16-Mar-2013 -- As I was in the area for the student-run geography convention at South Dakota State University in Brookings, a confluence visit seemed like the perfect capstone before I had to fly out of the area. And so, waking up long before the sun did on this day in March, I purchased some food at the Brookings Casey's General Store and set off north on Interstate 29 in the darkness.
It was lightly snowing and bitter cold, around zero degrees F. I passed Watertown and about 10 minutes later, exited the interstate highway, driving due east on the section line road, 164th Street. On 460th Avenue, I drove south for about 1/3 mile and parked. There was no shoulder but there was obviously no traffic, the "460th Avenue" sounding like a street in upper Manhattan, but in reality, this was a one lane gravel road, actually under a sheet of snow and ice, in a rural area of northeast South Dakota. As I parked, the sky in the east was only beginning to lighten. Therefore, I decided to take a long walk, circumnavigating the point on the nearest section line roads, which would be 4 miles and probably require just over an hour. Having wanted to circumnavigate confluence points during hikes for years and not having done so, I have now done this three times in the past month, first in Kansas, then in Minnesota, and now here in South Dakota. This South Dakota navigation was by far the coldest. Walking south and then east was bearable, except for many slippery spots on the windblown and icy dirt roads, but when I turned north on the north-south road, I was wondering if I had made a mistake. The wind was very cold and I only had my spring coat on. I was only halfway around the "rectangle" at this point. Fortunately, I wore a hat and gloves, but could barely see with my eyes watering so much. When I turned west again a mile later, the conditions were a tiny bit better with the wind now at my right. Apparently it was not the smartest time to be walking, because a kind fellow younger than me stopped in his pickup truck, asking me if I was ok. When I replied in the affirmative saying that I was just on a walk, he looked at me quizzically and drove off. I reached the vehicle at just about my estimated time of 1 hour and 20 minutes after I had started. In retrospect, at this point, I should have taken the time to thaw out in the vehicle before embarking on the confluence trek, but the sun had risen by now and I was anxious to set foot on the spot.
And so, taking GPS and camera now, I walked once again south on the road, but then struck out due east once I had reached 45 North. No fences impeded me here. I was able to walk on the top of the encrusted snow for the most part, but every 20 steps or so would sink to my knees when the crust gave way. The snow was punctuated with corn stalks that looked lovely in the rising sun's rays. It would have been more enjoyable if the temperature had been warmer. I would have taken more photographs of them but in truth I could feel every part of my body freezing up and I knew I needed to make haste or else my body might be found out here when the planting season arrived a month or two later. I saw no people or animals, and few birds. It really was a beautiful spot.
I found the confluence point and could barely take the required photos due to my frozen extremeties. The longest view was about 2 miles to the northeast and to the west, but no vista was too long, owing to the fact that the confluence lies in a low-ish spot. The shortest vista was to the south were a line of frost-covered trees stood. I did manage to film a video as well, but then after a few minutes I made a beeline as fast as I could back to the west. It was zero degrees when the GPS read zero-zero. My batteries would not last long on the camera at this temperature, I knew. Back at the vehicle, I once again tried to take more photos of the fields, but I was too cold to do the beautiful area justice, so I drove north and then west, leaving the area. I had been to 45 North many times in the past decade, from Oregon on the west to Vermont on the east. I had stood on 97 West from Texas on the south up through Nebraska. I had not visited a South Dakota confluence in many years and it was great to return. I now had a nice collection of several confluences in the great state of South Dakota.
I drove west toward Interstate 29 and my hands began to thaw. The next 10 minutes were ones that I knew that in a few days, basking under the spring sun, my narrative would seem most ludicrous, but at the time it was happening, I was pretty miserable. As many people know, the worst part about getting cold extremities is when those limbs begin to thaw, and it was quite excruciating. I recalled another time when this happened, following my cold hike on the 100th Meridian just north of Cozad, Nebraska, some years ago. Now, I had to pause before driving south on the Interstate until most of the pain had subsided. This erased all chances of me trying for 44 North 97 West, but I did not want to miss my flight at the Sioux Falls airport. I arrived there with about 90 minutes to spare, and all went smoothly. This confluence point yielded some beautiful sunrise photos, and returning in the summertime would no doubt be much more pleasant. But it was indeed an excellent way to finish my time in South Dakota.