Monthly Archives: July 2015

Redfield to Dawson July 30th

This was a really nice day’s cycling, through slightly rolling countryside dotted with small lakes, trees and farmsteads. The good news is that the wind is still in the west, but it didn’t get up at all until after lunch, and even then it was just a gentle breeze. So we actually had to pedal all the way! But I really enjoyed it, having reached a state of deep contentment with the rhythm of cycling these long distances. I am still loving my new bike, the excellent fit, and the way it just floats along eating up the miles. 

In Clark (pop. 311) there were a series of metal sculpted art works, including a giant bike. It looked rather less comfortable than mine. 

 And, in a nearby field, some old cars were artistically parked.
   
At lunchtime we rolled into Watertown – the biggest town around here – and stopped at the first cafe. And we had stepped back in time into one of those grand Harrogate tea rooms. There was oak panelling, there were padded chairs and linen tablecloths, and the entire place was full of well dressed women who lunch. What a contrast with our usual redneck gas stations! Once they had recovered from the shock of our entry, and everyone had heard about the trip, they were very friendly and served an excellent chicken salad. We also bought 2 home made raisin cookies for later. They were so big that they would have been useful as a replacement had we broken a wheel. When I eventually ate mine, with 20 miles to go, the huge sugar rush blew me and the bike at speed all the way to the end! 

Here is not a very good picture of one of the small lakes. They are teeming with wildfowl – including pelican, much to my delight. 

   
So here we are in the tiny town of Dawson, in Minnesota, our next state. The raisin cookie marked the border. 126 fairly easy miles today, completed in under 7 hours. Tomorrow we ride 148 miles to Minneapolis. ‘But that takes 3 hours in the car’ said the motel owner. And then ‘Good luck with that guys!’ 

Pierre to Redfield July 29th

This was Groundhog day. Exactly the same W wind as yesterday, the same mileage, the same amount of northerly tacking against the crosswind, and exactly the same time overall, to within a minute. But this time we ran the first 100 miles out in 4:52 – a new record. 

Today there was less grassland, fewer cows and much more arable. The gas stations are slightly more frequent. At one point our hearts sank at the notice ‘roadworks for 35 miles’. Usually this means gravel or wet tar – both pretty disastrous. But luck was with us. They had just finished the main roadway and were messing about with the verges. The new tarmac was smooth as a billiard table and had almost no rolling resistance. The thoroughbred Bianchis reacted like greyhounds. We cruised at 30mph, on the flat with the tailwind. We had run out of gears and were speed-limited to 30. Another couple of gears and we could have done 35! 

The traffic was being convoyed through, and we overtook the convoy vehicle and sped off! At the end of the 35 mile section, at a gas station, one of the lorry drivers from the convoy bought us ice cream – he was so impressed with our efforts. He wanted to sing the praises of S Dakota, in all its variety. And he’s right. It is varied – and very good! 

Late in the ride we passed some beautiful lakes – I think the first of many between here and Minneapolis.     These were lined with some nice looking holiday homes. Apparently these ‘kettle lakes’ were formed at the end of the last ice age, by huge iceburg-like chunks of glacier ice becoming stranded in the draining meltwater, settling deep down into the soft glacial silt, and then melting. 

But the best news of the day is that we have now passed the zip on our cycling shirts! 

Just had another huge steak for dinner. I don’t normally eat them, but these seem almost like a different product from at home, succulent and delicious.  And they pack some much needed protein to go with all the calories. The restaurant was a very friendly family run place in a converted bank. The salad bar was in the vault! And the home made apricot pie and ice cream was fantastic too.

Wall to Pierre July 28th

After catching the edge of a very violent storm last night, we woke this morning to blue skies and the welcome sight of the star spangled banner on the flagpole outside the motel pointing due east. Hallelujah! A return to the prevailing W wind direction. 

With nothing much to detain us, except a couple of gas stations, we knocked out the 117 miles in under 6 hours at an average of 20mph. It would have been faster but for the fact that, on the prairie you can only have 2 directions of road, NS or EW. It must be in the constitution or something. Anyway, the 22 miles heading north took us an hour and a half, battling a 30mph cross wind. Here is a classic shot of a vanishing point on these dead straight roads.

  
The main event of the day was a T junction at the end of the northerly leg – the only junction all day. So we stopped for a photo.

 
After some debate we decided to turn right. 

We reached Pierre and crossed the now very wide Missouri at 2.30, only to find that it was actually 3.30 because we have reached Central Time, our 3rd time zone. It seems ages ago that we crossed the infant Missouri south of Helena.

 
People in the mid west are very friendly. Most are ranching types, busy with a very early harvest. Most of the talk is about the motor bike rally in Sturgis next weekend. This is the 75th, and they reckon anything from half a million to a million bikes will be there. Sturgis is on the I90 about 150 miles west of here – so thank goodness we weren’t doing this a week later. Hawes has nothing to complain about! The last few days has already seen a steady tide of bikes heading west. Locals like the trade, but hate some of the behaviour. Though I have to say that all the bikers we have seen so far have been careful and considerate road users – it seems a very different bike culture from home. 

Rapid City to Wall July 27th

A red hot and hard day, battling the prairie wind.

Leaving Rapid City we were soon into grassland, though the grazing animals were a little unexpected. (And unexplained!)

  
The wind gradually got stronger as the heat rose, and soon it was pushing 100F and we were straight into a 25mph S Easterly. The 75 miles of it took us 5 hours, which wasn’t at all bad in the circumstances. 

The hamlet of Scenic offered a gas station, and some light relief. The wooden shacks were almost falling down.

   
 At a second gas station, at Interior after 75 miles, some people were eating a meal. Me: Can we see a menu? Saleswoman: It’s goulash. Me: Tell you what, we’ll have 2 goulashes. 

Then the piece de resistance as we entered the Badlands National Park. Luckily, at this point our direction of travel changed dramatically and the wind came round behind us, because the road through the Badlands was furnace hot and involved about 1200 feet of fairly steep climbing. But the rock formations were spectacular, with incredible coloured layers, pink, yellow, purple and gray. All from the bottom of the shallow sea that once covered the interior of the USA. A pair of beautiful golden eagles were cruising up and down the scarp, on the uplift, often close above our heads. It was well worth the detour and all the effort.

   

Now we are in a very poor motel in Wall, with aircon that can’t keep up. Not sure where our evening meal is coming from. Stop press – a fantastic 8oz steak in the only restaurant in town. And a hot night ahead. Actually the biggest, windiest thinderstorm of the trip so far has just started up. The joys of long distance cycling!

By the way, just to give some idea of our calorie requirements, here is yesterday’s (day off) food diary. Breakfast: 2 yoghurts, large bowl of diced fresh fruit, large bowl of porridge with sugar and raisins and milk, scrambled egg, bacon, 2 slices of french toast with lashings of maple syrup, loads of fruit juice and coffee. Lunch: big plate of fish and chips with a mountain of coleslaw, and beer! Dinner: green salad, large plate of pasta with sliced chicken in a rich sauce, creme caramel, beer. Between meals: about half a kilo of grapes and 2 oranges. For me, that’s huge, but I was hungry all day! 

Rapid City July 26th

Rapid City is a medium sized town with a lot going on. A good place for a day off. The town has cashed on on being the gateway to Mt Rushmore by commissioning a life sized bronze sculpture of each of the US presidents. They are on each of the street corners throughout the town. 

   
There was also an alley with the most fantastic street art. I haven’t seen anything quite like it since Berlin.

    
But the highlight is, without doubt, the Firehouse Brewery and restaurant. We have eaten there twice already – excellent IPA. The building is a great conversion – complete with loads of old fire stuff and a slippery pole! 

   

In the afternoon we did a tour – but it turned out to be mostly a tour of the brand new wine making and bottling plant attached to the brewery. It must be making some money!

Hill City to Rapid City July 25th

This was a second relaxed day cycling across the Black Hills. This is a truly lovely area. I would very much like to come back and do some of the hiking trails. 

Hill City is another old gold rush town from the 1880s. It was described as ‘a church at each end and a mile of hell in between’! The churches are still there, but we found the mile in the middle to be full of tourist shops and some nice bars and cafes. The chain saw art was very good.

   
   
This morning we took the road to Mount Rushmore. This had some very steep ups and downs, past Horse Thief Lake. 

   
We soon began to see huge granite outcrops towering over the trees. The area is a bit like Brimham Rocks – but a million times bigger! The road winds through the beautiful forest, up and down in between the outcrops. 

We stopped to watch rock climbers on enormously long and exposed, bolted routes up the granite. The blip on the top of the second photo is a climber reaching the summit.

     
A short distance further on and we realised that the climbing area was, in fact, the back of the granite outcrop of Mount Rushmore itself! We obtained the iconic photos, and some coffee, but quite honestly there was little information and not much to do other than gawp at the very familiar view. The climbers round the back were much more interesting. Just imagine the disappointment if we’d cycled half way across America to see it!

    
   
I managed to find a lovely sequence of back roads leading to Rapid City. More low alpine scenery with alp-like meadows and woods. We had a final, distant view of the presidential heads – centre of the photo below the slyline.

   
Skyline Drive, on the edge of Rapid City, followed a ridge with great views of the town. This was really only half a day’s cycling so, with a rest day tomorrow, we should be in good shape for the longer, flatter days ahead. 20 days and 1784 miles done, 20 days and 2216 miles to go.

Spearfish to Hill City July 24th

What a contrast with yesterday! America is so varied.  

But first I should report on last night in Spearfish. There was a classic car rally in the main street – about 100 massive American cars from the 1950s, mostly. Can’t say I liked any, but it was fun!

  
Dinner was yet more steak, in a really nice cafe in one of the oldest buildings in town – built early 1900s.

  
This morning we set off up the Spearfish Canyon – a spectacular quiet road up a winding, wooded gorge overhung with orange/yellow limestone cliffs (Cotswold stone).

   
 At the head of the canyon we had a second massive breakfast in another good cafe, only just over an hour since the first!

Then onwards and upwards. We passed some guys building a covered wooden bridge.

  
We were now back over 6000 feet and the scenery was alpine. Quite stunning high valleys with scattered farms, fast flowing streams and, away from the pasture, low density woods with a thick carpet of grass and beautiful wild flowers. I could live here!

In the tiny hamlet of Rochford there is a quirky saloon, Moonshine Gulch,  with a great atmosphere. We sat happily drinking and swapping cycling stories with the owner.

   

Next came a section I had been nervous about. The Micklesen Trail is an old rail line cutting right through the centre of the Black Hills, away from roads and the noisy motor bikes  that are everywhere. It looked fantastic. But could we ride the ‘crushed limestone surface – fat tyres advised’ on our road bikes? 

We did so … very slowly and gently. And what a reward! We rode across trestle bridges high above fast rivers, straight through a fabulous slate cliffed canyon, and through three tunnels. What’s more, we met other cyclists and basked in their adulation!

 
   


   

  

   

Altogether a fantastic day – a very short one, at only 60 miles, but another 5000 ft of ascent! Tomorrow we are off to Mount Rushmore. 

Broadus to Spearfish July 23rd

This morning had a dreamlike quality to it. One minute we were in Broadus, having a very light breakfast, around 6am, and the next minute we were having lunch at 1pm in Belle Forche, 95 miles further down the road! It was by no means flat, but the magic ingredient was the prairie wind that got up mid-morning, blowing at 15-20mph half across and half behind us. We were just gliding along the seemingly endless, rolling road across the vastness of the grasslands. Just one gas station in 95 miles! 
Broadus is a strange little place. There was a cinema – closed down – with 4 dolls tied to posts outside. Bizarre, and a bit sinister.  

 Luckily for us, although there was just one place to eat last night, it was quite good. The Powder River Stockman’s Club was tucked away in a modern shed on the edge of town. Stuffed cows everywhere – and the steak was fabulous. 

But nowhere much for breakfast, just yogurt and a bagel. So the midway gas station saved us with a bacon and egg roll and the usual litres and litres of coca cola, coffee and water. I reckon we are drinking about 5 litres a day each while on the road! It is still red hot – 34C this afternoon. 

Near the gas station was a closed down saloon – I’ll spare you the seedy slogans, but the best of the rest was ‘Good Beer: Lousy Food’. 

 
After the gas station we cycled out of Montana for the 3rd and final time, then briefly across the top right hand corner of Wyoming before entering South Dakota, our 5th state. The cafe in Belle Forche was family run and served us a delicious chicken salad (and the usual litres of liquids ……) 

For some time we had been able to see the Black Hills in the distance, and after Belle Forche we gradually climbed up towards the lovely town of Spearfish on their northern flank. We are back in regular tourist territory now. We have checked into a comfortable motel and have the promise of a good restaurant tonight and breakfast in the morning. Luxury! 111 miles completed comfortably by 3pm and still feeling fine – I must be dreaming! 

Hardin to Broadus July 22nd

We are really moving Eastward now! The cycling day started early, as the sun came up. After about 15 miles we reached the site of the Battle of Little Big Horn, and Custer’s Last Stand. To be honest, the rolling grass covered hills looked much the same as all the others! Anyway, here it is.  

    
Next to the site was a gas station where we were supposed to get food – shops in Hardin not having been open and the hotel breakfast having been poor. But it was closed down. So we rode the next section on a packet of fig   rolls! 

The scenery was much better than I had expected. Rolling hills covered with long grass of a delicate green, fading to yellow, and stands of lodgepole pine. And broken up by sandstone crags and towers straight out of the Westerns. I hadn’t expected to like this hot, dry country so much, but it is beautiful. And hot. By 12.00 it was 97F and much hotter later.  

 We stopped at a gas station in Lame Deer, on a reservation. This is a different America again. Wild horses in the streets, broken roads, people on foot and in battered station wagons, filthy toilets – not quite Africa, but well on the way. There was a ‘hot deli’ where we got fried chicken and loads of water.

Back on the rolling road, the wild life spot for the day was a huge rattlesnake – luckily dead – by the road. We had been warned that they like to sun themselves on the shoulder of the road – where we ride! 

At Ashland we found ‘the best little bordello in Montana’ (so we are told!) and this is Tim outside – repeat, outside. 

 In the final 45 miles the trees thinned out and we entered rolling grasslands, still interspersed with sandy crags. From the top of what I thought was the final climb (it wasn’t) there was a long view eastwards.

  
So here we are, after 120 miles and nearly 5000 ft of ascent, in a good motel in the tiny hamlet of Broadus (actually the biggest place for 80 miles in any direction). Tomorrow should see us across the corner of Wyoming into South Dakota and the Black Hills.

Laurel to Hardin July 21st

Rather unexpectedly, this was another great days cycling – and a welcome short one. (The one downside of using hotels is that the spacing is not even, in these sparsely populated parts. Tomorrow has to be 120 miles).

A 17 mile cruise down the Interstate 90 frontage took us to a bike shop – Spoke Cycles – in Billings. We waited outside for them to open at 9.00.  And what a reception we got!  Bikes serviced (Tim’s squeak is gone – hurrah!), a replenishing of our supply of inner tubes, a peaked cycle cap for me to reduce the glare, and coffee and loads of encouragement – all for free! Well, a donation to the beer fund. Many thanks Sarah and Jason.  

  
Then on into town for food for the remaining, uninhabited 50 miles. I asked a group of old guys for directions to the supermarket – explaining that we needed food and sunscreen – and one went to fetch a bottle of sunscreem from his car and gave it to us. Thanks!

Outside the supermarket we were interviewed and photographed by a reporter from the Billings Gazette, who had popped in for donuts for the office. So fame at last! These shirts are brilliant! Here is the link to the story.

 (By the way, my favourite reaction to the ‘4000 miles 40 days’ slogan is ‘Oh my God, 1000 miles a day!’ We have had this many times!) If the story makes the paper I’ll post the link. 
Then we were out into real Wild West country. After a climb into some low hills there were huge views, followed by some canyons straight from the movies.  

   
This is cattle and horse country, but the stars of the show were the marmots, popping their heads from their holes and scurrying about, a bit like meercats. They were everywhere, but too small for me to photograph. I think Tim succeeded. So here are some horses.  

  We reached Hardin (70 miles) by 1.30 and managed to check in. So we are having a relaxing afternoon before the rigours ahead tomorrow.