Post script regarding our 4th of July evening: Waiting in line to get a pre-dinner drink from the Ranch bar, we met our first outspoken and extremely rude Trump supporters, a couple from South Carolina.
We wished him a happy 4th of July which turned on a hostile faucet. A sampling of things said by them:
Government screws everything up.
What did he like about Trump? Everything.
When I said that I’m from California, she said, “I’m so sorry.”
California should secede from the country – the country would be so much better off.
She said that when she came home as a Democrat from college to her Republican parents, her father said that it is was a good thing to be a Democrat for a while to develop some heart, but that by age 25, she should become a Republican to show that she has brains.
When talking about how divided our country is, he said that we need a good war to unite us.
Ironically she said that our country needs less hate.
The fireworks display later in the evening was also unusual. The fireworks were coordinated with a radio station which played ominous / apocalyptic music (not one traditional patriotic song – the closest the music came to being “patriotic” was a country music song about America kicking some ass) – very strange.
Moving on: the good news – there are very few mosquitoes as we’re now in a drier part of the country; the bad news – it’s HOT (90 to 100+ degrees). “Lucky us” – South Dakota is having a notable heat wave… Thank goodness for our trailer’s air conditioner.
Just as we had sorted out our systems, it’s time for new systems to be sorted out to allow for really early morning starts.
Root beer floats are my go to refreshment on these hot days – it’s my childhood in a glass (my family had root beer floats / black cows in the hot summer evenings in Illinois).
Robins have been really common. They are my childhood in a bird – growing up in Illinois, we eagerly looked for the return of the robins to mark the beginning of spring.
Beyond getting stronger on my e-bike, I’m maintaining my upper body and core strength from the process of emptying out half of the van to put my bike into the van, to then putting everything back into the van around the bike. Staying strong!
After Clearmont, we moved to Gillette, Wyoming – where there is a large surface coal mining operation. In the evening, we enjoyed stops at a brewery and a meadery (mead is an alcoholic drink made from honey, yeast, and water – a lovely aperitif).
The meadery owner shared a couple of interesting comments: that he had moved back to Gillette from Seattle as he loved the wide open spaces (Wyoming’s population of 600,000 is less than San Francisco’s population); he had not voted for Trump – but that if Hillary had won and closed down the coal mine that it would have done in the town.
As we left Gillette on July 6, I opted to go on a two-hour coal mine tour instead of cycling (on another very hot day). The map below shows where coal is located in the US. The light green zones here in Wyoming have low sulfur coal that Phil, the tour guide, said is in high demand. The east coast has the underground mines; this area has surface mines – no one is going underground. The black dots show where there are coal burning power plants – virtually none are along the West Coast.
A surface coal mine is exactly that – the mining involves blasting and moving soil from the top of the coal seams, then blasting and hauling the coal in giant bed trucks to a machine that crushes it into 2 inch pieces where it is loaded onto train cars and delivered to power plants.
After a coal seam has been fully mined (which has devastated the area), the mining company is required to restore the land with native vegetation, alfalfa crops, etc. Phil said that the monitoring by the EPA and environmentalists was key to the good outcomes; without the monitoring, he felt that industry would cut corners.
After the mine tour, I then drove to Devils Tower National Monument to rendezvous with Howard and Doug Donaldson (our good friend from the Bay Area who grew up in South Dakota and is joining us for two weeks on the road, ending in Minneapolis). Devils Tower is a sacred place to Native Americans – Junkyu Muto, a Japanese artist, created the Wind Circle (“Sacred Circle of Smoke”) as his third sculpture in the world for world peace (The Vatican and place where Buddha was born were the first two sites).
Devils Tower NM is also home to a large prairie dog town – such cute animals with a social structure and language.
Having grown up in South Dakota, Doug is giving us a personalized tour of the beautiful Black Hills area and Rapid City; Prairie Edge is an amazing store with Native American art, beads, furniture;
AND we’ve been able to join his extended family at their beautiful place on the banks of Rapid Creek for two nights of camping – absolutely gorgeous place and generous people.
The rides from Clearmont to Gillette (68 miles) and from Gillette to Devil’s Tower (63 miles) were hot, hot, HOT. The scenery was mostly dreary and uninteresting. Riding in 98 degree weather is not a great idea under any circumstance, but add in some major climbs and it is downright grim.
Still, I broke up the rides with cool-down stops in some cafes along the route,
and still had enough gas in the tank to ride another 79 miles from Devil’s Tower to Newell, SD, on Friday (with a high of a mere 94 degrees). The hot weather ahead of us on the trip will dictate early starts each day – by 6:00 AM or 7:00 AM at the latest.
As Wendy noted, Gillette is one of the centers of Wyoming’s coal industry. Wyoming produces nearly 40% of the nation’s coal, which I found surprising.
Cycling by these open pit mines and seeing mile-long coal trains is an interesting experience. At one point, I had to pull to the side of the road to make way for a truck transporting a new coal truck bed that spanned almost two entire lanes of the highway.
The ride to Newell from Devil’s Tower was quite scenic, and included several small towns – Hulett and Aladdin, WY, and Belle Fourche, SD — that were great places to take snack and lunch breaks.
Turns out that Belle Fourche is the geographical center of the United States (including Hawaii and Alaska).
The roads in SD are not quite up to the standards of OR, ID, or WY, and the state road department tends to hide the rumble strips in very narrow shoulders with an outboard gradient. Still, I think they will be okay for cycling.
It was great to have Doug for the initial ride into South Dakota, and it has been a wonderful respite to visit his very generous and affable relatives in Rapid City. He is a long-time river rafting friend (first trip was in 1980), and one of my original cycling buddies when I took up serious recreational riding a dozen years ago. He is a strong cyclist. I will appreciate his companionship every long mile across the South Dakota prairie and all the way to Minneapolis over the next 9 days.
I have now cycled over 1500 miles since the trip began. Wendy has cycled over 550 miles.
Note: Drew has just taught us how to post higher resolution photos – we have just linked all of our photos. You can click any photo that you’d like to see full screen. Thanks, Drew!