grassy hills just north of the Badlands shelf. It travels far out into no man’s land, miles away from any roads or civilization. It’s awesome.
I have a slight complex of obsessiveness and perfectionism. If I set out to do a trail system, I have to do ALL of the trails, or else I feel disappointed and like a failure. In this case, I was determined to do all of the trails in the Badlands. So far, I had every trail down except this longest trail.
There is a little trail that deviates from the main trail, where you can climb up/down a steep cliff. Before doing this, I looked at the storm system. It looked a liiiitle closer, but it didn’t seem to pose any threat.
The climb was arduous and long, and at the bottom, I turned to look up the shelf and marvel at my accomplishment. I patted myself on the back, and then climbed up, a tall cliff, rocks, and danger the only things in my sight.
Upon reaching the top, I looked up into the sky . . . and gulped.
The storm had come over to just about over my head. It was the scariest looking behemoth I’d ever seen. A huge, dark shelf cloud was silently skimming, I swear, only 200 feet above the grass plains. A mile to my right, lightning was a constant threat in a treeless wasteland. I figured “Eh, it’s over there. I’m fine . . . right?”
I looked in the direction of my car, which was five miles away. I looked in the direction that my obsessiveness was pulling me toward, which was directly under the mammoth, apocalyptic cloud.
I went toward the cloud.
The trail at this point went up into the grass plains. After a good 15 minutes, in which I gained another mile, the shelf cloud was over my head. I could have thrown a rock into that thing, it was so close. Dark as mud.
Strong wind suddenly blew, throwing a starfield of dandelions past me (it resembled that infamous Windows star travelling screensaver). My trepidation turned to palpable fear. I looked at my water bottle. Almost empty. I looked at my phone. 10% fucking battery.
Too late, I called my then girlfriend.
“Hey! Can you look up the weather for me? I think I might be headed into something really, really bad!”
She replied, “Sure, I’ll call you back.”
She hung up. 5% battery.
I looked down a huge hill that I was currently striding. I couldn’t see the bottom. I had no idea what was going on. And a huge sound was coming toward me. A roar.
I looked over at the rock formations, and they were disappearing behind a white sheet. Uhhhh . . .
I was convinced a tornado or something was coming toward me. The roar was deafening. It sounded like someone was pouring massive amounts of ice into an ice cooler . . .
I did that slow run where you realize something big is about to happen, like the alien ship about to blow up the Empire State Building in Independence Day (apparently, I’m really digging early 90’s blockbuster hits at the moment).
A sound like zzzzzzZIP raced past my ear. Another zzzzzzZIP. Another. I started full out running.
“Shit, shit, shit, shit, SHIT, SHIT!”
I looked behind me. A massive wall of hail was raining down 100 feet behind me. It was getting closer and closer by the second. More stray hail zipped by me in fast bullets.
I looked for a place to hide. No trees. Just rock walls without any covering.
I jumped into the mud plain, off the trail, and ran to the nearest rock spire. Just as I went behind it, the wall of ice passed over. I put my arms over my head and braced for the worst.
Baseball sized hail covered the mountains and mud plain. It went looking like summer to winter in a matter of seconds. I was pummeled by hail, but not as much had I not been behind the wall. My arms were bleeding. I took one on the neck, bled instantly. My shins were bashed. One got me on my big toe.
I was screaming “NO! AH! NO!!! STOP!!!! STOP!!!”
After three agonizing minutes, the hail let up, and turned to the coldest torrential rain I’ve ever felt. Immediately, rivers rushed down the sides of the mountains and filled the mud plain with ice cube floating water. I was up to my shins in ice cooler water.
Thankfully, the rain dissipated after 10 minutes. I walked out and looked at myself. Both of my arms were bleeding and sore. I had rips in my shorts, I was soaking wet.
That’s when the phone rang. It was my girlfriend calling back.
“Hey, so I think it’s heading your way. I think it’s red on the Doppler. That means bad, right?”
The phone died.
I looked up and noticed a nasty, thick fog coming in. Before the storm, it had been 90 degrees. Now, it was 50. I realized that the fog was going to cover up the trail markers. A trail I wasn’t even on at the time.
I staggered in the direction of the trail. The mud plain floor started to crack underneath my feet, water rushing into newly formed chasms. I got a firsthand look at how the fucking Badlands were formed. No Visitor Center exposition necessary. The mountains, the mud, were eroding around me. I had to jump over these new canyons, canyons I would’ve met certain death inside, as they were rushing to the edge of the cliff shelf to the south of me.
Once I found the trail, I had to rely on mere chance that I was going to find the next marker. I succeeded in doing this, thankfully.
I met one couple on this trail. They were wearing rain slickers. But they were also bleeding.
They shouted “Hey! We’re pretty stupid, aren’t we?!”
I replied, “You’re damn right! You guys okay?”
“Yeah, we’re fine. You?”
“I hope so.”
“Good luck, man.”
They were the only people out. I was alone in the fog, cold, wet and staggering.
It took me an hour and half to get out to that point from my car. It took me four hours to get back in the fog.
Upon reaching my car, I noticed that my windshield was spiderwebbed to all hell from the hail. At that point, I didn’t care. I got into my car, drove to the motel, showered, and got obliterated on Bud Light (the only beer available at the motel) while telling my story to random cowboys and vacationing dads.
This was perhaps the most ADULT experience I can imagine. Being left to my own devices, by my own choice, in the middle of nowhere, the only thinking about survival.
As I’ve gotten older, delving into the music world, I’ve realized more and more how brutal it is to be an adult. No one cares about what you do unless you give them a valuable product or service. Your family and friends care, of course. But the rest of the world, like the skies in the Badlands, cares not for that poor soul walking on the last trail in his obsessive campaign. It will rain bullets on you. Quick cunning might get that poor devil out of mortal harm, but if he fails, the world turns a blind eye to the corpse.
I thought that was a kick ass motif for an album. Raining bullets from the sky on a horde of people who had chosen to be in that situation. That’s what I’ve felt like as an adult. I chose to be in that situation in the Badlands, I put myself to the elements of chance. I made it out alive.
I choose to push on in the harsh realm of the music world. Failure rains down constantly, but I keep pushing.
Here are two songs I wrote that talks about choosing to go to that harsh realm of raining bullets. They are demos from out forthcoming record PRECLUSION II, but I figured I’d give them to you for free as a gift for having sat through this long story.