This might be a little bit of a late notice, but our great friend Trudy, the brain behind the moniker acronym of “Team QAK” is having a welcome back party for us tonight at her apartment in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. If you’re in the city and haven’t already gotten the email from her or from one of us and you want to come welcome us back, we want to see you.
And now that I’m finally back in front of a fast computer with photoshop all day long, I’ve been able to stitch together the panoramic photos I’ve been taking during the trip. Another great friend, Halston, loaned me her Canon G10, which is a fantastic camera that I wish I didn’t have to give back. It’s got a spiffy function that makes taking panoramic photos like this somewhat easier. You can click on them to view a larger image. They’re also up on my flickr account.
This was the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon, on the very first day of our trip. Looking at these photos again reminded me that I’d almost forgotten how many beautiful things we passed by and how long ago it really was.
This was between Malta, Idaho and Snowville, Utah. Flat.
On the way up & over the Rocky Mountains.
At the top of Logan Pass, where we crossed the Rocky Mountains. It was one of the most spectacular views of our trip, and it was absolutely freezing up there. The couple to the right side of the photo was huddled beneath a blanket.
Bear Lake, from the bottom. It’s the lake you can see in the photo above, from the top of the mountain.
The Needles, one of many things from our favorite state, South Dakota.
Gary, Indiana was a horrible industrial pit of hell, but I do think its great that we went there right BEFORE Michael Jackson’s death.. because somehow it seems more meaningful (this is not to imply that I would ever go there again).
I’ve spent the morning watching Michael Jackson videos, some are very awesome and nostalgic (tho i think i was 3 or 4 when thriller came out) and some great but really creepy.Â Like the one with the Marlon Brando cameo… one of the later videos i think, as Michael Jackson was in his really creepy looking faze, one of them.
Last night we watched Jackson’s body be transported from place to place – because there was nothing more important happening in the world.Â CNN’s headlines were horrible and funny at the same time and all very abrupt with fewer commas than necessary.Â MICHAEL JACKSON, KING OF POP DEAD.Â Just doesnt read well.Â Interesting how both Jackson and Fawcett had wayyyyy too much work done and went from very beautiful to disturbing and creepy.
Oh and my mom’s neighbor’s cat died too.Â Â Very sad, but way to make history!
Syracuse is great.Â I road my moms craptastic bike over to my dads place yesterday in hopes to jump in the pool when i got there.Â There are two hills on the way to my dads place, one is pretty big and steap, so i figured i’d get some excersize even tho my moms bike was too small and far from comfortable to ride.. but when i got there, my hopes of jumping in the pool dissapeared when the pool was green.Â So i hung out with my sister for a bit and then planned to ride home.Â but that’s when the major thunderstorm started.Â whoops.Â best not to ride in this and tho i dont mind the rain, the lighting was far too close for comfort.Â so my mom came and got me. thanks mom!
This weekend, I woke up more sore than on any other day during the trip. My knees hurt to bend and my ankle hurt to walk on. Jumping right back on a brakeless fixed gear bike weighing 1/5 the weight of my fully loaded touring bike and sprinting back & forth all day long in the rain didn’t come with as much ease as I might’ve expected it to, having powered nearly three thousand miles by this point. Quinn & my polo bikes were stored by friends in New York, and shipped out here for the tournament. They’re both fixed gear bikes. A good number of the people reading this blog know what that means, but for the rest of you – our moms’ friends, the ladies at Curves, maybe a few lurkers who haven’t left comments – it means that the bike only has one gear, no brakes, and doesn’t coast. To slow down and stop, you pedal slower or lock up your legs to completely stop the rear wheel from turning. It works an entirely extra set of leg muscles than riding a “normal” bike because stopping the bike requires applying resistance to the pedals’ constant forward motion. Sure, Quinn and I have worked the crap out of all the other muscles, but the fixed gear muscles had been more or less dormant for the past two months. Then we go and hurl ourselves into round-robin competition using them. I personally hurt a lot Sunday morning. It probably didn’t help that I fell on my knees & ankle once or twice – and the half-bottle of vodka I shared with my teammates before the last match of the day probably didn’t improve my coordination either.
These idiots also showed up. If you haven’t watched their videos, you don’t understand bike polo.
My team’s Saturday win/loss ratio suffered. 1-6-2, I believe. One of the two ties was 0-0 with a Chicago team. Disappoinment all around. The other tie, we TRIED to lose 0-5 like most of the rest of our matches, but Ch0mb0 kept scoring goals! WTF!? Our one win came against Quinn’s team, “Ladies”, made up of herself, Birdie from Madison, and Amandaconda from Tampa/Seattle.
Quinn’s brother, Jarrett, by the way, is on my team. No mercy. Another good lesson we learned is that we tend to play better sober and maskless. We did much better on Sunday. Yet another valuable lesson learned is that we’re great dancers. Watch this video! Here’s a caveat – you have to lay down or turn your entire computer sideways to watch it, and imagine there’s music playing. It’s got a fantastic ending.
People come out of the woodwork for these things, especially the well-sponsored and hyped events. Sven, Kat, Dustin, and Sue I met in Minneapolis; Ben Hunter, Johnny Hunter, Birdie, Jill, Pierre (from France as of a few months back) and Sam from Madison; Jason from Baltimore; Jarrett, Ch0mb0, Doug, Paul, Bad Zach, Good Zach, Red Chris, Johnny Midwest, Adam Ackbar and Cecily from New York; Amandaconda from Tampa/Seattle; Sea Bass & Leon from Seattle; Lucky from St. Louis; Alexis from Ottawa who’s Canadian teammates backed out at the last minute and left him with Sea Bass & Leon (they came in 2nd place); Rory, Gentleman James, and Pieter from East Vancouver; Gus, Jav & Nick from Boston; Nick, Ben, and Ian from Richmond; Ben, Dumptruck, Joe, Tucker and Brian from Chicago; all those kids from Portland whose names I forgot. There are names I’ve unintentionally omitted, and for that I apologize. And too many names from Milwaukee to recall – except for Jake and Kremin, who orchestrated the entire event with near flawlessness. Well done, in spite of the disagreeable weather and less-than-expected attendance, guys.
This is a good time to express our gratitude to Ben’s Cycle/Milwaukee Bicycle Company. One of the two main sponsors of the event, they also accepted the shipment of our bikes from New York, and had no apparent qualms with us loitering in the back of their shop for hours unpacking and assembling them. COG Magazine, the other major sponsor, made it possible to coordinate 22 teams into a two-day round robin/double elimination tournament on three handmade courts.
Before competition even began, Tucker from Chicago cracked two of his teeth in half after an errant mallet swing collided with his face. International polo medic Johnny Midwest leapt onto the scene of the carnage with aplomb, and Jarrett somehow found the teeth fragments on the surface of the refashioned tennis courts. Tucker fortunately lives a mere hour’s drive away, and his nearby family came to shuttle him to some emergency dental work. Polo can be a dangerous sport. As if it doesn’t take enough coordination to maneuver a bicycle while weilding a mallet and trying to hit a ball through a goal, you have to do this while five other cyclists swerve, twist and sprint, trying to do the same thing. Crashes are inevitable, and there are few rules prohibiting defensively rough play. Bike Polo is a contact sport.
Even the spectators are often at risk. Andy’s Mom, for instance, took a mallet to the face from Jarrett. Andy has given me free license to exaggerate the retelling of this event, but it’s good enough in real life to not have to.
Andy’s family lives across Lake Michigan. They ferried to Milwaukee for the weekend to meet twoarmparty and observe the polo. Tournaments, unfortunately, are all-day events, and they never got to take us out for some one-on-one dinner time. On Sunday, they came with sandwiches for the day and cookies for the trip. Quinn & I took a break from the crowds to hang with the family. As Jarrett walked up to play a game of pickup on the adjacent court, Quinn introduced him as her brother. At this exact moment, Jarrett was hurling his mallet onto the court. He missed. Instead, as it left his hand, it caught on a part of the plywood wall and redirected itself towards Andy’s Mom’s face, Jarrett’s hand extended in an expectant handshake. WHAM!!! In slow motion, this moment is spectacular. Andy’s Mom staggers back. Jarrett’s handshake turns into two hands covering his face in horror and humiliation. Quinn is mortified. Andy is in shock. I can’t believe that just happened. Bystanders shake their heads humorously, wondering how Jarrett can make this ok. He really can’t. Andy’s Mother was fine. No cuts, no scrapes, no shattered teeth or broken glasses. Jarrett only got that one chance to make that first impression, but he went as far away as he could afterwards to play his game. Well done, Gigante. Gigante smash!
Sunday’s weather was far more forgiving than the cold, intermittently rainy Saturday. As teams got eliminated from the bracket, more kegs were tapped and more courts were opened for pickup. The sun brought out more babies & dogs than I’ve seen at any other tournament. Our friend Roxanne brought out her baby, Mabel, who’s one of the most adorable babies the midwest has ever seen. And that’s saying a lot, since it seems an apparent requirement to have a baby out here. Like they give you one for signing a lease.
That’s Nan, Ben Hunter’s daughter. She’s teaching me how I can become a fairy. (Photo by Gus).
We stayed with Roxanne & Mabel Monday night after packing our bikes back up and saying goodbye to our friends. It was far more comfortable than my Sunday night slumber party at Kremin’s, sleeping next to Nick from Boston, who accurately warned me that he snores loud. While a party went on around us and he snored, I struggled to sleep on a dusty matress with no pillow or blanket. It was raining too hard for me to go back to the hotel, and my phone had died (more than just the battery) so I had no way of getting back into the room at this hour anyway.
I wandered downtown Milwaukee in the morning and found some girls handing out free Stone Creek Coffee in honor of Bike To Work Week. I gave them our blog and explained Bike Polo to them. We saw them again the next day in front of the Stone Creek coffeeshop on our way out of town. It was a good time taking some exhausting rest days in Milwaukee. We reconnected with people we’d met along the way, and saw some of our best friends for the first time in months. One of them in particular was impressed with how good we’re starting to look. I think he has a crush on me now…which is actually kinda disturbing. But flattering of course. Everyone was happy to see us and tell us how much they enjoy following us on this blog. We’ll see you soon guys. Thanks for a great weekend.
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!
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
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
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
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
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
Andy gave an amazing tour
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.
Like I said when I mentioned how we got lost *leaving* Minneapolis – when you’re biking in a big city, get yourself a detailed map. Our map for the way in was Bjorn. And Bjorn is an example of why Twitter is not as useless as I thought it was going to be when I signed up.
Minneapolis was the first city we were coming across since Portland. There are buildings there over 10 stories tall! A bunch of ‘em! And there’s a metropolitan area of the Twin Cities that takes up a huge chunk of the state. According to our host, Katie Behrens (an ex-courier from Philadelphia), Minnesota is a traditionally democratic state in the middle of red country. They even voted for Mondale back in 1984, when no one voted for Mondale. I tweeted a plea for someone to ride us into this metropolis. Within an hour, Rick Reinhart called me up (always lookin’ out, Rick) and said he knew someone who could guide us in by motorcycle but not until 6pm. A bit too late for us. Within the next few hours, I got calls from some Minneapolis Bike Polo heads who hooked us up with Bjorn, who gave us directions and met us in the fancy suburb of Wayzata. Getting there was some of our first extended times on dedicated bike trails, and Minnesota & Wisconsin are full of ‘em. The rail system here was sprawling at one point, and with the advent of other methods of freight, a lot of these tracks were left abandoned. Many of them have been converted to a web of bike trails.
Our rest day in the city took root at Katie’s place. Bjorn from Portland (a completely different Bjorn) was in town for a wedding, so we all met up, barhopped, and ended up at a place called “Dusty’s Dagos”. It took me a minute to get comfortable saying that. Turns out a “Dago” is a delicious sandwich that we’d be remiss if we didn’t try. Unfortunately, Andy and I had *just * had burgers before we were told this. Fortunately, we can eat just about whatever we want, so we ordered Dagos. And you know what? They were amazing. Molten explosions of sausage patty with greasy sauteed veggies and greasy grease bomb. Good thing we work all this horrible food off within a day.
We got a few more examples of “Minnesota Nice” when we were there. The owner of Grumpy’s, our first bar hop, approached our table and pointed out the buffet he’d cooked up a few tables over. Our insatiable appetites must’ve been slightly satiated by the pot pie Katie had just cooked for us though, and we ignored the buffet until all that was left was banana chips and mango salsa. Still delicious. Then on Sunday morning as we were caffienating ourselves & trying to figure out how to get out of town, a stranger came up with some suggestions. After his advice, he said “would you be terribly offended if I gave you guys $20 for a decent breakfast?” We kinda stared blankly…not offended, but not entirely comfortable taking handouts like that. “Tell you what. I’ll just leave the $20 on the table, and if you want to do something else with it, feel free.” I asked the baristas who that guy was, and as far as they knew, he was just a regular.
It’s important to note that we went bowling again.
Andy must’ve been thinking about his form since South Dakota, because he was throwing rocks out there. But not as many as the boy on the teenage date in the next lane. He started his game with 5 strikes in a row! He had a 143 in the 6th frame! And his date wasn’t too bad either. She may have been showing a bit too much skin through her torn black jeans than her mother would’ve approved of, but she probably left the house with a tank top on underneath. Katie could’ve sworn she saw the same boy a few days ago on his bmx, riding down the street with the same girl on the pegs in the back, drinking a huge Slurpee.
Before we left, we made sure to watch Revenge of the Nerds and have a pizza party. Words cannot describe this.
Oh, I also played polo. Minneapolis’s court was huge! I played on my touring bike until I started knocking things loose, then realized that was a horrible idea. Sven loaned me his bike (too big, freewheel) for a few matches. It was good to know I’ve still got the polo legs, since it’s only a few short days until the COG tournament in Milwaukee.
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!
It’s recommended common sense to take a day off every once in a while when you’re traveling by bike, pushing your mental & physical endurance for days in a row. We here at twoarmparty have easily strained mental endurances, and our physical endurances (while we might claim otherwise) need the rest. It’s like cabbage soup for the legs or Cotton Swabs for the soul or whatever they call it. We prefer to take our rest days where we’ve got abundantly generous warmshowers contacts or one of Quinn’s parents to put us up for the night and treat us all like we’re their own kids. Either that, or we sit in motel rooms during May snow squalls and watch Will Smith movie marathons. Either way, gratuitous action flicks are a highly relaxing part of our rest days. In Pierre, where we stayed with Sol across the street from the Capitol Building, shot clay pigeons, went kayaking, and ate dinner with the sister of the governor, we saw “Wolverine”. It’s only fair that Andy write more about Pierre since he’s the one who capsized the kayak attempting some kind of “maneuver”. Saturday night in Sioux Falls, Mr. Shamlian flew out and treated us to “Terminator 4″ among a bevy of other generosities. (Thank you, Quinn’s Dad!). I personally preferred Terminator to Wolverine, but I’ll spare you my unneccessary and unqualified review becuase, you know, that’s not what this blog is about. There seems to be a trend to our methods of mental stress relief though. From now on, we’re only going to see movies starring men that are half metal and cameos by completely computer generated famous actors. What I liked more about Terminator is that when the robot with the human heart (and soul!) escaped through the woods on a motorcycle, he fell off when he ran over something. Reality! Not like it really matters when our primary objective is staring slackjawed at things exploding for two hours, shoveling popcorn, twizzlers, raisinets and cherry Coke into our mouths. That’s roughin’ it.
Sioux Falls seemed disappointing until we finally made our way out of Malltopia. I’m pretty sure there’s more than one Applebee’s here, and something like 5 different mall complexes. There may only be three or four freestanding Starbucks, but there’s likely one in the Home Depot, Barnes & Noble and Sam’s Club. It took a little advice from a highly generous and effective massage therapist for us to find a real restaurant in the real downtown of Sioux Falls. Main Street was being freshly cobblestoned, and live music piped from several of the spots across the street from the flashing marquee of the State Theater.
Oh wait, did I say Massage Therapist? That’s Carol Mellema. We met her in line at the coffeeshop in Rapid City (on the other side of the state) on Monday morning after coming out of the Black Hills. She was quick to realize we were on a long distance bike trek, (it’s pretty obvious) and instantly chatted us up about it. “I did that when I was 17! When are you going to be in Sioux Falls? Stay at my place.” It wasn’t quite so much of an offer as it was a demand. I hadn’t had my coffee yet, and wasn’t quite on the ball, so I just sort of stared at her as slackjawed as the kid who served us popcorn for Terminator. We’d already had plans to meet Quinn’s dad in Sioux Falls, so I had to turn her down on her offer. “Well I’m a massage therapist. When you’re in Sioux Falls, look me up – I’ll give you free massages!”
I looked at her like she was crazy, probably, but that’s the way everyone always looks at us unless they’ve done something like this before. Thirty-some years ago, Carol took off from New York City on bikes with two guys when they were teenagers. She ran out of money near Sioux Falls, and stayed here for the rest of her life. She’s got six kids, two grandkids, used to be a schoolteacher, and has a growing massage practice. She doesn’t have a website yet, but that’s only because I haven’t gotten back to New York to build it for her yet. She even massaged the kink out of Quinn’s Dad’s hamstring. We left, piles of jello, and spooned ourselves back into the rental car to further live off the land at the 14 theater multiplex. If you’re in Sioux Falls, look up “Massage Thyme” and tell Carol that twoarmparty sent you.
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.
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).
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:
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.
This afternoon, we played a dangerous game of “beat the thunderstorm” as darkening clouds gathered behind us and to the south. I would peer above my sunglasses and see clear blue skies. As the day wore on, I would peer above my sunglasses and see a deepening gloom. Then I would take my sunglasses off, and it wouldn’t be nearly as gloomy and I’d say “oh hey, we’ve got nothing to worry about! This is awesome!” Then I’d turn around to say this to Quinn & Andy and I’d see black clouds behind us, thunder rumbling in the skies. My stomach would drop and I’d push a bit harder.
Every single random person we’d talked to in Wyoming would tell us that the weather could change at the drop of a dime out here. So far, we’ve been lucky enough not to experience that dreadful change. (I knock on wood as I type this) Today, it seemed as if our luck might run out. We took off from Bar Nunn in some of our best weather since the Columbia Gorge in Oregon. It was sunny, warm, and I was wearing one less layer than usual (two: a base layer and a jersey). The first 40 miles to Midwest, WY were spent in this weather. Even the person in the park in Midwest where we had lunch under sunny skies pointed out the clouds around us when we expressed our optimism about our ability to avoid the weather. We grabbed some coffee & beef jerky at the gas station, wrote out some postcards, and rode on.
It was 50 miles until the next town, unless Pine Tree Junction had anything in it besides the intersection of routes 50 & 387. Pine Tree Junction was 30 miles away. Within 10 miles of leaving Midwest, we knew we were playing beat the clock with the system behind us. We suffered up hills and through valleys as the rumbling thunder and darkening, cooling skies got closer and closer. It was inevitable that we would get caught up in the unpredictable Wyoming weather. We fought headwinds for some of the first times on our trip.
With 15 miles to Pine Tree Junction, I started to hope that there’d be some kind of refuge from the rain, because by the time we finished up 15 miles, we’d almost definitely be getting rained on, hard. We pressed on, knowing nothing was between us & our destination in Wright or the storm behind us. The threatening weather seemed wrought by the evil machinations of the waitress in Jeffrey City, who was convinced there’d be no way for us to avoid a debilitating meteorological disaster. We pressed on, prepared for a drenching, donning our rain gear. Pine Tree Junction approached, and it became apparent that there wasnâ€™t anything there. It was nothing but an intersection of two paved roads in Wyoming.
Somewhere behind us, along the path we had already crossed, the storm was drenching the roads. But we remained ahead of it as it passed north of us. The witch of Jeffrey City messed up entirely. (It was newtâ€™s tail, bumblebee wings, AND CROWâ€™S FEATHER! You forgot the Crowâ€™s feather!!! Hahahah youâ€™re a horrible witch!) Furthermore, you forgot to cook Andyâ€™s breakfast. Youâ€™re a horrible waitress, too! (Again, I knock on wood as I type this, in case this is a two-day spell or something).
The wood Iâ€™m knocking on is in Hankâ€™s Saloon in Wright, Wyoming. We knocked out 85 miles by 4pm, with only a 5 minute break between Midwest and here. When we rolled into Wright, it was threatening rain again. (We had not only beat the storm behind us, but we had run into the tail end of the storm in front of us. Epic fail, crappy witch). Wright is a town of 500, and we needed to find a place to stay and a place to get a beer. The girl at the grocery store knew nothing, but the local newspaper told us that The Rusty Nail was open until 10. At The Rusty Nail, the bartender called up Hankâ€™s Bar & Grill to see if we could camp camp next to the Horseshoe pit in their backyard. â€œYeah, sure, no problem,â€ said Hank. Score. Hankâ€™s, a mile up the road, has beers just about as cheap as the Rusty Nailâ€™s. We met the Rusty Nailâ€™s bartender there, and she introduced us around. Weâ€™ve been here for a few hours now, our tents are set up, and as soon as we finish these beers, weâ€™re done for the night.
Oh but wait. Itâ€™s cold tonight. Not all that much colder than other days weâ€™ve spent out at night, but cold enough for Hank and Danny (Hank obviously the owner of Hankâ€™s) to convince us not to sleep in a tent. To be honest, it didnâ€™t take much convincing at all. Danny had been chatting us up all night long at the bar and eventually pretty much forced us to pack up the tent & drag everything into his & Hankâ€™s house across the street. Danny, an interior decorator, has made a gorgeous home and is a spectacular host. Itâ€™s absolutely more than enough just to let us sleep on a floor. But Danny & Hank had spare rooms for all of us. And in the morning, we woke up to percolating coffee and simmering steak, eggs, and hash browns. Wright was one of our â€œwe have no idea where weâ€™re going to sleepâ€ nights â€“ and it sure worked out for us.
Danny, the best interior decorator west of the Mississippi, and one hell of a host. Thanks, Danny!