Murdo to Huron

Monday 11th July to Thursday 14th July – Stages 56 to 58

Monday 11th July – Murdo to Kennebec (Stage 56).

We had a late start planned for today, as it was a short & fairly flat stage into Kennebec. I went to Star Restaurant for breakfast & feasted on Spanish Omelette, toast & coffee, while Sean preferred cereal in his room. We’re becoming more comfortable doing our own thing when we feel like it, although we still prefer doing things together the vast majority of the time.

There had been rain overnight, but the roads & pavement were dry by the time we met up at 10.45. It was already in the mid-80’s & there was a slight tailwind when we met – happy days! Leaving town we passed the Pioneer Auto Museum – it has over 275 classic cars, tractors & motorbikes, with one of its star exhibits being the General Lee from the original Dukes Of Hazzard TV show.

Murdo is named after Murdo MacKenzie, who led the first drive of the Northwest Cattle Trail in 1880 – there’s a memorial opposite the Auto Museum.

One of the recurring views today was Pepper Pots & Grain Elevator Buildings, as we’re now firmly in America’s Breadbasket where much of the wheat is grown.

In order to transport the vast quantities of wheat, the Pepper Pots are always next to the railroad – this is great news for us, as the railroad generally follows the flattest route available & we were shadowing the railroad! Wooden Trestle Bridges are used to get the railroad over the numerous small creeks & minimise changes to its elevation. Meanwhile, the road was taking us up & down these same rollers – they were never very steep or very long, so it provided an interesting change in landscape for us.

I also took the opportunity to get in some more Hay Bale Surfing training – My mount & dismount needs significantly more work, but I’ve gradually improved my flexibility!

After about 10 miles we passed through Draper (population 66) & continued on towards Vivian (population 87) – while the town wouldn’t have anything in the way of a coffee stop, it has an Entry/Exit ramp to the I-90 freeway & that did have services, it was also at the halfway point of today’s ride (22 miles). Research is everything on days like these! We took a 1/2 mile detour where we found coffee & an apple danish – for freeway services it tasted good.

Temperatures for the last week have been in the high 70’s (24 celsius) when we set off & have risen to the high 80’s / low 90’s (30 to 33 celsius), so staying hydrated during the day is really important & quite a challenge on the remote roads of South Dakota. We used the stop to top up our water bottles before setting off again.

For the next 22 miles we shadowed the I-90, passing through Presho (poulation 411), the self-proclaimed Pride of the Prairie!

Today’s ride was very uneventful – I’ve used pretty much every photo I took! When we arrived at Kennenbec, we’d been riding for 2 hours 50 minutes, so we were quite early checking in to our motel. We made good use of the extra time at our disposal by popping over to the gas station opposite & buying ourselves an ice cream!

On our trip to the small grocery store I also stopped to add the Welcome to Kennebec sign to my collection.

Stage Stats – 45 miles, 1,056 feet of climbing. A tailwind & a gradually descending profile.

Tuesday 12th July – Kennebec to Wessington Springs (Stage 57).

When we were planning our 4 day adventure from Philip to Huron, our intention was to break the stages up into 4 similar length rides. However, towns with accommodation (or campgrounds) are few & far between. As a result, yesterday’s ride was 44 miles & today’s is 77, so we made an early start. As is the pattern now, we woke to clear, blue skies & the temperature when we set off at 8.15 was already in the high 70’s (24 degrees celsius) & rising. The really good news is that we had a tailwind!

The white tape across the road at regular intervals in the first photo was done last night by a group of very hard working roadmenders – they passed our motel at about 5pm & before dark they managed to seal & protect about 6 miles of road. The scenery started out much the same as yesterday, with haybales at the side of the road, Pepper Pots & long, straight, rolling roads.

After 12 miles we reached Reliance (population 109) & took a left turn on Highway 47 towards Fort Thompson. The road was deserted for the next 18 miles as we rolled up & down along a ruler straight road. While we were still in prairie country, we didn’t see very many fields with crops growing.

The last couple of days have been lacking in wildlife & today wasn’t much different- I saw one deer in the very far distance & it bounded off just as I lined up my shot on maximum zoom setting (sorry for the blurry photo!).

As we reached the top of one roller, we could see there was a break in the horizon & that meant we must be close to Lake Sharpe which was created by a man-made dam across the Missouri river. The Big Bend Dam is maintained & managed by the US Army Corps (this is the same set up as we saw at Lake Koocanusa way back on 22nd May).

There were a couple of boats on the downstream side of the dam when we crossed it.

We were now entering the Crow Creek Hunkpati Oyate Reservation – Fort Thompson is the largest town on the Reservation with a population of 1,282.

We stopped at Lynn’s Dakotamart as our water supplies were low & we wanted a 10 minute break in the shade. About 4 or 5 people came over & spoke to us, they were interested in where we were going & where we were from. Without exception, they wished us safe travels & said we’d enjoy the ride as the scenery is beautiful.

An interesting observation is if you ask someone how far away in distance a place is, you are likely to get a reply back in time, rather than miles – when you travel everywhere by car, time has more significance than distance! If you’re interested, Wessington Springs is 43 minutes away from Fort Thompson in the car, or 3 hours by bicycle – in both instances the correct answer would have been 44 miles!!!

We continued on a road that would be pretty much straight for the next 40 miles (with a few small twists & turns), as it continued to roll up & down some slightly larger hills. Out of the blue & 7 miles from Fort Thompson, the nearest town, we saw a Gentlemen’s Club – one of the more unusual finds on our adventure!

We continued on our way on the empty road, enjoying the big views of the upcoming descents & groaning when we saw the next big dipper heading uphill.

Just after Sean had reached the bottom of a shallow, but long descent, we spotted our first cloud of the day – just the one, all on its own! Up until that point it had been blue sky all day. We were making good progress with the aid of a tailwind, it certainly helped us up a few of the rollers. The scenery was also gradually changing, as slowly, but surely there was more agriculture – maize & wheat fields were appearing again.

In the far distance we could make out Wessington Springs water tower – all the towns seem to have one in the mid-West. We guessed it was a couple of miles away & yet 5 miles later it was still ahead of us! Eventually we reached the edge of town, took a left turn into the commercial district & went to our motel. The tailwind had blown us into town about 45 minutes quicker than expected & there was no-one around.

We headed over the road to Springs Inn Cafe, where I treated myself to a slice of lemon & coconut pie & an orange fanta float – delicious! We also went back for dinner that evening, where we had a very tasty cod & chips. We also met Don & Susan – he’s cycling across the USA from East to West with support from Susan.

We had a really enjoyable 30 minutes or so comparing notes & sharing stories – we swapped details & now have each other’s blog details. Meeting up unexpectedly with fellow cyclists is good for the morale, as well as having the chance to find out about the route ahead. Pedal strong Don & safe travels – Susan, don’t help him too much πŸ™‚ It was great to meet you both & enjoy your journey back to Lopez Island.

Stage Stats – 77 miles, 2,231 feet of climbing. A tailwind again with rolling hills.

Wednesday 12th July – Wessington Springs to Huron (Stage 58).

Today was another short day, so we enjoyed a lie-in & set off at 11am. There were 6 turns on the ride & every one of them was a right angle! The first turn took us out of Wessington Springs onto Highway 34, descending onto the prairie below. This section of road (like most of today) was long, straight & flat, with one pond to break up the scenery of wheat & maize as we headed to Lane.

At Lane we took a left onto Highway 281, which stretched way into the distance! There were a couple of farm vehicles which looked like they’d been abandoned, although I’m sure it was more likely they’d just taken a lunch break. As we crossed a river, I stopped to get a snap & finally managed to get a photo of one of the warblers that has been chirping at us for the last 2,000 plus miles!

We took a right turn onto Highway 224 which took us past Pepper Pots galore & another small lake. Don had mentioned last night that the small town of Alpena (population 400) had a bar called the Red Hog Saloon that should be open & it was at the halfway point of our ride. We stopped for a twix & coffee, while topping up our bottles with ice & cold water.

There was also a huge factory called Jacks Links in Alpena – I looked it up when we arrived in Huron. It’s where Jacks beef jerky, beef sticks, steak strips & smoked sausages are made. Since I’ve looked them up, I’ve seen their products in many of the gas stations we’ve stopped at. I haven’t yet been hungry enough to buy any!!!

We turned left at Alpena & spotted that an enterprising farmer had harvested the grass by the side of the road & baled it up. While South Dakota doesn’t need the haybales, they are sold to farmers in Minnesota who use it for cattle feed. Although we were on paved roads, we also saw that there were gravel roads every mile that headed off into the distance at right angles. This part of South Dakota is set out on a huge grid formation, but only some of the roads are paved – food for thought when planning the route for the coming days!

We took a left turn on Highway 37 which took us the final 5 miles into Huron. This completed our block of 4 days riding & we spent the afternoon doing out laundry & taking advantage of the hot tub to ease the aching muscles!

I also had a phone signal for the first time since Saturday, so gave Mum a call & wished her a belated Happy Birthday. It sounds like she had a great couple of days celebrating with a surprise lunch with some of her best friends on the Monday. A big Thank You to my Sis-In-Law Nikki, Sarah & Cherry for organising a brilliant spread, Mum really appreciated your hard work!

Prime Time Tavern had a small menu, but what it did, it did well. We had our first steak after 11 weeks of being in the USA – a delicious fillet mignon, finished off with a tasty slice of New York cheesecake. The one disappointment was having to drink a Bud Light, only my 2nd beer fiasco of the adventure!!!

Stage Stats – 38 miles, 305 feet of climbing into a cross / headwind.

Thursday 13th July – Rest Day.

I cycled into downtown at lunchtime, as it was 2 miles from the hotel & the temperature was in the high 90’s. I was looking for the largest pheasant in the world, but on the way I spotted a couple of amazing murals on building walls.

Pheasant hunting is a popular pastime in & around Huron, so the town decided to celebrate & advertise the fact. The local car dealer had decided to get in on the action & was advertising with a huge bison!

I spent the remainder of the Rest Day relaxing, watching Tour de France highlights of Tom Pidcock winning on Alpe d’Huez (the first Alpine climb I ever did in September 2010), catching up on my blog & preparing the route for our next block of riding. We ride again in the morning!

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