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Beautiful Things


We’re going to a wedding!

Dayum, do we clean up nicely.

Dayum, do we clean up nicely.

And the shoes! It's gotta be the shoes!

And the shoes! It's gotta be the shoes!

Quinn, getting all gussied up by a bridesmaid. The bride is in the photo, with her back to the camera.

Quinn, getting all gussied up by a bridesmaid. The bride is in the photo, with her back to the camera.

Brett Wayne Barker and Janell Kathleen Broering, congratulations!

Before we hurl ourselves into the madness & mayhem that is a major underground cycling event, we need to reflect on the much more bucolic past few days. By the time the chaos, camaraderie and competition of COG’s big tournament in Milwaukee wears down, we’ll forget that we spent two days touring rural Wisconsin, climbing up and down forest roads, the rumble of an approaching car’s engine such a rarity that we had the luxury of the whole street to ourselves. We’ll forget the absence of all noise but the wind rustling through the leaves and whirling by our ears. We may not forget the constant struggle of battling yet another hill, but we might forget how awesome some of these roads were:

Stanek Road! Parties everywhere!

Stanek Road! Parties everywhere!

Oh, it’s true. Pausing at this street sign, a dog chased us down, then promptly lost interest when it realized we weren’t moving anymore. It’s owner came out & asked us if we were lost. “No, we’re just taking pictures of the street sign,” because of the whole last name thing”. “Oh, are you related to any of the Stanek’s? Dan & Bill? They live right over there.” As far as I know, I’m not, but I’m going to wait for my Grandmother’s deference on that one. Hi, Grandma!

Jonny confessed that there were less challenging ways to bring us into Madison “but I figured it’d be easier to keep you here for an extra day if I tortured you a bit first.” Jonny’s a methodical kind of guy. He had at least two advantages over the bulk of our previous hosts: 1) he keeps up to date with our blog and knows the generosity we’ve already been shown, and 2) he’s competitive about it. He wanted to make sure he planned a tour that rivaled everything we’ve encountered so far. And he’d be the one to do it. In addition to the underground food collective, he organizes an annual Bike The Barns ride & fundraiser, which tours local farms and raises money for low-income families to afford CSA packages. Also, since Jonny was in charge, he took most of these photos.

The Wisconsin River

The Wisconsin River

somewhere in wisconsin, near a barn

somewhere in wisconsin, near a barn

Our first stop, which was supposed to be lunch, happened at a clandestine restaurant tucked away into the hills. They only take reservations for Fridays & Saturdays, but Jonny works with them a lot, and coordinated a late lunch / early dinner for us. All of the produce is grown & harvested within the 16 acres of their property.

Lightyears restaurant and farm

Lightyears restaurant and farm

They had a lot of chickens & ducks there

They had a lot of chickens & ducks there

We kept going. Jonny took another wrong turn, turning our 60 mile day into a 78 mile day. I’d like to think this was completely a mistake, but then again, he wanted to make sure we stuck around in Madison for a while, so I’m not sure. We ended up at Caitlin & Andy’s place – a beautiful renovated barn at the top of yet another hill. Andy makes gruyere cheese. Caitlin makes paintings.

We got there sweaty. Jonny snapped photos. He thought I looked hilarious.

my future combover

My future combover

it took some time, but we convinced andy to keep going with us instead of staying with the cows

it took some time, but we convinced andy to keep going with us instead of staying with the cows

but i mean seriously, this cow was adorable

but i mean seriously, this cow was adorable

i left my waterbottles at the house and had to backtrack 4 miles to get them. Jonny took this as I finally showed back up.

i left my waterbottles at the house in the morning and had to backtrack 4 miles to get them. Jonny took this as I finally showed back up.

Andy the cheesemonger wakes up early in the morning to make Upland Cheese Company’s award winning gruyere. By the time we got to his dairy, he was well into the process of separating the curds from the whey. For his tour, we had to don some stylish hairnets & booties

new style!

new style!

Andy gave an amazing tour

Andy gave an amazing tour

cheese. young.

cheese. young.

cheese, older

cheese, older

one of america's best cheeses is made here

one of america's best cheeses is made here

One thing we have just about no documentation of is rhubarb. Ever since staying with Arone’s mom in Spicer, Minnesota, we seem to have had rhubarb in some form for every meal. Apparently it’s in season. We knew just about nothing about rhubarb before this trip. Like what it looked like. Here you go. DON’T EAT THE LEAF! That part’s poisonous. Most rhubarb isn’t this huge. This is Jonny’s friend Lee’s photo.

Meeting up with Jonny Hunter in Wisconsin was one of the most anticipated parts of our trip. The week leading up to the COG tournament in Milwaukee is what we based our entire schedule around. Jonny was going to meet us two days out of his home in the capital city of Madison, and take us on a riding tour of some of the local farms.

Jonny Hunter and his brother Ben are menaces in two places: polo courts and kitchens. Ben can fly and score goals while doing it. Jonny’s got some kind of sixth sense. Both of them run The Underground Food Collective. While Quinn, Andy and I were already biking, they came to New York to cook a few more spectacular dinners. Back in the fall of 2008, I attended their five-course (or more?) Pre-Industrial Pig dinner. It was a brilliantly assembled, attended, and delicious event. Not only was Johnny going to show us how to get into our second big city this week, he was going to make sure we ate well along the way.

Before we met him though, we had to get there. Minneapolis is a big city. And there’s another city, St. Paul, right next to it. We foolishly didn’t ask for another guide out of the city, and foolishly followed the vague directions of the founder of Black Label at the Hard Times Cafe. I’m sure that the Gateway Trail he recommended we take is a spectacular ride, but you kinda gotta know how to get there in the first place. We didn’t. And instead of being out of the urban area in the morning, we didn’t make it to Wisconsin until the early afternoon. There was still 170 miles between us and Johnny Hunter. The good news was that it was along some of the most gorgeous parts of the country, following the Mississippi River. The bad news was that there was a 15-20mph headwind. The other bad news was of course that there was still 170 miles to go.

The Mississippi lopes and roams, backed up into lakes miles wide at times, its enormity fed by rivers already massive – tributaries that snake hundreds of miles away up the mountains this side of the Continental Divide. Route 35 hugs its banks for most of it’s length in Wisconsin. Motorcyclists roam up and down in packs, dropping off in groups to explore the roads up to more scenic vistas along the tree lined bluffs.

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After 97 miles, stormclouds starting to threaten us and we paused in the town of Nelson, with hopes of finding a fine place to pitch a tent. The railroad that had paralleled us and the river went through the town like it had for all of the small, lovely towns along route 35. The locals recommended we camp in the town of Alma, 9 miles away, but after our obvious conviction towards not riding anymore, formed a consensus that the city park behind Beth’s Diner was probably a fine place to spend the night. We moved some picnic tables from under an overhang, pitched our tent, stashed our bikes away from any rain, and walked into Beth’s Diner for a dinner that could not possibly satisfy our appetites.

Last night's campsite

Last night's campsite

In true twoarmparty fashion, as soon as the doors closed behind us, the skies opened up and drenched the town.

The rain let up quickly, and we devoured our meals with similar haste. Sleep set in easily on our wind battered and grumpy bodies. Hours later, because commerce never stops, our dreams were shaken by the rumble of approaching locomotives. The movement of miles of freight was announced by a blast of the engine’s massive whistle, rendering slumber impossible, but waking us to a resounding echo from the mountains behind us. It was immensely disrupting, but strangely beautiful.

The next day’s trip was much further than the 97 miles we had just tacked on. It was supposedly less hilly (until the very end of our ride), and if the weather wasn’t lying to us, we were going to have some tailwinds. Both assumptions ended up being true. We even found a shortcut that Jonny hadn’t pointed out. Wisconsin, like Minnesota, has done a fantastic job turning old railroad tracks into bike trails. We followed this flat, straight trail for 12 miles into La Crosse. Quinn took a video, thankfully, to give you an idea of what it’s like. It might make you queasy, but…train bridges! Woods! Mississippi marshland! No cars whatsoever! Possibility of alligators on the trail! It was pretty.

We followed route 35 until Ferryville, where we were to pick up route C, headed away from the river and uphill all the way for the next 15 miles. This was at mile 107. We knew dinner was waiting for us with Johnny in Star Valley, but since the burgers at the biker joint were only $4, it only made sense to inhale one before climbing.

Maybe it’s because we psyched ourselves out, or maybe it’s because we’re just getting stronger, but that last 15 mile climb was no sweat. Maybe those burgers had something extra special in them that made them taste so great. Whichever way, we beat Jonny to his friend Josh’s house. Josh, a farmer, rolled out, and let us make ourselves comfortable in his house while he went out to plant some seeds. By the time he got back, Jonny was still on his way. So Josh took us on a tour of the farm. Quinn is the only one of us who has any knowledge of the fields at all, but we still learned a ton of stuff that city kids don’t know just from listening to him for 45 minutes. And we saw a bald eagle. Check.

A Bald Eagle. These things are beautiful. It opened it's beak and went "America!"

A Bald Eagle. These things are beautiful. It opened it's beak and went "America!"

What had taken Jonny so long is that he was trying to get his bike together. He has the luxury of owning one of the last bikes every produced by Johnny Cycles. All of his components though, were hastily borrowed from friends. While he cooked dinner, Josh’s brother Noah gave us a tour of the farm equipment. He had no idea how to give a tour, but it was OK, because we had no idea what we were looking at. He ended up giving us a spectacular explanation of some of the 100+ pieces of equipment they use to manage their farm.

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By the time we finished eating, it was nearly 11, and we’d added 220 miles to our total. It was time to pass out. The next morning, just like any other day, we got ready to ride.

Josh, Jonny, QAK

Josh, Johnny, QAK

The whole point of the previous photo was to have us in front of a tractor, but it turned out that you couldn't see the tractor at all. This one is from the 40's.

The whole point of the previous photo was to have us in front of a tractor, but it turned out that you couldn't see the tractor at all. This one is from the 40's.

Rick Reinhart used to get in the kind of trouble kids used to get into, and would always be there when we did things we had no intention of telling our Mom’s about. We’re not talking bad trouble here, just stupid little kid trouble. He was fun. Half way through High School, he transferred to a different school and more or less disappeared for a decade. He was much younger than me (by a year, which is a HUGE ratio of your life when you’re ten years old), so was always much tighter with the 6th graders than the 7th graders. A few years back, he resurfaced (as far as we’re concerned) got married, moved out west, continued being an outdoorsy-type kid, and just recenly had a baby. (Congratulations!) His wife’s parents live in Spirit Lake, Iowa, on the shores of Lake Okoboji. That is the extremely short biography of Rick Reinhart.

When I sent out a “hey I’m doing this trip, does anyone know anyone that lives along this line that goes through the middle of nowhere” note, Rick was the only person who wrote back “yeah…actually I do”.

When we left Sioux Falls, the winds were punching us in the face again. It was the third straight day of riding into the winds, and we had roughly 85 miles of it. Then we took a detour, to take us off the highly traveled route 9 which has no shoulder. It added 10 miles or so, but was worth it, according to everyone who knew anything about the ride. Then we got a bit turned around near the town of Ashton, adding a couple more miles on. What started out as an 85 mile day ended up being closer to 110 miles. Into the winds. And Quinn’s knee was hurting. It was rough.

No one believed me when I said there was a lake in the middle of Iowa when all we could see was farmlands and all we could smell were cows. I promised them it was there, but I apologized that it was further away then I planned. Once we saw the ring of trees and the glimmer of water, we knew we were close, and they knew I wasn’t a liar. Once we rolled into the neighborhood of Ann & Rick Barry and pulled up to their home, we knew we were going to have a great night. We would’ve had to endure a LOT more brutality for it to be not worth it to get to Lake Okoboji. The Barry’s live 15 feet from the water and put us up in the spare house their parents used to live in. Yeah. Spare HOUSE. Their son Sean and his wife Caroline were there for the weekend, and their friends Tim & Max came over for the night too. Sean made a brilliant enchilada casserole, and Ann told us we were welcome to spend the next day there.

There was only one crappy reason not to take another rest day here and a whole bunch of reasons in favor of it. The one crappy reason was that we had to keep going. But, if you refer back to point A: Quintessential Awesomeness, you’ll remember that we’re way ahead of schedule, so an extra rest day completely fit into our schedule. As it turns out, that rest day fell on Memorial Day, and the Barry’s were planning a huge barbecue.

We’ve got to give a lot of credit to Ann & Rick. Originally, I had told them we were going to get to Spirit Lake five days later. Then we got ourselves way ahead of schedule and couldn’t waste too much time in South Dakota (although we’d love to…fantastic state) because Quinn’s Dad was already on his way to Sioux Falls. I apologize for only having a few short days notice on our new arrival date, but Ann got things together in the spare house in spectacular fashion. Sitting here by the lake, being with this wonderful family, celebrating this holiday has been one of the most relaxing rest days yet. Thank you again. The lake, out of nowhere in Iowa, is a gorgeous oasis that almost no-one knows about and is difficult to get to unless you live within driving distance. Rick drove us all across the lake in his boat to party on the other side. We drank Templeton Rye (allegedly one of Al Capone’s faves) and danced at the Grass Gardens. It was like going out on a Saturday night with your best friends from home except that your best friends live on an lake and drive motorboats.

Rick Reinhart, thanks for pulling through. Of all the people I know, I knew you’d be the one to know someone in the middle of the country. Your inlaws and all of their friends are wonderful people.

Oh, and a big shout out to Annie’s fourth grade class! We hope you enjoy our stories & photos. Have a great summer!

I really want Ken to write about this, but I just wanted to write quickly from my perspective and put up some photos from today.

we left sioux falls yesterday..a beautiful day, feeling great after resting and headed into Iowa.  We were given directions to stay off one of the more major roads and so we took them, extending our trip 5 or 10 miles but making for a nicer ride.  it was beautiful.. so many pig farms, beautiful trees.  so nice.  well, my left knee has been bothering me for some reason and i felt great until about noon when it started to hurt.  i took 4 advil and it didnt help.  by 2pm, i was in so much pain.  no stopping tho, i mean not more than a few minutes here and there.  we had a long way to go, so i just used my right leg a lot and tried not to think about it.

well, it turned out not to be an 85 or 95 mile ride – no fault of anyones, it was just longer than expected.  but it was 109 miles INTO the wind, with my knee in so much pain.  my god, pretty or not, it was a looong day.  and we were headed for a lake.  a lake, in iowa… ummmm all we’ve seen are farms.  Ken, are you sure there’s a lake??  okay, i believed him, but could barely see straight by the time we got a mile from our destination and actually saw the trees surrounding the lake.  we arrive and the wonderful people that we stay with have an entire house for us to stay in!  holy crap.  and they’ve cooked us dinner and have a fully stocked fridge with beer.  i felt much better about the long day now.

they took us across the lake,  to the bars where we all stayed out till 2am, dancing and well, drinking more with the locals.   the next day we slept in the latest yet on this trip and had an awesome day on the lake.  i fell asleep on the dock. andy went out kayaking and later in the day, more of the family came and we ate enough food for 12 people.  thank you!!!

ken will write about who this amazing family is and how he knows them..

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a good life out here.

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this was the house that we had to ourselves

this was the house that we had to ourselves

ahem... distracting

ahem... distracting

Caroline, Sean's wife, joined us for the first 20 miles of our ride into Minnesota.

Caroline, Sean's wife, joined us for the first 20 miles of our ride into Minnesota.

We woke on the side of Ron Dyvig’s homemade Badlands observatory, half-expecting another day of troll-blown headwinds in South Dakota. Luckily, so far, those eastern winds were a one day anomaly for us. On our way to Quinn, we had regrettably passed WallDrug – arguably South Dakota’s largest unnatural attraction. Signs advertised their 5 cent coffee and “donuts for truckers/veterans/cross country cyclists” for miles, the same way South of the Border advertises their fireworks. Except that WallDrug has their signs thousands of miles away, and on asteroids, as Ron claims. Also, they don’t advertise free donuts for cross country cyclists, but we convinced them to toss us each a delicious maple donut at the $7.99 breakfast buffet. That’s right, buffet. As if there was any question we were going to visit WallDrug on our way back to the Badlands loop, the breakfast buffet made certain of that. I piled on so much food, my styrofoam plate almost snapped in half.

Stuffed and fueled up, we finished up the 6 mile backtrack to Wall, and headed south towards the Badlands, one of South Dakota’s top natural attractions. It’s weird and inhospitable there. The road twists around mounds and spires of rock and dirt that shimmer in spectacular color shifts, prairie dogs popping up and chirping by the dozen, like a oversized version of whack-a-mole without the stuffed animal prizes and acne-ridden, teenage barker hustling you into the game. Cycling through these dry desert canyons is a trip.

The Badlands.

The Badlands.

Then there was this guy…we have no idea what that’s all about.

Our destination for the day was Philip, South Dakota – a spot on the map chosen at random because it was about 80 miles or so of a ride. From the Badlands, there wasn’t much along the way, and when we got there, the only thing open was the bowling alley. It was a Sunday. We had no idea. But hey, bowling alley! And they serve burgers! Let’s go bowling!

Rock & Roll lanes was empty except for a few cowboys having dinner and a few rock-crushing contractors relaxing after a long day of … golfing. Fred & Paul were their names and I’m not kidding about them being rock-crushers. “We pound rocks into gravel” Like the kind of stuff you do in jail. Or…South Dakota. After watching us roll a game (Quinn: 78; Andy: 104; Ken: 132), we convinced them to roll another one with us. Fred had a natural bowler’s posture in spite of his claim not to have bowled for 15 years. He sidled up to the lane with a lean to the side like his leg was broken, his fist clutching the ball, tucked down by his waist as if these rock crushing arms were about to give you an uppercut that would break your jaw in half. He hurled the ball effortlessly and it arced fast, right across the face of the triangle of pins and into the gutter. The lady working the grill sighed, shook her head, came out and rattled off something about “if you’re going to try & roll like that, you need to stand over here and aim over there,” then put down a few post-it notes on the lane to direct his throw. With a few tweaks to the markings, he was rolling strikes like he was playing Wii bowling at home. The grill lady walked back behind the counter, satisfied, as her husband (who owns the place with her) grinned broadly. Final results – Paul: 46; Quinn: 48 (way to show ’em, Quinn!!!); Andy: 95; Fred: 105; Ken: 173. Ok, yes, I was keeping score, and yes, I used to be in a bowling league as a kid, and yes, I used to read a lot of Dragon books, went to band camp, and listened to Weird Al a lot, so what? It was a genuine game (one of my best ever), and I had a Turkey in the 10th frame! (A turkey is three strikes in a row – awesome in bowling, bad in baseball unless you’re the pitcher).

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This had been one of our most enjoyable nights of the trip. With nothing to do in a town of 800 picked at random, we spent four hours laughing with these guys. We packed up & headed for the lot down the street where Paul said we could probably set up our tent behind his RV. Just as we’re about to mount our bikes, the grill lady comes out & encourages us not to go to the RV park, but to set up camp behind her bowling alley. “You’d be sleeping on rocks over there. At least there’s grass back here.” Just the night before, she had told us, they had been robbed for the second time in just a few months. This clearly didn’t daunt their good nature, and she made sure we were comfortable & had everything we needed. It was off the road, quieter, and there was far less a chance of us getting run over by something in the middle of the night.

Everything was set up and we were making ourselves comfortable. Quinn thought she heard a raccoon or a rattlesnake going after her beef jerky, but it was just the wind. Probably. After an hour or so, we were well on our way to snoring our way through the night when the lady comes out again and scares the living bejeezus out of us, trying to get our attention. I don’t think she tried to open our tent herself, but she was definitely trying to wake us up. Andy recalls getting woken up by me grogging “What the?!!? There’s someone there!!! Who the f*** is that?!?!?!?” All I remember, after the cognizance that it wasn’t a bear or drunk outside our tent was “excuse me…excuse me… miss?” Quinn unzipped her side of the tent. The lady was nervous and worried-sounding, probably a little regretful that she almost made us pee our pants. “I think…if you don’t want…if anything happens out here tonight…and you need…if the weather gets bad or something…you can…here are the keys…you can sleep inside the lanes if you want…this key is for the kitchen just go through those two doors – we don’t keep them locked…really, it could get cold out, I don’t know…just…i’m going to leave clean towels and dial soap…if you need to get inside, please, go ahead…there are towels, some soap if you want to wash up in the morning, I know how girls like to keep clean…and…and…that’s all…I just want to make sure you guys are ok…this key is for the kitchen – just go through those two doors, we don’t keep them locked.”

It was so adorable that Andy and I started giggling in our sleeping bags. “Ok, ok,” Quinn nodded, looking up at her, “Thank you so much!”.

“I just want to make sure you guys are ok. I worry.” Then she added, almost as an afterthought, “My name’s Dorothy Hansen, I’m from Philip, South Dakota.”

OK, this post was going to end here, because that was just amazing, but then we had to go sleep, wake up, make our way into the bowling alley that had just been robbed the night before, and watch things just get more amazing. Dorothy had left towels & soap out for us, but on top of the towels was a note: “If you didn’t see my note, go back into the kitchen.” Back in the kitchen was a lengthy, vertical note scrawled on the back of a scoresheet:

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We really couldn’t believe this. South Dakota, seriously…we had no idea you were going to be so awesome. Ever since we crossed into the state, people here have been amazing.

So, we left all the guys at Pactola – very sad to say goodbye …it was so nice to meet them all. to roll up after a loooooong day of lots of climbing (beautiful, but exhausting), it was so nice to drink some beer and meet a load of great new people with all sorts of good stories. no women are allowed on this “fishing” tradition weekend thing, but they all seemed happy to have me around and occasionally even said things like – hey, not with the lady around.

after leaving the lake, we rode through rapid city, a hilly but really nice ride. had some good buffalo in rapid and ken finally finished typing the story. and then we headed out to the town of Quinn. This was the most grooooooling, painful, frustrating 60ish miles. holy crap. the wind was pushing us backwards and sideways the entire time and we were on some f**cking service road that had constant steep up and down hills. every time i’d look over at the highway, id see nice flat road or really gradual climbs. agh. finally, we found a way to get to the highway and had a slightly easier ride from there. but not much really, the wind was no help at all.

we saw countless signs for the wall drug store, but at the rate we were going – we werent going to make it there before it closed, so we just planned to go there the next day before heading to the badlands. quinn, 4 miles away. sweet! this was the first sign. there were signs for other towns miles ago, but quinn is basically a ghost town, with lots of empty houses and a few people in the town. and one great bar/restaurant (thank goodness) called the TWO BIT. i stopped and took photos at every single “quinn” sign that i could find.

the reason we went to the town of Quinn is obvious, but the reason i actually know that there IS a town of Quinn is through my former position as photo researcher at Discover Magazine. We did a story on a wonderful guy named Ron Dyvig. Ron is an astronomer, and a good, well recognized one too. He has a home in rapid city, but spends most of his time at his homemade observatory built in the old, abandoned Quinn Hospital. Aparently, the town of quinn used to be much larger than the town of Philip, but after they put the highway in, Quinn was much less accessable and thus much less popular. Lame. This story on Ron was one of the first that I produced at Discover, it was a bit of a challenge finding the best, cheapest way to get my photographer and his assistant out there (to the middle of nowhere in South Dakota). Well, Ron was nice enough to answer my emails and let us camp out in his backyard for the night. He gave us a tour and great lesson on his telescope and what exactly he does. you should check out his website here: and the story that discover did here: He has discovered several asteroids and when discovering an asteroid, we learned, the discoverer gets to suggest names (usually approved) and Ron named one after South Dakota. I would have too – love this state!

We woke up in the morning to a fresh pot of coffee and a giant screen showing the nasa station where some astronauts were fixing something in space. (this is a first for us.) then off to the badlands. Thanks again Ron!

this was the first sign we saw.  Quinn, 4 miles.  Phillip, more miles after that.

this was the first sign we saw. Quinn, 4 miles. Phillip, more miles after that.

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the observatory

the observatory

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with Ron and his TOP SECRET sign above our heads.  awesome.

with Ron and his TOP SECRET sign above our heads. awesome.

there were two of these signs.  wish i ahem took one, but noooo.  there was a quinn post office too!  but i didnt want to stop us for a 500th time to take a photo of it.

there were two of these signs. wish i ahem took one, but noooo, better not to i guess. there was a quinn post office too! but i didnt want to stop us for a 500th time to take a photo of it.

several people told me that there were maybe 5 people living in Quinn, and that we'd be lucky to find any kind of gas station or store, but there was a bar!  Doesn't get any better.

several people told me that there were maybe 5 people living in Quinn, and that we'd be lucky to find any kind of gas station or store, but there was a bar! Doesn't get any better.

There’s a real good reason we went so far but didn’t make it anywhere today. Actually, there are several good reasons. The least of which being that our quintessential awesomeness put us so far ahead of schedule that we have to find ways to kill time before meeting Johnny Hunter in Wisconsin on June 1st. Our path through South Dakota is designed for maximum inefficiency, zigzagging up & down, and taking the scenic route wherever possible. It was always part of our plan to set up camp somewhere near Rapid City, stroll down to the Crazy Horse & Mount Rushmore National Monuments, then set up camp again somewhere near Rapid City before heading east. Our plan was just thrown for a loop when our warmshowers contact ended up sounding like a total bummer.

We headed down to Pactola Reservoir, seven or eight miles south of the Sugar Shack. We took the first sign that we saw, a downhill road that led lakeside, to a marina that does nothing but rent boats and posts “no camping”. Confused and slightly distraught by the fact that we might be stranded on some false advice, we inquired about camping from the lady in the trailer next to the office. “Oh, the camping’s on the other side of the lake. You’ve got to go back up the road, over the dam, and it’s a few miles down.” Back up the road is something you never want to hear, particularly at the end of the day.

Back up the road and a few miles down, we found the entrance to Pactola’s actual campsites. Again, it sloped downhill, twisting & turning around the shores of a deep turquoise lake, the setting sun reflecting the pine covered shores off it’s a golden shimmering surface. The road went on & on, sometimes climbing back up, until we finally found Circle A, where camping was free for some reason tonight. A few RVs were set up, and a few fires were already going. As we got closer, there were actually a *lot* of RVs set up – at least a dozen – and a little bit of music, too. Free camping is always a great thing, but it seemed odd that this many people were out so early in the season. The unofficial start of summer wasn’t until next weekend, and it was still a little chilly, to be honest.

We slowly and silently rolled up to an available campsite, inevitably catching the eyes of a few from this early group of campers. They drew themselves out to the road like the dwellers of a forgotten land rarely drawing the attention of the outside world, wondering why these odd travelers with no campers were coming up at this dusk hour. Our presence was known, but our silence and scale was mysterious. They ambled towards us in groups of one or two, around our age. They held beers in their hands as they asked what we were up to. They seemed happy. Before we could stop our bikes, they were dragging out coolers, offering us beers of our own. They were friendly.They were here by the dozen. And apparently, they’ve been here this weekend for 22 years.

The Pactola Lake Annual Fishing Tradition Weekend Unofficial Camping Something Thing had been going on for over two decades. Trailers full of beer, meat, and potatoes filled up Circle A, and lifelong friends brought their sons once their sons were of age. Every year you were there, you’d get a fish pin to put in your Pactola cap. After 10 years, you got a bigger, gold pin. After 20, you got a gold & diamond pin, and you had to get a tattoo. Only one person there, Kenny, had the tattoo. His son, Kenny, was going to have to get the tattoo in two years. These guys didn’t seem as dedicated to casting line as they did to throwing back beers and singing unsolicited acapella Karaoke by the fire in the middle of the night. That part made it hard to sleep, but the fact that either of our hands always had a beer in them, courtesy of them, made passing out quite a bit easier. We told them all about our trip and the generosity we’d already seen, including Dana buying us Sugar Shack burgers. “Wait a second… did the guy walk like this,” one asked as he plodded one leg forward, dragging the other, and swirling the rest of his torso to meet up with his legs. “Yes. Yes. That’s totally the guy!” I said. “Yeah. Mr. West.” He gestured to the rest of his group, “did any of you guys go to Central? He’s a Math teacher there.” “Oh yeah! Mr. West! He’s a great guy. A really great teacher.” These guys were incredible. I wanted to come back to the Black Hills sometime in the future from the minute we rode into them. Now I know the exact date I want to come back in a year from now.

We stayed up later than usual with them, seeing far more stars than any night before. Andy & I thought we were seeing the Milky Way or the Northern Lights, but it turned out just to be clouds. Still, it was great to sit by the lake & stare at the sky. There were too many guys for us to remember all of their names, but they did all sorts of things. Cop, FBI agent, Hiking Archaologist, Nuclear Physicist, Pharmacist, Printer, Gun Engraver, Buffalo Wrangler, Miltary Radar Specialist…. And that’s barely half of them. A good half dozen of the rest worked for the guy who engraves guns (rendering them useless, but heirlooms. Any hunting magazine will have an ad for his business). They all were excited to have a bunch of New Yorkers there – and New Yorkers who showed up on bikes and meant “bicycles”, not “motorcycles”.

As the night wore on, we developed our plan for the next day. The Pactola guys were so cool, we knew we were coming back to this exact spot after the day’s ride because we wanted to hang out more. There was breakfast to be cooked in the morning, and a huge dinner to be had at night. They also said they’d let us set up camp on one of their sites to avoid the next night’s fee. A round trip back to Pactola was perfect. It was beautiful, and we had a bunch of destinations in the Black Hills (Crazy Horse and Mount Rushmore are there). To sweeten and seal the deal, they convinced us to drop all of our bags at our site so we could ride through the hills without the extra 60 pounds of luggage. The routes they’d advised us to take were a bunch of squiggly lines on our maps. Whenever there are squiggly lines, it means there’s a lot of climbing to do. Not doing it with our panniers full was going to make a world of difference. “If anyone messes with your stuff, we’ll… we’ll… we’ll shoot ’em!” Perfect.

After a day of riding, we ran into them taking their group photo in front of a bar 5 miles from the campsite.

After a day of riding, we ran into them taking their group photo in front of a bar 5 miles from the campsite.

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I can't remember the last time I saw a full rainbow, but it was probably around the same time I roasted marshmallows & hot dogs over an open fire, like tonight.

I can't remember the last time I saw a full rainbow, but it was probably around the same time I roasted marshmallows & hot dogs over an open fire, like tonight.

And in the other direction...

And in the other direction...

Wyoming, generally no less elevated than 4,000 ft above sea level (the lowest spot is 3,100 ft at Belle Forche River), is geologically astounding. Places with names like “Fossil Butte” are everywhere, and digging for fossil remnants in ancient ocean beds is a family activity. Kids can keep whatever they find unless they find something extremely rare. Not like the kid would know it’s really rare, but I’m sure if little Bobby showed up with an example of Amiiformes Ammiidae, the guides would totally freak out and probably get promoted or something.

In the morning when we woke up next to the Creek that runs through Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge, I commented to Andy that next time I do this, I want to have a geologist with me, so they can explain to me why the earth is the way it is everywhere that we go.

Mountain ranges, once buried beneath collossal glaciers which have receded only because of harmful industrial pollutants over the past 10,000 years, now peek above masses of rollign land, scoured and sculpted by the movement of the prehistoric ice. As it moved north, it took earth with it, and dumped it between the rock it couldn’t take along the way. We rode along this level part, and up and over the remaining mountains. From those peaks, spectacular ranges and intense color changes surrounded us. Native Americans have lived here since the ice began to move north.

We passed the Continental Divide through the Wind River Mountains. Misleading maps led me to declare “nothing but downhills” for the rest of the way to Lander. I’d like to describe the reality of the next 30 miles, but I think Quinn has already done it in a comment in a previous post: “oh my god. so far from all downhill. it was a lot of uphill with 30 mile winds at our side, pushing us off the road. THEN it was GIANT up and down hills, not enough speed gained going down to get half way up without a lot of work. and with the crazy winds coming from various directions, i didnt feel comfortable coasting 40mph down hill. and then it was pedaling HARD downhill to go 15mph with headwinds pushing me backwards. all downhill is quite a myth as far as i can tell. but it was pretty and we made it eventually.”

It was indeed pretty. All the suffering of an hours long climb is wiped away when you see something like this.

The Red Canyon

The Red Canyon

In Lander, we found the geologist who could tell us everything we wanted to know about the earth. Juan, who regularly hosts people from warmshowers.com and couchsurfing.com, put us up in a friend’s house because his was too cluttered. Actually, cluttered doesn’t begin to describe it. Juan’s a fine arts photographer. Or, at least that’s part of what he does. He’s a self-admitted pack-rat, and each time he would try to explain why he has a dozen empty tin olive oil cans, he’d come up with a new profession. “Oh, of course I have 600 feet of copper tubing. I’m a plumber.” “I’m a spelunker, so I keep all of my caving equipment in one of my 11 Volvos”. Juan, you should be proud to be the first person to have a post on twoarmparty classified under “crazy people”. Here are a few other things Juan had at least 10 of:

Disney Princess “make your own outfit” refrigerator magnets
Espresso Machines
Trucks
Stainless steel thermoses
License plates for EACH STATE
Plastic dinosaurs
Coffee socks
Toasters (didn’t see ’em, but I bet he does)
Jars

Anyway, there’s a lot more. Everyone in town seemed to know him. And at dinner at the Gannet Grill (Gannett Mountain is the highest peak in the state. The bike shop is also named after it), he explained a lot of geologic things I didn’t understand. Since beginning to ride, a lot of people out here have seemed to know a lot about what glaciers have done to their land. I didn’t even know what a glacier was, technically. Juan helped me out with that (it’s snow that’s at least 150 feet deep. The ice, under so much pressure, changes consistency at the bottom, becoming almost plastic-like. That’s the short, dumbed-down version.) He also explained how weather systems from the west crash into the mountain peaks, cool down quickly, dump horrible weather all over the place, then warm up slower on the other side & whip up serious warm “Chinook” winds (or “Snow Eater). I probably got that part wrong too…but I’ll look it up later.

Since Juan’s place was filled up with everything, he put us up at a friend’s place, who was more than willing to accomodate us. Actually, he wasn’t even around…but later on, he said it was totally cool. Then Quinn fell ill and we stayed at the Holiday Lodge where she could rest rest rest and get all high on Codiene. The Holiday Lodge had an awesome neon sign and a hot-tub, which I lounged in while doing laundry.

I'm serious, why didn't I start taking photos of motels sooner?!

I'm serious, why didn't I start taking photos of motels sooner?!

While in Lander, I wandered through the park & ran into a pretty girl on a bike who invited me to the Catholic Girl’s College for dinner. Was it a terrible mistake and a tremendously missed opportunity for Andy & me to decline this offer? Keep in mind that at one point she did mention that “she fell in love with God again.”

We are now in the town of Jeffery City (pop 30-40), where we seem to be missing the inimitable “Byron Seeley”. Everyone in Lander not only knew Juan, but also knew Byron. Even the Catholic College girl. Byron’s pottery (monkingbirdpottery.com) was all over the Folklore coffeeshop (where Andy & I spent most of our time). Shane told us “this might sound weird, but there’s nothing to be creeped out about by Byron. He’s a really sweet guy. Really.” We were really looking forward to meeting him, but it seems like we might be out of luck. Jeffery City is definitely a ghost town, and we’ll show some photos eventually. It’s not nearly as much of a ghost town as Strevell, Idaho (there IS wifi here), but since the Uranium mining trade dried up (apparently), everyone has moved away.

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