DeSmet to Watertown, SD

Today was our most beautiful and enjoyable ride in several days. The wind was either very calm, or at times even provided a nice tailwind. The route was short at sixty miles, and took us away from the main highways that we have been on lately and onto less-travelled country roads. And it was mostly flat.

Our first water stop, at mile seventeen, was placed at the Park View Care Center in the town of Bryant. This is a Cycle America tradition; the staff and residents look forward to their visit every year, and provide home-baked snacks. I spoke to one of the residents for several minutes, a gentlemen named Errol who is a retired wheat and flax farmer. He has five children, ten grandchildren, and ten great-grandchildren, most of them still living in the eastern South Dakota region.

Our lunch stop at mile 37 was in the town of Hayti. I rode mostly with Bruce again today, although since it was an easy day, we ran into lots of other riders, both at lunch and on the route. We covered the last twenty-three miles after lunch pretty quickly, and were in Watertown by noon.

With a population around 20,000, Watertown is the largest city that we have visited since Rapid City a week ago. We took a few extra minutes to ride around the downtown area and explore, including the two local bike shops, then headed to the middle school to set up camp. After I got showered, I gathered up the trainer (I had boxed it up a few days ago), and walked to the post office to mail it home. On the way, a nice elderly woman noticed that I was carrying a big box, and offered me a ride to the post office, which I was grateful for. After I took care of the mailing, I wandered around town a bit more, then stopped at the microbrewery (I had arranged to meet a few people there at 3:00pm). As I walked in, I noticed a few bikes on the deck; Colleen, both Matts (Iowa and Aussie), Scott, Kira, Molly, and Marisa had stopped while still on their way in from the ride. I had a stout while I sat with them; as they were leaving, Robert and Bruce showed up, so I had a Valkyrie Red with them. I walked back to the school and caught up on e-mail to kill time before dinner. After dinner and Tour Talk, we had a group picture of all the riders and staff.

A few of us got ready to ride our bikes back down to the brewery. About halfway there, my right pedal suddenly fell apart. The spindle was still attached to the crank, but the pedal body was laying on the street. As matter of fact, this exact same thing had happened to David Butler last week, just before the 2.5-mile climb to the lunch stop on the Needles Highway. He had the same pedals as I did, the Crank Brothers Candy SL. So I rode left-footed back to the school, and went straight to where Jeremy was at work by the mechanic’s trailer. Luckily, after the trouble David had, Jeremy had ordered a spare set of Shimano pedals, so I took those and had them swapped onto my bike (and the cleats switched on my shoes) in about thirty minutes. I decided not to head back into town afterwards, and just hung around the school and relaxed.

Miller to DeSmet, SD

Today was the first day that we were forced to start the ride in the rain. It was a welcome change to me, though, as it wasn’t raining too hard, and it kept the sun and heat away for the first twenty or so miles of the ride.

The lunch stop was in the town of Huron, in a park under a nice picnic shelter. It didn’t start getting very hot until the last fifteen or so miles into De Smet. The terrain was mostly flat; there was some headwind, but nowhere near as much as yesterday. I rode the whole day with Bruce. Just at the De Smet town line, we met Laura from Illinois, who is with the tour just for the week. The three of us stopped for ice cream at the local Dairy Queen, where we saw Molly and Marisa doing the same. While everyone else headed on to the high school, I took a few extra minutes to explore the small downtown area.

De Smet is notable as the home of Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of “Little House on the Prairie.”

After dinner at the school, I walked back into town with Laura, Lynette (the oboe player from California), Bruce, Brian, and David Butler. We stopped to look at the Ingalls house on the way, then had a quick beer at the Dugout Lounge.

Pierre to Miller, SD

Miles 0 through 23: Cool, calm, overcast, pleasant. We pass the cross-country half-way mark.

Miles 24 through 45: Headwinds start; extremely difficult going 7 mph. Euphoric but brief tailwind for 0.2 miles as we make a hard-right into the lunch stop.

Miles 46 through 64: Headwinds continue. We pass a windmill farm — so, these winds must go on all the time.

Mile 65: Oasis for ice cream at the Frosty Freeze in the town of Highmore. Chocolate and banana cyclone…mmmmm…

Miles 66 through 88: Headwinds continue until we arrive, spent, in Miller.

Rest day in Pierre, SD

I got a good nine hours of sleep last night, then got up at 8:00 as a few of us loaded up our laundry on our bikes and rode towards town to the laundromat. While a clothes spun, I got breakfast at the Country Kitchen with Robert, Bruce, and Colin (and where we happened to see our waitress from Jack’s). After I took my laundry back to camp, I rode back into town to check out the local bike shop, but unfortunately, it was closed on Sunday. I rode to the edge of town, and picked up a few necessities at the Wal-Mart, including a six-pack cooler and some bungee cords that I am going to use as a poor-man’s trunk rack bag. I went across the street to check out the small local mall just for laughs, where I got myself a personal mushroom pizza for lunch. Then I headed to the local library to catch up on e-mail and journal typing.

Philip to Pierre, SD

We awoke to a rainstorm this morning, which delayed some of the folks who usually like to get a very early start, but the rain cleared and I got going around 7:15 with Meg, Brian, and Robert after the usual 6:30 breakfast in the schoolhouse. The clouds hung around for a while, which thankfully kept the morning a little cooler than usual.

The rolling farmlands continued. The scenery that these provide can be spectacular at times, but the long 53-mile march to lunch in the village of Hayes was probably the slowest stretch that I have done to date. The remaining 37 miles to Pierre seemed to take even longer. As we crossed the Missouri River into Pierrre, we also crossed into the Central Time Zone, our third time zone on the tour so far.

Pierre is a pleasant little city, the second-smallest state capital in the nation (the first being Montpelier, Vermont). We stayed at the Indian Learning Center, a comfortable place, but unfortunately on the edge of town, a couple miles from the town center. Most of us walked to Jack’s, another steakhouse, for dinner, because it was the closest place in walking distance.

Interior to Philip, SD

A gear problem this morning – as I was taking my tent down, one of the poles snapped in half. I had to cut the stretch cord inside in order to get it out of the tent’s pole sleeve.

We went to the A&M Cafe once again for breakfast, then proceeded into the entrance of Badlands National Park just outside of town. Twenty-nice miles of our router went through the heart of the Badlands. The road was a lot more hilly than I had remembered from driving through it ten years ago, but the scenery was as amazing as I remembered.

As we exited the Badlands, we entered the town of Wall, home of the infamous Wall Drug Store, where Bruce and I stopped for milk shakes. I also picked up a tent pole repair kit. Our lunch stop was at the nearby community park. It was another 32 miles of rolling farmland until we reached Philip, for a total of 71 miles for the day. Bruce, David Butler, Jane, and I stopped at a convenience store on the main corner of town for a quick refreshment, then proceeded up the block to Philip High School.

Dinner, Tour Talk, and the weekly awards ceremony were at The Steakhouse Restaurant and Lounge. Meg and Brian presented me with a bouncing ball, in honor of my bouncing back onto the tour after my injury.

Back at the school, Colin helped me figure out how to fix my tent pole. The metal sleeve of the repair kit I bought did not fit my tent pole, but Colin had one in his kit that fit. Replacing the strech cord and getting the pole segments back together was like a Rubik’s Cube puzzle, but once you do it once, you will get the secret…

Rapid City to Interior, SD

The day started out with a five-mile ride from the school to downtown Rapid City for breakfast at a diner called Tally’s. After finishing my blueberry pancakes, I headed out of town on my own.

What a difference a day makes. We are definitely out of the mountains now and into the Great Plains. The terrain was mostly flat with gentle slopes, surrounded by farm and ranch land. There was a nice tailwind for a while, too. I eventually caught up to Brian and Meg, and later, Bruce caught up to us, and we made pretty good time to the lunch stop in the little village known as Scenic.

The afternoon sun turned up the heat, the wind was much less in our favor, and the land turned more desert-like, including a two-mile stretch of the Badlands. By the end of the 84-mile route, the would turn out to be my most difficult day of riding to date.

When we reached the remote town of Interior, we stopped at the A&M Cafe for what the Cycle America staff reported to be the best pie in the country. After my slice of blueberry pie ala mode, I had to agree.

It was another four miles past town to arrive at the Badlands KOA, our camp for the night. Despite some rare and much-welcome shade trees, the campground still had a dusty, desolate feel to it, as the oppressive heat hung in the air until late in the evening, and a warm wind kept tent domes flapping.

We shuttled in the vans back to the A&M Cafe for dinner. With about 50 cyclists and about a dozen locals vying for 44 table settings, it was a bit chaotic. Some of us joined up with locals at their tables, and the wait staff was friendly and efficient, so it all worked out in the end.

Back at camp, Molly and Marisa rented one of the KOA Kozy Kabins for the night, so they hosted an informal get-together outside their cabin. It turned into a haircut party, as Richard broke out his $15 Wal-Mart clippers and went to work on Ted and Brian, and Alis used them on Bruce and Peter. Some were more satisfied with the results than others…

Custer to Rapid City, SD

A spectacular ride today; I am glad that I am feeling well enough to have done it. We headed out of Custer on the Needles Highway, which leads past Sylvan Lake Resort, Cathedral Spires and other rock formations, and through several one-lane tunnels cut through the sides of the mountains. Later, the Norbeck Scenic Parkway showed far-away views of Mt. Rushmore, and curved through pig-tail spiral bridges. There were more killer climbs and descents than we could count, including a two-mile climb up a 10% grade to get to Mt. Rushmore. The final 20 miles were seemingly endless rolling hills, finally leading to Southwest Middle School in Rapid City, for a total of 71 miles for the day.

This is my second day of not taking of of the painkillers, and I’ve felt fine, so I’m taking that as a good sign. I did feel pretty exhausted during that final 20 miles, but I found out later that was the case for everyone. Some people who came in later were caught in a hailstorm.

Dinner at the school was catered by the local Great Wall Chinese Restaurant. The showers were nice and hot.

Newcastle, WY to Custer, SD

I got on the road with Brian, Meg, Bruce, and Robert around 7:30am, after breakfast at the Senior Center. (Robert had decided to stick it out and stay with the tour, riding the short days or partial days as best he could.) The route took us finally out of Wyoming and into South Dakota. Several rolling hills and gradual climbs took us into the Black Hills National Forest, and to Jewel Cave National Monument, where we took a tour of the caves. Then, it was a short twelve-mile ride into the town of Custer, where we camped at the Flintstones Campground. Even though the mileage was shorter (38.5) than the partial day I rode yesterday (43 miles), it felt good to have the first full day of riding under my belt since the crash. There was an optional six-mile loop up to the Crazy Horse Monument; I would like to have seen it, but felt I had done enough riding for the day. My legs and shoulder felt fine, but with the cold, I felt my lungs weren’t working at full capacity. But the group I was riding with enjoys frequent site-seeing stops, so the pace was good for me.

Dinner was at the Elk Canyon Steakhouse in town. I stopped for a coffee with a few other people afterwards. Most people turned in to their tents early, because as I am writing this, another spectacular thunderstorm is heading our way.

Devils Tower to Newcastle, WY

I felt pretty good when I woke up at 5:30am, so I decided to ride the first half of the route, which was about 43 miles. I got dressed in my bike gear, packed up the tent and everything else, then got to breakfast at the KOA diner by about 6:30. I headed out on the ride by 7:15 with David Butler, Jane, and Jane’s partner John, who came in from England to join us for this week of the tour. John also happens to be the National Time Trial Champion of England for the 50-60 age group. At the first water stop, I hung back and rode the rest of the way to lunch with Meg, Brian, and Bruce. I still felt pretty good at lunch, like I could have done the remaining 32 miles of the route, but decided to stick to my plan to play it safe. I caught a ride into Newcastle with Ryan driving the second SAG van.

Our dinner and overnight was at the Weston County Senior Center. The air conditioning was the best we had seen so far, but there were issues with the hot water once again. I was glad later that I had decided not to bike the rest of the way in, as I felt pretty tired in the van, plus I seem to have caught a cold. I heard a couple of other people mention having it, but everyone seems to not want to talk about it for fear of being blamed for passing it around.

I am now able to floss my teeth again for the first time since the accident.