Spearfish Canyon/O! Frabjous Day! Calloo! Callay!

[Editor’s note: Another post that went missing. Looking at the blog calendar, this date is empty, though I know it was published. Here it comes again.]

We left Devil’s Tower without being abducted by aliens. When I take down my tent, I remove the rainfly, drop the tent, then remove and disassemble the poles. While the poles were standing without fabric to obscure the view, they had a decidedly windswept look (like a windswept pelvic fracture for those of the orthopedic trauma persuasion). I’ll have to be sure it’s facing the other way for the next windstorm.

Sunday night was a dust storm before it became a hailstorm. The hail was the size of garbanzo beans. Someone who was staying in a cabin said she was standing in the open doorway watching the storm when a bird was blown into her cabin. It shook itself, stood on the floor of the cabin for a minute, then flew back into the maelstrom.

Aladdin, pop 15 – but it still has a park! (Right behind me in this view.)

We rode through the town of Aladdin. The morning was slightly downhill with a tailwind – fast and easy riding. After picnic we climbed through Spearfish Canyon, a gentle climb for the first 1800 feet of elevation gain and a killer for the last 600 feet. We climbed for more than 20 miles.

The wide-open spaces of Wyoming reminded me of all the cowboy and gold rush songs from my childhood, like:
Oh, send me to Nome
Where the heffalumps roam,
Where the dear, handy antelope pray.
Where’s L. Thomas Hurd, a discouraging nerd?
In disguise I knock loudly all day.
Horm, hormones deranged…”

I stopped for espresso at Blackbird Espresso in Spearfish, a nice little shop that was very busy. The first place I stopped was closed on Mondays – isn’t that the day working people are in greatest need of coffee? The stop was useful anyway, as I discovered that my stem had worked loose so I tightened it – a loose stem on a fast descent would have been a Bad Thing.

On the way up the canyon I stopped at Bridal Veil Falls and The Devil’s Bathtub, chatting with a family from North Carolina.

Bridal Veil Falls

Devil’s Bathtub is a natural water park – a curving water slide into a pool. I didn’t feel like riding 20 miles in wet shorts so I passed it up.

How the other 1% lives. To the left (offscreen) is the intercom to get the gates opened. This was the first house in maybe 20 miles, in the Black Hills National Forest

I have a panoramic video of Spearfish Canyon but, with no Wi-fi here, I don’t want to use up the data to upload it. I do wonder how the terms “mountain” and “hill” get chosen. The Black Hills certainly look like mountains to me.

We passed a great historical marker (there is probably a photo of it in the 2018 post), acknowledging the theft of the Black Hills from the Lakota. It notes that the “legality is still in dispute”. I think there is no dispute that the land grab was a violation of the 1868 treaty – the only dispute is over whether the US will do anything about it – they certainly won’t cede back the land, but will we ever pay for it?

We are sleeping in a field at the top of these 88 steps.

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?

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?

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