What planet are we on?

We started today with a gentle climb through mixed aspen, birch, and pine forest.

It doesn’t look like we’re climbing, but I need to look to make sure my tires aren’t flat and I’m not dragging a sea anchor. As our elevation approaches 6000 feet I see on the cue sheet we are about to climb 1.1 miles. I’m not sure what he thinks we’ve been doing for the last 5 1/2 miles. A half mile later it becomes clear. Before this we’ve just been going up, now we’re actually climbing. When I run out of gears, it’s obvious. (Dictated at the time; that’s why it’s in present tense.)

We rode up Needles Highway, where I overheard, “What planet are we on?” It was an otherworldly landscape. Rocky  spires rose everywhere, coming right to the edge of the road. The road itself was possibly the most beautiful pavement I have ever seen, a narrow, barely 2 lane ribbon of flawless asphalt, too narrow for trucks or RVs, just big enough for regular cars. 

I could have spent the whole day there. Someday it would be great fun to take that entire road at speed, were it closed to all other traffic. I would first want to ride it slowly at least 10 more times to enjoy the scenery.

We had to share a narrow tunnel with a family of mountain goats.8E0B6FD6-EE56-459F-BA36-1A1969357EA5EA878547-4F03-4202-AC81-A28018A9C3F8

This could have been a day trip – ride up to the Needles Highway, ride it a couple of times, get out and walk around, go back to where we started.08EA9391-C169-43B1-9CC9-6105D448E3390DA0BF2E-8EA9-42E1-A72D-56C3922F81AB

But it was only the beginning. Next up was Iron Mountain Highway. A small sign announced how may switchbacks were to come. I didn’t bother to take a picture, nor to count them.

Iron Mountain Highway also boasts “pigtail bridges”, wooden bridges that create a helix, so you ride over the bridge, then curl around and ride under it – like a freeway off ramp in miniature, and built of logs. (Difficult to see in the image below, but the road curls back under the bridge.)5FC514C7-6436-41B3-94A7-E285FE90B8A505898052-B182-437B-B3C9-22A10513209E

We climbed the mountain and had a view of Mt Rushmore. It was an up and down day, over 5000 feet of climbing, but way too much fun to be of any concern. This may have been our last foray over 6000 feet.

In Keystone we saw a rare sight – a telephone booth. Also bison grazing by the roadside.

Food deserves a mention – last night’s dinner in Custer was from a caterer in Rapid City. It included a spinach/artichoke lasagne and focaccia bread. Lunch today (from our staff) featured risotto and pesto bread. We’ll have the same caterer for the next two nights. This also gives me an excuse to show you the catering truck from Gillette; as you can see, it is rather large.F244C46B-8BBB-4AA8-B17E-84DC82C90E0C

The route into Rapid City was bad enough that the boss apologized for it. It was miserable (long climb, headwind, busy highway) but not enough to ruin the day.

4th of July

Notice how this is the only holiday we refer to specifically by its date? Why is that? 5 de Mayo is also referred to that way, but not in English.

So here I am, in the great and sprawling west. 4th of July out here makes me think of US history, westward expansion, and manifest destiny. If you have 10 minutes to spare (9:15 to be exact), here is a better history lesson than I had in school – more accurate and more entertaining to boot. “Temporarily Humboldt County” by the Firesign Theater. Listen to it. I’ll wait.


Some years ago I spent the 4th at the Crazy Horse Memorial and Mount Rushmore. I took some great pictures but, due to software incompatibility, I may not see them again. (Don’t ya like how we were sold the idea of digital photography so we could keep our pictures forever with no need for restoration? I have 100 year old photos of my house but can’t recover 12 year old digital photos.

The memorial was begun in 1948. There is no estimated completion date. It is all privately funded. For comparison, Mount Rushmore took 14 years to carve and Crazy Horse’s face is 50% larger than the Mt Rushmore faces.

from crazyhorsememorial.org
from Atlas Obscura – model of finished sculpture (foreground), actual sculpture (background)

On the porch of our lodge in Deadwood, the evening of July 3, 2006, my son improvised a mournful viola solo which became the basis for the adagio movement of his “String Trio in G”. He completed the movement for a summer composition project. It was dedicated to one of his academic mentors, Ted Widerski, who died while we were on that trip. That project moved him to alter his career plan from composition to orchestral conducting. Next month I’ll have a link to a live performance of his orchestra, so you can see where that led. If you can’t wait that long, here is a performance from a few years ago of Samuel Barber’s “Knoxville: Summer of 1915”.

Aside to the conductor: Did you know you were born on the anniversary of Samuel Barber’s death?

In July of 1976 (the US Bicentennial) I rode the Sparta to Elroy bike trail. I saw a sight that seemed to embody the spirit of the US to me. There, in the trail, side-by-side, were two vending machines – one for Coke and one for Pepsi. I took a picture that was to be the start of a photo essay called “Freedom is…”. I never completed the project because satire became superfluous the day I saw a two page centerspread ad in the daily paper. There were red, white, and blue bunting across the top of the page, stars sprinkled (liberally?) about, and the giant header “The Great American Buycentennial“. I don’t remember what they were selling. For those who were around in 1976 you likely remember the grotesque attempts to cash in.

I’ll leave you with one last bit of Americana. While I may have quibbles with the tempo, who am I to question the New York Philharmonic?

They don’t call it Wind River for nothin’

We spent the day crossing and recording the Wind River, riding through its valley. Here is my friend Keith’s song “Wind River Crossing”

We rode out of Dubois with the same 25 mph tailwind with which we entered. At our first water stop the wind shifted and we spent the middle half of the ride pushing through a strong headwind.

We entered Riverton to darkening skies and increasing winds. It is blowing about 40 mph now. Pitching tents has been fun. The sun is out but the wind shows no sign of abating.

This was supposed to be a recovery ride between yesterday’s 17 mile climb and Thursday’s steep climb to over 9600 feet and 94 total miles. We were supposed to be riding downhill with a tailwind. C’est la vie.

Early on we rode through beautiful red rock canyons.

We spent a few hours riding toward an isolated butte. I kept wondering when I should stop for a picture. Shortly after I did so, I came upon a historical marker.

The butte is Crowheart Butte, so called because, after defeating the Crow in a battle for the surrounding land, the Shoshone chief is said to have displayed the heart of one of the Crow warriors on the point of his lance. The town of Crowheart is nearby.

For an alternative view of this ride, see Terrysspokereport.blogspot.com. While we are all on the same route, we each have our own ride.