August 13, Day 42 of TheHopeLine Tour of 2014
We tore down camp in short order this morning. We’re starting to get the hang of this. I must say that last night was one of my better rests at a campsite on this trip. Yet, it still does not compare to sleeping in a motel with a comfortable mattress. A brief ride into Chamberlain and a stop at their McDonalds would provide an ideal breakfast spot and staging ground for our morning water bottle routine.
First, however, we encountered the Missouri River. Several weeks earlier, in a town named Three Forks, Montana, we had cycled through the area where the Missouri begins its flow toward the Mississippi. Today, we became reacquainted with a much wider river. This river also welcomed us back to the Lewis and Clark Trail. Whether by bicycle map or road sign, the trail is a landmark for all sorts of travelers.
After breakfast, we were off in earnest. Forty-four service-less miles presented a bigger challenge than expected due to a persistent wind from the southeast. We were traveling south and east, so there was no escaping the stiff breeze. Travel in South Dakota is distinctly toward one of the four primary compass points. When cycling these roads, you form squares around large tracts of land, usually filled with corn or soybeans. Triangles or arcs, along with forty-five degree angles, are allowed here only upon rare occasion; ninety-degree angles are the standard. The wind, it seemed, strengthened as the day wore on…and as we weakened. We had underestimated the task by leaving one water bottle each empty.
Despite the wind, the weather was magnificent. And so were the surroundings. It’s difficult to capture the experience in a photograph or video, especially compared to the multi-dimensional, mountain-dominated landscapes we enjoyed farther west. But the expansiveness of the views and the 360-degree bounty are an eyeful.
For other states that self-identify as “Big Sky Country,” they don’t have an exclusive on the term. You can’t get much bigger than the skies we’ve seen around here. Massive fields of corn or beans surrounded us at every turn, and along every straightaway—and there were many of those on this day. Incredibly, those fields traveled miles within our eyesight to meet the horizon, where the sky began its semi-circular ascent to enclose us in this one-of-a-kind imagery. We’ve shared a few photos. But, believe me, you have to be here in person to really digest what is happening around you. It’s delightfully peaceful, despite the wind whipping across your ears. Crops are thriving everywhere you look, yet no one is around…except someone in an infrequent vehicle, speeding by, surprising you from behind, bringing you back to reality before you begin to drift back again into the entrancing environs.
One aspect of these parts I find interesting as one who has lived his entire life in the eastern US. Check out the “street” sign. Mind you, you won’t be able to flag down a yellow cab at these intersections, as you gaze off into adjacent mega-fields separated by a dirt road, albeit with a 55 mph speed limit. Whoever the city planner is in these parts, he’s organized the road system quite well, with plenty of expandability. They may be missing a few dozen of the numbered streets and avenues, but there’s plenty of room for them within the neighboring corn fields, should the need arise.
By 4 pm, and completely without fluids, we finally reached the long-anticipated service stop. A late lunch and review of accommodation options led to a decision to camp across the street at a state-run campground. We rented a rustic cabin to upgrade our camping experience, which we anticipate will provide better rest for tomorrow’s ride.
Indeed, we are satisfied with our choice. It is a simple one, but as I write this, we are gazing at a sun setting over the Missouri River and its surrounding banks. And just like the corn fields earlier in the day, no one is around, but for my lovely wife. In the distance, on the other side of the river, the road winds up a sizeable hill. But that is tomorrow’s challenge. We’re content to simply sit here and enjoy the setting. Life is short.