07.08.11 – Badlands Beyond

I thought I’d be able to get you all to Colorado in my last post but I didn’t realize how much I’d want to share South Dakota with you! BTW, for pictures of South Dakota and Wyoming, see Only If You Really Need It. I lumped them all in one album and am too lazy to split it up.

After camping on a beaut of a butte, Brian and I had an uninteresting day of riding to Interior, a small town at the edge of the Badlands National Park. We had our first Buffalo sightings and as we approached the Badlands, the earth morphed from green rolling hills to rough sharp dirt and clay peaks. It was interesting to see the Badlands from far away, surrounded by smooth rolling hills that cover most of that area in South Dakota. Expecting to find nothing in Interior, we jumped at the first opportunity for a beer and some Buffalo burgers with hopes of picking the bartender’s brain about the best place to camp.

Of those three things: beer, burger, and knowledgeable bartender, we got one. The beer was good, but it was couple with frozen Digiorno pizza and a Russian exhange student whose plans for summer bartending on the California coast was apparently a hoax to get her to the states. She’s not sure what happened, but one day her only option was Interior, SD. I sure felt bad for her since she had no real interest in the outdoor activities that is required to enjoy oneself in this region. Another customer told us that everything we needed was right here in Interior and there was no need to go up to the campground in the park. An amazing campground with wi-fi, showers, laundry, food, and friendly people was right down the street (the only street!). We had a much needed relaxing afternoon filled with showers (I took two in two hours), laundry, and lounging. We were going to explore the Badlands that day but like I said, you can see storms coming from far away and boy did it come. Check out the Badlands pictures and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

Hiking in the Badlands the next day was unreal. A Badland is the name of the structures, not just the name given to the area. They are very brittle, which is why it’s surprising that we were allowed to go anywhere. As you may have seen from the videos, Brian and I went everywhere! We really wanted to get all the way to the top and first tried to climb a crevice but it got quite steep and we didn’t want to get hurt or worse, buried! With walking sticks, we walked strong so as to make sure any rattlesnakes knew we were coming. No sightings were had and in general, the whole day was a fun and safe adventure. We came across a another deer skull and the view from the top was absolutely amazing. It really is worth exploring that place off the beaten path. There is so much to see but it takes some effort getting to. After more Digiorno pizza, learning about Russia, and a few showers, we slept well and headed to Rapid City the next day.

It was a beautiful ride into Rapid City because the hill was so gradual that we barely noticed going up it. We were still surrounded by the beautiful Badland structures for a good bit and then entered into National Grasslands. There was two places to stop along this 75 mile ride. One was Scenic, SD about 25 miles from Interior and the other was another 35 miles from Scenic. We had plenty of water and although it was very hot, I wasn’t concerned. I think the days I pushed myself through Indiana and Minnesota were really paying off. Just before we got into town I had a little Jack Russell chase me across it’s own property and a few neighboring ones. Now I love dogs and I knew this one was harmless but when it accidentally slammed 5 feet into a section of tall grass probably due to how fast it was running, I couldn’t help but laugh. It was so interested in me that it didn’t even look ahead! I saw the cute little bugger eventually walk out of the grasses and shake off and new it was okay to continue laughing.

In Rapid City, Brian and I planned mountain biking the surrounding foothills. Eli at Black Hills Bike Shop hooked me up with a Santa Cruz Julianna that was a bit too small but hey, it was free and awesome! Thanks so much Eli, you rock! Brian and I stayed with Jen, another couchsurfing host and awesome girl. She made an amazing dinner and Brian and her went out on the town while I hit the hay pretty hard. We had an amazing day of riding and I’m definitely stronger than before. Rapid City is surrounded closely by foothills of the Black Hills and it really does seem like a good place to live with a lot to offer if you look for it. That night, we went to Buffalo Wild Wings and met Eric, another person staying with Jen. Eric is biking AROUND the country! Not the “around” that I mean, which is like saying “I’ll be around.” He’s actually going AROUND the country. He’s done about 10,000 miles over 10 months and has the drawings to prove it! He’s an artist and does some incredible work. The few stories he shared with us were great and I hope you’ll check out his blog if you’re interested in reading about some of them. Drawing America By Bike .

We left Rapid City and headed into the Black Hills with hopes of getting to Rushmore, Crazy Horse, maybe some other attractions, and eventually getting out to Edgemont on the south side. Well we left really late that day (pretty sure it was my fault this time) and only ended up doing 50 miles instead of 90. By the time we climbed these CRAZY hills, saw Rushmore, and then climbed even more to see the not-so-exciting progress that is Crazy Horse, we were super exhausted. Thankfully, it was downhill to the next town of Custer, where they had a great campground run by a guy named Rock who handed everyone a can of Red Dog upon signing in. The Darkhorse bar was a nice place to eat and the fireworks could be seen outside the window. Oh yeah, did I tell you that without even planning it, I biked across the country and ended up visting Mount Rushmore for the very first time on INDEPENDENCE DAY!!? How cool is THAT!?

Coincidence aside, the Black Hills are perhaps one of the most beautiful parks I’ve been to. The roads are well kept and windy, which make them a pleasure to be on. the trees are beautiful despite the pine beetle problems. Most of all, the enormous boulders that sit on top of some of these hills are so amazing. We slept well and got up super early the next day because we really wanted to get back on schedule and get to Lusk, now 109 miles away. I knew we had 40 miles of downhill to get out of the Black Hills but in places like this, you usually have to go up and then down a few times before you’re out. We ate a big breakfast in Edgemont, which is where we had planned on the spending the previous night. Setting off from there, we still had around 60 or so miles to go and it was now noon. From here, we entered the south eastern section of Wyoming and if you thought there was nothing South Dakota, come to this part of Wyoming! After 20 miles, we came upon a rest stop at Mule Creek Junction (what a name). They had water fountains and shade, the only two things I wanted. From here, things got really tough. It was 46 miles of nothing to Lusk. Not only was this section also uphill, but into the wind. Towards Lusk, there were some more beautiful landscapes but at this point, I wanted to be done. Knowing I’d regret not pausing to take it in, I took pictures to look at it later. You can all enjoy these photos too, look for the vulture on top of the butte!

Brooke is such a great host! She also happens to be pretty much the only person in a 100 mile radius of that area to be on couchsurfing. It was nice to meet someone in this area and find out more about it. She seems to like the area, making the best of it by being active with cross-fit style activities. Her son, Pacen, is a really nice boy and helped to make Brian and I feel at home. Brooke entrusted us with her house when she left before us in the morning, but not before giving us some of the biggest cinnamon rolls I’ve ever had! I ate 3 and a half. From Lusk, we had a relatively short and easy day to Torrington, where we camped in a park supposedly for RV’s and tents. Why then, would they turn the sprinklers on in the middle of the night!?! To make things worse, I had decided to sleep without my tent on the picnic bench under the pavilion. Still, the sprinklers shot water into the pavilion and unable to get out of my sleeping bag quickly enough, I simply smiled at the hilarity of this situation and jumped out as soon as it passed over me. Not sure what to do, I noticed a trash can that looked like it really wanted to help out. I simply placed it over the sprinkler and now had a pavilion safe from evil sprinklers.

Torrington to Cheyenne was a long day of 85 miles but Brian really wanted breakfast so we stopped at a diner. After eating, I was happy we decided to stop because I felt really ready to take on the miles. There wasn’t much stopping because there wasn’t much around (typical of Wyoming in this area, it seems). The highlight of my day came when I found a bandana on the ground! Not only was it in good shape but it was one of my favorite colors, navy blue! Yes, I know I should have put it in one of my panniers but I was so happy to find it and it didn’t smell that bad….so I wore it! I thought it was going to rain on me in the last 20 miles so I rode hard through tired legs and aching arms and reached Cheyenne in very good time. Gabe was a great host and Briand and him even did a 5K run that night!! I told Brian to save his energy but he said he really wanted to do a 5K on his trip. Returning home, he admitted it might not have been the best idea but was still very happy he did it.

The following day was quite short, only 45 miles, to Fort Collins. If you decide to take the I-25 service road, realize that it’s paved in Wyoming and terrible gravel in Colorado! Get off as soon as you can and take back roads near the foothills. On the border, I saw the strangest animal yet. In a bare, 1 acre pen, were two camels grazing. Do camels even graze? I’m not sure but this was the highlight of my ride that day. Getting to Fort Collins marked a huge milestone in my ride. I completed the 2nd leg of my ride and was now going to spend about a week in the company of the person who gave me the idea to this ride in the first place, Jesse Steiner (The Transcontinentalist). I figured that if Jesse influenced me to do this ride, I’d probably be pretty interested in seeing the place that pulled on him harder than any other in his travels. Stay tuned for an update about my time on the front range!

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