Category: South Dakota

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

Day 31: The Weird Town of Winner

October 3, 2002
White River to Winner
54 Miles Google Map

Rain, wind and bad roads. What more can a cyclist ask for? At least I was prepared for the precipitation and ended up having to cope with only a few passing showers. And the south wind, though chilly, was nowhere near the Great Northern Express that barreled through two days ago.

The crappy highway was another matter. Over various stretches were networks of cracks that had been filled in with rubber. Overfilled. Every ten to twenty yards would bring a double thump as the tires passed over one of these ridges. I had to slow down for the more prominent ones to reduce the risk of a flat or broken spoke. Bicycle speed bumps, I got to calling them.

The second, and mercifully short, road challenge was the four miles of Highway 44/183 going south from the village of Witten. Both the regular lane and the shoulder were so uneven I had to inch along in low gears. The asphalt must have been poured by someone in a hurry.

At least the home stretch into Winner was uneventful. The rain slacked off, the temperature rose a few degrees, and the shoulder was wide and smooth. If there ever was a point where I crossed over into civilized South Dakota, that was it. There was also was more nature in contrast to the often barren landscape that had accompanied me for so long.

Only a few minutes after checking into the hotel and entering my room, I started having trouble with loud neighbors. First it was some rowdy kids next door who sounded like they had enough energy to star in that battery commercial with the Energizer Bunny. I quickly went to the front desk and changed rooms, moving up to the second floor. Yet in my new digs I can hear the TV below me, and my next door neighbor just started playing some kind of instrument. I’ve banged on the wall, but it didn’t do any good. 

Still, it’s all relative. It started pouring outside about fifteen minutes ago and given the choice between being out in that or putting up with a few small unpleasantries while I’m all nice and dry, I’ll opt for the latter.

You are now entering the Twilight Zone

😵 On the way back to the hotel after dinner, a group of teenage girls, who had for some reason tried to strike up a conversation with me earlier, began shouting and screaming at me from a distance.

😵 Entering the hotel, the smoke alarm was going off in one of the downstairs rooms. Maybe one of those lively kids got careless with matches?

😵 My phone does not have a dial tone. Ten minutes later, it does.

😵 The bed lights do not turn on. Later in the evening they do — by themselves.

High Point of the Day: Watching a deer gracefully bound over a fence and dash across the road in front of me. 

Low Point of the Day: Cycling to the top of a small rise and looking out over the sweeping, dismal landscape. Felt like I was the only person on a dark, forgotten planet.

    Today:          54 Miles 
    To Date:  1,505 Miles / 2,422 Kilometers

How green was my valley?

Day 32: Crossing the Missouri

October 4, 2002
Winner to Corsica 
78 Miles Google Map

The wind gods were with me starting out, so I initially made good time before encountering more of the “thump-thump” pavement outside of Weirder…I mean Winner. But that soon disappeared and I passed through narrow valleys adorned with patches of autumn red and gold.

When I got my first look at the Missouri River, my mouth dropped. It’s so wide, my Seattle senses briefly insisted it was a long lake (which is partially true due to the Fort Randall Dam downstream). Still, it’s impressive, cutting channels over the millennia through the center of a vast continent. I made a stop on the mile-long bridge (where the wind nearly toppled me) and tried to imagine the Lewis & Clark Expedition passing by, struggling to make their way upriver to the Mandan village before the cold plains winter set in. I too am earnestly trying to reach a special destination before the season changes. 

Beyond the Missouri the land is transformed, greening and flattening out. Trees begin crowding the landscape. The towns seem healthier as well, with more businesses, a home-grown eatery, and of course the signature grain elevator. I was able to have lunch at an honest-to-goodness restaurant instead of off to the side of some lonely highway or at a fast food chain. The generous taco salad I consumed helped power me the final twenty-five miles.

The Parkway Motel I’m at is very simple and well-kept. The husband of the owning couple used to be the mayor of this tiny town. Seems to be an agreeable fellow and it’s a shame he’s been tied up trying to get some kind of credit card verification process working. I think he’d have some entertaining stories. 

And I love Corsica! Maybe eight by eight square blocks, it reminds me of a smaller version of the Iowa towns I grew up in. Spent an hour strolling about exploring it, ending up at a park back next to the motel where I was treated to a gorgeous prairie sunset. 

It’s amazing how dramatically one’s fortunes can change on a bike trip. Two days ago I was trapped in a painful, depressed state. Then yesterday it was Bizzaro World. Today, I feel I have come home.

    Today:          78 Miles 
    To Date:  1,583 Miles / 2,548 Kilometers


Day 33: Dodging a Bullet

October 5, 2002
Corsica to Sioux Falls
93 Miles Google Map

Is that thunder I hear, or is the weather god angry at my narrow escape this evening?

Had breakfast at “Carol’s” in Corsica. The restaurant is up for sale which might be the reason Carol seemed rather cheerless, not even noticing me (and in my Big Bird jacket, no less!) until another patron pointed out my presence. But no matter. I was just happy to have a home-cooked meal! By a quarter after eight, I was heading south out of town on the two mile stretch of U.S. 281, which connects with the east-west running Highway 44. There was a stiff breeze in my face, but soon I turned east and it was no longer a concern. 

Today was a classic example of how the early bird catches the worm — or at the very least, has more options. I was at my destination, Parker, by mid-afternoon. It had been an uneventful ride and I was looking forward to checking in at some friendly, locally-owned motel, then maybe doing another one of my walks about town. However, the information I’d been going on was wrong: there were no accommodations to be found. Nada.

What to do? Turing around was not an option; there weren’t any places to stay between Parker and the motel back in Corsica. Nor is it in my nature to retreat. I would have to make a run for it to Sioux Falls, some thirty miles to the northeast with the threat of thunderstorms in the area.

A helpful local gave me directions on a backdoor way to get to the part of the city were the motels were. I thus began a determined three hour ride over lonely county blacktops. This in addition to what had been a regular day’s effort. The anxiety of getting caught in bad weather provided extra adrenalin. Then about five miles out from Sioux City, as evening began to fall, dark clouds appeared in the distance with flashes of lightning. Rain started spitting down. Under my breath, I was pleading hold off… hold off… please… hold off…

I made it with a half hour to spare. Enough time to get unpacked and start this journal entry. Outside a major storm is passing through and I shudder to think of what might have happened if it had caught me out in the open countryside. There probably would not have been any convenient place to take shelter.

Tomorrow we’ll see how well the equipment (bike and my legs) survived the marathon journey. I’m hoping everything will check out — it may be another long day.

    Today:          93 Miles 
    To Date:  1,676 Miles / 2,697 Kilometers