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The Truth is Out There

DEVILS TOWER, Wyoming— It’s Night Three. I’m 1,500 miles into this voyage and staring straight into the spooky soul of a Steven Spielberg film.

Maybe a mile away, maybe two—it’s hard to judge scale out here—Devil’s Tower looms over my campsite. As a kid, the massive rock edifice was the stuff of nightmares. If you’ve seen Close Encounters of the Third Kind, you’ve seen Devil’s Tower. Thanks to Spielberg, the tower taught me that aliens really are out here. And there’s nothing more terrifying to a seven year old than being abducted by aliens.

Do they have Spaghetti-O’s in space? Where are the Bagel Bites? Do they drink Mondo or regular Kool-Aid?

I had so many questions about alien abductions, and I never wanted any of them to be answered.

I knew going into this trip that the first few campsites were going to be in legitimately scary places: Badlands and Devil’s Tower. They’d make the short list of most ethereal places in America, and the thought crossed my mind that they’d be a bit freaky for a lone camper. But as I sit here staring at the tower, I’m not afraid.

I don’t think I will be.

If fear was going to overtake me on this trip, it would have happened last night when the South Dakota skies waged a war of the winds against a shoddily erected (and borrowed) tent. But it didn’t. Even when the wind forced the tent’s poles inward on themselves and into my face for four hours, even when it sounded like a full-force hurricane was ripping the rain fly to shreds, even when the tent started to levitate oh so slightly, I really wasn’t phased. Granted, the situation got dicey when another (the same?) bison came into camp and started breathing down my neck just before dawn. Also, I found what appeared to be a small army of giant, burrowing spiders surrounding the tent.

It’s fine.

So, here we are… Night Three on the road. Night Three in a new state surrounded by new sights and smells and a surprisingly rude KOA campground down the way that won’t share their wifi password. I’m staring into the ancient, immovable face of my childhood fears, and I couldn’t be more at peace.

The Tower is beautiful under moonlight, just as the Badlands were under lightning strike.

Maybe there’s a lesson there: if you embrace the strangeness of the unknown, if you love it for what it is, you’ll learn to appreciate even the most unusual of experiences.

Special shoutout: I want to take time to really, truly thank again the people who have donated to my GoFundMe gas fund. Turns out, I grossly underestimated the amount of fuel this trip would take, so that extra cash is already coming in handy more than you know. Little things add up—like, I have to keep the car running to charge my laptop or I might make a hundred mile detour to the wrong park. Did you know that Custer State Park in South Dakota is not where the Battle of Little Bighorn took place? Nope, the Last Stand was in Montana.

I also want to give a shout out to the people who work with me at FTR, as well as all of my freelance friends. It is only because I legitimately work with some of the coolest people in the world that I have the freedom to travel and be a willful nomad for a few weeks.

Extra special shoutout: One of my friends essentially donated a fresh pair of hiking boots to the cause. You know who you are. I’ve never been one to ask for handouts unless they involved pizza, so your kindness is very much appreciated. It is in your honor that I will now proceed to make this pair as smelly as the first set in short order—and the only way to do that is by putting on the miles.

Until next time, campers.

Written by

When my home was sold out from under me, I bought a tent and decided to live outside. Now, I'm a freelance writer for Travel Channel, INSIDER, Nat Geo, and Fodor's Travel and I'm on a never-ending quest to get out of my comfort zones and see the world.

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