16 June – 1 July 2013

As mentioned in the previous section the landscape changed from rolling hills through countryside to mountainous through forests but not until I reached the Black Hills in western South Dakota and Big Horn Mountains in Wyoming. I arrived in Cody on Monday 24 June.

Trip description (from the SD border)

Riding in to southern South Dakota from Minneota I stayed on highway 30 only now it was called 34 – had I not noticed the state sign I would have guessed it anyway as the road quality improved drastically... however after 200k (130 miles) passing Wessington Springs it was back to “normal”; cracks and poor asphalt (small stones put on tar to be driven down over time), long rolling hills and strong headwind (but otherwise nice weather) – as mentioned in the previous section it was both physically & mentally challenging conditions, but also rough on my butt and the bicycle. People driving the interstate highway complain that they fall asleep crossing SD because there is little to see but the prairie/grassland – imagine what it's like on a bicycle! When I got to Fort Thomson my intention had been avoiding the interstate by doing a detour northwest to state capital Pierre and then back down to the Badlands. However, I was told there was an old highway parallel to the interstate and if not I could always bicycle the interstate (really?!). Shortening the ride seemed attractive, so I went south and found the old highway 16. On the positive side there was hardly any traffic and sometimes the road was decent but more often it was full of cracks and the asphalt was poor quality sucking the bicycle down – and then the headwind and endless rolling hills providing nothing but exercise.... despite these conditions I ended up riding 200k (125 miles) that day, because there was nobody to ask advice for camping before a guy offered me to sleep behind his gas station.....

Going to Rapid City I could either ride through the Badlands (known as the grand canyon of the midwest) and take a long ride on the interstate or take a longer detour on highway 44 south of the Badlands. The latter appealed to me as I could acoid the interstate and get a glimpse at the Badlands without entering the park. Unfortunately I was misinformed so I had to pay the park fee despite going only a few kilometres through the park to get to highway 44. Since I had already paid I spent a bit of time though most of it was talking to people who were very interested in my trip – Badlands is an interesting phenomenon in the middle of nowhere and a nice change from the prairie, but I got the feeling I had to be a professor in geology to really appreciate the small differences driving 50k (32 miles) through the park. And so I stuck to my initial plan and bicycled to Rapid City on highway 44. It was a merciless hot ride through the desolate landscape so I appreciated the wind from the side (southwest) increasing my speed compared to the normal headwind. When I finally reached the outskirts of Rapid City late afternoon I continued southwest to the Black Hills on highway 16 – a big busy road and straight into the fierce headwind on my first encounter with mountains since the Adirondacks a month ago...

I camped in the national forest and next day I continued the hilly ride up to Mt Rushmore. Quite touristic but okay to have been there; and again a lot of people showing interest in my trip, so it took some hours before I continued west along cosy little route 244 through the forest to Custer and then west on highway 16 towards Wyoming – part of it just a big road through the forest but around Jewel Cave it was a cosy, narrow, winding, little mountain road.... Asking for public lands to pitch my tent I ended up staying with Joe and his lovely and generous family in Osage, Wyoming – a typical countryside ghost town largely abandonned when factories closed down or moved somewhere else.... Next day I continued north to Moorcroft where I spent 3 hours in the library doing internet for the first time since Cornwall – the weather was a bit rough; overcast, dark and very windy so it was a tough ride to Gilette and then north on highway 14/16 towards Sheridan. Numerous people had told me it would be easy to camp out along the road but it was far from the truth.... everything was fenced and sideroads led to gates, farms or oil/mining areas.... though as always some people took me in; this time Randy and his hospitable family...

Next day I continued north to Sheridan – the landscape reminded me of the Scottish highlands (lush, green and hilly) as did the weather constantly changing but mostly overcast and misty.... the thunderstorms however was a different experience (see the weather section below). Because of the dry climate and bad soil, Wyoming is more raches than farms and talking to people I was told that ranches on several hundred thousand acres are common (!) and less than several thousand acres is considered small – no wonder it's referred to as the cowboy state! In Sheridan I was recommended staying in a pubic park, but it was close to the main road and not very attractive (city dumpsters, etc), so I went to a supermarket thinking a better solution would appear... and so it did. After a short conversation with Diane she suggested I pitched the tent in her small back yard – what a treat with pizza for dinner, breakfast, snacks for the road, new straps for the bicycle and endless maps and information....

Approching Sheridan I had seen what the Big Horn Mountains looked like in bad weather, so I was happy waking up to a blue sky.....flat 32k (20 miles) to Dayton and then a long 5 hours 40k (25 miles) climb to the top where I found a place to pitch the tent in the national forest.... Next morning it was a bit overcast so I took my time hoping the weather would improve which it eventually did some hours later on my way down the mountain – a 30k (18 miles) ride down through a beautiful gorge. I did a short stop admiring the waterfalls and views at Shell and then continued to Greybull. My camera stopped working just as I left the park – annoying as it's new (see equipment section below) but fortunate it happened after I came down the mountain and left the park..... The ride to Cody – where I was to stay with a friend of a friend Nick – was tough..... only 85k (53 miles) but all the way steady uphill and with a fierce headwind...

I stayed 8 days in Cody with (a friend of a friend) Nick and his 2 roommates Chris and Matt – a great pleasure as they turned out to be easy-going and outdoor lovers, so there was always lots to talk about... Nick was a bit busy getting ready for a long roadtrip but whenever there was time he took me out – e.g. to the reservoir and dam as well as a 2½ hour trip down the river (me in a ducky and he and his friends in kayaks)..... Despite being very touristic (Buffalo Bill everywhere), Cody is a beautiful place with a great location in a bassin all surrounded by hills and mountains, so there's no end to the possible outdoor activities. However, my body needed to rest after the long ride west and I also had to update my homepage before continuing to Yellowstone. As they didn't have internet at home I spent many, long days in the public library....

Weather

Riding west through South Dakota and Wyoming the wind was still my biggest enemy.... in the open landscape it really slowed me down sometimes to 8 k/h (5 mph) on a flat stretch and even downhill I sometimes had difficulties exceeding 13 k/h (8 mph). The sunny days with up to 30C (87F) were merciless especially in remote areas (most of it) where there were nowhere to seek shelter the whole day.... consequently I started appreciating the wind and overcast days even though the views were less spectacular....

And then I got a small taste of the radical weather in the midwest.... north of Gilette I stayed with Randy and his family intending to camp in their backyard despite a warning of thunderstorms. However, when the warning changed to tornadoes and 2 inch (6,5 cm) hail I decided to sleep in the garage... As always nothing happened... at least not until the next day when I rode on to Sheridan. First torrential rain as part of a nearby thunderstorm and later I rode directly into a thunderstorm with hail, lightening all around me and loud thunder right above me (I counted to 1 after the lightening) .... I felt a bit exposed with nowhere to hide as I hadn't seen a tree for 100k (65 miles). And then out of nowhere I spotted some trees a couple of kilometres ahead just when it was needed – though first they disappeared in the heavy rain and the fierce headwind (maybe 80 k/h or 50 mph) made it a long, long ride before I could finally take a bit of cover. I know I'm not supposed stand under a tree but the next best thing was a low fence pole and the appropriate approach of lying down was out of the question because of the downpour... The worst weather I have experienced since Georgia, so I still consider myself pretty lucky...

While staying in Cody the wind continued to come from the west the first couple of days but then it changed to the east – with my usual luck however, it'll be from the northwest when I leave town... I know I talk a lot about the wind, but it's the first thing I notice every morning as it's the most decisive factor when biking (especially west).... All bicyclists I meet tell me I'm crazy going east to west – everybody takes a bus/train/plane west and bicycle back..... Well, headwind seems to be the mantra of my North American trips; from what I'm told it'll continue when I go north to Alaska on the westcoast next Summer...

Wildlife

Not a big change in wildlife though I have seen many more deer coming into the mountains - at Big Horn Mountains I also saw elks at dusk. In the mountains I have hung food/toiletries high up between trees but I haven't encoutered more bears..... there are many stories about bears in Yellowstone, so based on local advice I have acquired a bear spray.... I doubt I'm going to use it but then I have it when I bike to Alaska next year....

Sleeping and people

Regarding people I can only repeat my words from the previous section – it's been a great pleasure and honour to meet you all.... For the first time however, I did experience a bit of hostility/negativity - arriving late evening in a small village in the the Black Hills, I stopped at a gas station to ask for camping advice. An employee went to ask his boss who came back telling me he couldn't have me staying at his property and I shouldn't expect anybody else to help me..... it had to happen eventually and logical it was at a place of mass tourism where people more easily lose perspective focusing on money and forgetting compassion.... Anyway, I wasn't too concerned and shortly after I met a guy who reminded me that I could pitch my tent anywhere as it was national forest.... He even directed me to a nice meadow some kilometres down the road, where I met a group of mountain bikers who were very interested in my trip – they provided lots of information, beers, snacks and even money. As mentioned previously I have declined money, but I have changed my mind for several reasons.... people only give money when they don't have other things at hand to offer; money is the American way of doing it and it's small amounts like USD 5-10.... less than the value people offer me when they invite me in for dinner, etc.

Riding west I had a similar experience; people are very friendly waving and greeting me though more so in the countryside and less so on the tourist stretches/areas – I guess the tourists are too busy...!? When passing me everybody's (with a few exceptions) very considerate going wide around. Worst are some of the huge RV's (those who also have a car on tow); maybe not consciously but because they are incapable drivers.... I talked to many along the way and they are very friendly – however, when your're 90 years old and can't move or stand upright without a walker maybe a trip across the country in giant vehicle is not the best decision....!?

Equipment

Fortunately no problems with the bicycle or the camping equipment along the way – when riding so long every day I really don't have the energy to deall with that kind of problems. Though I had a flat tire riding around Cody which is the first time since my very first day in Florida.... incredible and annoying but everything happens for a reason - when I repaired the tube I noticed the tire was “rotten”, so I had to change it. With 12,000k (7,500 miles) it was about time, but I still considered riding another week or two on it...

Much worse my Panasonic Lumix camera started malfunctioning not being able to autofocus and closing the shutter immediately after I turned it on.... In Cody I did a bit of research and quickly realised that this is a common problem with the camera. I have been happy with previous models of the camera (and fortunately brought an old version as a spare) so I'am quite disappointed that the problem wasn't highlighted in the many reviews I read before I bought it only 10 months ago. A bit more research disclosed that Panasonic USA doesn't honour international warranties, so I shipped it to Denmark for repair (where the consumer protection is much better). Expensive and frustrating not having it now that I go to Yellowstone and down the Rockies to Grand Canyon – the highlight of this part of the trip across the US... and of course somewhat concerning that even though it's repaired and returned it might happed again anytime.... However, in line with one of my life decisions “don't worry when I can't influence it” I move on with what I have (my spare camera), and hope to get it back as soon as possible – if more problems occur I'll deal with them if and when they do (most concerns/problems in life never materialise!). For info - the old camera doesn't have the functionality with gps positioning of the pictures, so until I (hopefully) get the broken camera back this icon is not shown below the pictures...

I have long been annoyed by my slow computer, so when I arrived in Cody I finally installed and ran Ccleaner, which to my great satisfaction improved the speed a lot... for mails and other simple things it doesn't matter, but when working on my homepage the improved speed can reduce my work by days... When working long time on the homepage, I still have to run the Ccleaner once or twice a day, but at least I know how to improve speed...  

Food and health

Riding around 160k (100m miles) per day in warmer weather I have changed my eating pattern, now eating several times during the day when I need the energy instead of in the evenings.... also the wind makes it difficult to use the stowe and hot soup and pasta really isn't interesting after a long, hot day on the road. Consequently, dinner is more often leftovers from lunch or when people invite me in... The best way of noticing is my gas consumption – a big canister usually lasts 2-3 weeks and I'm still on number 2 since leaving Florida mid March and during the last 3½ weeks from Cornwall I have only used about ½ canister... Arriving in Cody I had surprisingly only lost 10 pounds (though no body fat left) but before I left for Yellowstone I was back at 200 pounds after 3-4 big meals and lots of snacks every day.... Maybe not very healthy with these big deviations, but then again much better than permanently 40 pounds heavier as was the case when I was a workoholic...

My “bad” left knee has done quite well – instead I've been struggling with pain in my right knee most likely because I unconsciously have tried to spare the left knee fighting the rolling hills and wind at an average of 160k (100 miles) per day.... after some painful days prior to penetrating the Big Horn Mountains, I was a bit concerned if I could make it.... however, riding 40k (25 miles) continuously uphill for 5 hours in a slow monotonous speed was less challenging than the rolling hills and shifting windspeeds where I never get a rhythm....

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