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BUSH: Any port in a snowstorm

BUSH: Any port in a snowstorm


This used to be easier.

It seems like energy level and experience move in opposite directions.

I wouldn't normally be the sports photographer during normal business hours. They only call my number when we need the "extra" photographer.

This week, the extra photographer got called up to the big leagues and headed all the way across the state to cover West River teams in the Class A State Girls Basketball Tournament in Watertown. It wasn't the best-case scenario, but I've worked through tougher situations. I rescheduled eight press times for newspapers in Kansas from a hotel room in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

I've also experienced some interesting driving conditions, but nothing like Wednesday. I've driven parallel to large tornados and found a low spot to cross flooded roadways. But snow is different.

Wednesday's drive across the state to Watertown started like a dream and ended in a nightmare.

We were supposed to have snow in Rapid City to start the trip, but a big area of dry air pushed the snow away. That was great for the first hour of the trip. Then we drove under the redirected snowstorm the rest of the day. Just before we got to Pierre, we were heading up a hill and discovered that the road was icier than we thought. I hit the gas to climb the incline and as we reached the top, we began to slide sideways on a highway down the other side. Fortunately, I was able to drive through the slide and had us almost straight before we hit the dry pavement and snapped back into our lane.

That was the most control I had the rest of the day.

We considered stopping in Pierre for the night, but we had a noon game to cover Thursday and there was no promise we would make it. We also saw some openings on the radar so we decided we could make it. Leaving Pierre was the scariest driving I had ever done. No lanes were visible. Snow was coming in sideways from the north. The snow and slush on the road started a pattern of driving for us where hitting the gas didn't speed us up very much and hitting the brakes didn't slow us down very much. We were relegated to driving slowly about 100 feet at a time. We drove one 26-mile stretch of Highway 26 between Miller and Cottonwood Lake where you couldn't tell if you were on a highway or in the ditch..

After eight hours of what was to be about a six-hour trip, we ended up in Clark, South Dakota in whiteout conditions. We stopped at a convenience store where the owners were kind enough to let us work at the tables. We soon discovered that waiting out the storm might mean midnight, and driving the final 30 miles might not be possible even then.

That's when my faith paid off. You really have to have faith to believe there was a hotel in Clark - population 1,370 - that just happened to have an opening.

I called at 5:45 p.m. not knowing that they closed at 6 p.m. Talk about good fortune. At first the front desk clerk said she had only one room with one bed. I didn't think our sports writer would be any more excited about that than I was.

That's when she noticed one of the guests hadn't arrived and wouldn't be able to make it that night. We got the last two rooms.

When we got there, she even offered us a discount because she felt bad for us. She could have jacked the prices as high as she wanted to and I would have gladly paid it to avoid sleeping in the truck for the night.

There was nothing fancy about the room but it had everything you need to survive - a television, a shower and a bed. For people who fish and hunt, there is even a room on-site to clean the catch of the day. The "212 Overnight Motel and Outdoor Supply Store," where you can rent a room during a snowstorm or purchase a fishing net big enough to haul in a 50-pound catfish in the same office, was a hidden gem.

There was even a Mexican restaurant right across the snowdrifts where the road used to be that was surprisingly still open and really good.

By the time we woke up Thursday, snowplows were plowing, the sun was shining and we finished the last 45 minutes of our drive and covered four basketball games. That was a really long day after a really long day.

I used to be able to roll with the punches when I was a young newspaper guy. Friday morning, as I started to work, I turned on the movie "Castaway" and watched it for about 20 minutes before I realized it was in Spanish. There wasn't a lot of dialogue, but there was dialogue. I've never been "can't understand words" tired before. This trip has provided a lot of adventures I've never had before.

Now, we are seeing weather forecasts of a huge snowstorm trying to keep us from coming home.

I bet we make it. If we have learned anything, it's that it takes a lot to keep us from getting where we need to be.

Kent Bush is the editor of the Rapid City Journal. Reach him at

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