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Monday, May 31, 2010

Mile 2441.9 - Bike infrastructure in Minnesota

Day 32 started with breakfast largely composed of the same items I had made dinner out of the night before. I heated some tortillas, scrambled eggs with garlic, tomato and cheese and rounded it out with a banana and some yogurt. I can't complain, I make a pretty fantastic breakfast.

The Luce Line Trial through Hutchinson is paved, which is nice and follows the Crow River, which is pretty. All in all, a good trail through town, though once you get outside of town, the pavement reverts to crushed aggregate rock. On one hand, nice trail going through pastures and fields. On the other hand, you just cannot go a fast on a gravel road as on pavement. That's why highways tend to be paved. Maybe one day the demand and funding will be there. What certainly was there were other users. Familes, couples, single riders, people walking their dogs or out for a jog, with a pleasing range of ages and ethnicities. I'm getting a bit ahead of myself in the post, but by the time I got to John and Shelley's place at the end of the day, I had seen more people on bikes than probably the entire route back to the American River Trail in California, if not the whole way to San Fransisco. This is very exciting to me and makes me love upper-midwesterners even more. There were so many, that I soon stopped waving at them all.

Soon after a quick break in Waterville to dump some empty gatorade bottles, a woman pulled up alongside me on a bike and asked how far I was going. This was Michelle, and we rode together for about the next 20 miles. She had a lot of questions, and answering them made the miles go by faster. Weather-wise it was, we both remarked, the absolutely perfect upper-midwestern Memorial Day. 78 degrees or so with a light breeze out of the west and brilliant sunshine. The perfect day to go for a bike ride.

Reaching Plymouth, she left at the parking lot where her car was waiting. I followed the path forward, stopping at a beach off of Medicine Lake. After a quick break, I followed the trail along to where it meets the Cedar Lake Trail, which I took all the way to where it ends in front of Target Field. Too bad the Twins just started a week-long road trip with a visit to Seattle. Then, I got a little lost following bike routes to what I thought was the river. Eventually I found my way to the Stone Arch Bridge, one of the first to cross the Mississippi this far up.

Mile 2431.5 was another one of those momentous occasions on this trip: I crossed the Mississippi River. Unlike reaching Carson Pass or the Continental Divide where there was only the occasional car around, this bridge was closed to motor traffic, but had lots of pedestrians and a fair number of other cyclists. I then entered St Paul and somehow made a wrong turn and soon found myself on the Hennepin Bridge crossing over the Mississippi again. That can't be right. I rode forward another block, recognized the buildings in front of me as clearly Minneapolis and turned around to cross the river a third time. Going past the campus of the University of Minnesota, I soon came to Roseville, where my friends John and Shelley live with their 4 month old daughter, Katie. She is a very small person.

It was nice to end a day among friends, people who I have known for almost a decade now. It was also nice that I got to spend almost all of my miles today on bike trail or in a bike lane. Also, since I was slowing down for the reunion in Appleton, I knew that the next several days would be spent relaxing, any riding I would do would just be around town until I left for Duluth on Thursday or Friday. We grilled up some steaks with corn and potato salad and were enjoying a nice dinner until Katie woke up and decided she needed to be fed right that moment. I look forward to seeing her again in the future, when her communication with the world has become more complex than smiling or crying.

Day 32, Hutchinson, MN - Roseville, MN
76.0 miles in 6:23:06. The totals are now 2441.9 in 207:33:47 and I got up to 23.1mph today

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Mile 2365.9 - More Minnesoter

Day 31. My aim today was fairly modest, going about 65 miles up to Hutchinson where I could connect with the Luce Line Path, an old rail to trail that would take me to the suburbs of the Twin Cities. I went to the country kitchen for breakfast after I woke up, but only kinda poked at it for a while. Apparently, several people had called out of work that morning, including the host. Seeing as it was the sunday of memorial day weekend, they were expecting to be busy once the early church crowd started rolling in. I jokingly offered to host myself, but I didn't have right clothes to wear. One of the waitresses said she could find me something, but I eventually paid up and left. Because I didn't have to go far, I got a pretty late state on the day.

I took 71 out of town as Renee had suggested and soon crossed the Minnesota River. The rivers banks were being patrolled by several large birds of prey. After about 15 miles later and well after I left the wide highway for a narrow county road, I came to the Martinsburg Town Hall. The town hall was at an intersection surrounded by fields. I could see some farmhouses around in the distance, but it was a lone building without even a gravel driveway. There was a little 4'x4' cement block in front of the door to this prefab building that was smaller than my studio in Bed-Stuy was. Looking inside there was a table with six chairs around, a couple chairs against the far wall, and a couple bare flag poles in the corners. It was a perfect place to take a break. I sat on the concrete step and ate, admiring the even rows of the spinach field to my left.

A couple clear landscape changes had occurred. First, I was frequently crossing streams and rivers or following the shore of a small lake. A far cry from Nevada or Utah. Second, by now the ranchlands of even central South Dakota had been replaced by the grain farms of the upper-midwest. I was passing not only fields of newly growing wheat, corn and soybeans, but other crops as well, spinach and turnips and what I believe was barley. Between that and what appeared to be wild hops growing on the roadside at one point, I was reminded that there is not an ingredient in beer that wouldn't happily grow in the these soils. Also, the horse and dairy farms were now also interspersed with long, low hog barns. They do not smell as nice as the open dairy pastures.

I made my way to the next town, Buffalo Lake, and I found myself wishing I had finished all of my breakfast. I stopped into a small restaurant called Southern Charm. South of what, I'm not quite sure. Canada, maybe? Brainerd? Anyway, I went in and met Ken, the only other person in the joint. He cooked my lunch then came out and made a slight show of cleaning before just sitting down at my table to talk. We discussed the economy of restaurants, suppliers in small towns, and how a business and a family take precedence over personal goals. Leaving, I thanked him and told him that the next time I'm in town I'll stop in again, but that may not be for several years.

The first sign I was coming into Hutchinson was coming over a hill and seeing a Target and a Menards across the highway from each other. I went a mile past that and sat under the roof of some covered picnic tables in Legion Park. I looked up exactly where the Luce Line went through town, right along the Crow River, and saw that there was a park it went through that allowed overnight camping. I rode down to the Mason park, scoped out a spot, then turned around and went back a little ways to a grocery store I had passed. I actually bought more food than I probably needed, knowing the next night I would be in the Twin Cities and staying with friends. Oh well. I went back to the park, pitched the tent and made dinner just before sunset. I had picked up some eggs, cheese, tomatoes and garlic, and made myself a nice fritatta over the camp stove. I should have grabbed green onion, jalapeno, and maybe some thyme. It was nice to eat something that resembled my own cooking again, though it did make me miss the comforts of my own kitchen.

Day 31, Redwood Falls, MN - Hutchinson, MN
66.49 miles, for 2365.9 total. 5:12:38 today for a total of 201:10:41 and a high speed of 31.6

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Mile 2299.41 – Oh jah, there hey, doncha know?

Day 30 started near the South Dakota/Minnesota state line. I say near, because while I slept within 4 geographical miles of the state line, the road took another 7.5 to get there. For breakfast I finished off the bison sausage I had picked up leaving the black hills and mopped it up with a loaf of day old jimmy johns bread.

The road continued east until about a mile and a half before the state line, where it swung south into the teeth of the wind. The next couple miles went rather slowly, but I got to watch a parade of cars from the 50's drive towards Minnesota. I was now starting to enter a vast field of wind turbines, dozens of them spanning from slightly northwest of me all across the eastern horizon, ending not quite south of me. As I said before, if I lived around here, I'd have a wind farm, and here, clearly, were people who agreed with me. It was a beautiful sight if you're into that kind of thing, and I am into that kind of thing. I would take a horizon filled with green pastures lined with turbines than a single coal plant spewing its fumes into the sky.

Just before the state line, there are a couple historical marker signs on the South Dakota side. One lists a series of historical personages and events in the state, the other extols the virtues of South Dakota on one side and sites the natural beauty, wealth of resources, and 'cheerful citizenry' of Minnesota on the other. I may be wrong, but I think that last bit was meant to be mildly insulting.

At mile 2223.51, I officially crossed into Minnesoter. Seeing as I was born in Wisconsin and grew up in Illinois and that I probably spent more time in Minnesota than any other state I've never lived in (well, maybe that's Virginia or Pennsylvania, but it's close), I felt like I was coming home. I understand the landscape, I understand the people, and, after I got a little bit further into the state and started to encounter hills and trees, the wind even went back to what I consider normal, blowing out of the west. Oh, upper midwest, how I've missed you.

The first town you come to entering Minnesota on US 14 is Lake Breton. First town I see, first lake I see. I climbed the hill, and passed a little Memorial Day weekend musicfest that looked like it wouldn't get started for another couple hours. The next town I came to was Tyler, and I stopped at one of the two gas stations in town to refill the fluids. Immediately, the conversation in the station turned to cycling, and the four or five guys there were all impressed with my voyage. One of them, a guy around my age who I definitely would have considered sketchy if I was a female, invited me up to his place 10 miles north of town for some beers. I thanked him, but said I wanted to get to Redwood Falls by the end of the day, so I didn't really have time. Yeah, thanks but no thanks.

According to the Minnesoter Bike Map, the stretch of Highway 23 between Florence and Marshall has a paved 6' shoulder the whole length. What the map doesn't show is that between Lynd and Marshall it's all under construction. what is normally a 4 lane divided highway shares the southbound lanes and the shoulder I was riding on was the narrow center margin. Thankfully, the traffic was going pretty slowly. Coming into Marshall, I had the option of following 23 around town to where it hits 19, or going through town and picking up the highway as it makes its way downtown. I got to an intersection leading into town and saw the bike path. I didn't even have to look at the several more miles of construction on 23 to decide.

I had lunch in Marshall, home of Southern Minnesota State University, (go Fighting Smooses!) though was disappointed to see that the post office's Saturday window hours were 9-11. What, exactly, is the point of that? Who is this target audience that is sending post at 10:30, but has disappeared by 1? Looking on the clock on the wall, I was there at 12:45, a totally reasonable time for a post office to be open. Seeing as I was now enjoying my second day with temperatures in the low 90s, I figured I didn't really need the fleece or heavy gloves anymore, plus there was a growing collection of maps, brochures and receipts I wanted to keep but not necessarily on me. Since it was a holiday weekend, I now wouldn't be able to shed the extra bulk until Tuesday.

I followed 19 into Redwood Falls. My friend John, with whom I would be staying in the Twin Cities, recommended the town as a good place to stop and told me to check out Ramsey Park, the largest municipal park in the state. I got into town and saw a little park by the river. It was cute, so I took a couple pictures, then went forward in search of a room and dinner. The first motel I came to advertised rooms for $37, which sounded good to me. I dropped the stuff in the room, took a quick shower, then walked out in search of dinner. Passing a liquor store on the way, I restocked my dwindling supply of whiskey. After dinner, I was sitting in the room watching the first game of the Stanley Cup playoffs (the Chicago team is in, so I'll watch it). I noticed a change of color in the sky and decided that my time would be better spent watching the sun set down by the river than sitting in a cramped motel room watching hockey. I emptied the clothes pannier, threw in a bottle of coke and some bug spray and went up to the park. There were a couple nice winding hills leading to the park and I got to pass a car going down, which I always enjoy.

Into the park, I came to a bridge going over the river. There was a man and a couple of boys fishing from it, and when I slowed to take a picture of the scene, one of the boys came over towards me asking about the flashing light on the back of my helmet. I took the helmet off and showed him and that is how I met Matthew, his father Barry (and a while later, mother Renee) and the other boy who's name no one knew. In the course of talking to them about my trip and fielding a number of questions from Matthew, Barry's line went taught. The handed the pole to his son and coached him in reeling in the fish. This process gathered a small crowd. After several minutes of struggling, the boy outlasted the fish's strength, and up from the water came a two pound catfish. After some time was spent in unhooking and trying to weigh the fish, Barry finally threw it back in. I advised it to swim upstream and not hang out around any bridges.

By this point the sun had well set, and Barry invited me back to their campsite. I really wish I had gone to the park before I found the motel room, as there was plenty of room for a tent among the campers and there was plenty of good company around. I sat talking to the family for a couple of hours, having s'mores trying to keep out of the path of smoke coming up from the campfire. It was exactly the kind of interaction that I was hoping for when the trip began, meeting a great family from a small town I otherwise would never have met. Oh, and Barry, go to Sioux River Bikes in Brookings, find Rob and tell him I sent you. He'll make sure you walk out with the right bike for you.

One of the things we discussed was all the time I had to get to my college reunion in Appleton. It starts on June 18th, nearly three weeks away, and in that time I could ostensibly make it back to Utah or down to Louisiana. Making Appleton, about 450 miles away, would be no problem. Renee suggested I go up to Duluth. It was a great idea. Even though I had lived in Wisconsin for 7 years, I had never seen Lake Superior. I think that's a brilliant way to kill some time in this part of the country. Renee also gave me directions for the best route to Hutchinson, where I wanted to end up the next night. At last, it was time to go back up to the motel and pretend to get some sleep. But I felt like this was another successful day.

Day 30, Camp 10 miles east of Brookings, SD - Redwood Falls, MN
91.4 miles bringing me up to 2299.41 for the trip. I rode 7:17:39 for a total of 195:58:03 and a top speed of 29.9 mph.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Mile 2208.01 – Riding the same miles in my own shoes

One other thing about Day 27, I passed two of the worst smelling cattle ranches I’ve yet been past. Since I was riding into the wind, I picked up the smell a good mile before I got to the source. Where the other cattle ranches I’d passed were wide, green ranges of pasture for the cows to graze on, these two, within a couple minutes of each other, had scores of cows in a relatively small enclosure, living on a large pile of mud and feces and eating out of a trough. I understand that for cost-effectiveness, this is a much cheaper way to raise stock. But a cow is still a life, and the cows able to roam a bit and graze seemed much happier.

Anyway, onto Day 29.

I woke up in Huron, in the motel that stands in the shadow of the world’s largest pheasant. It was carved in the 50’s and serves as both a symbol and landmark for the town of Huron. I packed up Penny and prepared to ride the same road I had driven the day before. Since I had reconnoitered the route the day before, I knew I had about 18 miles of 6’ paved shoulder out of town, followed by the 2’ paved + 4’ unpaved shoulder for the following 35 miles. I also figured that De Smet would be a good place to stop for lunch. I was back in a part of the country were the towns were placed along the road usually 6-14 miles apart. This is much better than those places where I’d ride 70-80 miles between towns.

While there was the same 15mph headwind most of the day, my morning was going pretty quickly. I was saddened a bit to leave the comfortable 6’ paved shoulder, the traffic was light enough to not be a major issue once the shoulder narrowed.
De Smet, SD, is the town Laura Ingalls Wilder lived in as a girl and is the setting for her series of Little House books. I could tell that because a good 5 miles outside of town, I started seeing her name all over the place. I crossed into town, and there on the corner of US 14 and Laura St is the Laura Ingalls Wilder School. There are a half a dozen Ingalls locations in and around town, though if you follow the sign that says Ingalls Wilder tours, 4 blocks, it leads you to another sign takes you another three blocks, then turns again and you end up, not at the Wilder House or the Ingalls Homestead, but at the gift shop. I did not go in. I did stop at the Silver Lake Prairie View spot to admire the view.

I also stopped at the dairy queen in town for lunch, striking up a conversation with a couple of guys about cycling and wind power. There’s got to be a solution to the infrastructure issues in the state, and unlike coal and natural gas in Wyoming, the wind in South Dakota is never going to run out. I hope you guys figure it out, because it’s a fantastic resource that is really underutilized.

Speaking of wind, about an hour after I left De Smet, I was riding along into the wind, and, suddenly, the wind seemed to forget about me. It took only a few seconds to realize that the resistance I dealt with all day had slacked, I popped the chain down several gears, lowered my head and sped forth. I picked up 7-8 mph from the wind stopping alone. Sadly, this lasted only 15 minutes or so, then the wind remembered that I was there and then tried to overcompensate for how easy my last 15 minutes were.

As the day pressed on, I took a few breaks, stopping in the large Lake Preston City Park that was peopled only by myself and a couple grounds keepers. I stopped again by a roadside lake and finished the last of the pistachios I had brought from New York. Finally, I hit the split of where 14 continues into Brookings and the 14 bypass swings around north. I headed into town, passing a couple kids on bikes on the way.

I got back to Main and went the block up to Sioux River bikes to show off Penny fully loaded. Unfortunately, they close at 6 and it was now 6:14. Oh well. I took a quick picture of Penny outside the shop. But people, go to Brookings and stop in at Sioux River Bikes and get yourself a new bike. You deserve it, don’t you?

I crossed town on 14 and stopped in at Jimmy Johns again for dinner. What can I say, it’s something I can’t get at home. Then, since there was still a good hour before sunset and I had only 18 miles to go before the Minnesota border, I wanted to press on. Just after crossing interstate 29 just east of town, I reached mile 2200 for the trip. Woo hoo.

I went another 8 miles, then found a perfect spot to camp off the highway in the corner of an empty field, shielded from the traffic by a large tree and tall grass. I could see the wind farm on the horizon that signaled the line between the states. I knew it would not be long in the morning before I got there.

Day 29 – Huron, SD to Camp 10 miles east of Brookings, SD
88.01 miles in 7:51:43. Totals: 2208.01 in 188:39:24 and a high speed today of 21.6mph

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Oh yes

Three things I forgot to mention from Day 27:

1. Shoulders. I like shoulders, especially when they are six feet wide and paved. US 14 through this area goes back and forth between beautifully wide paved shoulders, in essence a safe lane just for me, and the 18" - 2' wide shoulder with rumbles strips and then 4' of gravel next to it. That may be fine for farm equipment, but not great for a cyclist. Hey, SD, why not just pave the shoulder the whole way and tout it as a bike route from Brookings clear to the black hills. I bet you would get lots of people to ride on it.

2. Camera phones. The first time I was aware of a driver taking a picture of me from an oncoming car was back on Highway 50 leaving Ely, NV. Occasionally I would see a driver or passenger pointing a phone at me as I went by. I'd like to see those shots, and I'd actually be totally willing to pull over so you could get a clear picture of me, but that's all cool. Anyway, something about central and eastern South Dakota that makes people want to take my picture. On this day alone I saw 5 or 6 drivers taking pictures of me, as I was going through a small town, a couple kids on bikes had pointed their phones at me, and there was even a gas station stop where I came outside to see someone taking a picture of Penny. I am totally fine with all that, but it kinda speaks to how little they see cyclists here.

3. I was going to list the roadkill I saw in the day, but the list is rather depressing, so I'll just end here.

Mile 2120.0 - Repair Day

Lying in my tent in Wolsey City Park, I had a problem. The bike shop I needed to get to was in Brookings, 85 miles away. The rear rack was now completely broken, the supports on both sides deciding to snap instead of taking the pressure. There was no way I was going to make it all the way from Wolsey, it just wasn’t safe. Then, I had an idea. The next town I would come to was Huron, a large town for the area of 12,000 people, complete with a fairgrounds, a minor league baseball field, several hotels and an airport. I pulled out my phone and searched for rental car agencies. There were two. As it was 10pm at that point, there was no reason to call them, but the plan was to rig up the rack as best I could, make it the 16 or so miles into town, then rent a truck, throw Penny in the back, drive to Brookings for the repair, drive back to Huron and then continue from there. I would safely get to Brookings, and though it would cost most of a day, I wouldn't skip any miles.

In the morning I struck camp. With my handy roll of electrician's tape, I wound both sides up tightly, taping the rack both back to itself and the frame. I wasn't happy about what that might do to the paint job, but more important was getting the bike to the shop. I had breakfast at the local restaurant/gas station/casino and slowly started my day. The dining room was a little odd in that there were several copies of the same posters hanging around. I like doge playing poker as well as the enxt guy, but three copies of the same print seems like over-saturation. I left, riding slowly and cautiously and stopping every few miles to make sure my taping job was still supporting the stuff on the rack.

Part of the way there, I had nice a nice 6' wide shoulder, though there were times when it narrowed to two feet with rumble strips lying across the whole shoulder to keep drivers awake when they start to drift off. Finally, I made it into Huron and called the closer of the two rental agencies. They didn't have any trucks, and a car could work, but wasn't preferable. Then I called the place out by the airport and all they had that would fit a bike in the back was a Suburban. Slight overkill, I was hoping for an F-150 or something smaller like that, but I'll take what they had. Though, to be sure, if South Dakota had light passenger rail, say from Sioux Falls up through Brookings and Huron and then out to Pierre and winding up in Rapid City, I would have taken that. And shoot up another line to Aberdeen that then extends up to Bismark and another spur from Sioux Falls to Sioux City. That's one of the things I think about when I ride, how would I set up a transit system in this area.

The airport was about two miles away from where I was, so I started making my way north to it. I was turning onto the road leading to the airport, about a mile away at this point, when finally the rack gave out. It had gone 16 miles, but 17 was too much to ask. I dismounted and walked the rest of the way. The rack had once again fallen onto the back tire, so there was the extra drag from that. One of the braces on the underside of the rack was actually digging into the rubber of the tire and pretty much destroyed it. Thankfully, I was going to a bike shop.

I got the suburban and started towards Brookings. I was in the car not 10 minutes when I started to get bored and antsy. I can ride my bike for 10 hours across undeveloped landscape just fine, but put me in a car for ten minutes and I get bored. I really don't see how people do this every day. I do acknowledge that the truck was able to go faster than I ever could on a bike with just a simple depression of my right foot. Uphill made little difference and the wind was only a slight annoyance more than a foe to be battled. But, in the 160 miles round trip that I drove, the truck used 8.8 gallons of gas. It made me really think about how much gas I wasn't using crossing the country.

Anyway, Brookings. I found the shop, Sioux River Bicycles, easily and pulled Penny in. As I was explaining the problem to one woman, an older man walked up and said, 'oh, you must be the tourist that called a couple days ago'. This was Rob, the owner. Rob, as it turns out, not only had done several long-distance tours in his younger years, he used to ride a Trek 520. We got along instantly. As he was first looking over the bike, he noticed the water bottle cages say Bicycle Habitat on them. 'You really are from New York', he said. 'So do you know Charlie?' Charlie is the owner of Bicycle Habitat, and we had a couple conversations about bikes and touring when I was shopping around for Penny.

It was immediately obvious that this was exactly the shop I needed to be in. I changed out the tires, the chain and, of course, the rack. The front tire on the bike was still the original Bontrager touring tire, though the back tire, as you recall, was replaced with an Armadillo in San Rafael, CA. Armadillos are fine tires, but I prefer the Bontrager, though many shops do not carry them. I mean, I had gotten about 3100 miles of hard use out of the front tire and it was still kicking. Bontrager was all Rob kept in stock. I got the exact tires the bike had started with, and that made me quite happy.

We found a Topeak rack that would serve me the rest of the way to New York, he pulled off my chain and showed me how stretched it had gotten. He pulled the rear gear cog off the rim and cleaned it in a way that I just can't when I'm on the road, lubed up the break lines to get more mileage out of them, and generally checked to make sure that everything on Penny was working the way it was supposed to. The whole repair took about two and a half hours and afterward he took me down to their basement to show me some older bikes he had down there. He has a never used Trek 620 frame that is almost as old as I am that he's slowly building using parts from other bikes. After spending about 15 minutes showing me bikes in the basement, we went back upstairs and spent time looking at websites of other tourists that have come through.

I finally left then drove to the other side of town to get to the Jimmy Johns. Oh yes. I drove back to Huron and found a motel room on the east side of town. The manager, Lynda, I'm pretty sure her name was, and her son were so impressed with what I was doing that she upgraded my room for free and took $10 off price. Woo Hoo! Love the cross-continental discount. I unloaded everything except Penny into the room, returned the truck and then rode the couple miles from the airport back to the motel.

Certainly, this will be my shortest mileage day that 'counts', but it was important to get the work done.

Day 28, Wolsey, SD - Huron SD
19.1 miles in a slow 2:11:10. Now at 2120.0 for the trip in 180:47:41 and today I got up to 20.9 cruising unloaded back across town.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Mile 2100.8 - Sure you can have more wind

The wind. All day, the wind.

In other news because of all of the rain in the last few weeks, everything was very green and lush and beautiful. Well, nearly everything. I have also firmly entered pheasant territory, though sadly, I've seen nearly as many that were killed by cars as live ones. Pheasants, listen up. This one is pretty easy. You see that road with cars on it? Stay away from there. You'll live longer.

There were a number of constants throughout the day, of course the wind, my worry about the rack, and my constant hunger. It was just one of those days where I seemingly couldn't eat enough. Every time I stopped to rest a moment, I was pulling out the cashews or a bar or something. I had breakfast, but then when I got into Blunt, the first town of the morning, I stopped at the gas station for orange juice and doughnuts. I know better than doughnuts, but I was just really hungry. Two towns later, in Holabird, I stopped and sat down and ate some more out of my bag, then 9 miles later in Highmore, I stopped for lunch.

Actually before lunch in Highmore, I had stopped in at a gas station to use their ATM, as I was walking out I asked the two middle aged ladies working about the two cafes in town. 'Next door or across the street?' They both pointed across the street. I thanked them and walked across to lunch. In the B & K Grill, I took a seat at the bar back, where two employees were lounging, smoking and chatting. The woman who served me started the bike conversation and at one point asked if I was riding back to San Fransisco after I got to New York. No, I explained, I had flown to San Fransisco and was riding home to New York. 'Well, that's the lazy way to do it' came from one of the lounging workers. Oh yeah, that brought her into the conversation. Overall a good lunch, I grabbed an extra sandwich to go and yet again restocked my supply of orange gatorade.

If I haven't mentioned, I think I should be sponsored by orange gatorade. I've tried a whole bunch of sports drinks, and orange gatorade is always the one I prefer. When they don't have orange, I go for red or yellow, but I prefer orange.

15 miles after lunch and at mile 50 for the day, I decided to give myself an hour break. But I was in the middle of nowhere and sitting in the sun and wind didn't sound like fun at all. So I found a little grassy driveway leading to a fenced-in field and I pitched the tent. If someone needed to get by me I could move. I left most of the stuff on the bike, only grabbing my food bag which also carries my book. I sat down and read for a bit, eating the extra sandwich. Then I wanted to lie down to read, then my eyes slowly closed...

I think I took about a 15 minute nap, but I got back up refreshed and ready to go. I packed everything back up and was shortly back on the road. The wind had died down a bit by this point, so I was able to go faster. I got another 36 miles to Wolsey, only 15 miles short of Huron, what my goal would have been without all the wind. Before town, there was a set of railroad tracks and a dirt road leading into some fields. I found a grassy patch off the dirt road and started setting up the tent. A guy in a truck pulled up as I was almost done and suggested to get away from the mosquitoes, that I should ride into town and camp in the city park. There were a lot of mosquitoes.

On the way to the park, I passed the fire station, so I checked with the firemen to make sure it was ok. Go right ahead, but set up near the back of the park, away from the highway. Of course, I was going to anyway. There were a few girls still playing in the park as I was getting everything set up. Or arguing, rather, something about 'give me back my shoes' that I mostly blocked out. A couple hundred feet from where I intended to pitch my tent, there was a thump and sudden drag on the back tire. The healthier side of the rack had just failed. Fail fail fail. I still had 85 miles to go to the bike shop in Brookings, and I didn't trust my personal safety to a couple pieces of tape holding up 50 lbs worth of my crap. After the sun had long set, lying very still in the tent, I came up with a solution.

Day 27, Camp northeast of Pierre, SD to camp in Wolsey, SD
87.14 miles for the day in 9:30:40 bringing totals to 2100.8 miles in 178:36:31. The computer says I hit 19.5 at some point today, though I don't remember going over 17.7 but sure, I'll take it.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Mile 2013.66 - A big day

I want to start this post by congratulating the westbound drivers on highway 14 between Philip and Midland. You got the first ever 100% waveback rate, beating out the high 90% from Eureka to Ely, NV. Way to be friendly! Then again, Eureka to Ely is a bit more than twice as far and the people past Midland... Oh, and since we're on that subject, people, please, wave back at me. Pump your fist, raise two fingers off the wheel and nod, wave frantically, roll down your window pointing at me and yell 'you the man!', but please, please don't honk at me. Car horns are made to be heard by other drivers through their protective glass and steel and over their lousy taste in music. I have only 40' of air between your horn and my eardrum. Thank you.

Oh day 26. One of those days where I really felt like Odysseus every time he thinks he's moving forward; here's all this really cool stuff, but oh, there's just one tiny little setback first. Except I never sacked Troy.

I had some nice rolling hills between Philip and Midland, and the combination of a couple hours of extra rest the night before and a non-committal wind made it more fun. I would get to the top and see how fast I could go down, 33.7 lasted a few hills then 35.6 after another one, soon topped by 38.3. That one lasted the next 8 or 9 hills. I came to the top of a hill where I could see Midland poking out from around a hill up ahead. I wasn't racing down this one, but suddenly, something was wrong. The weight on the back was shifting and something was scraping along the side of my rear tire. I came to a stop and looked. The rear left pannier (the one I keep my food in, for any bears or mountain lions following along) would have been thrown clear of the rack, but a bungee cord that holds the tent and sleeping bag down had caught the strap and was instead dragging the bag across the face of my spinning tire.

The rack itself was a solid piece, but the part that bolted to the frame was adjustable. Like a pair of crutches, there were a couple different screw holes at varying heights. The rack was bending forward and since the bolt was rigid, but that part was not, the metal gave way under the stress. That rack didn't even make it 300 miles, including the 40 back to Deadwood that Dan doesn't count. I pulled out my roll of tape and taped it to itself and the frame, making a pretty good if very temporary fix. I could the same thing was happening on the other side, so I gave it a bit of reinforcing tape too.

I gingerly made my way down to town. I hadn't yet gone 24 miles and all the fun was taken out of my day. I rolled into a gas station parking lot fuming. After calming myself down a bit, I got the number to the bike shop in Pierre. No, they didn't carry touring gear, there wasn't much market for it around there. (My thought, that's the kind of market you build, you don't just walk into). I started looking for the next shop along my path, and there was one in Brookings. I called them. Yeah, the guy told me, I used to tour myself and I have a couple different ones on hand. Perfect, I said, I'll see you in a couple days. The problem: Brookings was 250 miles away, almost at the Minnesota border.

I took it easy, going a little more slowly and carefully. My fix was holding, but I didn't know how long I could count on it. I went about 12 miles and took a lunch break on top of a hill with a grand view all around. I could see the huge right hook the road took 7 miles north of me, and across green pastures all around. A little further and I started seeing more frequent signs for Wall Drug pointed at cars going the other way. Around here, another significant change of landscape started happening. From the nearly exclusive cow, sheep, and horse pastures of the west, I came into my first fields. From the looks of it, mostly soybean, but some clear remnants of last year's corn husks lingered in a few fields. I was getting closer to the land I grew up in, and as I did, the landscape started to look more familiar.

Finally, after more than 80 miles, I started down a hill into Fort Pierre. As I climbed a short way into town, I saw a huge American flag waving above the road. I jokingly supposed there'd be a Perkins at the bottom of the flag. A little way further up and I was right. I really am coming back into the Midwest. Passing that I came to one of the country's grand rivers, The Missouri. I found my way onto the much too narrow bike/pedestrian path over the bridge and took a few photos. I stopped in the middle of the the bridge for a moment, triumphant that I was now crossing into the Central Time Zone.

I came into Pierre and grabbed a quick bite at a fast food joint. I asked directions from there to the state capitol building, and was given conflicting information from the two people from behind the counter. I followed the girl's advice instead of the guy's and came directly to it. Yeah. I stopped in front of the South Dakota Capitol building at mile 1999.0 of my trip. I'm sure there's somewhere in there I could have squeezed one more. I sat down, called my girlfriend, mom and a grandmother and then set off to get a little further out of town. I knew I was going to camp, so I wanted to get a way out of town.

Mile 2000 occurred on a random block on Euclid Rd in Pierre. There was a pretty cool old house on the far corner, so I took a picture of it.

On the way out of town, it felt like it was harder to push. I thought the combination of the hill I was on and 90 miles on my legs so far for the day was taking it's toll, but it continued on the flat. After about 10 miles, I stopped and found that the rack had dropped down a bit and the reflector on the end was basically acting as a break on the tire. Except actually on the tire and not on the rims as breaks should be. There was now a parabolic indentation on the reflector and my nice armadillo tire looked as if it had gotten an extra 1500 miles worth of wear.

I finally had gone past the minimum point I wanted to attain for the day and started looking for a good place to camp. I found one not too far off between a soybean field and a dried out corn field, where the only problem was the swarm of mosquitoes. Or groups of swarms, as they were distinct bodies. I hosed myself down with bug spray, got the tent up quickly and shoveled everything inside without letting anything with six legs in. With all the insects, thankfully, came their predators, lots of birds and a fair number of dragonflies. At one point I stepped out of the tent to get a picture of the sunset and a small bird in the cornfield started going 'Eep Eep Eep Eep Eep Eep' until I got back in the tent.

Despite comparing myself to a hero of greek tragedy earlier, today was a thoroughly moderate day. A couple longish hills, but nothing too bad and the wind behaved. If someone who's been riding a little while wanted to try their first century, that wouldn't be a bad place to do it.

Day 26, Philip, SD - Camp northeast of Pierre, SD

101.56 for the day in 7:18:11. 2013.66 to the trip so far in 169:05:51 and a top speed of 38.3

Monday, May 24, 2010

Mile 1908.1 - The Badlands and the worse

Day 25 began wet. It had rained much of the night so the tent was wet and Penny was wet, but most of all, the ground was wet. What was firm soil was now soft mud and what was soft mud yesterday was now an ankle deep muddy puddle. I opted for a dry breakfast instead of making oatmeal and by the time I got down the hill I had camped on above a construction site, across the deep muddy imprints of the construction vehicles' wheels and onto the road, the bike was almost as dirty as before I cleaned her in Deadwood two mornings earlier.

I had camped near the middle of a 14 mile long construction zone. While there wasn't construction throughout, they had three separate miles where the road was completely ripped down to the packed dirt. Well, the one I went over yesterday was dirt, the two I crossed this morning were now slick, gravelly mud. Yuck yuck yuck. Now, the bike was as dirty as two mornings before. One really cool thing though, the number of birds that roost under the bridge spanning the Cheyenne River. Motor traffic they seem to be used to, but I was perceived as some new and heinous threat, and a swarm of birds flew out from under the bridge to protect their nests. Or they really dig cyclists and had come out to cheer me on.

I went by Scenic, SD. It is more scenic than many other places, though not as scenic as lots of stuff around it. Maybe one day I'll find out it was named for William H Scenic, a pioneer from the 1870's or that it used to be called Bleh but was renamed for tourism purposes as part of the CCC during the great depression. Slightly past Scenic the road goes through a neck of the Badlands National Badlands, but then slants down into a large section of the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands. At the side of the road there was a bright yellow warning sign that said 'Caution: Prairie Dogs have PLAGUE!'. Oh no! No taking an afternoon nap with the prairie dogs today! Not if they have plague.

Several miles later, I saw a turtle crossing the road. I looked at it and thought, there's a joke in that, and rolled on. Then I thought about the several crushed turtles I've seen on the road the last couple days and I turned back. Shell may be great against many predators, but it does not protect against tires. Even though there was no traffic at the moment, a truck could come along at any moment. So I picked the turtle up, took it over to the side of the road he was headed to, and set him down in gravel. Probably he would have been fine, but I've seen way too much roadkill. Way too much.

At Interior, I stopped at the grocery store to grab some more breakfast and restock on fluids. The ladies in the store were impressed with my travel thus far. I sat out on the cement blocks in front of the store and a very tall and broad Native American guy stepped out of a car. 'You going that way?' he smiled, pointing to the east. I was. 'You're going to need a lot of water.'

A couple blocks away is the Interior Jail which looks like it may have occasionally been at it's full capacity of three. Across from the jail is a sign honoring Interior as the oldest town in the Badlands, citing numerous famous visitors and their doings in town, and welcoming travelers. I did feel welcomed. A couple blocks later, I was back to the highway. There was a gas station there and even though I had just bought both gatorade and water, I went in to buy some more. As I was packing the additional fluids, the guy from the grocery store pulled in for gas. 'Taking your advice' I called, waving one of the bottles. 'Good idea.' he called back.

A couple miles out of Interior is the Badlands Park Headquarters and a campground. And construction. The road up to Cedar Pass was one lane and a construction truck was ferrying strings of cars back and forth. The other ways of getting across involved adding a prohibitive number of miles, so construction it was. I was the first vehicle up to the flagger, so we talked for five or six minutes, about my trip, about his job, and about the beauty of the area. The pilot truck had come back, so I let all the cars, trucks and rvs past me, so I could grind up the hill at 7mph in peace. I could see why it was down to a lane, it looked like they were repairing where part of the road slid down the face of the wall. After that part which came relatively early in the climb, I basically then had a coned off lane all to myself. Halfway up, a foreman in a truck told me as long as I stayed on that side, I was fine. If only I could have a coned off lane all the way home.

I stopped at one of the scenic overlooks. It was more scenic than Scenic. I climbed up a bit more and got to Cedar Pass at 2694'. From this point, the next time I'll be above 2500', I'll be in Pennsylvania. That's a little exciting. There were a number of hikes just past the pass that I didn't go on. When I come back to the area next time I will. I did walk out to another overlook point which showed just how bad the land was for a long time to the horizon.

Then, just as I was leaving the gates of the park, I saw a group of people and a couple bikes that were loaded for touring. Standing in the middle of a swarm of Korean and Japanese tourists were a couple Germans in cycling gear. I pulled up to them and found they were going New York to Los Angeles. So I guess this was the halfway point for both of us. One of the two spoke English on par with my German, so the conversation was a fun mixture of the two. A girl wanted her picture with the three of us, so we made her boyfriend take pictures with all of our cameras. I didn't get anyone's name.

From there to road swings north to Cactus Flat. My friend was right, I did want all that water, as I found myself stopping at the gas station there for more Gatorade (and ice cream). I sat on a bench outside and a couple on a motorcycle pulled in. She asked how far I was going, and that launched a pretty long conversation among the three of us that spanned the gap of her going to the bathroom and me taking a call from Dan. They were from Madison and riding out to Yellowstone. We all agreed that the worst part about South Dakota was the wind.

Here, the road I was on crosses interstate 90 and becomes unpaved for about 9 miles until it reaches US 14. To this point I had crossed a respectable 51 miles in about 3.5 hours. For a gravel road, I was even able to keep a pretty good pace for most of it, until the strong southerly wind swung around and came at me from ESE. I got to 14 and made my right turn into the teeth of the wind. Within minutes of me turning on to 14, it began to rain big, heavy, hard drops. I pulled off and covered the sleeping bag with my raincoat. I didn't care if I got a little wet, but I don't want my sleeping bag to. I do need to get a waterproof bag for that. It started coming a little harder, so I pulled out the tent and had just snapped the poles together when the rain slowed to a stop. I gathered the tent back up and rode on into the wind.

Since it was coming from east-southeast and I was headed north east, it was hitting me from about 3 o'clock. It was trying to push me to Montana, but that wasn't the direction I had in mind. It took all of my lower body strength to keep me moving forward and all of my upper body strength to keep me in a more or less straight line. I wanted to make Midland, which would have put my day in around 100 miles, but halfway to Philip, a town 17.6 miles from where I got on the highway, I was ready to call it. It's too bad too, with westerly or no wind, this terrain would have been great. There were a couple times I had horses running along fences with me. It was all so green and wavy and pretty, but oh, the wind.

Using as much will as physical power, I fought my way Philip. Google maps on my phone told me the motel was in a different location than it really was, but once I got to the right place, I took a room. They were doing construction on the motel, and I was given a room all the way at the end of the hall, next to the side door. That was cool except for the fact that the wifi connection was too weak to reach me fully.

I dumped the luggage in the room and took Penny outside to clean her yet again. As I was out there, a boy of maybe 9 came up to me with a bike, asking if I had one of those airhoses to fill his tire. I told him that I did have a pump and ran back to the room to get it. I came back out and the boy now had a slightly younger friend with him. I started inflating the tire and the sound of a girl's voice made me look up. I was suddenly surrounded by 6 or 7 children, half on bikes, half on foot, but all in motion except for the boy who stood watching me as I tried to get air into his tire. I tested it and it didn't seem to be holding air. 'My dad has some slime' the boy offered. 'I don't think that'll help, I think the tube is bad' was my verdict. This sparked an immediate reaction among the crowd, splitting it into a 'new tube' side and a 'try the slime' side. The slime, by the way is a tube sealant that doesn't fix everything, like leaks at the valve stem. From the angle of the stem when I was handed the wheel, that was my first guess. I tried a bit more, but it was clear that the tube wasn't holding anything, I apologized saying I only carried one size tube on me. The crowd dispersed within seconds and I was back alone with Penny. I was going to suggest he find me a wrench that fit the bolt and I'd take the tire off to check, but he was already gone.

I finished cleaning Penny and went back in to shower. As I came out of the shower, leaden clouds filled the sky again, and sure enough the first peals of thunder were heard from a distance. Soon I was very glad that I didn't press on to Midland, that I was inside and dry. I ordered a pizza. The pizza tasted fine, but I can't give it above a C because it wasn't done enough. People, the pizza is done when the bottom of the crust is golden and the cheese has good color. I'm not looking for black and black here, but I'd probably prefer that over white and white. Leave it in 4-6 minutes longer, and that would have been a good pizza. Sigh.

Day 25 - Camp west of Scenic, SD - Philip, SD
76.46 miles for 1908.1 on the trip. 6:06:57 traveled today, 161:47:40 so far and a top speed of 37.7

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Mile 1831.64 - Paha Sapa

Paha Sapa is a Lakota phrase meaning 'Heights that are Black'. Day 24 was now the third morning I woke among the black heights, in my tent in the Oreville picnic shelter. This morning the camp oatmeal tasted a little extra good. I broke camp and headed another 5 miles south to the Crazy Horse memorial. My plan was to first stop at Crazy Horse, then circle back up to Rushmore, then start back east into the badlands. The only problem with the first half of that plan is that it involves dancing 2/3rds of the way around Harney Peak, the tallest point in the state at 7242'.

The Mickelson Trail was again soft from the night before, but I had only a little over 5 miles to go on it. I got to the gates of the memorial, paid my $5 to get in and climbed a couple more hills between the gates and the Visitor's Center. I found a safe place for Penny to hang out, then walked around, learning about the history of the park and much about Lakota culture. The scale of the thing is mindblowing. They are carving a statue out of an entire mountain. There is a 1/34th scale model of the full statue on display and it towers over the people who take their picture under it. It is located in such a way that you can get a clean picture that shows both the finished model and the mountain in progress. There is still a lot more work to be done. Also, In the gift shop, they have these snack bars that are made out of buffalo and cranberries and is really good. Too bad they were like $4 a pop, I would have bought a box.

Crazy Horse is a powerful hero to his people. After a defeat at the hand of the US troops, he was brazenly asked where his lands were now. He pointed at the black hills and replied 'My lands are where my people lie buried.' The statue commemorates that moment. He was later stabbed in the back by a cowardly US soldier under the flag of truce. As impressive as the project is, I had more miles to put on today, so I eventually made my way back up and out of the park.

The road to Rushmore, not 20 miles from Crazy Horse, seemed all uphill. There wasn't a lot of traffic and much of it was motorcycles, which I prefer over cars and trucks. Here it helped that I wanted to stop every few minutes to take more picture as I gave my legs a momentary break. I finally made it to the top and into one of the lines for cars and motorcycles to pay admission. And, apparently, while all motorized traffic is charged, bicycles are completely free. The guy congratulated me on climbing the hill and told me where the was a bike rack at the visitor's center.

I got to the top and there they were, four long dead presidents gazing out past the rim of the black hills into the plains beyond. It was cool, but, compared to Crazy Horse, much less impressive. Also, far more crowded. The four president's heads of Rushmore would fit inside Crazy Horse's head, and that was just one part of the statue. It was still good to see it in person, but when I come back, I'll go to Crazy Horse again, but might just drive by Rushmore.

Then, on the way down the mountain, another part of the story happened. The road down into Keystone is one lane in both directions, but has a nice, smooth 8' wide shoulder. Also, a 10% grade down. I was riding along in the shoulder as usual and a motorcycle pulls alongside me and asked where I started and where I'm going. The couple on the bike were impressed with the answer, but as we hit a flat part of the road, they were going faster, so pulled ahead of me along with several other cars. A minute later though, I passed the 10% grade sign and started to pass the traffic. The speed limit on the road was 35mph and I saw a parks police car parked on the opposite side of the road. I waved to him, as I wave to all emergency vehicles, then passed an RV that was doing about 20 and had the rest of the downhill to myself. I was cruising along near the bottom when I hear a police siren behind me. I looked and it was just the cop and me. Oh great, I thought and pulled over. The cop asked me to dismount and provide some ID. He asked me if I knew that it was illegal to use the shoulder as a passing lane. I responded that it seemed safer for me to be ahead of the slow moving traffic than behind it. After a tense couple minute exchange he walked back to his car with my ID. He slowly sauntered back, starting that since I was going about 35, he wasn't going to give me a ticket for speeding (I wasn't going to mention to him that I clocked myself at 44mph going down the hill. I didn't see how that information would advance the conversation). He then informed me that he could have written me a $250 ticket for passing on the shoulder, but was going to let me go on my way with a warning. After a brief lecture on traffic safety (which I'm going to bet I know more about bicycle safety than he does), he sent me on my way.

As he left, a young man from one of the stores I had stopped in front of came over to ask me what that was all about. He thought that it was pretty stupid and laughed saying that he'd come down that hill at 47mph before and the cops did nothing about it. He, as it turned out, went cross country last year, leaving from LA, going all the way up to Winnepeg, where an uncle lives, then coasting along the southern border of Canada and back into New York. He invited me into the little cafe he and his friends were at, but having just taken my lunch break at the top of the hill and wanting to get east, I turned him down.

On my way through town, I stopped at a gas station to grab a state highway map. There, I ran into the couple on the motorcycle who again asked me why the cop singled me out. 'He wanted you to stay behind the RV?', he exclaimed. "That guy was doing 15, you would have burned out your breaks trying to stay that slow". Yes, exactly. And if, as the cop had supposed, they had trouble and had to slam on their break, it was much safer to be half a mile down the hill from them than sitting behind them in a line of traffic. Yeah, so those are my thoughts on that episode.

The road between Keystone and Hermosa takes you out of the black hills. There were a couple tall grades going up and a couple going down and on one of them, letting gravity just do its work, I actually reset my speed record by a half a mile an hour, going 52.4mph. Glad the cop wasn't around for that. But then finally the land started to level out and, at last, the mountains and hills of the west were now behind me. I also havn't seen any more snow since, and I do hope it stays that way through Brooklyn.

I crossed an upper corner of the badlands, then took about 24 miles of unpaved road to get back up to Highway 44. I crossed through part of the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands too, where there were several people on ATVs ripping tracks through the grass. Thinking back on the land I had covered in the last three days, and Hope in Newcastle was right. I should have just taken 16 into Custer initially from Newcastle, seen Crazy Horse first then taken the Mickelson trail up to Deadwood. Oh well. I could have probably saved myself a day and a half of riding, but now I know better for next time.

After the slowness of the unpaved roads, the highway was again inviting. For the most part I had a nice wide shoulder, but there were a couple points of construction throughout. I had wanted to try to make it to Scenic, but the sun was sinking too quickly for me to make it. I found a nice raised point between a couple of hills and decided to camp there. I wanted to be high up because all the rain of the past several days left large swaths of wet ground in the lower parts and the wet ground was a happy breeding place for all sorts of insects. I got Penny up to the height I wanted and the first thing I did was pull out the bugspray. I quickly put up the tent, would open the door, throw stuff in then pull it shut again immediately, not wanting living things other than myself in the tent. I was successful in that, and, shortly after dark, was treated to another thunderstorm. Thankfully, neither the tent nor bike were struck by lightning, though it was all quite muddy in the morning.

There was another Lakota phrase I picked up on during the day, Wamakaognaka E'cante, The Heart of Everything that Is. I can easily see how they'd feel that. This may have been my first time to the Black Hills, but I intend for it to not be my last.

Day 24, Oreville Camp - Camp 10 miles northwest of Scenic, SD
81.14 miles in 7:30:28. That brings me to 1831.64 miles for the trip in 155:41:43 and a shiny new top speed of 52.4mph. I highly doubt I'll break 50 again.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Mile 1749.5 - The Mickelson Trail

I wasn't expecting today to be a long-haul mile day, which is good. I would have been disappointed otherwise.

I had breakfast at the hotel restaurant again, and read a fresh copy of the Deadwood Pioneer as I ate my breakfast burrito. For the third time in a week, I spent a good half hour getting the dirt and grit from the wet day before off of Penny. With the new rack, I needed to adjust the clips on the panniers. Unfortunately, it seems I lost the allen wrench that fits. I went down to the hardware store and bought a new set, as it is impossible to buy a single one. I got back and the right size one didn't quite fit, by maybe a millimeter and a half. After digging a nice round hole into the formerly hexagontal space, I was finally able to make do. It is the same size wrench as I need for the clips on the pedals. The wrench didn't fit that either, but that can wait until the next bike shop I stop at.

After everything I had to do in the morning, it was already almost 11:00. I wanted to get down the Crazy Horse and then find somewhere to pitch the tent. If my time was really good, maybe I'd make it up to Rushmore, but I wasn't going to push it. The Mickelson Trail is an old railroad bed, so with one exception, it never gets above a 3% grade. Bad news, 7 or 8 miles of 3% grade is still going to hurt. Other bad news, crushed limestone trail + several days of wet = soft trail. In some cases, very soft.

After coming to a split in the trail for the Kirk Loop, I took what turned out to be the much harder of the two trails. Like over 1/2 mile of it, the grade ranges from 7-17%. And did I mention soft? Within the first 1/4 mile of starting this section, I saw my first live snake of the whole tour. I thought Nevada and Utah for certain, but I only saw dead snakes there. But here I was in South Dakota, head to wheel with the first one that reacted to my approach. We both responded quickly getting out of the other's way. It was about two feet long and black and we both lived to tell our friends of the harrowing encounter.

For my hard work, I was given a great view of the Wasp and Bismark mines. Good stuff. The bottom got too soft for me to ride through with all my weight. Maybe on my mountain bike, but not like this. Back on a slightly firmer part of the trail, I saw my second live snake of the trip. But this was just a silly foot long green one who watched me coming then darted out of the way when I was almost on top of him. Silly snake.

I hit the advertised ridiculous grade part and made the executive decision to walk Penny up the rest of the hill. I met three people on mountain bikes on their way down and none of them envied my load. I got to the top and setting on a bench resting was Larry. Larry is a recently retired teacher of 30 years from Deadwood, who rides the trail to get back into shape. I'm sure hundreds of former students from Deadwood and Lead know him as Mr. Larry. He asked if I was riding to Chicago. Well, yes and no. We talked for probably a good 20 minutes. One of the things he asked about was water, an element I was quickly running short on.

I met a few people on the trail, joggers and cyclists, but it was going very slowly because I wanted to stop every 300 feet to take pictures. I was envious of the train engineers who got to drive this route, a lot more interesting than Canton to Dayton. (Sorry, Ohio, I know you can't help that you're so boring.) At one point, there was a downed pine tree across the path. I dismounted to see if I could even enough to clear a foot of passage on the trail, but immediately it was obvious that the hundreds of pounds of wood were going to take more than me to move. I pulled Penny across the thinnest part and carried on.

A few miles later, I got to do one of my favorite things to do on a bike, go through a tunnel. I know, I'm odd. I had no lights on, so in the middle I could clearly see the trail and the trees outside, but couldn't make out any detail of the path, walls or ceiling round me. I think tunnels are great, but maybe that's because I grew up in a flat state.

Coming to the town of Rochford, I passed a couple on mountain bikes riding my way. I asked if they knew how much further to the trailhead, and she responded that it wasn't far ahead. After passing a bridge that looks like it is, but isn't, and passing the town in the process, I came to the real trailhead and doubled back up the hill to the closest place to get water. The couple had taken the shorter path across the bridge. I went into the Rochford Mall, bought a gallon of water, a coke and a brownie and talked to the owner about my trip. As I was outside resting, she brought out her guest book to sign, I signed it Josh Hobson, Transcontinental Mile 1721.1 Brooklyn, NY 5/21/10. There, now we both have a record of its transaction.

Outside was the couple, and another pair of their friends who were riding the trail, looking for another pair of friends who were well ahead of them. I talked to them as we ate, he offered me some lunchables as she cleaned a pedal wound on her shin. They were doing the whole 109 miles of the Mickelson, which sounds fantastic, and when she heard I was going across the country, responded, 'I thought what were was doing was hard'. Well, it is. And let me here take a moment to preach from pulpit of my blog. You're ride is good, you guys and Larry and so many other cyclists I've met. My ride is exponentially ridiculous, and doesn't even matter compared to your rides. 109 miles, 40, 20, 10, just around the park, it makes no difference. If you're enjoying it, then keep on peddling. There are so many fantastic things to do on a bike that don't involve having to change your watch because of time zones. Just get out there and ride! Ok, lecture over.

Because I had stopped so much to take pictures, the now trio of riders I was talking to in Rochford caught up to me. I talked to each of them a bit, and then our natural paces started to show. I was slower on the inclines but faster going level or down. I found myself at the back of their pack then again in the front. Bidding them a good ride, I pulled ahead. A half an hour down the trail or so, I caught up to the other pair of their friends. For some reason, the strap on my water bottle decided that moment to give way.

This bottle and I have a history. It may not be long in terms of a lifespan, but how many relationships get to be? Back on my day off in Kemmerer, I had stopped at the grocery store and found a straight sided gallon water bottle with a plastic strap. This design made it much easier to attach with my bungies than the traditional plastic gallon milk jug. We had covered some 570 miles together of desert, mountain, more desert, some hills, a really wind plain and some much taller hills. It had become a member of the team, the last thing I strap down and the first thing off when I unpack. I have the roll of tape I brought with, and wrapped it all the way around the bottle to try to secure it. But it just kept failing. By the end of the night, I had taken my last drink from it and crushed it to put in my trash bag. But now I'm getting ahead of myself.

The couple longest periods of climbing going south on the trail are coming into Hill City and approaching Crazy Horse. Especially with the soft conditions of the trail, it was slow going. I finally got to Hill City with maybe an hour and a half of good sunlight left and decided I needed food and probably a beer. I found both at the Bumpin' Buffalo. I tried Chislic for the first time, with is basically fried meat with a dipping sauce and a had a salad. On the way out, I was stopped by a couple originally from Vail, CO who had move to the black hills. We had a good, if brief, exchange, but I wanted to get some more miles down the road before sunfall. There's 10.5 miles between the Hill City and Crazy Horse trailheads, and I wanted to get as far down as I could.

Battling time and friction, I made it down to Oreville. At least, where Oreville was, it isn't there any more, but there is a nice covered enclosure with a picnic table and enough room to pitch a tent. Little did I know that on the other side of the highway and less than 1/3rd of a mile away was the Oreville campground, but oh well. What I had found suited my needs perfectly. An hour after sunset, I even got out of the tent to sit on the picnic table and watch a thunderstorm from the protection of cover.

A good day, but slow. And yes, go ride the Mickleson trail, it is beautiful. But maybe come with thick tires.

Day 23, Deadwood SD - Oreville Camp, SD
53.3 miles in 6:02:17 for 1749.5 miles in 148:11:13, with a high speed of 26.1 only because the paved road back to the Rochford trailhead is downhill

Friday, May 21, 2010

Mile 1695.1 - My second 'day off'

In the process of unloading stuff from the bike at the end of the night, I discovered the source of the snapping sound I had heard the afternoon before. My back rack, on the side supporting the pannier with all my food in it had snapped at a joint. The same spot on the other side had be torqued out of it's original alignment too. This lead me to a dilemma. There was a bike shop in Spearfish, less than twenty miles northwest. But, I also needed to figure out the camera battery issue, and according to google maps, there wasn't a real electronics store there. However, Rapid City, the largest city I had seen since Carson City way back when, had three bike shops and a plethora of electronics stores. It was, however 40 miles from Deadwood, with the breadth of the Black Hills between. I made my decision, informed the hotel I would be staying another night, and prepared for my second 'day off'.

With only one basically empty pannier on the still stable side of the rack, I started up towards Rapid City. The first three miles out of town was a climb, which annoying as it was, meant that the last three miles back would all be down. That's a fair trade.

At the top of the hill was one of my favorite street names I've come across so far, Upper Two Bit Road. Man, I wouldn't want to live on Lower Two Bit Road. That sounds substandard in every way. I'm reminded of a street way back in Placerville, CA that I keep meaning to mention. There I passed a Driveway Road, and from the moment I saw that, was hoping to find a Roadway Drive somewhere in the country to complete the set. I bet I'll come across it somewhere in Ohio.

The road went up and down through the densely wooded hills, though none of the grades were too bad, especially given the bike was about 60 pounds lighter than usual. I rode past cabins, biker burger joints, small farmsteads, North, Middle and South Box Elder Creek, and eventually found myself pointed down a pair of 8% grades into Rapid City.

In Rapid City, I found a bike path that paralleled the street I was riding on, along a park and a golf course. I came to the first bike shop on the map and went in to see if they had the rack I needed. Sure enough, they had one rack rated at being able to support 66lbs, enough for my needs, so I took it. I had a good conversation with the guys in the shop about my trip, the area around and what to see in the black hills. In the end, they didn't charge me for the labor to install the new rack, which I appreciated.

One issue solved, I set out to deal with the battery issue. A couple miles away in a strip mall was a radio shack. There was a best buy on the other side of town by the interstate, but if I didn't have to go that far, I didn't want to. Thankfully, the radio shack had a charger that would work with lithium ion batteries, so I was in luck. Also lucky, right across the parking lot from it was a Jimmy Johns. For those of you who don't know, I was the GM of one of two Jimmy Johns in North Carolina at the time (now there are more). Since abdicating Chapel Hill for the greener pastures of Brooklyn, I have suffered the withdrawal of my addiction to their sandwiches. Sadly, the closest Jimmy Johns to NYC is the other side of Philadelphia. Not worth the two hour drive. So I mostly get my Jimmy fix when I go back to the midwest. Well, the craving was satisfied today.

Having successfully addressed both problems I had, I started back up to Deadwood. Because of the proximity to Sturgis, there were a whole lot of motorcycles on the road. I feel an affinity between bikers and cyclists, for one thing, unlike car and truck drivers, we are always outside. Effected by the whims of wind and weather, we have to be prepared to add or drop a layer of clothing on short notice. In a car you just roll up your window and carry on, listening to your right wing hate talk radio or whatever.

So yeah, I make a point to wave at every biker who goes past me in either direction. I can easily pick out a motorcycle behind me, even in the middle of a pack of cars, and have gotten pretty good about knowing when they are about a car length behind me to wave over my shoulder without looking.

Anyway, I scaled the twin 8% climbs back up, back past the cabins and burger joints, past the entrance to Lake Roubaix (hard to pronounce, but what a scrabble word that would be if it were legal) and back up towards Deadwood. This is one of the few times where the state highway was better prepared for me than the US route. US 385, which I took most of the way there has parts with basically no shoulder, so I had no choice by the ride the white line. SD 44, on the other hand, had at least a 4' shoulder throughout. So thanks for that, SDDOT. Makes my life easier.

I made it back up to Upper Two Bit Road where a sign warned trucks about the 7% down for the next couple miles. It had started to lightly rain, and at this point the rain became more steady. Without really pedaling at all, I let gravity take me down the wet pavement and made it back to the hotel just minutes before a crack of thunder announced the storm starting for real. Glad I didn't sleep outside tonight.

So here my brother and I are in disagreement. He is keeping a 'clean' version of my route map and did not include my day off venture in Wyoming to the Fossil Butte and back. Also, he said that he wouldn't be counting the mileage between Deadwood and Rapid City because I was not advancing on my route. Well, my response is to welcome Dan or anyone else to cycle the 80 miles from Deadwood to Rapid City and back and then tell me it doesn't count. This is, after all, my game, and I am still in charge of making up the rules as I go along.

Day 22, 'Day Off #2', Deadwood, SD - Rapid City SD and back to Deadwood
84.0 miles in 6:30:48. 1695.1 miles total so far in 142:08:54 with a decent top speed of 38.1

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Mile 1611.1 - Into the wooded hills.

Day 21 was in every way easier than day 20 had been. I started with a stop at a little coffee hut across from the motel. In line, I started talking to a guy about the coffee in Italy and its superiority to most of the stuff you can get in the states. Then he asked about the clear 'i'm going for a bike ride' gear I had on. During this conversation, another woman, Hope, walked in and took over the not me part of the dialogue. At first she expressed concern over taking 85, there are parts without much shoulder and often heavy truck traffic. She offered an alternate route of going straight east to Custer then taking the Mickelson trail up to Deadwood, my aim for the night. She tried calling a friend of hers in Lead who owned a hostel, but apparently the owner was in a jazz concert that night then afterwards was flying to Long Island. Oh, JFK, how much easier it would be to get back home if I just flew to you. But where's the adventure in that?

After talking with Hope for some time, she acknowledged that at least there's not too much traffic on 85, so it might not kill me to take it. I finished my coffee and started out.

The road out of Newcastle begins in a climb. Within a couple miles, I was up on the hills overlooking town, going through high pasture land. Slowly, the pine trees started getting thicker until suddenly, for the first time since California two weeks and three whole states ago, I was entering a real forest. The places I grew up may not have mountains, but they do have forests, and going from the wide open expanse of most of Wyoming, I found some comfort in the closer horizons of trees and hills.

Within a few miles, I hit construction and was queued up in the line of cars waiting for the flagger to let us through. The flagger waved me over to a construction truck and was told to ride behind this truck. When we finally were allowed to start, I followed the truck and, given the decline of most of that part of the road, was pretty easily able to keep up with the 35mph pace the driver had set.

Several miles later, once I was clear of a lot of the traffic, I came to a part where the shoulder had been freshly resurfaced and was, in fact, a better riding surface than the traffic lanes. Flat, smooth, and almost four feet wide from the white line, I was able to keep up a steady pace as I followed up and down the hills. I wondered what Hope had meant by having no shoulders. I passed Red Butte, a brilliant red against the dark green foliage surrounding it. As I was getting closer to leaving Wyoming, a red tailed hawk flew a few effortless circles around me, the spirit of the state wishing me farewell and thanking me for visiting.

At mile 1582.76, I stopped to take a short break right on the Wyoming/South Dakota state line. It had taken me less than an hour to get there from Newcastle. South Dakota is the first and only state on this tour that I had not already been to or through at some point in the past. Horray for new states. Not far into the state, I was greeted by an American Bald Eagle, who instead of circles above me, was dashing back and forth across the road. Welcome to the Black Hills.

I climbed up to O'Neill Pass at 6785' and then, for the next twelve miles, hit a steady downslope to Cheyenne Crossing. I covered that ground quickly, getting over 43 miles per hour for some of it. Unfortunately, my camera battery had died, so I was only able to take a couple pictures on my phone. The landscape was rugged and beautiful. At one point, I heard a snapping sound from behind me, but, assuming it came from one of the lumber trucks that soon passed me, I didn't think much of it.

I climbed back up to Lead and then around to Deadwood. I found I room very close to the trailhead for the Mickelson Trail, dumped off the bike and gear and set out to explore the town a bit before sunset. I first went up to Mt. Moriah, the cemetery where Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane are buried. I climbed all the way to the top of the hill where the town's first sheriff, Timothy Oylaphant, I mean Seth Bullock is interred. Of course he had to be laid to rest up at the top of the hill apart from the rest of the town.

Passing up the Bill and Jane salt and pepper shakers in the cemetery gift shop, I went back down into town. I passed the spot where Wild Bill was shot by the coward Jack McCall, and the spot three blocks later where McCall was captured by a crowd. I couldn't get my intended shot of whiskey at the saloon Bill was killed in, as it was closed for renovations. One odd thing about this town, there are no restaurants that are not part of a hotel or casino. Ok, other than the Taco John.

I went into the Gem Saloon and had a whiskey and a beer. I imagine the place was a little rougher 130 years ago, today, it was filled mostly with grey and white haired folk sitting in front of slot machines pressing buttons. The sounds of the incessant button pressing and their counterpart beeps from the machines quickly started to grate on me, so I moved on to the next bar. I don't like to gamble, I prefer to spend my money on more certain outcomes, like booze. I had a shot and a beer there too, then found a place for dinner.

I ended up back at the Hickok House, feeling that I had had a successful day.

Day 21, Newcastle, WY - Deadwood SD
43.5 miles in 2:59:12. 1611.1 for the trip in 135:38:06 and a high speed of 43.5 mph.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Mile 1545.42 - In which he angers the East Wind

Most of Day 20 I was reminded of Menelaos, who after victory failed to sacrifice the proper hecatombs and was thus thwarted from making his homecoming until he retraced his steps and offered the gods the proper sacrifice. Unlike Menelaos, I have no pure young calf, nor gold to gild its horns, nor am I sure which god I angered. Until I hear better, I still think Hermes is the most relevant god for bicycle tourists. Whoever you are, if you simply identify yourself and what you want from me, I'll make arrangements to appease you in exchange for clear passage.

Regardless, I was fighting the east wind for nearly every inch I advanced today.

On 450 just out of Wright, I found a young male antelope at the side of the road. We locked eyes a moment, then the race was on. Unfortunately, uphill and against a steady 15-20 mile an hour wind, he had every advantage. He quickly outpaced me and ran to the top of the hill. There he stopped and turned around to wait for me to catch up. When I got up to him, he took off again, staying in the 20' margin between the road and the barbed cattle fence. Again he quickly got ahead of me. So, a couple hundred yards ahead of me, he stopped a second time. This time when I caught up, I had a better downhill so was able to keep up with him for maybe a full minute. But his natural speed and far greater aerodynamicity won out again. This time, about 1/8th of a mile ahead of me, he suddenly veered across the road and into an open pasture to my right. By the time I made it to the gate, he was nearly over a hill and out of sight. So far in the races, that's Antelope 2, Josh and Penny 1.

I crossed the grassy hills of Thunder Basin and came to Black Thunder, North America's largest surface coal mine. I got to the train cars both loaded and waiting to be, lined up by a giant coal hopper dumping the black rock into each car in turn. The conveyor leading to the hopper was around a mile long. There were signs warning of blasting and to avoid the orange smoke. Duly noted. And all that was before I got to the mine proper, or rather the huge piles of inert rock left over after sifting through it all.

I came to a parked car and saw a small boy whose attention was torn between me and the mine as I approached. When I got to him, he told me that if I waited, big trucks of coal drove along the road beneath us. I didn't quite hear him the first time and stopped to ask him to repeat himself. I was soon talking to his grandmother and, I assume, mother, who told me he likes to stop to watch the big trucks. Naturally, we were soon talking about my ride and I gave out another card. I hope half of the cards I've given out turn into readers. Hello you all! Thanks for being a positive enough part of this adventure that I'd want to share more of it with you.

Anyway, I started on and within a couple hundred feet was on the bridge under which the coal trucks traveled. Ok, I've seen double long semis and tanker trucks, there aren't a lot of big trucks that would impress me. Then I heard a rumble and watched as, at about 8mph, this enormous dump truck loaded with coal went under the bridge. The truck was the size of a split-level suburban house. In fact, I would not have been shocked if my parents' house would fit comfortably on the back, and that's not a small house.

There's not a whole lot else to say about this day. It seemed every time I fought my way to the top of a hill, I'd see the next two hills, the second, of course being the tallest. When I got to the top of it, I'd see the next two, and the pattern would be the same. As I was going almost due east, the wind was blowing straight at me almost the whole time. Also, because I had pushed my legs as hard as I could to get up the hill, there was nothing left to push going down. Even downhill, I had to work to get to 13-15mph. There was a hill that I know I would have gone down around 28-30 without wind and in the 45 range if the same wind was behind me, but I was just barely pushing 17. I have to say, there were a couple times in this process where I said aloud 'Oh, screw this!' I was not having fun.

I got to a point where I had only 8 miles left to go until I hit 16 just outside if Newcastle. I thought 'how many hills could they pack in 8 miles?'. Six, not including the climb into town on 16. There was one part approaching town that the wind slacked a bit and moved around to the southeast, but that only helped slightly as once I got to 16, I was pointed right back into it.

I had planed to try to make it the next 27 miles to the South Dakota border, but my legs were done. I went through the whole town of Newcastle trying to find a room, but nowhere had vacancy. Finally I secured a room pretty close to the far edge of town. I had passed by all sorts of good looking taverns and restaurants through town, but now past it, and having no desire to walk the mile and a half back up hill to downtown, my dinner options were slim: Pizza Hut, Subway, or the gas station. I walked into the Pizza Hut where I was promptly ignored by the waitress who was talking with some friends at a table. I grabbed a menu. I stood there. I started to walk to a table, though none of them were set as they were closing in an hour and a half. She made eye contact with me a second time, then went back to her conversation. I slapped the menu on the table, said 'screw this' and stormed out, not even looked at the waitress as she gawked at me. I'm sorry, you just lost business. You can't give me a 'Hi' or 'I'll be right with you' or even an 'I acknowledge your existence, but you are a low priority and I'll get to you eventually'? Well, ask anyone who's served me so far on my trip, I'm a standard 20% tipper. Your loss.

Yeah. Today ranks right up there with the climb to Carson Pass and the climb to Park City in the hardest days of cycling so far. This is exemplified by being the first day that, for the entire day, I averaged under 10 miles per hour. Come on, Wyoming, I thought we were friends.

Day 20, Wright, WY - Newcastle, WY
71.4 miles in 8:00:52 today. Boo. That brings me to 1545.42 in 132:38:02 for the trip. Top speed was a hard earned 25.1mph

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Mile 1474.02 - A Tale of Two Rides

Day 19 and my goal was to get from my camp about 16 miles northwest of Casper to Wright, closing in on the South Dakota Border.

There was one more hill the size of those I climbed to end day 18, but without 90+ miles on my legs for the day, it was much easier to climb. As I got to the top of the hill, I found some companions in 6 antelope running along with me. They seem to like to do that and as long as it doesn't turn aggressive, I'm totally cool with it. As I was climbing, they were faster than me, but as I crested the hill and started to pick up speed on the way down, I passed them. Then, suddenly, they all stopped and just stood there to watch me go off into the distance.

I got into Mills, a mile across the river from Casper and took a morning break. US 20/26 had nice wide shoulders, but as I turned onto Old Salt Creek Road to head north, the shoulder disappeared and I was cast into heavy truck traffic from the industries that lines the road. A few miles later though, and I passed Bar Nunn, after which there wasn't much traffic at all. The road passed to the other side of interstate 87 and that's when it got really fun. I climbed a small hill and could see three hills ahead of me, including 20 Mile Hill which was 14 miles away from that point. Each hill had a deeper decline than incline and I was flying. I was almost always over 30 on the downslopes, hit 38.2 on one and my momentum carried me halfway up 20 Mile Hill. I got to the top and was greeted with a nice long slope down and I was able to peak out at 42.8mph.

I rode past Teapot Dome, made famous for the unabashed bribery it's natural resources caused. This was one end of a vast oil and natural gas reserve in this part of the state, as was evidenced by the forest of oil rigs set up across the landscape. After 60.55 miles for the day, I hit my second bike path in Wyoming, a small trail that extends between the neighboring mining towns of Midwest and Edgerton.

In Edgerton, I made a stop at the post office to send home my map of Utah which was no longer needed, and a highway map of Wyoming. I also sent Dan the Wyoming map, because it is a good one, and sent in my registration for my college reunion in June. I'm going to really have to slow myself down to make it in time, but more on that later. As I was at the post office I was talking to the postal lady and a UPS guy about the terrain and weather ahead, and both seemed rather grim. 'It gets hilly up that way' he offered. She hoped that the hail she had heard forecasted didn't effect me. This really marked the changing point in the day.

Yes, from Edgerton into the Thunder Basin National Grassland it is hilly. As I climbed yet more hills, I watched the black clouds march in on the wind from the southwest. First the rain was just light enough to coat Penny and myself is a layer of dust and grit from the road. Then, as I crossed into Campbell County, it really started raining. As I had predicted to the Postal lady, if the weather got too bad, I'd put up my tent and wait it out. The tent was up in under 5 minutes and soon everything except the bike was dry inside the tent. I had some lunch and read a little more Homer.

The rain passed, I packed up and moved on. There were plenty of cows and antelope to look at, the occasional sheep or goat ranch thrown in for diversity. Then, one of my hopes for the trip came to pass. Well, kinda. There, on the left side of the road, covering the top and side of a hill, was a herd of buffalo. I wanted to see a great flock of buffalo roaming across the trackless grasslands of the great planes. What I saw was a herd grazing on what was obviously ranch land. But, even from a distance I could tell they were not cows, but their larger native cousins.

I made it to Wright. I had wanted to press on a little further, but the sun was sinking and the rain clouds started rolling in again. I went around to all three hotels in town to find the best rate. It was the last place. I walked a block down and across the highway to get dinner, a distance I'm sure most locals would drive. I got back to the room, did some laundry for the first time since Provo, and tried to catch up on the journal. I ended up passing out after a day's worth, but at least I got that in. The rain poured for at least an hour, and I was glad that I chose to find a room instead of camp.

Day 19, Camp East of Natrona, WY - Wright, WY
112.82 miles, 1474.02 total. 7:52:44 for the day, 124:27:10 for the trip and a top speed of 42.8

Monday, May 17, 2010

Mile 1361.2 - Antelope Day

I started day 18 with a 10 minute walk to get water and gatorade. As I was walking back into the courtyard of the motel, Phil, the guy at the desk the night before, told the three ladies of the housekeeping crew about my trip. I talked to them for a few minutes and as I pulled out of the parking lot, one waved out a window at me wishing me safety and good riding. I can feel the protective bubble of all the good wishes sent my way by the people I've met so far.

I started on the 22 miles to Shoshoni with the hope of making the 120 to Casper. Just before Shoshoni, I saw the spot that I really should have camped at the night before, at the Boyson State Park. The Wind River is gathered in the Boyson Reservoir and the pictures I took of the mountains reflecting off the surface of the water do not capture the awe of the location. As I climbed a little way up from the river, I could see mountains on the horizon in every direction except the one I was headed. Here again, my camera is too feeble an instrument to properly convey the character of the land.

As I continued east, I saw my first Wall Drug sign. I know that Wall, SD by the most direct route is still over 300 miles away. I saw another one the next day too.

46 miles into day, I came to Hiland, WY, population 10, and saw 20% of the town population. I don't think you can see 20% of New York City at once. A few miles past that is the Waltman Rest Stop, where a extensive gopher village had been established in the scraggly grass. After a brief rest, I continued east to Hell's Half Acre.

Hell's Half Acre is as rugged and unforgiving a landscape as any I can imagine. Buffalo used to be herded to their slaughter into the ravine, then carefully carried out. Definitely worth the stop if you're on your way to Yellowstone from Casper.

East of there, the hills started to get steeper and less forgiving. I passed Natrona. I had expected Natrona to be something, seeing that Casper is in Natrona County. As far as I can tell, Natrona is a ranch with a woman playing with a couple very waggy dogs. After Natrona came three hills. The second one was a long slow curve up, and by the top of the third, I knew I didn't have the 20 miles left to Casper in my legs. I found a grassy spot where the fence was a little further back from the road and partially blocked by the top of the hill. It was a great spot.

The title today is Antelope Day, and I have yet to mention an antelope. Throughout the day, I saw probably around 200, though I'm sure that more saw me. There were a few singles or couples, including one that was certainly the alpha male of any pack he ran in. He was a good six inches taller than the average antelope and bulkier. He watched me rolling up the hill toward him and snorted at me as I passed. Most of the antelope were in groups of 6-15, though I did see two packs that were over 25. I saw one of the larger groups grazing on the hill just beyond the fence where I had pitched my tent. Apparently I had been quiet enough and the wind blowing the other way, so they didn't sense me until I unzipped the tent door to get a clear picture of them. They allowed me a couple, then passed over the top of the hill into the sunset and out of sight.

Day 18, Riverton, WY - Camp east of Natrona, WY
96.7 miles for 1361.2 total, 7:32:15 today, 116:40:26 altogether and a high speed of 27.0 mph

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Mile 1264.5 - Natural Beauty

Day 17, overall, was one of my favorite days so far on the trip. It started with a camp breakfast of scrambled eggs and cheese with tortillas. As I ate my breakfast I watched a small pack of antelope and a few random cows eating theirs. As the desert hills passed under my wheels, I was again riding the opposite way along parts of the Oregon, California and Mormon Trails. I came to the spot known as The Parting Of Ways, where the three trails split from each other. A little further east and I came South Pass, which at a mere 7550’ was famed for being the pass ‘without an exhaustive climb’. Tens of thousands of emigrants passed that way, for those going to California and Oregon, it marked the halfway point, but the half that lay ahead was going to be harder than what they had already traveled. I suppose if I were going to St. Louis the opposite would be true for me.

A few miles after the historical marker for the pass was the Continental Divide. That meant I was roughly 1/3rd of the way done, at least by distance. There was a rest stop a little bit after, and Penny drew a small crowd. I talked to them for a while and one of them suggested a 30 mile diversion up to Thermopolis to visit the mineral hot springs. I considered it for a while, looking at the map. The only ways to continue from Thermopolis would involve either doubling back to Shoshoni and the route I had already set, effectively giving me a day of riding without any advancement, or going north and then cutting east, crossing the Big Horn Mountains at Powder River Pass, 9666’. I think I want Carson Pass at 8574’ to remain my highest climb, thank you very much. So, maybe next time. I have a feeling I’ll be back in Wyoming again, possibly with a car.

2.1 miles later and Penny and I reached mile 1200. Again, following the projected route that’s roughly 1/3rd of the way through. The celebration was a little short lived, as I found myself climbing more and suddenly, I was above the snow line and entering the Shoshone National Forest. I climbed to 8323’, dropped back down a couple hundred feet then climbed back up 8405’, dropped again and came back up to 8460’ all within about 10 miles. As I was coming down the backside of that last slope, I exchanged a fast greeting with another cyclist climbing up the other direction. I started back upwards and hit the last big climb of the range up to 8250’. With all this altitude, I’ll consider the Wind River Range to be one of the major ones I’ve crossed, along with the Sierras and the Wasatch.

Then came my most favorite sign, a yellow diamond with a picture of a truck going downhill and the caption ‘next 4 miles’. What followed was one of the most exhilarating experiences I ever had on a bicycle. In the trailer of the movie that will be made out of the book of this experience, there will be several long shots of me zooming down this mountain. After the four miles were up it leveled out as it crossed the end of the long bright gash of the Red Canyon. The stark red of the canyon wall and green below it was a mesmerizing contrast to the white and grey of the snow and rock I’d just come through. Then, there was that wonderful sign again, forecasting another 4 mile downslope. I had a nice wide shoulder all to myself, cruising downward at an even 44 miles an hour. At one slight flat between slopes, I pushed it up to 46.7. In seven minutes, I had covered three miles. I shot down past the snowline, and everything was green again. Near the bottom of the slope, there was a long curve alongside a bright green hill covered in antelope. They clearly are used to auto traffic, but a cyclist speeding by startled them. I was soon coming going through the horse and cattle ranches to Lander.

Lander was the first town of over 500 people I’d been through since Kemmerer, two mornings previously. The town boasted of both a Pizza Hut and a McDonalds. Penny had some more young admirers going through town. On the climb out of town, I was passed by an older cyclist who was riding back to Riverton. We spoke a moment about the terrain in front of us then he wished my luck and continued on at his pace. By the time I reached the top of the hill, he was long out of sight. A couple hills and run down ranch towns later and I was greeted by the casino on the outskirts of Riverton.
Riverton has a bike path that goes almost all the way along the highway from east to west. Yay bike path. In fact, in the time I was in Riverton, I saw more cyclists than I did across all of Utah. I found a room, had a very inexpensive dinner (at a restaurant a full 3/4s of a mile away, to which the hotel owner would have driven), and hunkered down for the night.

Day 17, Camp east of Farson, WY – Riverton, WY
100.3 miles, 1264.5 total. 5:58:03 today, 109:08:09 total, top speed 46.7