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.