I love Minnesota in the summertime. It's hot, humid, there are incredible thunder storms, and aside from the flies and mosquitoes that annoy me to the point of insanity, it is in my opinion, everything that summer is supposed to be. We have spent the last week-and-a-half lazing around at my family's house in Marshall and will be here for another 2 weeks. Although I'm anxious to get back on our bikes and be on the move again, we're doing a good job of keeping ourselves busy and happily entertained.
Oliver testing out his new life jacket in the pool.

He was happier on the bean bag.

We did a very poor job keeping our bikes well-tuned during the first 2,000 miles of our journey and by the time we arrived in Minnesota, they were rattling, creaking, squeaking and shaking so badly that we had no choice but to do some major and immediate maintenance. Mike spent a few days ordering new parts, disassembling, tuning, cleaning and reassembling our bikes until they were once again in perfect working order. We should probably pay more attention to their upkeep from now on because we won't always be so lucky as to have a complete workshop to stop and work on them whenever they need fixing.
Mike working on our bikes.

I have been keeping busy by helping my Dad do some painting around our property, cooking and baking (one thing I really miss while on the road is having an oven and stove. A one-burner camp stove doesn't even come close to satisfying my culinary desires so I have to take advantage while I have access), and working in my Mom's garden. It is my dream garden with rich, black soil, an abundance of everything so we can share with neighbors and friends, and everything grows like weeds due to the perfect summer climate. It is quite the opposite from my measly gardens I've had in California where they were small, had crappy soil and never produced much because either everything was eaten by animals before it was ripe or the temperature was never regularly hot enough for the plants to fully grow. It is so wonderful to be able to walk out into the backyard, pick whatever I want to eat that day and then make dinner almost completely out of fresh ingredients from the garden. It has been a welcome change after riding through Montana and South Dakota where we usually had to buy our food from gas stations because most of the small towns we passed through simply didn't have grocery stores. That meant the only “fresh veggies” we could find were potatoes, onions, garlic and maybe a wrinkled bell pepper if we were lucky. Needless to say, I was going through veggie withdrawal by the time we arrived in Minnesota!
Notice the beautiful paint job on the doors and dog houses!

My dream garden.

My and Merry's harvest one morning.

Every year I make a couple of batches of jam from fresh fruit I get from friends in California. Obviously I wasn't able to make any this summer, but one day last week my Grandpa showed up with 7 buckets of grapes he had picked from the vines in his back yard. Much to my surprise he asked if I'd make grape jelly with him, so we spent an entire day taking on this ambitious task. I was positive this would turn into a solo project with Grandpa and all the other helpers quickly losing interest before the job was complete, but we hung in there until the end and those 7 gallons of raw grapes turned into 5 gallons of sorted, good grapes, which turned into about 3 gallons of delicious, sweet jelly. It was a fun project, we only stained a few small sections of my Mom's counter tops purple and I'm pretty sure I got my jam-making fix for this year.
Grandpa and the grapes.

Mike and Grandma mashing the grapes...it was a messy job!

Grandpa pressing the grapes through the sieve to get rid of the skins and seeds.

The finished product.

Mike has been a major helping hand since we got here. He spent an afternoon making foot stools for my Mom and her co-worker, Jane, that they needed at work, and he's also spent many hours helping my sister, Merry, on her “secret project” that I've been forbidden to tell anything about. It's a large and incredible project and I think Mike's enjoying his time in the workshop and feels lucky that Merry would ask for his help and let him be a part of it.
Mike helping Merry with her project.

My parents bought a lake property in Northern Minnesota this summer and I'm so happy they finally did - they've been talking about it for years. It's a good thing we're all visionaries because the place is kind of a dump, hasn't been inhabited in over a decade (and when it was, it was by a crazy loon) and it needs unfathomable amounts of work done, but if we fix it up the way we can all picture it in our minds, it will someday be a fabulous family cabin. I grew up in a house that was continuously being remodeled and Mike had a fair share of exposure to it as well, so when we were asked if we'd like to go to the lake to help tear down  existing structures and completely gut a cabin, we were more than excited to pitch in. It's a dirty and physically tiring job, but ripping buildings apart and knocking down walls with crowbars and sledgehammers is strangely amusing and satisfying. We made a lot of progress last weekend and will be back at it for another 3 days this weekend. The thought of bringing our families there in the summers of the future is an excellent motivator and the hard work was very welcomed after nearly 3 months of a life of all “play.”
Mike tearing apart what was a chicken coop.

The gun Mike found in the wall along with a bunch of ammo.  The guy who last lived here was crazy and used to shoot at the devil through the windows. 

Me taking a sledgehammer to a wall.

Mike finishing out a wall.



As we moved eastward across South Dakota the number of grasshoppers and motorcycles diminished greatly – both of which made me happy. I no longer had grasshoppers jumping onto my lap and pin-balling between my legs, arms and belly before escaping, and the hearing in my left ear is slowly returning after being slightly impaired by the loud engines racing by for hours on end. Instead we found ourselves in the land of pheasants and frogs. You don't need a gun to hunt pheasants in South Dakota – all you have to do is drive a couple of miles down the highway and you're guaranteed to hit at least three every mile. And the frogs! Why are there trillions of semi-fried, semi-squashed frogs laying all over the road? We moved from crunching over grasshoppers to crunching over frogs and although it was disgusting at least they weren't jumping up onto me!
A giant pheasant in Huron.

This is what the roads in South Dakota look like.

Once we left the Badlands there was a whole lot of nothing...that's South Dakota for you. It was hot, humid and desolate and at one point Mike stopped and was amazed that he could spin 360 degrees and the horizon remained a perfectly flat line the entire time. We were on the same highway for almost 350 miles and there were maybe 4 curves and 100 feet of elevation change along that entire stretch. I frequently found myself suffering from “highway hypnosis” and I almost fell asleep several times. Needless to say I got really bored with the plains really quickly!
Scenes from South Dakota.

However, there were also some beautiful parts and fond memories from our time in South Dakota. They are one of the leading sunflower producers in the country and it was spectacular riding along fields of vibrant yellow that stretched as far as we could see. The people were wonderfully kind – we had several vehicles pull up next to us and offer ice cold water on the days where it was 100+ degrees outside. Although we always had plenty of water with us, the cold water was always immensely appreciated!
Field of sunflowers.

The hottest day of riding also happened to be the day the highway was being oiled and sanded. Within a few miles our legs were completely black and gritty, by mid-morning we were so sticky from layers upon layers of sunscreen and sweat that we were covered with bugs that had the unfortunate fate of colliding with our slimy bodies, unable to escape. By the end of the 90-mile day we were 2 of the most disgusting looking people imaginable and there was no way a quick rinse with a cold water hose would suffice as a shower before climbing into bed. We pulled into a small town asking for a place to shower for free. (They'll often let cyclists shower at public pools, firehouses or police stations knowing that we're typically self sufficient and don't want to pay for a hotel just to take a shower). Well, one of the churches in this little town took it to the next level, assumed that because we were inquiring about a free shower meant that we were flat out broke, and we ended up with a hot shower, a free meal and a place to sleep in the church basement. We hope to find many more towns like this...we could keep cycling forever!

Up until our last 2 days in South Dakota, we were fighting head winds daily. It's extremely frustrating and one day after pedaling due East into the wind for 70-some miles we had had enough and decided we'd stop and camp at the next intersection. To our luck and amazement we found ourselves at an intersection with absolutely nothing but an old abandoned baseball field. It made the perfect home – the dugout was where we cooked and ate, the field was nice and flat for our tent, there was a well head for showering and we laughed at the number of cars who slowed and did double-takes once they noticed we were there and what we were doing. There aren't many trees on the plains and we've learned that we can't be modest when traveling by bike – we'll never turn down a shower even if it means standing naked along a highway!
Camping at the Four Corners Baseball Field.

Mike cooking breakfast in the dugout.

As we made our way eastward, the anticipation and anxiety of reaching my family's home continued to grow. The wheat and sunflower fields transitioned into corn and soybeans, the landscape became dotted with trees and rolling hills and the scent in the air alternated between pungent manure (which we raced by as quickly as possible) and that of rich, earthy, freshly plowed soil, all of which indicated that we were getting close. Although we didn't plan on arriving in Marshall on Saturday, we got lucky with a tailwind and rode 137 miles in one day – the farthest either of us have ever ridden at one time. Once we hit the border of Minnesota, the towns and roads became familiar, the adrenaline kicked into high and we could have gone on forever. Our surprise arrival was anticlimactic and very opposite of what we expected when we found ourselves riding up to an empty house with everyone out for the night as they weren't expecting us until Sunday. Nevertheless, we're happy to be here taking a little break from pedaling for a while.
Almost home.



We hit an unexpected pocket of paradise in southeastern Wyoming and western South Dakota, which is where we've spent the past 5 days exploring. Once we got out of Glacier we were prepared to ride the plains for a long time, but after only a few days of flats we found ourselves in hills, forests, more hills and surrounded by thousands of motorcycles. Little did we know that we'd be rolling into the Black Hills during the heart of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. We might not have loud motors or chrome-studded leather jackets and panniers, be covered in tattoos or wear skull and crossbones rings and t-shirts, but we are two-wheeled, overly tanned, traveled thousands of miles to this location, are out enjoying the sights and bought our Sturgis patches for our panniers. We figured that was plenty in common with the motorcyclists so we decided to stay a few days and join the party.

This rally is quite a spectacle with 800,000 motorcycles expected to flock to the area over the course of the week (that more than doubles the population of the state of South Dakota)! We weren't sure at first if we'd be welcomed into this culture, but we quickly learned that, for the most part, these bad-ass looking guys and tough acting gals were actually very kind, generous and interesting folks who happen to be normal people with normal jobs and lives. Rally week must be like an extra long Halloween party for many of them when they get to pull out their gear, grow a little scruff and put on their alter-egos as they converge with others just like them from all over the continent to rev their engines, oogle at the abundance of beautiful bikes, party and ultimately enjoy a common hobby.

I honestly thought we'd be looked down upon for pedaling our bikes rather than riding motorcycles but I was almost instantly corrected. We took our bikes touring on the scenic “rides” and to the historical points of interest listed on the Sturgis map, we stopped at the party tents to have a beer along the way, we signed our names on the bar and we paraded down the Main Streets of the towns amongst all the other bikes. We may have received a few sneers, but for the most part people were eager to talk to us, interested and excited about what we were doing, bought us drinks, cheered us on as we climbed the big hills in the heat of the afternoon and told us time and time again that we were the only “real bikers at Sturgis!”
Mike riding through Spearfish Canyon.

We signed one of the bars we stopped at.

Parading down Main Street in Hill City, SD with all the motorcycles.

Crazy Horse.

Mount Rushmore.

Cari on an old train trestle along the Mickelson Trail in the Black Hills.

There are 3 major incidents that stick out in my mind from our time in this area. Number one is that when it's Sturgis Rally time, the whole region puts on their party shoes and everyone is welcome. One night we were searching for a place to camp when we saw a few people sitting on a bridge, drinking beer and waving at everyone passing by. Mike slowed down and yelled over to them, asking if they knew of a place we could pitch a tent. No more than a minute later we were on the front porch of Granny Dee's cabin, drinking beer, eating dinner, invited to shower and stay for the entire week. It was a fantastic evening of being entertained, feeling like we were part of the rally and that night officially marked the first point in this trip where I actually felt like we were making some eastward progress. The long O's have become prominent in the language and people say "crick" instead of "creek," which means we're getting close to my family's house in Minnesota!
The gang at Granny Dee's.

Number 2 was getting caught in a seemingly daily thunderstorm in the little town of Scenic with a whole slough of bikers. We were on our way out to the Badlands on one of the recommended bike routes when the sky suddenly turned dark, lightening flashed continuously throughout the sky and the wind picked up. We were hungry and needed a rest anyway, so we set up at a picnic table under a holey overhang next to a bar. Worried about the possibility of hail, soon the overhang was jam packed full of motorcycles trying to protect their bikes from the coming weather. There's not much in the town of Scenic other than a bar, gas station and trading post and for nearly 4 hours everyone that was originally partying in the streets was crammed in the bar or on the front porches of all the abandoned buildings. I think we talked to nearly everyone present, none of whom could believe we had pedaled that far and ended up with a few bucks from “The Illinois Boys” for drinks that night and pages and pages of contacts from all over the country promising that if we made it to wherever they lived we'd have a hot shower, good meal and bed awaiting. I laugh when I think about potentially calling up some of these people in a month or two to tell them that we've arrived. They will likely have long forgotten us and probably have a heart attack when we remind them that we were the cyclists they met long ago at Sturgis.
Waiting out the storm in Scenic, SD.

Lastly is the insane amount of attention we received (it was to the point of feeling like a celebrity) over this past week. I didn't see a single motorcycle pass us by on the road and not turn their heads to stare. Every time we stopped we were surrounded by people wanting to know what we were doing, where we were coming from and where we were going. Riding through the Badlands today was actually a short ride, but it literally took us all day to go 30 miles. There were many vista points throughout the park and we ended up stopped for nearly an hour at each one answering the plethora of questions from the disbelieving tourists. People would pull over just ahead of us, stop and take pictures of us as we passed without even talking to us. There are now hundreds of people out there with pictures of two random cyclists. I'm not sure what they'll do with those photos, or why they would want them, but I kind of felt like an exotic animal being gawked at by travelers on safari. It's a strangely flattering position to be in.
Entering the Badlands right after the storm.


The Badlands.

Tomorrow we will officially be leaving the area of the bike rally and although we'll still encounter a fair amount of motorcycles for the next several weeks, I'm very happy to not have to listen to loud engines roaring past me all day long (Mike is going to miss that). It has been a fantastic week out here riding through the beautiful areas of the Black Hills and the Badlands, meeting many incredible people and experiencing firsthand a bike rally that I was almost certain I would never attend. 



We have stayed with some interesting people and in some intersting locations so far on this trip, and our night in Garryowen, MT is definitely included in that list. Thank you to our friend, Betty, for setting us with a contact and thank you Chris for your generosity, hospitality and willingness to entertain us for a night amidst your overwhelmingly busy life!

We received a wonderful and fascinating history lesson during our visit to Garryowen, a small town unlike any we've ever visited before, in southeastern Montana on the Little Bighorn Battlefield. The town is unique in that it was purchased by Chris in 1993 (yes, he owns the town) and over the years he has built and now operates the gas station, convenience store, subway sandwich shop, post office and Custer Battlefield Museum....all one building. He lives above the town and the only other regulars are a couple of employees and a few interns.
Outside the museum.

This, too, is the only place outside of Arlington where there is a tomb of an unknown soldier, located just in front of the building. On the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Little Bighorn, there was a peace ceremony in which White Bull, a Sioux Indian Chief and General Edward Godfrey burried a tomohawk in the grave and thus coined the term, “burying the hatchet.” www.custermuseum.org
Mike, Chris & Cari in front of the tomb of the unknown soldier.

We were treated like royalty on our visit, given the master suite with a telescope looking out to Last Stand Hill where Custer and the last of his men fell in battle and taken on a backstage and personal tour of the museum. There was not only an amazing collection of war artifacts and Native American history and culture but also world history. Chris simply has a love for history and his enthusiasm to share it with others is phenomenal! Thank you so much Chris for this unique experience.
Statue of Sitting Bull.

Holding an Egyptian Ushabti Doll, dated circa 664-525 BC!

Last Stand Hill on the Little Bighorn Battlefield.



There are 2 Indian Reservations in southeastern Montana that butt up next to each other, the Crow and the Northern Cheyenne, that span about 60 miles.  We had a 70-mile day planned from our starting point in Garryowen to a campground on National Forest land on the other side of the Reservation, a distance we should easily be able to cover in a day despite our late start.  But we were met with a headwind from hell and after 5 hours we had only covered 30 miles.  Pathetic.

Not only were we being challenged physically, but emotionally as well.  Crossing the Reservation was by far the most depressing day of riding we've had to date.  There was more garbage, baby diapers and beer cans littering those 60 miles than we've seen collectively throughout this entire trip.  The landscape was beautiful but it was like riding through a dump.  It was impossible to dodge the shattered glass scattered across the roadway - it was literally everywhere.  About half way across, the shards of glass finally took a toll on our tires.  Mike got a flat, which we had been plagued with over the past several days....just what we needed to make an already bad day worse.
We flagged down an ice cream truck to buy ourselves a treat as we changed the flat.  We needed something to lift our spirits on this miserable day!

Mike enjoying his ice cream treat.

We arrived in the town of Lame Deer as the sun was getting low in the sky.  We were only 2/3 of the way to our destination and there was no way we'd make it by dark.  We had 2 options, neither of which sounded good.  We could continue riding in the dark, but there's a major problem with violence and alcoholism here and riding this road at night was the very last place we wanted to be.  We didn't want to camp in town either; it felt like we were in a third world country and it was clear we weren't welcome by the countless cold shoulders and resentful glares we received from nearly everyone in town.  But staying there was the lesser of 2 evils and sometimes you just don't have any other options.  We knocked on the door of the police station (which also happened to be the jail) to ask if there was a place we could stay.  They directed us across the street to an open lot with some picnic tables saying we'd "probably be safe there."  What???  Probably be safe?  Not very reassuring but we went to bed hoping for the best.

We were awakened in the middle of the night by a blaring siren coming from the police station - the same siren as in the old movies whenever there was a jail break.  We both shot out of bed, hearts pounding, eyes bulging, going from a dead sleep to wide awake in a nanosecond.  I laid staring out the tent door for a long time wondering what was happening in the darkness surrounding us, but eventually the exhaustion from the day caught up to me and I fell asleep praying we'd make it through to morning.  It was not a good night and we were happy to get out of there early the next morning.

In a few weeks my sister is moving to New Mexico to work on a Reservation.  I know I would plummet into a massive state of depression if I had to be in a place like that everyday and I don't know of many people who would emotionally be able to handle it.  Amanda - you have a heart of gold and you truly are a saint!  I hope the place you're going is a happier and friendlier community than this.



It's not as easy to find a place to camp out here as it was in the mountains where campgrounds were abundant or we could simply walk back into the forest or hide down by a river and not be seen by anyone. Now we can ride for days without seeing an established campground and the vast expanse of land out here is primarily fields or ranches, enclosed by barbed wire fences to keep riffraff like us out. Even if we did jump the fence and set up camp, there would be nowhere to hide and our orange tent would be visible throughout the entire county.

A couple of nights ago as we were nearing 80 miles of riding in 90-degree heat, we came upon the town of Acton, MT. It was a funny little town set right up against the railroad tracks, consisted of about a dozen homes (all but one being trailers clustered together amongst the wheat fields) and a bar. We hoped to find a place to camp just north of Billings, 10-15 miles down the road, but were craving a cold drink at that point (cold water only stays cold in our water bottles for about 5 minutes in this heat and drinking hot water all day is anything but satisfying) so decided to take a pit stop at the Acton Bar.

We parked our bikes out front, walked in and watched every head turn and stare as we entered. We plopped our disgustingly dirty, sweaty, stinky selves on 2 bar stools several seats away from anyone else so as not to stink them out, guzzled our sodas and asked if anyone knew of a place to camp between there and Billings. The bartender, Lou, was a crotchety woman in her 60s, on her who-knows-what-number drink of the day (I saw her pour 5 more in the time we were there), was quick to reply without even cracking a smile, “Well, you can camp out behind my house. There's a water spigot out there and I have the only trees around (she wasn't joking). You ain't gonna find nothin' else between here and Billings. My house is just down the road...you can see the trees.”

We ordered a beer to think about her offer. We weren't ready to stop but knew if we made it all the way to Billings without finding camping we'd end up in a hotel and eating at a restaurant which would put us way over our budget for the day. We also knew we had a place to stay the next night and could put off a shower for one more day, though it would be a long ride if we stayed in Acton. We finished our beers just as a storm rolled into town – yep Lou, we'll take you up on your offer.

We set up our camp behind Lou's house, the Cowdin Carriage House B&B and Horse Hotel, between her two rows of scraggly trees and bushes while swimming through swarms of mosquitoes and dodging raindrops, washed off a layer of dirt and sunscreen, put on “clean” clothes and went back to the bar for dinner. We were starving and looked at the menu; it's not easy being a vegetarian in small town, middle of nowhere America. Mike was in heaven as he drooled over the long list of burger options. My tummy rumbled as I viewed an entire page of items I wouldn't eat. I asked Lou about her “famous homemade pizzas” hoping I could get one with only veggies. Her answer was, “Nope. Not today. All I have are frozen ones and they all have meat, but I can make you a little salad if you'd like.” Well, I needed more than a “little salad” so we supplemented our meals with mozzarella sticks and breaded mushrooms. I ate more fried food in one meal than I should eat in a year and though I was fully prepared to be sicker than a dog that night and the following day, it thankfully never happened.

We spent our evening in the bar playing cards and talking with the cowboys as the TV show 'Hee-Haw' blared from the screen above the bar. They weren't very impressed when we didn't know about the show and Mike gave the answer that 'Hee-Haw' was something cowboys said. Fortunately they wrote us off as a couple of crazy city kids and didn't hold our ignorance or smart-assedness against us.

As if we hadn't eaten poorly enough already for one day, we still had our ever-present craving for ice cream which we've done an excellent job of indulging in on a near-daily basis. Although we hadn't seen any on the menu, we sat down at the bar and asked Duane, Lou's husband, whom we'd been forewarned as being a grouchy old man who liked giving people a hard time. I know someone like that and I also know that behind their grumpiness is usually a kind a heart. Duane's response was a short, “no,” and then he just walked away. We contemplated having another drink instead and as we turned back toward the bar to order, there was Duane with ice cream in hand. “Don't tell...it's from the wife's private stash” he said with a wink and a grin. We sat at the bar enjoying our treat like two very happy little kids until Lou caught a glance of what we were eating and sent hair raising, dagger throwing looks our way. We apologized for eating her ice cream, proceeded to have a surprisingly friendly conversation in which she actually let a few smiles and laughs escape and then she sent us home to bed and on our way with many wishes of health and safety.

This is by far one of my favorite things about this adventure – meeting new people, discovering kindness in strangers, sharing stories and intersecting life paths that almost certainly never would have crossed if we were cruising along in a car.