C2C Day 26 – Chamberlain to Mitchell SD

The World’s Only Corn Palace lay beckoning at our ending destination today. So I loaded up on corn chips and rode a nice tailwind for 73 miles to the town of Mitchell, South Dakota.

That’s fellow rider Wally in the photo with me. The Corn Place 2019 salute to military theme was perfectly appropriate for Wally, a retired military veteran who served in Afghanistan and the Persian Gulf. After the photo, we crossed the street to an ice cream shop, dodging the 100+ degree heat index. It was a hot and humid ride into Mitchell – I was wondering if those corn murals might start exploding into popcorn.

The Mitchell Corn Palace is actually an operational arena for all sorts of events – from theater to concerts to sports (home of the Mitchell Kernels). The constantly changing corn theme also makes it a tourist destination, attracting 500,000 people annually. Ingenious.

On the way, I passed through the town of Pukwana – home of lawnmower races every Friday and Saturday night. The race track happens to be right next to the Puk-U bar. Like many odd-ball sporting events, my guess is this one started at the bar… “I’ll bet you a beer my new lawnmower is faster than yours”.

This part of South Dakota has been decimated with heavy rains and flooding this year. Standing water covers many low spots, and whole fields of crops have been laid waste by excess moisture. Frogs seem to enjoy the wetness – except for those unfortunate ones who venture onto the hot road. And for the cows – swimming!

Tomorrow marks the final leg of this 2019 segment. Could be an adventurous wrap-up, as the forecast calls for thunderstorms. Stay tuned.

~Dan

C2C Day 25 – Murdo to Chamberlain SD

A hot and humid 73 miles into the town of Chamberlain. I recall doing a similar late July ride across Iowa where a favorite saying was “It’s not the heat, it’s the stupidity”. A high dewpoint made for some foggy glasses. Thankfully, morning clouds kept temperatures somewhat tolerable.

Most of the day was spent on an old, little used highway that runs between train tracks and interstate. Quiet and peaceful. Green and wet from heavy spring snow and rain. Some singing birds and an occasional rumble of farm machinery.

Vivian, Presho, Kennebec, Reliance and Oacoma were named places on the way. Some towns only have a building or two – some occupied, some abandoned, and some you just can’t tell.

Eventually, the turning wheels came upon a wide Missouri river and our destination town of Chamberlain across an old steel bridge.

Fried chicken and pot roast for dinner at the Anchor Grille & Shipwreck Lounge where Margie has been serving hungry cyclists since 2001. She is a favorite regular stop on the yearly tour, and most of us will be stopping in for breakfast tomorrow morning to fuel up for another day of riding.

~Dan

C2C Day 24 – Wall to Murdo SD

A memorable 100 mile day. A morning ride through the other-worldly Badlands National Park. And an afternoon celebration and photo-op at the halfway point on this coast-to-coast trip.

Pictures capture only a slight sense of magnitude of Badlands Park. An otherwise open grass prairie suddenly has it’s underbelly exposed in layers of geologic rock strata and spires. A windy road magically weaves a path over awesome vistas, then descends through rocky canyons that you can almost reach out and touch. One of the best bike rides I’ve ever experienced, and certainly a highlight of the tour.

Even some bighorn sheep were enjoying the morning views.

Reluctantly bidding adieu to the Badlands, the second half of today’s ride was a straight easterly shot over rolling South Dakota hills. Rollers after rollers. And then more rollers. Until suddenly, between two hills, I triumphantly came upon the halfway point of this cycling journey from Oregon to New Hampshire. Time for a little celebration:

A strong crosswind from the south eventually turned somewhat favorable for the final 20 miles into the metropolis of Murdo (population 452). A friendly hearty dinner at the Murdo Drive-in, and it’s back in the saddle tomorrow. Oh, and we lost an hour crossing into the Central time zone today. I better get some rest!

~Dan

C2C Day 23 – Rapid City to Wall SD

Have you been to Wall Drug? It’s about 58 miles east of Rapid City, by bike. If you are unable to make it to Disneyland, Wall Drug is a close second. Or maybe a very distant second. A tourist mecca built around the concept of free ice water.

All the rivers on the tour this year have been running high and strong. Rapid Creek, which flows through Rapid City, was no exception. We had to make a few bike path water detours on our way out of town in the morning.

The worlds smallest biker bar happens to be in New Underwood South Dakota (according to the locals). Along with the other Dan on the tour, we were going to stop in to celebrate our Dan-ness – but alas, the bar wasn’t open. I’m not sure there was enough room inside for the two us anyway.

We did some riding on the Interstate highway today. I-90 offers a nice wide shoulder, and traffic was not too heavy. Even so, it’s not the most relaxing bike ride. It was only for about 10 miles, with a nice rest area for a quick bio stop.

A wicked thunderstorm is rolling through Wall as I write this. Evening storms are fine. Let’s hope it clears out by daybreak, for tomorrow, we ride through the badlands.

~Dan

C2C Day 22 – Hot Springs to Rapid City SD

An action-packed 74 miles through the Black Hills today, including a memorable visit to Mount Rushmore.

The day started with a ride-by photo of Evans Plunge, a mineral water park that brought back good memories from my three boys. They stopped here to swim and plunge after dropping me off in Iowa for a prior bike ride (RAGBRAI 2012).

Then it was a steady climb up to Wind Cave National Park. Appropriately, a strong morning headwind welcomed us to the park, along with roaming bison and chirpy prairie dogs. Compared to their city cousins that reside in crowded barren patches along the Bear Creek trail back home in Denver, these rural prairie dogs have more room to spread out and better grass to munch on. I guess the downside for these rural dwellers is they are farther away from the downtown action, and they have to watch out for big clumsy buffaloes.

More climbing up to Crazy Horse monument. It’s still under construction and in need of funding, despite the fact that I bought a donation rock while visiting here as a kid 40 years ago (I’m not sure whatever happened to that rock?). Hopefully, this will one day be a spectacular memorial to the Sioux warrior from the Black Hills who lead the defeat of Custer at the Battle of Little Big Horn.

Onward to Mount Rushmore. My rolling hills approach from the backside of the monument was cooled by a mountain shower that seemed to follow me for about 10 miles. It was wet, but also refreshing and exhilarating.

Then, a pleasant surprise was awaiting at Mount Rushmore. Among the throngs of tourists (who gave us spandex-clad cyclists an odd glance), I came across a person who worked on the monument as a driller. Nick Clifford was sitting quietly at a small table in the gift shop with his wife. Stunningly, nobody seemed to notice them – so I walked up and met an authentic man with amazing first-hand stories of excavating Mount Rushmore. Out of the million or so questions I could have asked him – the first one that came to mind was “What kind of drill did you use”? Mostly Jackhammers, was the answer. Turns out Nick was a fine baseball player, and helped the Rushmore Memorial Baseball Team advance to the State Tournament two years in a row. So the second question I asked was “What position did you play?”. Pitcher and Right Field. In part because of his baseball prowess, he was hired to be a Rushmore worker in 1938 at the age of 17.

Mr. Clifford signed a baseball card for me, as well as a small book that answers over a hundred questions that he regularly gets about being a Mount Rushmore worker. It was a true pleasure to meet Nick and his wife Carolyn.

Then, with a signed book and card in the back of my cycling jersey (way better than any Mount Rushmore trinket!), I made the mostly downhill trek into the town of Rapid City where we’ll spend the night. A great day.

~Dan

C2C Day 21 – Lusk WY to Hot Springs SD

Crossed into my 4th state today on this coast-to-coast bicycle journey: South Dakota. Great Faces, Great Places. Since we travel from west to east, our obligatory state line pictures are mostly backlit. So, Dark Faces, Bright Places might be a better catch phrase.

Today started off cloudy. Light rain tried to fall, but it mostly evaporated before making it to the ground. Just a few scattered wet miles that helped keep the road cool.

Approaching a bluff, I witnessed something I hadn’t seen in several days… a pine tree. And then a few more. Trees! Evidently, pine trees are able to survive in a few sheltered places on the Wyoming prairie. Enthralled, I pulled into an overlook to snap a picture and take in the view.

But then, the trees were gone – replaced by wide open fields and signs for Wall Drug. If you’ve been within a 500 mile radius of Wall Drug, then you’ve seen these signs. Saturation marketing at it’s finest. In a few more days, we actually have an overnight stay in the town of Wall. Given that our finishing temperature today was 96 degrees, I’m really looking forward to that free ice water at Wall Drug.

Tomorrow, we cycle through the Black Hills to see those famous South Dakota faces carved into Mount Rushmore. Looking forward to it.

~Dan

C2C Day 20 – Casper to Lusk WY

106 desolate miles from Casper to Lusk. With a fairly strong headwind to boot. Today’s ride provided ample evidence for why Wyoming is the least populous state. And Lusk (population 1,543) happens to reside in the least populous county in Wyoming (Niobrara County).

A highlight of the day was passing through the town of Lost Springs, population 4. I counted two trucks parked at the town Bar – so it seems likely that at least half the town was in the bar when I rode through.

Oh, another highlight was the 3-Sisters truck stop. ‘If he’s lopen we’re open’ reads the sign – and the horse was indeed lopen, so I stopped in for a slice of rhubarb pie. Delicious! It provided a nice energy boost for the final 10 miles into Lusk.

And wouldn’t you know it, yet another highlight was awaiting in Lusk – the annual Rawhide Days Parade. Most of the town was in the parade, so our bicycling crew made up a vast majority of the parade viewers. If the rest of the folks from Lost Springs would have attended (those not at the bar), parade viewership would have noticeably increased. Cowboys, Indians, Fire Trucks, Tow Trucks, Flat Bed Trucks, and the town sheriff – your typical Wyoming summer parade. And for what it’s worth, the parade Indians seemed to be having way more fun than the parade Cowboys. I’m not sure what to make of that.

So, plenty of great highlights despite the desolation. Sometimes, the journey is what you make of it!

~Dan

C2C Day 19 – Casper Wyoming

A day off in Casper today. A welcome rest for the legs and butt.

It seems most of the action in Casper is right here at our hotel. The Wyoming state softball tournament is in progress, so hoards of uniform-clad teenage girls are sprawled about. And then there is another hoard of much older ladies with bright orange T-shirts proclaiming each of them proud members of a traveling motorcycle clan called ‘Women on Wheels’. I’m not sure which group is louder. Our bicycling armada usually takes over a hotel, but here at the Casper Ramkota, we are totally outnumbered.

My wanderings around Casper brought back an old memory. As I did a double-take at the two-story brick office building next door to the hotel, I positively recognized it as the former Casper division office site for Conoco. I worked as a software developer for Conoco back in the early 90s, and visited the Casper office a few times. The building looks pretty much the same – with just a few newer buildings up the hill side. Crazy to think I’ve arrived back here by bike, nearly 30 years later.

I also ran into Mike Lansing field, home of the Casper Ghosts minor league baseball team. A Wyoming native, Lansing was a popular major league baseball player for the Montreal Expos and Colorado Rockies. The cozy ballpark is nestled along the North Platte river.

A visit to a downtown book store, art museum, and western-wear shop rounded out my Casper experience. A full day here is plenty. Back to the busy hotel to rest up for another 100+ mile day.

~Dan

C2C Day 18 – Riverton to Casper WY

At 120 miles, today’s ride is the longest of the tour. So an early start of 6:30 makes good sense. Riding into a bright sunrise, I made an early scenic stop at Boysen State Park, casting a long morning shadow in the picture below:

SAG (Support And Gear) stops are set up every 30 miles or so for filling up water bottles and grabbing some food. On a long ride, it’s essential to stay hydrated and well nourished. A cyclist can burn over 8,000 calories on a ride like this. SAG stops are also great for mid-ride chats and check-ins with fellow riders.

Pace-line groups also tend to form on long rides – groups of similar-speed cyclists that draft off one-another to help preserve energy. I fell in with a steady group of 3 other cyclists today, forming a team-traverse across the wide open Wyoming landscape. Winds were light and the pace was high – until a dreaded flat tire brought us to a halt. No worries, a collaborative group fix and we were back at it… until about 2 miles later when a second flat struck the same rider’s other tire. Double rotten luck!

Eventually we made it to an interesting geological feature in the middle of endless sagebrush prairie, named Hell’s Half Acre. It’s a buffalo-jump site, where native Americans would stampede unsuspecting bison over cliffs and into a ‘pit of misery’.

And speaking of misery, our cursed rider would be rewarded with yet another flat about 13 miles from Casper. Triple rotten luck! But it didn’t dampen our spirits much, as a nice tail wind developed during the second half of our ride and more than made up for the time we lost fixing tires.

After a 120 mile day, we are rewarded with a day off tomorrow. I’m looking forward to sleeping in and giving my legs a well-deserved break.

~Dan

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