Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Day 46: Watertown, SD

So, as a coda to staying with Lillie and David last night in Doland -- which was lovely, as they were very gracious and generous hosts -- it turns out that their son, Justin, who just got married to Kat this past Thursday, manages Roger's Motel! So they inadvertently took a paying customer away from their own son by offering to put me up.

Apparently no hard feelings, though, as Justin came over after dinner with a bottle of his wife's elderberry wine (very nice) for all to share. And he told me that he definitely would have found and put a coffee maker in my room if I had stayed at the motel.

In the morning, Lillie and David put together an egg and pancake breakfast -- with coffee, of course -- and cheerfully sent me on my way. But not before I did what little I could do to thank them for their hospitality -- by pledging money in support of their 150 mile MS charity ride this coming weekend. So it turns out that it would have been cheaper to stay at Roger's Motel, after all. But not nearly as much fun. Thanks again, guys, and good luck riding this weekend.

As for my ride today, which was to Watertown, SD, it was harder than I expected. The mileage was about 56 miles, which means I've logged 200 miles over the past 3 days, but the difficulty came, once again, in the form of the wind, which was blowing strongly from the SSE, and my aching right achilles tendon (which was begging for, and received, a double dose of Aleve). In addition, I started out the day on Route 212, a pretty main thoroughfare, but the shoulder pretty quickly shrank, several miles out of Doland, to about 2 feet wide, one foot of which was taken up by rumble strips. Ugh.

So I made a command decision that was both smart and dumb. I decided to move to the road about 2 miles north and which, on my map, ran parallel to Rte 212 all the way to Watertown. I was pretty sure it would be unpaved, but it should be empty and, I hoped, maybe someone as good as Kenny had graded it recently.
For the first 5 miles or so, it was a great decision. Yes, it was unpaved, but there was very little sand or gravel and zero traffic. And it was surrounded by farms and fields on both sides. Much better. But then the road surface deteriorated significantly, the road began climbing (pretty much non-stop, although at a mild gradient) and the wind picked up out of the East. The combination of these factors, unfortunately, more than offset the benefit of no traffic and nicer scenery.

So by the time I got to Clark, about 20 miles out of Doland, I was already pretty beat and ready to try Rte 212 again. Which, at that point, turned out to have a pretty wide and smooth shoulder. But, also a lot of traffic (that is, for South Dakota roads -- which is still a lot less than what we're used to back East -- we're talking about gaps of minutes between passing cars).

Tomorrow is a new month and a new state! Minnesota here I come. And I'm glad to report, courtesy of Bob, who entered MN today on his route, that the county roads there appear, mostly, to be paved!

Here are today's route and metrics:


Monday, July 30, 2012

Day 45: Doland, South Dakota

When I left Miller, SD, this morning, where I stayed overnight (more on that later), I was originally only intending to ride to Redfield, SD, which would have been about 49 miles. But in the back of my head was that stopping at Redfield would set up a nearly 80 mile day tomorrow, when I wanted to get to Watertown, SD, so, if the winds were favorable, I was ready to push on, past Redfield, another 21 miles to the tiny burg of Doland.

Well, it turns out that the winds weren't favorable. They were blowing steadily from the NNE, at 8 to 12 mph, and my route went north for about 26 miles and east for about 23. Even though portions of the route were lovely -- I actually found paved back roads, which were almost completely deserted, for about 30 miles of the route, the ride was exhausting. And, yet, I didn't really want to get off of my bike facing an 80 mile day tomorrow. So, after fortifying myself with a chocolate milk (my recovery drink of choice) and personal pan pizza at the local Redfield pizzeria (housed in an old Pizza Hut building), I decided to push on to Doland, where I straggled in at about 3:30.

Now I had some doubts about staying in Doland. I had located the sole motel -- aptly named Roger's Motel -- but was taken a bit aback when the phone was answered with only a "yeah?" I pursued this line of inquiry with an incisive "umm, are you a motel?", to which I received a quick "we're trying to be." Hmm. I asked about availability and rates. Yes, they had a room -- it would be $20. Hmm again. A bargain, or a case of getting what you pay for?

Which brings me back full circle to the Dew Drop Inn on the outskirts of Miller. Since I was staying there on a Sunday, much of the town was closed, and Sara, behind the counter (the owner's daughter) led me to believe that the nearby DQ would be my only dining choice (this after refusing to give me their AAA discount because she had already run my credit card and didn't know how to process the refund). This was unacceptable -- DQ, that is -- so I rode into town, did a quick survey, and found that the Turtle Bar and Saloon was very much open, with the owner and cook, Kurt, in residence and in full story telling mode. And, so, an excellent time and sirloin was had, chased by a Fat Tire beer, instead of a DQ Flame Burger and shake -- a fine tradeup in my book.

So this experience inspired me -- rather than going straight to Roger's Motel and trying to check in -- to ride through the town of Doland first. I found the R Bar, which is open and serves dinner, and then I found the library -- this in a town with a population of 297 (down to 180 now, per the librarian). I got to chatting with her, Lillie is her name, and, among other things, asked if there was any place in town where I could get breakfast early. She said only the convenience store at the gas station, which might not open until 8, but, this might sound silly, why not stay overnight with her and her husband, David? They both like to bike (and are doing a two-day 150 mile ride for MS this coming weekend), get up at 5 every morning (old farming habits die hard), and brew coffee right away!

I didn't take much convincing.

So I'm typing up my blog post early, here at the Doland library, while waiting for Lillie to get off work at 5 so I can go home with her (3 blocks away), shower and change.

Thanks in advance, Lillie and David!

Here are today's route and metrics:


Sunday, July 29, 2012

Day 44: Miller, South Dakota

Today was my first day of solo riding and a long haul. I rode from South Dakota's capital, Pierre, to Miller, SD, which, after I meandered around Pierre in the morning to try to get photo vantage points on the Capitol building, and accidentally doubled back, became a 76 mile ride. Not counting the two times I rode into the town of Miller from my lodgings on the outskirts of town (The Dew Drop Inn, no relation to the Greenwich Street bastion), which probably added another 2 or 3 miles. This is going to be an endurance challenge to get into Minneapolis by Saturday. Still about 350 miles to go over the next 6 days.

But it was a good biking day. Unlike Bob's yeoman effort yesterday getting to the same place, but against 18 mph winds, I had fairly benign cross-winds more in the 5 mph category (the forecasted difference was one of the reasons I took a rest day). I had also been a bit nervous about my various aches, pains and irritations beforehand, but with some help from Aleve, they were mostly a non-issue and I made good time.

I also did two things while riding that were new to me. And I mostly liked both. First, I used a mirror -- one of those small ones that attach to your glasses. It arrived in a care package from my wife yesterday and, after a bit of a struggle figuring out how to attach and adjust it, I tried it out. One of our riding necessities on this trip, given the numerous roads with chewed up or non-existent shoulders, has been to ride at the right edge of the car lane. I've been pretty comfortable using my ears to detect upcoming passing cars/trucks and, if cresting a hill or taking a sharp curve, or if traffic is simultaneously coming in the opposite direction (making it harder for the passing car to pull out sufficiently), diving back into the shoulder, even at the cost of a bumpy few seconds. The sad truth is that only a small minority of cars wait for the oncoming lane to be clear (or visible) before passing a bicyclist (which category are you in?). And don't get me started about the drivers who pass other cars at the same time that the other cars are passing me (both the overtaking and oncoming traffic -- I'm not sure which is worse!). But, I must admit, the mirror made the whole dance much easier and relaxing. The only downside, at least so far, is that it sits there constantly in my left peripheral vision and, let's confess, looks kind of dorky.

The second new thing I didn't try until about 40 miles into the ride. The scenery wasn't changing a lot, I was trying to chew up miles before it got too hot, and I kind of got bored. Notwithstanding what people think, biking long distances isn't particularly contemplative (writing a blog post is typically more so). A lot of time, I tend to repeat songs, ad nauseum, in my head. Rocky Racoon got a lot of play from my internal memory banks in the Black Hills.

But there's only so much of hearing yourself mangle Barbara Ann and Hanky Panky that you can take (yes, my selections might have been better earlier in the ride). Why not listen to real music, and real artists, on my iPhone? Now, before you all press comment to berate me, no, I did not use earphones. Mirror or not, you've still got to be able to hear -- and hear well. No, I simply put the iPhone on speaker and slipped it into my jersey back pocket. No, I couldn't always hear it well, if at all, and the acoustics left something to be desired, but it succeeded in drowning out my internal singing voice, so to speak. Which was a good thing. It almost felt like being back on a treadmill in a gym, the parallel of which to riding a bike more than 70 miles across South Dakota flatness/sameness is a bit frightening.

Here are today's route and metrics:


Saturday, July 28, 2012

Cumulative Route

Here's our cumulative route to date, as well as a Google Earth snapshot of the same (a few small inaccuracies, but, at this scale, who's checking?):

Days 42 and 43: Pierre, South Dakota

A two-day combined post because I'm taking a rest day today, here in South Dakota's capital, Pierre (pronounced "pier" -- go figure).

Yesterday, on Friday, we rode from Midland, SD to Pierre, a little over 62 miles in total, with a fair amount of rolling hills and climbing. We got off to an early start, at around 6:30 (before Midland Fuel and Oil even opened), both to beat the heat and, we hoped, avoid the worst of the wind, which was forecast to be coming mostly out of the East (our direction) and getting stronger as the day progressed.

The first portion of our ride (still on Route 14) was lovely. The temperature was a downright frigid 59 degrees to start (it felt great), the road was still empty and, because we first had to head North for about 20 miles before turning East for the 42 mile balance of the ride, the wind was a non-factor (it sometimes even helped, when it shifted to coming from the Southeast).

I focused on riding, and accordingly didn't take a lot of pictures, but the scenery was very much more of what we've seen in South Dakota since leaving the Badlands. Farmland. Ranches. Horses. Cattle. Rolling hills. Wheat fields, usually harvested. Hay stored in circular and, less frequently, rectangular, bales. Grain silos. Unlike Eastern Montana, however, there was a fair amount of greenery, including the occasional grove of trees. Notwithstanding the drought, it's definitely moister here than there.

Which was confirmed when I crested the last big climb into Pierre and saw -- the Missouri River in all its grandeur. It was a nice sight to see -- and also meant, once we crossed it into Pierre (which was built on its Eastern banks), that we had passed into our third time zone of the trip -- welcome to Central Standard Time!

Our total mileage to date is now just shy of 2,000 miles (1,983 to be exact). And we're still not even halfway through our planned route (which, at this point, is probably about 4,300 miles in total). Sheesh.

Our trip is changing a little bit for the next week. Bob and I have given ourselves until next Saturday, August 4th, to get to Minneapolis (if you don't know that's to meet our wives, you haven't been paying attention), but Bob wants to go a bit out of the way to visit an old friend in Mankato. For my part, I'm beginning to suffer some recurrent tenderness in my achilles tendon (right foot, if you must know), and wanted to take a rest day today in Pierre. So we're actually riding different routes, separately and at different times, for the next seven days until, hopefully, we converge again in Minneapolis.

That will be a bit strange after all this time together, for sure! May you have good luck and following winds, Bob. I'll miss your company.

Here are Friday's route and metrics:


Thursday, July 26, 2012

Day 41: Midland, South Dakota

Today we left the Triangle Ranch and rode to Midland, South Dakota, about 48 miles. Lyndy (the B&B owner) fortified us before we left with a wonderful breakfast of a baked omelet, fresh blueberry muffins and fresh fruit. And, of course, coffee. As a result, we hit the road a little later than usual, about 8:45.

It was a gorgeous morning, cool and not yet too hot, and the road out of Triangle was deserted and lovely. And, yes, it was gravel -- for about 8 miles -- but not in too bad a condition (although not in as good a condition as the road we rode on the way in yesterday, which had been graded by Lyndy's husband, Kenny). On the way to the main road (Route 14), we encountered one pickup, whose driver, Cliff (a neighboring rancher), stopped and amiably chatted with us for a few minutes. He's visiting NYC with his family in September, so, in a modest effort to begin paying forward all of the kindnesses we've been shown on this trip, I gave him my number and told him to look me up if he needed anything (assuming I'm back by then!)

When we got to Route 14, we were glad to see that it was well-paved, with reasonably good shoulders, and very little traffic. All of which means, of course, that a long stretch of it was undergoing construction for repaving. Go figure. As was the case in Montana, however, this construction worked in our favor because they were using a flag person, a pilot car and only one lane. It meant we could ride with zero traffic for about 10 minutes at a time until the pilot car passed us with a pack of cars behind it, and so on until we were through the construction site. But even afterwards, it helped, since there are so few feeder roads in to Route 14. The traffic that had been held up by the flag person way back at the beginning of the construction zone continued to pass us only in bunches, still about 10 minutes apart.

One cool thing we saw along the way on Route 14 was a decommissioned ICBM launch site, smack dab in the middle of a huge corn field. All that was left was a tall, square wire mesh fence, with the type of barbed wire on top, on outward facing arms, that you see at prisons. We had seen another one of these on the way into Triangle Ranch (along Kenny's gravel road), and Lyndy had confirmed for us that's what it was -- and promptly told us fascinating stories of what it was like to grow up in the area when the sites were active. Army tanks on ranch paths and dirt roads, providing protection, when the missiles were being maintained or moved.

The last 10 miles into Midland were rough biking, as the wind picked up and shifted against us. Midland is another one of those small towns that makes you question how it continues to survive. It appears that the main industry is a grain storage and loading facility (see photo). The only hotel in town, Stroppel's Inn, had recently closed, but through Lyndy's daughter, Nicole, who lives and teaches in Midland, we got in touch with the one gas station in town, Midland Fuel and Oil, which manages a block of nearby apartments that are rented out, usually to construction workers. For some reason, the building, the outside of which is in significant disrepair (and the inside not much better), has a large sign outside of it announcing that it's the "Midland Apartments," financed by the USDA. Ahem, if anyone from the USDA is reading this, I might look into not advertising the connection quite so strongly...

But the beds were serviceable, even if the floors were a bit grimy (OK, disgusting may be more accurate), and we had a filling, if not particularly exciting, dinner at Just Tammy's (one of only two restaurants in town, but the only one that serves alcohol -- that is, until Midland Fuel and Oil's attached restaurant recently got its liquor license -- which is now threatening Just Tammy's already marginal existence). We were the only patrons for dinner at Just Tammy's, other than Tammy's extended family (mother, children and grandchildren) who kept wandering in and out. Perhaps all too aptly, the sign over her bar read: "I don't know if life is passing me by or just running me over."

Here are today's route and metrics:

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

A Few Badlands Videos

More Badlands Pix


Day Forty: The Badlands Rock! (so to speak)

Well, after yesterday's near disaster, I'm glad to report that today's ride was stupendous. We got up at 5 a.m., hit the road by 6:30 and headed out of Wall, SD to ride the Badlands Loop (Route 240). Ultimately we covered about 54 miles and ended up at the Triangle Ranch B&B, which is located up past the Northeast corner of the Park (between Philip and Cottonwood) and sets us up nicely for our ride tomorrow to the metropolis (not!) of Midland, SD.

First, leaving that early was a good move and, in truth, an hour earlier would have been even better. It was a cool 67 degrees outside and there simply was no traffic. Indeed, at this most famous of National Parks, we really didn't see much traffic until around 10:30 or so, and, even then, it was lighter than we expected. Maybe that's explained by the heat, maybe by the economy, but the Badlands shouldn't be missed -- even if you have to resort to traveling them by car!

But by bike was great. The entire Loop road is fantastic (there's about 30 miles of it, the rest of our ride was outside the Park -- getting to it and leaving it), but there's also a scenic overlook every few miles or so -- and these are definitely not the overlooks you are used to when driving I-95. A few of the overlooks give you views over vast prairies. The vast majority, however, display rows of jagged pinnacles, of varying heights, shapes and colors. And each ten steps you move in another direction reveals an entirely changing perspective. Typically on this trip, I've averaged anywhere from 9 to 11 miles an hour on my bike, inclusive of stoppage time, and 12 to 14 mph average while moving. But going through the Badlands, and being wowed by each new vantage point, we didn't even eke out 6 mph!   (In my defense, for any shocked road racers following this blog, those numbers are on my fully-loaded Surly steel frame touring bike, which, all together weighs about 40 to 50 pounds more than your typical fancy-dancy road/racing bike.)

In fact, our overall speed slowed down even more in the early afternoon when, just about finished with riding the Loop, we took advantage of some shortish hiking trails to get further out into the rocks and obtain additional amazing views. I took one trail called "Window" and then another, called "Door" -- and they did just that -- giving me peeks into the interior of the rocks, and deep canyons -- that very nicely complemented what I had seen from the Loop road.

If there was one disappointment to the day - and it definitely was a double-edged sword -- it was that the day was overcast for the most part. That definitely helped our riding, and kept us cooler (again, it was in the mid-90s), but it meant that some of the pinnacles were more muted, and the range of colors and separation between craggy peaks less revealed, than they would have been with a low-angled sun hitting them. But that's a quibble. All in all, it truly was spectacular, and I hope some of the uploaded pictures even partially succeed in conveying the beauty and uniqueness of the Badlands.

By the way, the Triangle Ranch proved to be a great coda to the day -- even with about 10 miles of gravel road approach. The owners, Lyndy and Kenny, were amazing hosts and convivial conversationalists and story tellers -- and Kenny, who works for the county, among other things helping to grade the roads, was directly responsible for the excellent condition of this particular gravel road (thereby enabling the road to be a tag on to this post, instead of the lead). But Lyndy was the star of the show, maintaining a beautiful B&B with effortless-looking grace, cooking up a great dinner (Kenny did the grilling) and breakfast and, perhaps most appreciated, sharing with us her family's history (going back to her great grandmother, an original South Dakota homesteader) of growing up on the ranch. Great stuff. Triangle was a treat in and of itself, and a lovely respite from the chain motel routine.

Here are today's route and metrics:

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Day Thirty-Nine: Which Way to Wall? (Pickup adventures redivivus)

Today's ride was from Rapid City, SD (referred to solely as "Rapid" by locals) to Wall, SD (our entry-point for the Badlands), but we almost ended up in Disaster-ville.

How did such a thing come to pass, you may ask? Well, it was a little bit of indecisiveness and miscalculation on our part (I'm using the "our" as I'm pretty sure that Bob willingly acquiesced to all questionable judgments in this sad tale).

I had mapped out two different ways to ride to Wall. One was 60 miles and pretty much a direct shot due East that hewed fairly closely to the Interstate (I-90), with the advantage of shorter mileage and plenty of refueling options along the way, but with the disadvantage of not promising much scenery.

The other was longer, at 78 miles, but by heading Southeast, would hit Sage Creek Road on the Western edge of the Badlands. That was enticing because that is the road the Park materials direct you to for the greatest chance of seeing wildlife (e.g., bison), and it might enable us to cut a day from our itinerary (as I mentioned in a prior post, we're kind of racing to get to Minneapolis by August 4th to meet our wives, who have already committed to the airfare). The reason is that my direct route contemplated spending two nights in Wall, and using Day 1 to do a shortish, 30 mile loop out to the West along Sage Creek Road, and Day 2 to do the fuller Badlands Loop road, on Route 240, out to the East. So if we could sneak in Sage Creek Road on our way in to Wall, we could dispense with Day 1. The downside? Well, 78 is a lot of miles, the services along the way were questionable (one store definitely existed at the 23 mile mark, but it was not clear if a trading post in Scenic, SD, at the 43 mile mark, still was in operation) and, perhaps most damning, Sage Creek Road is all gravel -- 22 miles of it!

So, being the sensible guys we are, the night before we decided (after a fair amount of waffling) to do the direct 60 mile route. The gravel at the end of the day on the longer route was pretty influential in our thinking.

So we headed out today from Rapid on a nice bike path, pretty soon hit the frontage road for I-90 and, after about 10 miles came to Old US Highway 14, which was going to be our main road East to Wall, mostly paralleling I-90. Ho hum. Unfortunately, Highway 14, not withstanding the innocuous "Old" before it that promised (at least to this mind) little use and slow going, was a busy, 65 mph, 4 lane divided highway with no shoulder. Oops. Well, how long would we have to be on it? Maybe we could "finesse" it. Oh. 27 miles. With another 10 miles after brief interludes on other roads.

That looked ugly -- in fact, so ugly that I think it caused our brains to misfire (if you must have a scientific explanation). We consulted Google Maps, and saw that it was not too late to cut South and hit up with the main road (Route 44) that was the basis of the 78 mile option. If we first backtracked about a mile. So we did that. With very little discussion. And with even less thinking about the distance, the gravel or the lack of services. Just that very ugly "Old" Highway 14 blotting out all rational calculation.

It didn't take long to realize that, gosh, this might be a mistake. First, by not taking the 78 mile route from the start, we ended up taking two sides of a triangle to get back to it, which added about 7 miles to the ride -- turning it into an 85 mile day. Second, because we thought we were taking the shorter route, we got a relatively late start to the day, at around 8:30. We would have been on the road at around 7:00, if not earlier, if we had decided in advance on the longer route. And third, it quickly became wickedly hot. It was 102 degrees by the time we straggled into Scenic at around 1:30 (now representing the 50 mile mark of our day).

Fortunately, Scenic -- although it doesn't appear to have much of anything else -- has an open Post Office (with air conditioning) and a functioning well water pump outside where we could refill our water bottles. The trading post also existed, and was open -- although based on its stock of the oddest knick knacks, one has to wonder for how long. There, however, we partook of their small supply of ice cream sandwiches and lemonade to refresh ourselves a little, and pondered our options.

We could ride 35 more miles in the blazing heat. With 22 miles of it on gravel. We asked the trading post owner how bad was the gravel? Oh, there's no way I would ride a bike on it, she said. We asked the postal clerk the same thing. That would be crazy on your bikes, she said. Hmmm. The pickup option -- yes, the truck kind again -- began looming in our minds. That is, if we could figure out how to manage it in this desolate little town (whose population size might have given Ingomar a run for the money).

The trading post owner, Kim, kindly called her brother-in-law, Tom, for us, since he had a pickup, but when he finally showed up to suss out the situation it was clear that (a) he didn't really want to drive to Wall for us and (b) we wouldn't be able to get our bikes in the pickup bed with all the paraphernalia he had in it. But while we were waiting on Tom, the trading post received an actual live customer, who arrived in a pickup truck with an empty bed. Hmmm.

It turns out that our savior (this time) was named Ryan, a supervisor with the South Dakota DOT, working on the endless amount of road repaving in the State (did I mention that the last 10 miles into Scenic was all through road construction that forced us to ride on recently-tarred, melting in the heat, tarmac that I was sure was going to make my tires explode?). Turns out Ryan was on a break, is an avid mountain biker and took pity on us foolish road bikers. He couldn't drive us all the way to Wall because he still had to get back on the job, and he also shouldn't be seen giving us a ride in a DOT truck, but he could get us most of the way there, at least past the gravel. And he did exactly that -- dropping us off about 8 miles outside of Wall (just before another work zone where it wouldn't have been cool for him to be seen giving us a lift). Thanks, Ryan! You were a life-saver today. And, for those keeping score, Ryan (like Monte in the pickup adventure before him) also refused any "gas" money. I think Bob and I are accumulating a lot of paying it forward to do.

As for the gravel road? Well, the only wildlife we saw were prairie dogs. But it was definitely rideable and not as bad as some we've encountered to date. But 22 miles of it, in that heat, with our degree of tiredness, would not have been fun or particularly safe. And as for the town of Wall, the thought of spending two nights in it quickly became relatively unappealing after spending about 10 minutes in it (notwithstanding the famous Wall Drug store that still offers the free water and 5 cent coffee that got it started). So it will be one day in the Badlands after all, and we'll do the main Route 240 loop starting bright and early tomorrow.

Here are today's route and metrics (the straight line, which is not included in the mileage, represents the "gap" where Ryan gave us a lift):