Day 12 – Highmore, SD to Pierre, SD

Av – 10.9 mph
Dis – 51 miles
Tm – 04:40 hrs.
Asc – 474 ft.

It’s a good thing Pierre wasn’t that far away, because I just wasn’t in the groove today. I snoozed for another half hour after my alarm went off at 0630. The wind was blowing out of the southwest, up over the foot of my sleeping bag, and somehow right down my neck. It was a breezy one alright. The sun was trying to rise above the tree line but hadn’t broken over yet. I began changing into my warmer rising clothes without getting out of my sleeping bag. The heat I worked up was enough to get me out of my bag, pack up my gear in record time, and push west on Hwy 14 towards Pierre.

The next 32 miles rolled by pretty effortlessly. I called Dale at the Hwys 14 and 83 junction to find out he wouldn’t be in Pierre until 1830.

The day had finally warmed up enough to strip back down to my short sleeve jersey and riding shorts. I pushed the last sixteen miles to Pierre with a light crosswind and plenty of sunshine.

Pierre was an utter disappointment. I rode what seemed miles waiting for the city to envelope me, and suddenly, between the rural route mailboxes and “Dance with Wolves Filmed Here” signs, I was at the front door of The Governor’s Inn. It was impressive. Fresh baked cookies, iced tea, and coolers full of pop and beer awaited me in the lobby. In exchange for a practically endless stream of Iraq stories, Sam, the suspected semi-gay lobby clerk, hooked me up with more than a few Miller Lites while I waited in the lobby for Dale and Jodi.

When they finally arrived after 1900, citing confusing detours and road construction, we made a beeline for evening chow and retired to the hot tub for discussions of the next three days. We talked routes and time lines, rest stops and layovers, even though I knew full well it would all work itself out one way or another in the end.

I spent another hour or so writing a quick progress report for my website, uploading tour media to my laptop, and tuning up my bike with tools Dale brought from home. And, at almost 2300 and a long day ahead tomorrow, it’s time to hit the rack.

Day 12 – 27 September 2005

Human soup

Day 11 – Huron, SD to Highmore, SD

Av – 10.7 mph
Dis – 70.6 miles
Tm – 06:35 hrs.
Asc – 679 ft.

Two days to cover a little over 100 miles is like a vacation (but missing the hula girls). I didn’t pull out of Huron until 1100, as late as the Super 8 would let me stay, but still made good mileage despite that and the west wind. I really didn’t have a plan for today. I knew Highmore was the biggest town between Huron and Pierre on Hwy 14 (and at just over 800 people, it’s not saying much), but I never intended on staying here. The reason I am here is because of the setting sun.

It was a clear, bright, beautiful day in the mid 60’s when I left Huron. The wind was out of the west but thankfully low until mid afternoon. I enjoyed the sun on my body and the cool breeze and tried not to think of yesterday’s bone numbing wetness. More importantly, I felt good.

Coming to terms with a high cadence and low speed is a difficult thing to do. It’s taken me this long on the tour to understand I can pedal for hours, non-stop, at 90-100 rpm but grabbing a bigger gear and trying to squeeze out another mph screws up my rhythm. I kept my speeds low enough to keep my rhythm in the headwind, and the results were surprising. Instead of constantly shifting in the saddle and starting and stopping pedaling as one leg or the other began to burn, I pedaled smoothly for often over an hour without realizing where the time went. I stopped a few times about every 60-90 minutes, to take a leak and eat a snack. I never really got tired at all.

Getting in the groove of cycling every morning is about the most difficult thing to do. Sometimes I warm up with a few miles and sometimes longer. On this very tour, there was day when mile sixty came and went and only then did I start feeling better. Some days are just easier to ride for whatever reason.

But back to the sunset and my stop in Highmore. I paused at a Cenex to grab a bite to eat and fill my water bottles, and when I came back out, the sun was barely above the asphalt heading west. Even with my sunglasses on, I had a difficult time seeing mailboxes barely a block away. The glare was terrible. I knew continuing to ride would be too hard, so I ate up my pizza slices, finished my energy drink, and rolled into town looking for the city park. I didn’t find it. Instead, I discovered the baseball diamond on the edge of town. It even has wide, wooden bleachers behind home plate with a roof overhead. I rolled my bike in, laid my stuff out on the bleachers, and commenced to writing about the day.

I hope some dopey local cop doesn’t shoot me.

Tomorrow, it’s 40-some odd miles to Pierre, hopefully an extended soak in a hot tub, and then meet up with good buddy Dale, who’ll be joining me the last three days. This should prove to be entertaining.

Day 11 – 26 September 2005

Take me out to the ball game

Day 10 – Salem, SD to Huron, SD

Av – 9.8 mph
Dis – 82.1 miles
Tm – 08:23 hrs.
Asc – 747 ft.

Today was a horrific, demoralizing, mind numbing day. But I still made eighty-two miles so I can’t complain too much.

The sky ripped open at about 2300, dumping what looked like several water towers worth of water on the Home Motel, and hadn’t stopped by 0700 when I beat feet back to the café for breakfast. It hadn’t let up by 0730, 0800, or 0830 either, so I braced myself for the deluge and was on the road to Huron by 0900.

The ride started out well enough. Light drizzle. No wind. Temps in the mid 60’s. But it got bad fast. I practically watched my thermometer drop into the low 50’s as the rain thickened and assumed a vicious eastward slant right into my face. My speed ticked slower and slower until I was barely cranking out 8 mph on the flats. I concentrated on a spot of road ten feet in front of my bike and bore down hard on the pedals. After fifty mile of this, I still felt surprisingly strong. I had resigned myself to slower speeds and a lower average and accepting that psychological challenge was a step in the right direction. With ten more miles west and twenty miles north to go to Huron, I stopped at a crossroads fuel station to re-energize. Big mistake. After only a few minutes in the convenience store, I knew the warmth of my body would be shocked by going back outside. It was indeed. The wind seemed stronger. The rain seemed harder. The air seemed colder. My shoulders shook and my teeth chattered as I fought with numb fingers to wrestle my Visa and ID back into my handlebar bag. I decided then and there to bulk up.

I pulled my gear bag from my trailer, stepped back into the store and headed straight for the men’s room. I pulled out my Neoprene show covers, waterproof pants, arm warmers, and vest, and finished changing next to the register to the curious stares of onlookers. Better prepared, I stepped back into the tundra-like conditions and made my way west. But within five miles, it had stopped raining. I stripped off my waterproof pants, revealing shear, black cycling tights with reflective side panels, and pushed on. The turn north and the last twenty miles was right into a headwind. It was already 1800 and I knew I’d never make it before dark, so I fished my reflective vest from my trailer bag and clipped my flashing tail light to my seat back. It wasn’t until almost 2000 when I needed my headlight. The sky was just too black to see the fog line.

I finally pulled into Huron at about 2030 and made contact with Dale about him joining me for the trip. I had been off the radar almost four days due to bad cell reception, and the concern of some was apparent. I agreed that Dale meet me in Pierre on Tuesday, about 110 miles west of Huron. I have two days to cover the mileage, hopefully get ahead to make Tuesday a short day, and then relax in a hot tub for the final three day push home.

Here’s to good time, good friends, and good rides.

Day 10 – 25 September 2005

Dog tired

Day 9 – Vermillion, SD to Salem, SD

Av – 12.1 mph
Dis – 88.3 miles
Tm – 07:17 hrs
Asc – 928 ft.

Day 09 – 24 September 2005

Rain, rain, go away

When I stepped outside the door at 0630, the air was warm and humid. It was still dark and I couldn’t see any stars. I suspected rain, but hoped otherwise. I wasn’t disappointed. The sky opened up in a thunderous din less than thirty minutes later. I took my time packing, knowing today was scheduled only to be sixty-seven miles and I could afford to wait it out. But by 0845 I was restless as all hell, so I broke out my heavy duty rain gear and made a dash west.

It pissed on me almost the entire twenty-three miles to Yankon, SD, but when I arrived for a rest and a snack, the sun poked through the heavy clouds and things started drying out. My route called for west Hwy 80, north a couple of miles on Hwy 81, then west again on Hwy 50. When I came to my second turn onto Hwy 50 from the 81, a southern wind had picked up. I decided to take advantage of the push, deviate from my original route, and continue north on 81. The decision was a good one, for about fifteen miles, and then the wind shifted right into my face. I debated turning west again on Hwy 18 but decided against it. I was almost ahead of schedule on my mileage, was feeling good, and I knew I could push through it.

The sky threatened to close in on me from the west and north. I was riding into an immense electrical storm with lightening striking the ground every few seconds, but I heard no thunder and knew it was many miles north. I was in a corner of light, hoping I wouldn’t catch up to the storm ahead. Even though the clouds finally circled round, enveloped the sun, and changed the wind again, it didn’t start raining again until I hit I-90, just a few miles south of Salem.

I stopped for a bite to eat in Freeman, SD and the strangest thing happened. Two vehicles pulled up next to the air hose next to the picnic table I was sitting at. A man in black slacks and a dark blue dress shirt walked past me and paused at my bike. He asked if I was a Marine and had been in Iraq. I said yes and that I was going back in March, so he said he’d pray for me. Alright, I thought. A lot of people pray for service members overseas. But quite unexpectedly, he walked right up to me, put his hand on my shoulder, bowed his head, and began praying out loud. I was shocked, but didn’t jump. I had a piece of pizza in my right hand and a used napkin in my left and didn’t quite know what to do. So I stopped eating, bowed my own head, and let the man pray for a minute or so. When he was done, he finished with an Amen and I even answered back.

Having a complete stranger lay his hand on me was something I hadn’t prepared myself for. Violently, yes, peacefully, no. And to have it done in a religious context completely weirded me out. The last time I tried to let religion work for me, sincerely, was almost fifteen years ago. I’ve thought a lot about religion on this trip though. Every small town has about two or three churches, not including the really strange denominations outside the city limits.

I think the real lure of religion is the support group the community provides. Where else can one find a group of people so willing to help with anything? I’ve looked at organized religion from a logistical standpoint and it all makes sense. It’s the element of faith I have issues with, but I won’t get into that.

I left Freeman with renewed energy. I maintained a solid 12-14 mph the next twenty-three miles and pulled into the first motel I saw. The man who runs it, Steve by the embroidered tag on his shirt, sacrificed time with his visiting sister-in-law to bullshit with me about twenty minutes. Now I’m eating strawberry-rhubarb pie a la mode at a café across the street and loving life.

I’ll see if tomorrow I can gain a day.

Avoiding the winds

Day 8 – Little Sioux, IA to Vermillion, SD

Av – 12.8 mph
Dis – 97.3 miles
Tm – 07:36 hrs
Asc – 1244 ft.

Breakfast was, indeed, outstanding. Chester fixed me three fried eggs, sunny side up, two Hormel sausage links, and three pieces of buttered toast lightly toasted and heavenly buttered. My favorite.

I almost didn’t go. I rolled up to their house at 0633 with no movement to be seen inside. Since the sunrise wasn’t for another forty-five minutes, I waited a bit longer than instinct told me to. Sure enough, Chester poked his head out kitchen window, looking for me apparently, and I waved.

I stayed there almost an hour, talking rain crops and development over the last sixty years, and watched as Helen awoke and asked the same questions she did yesterday. “She’s got old timers, Chester said, with a roll of his eyes. “Can’t remember a thing around here.” I nodded in acknowledgment, not wanting to relay my own Grandma Kohler’s fight with Alzheimer’s and her eventual death. Helen continued to pick up odd items in the kitchen, show them to me one by one and proceed to ask if I had ever seen anything like this before. I would always shake my head and ask all the right questions about whatever she was holding. One item I knew I particular was a stuffed duck that danced and sang Singing in the Rain when you pushed his stomach. Helen, in true form, asked if I had ever seen anything like that before and pushed the duck’s stomach.

Like a scene from a Norman Rockwell painting, Helen’s whole face lit up as she started dancing and singing along from her chair at the kitchen table. I could see that, for Helen, she was the exact place in her mind where she loved that song from the beginning. Chester was happy because his wife was happy, and I was just glad I was a part of it.

It was harder than expected to walk out that house and pedal away. I knew Helen would have no memory of me tomorrow, but the sad look on Chester’s face when I finally stood and collected my things told me he would not soon forget my stay. He followed me to the edge of his driveway, I threw him one last wave of thanks, and pedaled into the sun rising over the cottonwood trees. I know he watched me as long as he could.

It was with a heavy heart I continued north up I-29, until a state trooper stopped me. He wrestled his potbelly out of the Cruiser, stuck his thumbs in his pistol belt, and kept a safe distance from my bike.

“You can’t bike on the interstate. Gotta find a different way to go.” Fearing this very thing since entering Iowa, I had my response prepared.

“That’s’ odd, because I’ve been doing it since MO, passed many a cop in the process, and there isn’t a single sign posted anywhere.” I stood defiant. He seemed rattled.

“Well, it’s more for your safety really.” He chewed on his lip and avoided eye contact. A pin on his uniform stated he had been on the force since 1997. I resisted my urge to argue with Johnny Law, busted out my Iowa map, and plotted a new course paralleling I-29. He continued rambling in my ear.

“That road right there is pretty flat.” He jutted a pudgy finger towards my map, which could’ve indicated any road in the tri-state area. I didn’t pay much attention. “We just don’t want you getting run over by these big trucks.” I nodded.

“I’ll just take the Blencoe exit and I’ll be okay. Thanks.” I trailed off and was back on the bike before he had time to tip the hat he wasn’t wearing. The weird thing is, changing roads was the best decision I made all day. I made stellar time up through Sioux City, stopping by the gravesite of the only member of the Lewis and Clark exhibition to have died. Finding a route through the city and out the northwest side without hitting interstate was an ordeal in itself. The maps were no good so I used my GPS and preprogrammed waypoints as a reference. Before too long, I was out the other side and pushing north along the South Dakota border with the wind at my back.

I arrived in Vermillion SD, home of the University of SD at about 1800, secured a room, and grabbed a huge plate of chicken pasta alfredo. I hope it pays off for the westward push across the state.

Day 08 – 23 September 2005

Roughing it

Day 7 – Council Bluffs, IA to Little Sioux, IA

Av – 9.4 mph
Dis – 49.1 miles
Tm – 05:12 hrs
Asc – 707 ft.

Well kick me in the nuts and call me Sally! Today was the worst day since Pomeroy in ’04.

I slept in and started late like I had planned; 0830 and 1100 respectively, and devil be damned, the wind was right in my face.

I barely eeked out twenty-five miles before I stopped at a Shell station to recharge. I’m not sure what happened this morning. As soon as I hit the road, my legs were lead. They didn’t seem to drive the bicycle at all, just rise and fall at a paltry 6-9 mph. I couldn’t keep a decent cadence going for more than a few revolutions at a time.

Headwind aside, the sky began working against me as well. I left Council Bluffs in short sleeves and clear skies. Within fifteen miles some freakish system moved in, against the wind and right over my head, and began pissing on me with icy drops of rain. I stopped along a bridge, dug out my long sleeve jersey and heavy duty rain jacket (both of which I had packed at the bottom) and tried to push on. Like a little solar powered robot, my juice was gone.

I stopped often before getting to the Shell station in Loveland, sometimes for a minute or two on the shoulder of the road and sometimes underneath bridge overpasses, hoping the sun would poke through again. I eventually came to my senses, realizing the more I stopped, the less I would travel. No kidding, right? I slowly pulled into the Shell station, hobbled into the convenience store on wooden legs, and started searching for sugar.

I came out with two 16 oz. energy drinks and a couple of donuts, hoping they’d be enough to get me through the hard times I was in. I cracked the first can and called Dale, my logistics guy. It was the first call I’d made since Boonville and the only time I actually reached him. I weaved my tales of woe and hardship touching briefly on my last four nights in hotels, and we discussed gear and body and the conditions of both. We talked about him meeting me on the tour for the last 2-3 days and the supplies we could divvy up.

Dale seemed positive about his portion of the tour and I knew he was enjoying hearing of me in distress. He’s demented like that.
In forty-five minutes, I was done with my snacks and on my way northward with renewed energy and purpose. Maybe it was the drinks or the donuts, but I think it was the bitching to someone, anyone, who could relate. The day to that point was something I needed to get off my chest.

Despite the quickening of my pace, the day’s damage had already been done. I pulled into Lille Sioux as the sun dipped below the cloud cover and hovered over the trees next to the Missouri. I followed a frontage road around an enormous RV park and down to a pavilion, next to the river. Although it lacked tables or places to sit, it had a broad cement slab covered by a new roof. It was the perfect place to stay without pulling out my tent.

I started breaking out gear when a vehicle pulled right up to the gazebo. Out of the driver’s side heaved an ancient man wearing a plaid, short sleeved shirt and bib overalls. Right behind him, a little slower from the passenger side, came a shaky old woman in glasses and a flowery dress. They had seen me pass from the front porch swing and came down to see what I was up to. I explained my tour, my military experience, and threw out a bit of small talk to pass the time.

Chester and Helen Hilton had lived in their house along the Missouri since 1948. Chester used to farm corn and beans, but after retirement, shifted his focus to carpentry and hobby work to occupy his time. His front yard was full of his creations. He repeatedly invited me to sleep at their place instead of the cold cement, and I repeatedly declined, citing journal writing as the reason for my lack of social interaction. Instead, we settled on breakfast at 0630 before I stepped off.

I hope they’re awake on time and I hope breakfast is good.

Day 07 – 22 September 2005

Riverfront real estate

Day 6 – Hiawatha, KS to Council Bluffs, IA

Av – 14.2 mph
Dis – 118.9 miles
Tm – 08:20 hrs
Asc – 2979 ft.

I haven’t been as in tune with this tour as I was the last one. I’m not talking efficiency or distances. I’m talking location. Most of the time, I really don’t know where I’m at. I passed through KS and NE in a day, something I only did once last year, through ID.

I’m finally caught up though. It was a 99 mile stretch from where I should have started, Falls City, NE to Council Bluffs, but with the extra distance to Hiawatha, it turned into almost 120. It’s my new record.

So now I’ve got two consecutive 100+ mile days under my belt, and I have no intention of trying for a third (but I’ve said that before). The next leg is 67 miles to Onawa and I’m going to sleep in, get some good chow in my stomach, and take my time.

The heat was almost unbearable today. My direction of travel was primarily due north, with a few east/west jaunts from time to time, and the wind was with me.

The tailwind was constant at about 20 mph. I know because my flag wouldn’t flutter at that speed. It looked like I was standing still. Because of that vacuum affect, there was no breeze to cool my skin. Even my Under Armour Skull Cap was no match for the quarts of sweat running down my face. It was just me and the sun, and my Casio Pathfinder watch thermometer registered 112 degrees.

In the last 43 miles to Council Bluffs, I was drinking water every minute or two and paying very close attention to my body’s performance in the heat. The sun wrapped around my skin like a glove. I kept thinking of Iraq, and that impossible heat. Somehow, it made me feel better.

I passed the Council Bluffs city limits at about 1900, 15 minutes slower than ZI estimated, due to a flat tire. It was a justified flat. Some sort of galvanized nail about tow inches long and with a broad head. At first, it looked like a tack, but I couldn’t pull it out with my fingers and had to use my leatherman. I was shocked to see it.

I had been riding on the shoulder of I-29 since entering Iowa, and it was the worst one I’ve ever experienced. Full of seams, valleys, peaks, vegetation, trash, and loose chunks of asphalt, my back end took the kind of beating you’d see in a prison gang bang with the new bitch in block C.

I was concerned about picking up some stray nail or something, especially with my unprotected trailer tire, but I knew I was making great time. I knew something was horribly wrong when I lost all control in the rear and had to pull over. KIA: 1 slime tube. The nail had pushed right between two other patches (from the only pinch flat I had last tour) and couldn’t be patched. I tucked it under the bungee cord on my trailer to throw away later.

The first exit into Council Bluffs was good enough for me. It had four motels, Best Buy, and a Wal-Mart with plenty of restaurants within walking distance. I struck out with the first two motels I tried, but a call was made to the Motel 6 and they had an available room on the bottom deck. What more could I possibly want? A damn military discount. Turn s out Motel 6 doesn’t offer military discounts for some reason. I harassed the communist employee, who had only been working there 3 weeks, and finally gave into getting a room for lack of options.

I hurriedly showered and cut my hair and hoofed over to Best Buy for a digital voice recorder. I intended on using it on the trip for note taking, story ideas, conversations, and audio journal entries.

From Best Buy I went to the Wal-Mart Supercenter where I promptly got lost looking for a basket. I picked up some Gold Bond medicated powder, deodorant, toothpaste, and diaper rash cream out of the travel el section. I can feel the rash cream working its magic.

And now I’m in Applebee’s with an All-You-Can-Eat Riblets Platter in front of me and two local girls giving me the greasy eyeball.

Ahh, the local girls…

Second 100+ mile day