• Philip to Pierre (PEER, not Pee-air), SD
  • 90 miles (1979 total)
  • Hot headwinds
  • Slow biking

One of the things I expected when we started this journey was to have to pass through a lot of wide open spaces. This is, after all, an enormous country. Thankfully, not all will be filled with Starbucks, Costcos, parking lots, and strip malls. So it wasn’t a surprise when we had a day that was empty space. What surprised me was how much impact this can have on a body.

Last night started around 100 degrees in Philip. We were set up in the gym which is the home of the Philip Scotties. They had two ginormous fans blowing air to keep it cool. This was a blessing, until we tried to sleep. The moving air dried us out something terrible. I barely slept 2 hours, though Sheila did much better. My cold is nearly over and Sheila still gets a sore throat at night, but we’re pretty healthy now.

We got off to an early start at 7, but were almost the last ones out again. This crew really picks up and goes when the mood hits! This meant we passed a whole lot of people early in the day. We were happy to get in 18 miles before we started experiencing heat. Sheila really powered us on this leg of the ride as I was still groggy from lack of sleep and was suffering from a tweak in my lower back.

There really wasn’t much to see today. The roads went up and down with the rolling hills. None of the rolls were short enough to allow us to use momentum from the down to get up the up. So we alternated between cruising down and trudging up. The winds were fairly steady, 10-15 mph in our faces. The view was monotony defined. The first third of the day was grassland. Not many grazers visible, just grass. The last two thirds was cropland, mostly hay which had been harvested. And that was all she wrote.

Normally this type of riding gets broken up with quaint farmhouses or ghost towns. Not today. We saw a gas station at mile 26, the only toilet on the route. Then there was nothing until we got to picnic at mile 53. Just hills. And headwinds.

Headwinds are sneaky things. At first you can plow through them, pulling along your friends without effort. We must have pulled Denny for 10 miles or so today. But then they become more abrasive. You pedal harder on the downs than you want to. You struggle more on the flats. (That was flat? Why were we only going 10 miles an hour?) Forget about the hills. The road turns sideways and the only change is the wind is pushing you sideways when it gusts to 30. And there are still 37 miles to go.

The hardest leg of the trip was leaving picnic. We vowed to make it a short stop. We arrived out of water and I quickly downed 1.5 bottles. Sheila prepared food for us to eat and take on to Pierre. She also watched the tree swallows doing their anxiety dance at the picnic shelter. The birds had built nests in the rafters and now their chicks were surrounded by exhausted, hungry bicyclists. The parents swooped and danced on the wind trying to keep us away, but it only wore them out. Still, we got out in a half hour because we knew if we stayed longer we wouldn’t leave.

Then came 13 miles of empty, filled with wind. Filled with heat. I love saunas. I especially love plopping into a cool pool after, then getting back in the heat. But we had no cool pool and I’ve never stayed in a sauna for 7 hours before. That was our ride today. When we stepped down on the pedals, it was like immersing our legs in hot water, over and over again. And you never got used to it. When the wind was straight in front of us it picked up 10 miles of hot asphalt warmth and seared our bodies with it. Wave upon wave of hot. We began to hope for the slight side winds so the air would be coming off the dry fields which was a couple of degrees cooler.

We pulled in to the water stop at 65 miles. Another 13 to the next one. Any rider still out there cheered on others at these little oases. We were gone again. A sign promised Pierre in only 18 miles. Now we saw the sag wagon go by with 15 bikes on top: people who had sagged from picnic. An empty sag headed back down the course. That did it for us. We were going to make it all the way. In Cycle America jargon that’s “EFI”… Every F**king Inch. At our last water stop, we were promised a 2 mile downhill run. I dreamed of soaring at 30-34 mph. I settled for pedaling to get to 16. At least we were closer. Then, there it was. Pierre, and its 13,800 inhabitants. The smallest capitol city in the country. We crossed the Missouri River from Mountain time to Central time, rode through the town and arrived at our hotel for 2 nights. One last foray on the bike got us to a store with soymilk and Boca burgers. We have food! I made ice soy chai and reveled in the air conditioning and lack of wind.

Yin & Yang: Badlands & bad roads
Wyoming to South Dakota