The Roads Oft Travelled: SD Highway 14A
Roads like this – Highway 14A between Deadwood and Sturgis, South Dakota – are a prime example of why vehicles can be fun.
It’s a chilly windy day. My Jetta, after slumbering for two days in a parking ramp, is prepared to face the marathon of South Dakota Interstate that separates Sturgis and Sioux Falls, sucking in and blasting cold mountain-like air into my face like a runner downing in a power bar. The car is fun to drive – small, well handled and gutsy, like a scrappy fighter no one is giving a chance to.
I begin winding through the hills. From Deadwood, the road seems to deliver a driver back into the real world. It’s a wake-up call from the excesses of Deadwood, a letting down, a gradual release of whatever you experienced, a preparation for your stories and memories, a time allowing for a mental checklist and gentle remembrance before facing the monotony of 80 mile-per-hour hell.
The sides of the road are red, rocky and clay-like. Speeding past, it looks as if the road settled into place like hot steel melting through an ice cream cake, the layers of earth, eons in the making, standing in stark contrast to the grey asphalt. The sides of the road are littered with a river of rocks, a shallow representation of what once held water, flowing, always turning and moving, never leaving the winding path. Stones stand in like understudies, trying hard to recreate the water, ultimately failing.
It’s officially autumn and the trees are slowly changing accordingly – a background of conifer green splashed with deciduous yellow, red and orange; delicate trunks holding tightly to small fragile leaves until they’re forced to let go, allowing the leaves to fall back into the earth from which they came.
This is the perfect time to drive this stretch, in the autumn, in the morning. It’s just cold enough to recognize the bite of western trailblazing, windy enough to bring whiffs of pine and smoke, as if the settlers were still in the hills, among the trees, searching for a new life in a new land. It’s this combination – the cold, the wind, the smell – that delivers me back in time, to Jackson, Wyoming, to times I never even had a chance to experience, my life still decades in the future.
I roll down the window to breathe in the experience.
I’m too focused to even change the radio station, barely recognizing Gwen Stefani’s voice urging me to go to the back of the bar. The final turn disappears and I arrive in Sturgis, the road leveling out and turning back into the endless ribbon I’m used to. I pull over to catch one last breath, staring at the landscape, marveling at the beauty.
I get back in the car. The morning sun is bright, covering the windshield like a blanket. I look in the rear view window, silently wondering why the hell I continue to live on flat land.