This is going to be a long post.

We left Sundance Wyoming this morning where Andy’s favorite breakfast (biscuit, gravy, sausage patty & egg) is called “The Devil’s Tower”. The same breakfast is called “The Hungry Bear” at Enid’s in Brooklyn, and all across the west, we find it under different names at diners everywhere. At Higbees in Sundance, the owner, Jinks, made us plates memorable enough to photograph.

Hmm... it actually looks kinda gnar, but trust me, it was delicious

Hmm... it actually looks kinda gnar, but trust me, it was delicious

It was Jinks’ birthday last night, and when we left the Dime Bar Horseshoe Saloon, she was well on her way to forgetting a very happy birthday, with a glass of straight Jack Daniels swishing back & forth in one hand and a cigarette dangling from the other. She opened Higbees at six in the morning.

Her patrons eavesdropped us planning our trip for the day and offered their advice. Since we’d stopped short of our destination of Newcastle, in the snow, our plans had changed. Instead of coming into South Dakota near Custer, we were going to come in near Spearfish & Sturgis, around route 90, north of the Black Hills. For the past two days, we’d finally been seeing trees again, which was a welcome change from the sagebrush covered plains of Wyoming. The Black Hills promised more of that and of course, hills.

On the road, a strong tailwind kicked us out of Wyoming, but almost as soon as we hit the state line, South Dakota’s winds tried to push us right back. For the first few morning miles into Spearfish, we pedaled hard downhill, not even realizing we were already into a new state. The Frontage road we took along I-90 unceremoniously brought us across state lines without any “Welcome to South Dakota” sign. We’ll have to wait until we hit Iowa to look the other way for a photo with all of us on the border.

Spearfish is a beautiful town in the foothills of the Black Hills. We tried to find a park to have our lunch, but the only open, grassy area we could find was a cemetery, and it didn’t seem right at all to have a picnic there. So we turned around to a coffeeshop, spread out our food, and ate the last of the deli turkey we bought at Pine Haven. It was starting to get pretty slimy and Quinn didn’t want to touch it.

There was a shorter, flatter route across the foothills that would bring us to Deadwood before heading down into Rapid City, but it was a gorgeous, sunny, 65 degree day, and we’d been doing less than 40 miles for our past two legs. We easily agreed to take the scenic route through Spearfish Canyon that everyone recommended. It was a very gradual uphill climb, but well worth the effort to experience the trees & hills we’re going to be in lack of once we pass East of Rapid City in a few days. Beautiful woods had been lacking for most of the last state we were in. The local Native American name for Wyoming roughly translates to “This place sucks, let’s get out of here.” This of course, is not true, and there are some beautiful parts of Wyoming in spite of it’s tedium. But mostly lots of sagebrush. We’re still in the Black Hills as I write this, and some of it’s most scenic vistas are on our route, so marveling completely at it’s beauty right now might be a bit premature. All I’ll say is how much Andy & I wanted to jump right into the river during one of our breaks.

The scenic route ends as gradually as it begins with the intersection of route 85, and then it gets a lot steeper. It wasn’t really a struggle getting through these first 20 miles, but these next six were brutal. At least, it felt like six. It could’ve been two. Steep climbs always feel a hell of a lot longer. We dripped sweat and pain as we climbed, then finally descended into Lead, SD where we stopped for Nachos & drinks at the Stampmill Inn. The Stampmill Inn makes a mean plate of Nachos, and the three of us inhaled it to the slightly amazed bemusement of the bartender.

Stampmill's mean plate o' nachos

Stampmill's mean plate o' nachos

We called our host for the night in Rapid City, another warmshowers.com user. In spite of our numerous detailed emails over the past week, she seemed to be surprised that we were showing up, and that there were three of us. Clearly, she does not follow twoarmparty as closely as she should. We all were skeptical of sleeping in our outside of the trailer she’s got 10 miles west of Rapid City, and we got the impression that she was skeptical of hosting us at all. So we put our feelers out for other options. Stampmill’s bartenders recommended restaurants, campsites, and acquantances in the area. One restaurant stood out in their suggestions: the Sugar Shack. Just a few miles north of the junction to Rapid City, and the only thing we had to do was climb over Strawberry Hill to get there. “It’s a steep, steep climb, but only about two miles, then it’s pretty much a gradual downhill from there the rest of the way.” This is a bold-faced lie. Not only was it a lie, but it was a lie corroborated by several people at Stampmill’s. Strawberry Hill *was* a brutal uphill, two mile climb that took us the better part of an hour to do, but the rest of it was not at all downhill. Jerks.

The Sugar Shack, an oasis somewhere at the bottom of some rolling hills, advertises “The Best Burgers in the Hills”. As far as I’m concerned, they’re somewhere between the 2nd & 3rd best burgers I’ve ever had. (The now closed “On The Park Burger” on 110th St. in Manhattan holds a special place in my heart and will never be knocked off #1).

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The guy sitting next to me, a soft spoken older motorcyclist with a limp and a thick white beard, was impressed with the speed and vigor we devoured our plates. Dana West is his name. He rides 15 miles from his home in Rapid City just for these burgers. Everyone at the Sugar Shack was bristling with optimism & friendliness. We’ve grown accustomed to people being generous & welcoming, but there was something about South Dakota so far. Even the group of offroad dirtbikers who ambled in as we were about to leave were nothing but ear-to-ear grins and firm handshakes. They left with roaring engines into the trails across the street. The waitresses chatted to us about cycling, climbing, and their kids. Dana sat & listened as another older park ranger overheard us deliberating where to spend the night, and then suggested the campsites at Pectola Reservoir a few miles down the road. “It’s free tonight. Just look for Loop A,” he said with a wink and a mysterious grin before he & his wife scuttled off to their pickup, back to the campgrounds for the night. Dana bid his farewell to the Sugar Shack, but before he left, he told the waitress he was picking up our tab.

Bubba Burger: 1/2lb patty, bacon, pepper jack, jalapenos, grilled pepper&onions, BBQ

Bubba Burger: 1/2lb patty, bacon, pepper jack, jalapenos, grilled pepper&onions, BBQ

We never the guy who recommended Pactola lake again. I might have imagined that smile & wink, but based on what happened to us there, I’m pretty sure he knew what he was getting us into.

TO BE CONTINUED
It’s taken me the better part of today to write about this, and I’m only half done.