Update from South Dakota…

Today has been quite a day. It is 10:30PM now and I am in my tent in Custer State Park typing this out by the light of my flashlight as I eat some canned beef stew that I heated up on my little camp stove with some venison sausage. Quite a rude meal, but it was all the campground store had and it is hearty enough to fill me up. I wish it were a bit light out so I could eat and type by the light of day, but I set up camp a bit too late for that.

But how did we get here? It started like this…

My desire to wake up super early and get on the road as per usual turned out to be wishful thinking. I woke up at the late hour of 8AM and went to get breakfast at the McDonald’s down the street. For what it’s worth, I seem to be eating there a lot – they are everywhere and they have at least a couple of inexpensive healthy selections that pass muster. By the time I hit the road, it must have been well on 10AM.

I was headed towards the town of Kadoka, close to Wall, from where I wanted to turn into the Badlands National Park. The landscape today was very different from yesterday, mostly prairieland instead of cornfields. It reminded me a lot of central and eastern Washington and Oregon. It’s not my favorite kind of terrain but I figured I was close to the end of South Dakota anyway. The day was a lot hotter than yesterday too. Thankfully it wasn’t very windy.

My ride to Kadoka turned out to be a lot longer than I anticipated when halfway through there I felt my tailpack bump into my back and I realized that my Camelbak bladder and Red Fraggle were missing. I usually secure them to my tailpack using Rok Straps and for some reason they had slipped through. I debated on whether I should bother going back for them and decided I would at least try even if it was just to see them smashed to bits by cars running over them on I90.  Turning back was no easy endeavor through 14 miles of construction and no exits for almost 10 miles. As luck would have it, I saw my Camelbak lying on the shoulder and pulled over and grabbed it. Thankfully the shouder was wide enough for me to stop safely and cars were going slower because of the construction zone. I have no idea how the Camelbak made it to the shoulder considering I must have dropped in the middle of the highway, but I wasn’t complaining. Red Fraggle was nowhere to be found, alas, and I sadly hitched the Camelback to the bike and took off.

I stopped briefly in Kadoka to get gas before heading on to the turn in the road that would tkae me to the Badlands. I was intending to just see a bit of it before making my way to the town of Scenic further west. once there though, I ended up riding the entire 40 miles of it. It was a little frustrating in parts with the slow moving cars and the 90+ temperature. The vistas more than made up for it though. I’ve never been much of a fan of dry, arid deserts but the terrain here was like nothing I have ever seen. If not for the trees and occassional patches of grass, it felt like riding on Mars. I pulled over a few times to get pictures and even walked a small trail to a point 300 feet high to get a good view.

Next stop after this was Wall which I had to go to to go west. The hundreds of signs announcing Wall Drug might have done the trick because I found myself riding through the town of Wall to look at the store for no apparent reason. It was really hot by now. I parked and took a couple of pictures and got ready to take off. When I found that I had parked right outside the post office, I went in and mailed home a package of some things I had bought at the gift shop in the park.

I went to the gas station to fuel up and then went inside, filled up a big glass with ice water, went to the bathroom and dunked my Mountain Hardware base layer into it, and winced as I put it on. The ice cold water made me shiver but as soon as I walked outside, it paid off as I felt it cooling my core.

Mt. Rushmore was up next, about 80 miles away. I made good pace and got there around 6:30. It was crazy hot along the way, but my ice cold shirt made it feel like I was riding in air conditioned comfort. :) This made for a very pleasant ride and time flew as I made my way to my destination.

It had been flat and dull and straight for hundreds of miles now, so when I came down from a crest and saw green trees and mountains up ahead, I gasped, not quite ready for the sight. As I made my way close to Mt. Rushmore, the landscape changed completely as I saw tall, dark evergreens fringing winding Alpine roads. I wasn’t quite sure if I had just hit some kind of oasis but I couldn’t stop saying “Oh my god, Oh my god!” over and over to myself. Of course I had theoretically known that Mt. Rushmore was, well, amidst mountains, but I hadn’t expected such a dramatic change in the scenery.

As I waited at a traffic light to turn onto Highway 16, I pulled up next to a guy riding a Honda 919 pulling – of all things – a huge trailer. Not having seen very many sportsbikes pulling trailers in my lifetime, I pulled up next to him and we talked a little bit. He said he was headed to Seattle too, which of course was intriguing. It was difficult with my earplugs though, so I said that we’d talk more at the monument.

I got onto highway 16A and reached the entrance for the National Monument, paid my $10, parked and walked inside. The famous sight of the presidents’ faces carved onto the rocks was quite a sight. I have no idea how they achieved it but I made a mental note to look it up when I got home.

Next up was Crazy Horse, which was about 16 miles away. Or should I say 16 miles of twisty, winding, unbelievable road? After all the dreary interstates and riding through the great plains, I had almost forgotten what it was like to ride on true scenic motorcycling roads, but here they were. Crazy Horse was quite a bit more impressive than the presidents’ faces even though you could only see his face in profile and from very far away.

I pondered where to spend the night and decided to ride 50 miles north to Sturgis and find a motel. As I was getting ready to leave, my friend on the 919 pulled up next to me. He introduced himself as Jake. He turned out to be quite a bit crazy – he is riding cross country round-trip in a month. He had ridden from Ohio to New York to here and was heading northwest to Seattle, then south through 101 and to Florida. (Four corners, I guess). He was also riding to Devil’s Tower the next day, not just to look at it like me, but to climb it. I told him to look me up when he got to Seattle, if it was after I got there. We exchanged numbers and made plans to meet the next day at the Tower. Crazy guy… *shakes head*

I abandoned my plan to motel it and rode to Custer State Park which was 6 miles away. I got a campsite in a big grassy field for $18. Everything here was lush green and the air was cold and crisp. I couldn’t wipe the big grin from my face as I reflected that this place felt like being in heaven after the day that I had had.

All in all, South Dakota has been quite something. From big sky country laced with cornfields to dry arid prairie to lush verdant mountains, the landscape has changed dramatically three times and each has been uniquely thrilling to ride through. I’m not quite sure why the riding here gets such a bad rep. It’s been pretty wonderful in my experience. I am excited to be heading on to Wyoming and Montana next.

Ever since I fully recovered from my illness two days ago, I feel like I am truly on vacation again and every moment of every day is joyous. I feel happy and free. At the back of my mind there is a lingering sadness as I realize that the honeymoon will be over soon and I will be back to the routine of my life in Seattle very soon. I’m trying not to think about it too much but I know that it will hit me when I am back and it won’t be pleasant when it sinks in. I know that I missed Seattle a lot when I first got out on the road but the closer it gets, the less I want to go back. How does one go back from this? How does one just turn off and go back to mindless daily routines? I don’t know the answer, but no doubt I will find out. :|