Lewis & Clark Trail – North Dakota, South Dakota
Denis Kertz, ©2003
It was overcast and low 40s when I got up. I ate some granola and a banana and packed up. No one ever showed up to collect any money so I had no way to pay for my camp site when I left. I stopped at a café just a couple blocks away for more breakfast. The pancakes were $1.60 so I only had two. Usually you get volume pricing but that hasn’t been the case the last couple of days. At least these were good compared to the last couple of days that were rather mediocre.
It was 8:30 when I left and I noticed the absence of wind. Soon I was cruising along at 12-14 mph, a speed I could only dream of the last couple days. There were now flat fields on both sides of the road. After 12 miles I passed through Fairview and then crossed the border in to North Dakota. I continued to make good time with the aid of a little tail wind and in 9 miles I crossed the Missouri River. In another mile I turned right on to 1804, a road apparently named for the starting year of the Lewis & Clark trip.
Almost immediately I turned right and headed south a couple miles to Fort Buford, most noted as the place where Sitting Bull surrendered and where Chief Joseph was taken after surrendering in 1877. The place was under reconstruction and there was really nothing particularly interesting to see.
Next door, however, was the Missouri-Yellowstone Confluence Interpretive Center. Here you could see the Yellowstone River joining the Missouri River although it wasn’t a great view. The Center depicted the history of the confluence including Lewis & Clark and travel on the river. It was a fairly interesting area that was worth the stop.
Another 10 miles brought me to Trenton where I stopped for a quick lunch break, nuking a couple burritos. The sky had cleared up mostly and the sun was shining. The wind also picked up and was fairly strong from the NW. As I headed north to pick up US 2, I noted the head wind but was not concerned because in a few miles I turned right on US 2, heading east, and the wind became a helping wind. After a little climbing I breezed into Williston around 2:30.
My intent was to stay in Williston and make this an easy day. However, tomorrow would have been 70 miles with a fair amount of climbing to reach New Town. It was also supposed to be windy and I didn’t know the wind direction. So I invoked the cardinal cycle rule – never stop with a good tail wind, and decided to ride another 20 miles to the Lewis & Clark State Park, after picking up a few grocery items.
Leaving town around 3:00, I did some initial climbing followed by some rollers that resulted in more climbing but helped by a helping wind. The scenery was huge yellow wheat fields, looking ahead as far as you could see. A couple of the wheat fields were at least a mile long. These wheat fields were broken up by other brown fields that provided a dramatic contrast in the afternoon sun.
Then I began some descent and turned off on CR15 to the Lewis & Clark State Park. In 3 miles after a fast initial descent I reached the park and paid $12 for a primitive camp site, $5 to get in the park, and $7 for the site. I had the entire place to myself and could have picked any of 73 sites although only 20 were primitive sites.
I found a good site with a view of the river. As I walked to the showers after setting up, I saw another vehicle. At first I was inclined to ask them to leave since I had arrived first, then decided maybe I could share the place.
A good day after the last two hard days with a nice
campsite and almost half way to St. Louis.
During the night it was windy and it rained a little but in the morning it was clear and fine with a low in the low 40s. I ate a substantial breakfast because I didn’t expect to find food until New Town, 50 miles away.
When I left, the camper van was still there and I was still miffed at having to share the park. If a ranger had been around I would have tried to negotiate a 50% off deal for sharing the park. Instead, I started the 3-mile trek back to the main road. Now I had to pay the price for yesterday’s 3-mile descent. However, it wasn’t too bad with only a couple short, fairly steep parts. I also had some head wind, which was good because when I reach the main road the wind became a cross and tail wind after a right turn.
I descended a ways and started a significant climb. When I was most of the way up, I saw 3 deer preparing to cross the road ahead staring at me. So I stopped and stared at them staring at me. I continued watching as they bounded across the road and watched as they meandered on a hillside and eventually over the hill and out of sight.
The scenery was fantastic, with bright yellow wheat fields and brown grasslands as far as I could see on the topsy turvy landscape. It was almost overwhelming to pass up and down through these wide-open spaces as I nearly wore out my camera shutter finger.
After 12 miles I was surprised to find the Lund’s Landing Resort just off the road. I stopped and was pleasantly surprised to see they served breakfast and I immediately ordered 3 pancakes. The owners, Jim and Analene, were gracious, friendly hosts. Even though the pancakes were too thin, as Analene observed herself, I didn’t have the heart to mention that. Jim mentioned they get a fair number of cyclists passing through, probably because the Adventure Cycling Northern Tier and Lewis & Clark routes pass through, and he was considering making a bike rack. I gave him some suggestions on what I look for in a good spot to park my rig.
I left around 10:30 on my way to New Town. Most of the way was a continuation of the outstanding wide-open scenery. The wind continued to help although it was also some cross wind. There was a fair amount of up and downs but I didn’t mind with the scenery backdrop and the helping wind. I pedaled the 50 miles to New Town non-stop except for frequent, quick photo stops. After about 40 miles, 1804 did an abrupt right turn and headed south. At that point I reached the northernmost point of the Lewis & Clark route and started heading for warmer climate.
It was 3:00 when I reached New Town after almost 60 miles. I made a quick lunch stop although it was well past noon and then continued another 17 miles to Parshall heading due east. But things had changed. The traffic increased greatly. I saw more traffic in the first 15 minutes than I had seen the rest of the day. And the wind was a much stronger cross wind than previously. There was a wide shoulder but I needed it to handle the strong cross wind and the affects of large trucks as they momentarily interrupted the wind. It was good the scenery was unexciting, as I had to focus all my concentration on safe riding. Nevertheless, the wind still blew me off the shoulder twice, which wasn’t a disaster with the reasonable grass along the shoulder.
Even though the traffic abated somewhat after 5 miles or so, I was still glad to reach the intersection of 37 where I turned south for the 2 miles to Parshall. In Parshall I drove down main street to see what it had to offer. With the very strong wind I thought a motel might make sense but the only motel in town wanted $37 for a room for what looked like a pretty ordinary motel. So I decided to camp in the city park and hope the wind would abate.
Next up was food. The two cafes in town were closed and the only restaurant was closed for the day. So I rode back to a CENEX gas station on the main road where they had personal size pizzas. I had two of them that was not quite enough but I figured I would dig into my bike food stash later.
Interestingly, when I ate breakfast at the resort, Analene asked me about traffic jerks on the trip and I realized when I thought about it that I couldn’t recall any. Then when I was traveling between New Town and Parshall, some guy laid on his horn for a good while as he passed me. This was a road that had a wide shoulder and I wasn’t impeding him in any way. So I had my first certifiable jerk of the trip.
When I got up it was 37 degrees inside my tent so it was certainly a little colder outside. I had my usual breakfast in my tent and packed up and headed into town for another breakfast of 3 pancakes that were nice and large. What was not so nice was the weather forecast for the coming days – lows in the high 20s and highs in the 50s and even 40s. Sounded like I needed to head south as fast as possible. And again, my cyclometer failed to work until I left after breakfast. I could only guess that it was temperature sensitive, despite the specs that claimed it worked down to –2 degrees.
Leaving town I headed south, which agreed with the wind. For the first 10-15 miles the land was essentially flat with some mild gradients and not that interesting. Then the undulations picked up and so did the scenery. After 23 miles the road turned left 90 degrees and the wind became mostly a cross wind but a little helping as well. The road, however, was not the greatest with some really shoddy asphalt patching that effectively served as rumble strips in the road. Nevertheless, the rest of the way to Garrison, some 50 miles, was due east and the miles went quickly with the NW wind.
My original goal was to make Garrison and make it an easy day. However, there was a Lewis & Clark interpretive center and Fort Mandan near Washburn so I decided to push on to give me more time for those attractions tomorrow. I also figured the faster I got south the better.
So after a lunch break and some grocery shopping, I headed out. After about 5 miles, 37 ended and I took US 83 south and crossed Lake Sakakawea. The wind was very favorable and it was easy pedaling for about 10 miles, including picking up 48. But then I had to head west on 200 for 11 miles and face the wind, which was not as bad as I feared but I was able to just barely maintain double-digit speed.
That was the case until I reached the Garrison Dam that formed Lake Sakakawea, which extended 178 miles, all the way to Williston. Garrison Dam was one of the largest earthen dams in the US and was 2.5 miles across and a half-mile wide at the base, forming Lake Sakakawea, the 3rd largest reservoir in the US, exceeded only by the reservoirs formed by Hoover Dam and the Glen Canyon Dam. Crossing the dam in a NW direction was torture, heading into the teeth of the wind with nothing to block it coming across the lake. I could only do about 5.5 mph that seemed to take forever.
Eventually I did make it across and rode into Pick City and checked it out, mostly for breakfast in the morning. Then I rode out to Lake Sakakawea State Park to stay. Like Lewis & Clark State Park, the park required an entrance fee ($5) and camping fee ($7). But I noticed the entrance fee was explicitly labeled a vehicle entrance fee and since I didn’t have a vehicle, I just paid the $7 camping fee for a primitive site. That made me wonder if I really needed to pay an entrance fee at the Lewis & Clark State Park.
I found a decent site and set up in the still windy conditions, which wasn’t all bad as my tent was wet from last night’s condensation and the wind helped to dry it out. While waiting for the tent to dry I rode about a quarter mile to the shower building and noted signs that water was to be turned off tomorrow. Then spick and span clean I rode back to my site and settled in for the night.
During the night some yahoo in a nearby RV in this primitive camping area insisted on running his outside gasoline powered generator. He ran it until at least 11:00 and started it again around 7:00 in the morning. I was really tempted to decapitate his generator and maybe someone else had the same idea since the generator was locked to a tree with a chain.
When I got up it was probably upper 30s, better that I expected. I had my usual breakfast in the tent and then headed into town for another breakfast. The menu listed a single pancake as an item so I guessed it must be a large one and the waitress confirmed that. So I had oatmeal and a single pancake and that was a good choice. Both were very good and the pancake was at least 9 inches in diameter.
I was on the road around 9:00 and headed west for 2 miles. Although the wind wasn’t strong it was a chilly wind and I felt it. Then the road turned south and it was OK. The road alternated east and south on its way to Stanton. Just before Stanton I stopped at the Knife River Indian Village National Historic Site. There was a display showing what the Indians did in the four different seasons but the most interesting exhibit was the earthlodge outside. It was built with earth packed around a wooden framework that form an upside down bowl with an entrance covered by a buffalo hide and an opening in the roof for a smoke exit for the fireplace. This alone was worth the stop.
Continuing, the route followed the Missouri River somewhat but usually it was not in view. Two small lakes alongside the road, part of the Anoda Lake Wildlife Management Area, afforded a great view of the hills on the right side of the road with a display of fall colors, which was well started but not yet at its peak.
Near Washburn the route turned north as it crossed the Missouri River, giving a good view of the river as a river rather than as a lake. At the north edge of town I stopped for a lunch break and then rode a couple miles west, descending to the river, to Fort Mandan, a reconstruction of the site where Lewis & Clark spent the winter of 1803/1804. The original Fort Mandan is believed to have been washed away by the Missouri River as it changed course over the years. The fort was constructed in the form of a V with 9 rooms, decorated the way they were thought to look in 1803. A very interesting exhibit.
Next I climbed back to Washburn and stopped at the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center that was covered by my $5 Fort Mandan entrance fee. It was nice with the most interesting exhibit showing the construction of a canoe from a tree log.
I could have spent more time than the 1.5 hours but I wanted to make Bismark, almost another 40 miles and it was already 3:00. Although that was a lot of miles for the remaining daylight, I figured the route wasn’t hard and there was some helping wind, although not like the previous two days. Along the way I debated laying over in Bismark. I had ridden 8 straight days at 80 miles/day, including two hard, windy days and the last two long days of 90 miles. I could feel my legs complaining when I climbed modest hills. I also had a “funny” feeling throat that usually meant a cold was on the way and wondered if my throat condition was my body telling me to ease up. So I pretty well talked myself into a layover day on the way.
There were some scenic views along the way including a couple river views but it still was a long haul to Bismark. The wind was a modest help but there was more up and downs than I expected. Then I almost missed the River Road turnoff into town that had quite a bit of traffic. In the town of 55,000, I had to ask directions to where the motels were as darkness was closing in. When I got to my State Street turn, I spied a motel off to the side and thought it might be a bargain since it looked like a very basic motel and was off the beaten path. However, the proprietor spent a few moments in thought when I asked for the room rate, almost as if he was trying to decide how much he could charge whereas most motels have a set rate and the rate is quoted without thought. When the guy quoted $38 I was pretty sure the motel was not a bargain.
So I rode north on State Street and soon found a Select Inn that advertised a $39 room. I got a room for that rate plus an AARP discount that was a better rate and better room and better location than the basic motel. Plus I hit the mother lode in my motel search, finding an all-you-can eat buffet just across the street. After cleaning up I ate all I could eat for $9.20 and it was worth it to pig out for once.
It was nice to sleep in a little late and I didn’t get up until 8:00. Since I ate so much last night I didn’t feel a need for a regular breakfast so I took advantage of the motel’s continental breakfast and was surprised. I expected something simple like coffee and toast but they had cereal, bananas, and a variety of bread/rolls/donuts. It was easy to make a real breakfast out of this although the cereal selection wasn’t the greatest.
Sometime after breakfast I rode towards the city center and stopped at the post office to mail some maps/brochures home. The library was only a couple blocks away and I stopped there too. Bismark had a nice library, open every day of the week. They had Internet PCs and email only PCs. They charged 50 cents per half hour for email and I was happy to pay that. I checked my email, paid some bills online, and read some news columns, most notably Molly Ivins who was beating up Bush in her serious but humorous style and I cheered her on. If Bush had a quarter of her common sense and “compassion”, he could be a respectable human being and maybe delete “compassionate conservative” from the oxymoron list.
I spent an hour on the Internet and paid a staggering $1, which threatened to blow my weekly budget on a Monday. Leaving the library, I rode back towards my motel and a little further north to a Menards. Early in my trip my combination lock failed to open a couple times. I assumed I was misdialing but when it started happening more frequently and then was sometimes difficult to close, I knew the lock was suffering from old age. I hated to put the lock out to pasture since it has been on every one of my tours but I could just see being in a remote area and being unable to unlock my bike with no one around to help. So I bought a replacement but kept the old one and put off deciding what to do with my old partner.
There was a grocery store next door so I did some shopping and rode back to my motel where I did my laundry using the guest laundry facilities. I also took care of some bicycle maintenance, cleaning and lubricating my chain.
At dinnertime I walked back towards the buffet place but stopped next door, a Subway, and had a foot long sandwich. That was all the food I needed on a layover day.
I was in no hurry on a chilly morning of 27 degrees but I still got up at 7:00, not sleeping very well. Now that I knew the drill, I made a large breakfast out of the continental breakfast except I used my own cereal. Then I debated some whether I should stay another day, mostly because of my sore throat and tomorrow morning’s projected mid-20s temperature. In the end I decided you can only watch so much of The Weather Channel and I rode off at 9:30, later than I wanted but it was only up to 32 degrees. My goal was to make Pollock, some 90 miles away. It was farther than I wanted to go but it was the next town heading south, just across the South Dakota border, and I was counting on the help of the NW wind.
Surprisingly, it was reasonably comfortable at the outset in my light tights, windbreaker, skull cap, and full-fingered gloves but I still rode in my sandals without socks. Rush hour was over so it was relatively easy to get out of town, as I passed the state capitol on the way. My route was a bit convoluted on the outskirts of town and I took a wrong turn that led me to the river. It was a scenic detour and my best view of the river but it cost me 4 miles on top of what was going to be a long day without any detours.
It was a slow morning, probably because the wind was pretty mild, and projecting as a very long day. However, the wind picked up in the afternoon and the pace picked up accordingly. The route had quite a bit of undulation as it moved through scenic rolling brown hills, then some huge fields of corn, hay, and sunflowers, and then more scenic rolling brown fields. A couple times the road dove down and back out of creek drainages. And a couple trucks pulled onto the road overloaded with round bales. These trucks were stacked with 3 bales across, making them about a lane and a half wide. The drivers had to be careful with these huge loads as it looked like a truck could tilt over without too much provocation.
I kept up a steady pace all day, stopping only for short breaks, usually for a photo. I ended up with 40 minutes non-riding time or about 5 minutes per hour, probably the longest virtually non-stop ride I ever did. My throat wasn’t the greatest but I had hard cinnamon candy drops that did a pretty good job keeping my throat lubricated. Not the ideal situation but I’m not sure laying around a motel room would have been better. At least I had a lot of nice scenery to keep me occupied.
After 86 miles I entered South Dakota with 10 miles to Pollock. These miles went pretty fast and for once these last miles weren’t killers to test your mettle at the end of a long day, as they often seem to be.
Sometime after 6:00 I rode into Pollock, a town of 379 that had to be moved because the Oahe Reservoir submerged the original site. Pollock was the site of a Lewis & Clark court martial of John Newman who received 75 lashes after conviction by his peers of mutinous talk. At the edge of town I found the only motel and got a room for $32. I would have preferred to camp but my sore throat and the low overnight temp suggested otherwise. It was an OK motel but it only had basic TV so I couldn’t check The Weather Channel and the reception was very poor.
After cleaning up I walked downtown to a bar and had a 10-inch frozen pizza. I left quickly, not being in a particularly healthy frame of mind.
Last night was an awful night, an auspicious October start. The minor cold I thought I had turned into a full-blown cold. I was tired and when I went to bed at 9:00 I thought I would sleep through the night and wakeup refreshed. Instead, I couldn’t get more than about 30 minutes of continuous sleep before I woke up, fighting a chill and sore throat. By morning I got a little better and slept for an hour until getting up at 7:30.
It was 31 degrees when I ate breakfast, oatmeal and 2 pancakes that were so-so, and when I left 45 minutes later it was still 31 degrees. But that wasn’t the real problem. My throat was so filled with phlegm that I could barely breathe. I needed a good couching burst to clear things out but I knew coughing would really hurt so I hoped eating breakfast would help and it helped some. Still I could barely whisper and if I had had to call for help no one would have been able to hear me.
On the walk back to the motel, I stopped at a small Lewis & Clark center and picked up a few pamphlets. The attending lady wanted to talk more but I was really in no condition to do so and doing her a favor by minimizing my time inside.
I left at 9:30 with temps at 33 degrees. Once I got warmed up it really wasn’t too bad with no wind. My goal was to make Akoska, 70 miles away with Mobridge the fall back at just less than 40 miles. It soon became obvious that Akoska was a dream so I settled for Mobidge, a town of 3,500. Even that wasn’t easy with my legs having no energy. As in previous days the route was big rolling brown hills and then huge fields of corn, sunflowers, hay, and wheat.
I also saw about a 3-foot rattlesnake that I rode within a couple feet as it was stretched out on the shoulder of the road. I stopped for a photo and it obligingly didn’t move. Later a hawk landed on a fence post just ahead of me but he wasn’t so obliging and took off before I could get a photo.
I limped into Mobridge at about 2:30. I found the library and got one of the two Internet PCs. Then I lucked out and found a cheap cabin on the east side of town for $22 although the black and white TV didn’t do justice to the color-coded weather maps on The Weather Channel. I checked in and tried to get some sleep and was partially successful. The phlegm in my throat started loosening up, which was good, but it was painful coughing.
A difficult day and it was uncertain whether tomorrow would be any better. The forecast was for head winds from the south so I doubted I would want to fight that in my weakened condition. I spent a good part of the evening hacking away.
I didn’t sleep great but I didn’t expect to since I slept off and on since arriving in town yesterday. The good news was I seemed to have cleared out a lot of my congestion. Overnight I started thinking about what I would have done to treat my sore throat if I were home and I recalled the advice to gargle with warm salt water. At that point I really wished I had thought about that earlier because I could have gotten some salt. However, as I lay in bed I recalled that the cabin had some dishes in a cabinet and by a stroke of luck the cabinet also had some salt. So I spent the night alternately sleeping for an hour and then gargling. This seemed to really help loosen and clear out some of my congestion.
I spent most of the day lazing in bed watching the monochrome The Weather Channel except for a trip to the library.
I didn’t expect great sleeping since I had been resting in bed most of the day but I did get a four-hour stretch of sleep and then another hour when I woke up at 7:30. The good news was my throat wasn’t sore and I could talk sort of normal. I walked to a café in town and had pancakes and bacon. I didn’t normally have bacon but my body was craving something salty. As usual, I read a newspaper while eating breakfast. There I learned that Lake Oahe had tied its lowest ever water level. It had been a very warm summer with little rain in drought conditions so water levels were dangerously low in North and South Dakota. This just exacerbated the conflicting water needs for fishing and barge travel. Montana, and the Dakotas depended on water levels to sustain fishing and tourism whereas other states down river depended on water levels for barge traffic. So there is a continual conflict between keeping water levels higher in the lakes formed by the dams in Montana and the Dakotas versus releasing the water to keep the water levels up for barge traffic.
The other interesting note in the local newspapers is the sports emphasis. Whereas most sports sections of the major newspapers are geared first and foremost to the professional sports, these local papers gear their sports sections to the local high schools and colleges in the area with secondary and often skimpy coverage for other sports.
Back at the ranch I packed and left at 9:30 in relatively warm temps in the upper 40s. I headed east out of town following 1804, which headed south in a couple of stair step maneuvers. After 24 miles I turned right (south) on a 9.5-mile stretch of gravel road. The first of 3 gravel sections was a bit dicey because it had a lot of loose, fine gravel and I had to make sure I stayed in the tire path grooves where it was hard packed. The other sections were better with most of the road hard packed.
A mile from Akaska the road changed back to asphalt. Akaska was listed as population 31 and had little to offer so I passed right through. It was good I hadn’t pushed on to here the other day because this wouldn’t have been a good place to be stuck with a cold. Heading east, I picked up US 83 in 3 miles. There was occasional traffic on 83, which almost seemed like rush hour compared to traffic on the other roads in the past few days where traffic was rare.
After about 5 miles on 83, 83 was closed for construction until sometime in 2006 (!), which made one wonder exactly what they were planning to do that would take 3 years of work. I had to head east for 5 miles on 20 and then south on old 83 for 16 miles to Gettysburg and then 5 miles west on 212 to get back to my route, costing me 10 miles. I wasn’t too thrilled with having to add miles on a day I wanted to keep easy but I had no choice. The fairly strong tail wind did help quite a bit to get me to Gettysburg.
In Gettysburg I stopped for a break and had to decide whether to stay or continue another 14 miles to East Whitlock. I felt OK at 60 miles but wasn’t keen on adding another 14 miles even though that would shorten tomorrow’s ride to Pierre. So when I found a room for $30 at the Sage Motel I decided to call it a day at about 3:30.
After settling in I later walked across the street to a restaurant for a chicken and pasta buffet for $6.50. It wasn’t the greatest food but OK for the price.
Today I broke the 2,000 mile mark, meaning I was almost two thirds of the way to St. Louis with a little more than 1,000 miles to go.
When I got up I was feeling pretty good even though I still had a hacking cough. I walked across the street for a breakfast of oatmeal and 2 large pancakes that was good. Today’s sports section of the newspaper didn’t bother reporting on major league baseball until page 5, with high school sports dominating the coverage.
In my room, The Weather Channel reported a westerly wind that would give me a head wind for the first 15 miles today. I left at 8:45 and headed west but the wind was not significant. The scenery was not significant either for most of the day. It was flat farm fields with gentle undulations. There was a brief view of the river after 15 miles at East Whitlock but then the route turned south away from the river with the wind now a modest tail wind.
After 60 miles the route headed southeast towards Oahe Dam. There were some nice views of the river/lake before and after the dam. The Oahe Dam Visitor Center was closed but it had a vending machine and I was glad to get a cold drink on a warm day in the upper 70s.
10 miles after the dam I reached Pierre, population 13,876, and state capitol of South Dakota. I saw a motel with a $33 rate but it was not well located near food so I continued through town. I rode by the capitol and then followed the main business route towards the river. No motels looked reasonable so I crossed the river and didn’t see anything there either. So I retreated and continued east on the business route and gave up after a ways so I stopped for food before returning to the earlier motel I had spotted.
On my way back to the first motel I was surprised to see
the Capitol Inn, near the capitol, advertise a $37 room. It was better located so I got a room and
settled for the night.
I slept OK but I was still coughing too much. It was 44 degrees when I got up. I ate some cereal, packed, and rode to the Kozy Korner restaurant where I had 3 pancakes that were pretty good.
I left just before 9:00. I crossed the Missouri River on the regular traffic lane rather than the pedestrian/bike lane because there was so little traffic and I would have had to cross over to get to the other lane. After 4 miles I crossed the Bad River, near the mouth where Lewis & Clark and the Teton Sioux almost came to battle before the Sioux chief, Black Buffalo, diffused the situation.
A few miles farther I turned left on to 1806, the start of a Native American Scenic Byway that continued to Chamberlain. This byway followed the river as it climbed and passed through rolling prairie hills. One difference from previous days was that some of these hills had bare sides, revealing a gray, rocky side, offering a contrast to the yellowish brown hills. This route also went close to the river several times and the bright blue water was a stunning contrast to the surroundings.
The price of this scenery was a fair amount of climbing with about a half dozen significant climbs. I started the day with Fort Thompson as the goal at 75 miles and possibly Chamberlain with a century. Chamberlain would have offered a better destination tomorrow but it became obvious that there wouldn’t be enough daylight to reach Chamberlain even if I had enough energy, which was doubtful.
In mid afternoon I stopped along the road just before the start of a climb to West Brule. A flurry of movement in the nearby field revealed a prairie dog town. There were about 10 of these “talking squirrels”, as Lewis & Clark named them, scurrying for the cover of their homes when I stopped.
This was also where I saw the start of the Big Bend, where the Missouri River does an almost 360 degree turn before heading south again at Lower Brule. This near 360 covers 30 miles while the start and end of the 360 is just 1 mile apart, which Lewis & Clark stepped off when they passed through the area in 1804.
As I climbed towards West Brule I noticed a bouncy rear end and discovered a soft rear tire. I found what looked like a couple of punctures with a visual inspection of the rear tire and a hole in the tube that appeared to be near these punctures. I used a new tube rather than take the time to patch the tube and I was off again in about 25 minutes. After completing the climb, I descended to Lower Brule and stopped at a mini-mart for the first opportunity for a cold drink. It was a warm day, about 80, and I had used 3 of my 4 water bottles so a cold drink was welcomed. Much of the day’s ride was through an Indian Reservation and the locals were smiling and fairly impressed that I was riding through this hilly area.
As I completed the last climb of the day before descending to Fort Thompson, I felt a soft rear wheel again. I was able to pump it up but was concerned whether this was a different flat or a carryover from the first one. I had planned to camp for the first time in a week but now was concerned about these 2 flats, the need to resolve the problem, and the possibility of running out of daylight. So I skipped the two potential camping sites and rode across the earthen dam, Big Bend Dam, towards Fort Thompson. I had to stop once more to pump up the rear tire.
I stopped at the only motel, the Lode Star, and knew immediately this was not a budget motel. Still I was shocked to hear the rate was $85 but I felt I didn’t have a lot of choice because of my tire problem and dwindling daylight. Unfortunately, today was the start of hunting season and $85 was the hunting rate. Yesterday the same room was $50, a pretty good rate for a nice room.
In my room I immediately went to work on my tire problem. I found the tube puncture in about the same spot as the first tube. Checking the tire more carefully, I found a short, thin piece of a semi-circular wire with a tail, maybe ½ inch long, which had worked its way all the way inside the tire and was still stuck on the inside. So in all likelihood this caused the first flat and the second one ended up costing me $85.
Well it was at least good to have a definitive resolution to my flats. I cleaned up and walked to the Lode Star Casino for dinner. I had a pretty good prime rib for $7. I was tempted to try my luck at the blackjack tables to pay for my expensive room but I resisted since I hadn’t played blackjack in years and certainly wouldn’t have remembered all of the basic blackjack strategy nor the more sophisticated card counting strategy that I used to use.
I ate some of my cereal when I got up since my complimentary breakfast at the casino wasn’t available until 8:00. My favorite TV station was pretty worthless since it didn’t give a local weather forecast. At 8:00 I had 2 eggs and toast at the casino, one of the two skimpy complimentary breakfast options, which barely made an adequate breakfast along with my cereal.
At 8:30 I shoved off and headed towards Chamberlain, 24 miles away. It was fairly easy riding except for two significant climbs just before Chamberlain. There were a couple of good views of the river along the way. Around 11:00 I descended to Chamberlain and had a good view of the river, similar to what I recalled when I passed through Chamberlain in 1994 when I rode from Seattle to Chicago.
In town I found a place still serving breakfast so I had a real breakfast of oatmeal and 2 pancakes. The oatmeal was a real chunk of oatmeal that I softened to my liking with milk. The best oatmeal of the trip and good pancakes too. Around the corner I stopped at the library and paid $1 to use the Internet. Then I shopped at a grocery store a couple blocks away and was off again at 12:30.
I had to climb some out of the river valley but then it was relatively flat. That also meant it was unexciting scenery as I passed through flat farmland. In 7 miles I passed by Pukwana that had no services. However, it did have a garage with a vending machine outside so I stopped for the last chance for a cold drink.
The rest of the way was unexciting until I descended to the Missouri River (Lake Francis Case) at the Snake Creek Recreation Area. The surrounding river valley was very nice. I was concerned the area might be closed for the season but it had water and showers and only one other camper. I paid a $3 entrance fee and $10 tent fee and got a nice site at the southern end with a great view of the river. But I was disturbed again that I had to share a campground with another camper, although this time the other camper was there first. After my trip when I arrived home, I was surprised to see a letter from the Snake Creek Recreation Area. My initial reaction was that I must not have paid the right amount but I was pleasantly surprised to get a $2 refund. The $3 entrance fee was for a vehicle and since I was on a bike it didn’t apply to me although I still had to pay a $1 entry fee.
It was another warm day in the 80s so the evening was
pleasantly warm. I could only imagine
how popular/crowded this place was in the summer.
It was pleasantly cool in the morning and I never zipped up my sleeping bag during the night. I ate a couple cups of cereal and a banana and was on the road at 8:30.
After crossing the river I started a long 2.5-mile, fairly steep climb out of the river valley. At the top I turned left on to 1806 and climbed a little more. I headed southwest towards Burke in stair step fashion against a fairly strong southerly wind. I thought I might be able to get breakfast in Burke but it took almost 3 hours to make 22 miles and Burke was not on Mountain Time like I thought it might be, like previous parts of South Dakota that were west of the Missouri River. So I had a sandwich at the café in town, already pretty tired after a hard morning.
I was concerned about reaching Pickstown, my destination in another 50 miles. Obviously I would have to pick up the pace considerably. Bonesteel and a motel was my fall back in 20 miles.
Part of the morning problem was due to not only a head wind but also a gradual uphill. Most of the afternoon was a gradual downhill in a mostly easterly direction, meaning the wind would be mostly a cross wind. With that I made it to Bonesteel in less than 2 hours, a much faster pace. On the other hand it was warm, in the 80s. I started the morning without my windbreaker. In Burke I took off my light long sleeve jersey when it was already 81. In Bonesteel I took off my tights and I was a lean, mean riding machine.
After a half hour break in Bonesteel where I had a wonder vanilla soft serve ice cream and a cold soda, I left at 2:30, confident I would make my destination in another 30 miles. I headed south for a couple miles, fighting the wind, but it was east the rest of the way and mostly slightly downhill.
For a while the route was less than a mile from the Nebraska border and about a quarter mile when the road did a little southern dip. Then the road headed NNE for a few miles and I flew with the wind until the road resumed its easterly heading. I had a good view of the Fort Randall Dam as I descended to the river valley. I rode across the 2-mile earthen dam and stopped in Pickstown at a café where I had a good 12-inch pizza and a cold drink.
After satisfying my stomach, I rode 2 miles back across the dam to a campground at the far end with a good view of the lake. I paid $6 for a decent site and had the small campground to myself. There were no showers but I thought it would be a simple matter to walk out into the lake and rinse off. However, the sandy looking lake bottom was muddy and I sank into it. I walked along the shore away from the dam and it got worse. Walking towards the dam it finally became firm enough that I was able to get far enough out in the lake to dunk myself. A refreshing feeling and the lake wasn’t really very cold.
In the end a good day after a hard morning.
I ate cereal and a banana in my tent after another warm night where I never zipped up my sleeping bag. I rode the 2.5 miles back to town to the café. I ordered oatmeal and pancakes but was told they were out of pancake mix so I substituted French (not freedom) toast. It was a so-so breakfast with thin oatmeal. I did get my water bottles filled since there was no drinking water at the campground.
I left just after 8:30 and started a long climb out of the river valley. After 5 miles I turned south into a fairly strong wind. This was mitigated somewhat by a downhill grade most of the way. Along the way I passed through Marty, a town of 421. As I entered the town a sign proclaimed a 15 mph speed limit so I jumped on my pedals and rocketed to 17 mph. However, there was no officer around to give me a ticket to verify my sprinting ability. After 20 miles I reached the river and turned east to follow the river in stair-step fashion with Nebraska on the other side.
The next 10-15 miles were pretty scenic with fields in harvesting that were hemmed in by the valley on the north and the river on the south with trees displaying their fall glory. There were at least 10 harvesters in action in the area. Even when you couldn’t see them, telltale clouds of dust gave them away.
Eventually I left the river bottom land behind and climbed some and then descended to Springfield, the only town along the way. It was just off the road so I detoured into town at 2:00 for a break. I had a bite to eat at a Casey’s and then shopped at a grocery store. As I was leaving the grocery store a guy flagged me down and said “you look like you’re going a long ways.” When I told him about my trip, he was impressed and shook my hand.
I left town about 2:30 with some 27 miles to go. Much of it was a gradual climb with a cross wind so it was not fast. During the morning there was cloud cover that kept the heat at bay. Now the clouds were gone and I was down to my lean, mean fighting machine setup, although the cross wind helped to kill the heat. However, the wind didn’t help my water and I was back to drinking warm water on a warm afternoon.
A long uphill climb seemed to take forever. When 50 joined 52 it brought a fair amount of traffic although the shoulder was very wide. With 6 miles to go, 52 headed south into the wind with some downhill to help offset the wind. As I neared my turnoff for camping, a car from the opposite direction pulled out to pass another vehicle while I was cycling by and earned the title of second jerk of the trip. If I could, I would have these jerks arrested and sentenced to a reversal of position, where they would be on a bike while I whizzed by then as they rode along. I think they that would cure them.
I stopped at the Lewis & Clark Lake State Recreation Area for the night, just west of the Garvin Point Dam. The place had a Lewis & Clark Visitor Center that was closed for the season. This place’s claim to Lewis & Clark fame was that Lewis & Clark had their first meeting with the Yankton Sioux near the present day dam.
Camping required a $3 entrance fee and $10 camp fee or $13, not a great bargain, but it did have drinking water and showers. This place was a huge campground with 4 or 5 different camping areas but it only had one section open with showers where I picked out a site. Later I cleaned and oiled my bicycle chain and then I cleaned up and settled in for the night.
About 2:30 am there was some thunder and lightning and a little rain so my tent was a little wet in the morning. After my usual tent breakfast I headed about 6 miles into Yankton for breakfast. With 13,000 people, I didn’t figure on having difficult finding a breakfast place, not counting Burger King as a breakfast place, but I did. I didn’t find anything downtown. I asked four different people and got varying degrees of responses. A woman on a bicycle said I would have to backtrack and take US 81 north for a mile or so although she sounded somewhat unsure of her directions.
Reluctantly, I backtracked to 81 and cycled north. In about a mile and a half the first place I found was The Frying Pan, the place the woman cyclist suggested. It was not your home cooking café so I wasn’t too confident in relying solely on their pancakes. So I ordered their special that had bacon, eggs, hash browns, and 2 pancakes. It turned out to be a pretty decent breakfast at a reasonable price.
It was 10:00 by the time I left town. There were no clouds and it was already warm with a southerly wind and I would be heading south and east for the day. Initially I headed east and the cross wind was OK. Better yet the route was virtually flat the entire day. After 20 miles I turned south and fought the wind for about 10 miles including a 1.5-mile stretch of gravel road that had too much gravel for a typical bicycle tire. Then the road headed east to Vermilion and the worst part of the day was over.
At 2:00 I stopped in Vermillion at a mini-mart for a lunch break. Then I took University Street south to get me started in an ESE direction to Burbank and Elk Point. I made decent time on the flat roads, not too affected by the cross wind. Like most of the day I passed through fields of mostly corn and soybeans.
In Elk Point I stopped for some supplies. I could have camped in the city park but I pushed on at 4:00 with about 20 miles to go to Stone State park in Sioux City. The going was a bit slow as I headed southeast to Jefferson. In Jefferson I did basically an upside down U route. I crossed the Sioux River and entered Iowa. Having been in the Dakotas for what seemed like forever, I could only think dam, dam, dam, dam, and dam. For the 5 dams that converted the Missouri River into a chain lake.
Heading south on 12 in Iowa, the wind didn’t seem so bad so I hoped that was an omen. After about 5 miles I turned left into Stone State Park, a hilly area full of trees past their fall prime with lots of leaves on the ground. It was a great fall evening in fading sunlight. The trees were dense enough that they formed a canopy over the road. After one very short, very steep hill that required my lowest gear, it was an easy ride to the campground. I paid $6 for a site in a campground that had 3 sections. Since there was an occupant in two of the sections, I commandeered the 3rd section.
I didn’t expect a lot for $6 but the place had drinking water and it had a shower. I guessed it was a cold shower but was pleasantly surprised to find hot water. So it was hard to complain about this setup on a great fall evening with trees still displaying some fall foliage amidst a blanket of leaves.
Copyright Denis Kertz, 2003. All rights reserved.