Rapid City to Murdo – The Long Way Round!

Thursday 7th July to Sunday 10th July – Stages 53 to 55.

Thursday 7th July – Rapid City to Interior (Stage 53).

After a rest & recovery day in Rapid City, we were back on the road just after 9am. We headed across town & picked up Highway 44, which we would be riding for the rest of the day. We passed a few herds of longhorn cattle (they always stop grazing & watch us as we pass them) & old farm equipment near farm entrances, still with Stars & Stripes on display from 4th July.

We stopped briefly at a gas station after about 20 miles to top up on cold water & enjoy a coke & cookie. At this point we’d covered 17 miles in the first hour & were both looking forward to the tailwind blowing us all the way to Interior. The temperature was in the high 80’s fahrenheit & staying hydrated was a challenge, as there were only 2 places to replenish our bottles on today’s route.

The road stretched far into the distance as the fields slowly switched from pasture to grassland, as we were nearing the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands – the second largest of 20 National Grasslands sites, it’s encompasses about 600,000 acres in various tracts across South Dakota. The characteristics of Buffalo Gap are mixed prairie & chalky badlands. The Buffalo Gap also results in localised winds & unfortunately for us, today’s localised wind was into our faces – from mile 30 until we finished we battled a 10 to 15 mph headwind the whole way.

I stopped for one last look back to the Black Hills – we’ll be slowly descending for the next 2,500 miles until we hit some small hills in New York State & Vermont. That also means there aren’t any more big descents either, which is a bit more of a disappointment!!! Meanwhile, on today’s stage, the road stretched ahead into the distance, taking us ever closer to Scenic, gateway to our next iconic landmark.

Before that we crossed Rapid Creek & took on one final drag up to the plateau – on the way up, I picked up a passenger. I originally thought it was Jiminy The Cricket, but it’s since been suggested that I may have introduced the first of a plague of locusts into Scenic!

The little fellow stayed on my front pannier for more than 45 minutes, until eventually he got blown off on a small descent when we saw The Badlands for the first time. After seeing fields for the last 3 hours, the outcrops of red, white, yellow & black rock laid out before us seemed even more grand & impressive.

As we reached Scenic, one of 3 ways into Badlands National Park (the others being Wall & Interior), we found what was once a thriving community to be no more than a ghost town with Tatanka (Lakota for Buffalo) Trading Post the only building still in use – we were able to top up our bottles & relax in the shade for 10 minutes with a can of sprite.

We could now see the rugged beauty of Badlands up close. Although we entered Badlands National Park today, it was only a fleeting visit.

Although we were only cycling through Badlands National Park for about 3 or 4 miles, the scenery was stunning & gave us an idea of what tomorrow might offer up. As we left Badlands, we returned to Buffalo Gap Grasslands – a simple way to tell the difference is whether the photo has a fence (Buffalo Gap Grasslands) or not (Badlands).

Returning to the carefully managed National Grasslands, we saw the only wildlife of the day (other than cattle) – prairie dogs thrive in Buffalo Gap National Grasslands & Badlands National Park, with very few natural predators. Every now & then the Badlands drew closer to us, giving us a tantalising view.

After over 5 1/2 hours in the saddle we were beginning to feel the heat & our water although plentiful (we still had a bottle each), was tepid like warm bath water – hardly appetising! We could see Interior in the distance & our camping cabins, but our first priority was to raid the town’s gas station for a 28 ounce bottle of gatorade & a 35 ounce bottle of water – we sat in the air conditioned seating area for 10 minutes & demolished the lot!!! It had been a challenging day cycling into a headwind in temperatures of 85 degrees plus.

Sean decided he was going to grab dinner from the shop on the campground, while I fancied some hot food. I visited the Wagon Wheel Bar, where I tucked into a buffalo burger & a bottle of Goose Island IPA as I reflected on a great day in the saddle.

On my way back to the campground I stopped to take a few photos as the sun set over Badlands in the distance – enjoy, I did!

Stage Stats – 74 miles, 1,421 feet of climbing. A fast first hour, followed by 4 1/2 hours battling a headwind. A tantalising taster of what Badlands may offer us tomorrow.

Friday 8th July – Interior to Philip (Stage 54).

The camping cabin was fairly basic (we had a bed, a light, air conditioning & patchy Wifi) – the toilet & showers were in a separate block about 50 yards away & we had to supply our own sleeping bag & pillow. We decided on reflection it was just better than camping, as we didn’t have to put up & take down the tent, but a poor 2nd to a motel!

We were both looking forward to cycling through Badlands National Park, so we were on our way by 9am again. I’ve enhanced the colours in the photos in this post, but the views were stunning enough I probably didn’t need to bother, however, old habits die hard! The video later is exactly as we saw the scenery – yes, it does look like a ride through a film set!!!

Badlands National Park has one of the richest fossil beds in the world & is spread out over 244,000 acres, which bison, longhorn sheep, prairie dogs & black footed ferrets all call home. The first set of photos were taken just after we’d passed through the entrance gate to the National Park.

We took a left onto Highway 240 by the Cedar Pass Lodge & the stunning views opened up before us – 5 minutes before, we had been riding through grassland & here we were in scenery that looked like it belonged on Mars.

Badlands National Park pays homage to the people who inhabited the area before it became a National Park. For hundreds of years the Lakota people have called the area mako sica which literally translates as “bad lands”. This refers to the challenges of travelling across the land, as when it rains the wet clay becomes slick & sticky, making it difficult to traverse. The jagged canyons & buttes that cover the landscape also make it hard to navigate. The winters are cold & windy, the summers are hot & dry, while the few water sources that exist are normally muddy & unsafe.

A fun fact for you – when Badlands was first proposed as a National Park in 1922, the suggested name was Wonderland National Park!

The stunning views continued after a brief stop at Cedar Pass trailhead. We turned up just too late to see a snake, but we saw the photos some other visitors took – we can’t complain, we saw our snake at Devils Tower!

The road starting climbing as we rode between the various rock formations & within 10 minutes we’d crested Norbeck Pass & we were now on a plateau.

We stopped at Fossil Exhibit trailhead where birds had made small houses under the eaves of the picnic shelter – they took it in turns to occupy the nests. The trailhead featured fossil replicas & exhibits of creatures that once lived in the area.

The White River Overlook provided big views across to the dark rocky outcrops on the far side of the plateau. Then we were delivered to Bigfoot Pass Overlook where the valley was laid out in all its glory – the views were immense.

We descended one side of the valley, then climbed the opposite side as we made our way up to the next plateau & passed the Big Foote gravel road – we would pass the opposite end of the road later in the afternoon!

Prairie Wind (first 2 photos) & Burns Basin (final photo) Overlooks offer totally different vistas of the surrounding rock formations & lowlands – the colours, geological structures & panoramic views don’t look anything like the same, yet the viewpoints are less than 800 yards apart.

On the way to Homestead Overlook we passed a prairie dog city – there must have been 50 or more prairie dogs on the lookout for potential predators. There was a constant high pitched squeaking as they communicated with each other.

Homestead Overlook offers views over Badlands & the surrounding prairie. In 1862 Abraham Lincoln signed the first Homesteading Act into Law – a US citizen could claim a 160 acre plot of land in the West by filling in an application, living on & improving the land for a minimum of 5 years & filing for a deed within 7 years.

It was said that back in the 1860’s you could look out from Homestead Overlook & all the surrounding prairie was neatly quartered off into 160 acre plots where people had migrated West to claim their homestead. While the Homesteading Acts offered free land to settlers, this “free” land came at great cost to Native Americans. Much of the land offered as homesteading plots was seized from the Native Americans who previously inhabited the Great Plains.

Yellow Mounds Overlook was the final viewing point before we had to descend & quickly tackle a steep ascent up to the final plateau. We were rewarded at Ancient Hunters Overlook with huge views East. This is one of the few spots where it’s wet enough for trees to grow in Badlands. Bison bones & arrowheads have been found in the vicinity & its believed this may be an ancient butchering site.

The final stop on my tour of Badlands National Park was at Pinnacles Overlook. These views reminded me of Bryce Canyon in Utah – the hoodoos, formations & rock colours are all similar. It was the perfect way to end a 3 hour cycling tour of another of the great natural wonders of the USA.

We stopped briefly to get a photo at the exit gate to Badlands National Park, then cycled the 10 miles or so to Wall.

I first visited Wall in 1990 & next to nothing has changed in the intervening 32 years. It’s a place that is famous for being famous – when you approach Wall on the I-90 from the West, there are roadside billboards advertising “Wall Drug – 5 cent coffee since 1930” or “Free iced water at Wall Drug” from 394 miles away – that particular billboard is in Greybull, Wyoming & we stopped there for a night 2 weeks ago!

We stopped at the Badlands Saloon & Grill in Wall (Wall Drug’s advertising didn’t work on me!!) for a lunch of chicken salad & x3 refills of Dr Peppers, while also topping up our water bottles. We still had another 32 miles before we could stop for the day!

Wall is also famous (at least locally) for having an 80 foot dinosaur on display by the I-90 freeway. I know if I don’t share the photos you’ll think I’m joking!

South Dakota was the home for many of the USA’s Minuteman Nuclear Missiles & there is a silo & Visitor Centre a few miles from Wall. Sadly it was in the wrong direction for us to visit, but I did read about it anyway.

The peaceful prairie of South Dakota around Badlands once had the power to destroy the world. There were 3 strands to the US nuclear policy – Land, Sea & Air. Land & Air were both based out of nearby Ellsworth Air Force Base. An art installation based on a Domino’s Pizza Box design declares “Worldwide Delivery In 30 Minutes Or Less“. In 1945 there were 6 nuclear bombs, all owned by the USA, in 1986 at the peak of the nuclear arms race there were 65,000 bombs mostly split between USA & Russia & in 2009 the number had reduced to 20,000.

After the majestic scenery of this morning, the afternoon ride was tame in comparison. The road to Philip was long, straight, slightly uphill & into a headwind, so was slightly more effort that we were expecting. I also started to experience some issues with my rear gears in the last 10 miles of the ride. As my friends know only too well, I have a very limited ability to do bicycle repairs, but I have at least learned to recognise a terminal problem when I see one!! I was 90% sure the cable was fraying & if so, I would need to get it fixed sooner rather than later.

While I considered my options (there were very few in truth) we went out for dinner & enjoyed a pint as we toasted a special day exploring Badlands National Park. We found an all you can eat buffet for $15 & quite literally ate them out of salad before starting on the prime rib, mashed potato & corn – I was so hungry I went up for a 2nd plate!!

My options tomorrow are to find a way of either getting to Rapid City (89 miles away) or Pierre (89 miles away) – it’s likely to be a long & expensive day as I’ll need to hire transport. I think my best bet is to return to Rapid City, but I’ll sleep on it & speak to Doug, the owner of the motel, in the morning.

Stage Stats – 65 miles, 2,165 feet of climbing. Marvelling at the stunning scenery in Badlands National Park. Battling a headwind into Philip & the first indications of rear gear cable issues.

Saturday 9th July – Unplanned Rest Day.

I spoke to Joanne & Doug (the hotel owners) this morning at 8.35am & told them all about my bike woes – I’m more sure than ever that it’s a cable problem. Doug agreed my best chance of getting Gene Genie fixed is in Rapid City. Although Pierre (pronounced Pier) is the State capital, it’s more of a hunting, shooting & fishing place.

This is where Doug stepped up to the plate. He said Prairie Transport may be able to pick me up & shuttle me to Rapid City & back today. He phoned them up for me at 8.45am & by 9.05am Tom was outside the motel door with his van, ready to take me to Rapid City. I was so grateful I could have cried & that was before I heard the price – it would be $40 for the round trip! Rapid City is 90 miles in each direction & the driving on its own would be almost 3 hours. It appears this is the standard fare to Rapid City, as the service receives State or Federal support.

Tom & I chatted all the way to Rapid City about anything & everything – so much so that the time flew by. I had identified a couple of bike shops that might be able to help me, so I called Black Hills Bicycles & spoke to Dan. I told him we were 20 minutes away from Rapid City & I was a hopeless Brit who needed his help, as my Coast to Coast adventure across the USA was about to unravel – I think I may have worded it differently, but that was how I was feeling!!

Dan agreed to look at the bike if we brought it in – I said we were on our way! 15 minutes later, I was talking to Dan & with a big smile, he said “you must have been speeding, I thought you were 20 minutes away”. We hit it off instantly & I explained what the problem was. He immediately put Gene Genie up on a stand & started work.

Within 30 minutes he’d stripped the old cable, confirmed it was frayed, identified a couple of other very small issues with the cable set up, fitted a new cable & checked the front cable as well. In the same 30 minutes I’d identified a Black Hills Bicycles tee shirt I liked & tried it on! Whatever my final bill was, it was going to increase by $20 for the tee shirt.

We spent 5 or 10 minutes talking about my adventure so far, then Dan was ready to work out the bill – 30 minutes (minimum) labour, a new cable, a couple of other small tweaks & a $20 tee shirt. Somehow the total bill was $34.05! I was totally gobsmacked as I’d been fearing upwards of $100 for the repairs (including labour). I asked if he was sure, to which he said definitely. In the end I made a donation to the boys club that the bike shop supported – the Coast to Coast adventure could continue after all.

I’ll be forever grateful to Doug (for sorting out transport in the first place), Tom (for driving me to Rapid City & back, as well as being great company) & Dan (for getting me back on the road). They each demonstrated a level of kindness & generosity of spirit that significantly exceeded anything I could have hoped for. I hope you get to read this & see what an impact you had. Thank you guys!

Tom is in the first photo & Dan is in the second photo – you’re both heroes, thank you so much!!!

Sunday 10th July – Philip to Murdo (Stage 55).

When I arrived back at the motel yesterday at 12.30 & it was 105 degrees outside, so we were fortunate not to be riding in the end! Doug was able to extend our stay for another night, so Sean & I decided to ride today on what should have been a rest day. We were up & on our way by 9am, picking up a tailwind as we continued along Highway 14.

The early miles were a series of ongoing rollers, but we had a tailwind to we made good progress. Whenever the road gets close to horses, they stop whatever they were doing & come over to the fence to have a look at us. It’s as if they know we’re crazy! Following on from Thursday, I picked up another passenger today, this time he had a free ride for about 15 minutes.

We’re beginning to recognise themes emerging in South Dakota (just as we prepare to move States again!) – residents take great pride in the entrances to their property, there are lots of pepper pots & the railroad still uses classic trestle bridges to cross creeks & water.

We stopped briefly in Midland for a cold drink & cookie, as well as to fill our water bottles. As we rode through the small town we passed a Grain Elevator Building & a customised Welcome To Midland sign. After the stunning scenery of the first 10 weeks, today feels like it’s a more run-of-the-mill day.

At Midland we turned right onto the 63 & we were immediately hit by a cross / headwind, just as the road started rising. The next 10 miles were a series of rollers as we bounced along the top of a ridge. We also saw our only real wildlife of the day in the form of a deer.

As we closed in on the I-90 junction, we realised that the services were also a historic stopping off point. It was advertised as Original 1880 Town & the shop had been decorated in an 1880’s style. Oddly, there were also other items from the past, like the diesel locomotive, that clearly weren’t from the 1880’s. We had a quick stroll around, then did the important business of throwing away the warm water from our bottles & replacing it with some fresh, ice cold water from the fridge!

The remainder of the ride was on rolling hills, as we took the frontage road that shadowed the I-90. Along the way we saw a huge skeleton of a dinosaur, as well as recent damage to one of the many pepper pots that were destroyed by a recent storm. In Philip (where we stayed last night), they had been without power for 4 days after the storm passed through. Seeing a large radio tower gave me hope that I might have a phone signal – today is Mum’s Birthday & I planned to call her. Alas, no signal today, so I made a short video & used the hotel Wifi to send it later in the afternoon.

The final few miles were gently downhill until a nasty, steep drag up to the town – all the cows in a nearby field came over to watch us as we battled our way to the top!!!

Stage Stats – 63 miles, 2,500 feet of climbing. Hot & riding into a headwind for large parts of the ride.

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