Category: Biking to Iowa

Day 21: Another Day, Another Battlefield

September 23, 2002
Little Big Horn
No Miles  No Map

Part of my vacation day was spent on the bluffs a few miles to the south of Custer’s famous Last Stand, where the general’s surviving troops retreated and regrouped in order to hold off the final Indian onslaught. This last part of the Battle of Little Big Horn could have easily gone the other way, with the soldiers getting overrun and suffering the same fate as their commander. It was only the departure of the Indians the next morning which spared them.

The Reno-Benteen Battlefield, as it is now known, doesn’t really have anything much to see. But it was nevertheless a relaxing, light bike ride and I had pleasant picnic, taking advantage of the lovely weather. 

Afterwards, I cycled back to the visitor’s center for another stroll through the museum. With so much to take in yesterday, I’d hurried through this and wanted to give it a second look. The National Cemetery also received another gander. This time around I went through noting the dates and war services etched onto the tombstones.

It was the kind of day where a fellow just had to be outdoors.

Dinner was courtesy of The Colonel. In keeping with the local theme, this KFC has pictures of the main Indian chiefs who fought Custer. To my surprise, one of those turned out to be the only known photo of Crazy Horse (though never authenticated). I had seen this for the first time this past summer in the Seattle library. The man in it stands stiffly, obviously posing. But still there is a certain dignity and self-assuredness that makes you look again. I’d like to think it’s the famous Oglala Warrior.

Since I love to read, and have an interest in this mysterious, charismatic Sioux, it would be appropriate to purchase a book about him. But the ones I’ve seen in the museum are too heavy to be lugging for the remainder of the trip. Like everything else, my reading material needs to be light.

    Today:     None — Rest Day
    To Date:  987 Miles / 1,588 Kilometers

Day 22: All According to Plan

September 24, 2002
Little Big Horn, MT to Sheridan, WY
67 Miles Google Map

Seeing a crummy weather forecast for tomorrow, I got out of the blocks at 7:20 this a.m. The goal was to do the long trek to Sheridan, setting up at worst a half day ride into Buffalo. If the rain gods then caught me — which did happen — I wouldn’t suffer unduly. An exemplary example of commonsense, self-motivated planning. 

A milestone was reached early on in the day when I crossed the state line into Wyoming after almost two weeks in the “Big Sky Country”. The highway became smoother and began running in a southeasterly direction — perfect for absorbing the gusts out of the northwest.

With the wind blowing me through long downhill grades, I hardly had to pedal at all for the first nine miles, causing my affection for this new state to blossom. I made such good time in fact that I decided to continue on to Sheridan for lunch rather than stopping in Ranchester. Later I ended up consuming a small Hawaiian Style pizza, which like many of the things I’m eating nowadays tastes like the best food in the world.

I’ve begun reading “The Straw Men”, a light (as in not heavy) paperback picked up at one of the Little Bighorn Battlefield tourist traps in lieu of some weighty tome about Crazy Horse. So far it is proving to be a real page turner and a welcome diversion from TV.

But I mustn’t badmouth the boob tube too much. After all, I’ve really been enjoying the PBS rerun of The Civil War. Every night I make the effort to locate the Public Broadcasting Channel and find out when the program will start. It’s nice to have some intellectual stimulation to offset the day’s physical demands.

    Today:         67 Miles 
    To Date:  1,054 Miles / 1,696 Kilometers


Day 23: Abject Misery

September 25, 2002
Sheridan to Buffalo
37 Miles Google Map

Even for a rain day, which I’m grudgingly learning to tolerate, this was unusually depressing: an unending drip, drip, drip except for the three occasions when, out of spite, it came down harder. I never was able to get dry.

To add to the merriment, there was road construction work going on. Some seven or eight miles of tight, one lane traffic that I’ve come to view with trepidation. On one occasion, the wind and water from a passing truck nearly knocked me over. And if that wasn’t exciting enough, there were the three times that “oversized loads” rumbled by. Even on the outermost edge of the shoulder where I was cowering, it was a close shave. At least the drivers were considerate enough to lightly honk as they came up behind me. I’d acknowledge by raising my left arm.

It was a day that was close to the limits of my cycling stamina. There were the seemingly endless series of small valleys that I had to labor my way out of. Not that physically demanding, but they did wear me down mentally. And since the temperature never got out of the low forties, my soggy feet came to feel like blocks of ice. Yet I gritted my teeth and toiled on. Sometimes you just have to take what Mother Nature chooses to dish out. 

Good thing I had only planned for a short day. 

The good news is that I made it into the Buffalo Pizza Hut in time for the lunch buffet! These affairs are heaven-sent for famished cyclists. I ended up wolfing down five thin slices of pizza, two helpings of pasta, one cinnamon breadstick, a large glass of Mt. Dew and a cup of hot chocolate which in my near-frozen state I initially tried to warm my hands over.

This feast seemed to turn my fortunes around. After eating, I located an agreeable, inexpensive hotel that has ground floor rooms with outside access. This allowed me to wash off the worst of the dirt and grime from the bike right outside my door. Later I laundered my already-soaked riding clothes. It’s amazing how many tasks that need taking care of on a day like this.

Time for a hot shower!

    Today:          37 Miles 
    To Date:  1,091 Miles / 1,756 Kilometers

Day 24: Pop! Goes the Tire

September 26, 2002
Buffalo to Gillette
70 Miles Google Map

Went to bed early last night, had a good sleep, then a passable breakfast at the House of Ronald McD, which along with Pizza Hut is emerging as one of the frequent places I chow down. Probably because these are both ubiquitous national chains, along with Super 8. On a long bike trip there can be a lot to deal with, so it’s nice to have some consistency in the eating and sleeping departments.

The morning was chilly with some fog. Fine biking weather, which was good as I had a demanding day in store: a seventy mile jaunt to Gillette with absolutely nothing in between. The bike shop guy back in Billings had even warned me about this stretch of road. Traffic would be light and should anything go seriously wrong, there’d be no quick rescue. Wanting to give myself plenty of time to deal with any contingencies, I started off shortly after seven. I was especially keen on piling on as much mileage as possible before the afternoon sun began bearing down on me. 

An hour or so into the ride, I was working my way through the vestiges of the fog when suddenly there was a bump and a pop — the noise I had been dreading the entire trip. My back wheel had run over a razor-sharp rock, causing the tire to puncture. In one of the last places I wanted this to happen.

I’ve already mentioned what a hassle it is to remove the rear wheel of a bicycle. Besides having to unload everything, there’s the slippery, greasy chain to deal with. It has to be lifted off the sprocket to free the wheel, then carefully coaxed back on when the job is finished. But I wasted no time lamenting my misfortune. The clock was ticking and every minute spent not cycling was a minute that would have to be made up in the afternoon heat. I went at the task in a workmanlike manner.

The flat was fixed in the same fashion that I handled the one in Billings: put in a completely new inner tube. Don’t screw around trying to patch the leak; you don’t want to risk another rupture in the same place. Not on a day like this.

It took a little over an hour to change the tube, reattach the wheel, re-pack everything onto the bike and return to the road. At this point I was still a good fifty miles from Gillette. The occasion now called for some extended, heads-down cycling and I obliged, putting in over two hours of hard work (while keeping a diligent eye out for any more sharp rocks). Following a quick roadside lunch that I’d packed, I added another tough hour and a half. Then one brief rest stop, a final burst of determined pedal pushing, and I ended up roaring into town in the early afternoon, having covered the fifty miles in a little over four and a half hours. 

It was very gratifying to be able to finish strong. One of my problems has been getting a bit wobbly once I am in sight of my destination. I begin packing it in for some reason, making the final miles go on forever. So today’s finishing kick was especially gratifying. Assuming of course that I have not overextended my middle-aged body. I’ll find out tomorrow — which will also be a sixty-plus mile endeavor.

    Today:          70 Miles 
    To Date:  1,161 Miles / 1,868 Kilometers


Day 25: Hunkering Down

September 27, 2002
Gillette to Sundance
62 Miles Google Map

My (cycling) hat goes off to those people working the early shift at the Conoco gas stations. It cannot be a very rewarding job, and having to rise before sunup on a cold day seems to only add insult to injury.

Not that they’d necessarily want to trade places with what I’m doing at the moment.

This morning was a textbook ride. Again, I’d gotten started early and had covered an impressive number of miles before I stopped to enjoy a snack. Returning to work, I was vigorously peddling my way towards lunchtime when everything suddenly went south.

Northeast, actually. The Interstate began turning in that direction and an opposing breeze appeared. Now, I knew from the Weather Channel that winds would be shifting that way. What I had not anticipated was a seemingly endless rise I had to struggle up at the same time — probably the third or fourth longest of the trip. Thankfully the breeze weakened, but by the time I reached the “summit” I was nevertheless pooped. 

At least the scenery was turning out to be interesting. The area I was cycling through is the gateway to the Wyoming Black Hills. Soon after leaving Gillette, I had noticed how the land was becoming flatter and greener. Then to my surprise, long-needled pines began appearing. It was like some magician had conjured them up. Quite a transformation over the course of thirty miles.

But back to the story. There I was at the top of the extended hill, having my lunch in a convenient parking area. Just happy to have made it to the top, though more than a little weary. But when I finished my meal and did the descent, it seemed like I went maybe a third of the way down compared to the elevation gain coming up. Not fair! I should have been able to enjoy the full fruits of my labor.

Then there was the wind. It was now blasting out of the north-northeast at over twenty miles an hour. Worse, the highway had positioned itself so that I was biking right into the teeth of it.

How bad was it? I had trouble cycling downhill, having to drop into the lower gears. And going uphill (yet another long incline) was an absolute nightmare. After Steven’s Pass and the demanding “canyon” on the way to Waterville, this was the toughest ride of the entire trip. There was a viciousness to the wind that I felt helpless before.

In one sense, I was very fortunate in being “only” seven miles from my destination when the conditions deteriorated. Still, those miles went by with excruciating slowness. Cresting the final hill, it was a battle all the way down and into Sundance. There I was fortunate to quickly locate a rustic hotel (which had a collection of old-style, western furniture). Once unpacked, went out to round up some ice cream and a Cherry Pepsi. I felt I had earned it on a day like this.

Rather than have dinner perched in front of the TV, I decided to go out to eat. The hotel woman pointed out a place just across the street where I had an open turkey sandwich and a mashed potato, both smothered in gravy. A welcome change from The Colonel and Ronald. Since it was a Friday night, the restaurant was nearly full, making for a pleasant atmosphere. I noticed a few of the locals glancing over at me so I tried to use the silverware properly. For my dessert, I walked down to the Conoco for a candy bar. The wind was still howling. Probably upset that I made it here in one piece.

    Today:          62 Miles 
    To Date:  1,223 Miles / 1,968 Kilometers

Morning Fog Bank

Day 26: Cyclone Payback!

September 28, 2002
Sundance, WY to Sturgis, SD
54 Miles Google Map

Being just one state over now courtesy of my trip, I’m watching the Iowa State/Nebraska football game live from Ames, Iowa. I got settled in just as the opening drive of the second half began. So far, the Cyclones are really taking it to the Cornhuskers. Unbelievable. Considering all those years (decades) that Nebraska with its superior teams just drilled Iowa State, this is a contest to savor. I’m sure that my dad — an ISU alum — is enjoying this even more than I.

As for my riding, I am getting worn down from the ceaseless wind. This morning as I wandered through some fog, it was gently coming out of the northeast. Not a problem and I made good time. Then, after I’d crossed into South Dakota and headed vaguely southeast, it shifted and was once more in my face, this time stronger though not like the near-hurricane of yesterday. It didn’t dramatically impede my efforts; it just pissed me off. This past week (today is Saturday) has been a continual battle with the elements, which detracts from the enjoyment of watching the countryside pass by. 

The distance covered today included four extra miles from having to use Highway 14 in place of my old friend, I-90. The state of South Dakota prohibits bikes on the Interstate. But thanks to the motel people back in Sundance, I received a map which showed how to get to Sturgis using a backdoor route. However, I can’t say I enjoyed it very much. While I could see nearby I-90 flowing serenely over the hills, I was bobbing up and down like a cork on Highway 14. First, I’d be below the Interstate. Then, as a ridge approached, my road would go up over it at a point some five to ten meters higher before descending back down into the depths. 

News Flash! Final Score: ISU 36, Nebraska 14. What a great moment for the program and I’m glad I was able to share the thrill thanks to ABC. Watching the fans swarm onto the field…the ecstatic, Gatorade-drenched coach…all those years of despair forgotten — at least for the moment.

Have to call the family.

    Today:          54 Miles 
    To Date:  1,277 Miles / 2,055 Kilometers

Day 27: Rinky-dink City

September 29, 2002
Sturgis to Rapid City
32 Miles Google Map

Stayed up late last night watching Coach reruns on Nickelodeon. I found it hilarious in places and laughed long and hard.

I was in dire need of comic relief. Today’s Sturgis to Rapid City ride was supposed to be a milk run: thirty smooth, effortless miles into a small city with presumably plenty of motels. But it degenerated into a real pain in the derrière. 

The trouble began when the pavement all of a sudden vanished outside of Sturgis. Alkali Avenue, running east out of town, degrades into a gravel road after about ten miles. My infallible Rand McNally Map shows the transformation (a solid grey line versus two separate, tiny grey lines), but there is not anything in the legend explaining this. Making a confusing situation worse, I then continued to battle the gravel for some five more miles, becoming more and more bewildered, before finally conceding defeat and turning around. Not very bright. I should have closely examined the map the instant the pavement went away.

Thus, two and a half hours into my mini odyssey, I found myself back at the Sturgis McDonald’s about a quarter mile from the motel where I had spent the night. Senior Citizens make better progress.

Since Alkali Avenue went nowhere, I needed to find another route out of town. Though riding on the Interstate is, as I’ve mentioned, verboten in South Dakota, I decided to sneak on I-90 for five miles to a place called the Tilford Rest Area. Along the way I kept doing nervous glances in my mirror, half expecting to see flashing red lights storming up behind me. The shoulder of the road (that I dared not venture off of) was wide and accommodating, but had little ridges across it every ten yards or so. A none-too-subtle reminder that I was in no man’s land.

Exiting at Tilford (with no small sense of relief), I found a convenient service road and began an afternoon ride that proved less stressful. The day was so pleasantly warm I was able to wear my shorts for perhaps one final time. 

Getting into Rapid City seemed to take forever — the curse of having to use a meandering access road. I eventually worked my way through the downtown and found myself on Highway 44, which I plan on using to cross the state from here on. Following it towards the airport, I didn’t see any of the motels one might expect to find in the area. Ended up stopping at a Cenex Food Mart for directions, which forced me to backtrack two miles — the second reversal of the day.

After checking in at an inexpensive location not far from the downtown, the owner tried to help me decipher the maze of highways coming in and out of the town to determine which one I should use for tomorrow. She knew someone who had knowledge of the area’s roads and told me she would call my room once she got hold of him. I never heard back.

Rapid City is not sitting well with me. For dinner (at Pizza Hut, couldn’t find a KFC), the restaurant was a bit chilly and to insure I could see my breath for the entire meal, the waiter put me in the booth right next to the door. (The place was empty, by the way.) Then when I told him the order would be to go, after five minutes he had not returned to take it down.

I walked out. Maybe the waiter had pegged me as an out of towner whom he could treat as he pleased. Whatever the case, I wasn’t going to tolerate lackadaisical service. Once outside, I briefly considered returning and sharing my feelings on the matter, but decided I’d had more than enough aggravation for one day. 

At the nearby Burger King, a few people gave me second looks as I stood in line to order. Afraid I’m somewhat conspicuous in my canary-yellow cycling jacket. Haven’t felt this out-of-place since I lived in Asia. 

Think it will be best for all concerned if I depart early in the a.m.

    Today:          32 Miles 
    To Date:  1,309 Miles / 2,107 Kilometers

Bear Butte

Day 28: Breezing Through The Badlands

September 30, 2002
Rapid City to Interior
67 Miles Google Map

An outstanding day!

This morning’s weather forecast called for “brisk” northwest winds — perfect for my plan to take Highway 44 southeast. In my eagerness to get underway and take advantage of the conditions (not to mention escaping a crappy city), I was out on the road by a quarter to eight.

The wind started up immediately, literally pushing me down the highway. The only real problem were occasional cracks in the pavement that made things a bit bumpy. These came and went all day depending upon how recently the surface had been repaved.

I made the forty-two miles to Scenic in an hour and forty-five minutes, which I believe is a new speed record. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much to see there. Just some dried, worn out buildings. Hardly any signs of life. I took a half hour break meandering around, then continued on. Towards the Badlands.

What forbidding, rugged beauty! Thanks to the strong wind, I was able to travel at a brisk clip with minimal effort, taking in scenery unchanged from the days of the old Wild West. Cross country cycling at its finest.

About five miles before my destination, I took a roadside break next to a field where four fellows were riding about on their motorcycles. Soon one of them stopped over to say hello. It turns out that they are all brothers involved in the ranching business. We must have talked for almost an hour, comparing our Midwest backgrounds (I had gown up on a farm in North Central Iowa). I was also interested in their views of their senator, Tom Daschle, as well as the state’s people in general. In return, they had some questions about my computer career and the dot com scene in Seattle. I answered as best I could, though I am clueless on the latest technology.

We jointly lamented single parent families, the post-9/11 atmosphere of suspicion, and the demands of farming. Coming from three generations of farmers, I could empathize with their difficulties and though I’m a confirmed city slicker, was quite comfortable around them. They would have liked me to come stay at one of their homes, which sounded like a bed-and-breakfast setup, but I had already made reservations.

My accommodations for tonight are at The Budget Host, a combination motel and camping area. The couple in charge have given me the phone number of a good motel down the road for tomorrow night. A marked improvement over yesterday’s concierge services in Rapid City.

I like this place. It’s quiet, comfy (I’m writing outside on the “porch” to my room), and has an awesome view of what must be the eastern end of the Badlands Wall. No phone or TV, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s worth coming back to. 

Just went to the office to get something to drink and talk some more with the owners. They are both in their early-to-mid seventies and own a ranch twelve miles from here as well as a home in Rapid City. Today is the last day of the season and they are starting to close up the rooms. It’s kind of fun to be around for this, and I’m glad I didn’t arrive one day later! 

It’s getting dark and I can see headlights off in the distance making their way down the “wall” from Cedar Pass. Slowly descending to Earth… Tentative… Searching…

    Today:          67 Miles 
    To Date:  1,376 Miles / 2,214 Kilometers


Day 29: Pushing the Envelope

October 1, 2002
Interior to White River 
75 Miles Google Map

Both mentally and physically exhausted.

Anticipating an unusually long ride ahead of me today, I started it off with a monster pancake breakfast. I ended up needing every mouthful.

As predicted, the wind was blowing out of the north, putting it at my back for the first fifteen miles. But with all the hills I had to deal with, I could not build up a head of steam. After over an hour of up-and-down struggles (mostly up), I could still look back upon the tiny village of Interior where I’d spent the night. Didn’t do much to raise my spirits. I mean, I’m cycling on the Great Plains, for crying out loud. I shouldn’t be encountering this kind of terrain.

For a moment, I sarcastically wondered if maybe there was a second Continental Divide I was laboring up towards. 

After the fifteen miles of southward progress, Highway 44 turned east. Now I had both hills and a mean left-to-right wind to contend with. (And for those who say the U.S. cannot solve its energy needs solely through renewables, let them spend a week in breezy South Dakota.)

Dealing with strong crosswinds for any extended period of time is tough cycling. For example, there’s the danger of losing control when going down a hill and/or meeting a large vehicle. Then there’s the wrestling with the handlebars whenever an extra-strong gust hits.

It was in this manner that I battled through the afternoon, making uneven progress. Finally, I decided I’d suffered enough abuse and was going to go over to the offensive. For the final fifteen miles into White River, I cycled like a man possessed, attacking the two steep inclines towards the end in a state of near fury. I would pay dearly for this recklessness the next day.

I’d made reservations ahead, so even though the motel owners were out for the evening (I got in rather late), they left a note and key for me. After settling in, I did a food run down the street. At the convenience store, as I was getting out my wallet, the key card to my room fell out. I failed to notice this and when I got back to the hotel, spent forty-five minutes of mounting anguish trying to figure out how to get into my room. Since the office was open, I “borrowed” some of the keys attached to the keyboard, hoping one of them might be the master. A nice idea, but no tamale. Salvation eventually arrived in the form of a good samaritan from the store who came by and returned my card. A happy ending, but also an extra layer of stress on top of what had been a very strenuous ride.

They are predicting snow flurries for tomorrow which may be the perfect excuse to take a day off. 

    Today:          75 Miles 
    To Date:  1,451 Miles / 2,335 Kilometers

Day 30: Me & My Migraine

October 2, 2002
White River 
No Miles  No Map

“I woke up today, I was crying. Lost in a lost world.”
The Moody Blues

During the final ten miles of yesterday’s finishing sprint, my upper right leg began hurting on the pedal downstroke. I had to use my left one for three quarters of the power. That alone is reason enough to take a day off. It was also plenty cold this morning — forty-two degrees (F) — with some more of that beloved north wind. No snow, however. 

The migraines I suffer from involve a sharp throbbing on the right side of my head. As I’ve mentioned, they are not incapacitating, but certainly not much fun with excessive stress being one of the triggers. My vigorous cycling yesterday combined with the frustrating search for the missing room key fit the bill perfectly, and I awoke this morning with particularly bad one. Having to endure it in a cold, bleak, South Dakota town only makes it that much more depressing. I’ve spent the entire day in bed with the shades drawn, sleeping when I could and trying to ward off gloomy thoughts. The idea of somehow getting on a bike tomorrow and exerting myself to any degree is nearly unbearable.

The Advil I brought with me for these special occasions only takes the edge off. I have no choice but to wait it out.

Am looking forward to getting into the eastern part of the state. More people and development; maybe some warmer weather.

    Today:     None — Day Off
    To Date:  1,451 Miles / 2,335 Kilometers