Three billboards outside of…Wyoming?

Republican candidates are falling over each other to declare themselves. There is the “Actual conservative republican” the “True conservative republican”, the “Constitutional conservative”, and then someone whose posters just say “Fossil fuels – yes!”

I’m not sure if any of those are code for “not a Trumper” or if they’re all code for “not like Liz Cheney”.

Then there is the billboard with a picture of a six month old baby asking “What about my choice?” This one is unclear on so many levels. First, by law a six month old baby has no choices. Its parents decide for it unless a court appoints someone else to decide for it. A six month old baby clearly is not capable of making many choices.

Clearly this is an anti-choice billboard. Do they know the difference between a zygote, an embryo, a fetus, and a six month old baby? Are they prepared to assume the care (physical, emotional, social, financial) of all of those children whose birth they want to force? It currently costs about ¼ million dollars to raise a child in the US. This does not include the cost of post-secondary education or training.

On another note, a Harley rider passed me the other day with a few gentle beeps of the horn and an enthusiastic thumb up. A semi passed with a quick toot of the air horn. A local cyclist going the other way gave a yell and a triumphantly raised fist. These moments sustain me for miles.

The cafe in the campground at Devil’s Tower opened for us with a special Cycle America menu. The best thing (not) on the menu was ice water. By 7:30 PM the temperature had plummeted to 91 degrees (33 C).

After a couple of Greg’s margarita’s (see 2018 post for “Reba’s Cantina” by Free Hot Lunch – this is “Greg’s Cantina”) and the second half of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, I made my way back to my tent, getting lost on the way. It was well past my bedtime – nearly 10:30 when I got to the tent. I awoke before 5. All the water in the campground was shut down but came on at 5. I went back to bed, sleeping in until after 6. Gaspar and Dana were on the way to the airport by 7. We could not talk them into quitting their jobs to stay with us.

Small cave in Devil’s Tower

A front blew in over night – strongly enough to knock my bike over. I needed a blanket before dawn. A cool and pleasant morning with a forecast 15 degrees cooler than Saturday. (We’ve gone from 35 degrees in West Yellowstone to 98 degrees here in a week.) Nonetheless, we set out for the tower early. We hiked to the base of Devil’s Tower and followed a trail around the tower, stopping to watch climbers a few times. There are several named routes up the rock. In this heat, I would opt for one on the shady side.

Climbers lower left (atop tilted column) and slightly higher on right (atop straight column).

We hiked through grasslands and in and out of woods. The tower was closer than it appeared from the campsite, but disappeared and reappeared at intervals.

“The Window” – The missing section of rock lies just in front of us where it fell, as if calving from a glacier, some time ago.
Alien spaceship about to land on top of Devil’s Tower


Nothing like a KOA/RV park to bring a new focus to the trip. In the high country we saw a lot of Mercedes Sprinter vans, which seem like a civilized alternative if you have tons of money (tall enough to stand in, but not like the behemoths we see here). Here we saw an RV with a foldout deck in back with two different gas cooking appliances. Some of these RVs are big enough that the parents could have a cocktail party in the front while the kids have a slumber party in back. They have slide out sections to make them even wider. It’s scary to think that no special license is required to drive these monsters – how many drivers are aware of how long and how wide they are while driving?

Monday morning we climb out of this valley, cross the border into South Dakota, climb through Spearfish Canyon and prepare for Needles Highway, the Black Hills, and The Badlands.

Breaking news

Sunday night I was watching “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”. (I hadn’t seen the beginning in years.) The sky was darkening dramatically onscreen as the real sky mimicked it. Lightning began to appear in the distance. My tent was open so I left the movie and walked down to the campground quickly. The wind increased dramatically. I thought better of a quick trip to the bathroom – good thing, as I think my tent would have been gone when I returned. I got inside and tried to hold the tent up against the onslaught. Hail began striking my hands so I held up the poles instead. The windward side of the tent was flat against my body. Hail began to pile up at the base of the rainfly – see photo taken once it stopped.

Minutes later it was over. A gentle rain fell. The moon shone in a clearing sky. Per the National Weather Service, the wind was 60 mph. Now to sleep?

Devil’s Tower/Coal Train

First view – 15 miles away

The wind blew all night. The tent flapped constantly.By morning it had calmed enough for a beautiful ride. There was a tailwind and we were headed slightly downhill. The Datameister said “I knew if I was going 21 mph and only putting out 110 watts, it wasn’t me.” Half-fast Cycling Club said, “wheeeee!”

We cruised for miles at 24 mph with little effort. My face hurt from grinning. At breakfast I had mentioned that I hadn’t seen any of the miles-long coal trains I remembered from 4 years ago. At 8:30 a train passed under us. I couldn’t see either end. A few minutes later I realized there was a string of locomotives parked to my left. I don’t know how long I had been riding beside it, but it went on long enough that I don’t think I have ever seen that many locomotives in one place.

Sleeping outside, waking every few hours to pee, and going back to sleep, I have had vivid dreams. A dream journal might be more interesting to read than this; but if I stayed up to write down those dreams I would have trouble getting up at 5.

After picnic the riding got a bit tougher. The wind shifted and we had more up and down. From 15 miles away we rounded a bend at the top of a tough climb and Devil’s Tower loomed on the horizon. The terrain shifted from open grassland to pine forest. Closer to Devil’s Tower there was evidence of fire damage. We were way too early for the campground to be ready so I stopped at the top of the hill for a beer – the same local amber ale I had 4 years ago, but this time on tap. When Ed’s burger and fries arrived I knew food had to go with the second beer, as it had gone down too easily. A bourbon cheeseburger and fries hit the spot (a bourbon barbecue sauce). After lunch I had ice cream on the veranda.

Devil’s Tower from the bar

When I left the bar, the temperature must have been 10 degrees hotter than when I went in. I rode down to the campground, knowing I’ll have to ride back up that hill Monday morning. I set up camp – we have a little community of 5 tents and a picnic table under a tree – and took a glorious shower. Laundry and a cold drink are due soon. It is now 97 degrees (36 C).

View from my tent. I’ll try to stop now;)

Tonight is the famed margarita party and the nightly viewing of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”. Tomorrow is a well-earned day of rest. I actually feel stronger than at the end of week three 4 years ago. My recovery from COVID is pretty complete (an occasional brief cough). Maybe the rest did me some good.

Aside to Taylor: Did you get my page Saturday morning? I asked paging to say “I hope you’re having half as much fun as I am.”

Aside to the rest of the staff: Your gift card bought a couple of beers and lunch. The server put my tab and Ed’s together (I said I thought it was because she thought he was my dad), so you bought his lunch as well. Thanks a million!


A day off at the Teton Science Center outside of Jackson, WY. Dinner Saturday night at a brew pub with obscenely large servings but, after the ride, I was able to eat it all. They offer a daily “Mystery Beer”, which you can get at a discounted price if you don’t ask what it is. I took my chances and it was a tasty hazy IPA. Cycle America offered a shuttle service into town, which came in handy when the rain started.

We’re in a dorm setting. Our wing houses 16 and we have one washer and dryer, so my breakfast is delayed by waiting in line for laundry. The washer needs new bearings and takes forever. The dryer door is taped shut and, if you don’t refresh the tape, it pops open and stops drying. Normally I would skip the dryer and hang things, but my bike clothes show no sign of drying after hanging for two hours. I don’t think my clothesline will see sun until late afternoon, and they probably wouldn’t appreciate my moving the clothesline into a public area. When I went back to my room to check something, someone stole my pen, so I can’t do crosswords while waiting for laundry. These are pretty minor hardships compared with the plan to be on a plane home this afternoon. We also have one electrical outlet for 4 of us to try to charge things. My COVID dorm room has 4 occupants. Last one in got a top bunk.

I rode into Jackson for a late breakfast/early lunch. I found myself breathing harder than usual for a short and easy ride. On this trip we gradually gain elevation, working all the way, so the change is barely noticeable. We acclimate as we go. COVID and three days riding in a van changed that. We’re at 6200 feet and my lungs feel it. Since I have no real needs for a while, I’m hanging out and reading the paper. News still happens! Who knew?! I’ll ride back up the canyon when I feel like it.

One of the COVID kids just left. He’ll be on the plane to Denver I would have been on. He is going home to recuperate. I’m constantly aware that was almost me.

We meandered through Montana and Idaho, traveling south more than east. Yesterday we actually moved somewhat west from where we started the day. Next week we will meander through Wyoming. We will, overall, move east, ending the week at Devil’s Tower. Tomorrow will be in the neighborhood of 100 miles again. Nothing to sneeze at, nothing to take for granted.

Oops. This seems to have published itself rather than ask me for a date and time to publish. Two posts in a day, I guess.

An open letter

to my Cycle America community. To jog your memories, there will be one photo from each week, none of which have appeared here before:

Dear Friends,

trailer loaded, ready to head to ride start-WA

We have now been back in our respective real worlds for longer than we were away in our circus world. We used that metaphor during the trip because it seemed apt – we rolled into a new town every night, set up our tents, and were gone in the morning before most people were up and about. We didn’t put on much of a show, but…

Einstein in Jackson, WY

It’s also timely because I spent three days of the last week in Baraboo, home of the Ringling Brothers and the Circus World Museum. It was also where, for me, the two worlds intersected. My friends, my son and his wife, and my boss all came to Baraboo when the Cycle America Circus rolled through. It was my reminder that our circus world was fleeting, that the other world beckoned. It was the best of times…

Devil’s Tower, WY

And now we’re scattered across the globe doing whatever it is we normally
do; though even that is new for some – Ally went from being a student to being a nurse during those nine weeks. Mike stayed away longer than the rest of us to ride down the west coast of the US. How’d that go, Mike?

Did anybody do a Johnny Paycheck when going back to work?

Needles Highway, SD

I miss that world. I missed the daily routine of riding already by the first Monday I was home. I had my day of rest and was ready to ride again. I’m still looking for anyone who wants to pay me to ride my bike. From the headwaters of the Mississippi to the delta seems like a good route. Who’ll drive sag?

The jersey that got us in trouble in Belgium-Northfield, MN

But I also miss all of you. Don’t worry, I’m not gonna get all hold-hands-and-sing-Kumbaya on you. If we all lived in the same town it’s not like we’d all be hanging out every night after work (those of us who do still work) or be drinking coffee together every morning at the corner cafe (for the retired among us).

Wind farm – Pepin, WI

But we had a community for those nine weeks; a loose-knit one, perhaps, but we shared something I will never forget. We shared fun, we shared miseries, we shared deeply transforming moments.  We found out what we were made of. Some of you, who had done this before, may have had no doubts about it. But I bet most of us had moments when we weren’t really sure what we had gotten into, weren’t really sure we could do this. But we did. And we probably knew that all along but it seemed too arrogant to say out loud, just as voicing the fears seemed too insecure to say out loud.

100 miles is just a number – almost a century in Ontario

We ate some great food and some food that we may not have eaten had we not just ridden 80 miles. We saw the USA in a way that most people never will. We didn’t fly over flyover country. We didn’t cross the plains at 80 mph (~130 km/h for those of the metric persuasion), staring at the ribbon of pavement and ignoring all else. We did wake up sober in Nebraska (or close to it – Nebraska, I mean). Climbing mountain passes didn’t mean just stepping harder on the accelerator.

Cycle America International Bobsled Team – Lake Placid, NY

We did all that, and we did it together. I, for one, already think about a reunion. It’s entirely possible we will never see each other again. I know some of you are friends in real life and do hang out. The rest of us? Maybe we’d feel awkward, not knowing what to say. Maybe we’d need a long ride together with margaritas to follow. Maybe a short ride, but actually together as a group, like the brief stretches when we were together for ferry crossings or through construction zones.

End of the road, Gloucester, MA-only one way to go

And maybe doing it again in 2020 doesn’t sound crazy after all. (Don’t tell anyone here I said that!) If those of you with the wherewithal to do it again do it, I’ll meet you in Baraboo with a case of beer. Or we can find an Irish pub and Mike can show the bartenders the proper way to pull a pint of Guinness.

See you on the road!



Maybe a motor next time?

Maybe Hogwart’s next time?

Home again