Part 7: Cycling the Dakotas

Welcome, faithful readers, to the seventh and last post of our 2018 bicycle tour. You may have noticed that this entry is long overdue and the reason for that is that we unfortunately had to make the tough decision to end our tour early in North Dakota due to an injury. We both have been putting off writing this entry; perhaps it is our way of hanging on to the trip and by finishing the last blog we are closing the book on a wonderful adventure. Thankfully, however, the injury is a relatively minor one, and, knowing that the journey is more important than the destination, we are just grateful to be able to make a trip like this possible, again. It’s a long story, so let’s pick up where we left off, at the line to the 11th state in our journey, South Dakota.

As we have mentioned before, when we are on the road we must be diligent about not falling too far behind in our blog entries, so the first thing we do after taking a photo at the state line is head for a library to recount tales from the state we just cycled through. The day we cycled into the cute university town of Vermillion, South Dakota we had only planned to stop there for lunch before continuing for another 30 miles, to complete 60 miles for the day. The day before, however, was our highest mileage day thus far of the trip at 82 miles. We didn’t realize when we set off the next morning how tired we were so we found an Asian buffet lunch and considered our options. We decided to cut the day short and work on our blog after lunch instead. We asked the warm showers host we had stayed with the night before to help us find a host in Vermillion and once we had our lodgings set up, we headed to the local library.

Typical city-folk leery of leaving our bikes unattended, we decided to lock them together in a planter so we could see them through the library window while working on the computer. The only problem was that the adult computer room did not have windows, so we asked the librarian if we could work in the children’s computer room to keep an eye on our bikes. He said, “sure, if you can handle it.” We spent the next few hours grinding through our last blog entry with the shrill voices of pre-teens playing computer games ringing in our ears.

We were glad that we decided to stay in this little town of population 10,000. While cycling down main street, we saw many signs celebrating diversity and acceptance. It was one of those places that we stored in our mental files of places we wouldn’t mind spending more time.

A few hours later, we headed over to meet our hosts for the evening, Bob and Vicki, at their gorgeous home. It was in a new subdivision of town, so new that the street isn’t even on Google yet. They had designed and worked on much of the home and when we rolled up, we were directed to the back of the house where Bob was building a backyard entertainment area out of stone. He was busy with his project so he quickly showed us around the house and to the two giant bedrooms downstairs, one for each of us. In the vast majority of situations, we err on the side of caution and don’t tell people that we are a couple, and in many situations people assume that we aren’t. Usually, most of the people we have interacted with figure out that we are a couple and their subtle acceptance puts our anxieties to rest.

We showered, did laundry, and got ready for a superb dinner, which we ate on the enclosed back porch overlooking the lush open grassland, with the Missouri river meandering lazily in the middle distance.

We were pretty tired from the day and full of great fresh food. When Bob asked if we would like to take in some sights before bed, we both instinctually darted our eyes to the nearest clock. Ok, we said, but we need to be up super early to hit the road again. Bob told us that we wouldn’t regret spending 20 minutes seeing their local claim to fame, the Spirit Mound visited by Lewis and Clark. It was there, Bob told us, that the explorers were drawn by legends of tiny vicious devils who shot poison arrows that flew a great distance. Clearly not something that the explorers were going to pass up on their journey west, Lewis and Clark left their boats on the Missouri and hiked the few miles to the mound to see these devils for themselves.

Upon reaching the hill and seeing only various wildlife, Lewis observed in his journal only that the tiny people were very alert to intruders on their land.

The singular mound jutting up out of the flat landscape is a curious attraction and we could see why people even today enjoy a tranquil hike to its summit.

Below: Us on the back porch with Vicki, imitating the famous image of Lewis and Clark pointing westward (with Kelly as Lewis’ faithful canine companion, Seaman).

We have enjoyed so many top-notch breakfasts on the road. Our hosts’ willingness to wake up early, to fill us up with nourishing fuel, and to smilingly see us off is one of the most heartwarming and appreciated parts of staying with generous strangers on the road. It is really the best way to start any day.

Full of high-energy food, we hit the road toward Springfield, 60 miles away. We got a great start that morning and were able to go a long way before having to stop to eat. The road was pretty barren and there was not much cover as the day heated up at the beginning of a heat wave. We were getting hungry and still had miles to go before arriving in town, so we stopped at the first farmhouse that we saw to ask if we could eat our lunch in the shade of a giant tree in their front yard. When we pulled up there was nobody around, but after a few moments a woman drove up who gladly allowed us to have our little picnic.

As soon as we pulled out our food, we were joined by a little barn cat who insisted that we share with her. She was so desperate to supplement her regular fare of mice that she walked right up and tried to help herself to our burritos with no hesitation. After several attempts to push her away, we caved and gave her half of a tortilla and a few cubes of cheese. She sat, licking her chops while we continued our rest.

This was a great place to take a break. We were out of the 95°F heat, surrounded by animals, and there was even a tire swing!

After a long, hot day, we made it to Springfield. Our maps tell us the populations of all the towns we pass through, helping us to gauge what kinds of services we can hope to find there. This was one of those places where the sign welcoming us to town boasted an even smaller population than our map told us, which is rarely a good sign.

In towns like Springfield, with population 600, you can pretty much guarantee that the town’s one hotel is going to be overpriced and full, especially on the weekend. This was what we found when we rolled into Springfield and only one of the two hotels listed on our map was still open. The motel had just one small room left and the proprietor would not budge from the $70 price tag. The proprietor insisted, as they often do, that the room would be rented no matter what, citing an event nearby on the Missouri river. Perhaps showing the least amount of interest in our trip of anyone we met on the road, the proprietor responded by gushing about a young college graduate staying at the motel who was spending the summer driving a car (presumably with air conditioning) through all the United States (good luck making it to Hawaii). Standing there, as flush as the Powerades we just opened, beside our loaded bicycles, odometer reading 2,173.5, sweat dripping down our faces, and the sun glistening on our taught golden leg muscles, we found her admiration for this young driver preposterous.

Heat stroking and annoyed by her attitude, we determined that the smelly, carpeted, dusty room was not worth the price, so we decided to try our luck elsewhere. We asked how far we were from the campground. The woman, seemingly determined to be unhelpful, would not indicate the distance or terrain, no matter how many different ways we tried to extract the information from her.

We tried calling but the line was busy so we were left with no choice but to cycle to the lakeside campground, an undetermined distance away. We chugged some Powerade, clambered back on our bikes, and headed to the lake. A half mile later we were checking out the campground only to find that every spot was reserved except for one – it was gravely, small, and slanted severely toward an algae-covered bog. We were not about to pay $25 to camp in a heat wave with no cover with only a pit toilet and no shower, beside a smelly mosquito nursery, so we cycled back up the hill to town.

There have been a few instances on this trip where we have arrived to a town with only a vague plan of where we will be spending the night, but Springfield is not one of those places. With both of our options exhausted, we were at a loss as to what to do. We were overheated and too far from the next town to go any farther, so for the second time in our trip, we reached out to the local public servants for help. The dispatcher put us in touch with the one cop on duty that day, Steven, who agreed to meet us outside the school where we were.

Seeing how overheated and distressed we were, he offered to let us sit in the air conditioning of his police SUV while he made some calls to find us someplace to stay.

(We are very aware of our great privilege and understand that we have had many opportunities on this trip (and in life) to take advantage of services and hospitality not available to everyone. We know that grinning from the back of a cop car is an atypical experience and not something that everyone can or wants to do.)

Sometimes we are able to camp in the city park, but that was not an option in Springfield. Instead, Steven presented the next best option that he could find, a Corps of Engineers area 3 miles away, up and down gravel hills and out in the open, without shade cover. We thanked him for his efforts, but decided to stay in town at least for a while to see if we could secure some other lodgings.

We cycled around town and stopped at the grocery store, where we asked the checkers if they knew of anyone who could help us and were given the contact information of members of the local churches. The Methodist pastor kindly said that we could camp on the church grounds. The checkers at the grocery store also told us that we could maybe go shower at the local community pool, so we headed there next.

At the pool we met Kim, who was a charming woman who let us shower for free, gave us snacks, and let us cool off in the baby pool. Among other things, Kim (in glasses above), told us that she had settled in the town based on a sign she received from god through a beaver.

Once the pool closed, we cycled a few blocks to the church but found it was in the middle of a neighborhood and we would not have a safe place to relieve our bladders. Sun still directly shining and the temperature still over 90° F, we cycled a few more blocks and found the fire station. All the sliding garage doors were wide open, with the vehicles and gear just sitting there, but there was nobody around. We leaned our bikes against the wall and hallooed for anyone around. We tried all the doors, which were unlocked, and as soon as we felt the breath of cold breeze from the air conditioning coming out of the vacant common room, we decided to sit in there and wait. We were waiting either for the temperature to drop enough for us to camp at the church or for a firefighter to come back and give us permission to sleep inside in the air conditioning. We knew that the next day would be just as hot and if we couldn’t cool our bodies down overnight the next day we would be at risk of compounded heat stroke.

After about an hour, the firefighters finally returned to the station, at which point, we were given permission to stay inside. They were volunteers so once they dropped off their trucks and gear they headed back home.

The next morning, we got up early, made a pancake breakfast, and got ready to leave. We flicked on the news and were dismayed by the weather report that indicated an extreme heat advisory now couple with thunder storms. We weighed our options and decided to stick around in town for the day until the head wave passed. So, we spent the day sequestered in the Springfield fire station, the only place we could find with a tolerable temperature. Fortunately for us, there was a kitchen and a TV so we were quite happy to eat frozen pizzas and watch the first games of the World Cup.

We also explored the garage and the different types of fire engines.

South Dakota is made up largely of rolling hills and vast open country. We often went for hours without seeing any evidence of human intervention on the land except for the road (with its cracks filled in with bulging, bumpy seams of tar) we we were riding on.

On one such lonely stretch of road between Springfield and Pickstown the next day, we had stopped for lunch on the side of the road and spotted another cyclist in the distance. We were soon joined by Danny, a cyclist from Los Angeles who is on his second cross-country tour. It turned out that we all had much in common, including our route and our destination, and the fact that we are all queer. We were very happy to meet another gay cyclist and were quickly talking excitedly together. Danny hit the road again as we finished our lunch but we were sure that we would cross paths again.

Mi gets pretty impressive helmet hair.

The next day, day 59 of our trip, we rode from Pickstown to Chamberlain fueled by two giant breakfasts. The first breakfast we ate at a gas station diner at 6am and 43 miles later we stopped in Platte for our second, nearly identical, just as gigantic, breakfast. We enjoyed our second breakfast at a nicer establishment before cycling the remaining 50 miles for the day. We found that breakfast was definitely the best fuel that gave us the most and longest-lasting power.

This was our longest cycling day at 91 miles! We had decided to go slightly off route to cut some miles out of our route and in the middle of the day we met up with Danny again. We all decided to share a hotel room to cut costs and were glad we got there when we did because a torrential rainstorm began moments after we had wheeled all of our bikes into the room. We were pretty wiped out from the long day of riding and gratefully gobbled down a pizza dinner and hit the hay early.

The next day we set out toward Pierre, SD.

We haven’t had many hilly days on this trip, but the ride from Chamberlain to Pierre, ND was a day that began with climbs. While it is definitely more work to climb hills, the reward of a well-earned view is greater than a flat day which is boring scenically. As we rode, each hill that we crested allowed us to see far into the distance and we were stunned by the vast beauty. We decided that the scenery was so beautiful that we had to pull off at a viewpoint for a picture. We rolled our bikes off the road to get the best view for our shot. When we tried to return to the road, however, we found that Mi’s back wheel refused to turn. As the bike was dragged back to the road, we soon discovered that a thick layer of damp clay-rich mud had filled the space between the bike tire and the fender, rendering it immobilized. Once we had gotten the bike back to the road, Mi had to remove the fender and scrape out the mud that had wedged deep between the two.

As this minor repair was happening, a sheriff pulled over to make sure we were ok. He was concerned that we are held up on the side of the road on a reservation and warned us of the dangers. We have often been warned not to spend much time on reservations and we have heeded those warnings, even though we have always thought them to be overly cynical and probably racist. However, this cop seemed to know what he was talking about and insisted that he call a tow truck to take us to the next town. After such a long day yesterday, and having already cycled 25 miles that morning, we decided to listen to the cop and wait for the tow truck.

By the time the tow truck driver, John, found us, we had gotten our bikes functional again but they really needed some careful attention and we were glad to not have to put many miles on before being able to tend to them. John directed us to meet him a few miles down the road in the next town so he could make more space in the back of his truck for both of our bikes. We met up in the small, somewhat dilapidated town of Fort Thompson where we loaded up the bikes at a gas station. While we waited for him to fuel up, some locals told us that there was going to be a parade coming through soon; a “meth walk” to commemorate its victims and to raise awareness to prevent its use.

Thanks to our ride into Pierre, we were able to check into our hotel and spend time thoroughly cleaning our bikes (Mi’s job) and planning the next week of our route (Kelly’s job). Danny cycled the whole way (but we took his back pannier bags in the truck with us to lighten his load) and met us at the hotel later. Once we had all freshened up, we headed out on the town to look for dinner. Pierre is the capital of South Dakota and you can kind of tell from the old brick buildings, some with domes, but otherwise this small town looks like any other quaint place with a population below 15,000.

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We became acquainted with local politicians on many of the street corners where we met life-sized statues of South Dakota governors.

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After dinner we set out in search of dessert and asked a woman on the street for a recommendation. She emphatically and without hesitation pointed us toward Zesto. She did not point us wrong.

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With dozens of unique combinations of sweets with ice cream, we happily placed our orders before taking a seat to enjoy our treat.

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We enjoyed delectable local delicacies at Zesto before heading back to the hotel where we allowed ourselves to stay up a little later than normal as we had all planned to have a rest day the following day. We enjoyed a day of down time watching soccer games, Danny went to the local library to work on his blog (Handlebar Confessional), and we walked to the grocery store for dinner and supplies.

The next day we were all set to go and the last thing to do was eat breakfast at the hotel before hitting the road. Unfortunately, though, while Kelly ate breakfast, Mi was throwing up last night’s dinner.

Danny had already opted to spend another rest day in Pierre and Mi was in no shape to hit the road that day, so we all spent another day resting up in the hotel.

The day after was a rough cycling day for Mi, who despite having an extra rest day was still experiencing abdominal pain from the food poisoning. We were already tight on time, though, and had not accounted for an extra rest day, so we had to push it the next day. We had the option of riding another long 90+ mile day or stopping at the only other place, a campground almost 60 miles away.

Day 63 of our trip we made it 56 miles to the first available campground and decided to call it a day because Mi was not feeling up to going any farther. It was a tough day, slow going and slogging through pain, so it helped to be visited by one of Mi’s favorite animals, a doe.

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The fields that we cycled through were so vast and so flat and we saw many different farming implements, from huge tractors and long irrigators to this crop dusting plane that buzzed over us and the road over and over as it covered the fields.

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That night, we stayed at Bob’s Resort Campground, which was the only thing for miles around.

The next day, we cycled from Bob’s Resort to Selby, SD. This was perhaps the most challenging day of our whole trip. Though we only rode 47 miles that day, it was pouring with rain on us the entire time. We got off to a late start from Bob’s Resort because we were waiting for the very dark ominous sky to clear up. We waited for a long time and decided to take our chance during a brief reprieve, but we weren’t on the road long before the rain started again as a fine mist but it quickly escalated to a pounding rainstorm. Unfortunately for us, there really isn’t anything (and close to anyone) out in this part of the country, with rolling prairie hills to the horizon in every direction punctuated only by the occasional tree and herd of cows. Out there, the cows were afraid of us and stampeded away once we pedaled too close. There was no place to stop for snacks or lunch that sheltered us from the rain so we simply cycled, knowing we could eat once we finally reached our destination.

We had foolishly sent our rain gear home with the rest of our stuff way back in Florida so by the time we climbed the last rolling hill into Selby, we were drenched. Exhausted and cold, we price checked the two motels in town and headed for shelter. We spread all of our belongings out on the couch, floor, coat rack, and wall partition of the hotel room to dry them out. We did a load of laundry and put our shoes in the dryer for a cycle as those were also soaked through. We spent the rest of the evening getting hydrated and checking the weather, which did not look like it would be much better the next day.

Last year, Kelly’s dad Brian spent some time in North Dakota, doing pro-bono legal work at a legal collective serving adjudicated Water Protectors. Being the friendly, gregarious fellow he is, Brian made quite a few friends during his six months with the collective, so when he learned that we would be traveling through this part of the country, he contacted his friends to let them know. Some of those friends came to our rescue the next day when Greg and Sarah were kind enough to drive us from Selby to Mandan, North Dakota where the office and apartments are for the collective.

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By this point in our trip, we had ridden 2,450 miles in 65 days and we were starting to feel the road wearing on us. Mi was still recovering from a nasty bout of food poisoning, we had recently pushed ourselves past our highest ever mileage days, we had just spent a horrible day riding in the heavy rain, and we were tired. To top it off, Kelly had been complaining of calf pain on and off for a few weeks when the pain suddenly and sharply shifted to shin pain (say that 10 times). That day in the rain exacerbated the injury a great deal so we arranged the ride from Selby to Mandan to spend a few days resting with the legal collective to give it a chance to heal. So far in this trip, we had only planned to take one day breaks at a time as that is all we could spare given our tight schedule. This injury, though, and having cycled for 2 months through 11 states, warranted a good sustained break.

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We stayed in the Lewis and Clark Hotel, which was built in 1918 and the people we talked to about the building all agreed that it is haunted.

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During our time with the collective, we met many wonderfully dedicated people and participated in events with a community committed to helping those unjustly accused and charged at Standing Rock. Below, Kelly is talking about some lawyerly stuff with some lawyers at a solidarity dinner for Red Fawn, a woman whose case many of them were involved with.

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We ended up staying in Mandan for 6 days, enjoying the hospitality of two Water Protectors, Lola and her daughter Jayden, in their apartment. We spent that time relaxing, visiting the courthouse, fixing our bikes, restocking our gear, and writing the postcards we had been carrying around for a while.

Thank you so much for welcoming us into your space for such a long time, Lola and Jayden! We really appreciate you letting us recuperate there!

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We left Mandan on day 72 of our journey and rode about 7 miles out of town when Kelly pulled over to the side of the road, her face looking pained and disheartened, and said that her leg felt just as badly as before our break. We spent a long while on the side of the road, debating our next move, quietly contemplating how far we had come and how far we had left to go. After a while, we agreed that the best course of action was to end our tour early, to prevent any more pain and worsening the injury. So, we flagged down a truck heading back toward Mandan and loaded Kelly’s bicycle into the back. Mi cycled back to town and met Kelly at the office where she was arranging to rent a car.

A few hours later, we were on the road, this time in a rented Subaru, and knowing that we would be sleeping in our own bed 2 nights from then rather than 30.

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We were both tremendously broken hearted to call an early end to our tour, just 4 states and 1,500 miles shy of our finish line. We also know that this is not the end of our touring lives and that we had to do the smart thing. Just like any other hard-core athlete, sometimes injury means having to take a break and sit on the bench until you can safely hit the field again. We had been looking forward to spending another month on our bikes, detached from all the worries and commitments of non-bicycle-touring life, but we had to look on the bright side and focus on the positives in our trip, on the journey rather than the destination, and appreciate having some extra time at home before Kelly starts school.

In our 7 years together, we have traveled on planes, trains, boats, buses, caravans and taxis to over a dozen countries, but our favorite style of travel has been the 5,700 miles we have ridden on bicycle tours through 20 United States. We love cycling long distance so much and we have dreams of future tours.

On the 74th day of our journey, we walked in our front door and were greeted by two very enthusiastic dogs and our curious cat. It was July 2nd and our yard reflected the fact that we were not around all spring to tend to its care. We got right to work on a majorly procrastinated spring clean spruce up.

We were also just in time to comfort our dogs for the holiday (they are patriotic but think fireworks are scary).

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Coming home early meant that we had more time at home in Portland to chip away at a major to-do-list before Kelly begins law school and there has been plenty to do around here. One of the things we needed was a car that gets better gas mileage than the gas-guzzling family van that we were generously given by Milo’s parents when we first moved back to the country 4 years ago. The van treats us well and is great for a lot of things, including camping adventures with the dirty dogs, but commuting efficiently 100 miles a day to school and back isn’t one of them. After much research, we decided to purchase a used hyrbrid with low mileage and a great warranty.

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We thank all of our readers who have taken this fabulous journey with us. We hope you have enjoyed what you have read and that this blog inspires you to keep your appetite sharp for your own adventures. Remember, there is more that connects us than divides us and if you go out your door, there is no knowing where you might get swept off to.

Goodbye for now and stay hungry!

One response to “Part 7: Cycling the Dakotas

  1. You are the most amazing people I know.
    I love you so very much.
    I am so proud of your awesome accomplishments 🤗.
    Ready to start the next adventure in law school.

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