Hair Care for a 21 Square Foot Home

Memorial Day 2008: A day for recanting
South of Rochford, SD

Happy Memorial Day! Polly and I have arrived in South Dakota this week to resume the Lost Sea Expedition. Now I’m tackling hair care in my new 21-square foot home.

From big bottle to little bottle
Lost Sea Mule wagon
South of Rochford, SD

It’s Memorial Day weekend. Polly and I should be grilling hot dogs (for me) and orange peels (for her). Instead, we’re going to recant shampoo.

You see, for the next months, as I travel across the Great Plains in my mule wagon, I’ll be living in 21 square feet of heated area. Yep, the Lost Sea mule wagon boasts 0.6% of the average 3,500 square foot home. (That’s right. 0.6%. I did the math – twice. Just because it seemed so absurdly small).

Mule Polly and my 21-square foot home
South of Rochford, SD

This isn’t as bad as it sounds. Really. In 2007, mule Polly pulled this tiny rolling home from Saskatchewan, Canada to Hill City, South Dakota. It took six months. Now we’re just going to do some more of the same.

Inside the Lost Sea mule wagon

The trick to traveling thoroughly in cozy quarters (note the code words: “cozy” instead of“small”, and “thoroughly”, instead of “slowly”), is how much, and what kind of, stuff you bring.

Take, for instance, shampoo.

Back in Southern Pines, where I reveled in quarters considerably larger than 21 square feet, I showered daily. Featuring prominently in the shower, just below the nozzle, was a bottle of Dr. Bronner’s shampoo. Yep, the one with the tiny print and quirky name drops.

Haircare spanning Mao to Thomas Paine

Dr Bronner’s the only person I know who’s made label-mates of Einstein, Nazis, God, Mao, Jesus, Communism, Mohammed, Halley’s comet, spacebombs, Adam and Eve, Moses, Buddha, Spinoza, swallows, Paine, Mark Spitz, Karl Marx and Abraham.

Yes, it’s Magic Soap alright, just like it says on the label.

Evenings, before heading out with friends, I’d lather up in the good Doctor’s soap, reveling in the immediate smell of those wholesome creamy bubbles and the laughter that would follow.

Flash forward to today. I’m sitting alone inside the Lost Sea mule wagon outside Hill City, South Dakota. Mule Polly and I are at 6,000 feet. The wind’s blowing like stink out of a grey sky that looks like May snow on tap.

South of Rochford, SD

And nope, there’s not room in here for a 16 oz bottle of shampoo.

There is room for one of those travel size bottles of shampoo, though.

So this afternoon, while the winds bounced the wagon on its springs, I filled an empty travel-size bottle of shampoo with the stuff I use at home.

Here’s what’s neat about what’ll happen to that new 2 oz bottle of shampoo.

From prior experience I know this. In the first weeks of travel, as I lather up with my shampoo, the peppermint smell will remind me of all my friends back home. Of how we’d catch up for drinks at The Jefferson Inn in Southern Pines, NC. Of how I’d regale them of my upcoming my wagon journey. Of how I insisted I wouldn’t be alone once out of their sight.

Of course most of that was just bluff. The first weeks of any overland mule journey are lonely. You’re a stranger traveler passing through an empty land. You’re homesick.

But smells, even one as simple as your shampoo, take you home to friends.

As the weeks pass and Polly I acclimate to these wind swept plains, we’ll pick up the routine as before. I’ll sweat. I’ll take bucket baths. And as I travel ever-farther across the Plains, the level of shampoo on my tiny bottle falls.

Then, as always, an interesting shift occurs.

As I travel, I’m often invited to spend the night with ranchers. They see my tiny wagon, one spouse asks, “You sleep in THAT?”, and often as not, the other spouse will invite me to stay the night with them.

Even mule Polly wonders
“You sleep in THAT…?”
North of Ekalaka, MT

After feeding me supper they’ll offer me a shower. I take them up on the offer, and, while I’m scrubbing off the day’s prairie dust, I refill my shampoo bottle with their shampoo.

The new shampoo sits on top of the old stuff I’ve carried from home. Gradually my shampoo starts smelling more and more like the people I’ve stayed, and showered, with.

Gradually the shift occurs. Evenings, when I’m rinsing off the prairie grim with precious soap and water, I start smelling all those folks that are helping Polly and me travel to Mexico. The Pert-using cattle rancher who loaded me down with so much extra-wide beef jerky I considered using the stuff for postcards. The Pantene-using farmer who snuck me into his cellar to sample his strawberry moonshine.

Ahhhh, that’s the smell of adventure! The smell of prairie air, North winds and companionship that perfume designers never crammed into a 16 oz bottle of shampoo.

So yes there’ll be plenty of nights in my 21 foot abode when I’ll miss a 3,500 square foot home, a fixed address and a shower-full of 16 oz bottles of shampoo.

But, nights alone on the prairie, when loneliness strikes, there’s a remedy that’s never failed me. You’d never find it in a $20.00 bottle of boutique shampoo.

I reach for my tiny bottle of stolen shampoo and prepare to journey back to my old friends at home and my new friends of the road.

I twist off the cap, take a whiff and smell laughter.

Can you smell the laughter?

Happy Memorial day!

(PS: Note to all ranchers inviting me in for a stay. In exchange for your shampoo, Polly will fertilize your pasture.
PPS: A great big 3,500 square foot “Thank You” to Linda Kramer of Borderlands Ranch outside Hill City, SD for putting Polly and me up a few days. Fear not Linda, I won’t be nicking the shampoo…)


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