We are excited – and amazed – to see that we are almost half way across the continent. We have definitely left the West behind – and are now in the Midwest with its generally flat terrain (with gentle rolling hills). Without mountains, forested areas, and major buildings, we have been really enjoying the “big skies.”
The amount of open space is astounding – we can really see how someone who lives here in South Dakota would find San Francisco (and other cities) oppressive and over-congested.
Forests and the open range are gone; gorgeous farmlands abound with corn (“knee high by the 4th of July,” according to our friend, Doug), soybeans, wheat, hay, and corn.
We have just passed through a drought region of South Dakota. The dry farm crops that rely only on rain are very stunted.
Winds! South Dakota almost always has wind, often quite strong – which fortunately has mostly worked for the eastward cycling direction. When I turn back to cycle back to the van and trailer, I often experience headwinds – but no problem with my e-bike (I just add more assist if needed). At Devils Tower, a storm front moved in – starting with extreme enough wind to blow our two-burner propane stove right off of the picnic table.
I continue to enjoy the cycling each travel day, loving the smells – wildflowers, newly mown hay; and loving being alone in the middle of such open space when I stop on my return trip back to move the van and trailer.
Traffic has generally been very light, though much of the traffic is HUGE equipment and/or loads. Courteous drivers continue to give us a wide berth when passing.
Due to a forecast of extreme heat (104 degrees for just one day), we adjusted our itinerary so that we could resume cycling on a “cooler” day (“only” 97 and 98 degrees for the following days). To pick up cycling where we left off before our side trip to Rapid City, we returned to Newell, South Dakota – enjoying a tour by Doug of the Black Hills, Sturgis (site of a major motorcycle festival),
and Bear Butte (another prominent mountain that is sacred to the Native Americans).
For the 97 and 98 degree days, our mornings began at 5:30 and 5:00 respectively in order to ride some major miles in the cooler morning hours. I, for one, rarely see sunrises – we were greeted by a gorgeous dawn on our first early rise morning.
Still, this put Howard and Doug cycling into the hot afternoons. Again, thank goodness for our trailer and its air conditioning – instead of sitting around a campfire in camp, we holed up to “sit around the air conditioning,” eating, trip planning, and sleeping inside with the AC (as the evening cooled down a bit, Doug moved to the tent to sleep).
We have discovered that many of the small towns have very nice camping in the main city park with electric hookups for RVs (Faith and Faulkton so far; Montevideo in a few days) – amazing to see that it works without people taking advantage of this free / very low cost camping option.
Faulkton has a public swimming pool – it felt like childhood revisited to ride our bikes (without helmets) from our camp site to the pool, swim and shower there, ride our bikes to a nearby café for a root beer float and milkshake – and then finally back to camp. A really fun afternoon – and we even needed jackets in the evening and following morning!
Other than in national parks, it has been very surprising to find that there are no recycling programs in any of the states we’ve been through (including Oregon, which I had thought was the first to recycle) – and to have plastic bags in stores (so MANY plastic bags!).
We got a reprieve from the heat today (high temp of 79 / 80 degrees – lovely!), so we enjoyed sleeping in as well as cooler temps for cycling. The forecast shows that the temperature will climb almost 20 degrees tomorrow (for the next 5 days)…
The beauty of the plains is of a very subtle variety, in contrast to the breathtaking Western scenery we left behind after the Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming. Endless vistas of a mostly flat landscape are filled with cloud-studded skies over fields of hay, wheat, or corn in gradations of gold, yellow, and green.
Population is sparse across South Dakota, as it was in the states we traveled through, but towns are few and far between in most of this state.
Livestock definitely outnumber humans by a wide margin here.
We faced a choice on Tuesday – ride to Eagle Butte (42 miles) in the center of the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation, with no camping options and minimalist hotels, or push on eastward as far as we could and possible rely on Wendy to shuttle us to the Missouri River for a place to stay. The afternoon temperatures were around 97-98 degrees.
Doug chose the wise option of riding to Eagle Butte, and then throwing his bike in the van with Wendy. I decided I was feeling strong, and felt I had it in me to ride to West Whitlock Recreation Area above the eastern shore of Oahe Reservoir, which impounds the Missouri River. So on I rode, across a very parched landscape, crossing the wide Missouri on a mile-long bridge at mile 96.
I dragged my tired ass into the campground at mile 98.3 around 3:00 PM – the peak heat of the day…98 degrees. A short power nap and a cold beer later, I was revived.
Yesterday, we rode a very sane 57 miles to Faulkton, a lovely town with another campground in the city park.
Kids in the town ride their bikes to and from the town swimming pool As Wendy pointed out, these wonderful camping opportunities are provided by many towns in South Dakota and Minnesota, and we have already planned on using a few as we cross into Minnesota in a few days.
A word about the people of South Dakota: they are sincerely friendly and kind. Friendliness has been our experience along the entire route from Oregon, but it seems to me that South Dakotans are the most welcoming yet.
Today, we had an ever-easier day – we rode 47 miles to a state park near Frankfort. Doug and I broke it up with lunch in a main street café in Redfield, a town of several thousand people, the largest town we have seen since Rapid City. The landscape became immediately more varied after we passed through Redfield. The severe drought is not nearly so evident in this county.
This is pheasant country. Wendy and I walked into a cornfield this morning to get a closer look at a pheasant we saw land just 50 yards away. We never saw the bird, though I have flushed several over the last few days.
It’s been great cycling with Doug through his home state. He knows all the roadside crops, and has endless stories about the many people who he knew in his years in Deadwood and Pierre. It’s like riding with a cycling version of Garrison Keillor.
This evening, we walked on a path near our campsite, along the edge of a field of tall grass. The brilliant light at dusk was stunning. Sadly, we found 5 ticks on Wendy when we returned. It’s all part of the adventure.