The habit of making this annual October pilgrimage began in 2010, during what I call "Richard's Year of Hell." There were multiple orthopedic maladies, surgery and eight months of chronic pain; and my dear mother passed away in the middle of it all. Large doses of Oxycontin accompanied me through both the physical and emotional distress. When October came, I was in serious need of relief and had heard just enough about South Dakota to decide that would be a good place to make my escape. That road trip got me off the oxy, but now I have a new addiction—South Dakota ducks and pheasants.
This year was an even greater epic journey, however. Oct. 10 was the beginning an 18-day pilgrimage through 14 states, covering exactly 4,600 miles driveway-to-driveway. You see, I made my way to South Dakota via Lake Charles, La. Yes, it was an odd little detour, but one well worth the effort.
The journey began with the annual conference of the Southeastern Outdoor Press Association. The group includes some of the best outdoor writers in the country. I'm not quite sure why they let me in?
The fine folks of the Lake Charles Convention and Visitors Bureau made sure we were well-fed with a large supply of jambalaya, red beans and rice, and boiled crawdaddies.
Shooting day is always a highlight at SEOPA conferences. This year, Smith & Wesson provided virtually every device you could imagine that goes bang, along with ammunition.
We also all got the chance to blast a few canisters of Tannerite. Shooting paper targets with a rifle is like swatting a fly that is already dead—there is very little satisfaction in it. But center a canister of Tannerite with a well-aimed bullet, and you experience a large scale "blast" of satisfaction.
Unlike much of this epic journey, there is good Internet service in Lake Charles, so I already shared the story of how big oil money stands ready to change the Louisiana coastal landscape.
Of course I was especially excited, and challenged, by Road Trip 2013, as I was accompanied by Britney, my year-and-a-half-old retriever. The first discovery upon arriving at our hotel was that she doesn't like elevators. It seems that dogs—my dog, anyway—is a little freaked out by rooms that move.
Britney also didn't like Lake Charles because they wouldn't let her shoot, gamble or eat jambalaya. She stayed cooped up in a hotel room except when I took her out to play. I admit, however, that I broke the law, taking her to a public beach to frolic in the shallow saltwater for fun. When a Lake Charles cop drove by and stopped to watch, I was worried. I pointed at the "no pets" sign and asked, "Am I in trouble?"
He laughed and said, "Trust me, I've got more important things to worry about" and drove off.
As me and Britney continued our games, I decided I like Lakes Charles cops.
It was time to begin the-1,350 mile trek to South Dakota. However, I had four days to kill before my SD waterfowl hunting license would be valid. The first night's stop, totally by accident, took me to Henryetta, Okla.—the home of G&H Decoys. If you're a waterfowler, you've heard of G&H and probably own some. Sadly, the day I visited they were not giving out free samples or giving tours—even to outdoor writers. They claimed insurance regulations wouldn't allow me in the manufacturing area, but I'm guessing they were actually working on a new top-secret duck decoy.
Many hours later found me in the vicinity of Melvern, Kans. Again, an Internet connection—the last I would have for a very long time—has already allowed me to share my experience on "The Ranch."
On the road now for nearly a week and I had yet to lay eyes on a South Dakota sunset. We will get there, however, in Part Two. Stay tuned.
Richard Simms is a contributing writer, focusing on outdoor sports.
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