A North American Bicycle Journey
I pedalled my way from Key West, Florida to Tok, Alaska. What I wrote in my journal is what I was thinking and feeling at the time, it’s just a reflection of who I am, my own personal opinions, my own perceptions, and written exactly as I saw the world around me at that particular moment.
Why I did it? That is what most people ask, and you know, it is not a simple answer. One of my thoughts was to really do something with my life and truly live. Experience the world around me before I shuffle off the mortal coil.
The story continues from:
South Dakota – Day 55 to day 60 (May 1999)
385 North to 255 East into Keystone
16 North into Rapid City
then Nemo Road through Nemo to 385 North
then alt 14 to 85 north through Spearfish
to 212 at Belle Fourche and into Wyoming
DAY 55 Continued… – May 8, 1999
Crossing into South Dakota, I immediately enter the “Buffalo Gap National Grasslands”. These were still green rolling hills that went on for many miles. Looking north, I could see the Black Hills in the distance. By the time I got near Hot Springs it was getting very warm. I parked my bike beside one of many “Historical markers” that I’ve seen, and shed some clothes.
Riding into town, I stopped at Subway to get a 6″ turkey on wheat. Cool, now my Subway card is full and I get a 6″ sub for free. After eating I continued north on 385 and after about 6 miles or so, I saw a sign for “Wind Cave National Park”. I took a picture, then continued on as I glanced at my map. What the ….. ! I just rode onto one big cattle guard. Man, I’ve never seen one that had openings so far apart. Continuing slowly, I kept my wheel straight. I feared that if I turned it any, it would slip between the rails that were so far apart. Crap! What do they have here…Elephants? Next, I see a sign that says something like “Danger, Large wildlife on the road”. Hmmm, well OK, how large is large? Ah ha, now I see a sign that says, “Buffalo are very dangerous, Do Not Approach”. Oh, so I’m out where the buffalo roam, cool! Then off to my left I see 4 of them in the distance. I took a few pictures and thought, “Wow, this is cool!”
So, I continue on and stop to read a couple of the information signs. One said they had 350 buffalo here. That many huh? Well, 4 down and 346 to go. As soon as I began to pedal again I see them. Three buffalo by the road, one on the left and two on the right. OK, people come through here all the time, right? So these buffalo are used to people and will ignore me, right?
Should I pedal as fast as I can or slowly? Should I make a lot of noise like you do for bears? OK,
I’ll just pedal right on by and they won’t even notice. I began pedaling again and the one on the left started to cross the road. He stopped as soon as he saw me, I stopped immediately. There was about 150 feet separating us as he stared at me with those giant dark eyes. And, at about 2000lbs, I was no match for him. This seemed to go on for an eternity, who was going to make the first move? I just stood there with my left hand on my chin and my index and middle fingers touching my lips. My skin was probably as white as a ghost, my eyes bulging wide open, and my heart was about to explode. What should I do? If I turn and go the other direction will he chase after me? Do I just wait him out? I surely can’t ride by him like that! The hair on the back of his neck is standing on end as he just kept staring at me. This guy is huge….and way too close.
Finally, some cars come from the other direction and he walks across the street. I was still standing, with the same pose, in the middle of the lane as the cars drove by me. They all looked at me like I was insane. OK, now he’s walking with the two others in the grass beside the road, headed in the same direction that I’m going. Thinking that it would be ok for me to just ride way over on the other side of the road, I began pedaling again. As I started to get close they saw me and at that same moment I saw a blue Explorer coming up behind me. I was riding in the wrong lane and as the Explorer approached I motioned with my right hand for them to slow down. I thought that I would be able to use that vehicle as a shield, to block me from the buffalo’s sight. The Explorer slowed down and at first started to continue on. I rode right beside him and when he rolled down his window, I asked if he could drive slow and let me ride beside him. He said sure, he’d be happy to help me out. After making it past the buffalo I told them thanks and they drove away.
Continuing through, I see a large herd way off the road to my right. Many of them stared, but none even moved in my direction. Whew! I’m safe now. Then I saw that same Explorer coming back. The guy driving said there were more in the road ahead. Oh wow, that was really cool for them to come back like that. I rode beside him and we talked a little bit. Then we approach the buffalo; there were many of them on both sides of the road. This section had a guardrail but those giant brown monsters were on this side of it and on both sides of the road. I thought for a second then said, “OK, I’ll ride right behind you”. We slowly moved up the slight incline as I tried to hide behind the vehicle. I see one on the left and he looks at me like he’s trying to figure out if I’m a threat or not. Then I see one on the right make a quick, sudden, move. I lost my breath for a second and I’m sure my heart skipped a beat. Luckily, the 2000lb fella took a dive over the guardrail which in turn scared the one to my left which also took a dive over his guardrail.
I was so close to them and so scared! As soon as we got away from them, I rode up to the passenger side. Looking at their faces I could tell they were scared for me too. I said “Wow, that was scary!” and the lady said, “Yes it was”. They stayed beside me as I continued to ride. We introduced ourselves to each other. Jay was driving and Chloe was in the passenger seat. In the back were Karen, Robin, and Verna. I told them about my bike ride and how I’d never been this scared since it started. When something happens in traffic I usually don’t have a lot of time to think about it. I’d much rather go out of this life with a semi rolling over me than being trampled by a buffalo. At least with the semi I wouldn’t even know what happened, it would be quick. If I had known what this place was like, I wouldn’t have attempted riding through here. The buffalo can very easily outrun a bicycle.
Of all the people on the road that could have been driving by, I happened to encounter Jay and Chloe, they own “Black Hills Health and Education” (www.bhhec.org). They are very much into prevention and wellness programs, which happens to be an interest of mine too smile We talked for a while and I thought it was so cool to meet some people that could help me with my quest in trying to figure out what I’m going to do. I know I want to leave the constraints of Medicare and HMO’s. Before they left, one of the ladies in the back said, “can I shake your hand?” After shaking hands, she went on to say, “next to Church, you were the highlight of our day.” That was a great compliment for a religous person to say and I appreciated it. But actually, they were the highlight of my day. As I stood there staring at the buffalo before they came along, I felt as if I was staring into the jaws of death. I was really scared for my life. That is a road I will never bike again and would not recommend that anyone do it!
After passing the next cattle guard, I left the plains and was immersed in a forest. My adrenaline was still coursing through my body and the slightest sound would startle me. I was riding fast and was a bit nervous. The landscape was beautiful with trees and rock formations. When I got to Custer I was starving and debated between a small green pepper and mushroom pizza at Pizza Hut or use my card for a free sub at Subway.
Well, Subway won my mental debate so I made a beeline for it. After I finished eating, I engaged in conversation with the three employees. I wanted to tell someone what I’d just gone through. There were no other customers in the store so they had time to chat. They took a particular interest and listened intently as I rambled in an excited voice. I still couldn’t believe what had just happened to me and I’m sure it showed. When I talk to people about my trip, some are very interested, while sometimes I get a cold response from people who could care less. It was nice to talk to folks that seemed just as excited as I was. They thought it would be really cool to do this. I wanted to eat fast and leave to make it to Mt. Rushmore with plenty of daylight left. The longer I hung out here and talked, the harder it was to make myself leave.
For a moment I considered staying in town just to explore the place and get to know some of the people. But there was rain in the forecast for tonight and tomorrow. One thing I’ve learned is that you need to make the most of good riding days. Today was a perfect day; it was about 70 degrees and barely any wind. So I had to say good bye and continue on.
The road north was under construction and very rough for 10 miles. A lot of dirt and gravel that challenged my bike to stay vertical as my tires would slip occasionally. Finding 244 I headed east to Mt. Rushmore. Yes! Only about 10 miles left! The road was very hilly as I kept going up in my granny gear then coasting down. That continued on and on….Geez! When are the hills going to stop? I had to keep adjusting my rear derailleur with the barrel adjuster on my shifter. This is something I’ve had problems with since day 1. But it was especially bad today.
Then as I was heading up a hill, I heard a crack and grinding noise and my bike came to an immediate halt. The rear derailleur broke and lodged itself in my rear spokes. Ahhhh! That sucked! Grabbing my derailleur, I forced it out of the spokes and bent it back as far as I could to clear the spokes. Now there’s nothing I can do but push my bike. As I was pushing it uphill some guy in the passenger seat of a red car yelled something at me. I kept pushing then stopped at a sign for the Mt. Rushmore Monument to get something out of my trailer. As I was pulling out some snack food, the car came back, turned around, and yelled something again. I have no idea what he said, but I wondered what kind of pleasure someone can get out of doing that? It didn’t bother me though and I just kept pushing my bike up the hills then sitting on it to coast down.
After several hills like that, Mt. Rushmore reveals itself to me as I stare at the faces carved into its side. I took a couple of photos then rode the 10 percent grade down into Keystone. Entering the town, most things are closed for the off season. I stopped at a convenience store and asked the girl what the cheapest motel was. After telling her my dilemma, I asked about any bike shops in town. She was far from being personable and seemed to speak to me only because she had to. There were no bike shops in town but Rapid City had several. I knew Rapid City had a Mountain Mania store because it is a sister store to the one Herb owns in Chadron, NE.
Going to the motel, the sign said, “Be right back”. The parking lot was empty like most of the other lots in town. So I pushed my bike to the next motel. The whole time my derailleur is clanking as it hits each spoke. The office was open at the Rushmore Inn, so I parked my bike and went inside. After checking in, I told the three people in the office of my dilemma. There was the lady behind the counter and two gentlemen sitting down. They all seemed to sympathize with my predicament and told me about the three bike shops in Rapid City, 20 miles away. Keith, the owner of the restaurant next door, was trying to figure out how I could get the part that I needed. He said he would drive his truck here tomorrow so we could haul my bike there if needed. He was exceptionally nice and was willing to go out of his way to help me. Since tomorrow is Mother’s Day we were not sure if anyplace would be open. We decided to play it by ear and I would make some phone calls tomorrow. Wow, I’m glad I came to this motel or I may not have met Keith. No matter what happens on this ride, things just seem to work out somehow :)
Wind – blowing to the west
Today – 113.30 miles (rode 108.75 and pushed 4.55)
Total – 2903 miles
Avg. Speed – 10.5mph
DAY 56 – May 9, 1999
Sleeping in late, I got up at 9am and showered then went to the restaurant next door. Carni’s Copper Room is the restaurant owned by Keith. It was initially called Copper Room but when Keith bought it he added Carni’s to the name so it would be consistent with the other restaurant he owns in Rapid City, Carni’s Italian Restaurant. Inside I ordered 2 pancakes, toast, orange juice, and coffee. Keith came out to talk to me about today’s plan. I told him I would try calling after ten to see if anyone was open yet.
Back in the motel room, I noticed the motel receipt…$53.00! What? I thought they said 40 dollars plus tax. I paid by credit card last night because I only had $25.00 on me. She handed me the receipt to sign but I didn’t even look at it. Geez! I got ripped off by this cheap motel. The other motels were advertising about $35.00. Dang it, if I would have looked at the receipt before signing it, I would have gone somewhere else. Oh well, too late now.
There was no answer at Mountain Mania but there was at 2-Wheeler Dealer. I spoke with Trent and he said they have a Shimano XTR for $99.00. My bike currently has a Shimano XTR and I asked if there was anything better. He said it was a really good one and that I shouldn’t have a problem like this unless I dropped my bike and bent it. I gave him my credit card number and told him someone would stop by to pick it up. Keith had said his Mom would be driving down from Rapid City and that she’d be able to stop by and pick it up. Walking back to the restaurant, I gave Keith the necessary information and thanked him.
Later in the afternoon, I got the derailleur, Cool! I took my old one off and compared it to the new one out of the box. Hmmm….the new one doesn’t have one of the components that my old one has. They look identical except for the part on my old one that’s bent and cracked. This shows my knowledge of derailleurs :) Apparently; the part that broke is the derailleur hanger, not the derailleur itself. I thought it all came together as one unit. Calling Trent again, I discover that they have new derailleur hangers for $11.00. So now, with all the time I’ve wasted, I have only one choice left…..That is to convert my bike to a one speed and bike to Rapid City for the hanger. Keith offered to take me and my bike to Rapid City but I couldn’t do that. I told him that I need to bike the whole distance and that cutting 20 miles out would be like cheating. It is real important to me to bike the whole distance. That was when he came up with the idea to have his Mom bring the part here since she was coming anyway.
After taking my best guess at what gear to use and shortening my chain, I was back on the road. Not only did I have just one speed, I had no rear brake on those hills. I couldn’t get any chain length combination to work without it being too loose. So, I had to pull my rear wheel out a little and tighten the skewer. That made the rear brakes rub the tire so I had to disable them. I found that I couldn’t go faster than 8mph very easily on flat roads. When I pedaled as fast as I could, I’d go 10mph. So, my feet were flying around and I was barely moving.
As it turns out, it was a good speed for going uphill and then I’d coast downhill. The whole ride was up and down hills. I left at 3pm and was very hot with my several layers of clothes on. Then, when I was a couple of miles out of town, I realized I’d forgotten to eat. I had nothing to eat since breakfast and was very hungry. There were no stores around and I didn’t anticipate any for miles. So I got in my trailer and ate a cup of my TVP and 2 packets of sugar. I forgot to fill my water bottles also but I always keep water in my camelback. So I washed it all down with water and continued on my way.
By 4:30 the sun was hidden by dark clouds and a cold fog began to move in. I was getting really cold now, especially on the downhill. When I reached Rapid City, I noticed the population was 54,000 and there was another sign that said “Bicycle Friendly City”. Cool! Since it was getting dark I checked into the Budget Host Inn. The sign out front said $27.95…perfect! It was a much nicer place than the last one and for a lot less. With the tax it came to $30.93 total. Then I went to Pizza Hut and ate a medium mushroom and green pepper pizza. I was hungry and it was GOOD!
Before going to sleep I did my usual routine of watching the Weather Channel. “National Weather Service Alert….Severe thunderstorms with damaging winds and large hail…go inside a sturdy building and stay away from the windows…” And I though this was Spring! What happened to the “March” winds and the “April” showers? If this were average weather for this time of year, I’d be biking in mild temperatures, not hot and not too cold. Now I’m wondering if I should go back to my original plan to go due north and avoid the Rockies for now. Guess I’ll just wait and see…
Wind – blowing to the south, 15-20mph
Today – 21.27 miles
Total – 2924 miles
Avg. Speed – 9.0mph
DAY 57 – May 10, 1999
One thing I am finding out is how much I forget to write. While I’m riding I remember some significant things that I left out of my journal. It is difficult sometimes to try and write everything down quickly so I don’t spend my whole evening writing.
It was a cold, rainy, morning when I got up. The weather wasn’t as bad last night as predicted, but today was colder than expected. After I donned my three layers of clothes I rode about 2 miles to the 2-Wheeler Dealer bike shop. Trent replaced my derailleur hanger, added the links back to my chain, trued my rim, and adjusted my derailleur for me. It was a very large store, well stocked with just about anything a cyclist would need. They had racks and panniers, but I decided to wait until I get to Missoula, MT before adding more weight. Trent advised me to also have my rear wheel rebuilt with stronger spokes also. After he finished my bike, I add two extra derailleur hangers to my bill. They were only $11.00 each and I don’t want to get in another jam like that again. By this time I noticed how weak I felt. It was getting close to lunch and I hadn’t even eaten. Trying to maintain a conversation took a lot of effort on my part. I kept dropping the hangers out of my hands. Trent suggested a place called “Veggies” for lunch since I don’t eat red meat. He also suggested a different route that was more scenic. The Nemo Road will be shorter and it goes by the “Nemo Guest Ranch”. In case I didn’t want to ride very far., I could stay there. He called for me and found out that it would be $39.00 a night. I thanked him for all his help and was off to EAT!!
Leaving the bike shop, I was able to take the bike path all the way to the restaurant. It was still raining and cold outside as I looked forward to warm food. Veggies was just my kind of restaurant. Everything was organic and made from scratch. Even the mustard and ketchup was homemade on the premises. After eating an exceptional veggie burger on homemade bread, I looked at their shelves of food. Behind the aisle, along the wall, I found the bins containing bulk foods. It was a tough choice between the 4 varieties of trail mix. I was allowed to sample the mixes and purchased two different kinds and some dried papaya. The whole time I was there I listened to a guy talk about different diets and nutrition. At the register ahead of me, he was asking the lady about differences in sugars – i.e. fructose, sucrose, lactose, etc. He appeared very confused on how to eat nutritionally and lose some weight. Of course I had to open my big mouth and give him my best advice on losing weight….”exercise”. I was fortunate enough not only having the knowledge from PT school, but also having been involved in an exercise research study. That study really taught me the importance of aerobic exercise and its many effects on the body’s physiology. Although I had a small role in it, I was very much challenged intellectually. What I learned from that will always be with me and I’m grateful to the people that allowed me to be a part of it. After discussing what I knew about aerobic exercise and its effects on muscle composition and insulin sensitivity to David (who happened to be an anesthesiologist), I was off into the bitter cold rain.
The temperature was dropping as I rode mostly all uphill to Nemo. But the ride was indeed scenic as it followed a stream for most of it. I was again impressed with how well my continental touring tires were performing in the rain and the water pooling on the road. The lack of cars on the road was an extra bonus, allowing me to enjoy the scenery without annoying cars and exhaust fumes. My fingers and toes were numb in the sub-freezing temperature. Both of my feet were like wooden blocks without any feeling in them. I stopped and tried to eat a food bar, it was frozen and too hard to even bite into. So, I kept exercising my fingers to keep the blood flowing and hoped the Nemo Guest Ranch would soon appear. Not too much longer and a green sign that says “Nemo” appeared. Wow, that was a short ride. Only 16 miles from the edge of town.
I parked my bike in front of the main building and walked inside. There was a section serving as a store with several aisles and a refrigerated section to the right. The middle was filled with tables for dining and along the back wall there was a wooden bar and bar stools. Walking to the back I was greeted by the lady bartender. I asked about the rooms and she confirmed that they did have some available. She went to check with the owner as I warmed my fingers by the large pot-belly stove. The rooms were at the “4T Ranch Inn”, just down the road. I had passed the place about a mile and a half before I got here. When I rode past it, I remember thinking how it looked like a perfect setting for a holistic health and wellness center. The stream passed through the property that had a mountainous backdrop. There were many horses grazing on the plush green pastures.
Prior to going to check into a room I decided to eat something. I sat at a table and was given a menu. And yes, I got a grilled chicken sandwich :-) I’ve been trying to go “no meat” for about a month, but grilled chicken is indeed one of my favorites. With the sandwich, I also got mashed potatoes and hot tea. Soon Nancy, the owner, introduced herself. Come to find out she had been involved in holistic health and wellness in Colorado. Her and her husband Jim bought this place to turn it into a holistic health and wellness center. Wow! What luck. Trent had me change my route, which landed me at another incredible spot on my journey.
Another gentleman walked up with something for Nancy so she had to go back to the office. This left me alone to eat my dinner and watch the weather on the TV over the bar. It was now 36 degrees and the wind-chill down into the teens, 17 degrees I think. So the saga continues…I’m plagued by very cold Spring temperatures. Hmmm, should I stick around for a couple of days and wait out this cold? Or maybe, keep riding short distances at a time but keep moving? As these thoughts continue, the gentleman that spoke with Nancy a few moments ago walked up. He said, “I hear you’re riding to Alaska”. I told him yes and he went on to say that he had lived there for ten years. He introduced himself as Gene and I invited him to sit at the table and join me.
Gene had just been hired one a week ago. He will be caring for the 18 horses as well as developing programs for trail rides, carriage rides, and hopes to also provide a program for “hippo therapy.” In Latin “hippo” mean horse. This type of therapy is used by many Physical Therapists for children, and some adults, with disabilities. It works wonders on helping to develop balance, coordination, and motor control. With MS and CP patients it has worked well to decrease muscle spasticity. This type of therapy has also had great success with some Parkinson’s patients. I think it would be great if they could add such a program.
As far as the carriage rides, Gene said he’d like to restore the old stage coach. It is an original one from 100+ years ago. Apparently, since its beginning in 1888, Nemo has been a stop for stagecoaches. There are two old stagecoaches and one old covered wagon on the property. He went on to talk about his love for horses and how fate happened to bring him here. Gene stressed the importance of using a gentle technique with the horses, gaining their trust and sincerely caring for them. His career had been as an engineer specializing in high-speed data and voice. We talked quite a while about that topic and technology in general. His job has taken him to many places and a recent big job was for Exxon, over in Russia. He is very knowledgeable in all aspects of technology, which is another great asset to the ranch. One thing Gene and I had in common was bike touring. He rode a bike from Anchorage, Alaska to Boise, Idaho. Since I had lived in northern Idaho for a short period of time, I was familiar with the towns and roads on his route through there.
Soon, Nancy joined us with the registration book and reserved room number 8 for me. 39 dollars was a great deal for this excellent location. I followed Gene’s truck back to the 4T Ranch Inn, about 1.5 miles. It sits back off the road, surrounded by large, green pastures, with a wall of trees and rock behind it. There are 90 acres surrounding it, which didn’t appear to be that big. Big, open spaces can be very deceiving, especially when they are dwarfed by the large, valley wall, immediately behind the Inn. I saw the stream that ran behind there and flows through the whole valley. It was so quiet and peaceful on that property with just the sound of water flowing. Living in a place like this was hard for me to imagine. The scenery was incredible and seemed almost too good to be true.
Nancy and her husband, Jim, were busy packing some things to leave for Colorado tonight. I didn’t get the opportunity to meet Jim as both of them were running late for their scheduled leave time, and I could hear them arguing in the distance. Jim is an attorney from Colorado and purchased all this property last Fall. Both of them have been working hard in restoring all the buildings with the help of local contractors. Gene had told me that there was a lot of history to this place and too much for me to write here. I can only write so much and sometimes find it difficult to push this pen across the paper. But other times I just want to keep writing and tell every detail. I know it’s important to write everything while it’s still fresh, so I’ll keep trying. That is all for tonight…Good Night :-) Oh, by the way, the very tips of my fingers are still numb. This has been the coldest riding day for me yet. OK, now I’m done!
Wind – Blowing to the south
Temp – 46 degrees with a wind-chill of 19 degrees and dropping at 8:30am
Today – 28.83 miles
Total – 2952 miles
Avg. Speed – 7.5mph
DAY 58 – May 11, 1999
It is colder today and the forecast says it will drop into the teens tonight. There is supposed to be a warming trend tomorrow through Friday, Whoo Hooo! Looks like I’ll take the day off from riding and stick around here. I got up early and walked around the property some. With my stomach yelling at me for its morning feeding, I went and knocked on Gene’s door. Although the restaurant/general store was only 1.5 miles away, I really didn’t want to bike in this cold at all. Gene came to the door and said he’d be ready in about ten minutes.
Arriving at the store, we encounter Kirk and Justin working inside. Both of them appear to be ummm…18-23 years old. I ordered two pancakes and toast which were devoured as soon as I got them. After I finished eating, Kirk, Justin, and I, discussed my ride. They were both pretty cool and I tried to convince them to do it someday too. Then Beau showed up and we talked some before Gene was ready to head back.
This time Gene was driving a tractor back to inn. He was going to use it to move the large, round, bales of hay to feed the horses. I rode on the fender and Geezzz was it cold!! When we got back, I helped Gene attach this giant 3-pronged fork to the bucket on the tractor. Our first attempt was unsuccessful in getting it attached correctly. Will, the maintenance man, helped us get it attached and was really cool as we all worked together. Then we saw a feeder rolling down the hill towards the stream. Apparently, at some point it was left on its side and the wind must have caught it just right to send it rolling. I took off running to stop it but it hit the water way before I could get there. By the time I walked back, Gene had already stabbed the fork into one of those giant bales of hay. He drove it over by one of the feeders and I stood the feeder on its side so he could put the hay on the ground. Then I laid the feeder down around the hay. We moved the two bales of hay that way and then we were ready to take the tractor back. Gene was very awkward in trying to manevuer the tractor and appeared unfamiliar with how the controls worked.
Prior to finishing, I had several encounters with Will. He appeared to be trying to do too many things at once. It seemed to me that his mind was always going in 20 different directions which affected his communication abilities, especially giving instructions. I noticed him lose so many things in a short period of time, constantly saying “now where did I put the…”. There is indeed a lot of work that needs to be done, but it appeared to be too much for one maintenance guy. Will went on to complain about Gene and how Gene left his notebook sitting on the ground behind the barn. That was only a minor thing he complained about, but I reassured Will that Gene seemed a bit new to this environment and would probably catch on pretty soon. He mumbled something after that, not sure what it was.
Will told Gene to drive the tractor back and he’d meet him at the store. After my first tractor ride, I decided I’d ride back with Will in a nice warm truck. As it turned out, he didn’t leave right away. Instead he tried to fix the trailer behind the truck. It was full of dirt and he couldn’t get the dump to lift all the way up. The battery on the trailer was dead so he attempted to patch two cables for the trailers hydraulic lift into the truck’s towing harness. He was unsuccessful and it seemed to frustrate him. At that point the lift was about half way up so he tried driving really fast and then slamming on the brakes. This went on several times, going backwards and forwards. But the dirt was thick mud that wouldn’t move. I asked if there was a shovel so we could just scoop it out. We both began shoveling but Will became impatient and went back to driving fast and slamming on the brakes. This time he drove farther to gain more speed, but still no luck. So he drove around back, to the barn, and put the battery charger on the trailer battery.
Then, as he walked away, he asked if I would clean up the piles. A good example of his unclear instructions. He knew what he wanted done but didn’t relay the info to me very well. I saw piles of old wood pieces and small piles of old hay…So I asked, “what piles?” Then I had to ask where to put them. He seemed frustrated that I couldn’t read his mind and do what he wanted.
Will then told me he had to make some phone calls and said, “I’ll meet you back here”. After shoveling the piles of hay and debris into the trailer, I waited about 20 minutes for him to return. He hadn’t come back so I walked to my room to use the bathroom. When I finished I saw the truck being driven into the pasture. I walked into the pasture just as he finished dumping the contents of the trailer. As he drove towards me, I smiled and gave him a “thumbs up”, congratulating him on his success. “Are you riding back?” He asked in a quick, rough, voice. Apparently upset that I wasn’t there waiting for him when he returned. I hopped in the truck and he sped off the property and onto the road. As I started to speak, he turned the volume on the radio all the way up to drown out what I was saying. Man, that really upset me! Here I was being nice in offering to help and the maintenance man was treating me like crap! I was forced to ride with a man driving dangerously fast, 80mph, through hilly curves. Good thing it was a short ride to the store. He pulled up front, turned the music down, and said “You and Gene can go work on whatever today. I don’t care what you do.” What a shock! At first he had been nice, but he turned so quickly. I knew someone that had sudden and extreme mood swings; he had Bipolar Personality Disorder (BPD). This seemed like the same sort of thing.
I found Gene inside and then talked to Justin and Kirk. Will came back and sat at a table discussing something with Gene. Beau showed up and I hung out to talk with him, Justin, and Kirk. Ends up that Beau has been to several places that I’ve biked through. He lived near Belle Glade and agreed with my description of the place. He also lived near Jonesboro and said it was a worse place than I had described. Nevertheless, Those are two places NOT to bike through. After Will left,
Gene and I walked outside. He showed me the old covered wagon and the stagecoaches. Then we went into the large restaurant out back that’s currently under major re-construction. The restaurant and bar will be moved out of the front building when this one is done. Most of the floor space will then be used as a general store and the bar will be used for gourmet coffees and pastries.
After I ate a bowl of chicken noodle soup for lunch, Gene and I went back to visit the horses. As we went up to each horse Gene discussed their differences. He told me about the hierarchy within the group. Laddie is the best looking horse and he’s also at the top of the ranking. Gene showed me a technique to calm a horse as he stuck his fingers between the horses upper lip and teeth. Uh….no thanks! Those teeth look too big for me to put my fingers anywhere near them! But Gene was very good with the horses and seemed to possess a natural ability with them. We petted most of them and I thought it was so awesome to be standing in a field of such beautiful and graceful animals. There were 18 of them, all just hangin’ out eating the grass. This is something I could do every day.
We walked back to the Inn and I went to my room to use the bathroom, a big job this time :-) A few moments later Gene came to my door, “here’s a souvenir for you”, he said as he handed me a belt buckle that says “Nemo Ranch” on it. Wow, that was really nice of him. Unfortunately, I had nothing to give in return except my thanks. Then I took a nap and woke to the sound of Will talking to Gene. I heard him say that he was leaving for a couple of days and would return on Thursday.
It had been snowing a little off and on all day. Not much and at times you could barely see it. I remember thinking, “Well, at least it’s warm enough to snow”. About an hour after Will had left, Gene and I headed to the store. Grilled chicken sandwich for me mmm mmm! We sat and talked about when he was in Alaska and about some of the small isolated towns. Gene lived in Eagle which is pretty isolated, especially in the winter. I told him about how much I enjoyed McCarthy. He went on to tell me how some guy there got cabin fever in the winter and went around shooting everybody. Apparently he killed about half the town before he was stopped. Geeez, I’ll have rethink my desire to live in a small town in Alaska. He also told me about a stranger that showed up in Manley Hot Springs. He never spoke to anyone. It was a small town and most were nervous about the guy. Soon after, people in town began disappearing they called the State Police to fly in. When the helicopter flew over a river near town, he was spotted chopping up a body. Gunfire was exchanged and one officer was killed before they finally got him. Man, that is sick! I hope I never encounter anyone like that! I’ll have to keep my bear mace ready!!
When the conversation went from Alaska to him moving to Colorado, Gene seemed a bit uncomfortable. He just left Colorado because of all the memories of his wife and daughter that were killed in an auto accident. With all he was telling me, things didn’t click correctly. I thought I was mistaken on some things he had already told me about. But the time he was in Alaska and the time in Colorado and the age of his daughter. His daughter would’ve been with him when he lived in Alaska. So to clarify things a little I asked about the reason why he left Alaska and wondered if it was his wife and daughter that wanted to move to Colorado. He just got real quite and looked at me first puzzled and then his expression got a sad look to it, but he was eerily quite for a few seconds. The silence was broken when Gene told me he had to leave and would be back in a little while. I felt bad about bringing up his wife and daughter. But if it was 4 years ago when this happened, then he should be able to talk about it. I know others that do and it is healthy to discuss these things. I still felt a little weird about that and something didn’t seem right. Gene appears to be a sincere, kind-hearted man, but something seems not quite right.
An hour and a half passed and still no sign of Gene. He was coming right back to get me, what happened to him? Now it is a bit weirder, I’m just sitting here at this table and read everyone of those free newspapers and the back issues.
I decided that this would be a great opportunity for me to walk back with the setting sun. The valley wall to the east was lit up against the ethereal sky. Different colors played on the rock surface making it an incredible view. I wanted to photograph this brilliant display of nature but, without my camera, I had to settle for burning the image into my brain. As I walked I began to see myself on the inside looking out onto a three dimensional movie screen. It was a very nice walk, even if it was also very cold. At times I forgot about the temperature as I walked in awe.
Today – 0 miles
Total – 2952 miles
DAY 59 – May 12, 1999
I walked outside with three layers of clothes on. My face was covered with only my eyes showing. Considering the cold temperature of the previous days, I was prepared to face the cold. Gene said he’d be down in about 15 minutes. Riding to the store, I began to sweat. The sky was a pristine blue, unspoiled by even a trace of a cloud. Perfectly blue as far as I could see in all directions, with a bright sun glistening through the valley. What an incredible morning, and I’ve only ridden just over a mile to the store for breakfast.
Kirk and Brian were working this morning. I had Kirk fix me one pancake for breakfast. He added a touch of vanilla to the batter for me…Excellent! Mmmm. After eating I made a point to introduce myself to Brian. He is the general manager but I hadn’t had the opportunity to meet him yet. I’ve seen him around the past couple of days though. He’s a tall man with thick hair and is in his 40’s. His persona seemed very positive and upbeat. When I spoke to Brian I found out that he does “body work”. That’s a term used by those that perform a multitude of techniques beyond traditional massage therapy. Unfortunately, he was busy so we didn’t get much time to discuss holistic healthcare and therapies.
Beau showed up just before I left. Yesterday he advised me to change my route to ride through Spearfish Canyon. This would add about 20 miles but would be well worth it. After saying good-bye to everyone, I headed out of the lot and onto the road. It felt great being on my bike. The temperature was perfect allowing me to wear the bare minimum. I felt light without the weight of the extra clothes I’ve become accustomed to over the past week or so. As I biked away I thought about this nice little oasis in the Black Hills. Everyone was exceptionally nice and seemed to work together. There was the one incident where I had a negative experience with the maintenance man, but on the whole, this was a very positive experience filled with positive people. I imagine it will be much like a large family with everyone working together. Most people are new employees, just hired in the last few weeks. There is still a lot of organizing to do but I know this place has potential to grow into something even more incredible. The owners appear very dedicated and the employees seem to share in their vision. I’m looking forward to seeing how they evolve in the future and hope to make it back there again.
Leaving thoughts of Nemo behind, I continued riding north on Nemo Road. It was all uphill as I continued following the creek near that ran near the road. Soon I saw one lonely cloud appear to the north. It was a small, puffy, bright white cloud. Within an hour the sky became streaked with white clouds. Man this is really an incredible day…the sun is bright, the temperature is perfect, and I’m feeling fantabulous!!! :-)
When I reached 385 I turned right, towards Lead. At the intersection of 85 I turned left (south) to go to Lead. It was a very steep one mile grade that I thought would never end! Finally making it, I stopped at the Subway for a seafood and crab sub. Riding towards downtown the uphill climb continues….Geezz, when will it stop! Finally, turning left at the stop light, which kept me on 855 then 14A, I had a downhill. Unfortunately, it didn’t last long, I had more climbing ahead. There was still snow on the mountain tops in the distance. I didn’t notice it getting cooler as I kept climbing and climbing, very slowly I might add. Then I see it! “Terry Ridge Summit”, ah….I made it up. There was snow by the road and in splotches all around.
Looking at my map, I noticed I was in “Icebox Canyon”. As I crest the summit, I was reminded what I like about a long climb up…the long downhill that follows! Flying down, the wind was very COLD…My teeth hurt when I tried to breathe through my mouth. By the time I reached Cheyenne Crossing, I needed to get warm. There was a general store/cafe right on the corner. Inside I met Kathy, one of the owners. She gave me hot tea to warm me up and told me, “there’s a reason they call this Icebox Canyon”, as I sipped it. I stuck around for about 45 minutes then was on my way into the canyon.
Wow, this is indeed an awesome ride through here! Reaching Savoy, I saw a sign that read “Dances With Wolves filmed here”. The canyon walls began to get taller as I continued north. I didn’t know this place existed in the Black Hills. And the best part was that it was downhill through the canyon :-) When I reached Bridal Veil Falls, I stopped to take a photo. I didn’t have a tripod with me and looked for a place to stabilize my camera. Trying to keep my weight as light as possible, I left my tripod at home. Now I’m thinking about getting a small lightweight one to strap on the side of my trailer. As luck would have it, two other guys stopped to photograph the waterfall. The older guy with gray hair sat his tripod on the ground, mounts his expensive looking camera, then pulled his light meter out of his pocket and looked through it. After he finished taking his photos he asked if I wanted to use his tripod. I said “sure” and he helped me to mount my camera on it. He went into a few technical things that I didn’t know and I explained that I was still learning. He gave me some suggestions on what speed to shoot at and frowned on leaving the aperture open to blur the water. That is the most over used effect, I suppose. I tried a few different settings. My camera has settings from 1/8000 of a second to 30 seconds. He advised me not to “stop” the water, just a little blur, so I tried 1/256 of a second and then 7/10 of a second. I’ll just have to wait and see which looks better.
After I put my camera back in my handlebar bag, I was approached my a fiftyish white haired man. He had pulled up in his yellow, dirty, older Ford LTD, and left it running as he stood and talked to me. His eyes were sort of bluish gray and he had bushy white eyebrows. He was wearing an old, worn, button up, dress shirt covered by an old, dark blue, cardigan sweater. I immediately felt uncomfortable as I stood breathing in exhaust fumes and the smell of burning oil from his car. He kept asking questions about my trip, about my trailer, and every time I tried to break off the conversation he asked another question. Even when I put my foot on the pedal and started to move, he quickly came up with something else to say or ask. All I could think about were the psychos Gene had told me about. His manner of speaking, his movements to get between me and the road each time I tried to leave, the negative energy I felt from him, and his whole persona seemed to fit such a profile. I felt as if I had to match wits to beat him at this game and tactfully get out of there. As I pedaled away, I kept watching him in my rear view mirror and rode fast to put distance between us. Maybe I didn’t have a thing to worry about but my intuition told me otherwise.
Reaching Spearfish. I stopped at the first convenient store, a Conoco station. Inside I met Eric and Amy with the background sound filled with NPR’s “All Things Considered” on the radio. I asked about camping and motels, here as well as Belle Fouche. She said there was a sister store there that had a motel for $25.00 a night. We discussed my route and Amy pulled out maps to see what a good route to Missoula would be. Then she called the DOT in Montana to see if a bicycle can ride on the interstate….Yes, they can. When we talked about my ride so far, Eric told me that I was lucky with the buffalo encounter. He said that they can be unpredictable.
Looking ahead on my route, they suggested I ride by Devil’s Tower. If I hadn’t seen it before I would have gone that way. I wanted to take a route to see things I haven’t seen before. That would take me through Belle Fouche instead of heading west from Spearfish. Amy called her sister store and talked to Bert to let her know I was on my way and needed a room. It was about ten more miles and when I got there, Bert informed me that there was tent camping about two blocks away. Cool, it was good weather and I was in the mood to camp.
My first stop was a little drive-thru burger joint. I went to the walk-up window and ordered a veggie burger which was listed on the menu. After an incredibly long wait, I got my sandwich, sat down outside, and noticed I had red meat and mayonnaise. I walked back to the window and told the lady the error. She seemed upset that I was complaining about it. She took it back and said it would be a few minutes. Then, after another long wait, I got my sandwich and discovered they replaced the bun with mayo smeared on it with one that had the mustard I wanted. But, I still had a red meat burger, the same one AHHHH! When they replaced the top bun, they put a bottom bun on it. So I had a red meat burger with two bottoms, and I was furious…especially with their attitude towards me. I had to stop myself from going back to the window. I was afraid of what I might say and was trying real hard not to be negative. I just told myself it wouldn’t kill me and I ate it. It tasted nasty and made me nauseous.
I rode to the campground and paid $10.80 to pitch a tent. Geez! That was expensive for a piece of crap campground. My tent sat in the middle of a trailer park. There were outside rows of trailers where people lived and in the middle were spaces for RV’s and tents. This sucked! I had a view of the local trailer trash outside my tent. The neighborhood was noisy with cars and dogs. I hated it! I would rather pay $15.00 more for a motel.
Needing to settle my stomach, I searched for what food I had. There was some angel hair pasta and 2 soups. I fixed some pasta and added the chicken noodle soup and TVP to it. After eating that concoction, I felt better and tried to sleep.
Wind – Blowing to the west
Today – 68.77 miles
Total – 3021 miles
Avg. Speed – 11.0mph
DAY 60 – May 13, 1999
My alarm woke me at 5:30am. It wasn’t raining so I went back to sleep. By 6am the locals were starting to make noise. A loud pickup truck drove by, a dog barked, and the semi traffic had greatly increased one block away on 85. Sleep was impossible and then I heard a raindrop at 6:30am. I got up and packed everything before the rain came. It was a very dark, cloudy, morning as I rode back to the Conoco store. There I got some Nutri-Grain bars, peanut butter crackers, and PowerAde. It was 7:30am when I rode out onto 212 on this rainy, cold (38 degree), morning. I couldn’t move very fast, my body was too cold to want to do anything. The tailwind was a tremendous blessing, it helped push me along. Thick fog would leave my mouth as I exhaled. Not much to say about the terrain, too cold to really pay any attention to it.
After riding 14.5 miles I reached the Wyoming border. I tried to be careful to keep my camera dry as I took a photo. It got a little wet and I just hoped it would be OK.