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.