May 8, 1999
|Crossing into South Dakota, I immediately enter
the "Buffalo Gap National Grasslands". These were still green rolling hills that
went on for many miles. Looking north, I could see the Black Hills in the distance. By the
time I got near Hot Springs it was getting very warm. I parked my bike beside one of many
"Historical markers" that Ive seen, and shed some clothes.
Riding into town, I stopped at Subway to get a 6" turkey on wheat. Cool, now my Subway card is full and I get a 6" sub for free. After eating I continued north on 385 and after about 6 miles or so, I saw a sign for "Wind Cave National Park". I took a picture, then continued on as I glanced at my map. What the ..... ! I just rode onto one big cattle guard. Man, Ive never seen one that had openings so far apart. Continuing slowly, I kept my wheel straight. I feared that if I turned it any, it would slip between the rails that were so far apart. Crap! What do they have here Elephants? Next, I see a sign that says something like "Danger, Large wildlife on the road". Hmmm, well OK, how large is large? Ah ha, now I see a sign that says, "Buffalo are very dangerous, Do Not Approach". Oh, so Im out where the buffalo roam, cool! Then off to my left I see 4 of them in the distance. I took a few pictures and thought, "Wow, this is cool!"
So, I continue on and stop to read a couple of the information signs. One said they had 350 buffalo here. That many huh? Well, 4 down and 346 to go. As soon as I began to pedal again I see them. Three buffalo by the road, one on the left and two on the right. OK, people come through here all the time, right? So these buffalo are used to people and will ignore me, right? Should I pedal as fast as I can or slowly? Should I make a lot of noise like you do for bears? OK, Ill just pedal right on by and they wont even notice. I began pedaling again and the one on the left started to cross the road. He stopped as soon as he saw me, I stopped immediately. There was about 150 feet separating us as he stared at me with those giant dark eyes. And, at about 2000lbs, I was no match for him. This seemed to go on for an eternity, who was going to make the first move? I just stood there with my left hand on my chin and my index and middle fingers touching my lips. My skin was probably as white as a ghost, my eyes bulging wide open, and my heart was about to explode. What should I do? If I turn and go the other direction will he chase after me? Do I just wait him out? I surely cant ride by him like that! The hair on the back of his neck is standing on end as he just kept staring at me. This guy is huge .and way too close.
Finally, some cars come from the other direction and he walks across the street. I was still standing, with the same pose, in the middle of the lane as the cars drove by me. They all looked at me like I was insane. OK, now hes walking with the two others in the grass beside the road, headed in the same direction that Im going. Thinking that it would be ok for me to just ride way over on the other side of the road, I began pedaling again. As I started to get close they saw me and at that same moment I saw a blue Explorer coming up behind me. I was riding in the wrong lane and as the Explorer approached I motioned with my right hand for them to slow down. I thought that I would be able to use that vehicle as a shield, to block me from the buffalos sight. The Explorer slowed down and at first started to continue on. I rode right beside him and when he rolled down his window, I asked if he could drive slow and let me ride beside him. He said sure, hed be happy to help me out. After making it past the buffalo I told them thanks and they drove away.
Continuing through, I see a large herd way off the road to my right. Many of them stared, but none even moved in my direction. Whew! Im safe now. Then I saw that same Explorer coming back. The guy driving said there were more in the road ahead. Oh wow, that was really cool for them to come back like that. I rode beside him and we talked a little bit. Then we approach the buffalo; there were many of them on both sides of the road. This section had a guardrail but those giant brown monsters were on this side of it and on both sides of the road. I thought for a second then said, "OK, Ill ride right behind you". We slowly moved up the slight incline as I tried to hide behind the vehicle. I see one on the left and he looks at me like hes trying to figure out if Im a threat or not. Then I see one on the right make a quick, sudden, move. I lost my breath for a second and Im sure my heart skipped a beat. Luckily, the 2000lb fella took a dive over the guardrail which in turn scared the one to my left which also took a dive over his guardrail.
I was so close to them and so scared! As soon as we got away from them, I rode up to the passenger side. Looking at their faces I could tell they were scared for me too. I said "Wow, that was scary!" and the lady said, "Yes it was". They stayed beside me as I continued to ride. We introduced ourselves to each other. Jay was driving and Chloe was in the passenger seat. In the back were Karen, Robin, and Verna. I told them about my bike ride and how Id never been this scared since it started. When something happens in traffic I usually dont have a lot of time to think about it. Id much rather go out of this life with a semi rolling over me than being trampled by a buffalo. At least with the semi I wouldnt even know what happened, it would be quick. If I had known what this place was like, I wouldnt have attempted riding through here. The buffalo can very easily outrun a bicycle.
Of all the people on the road that could have been driving by, I happened to encounter Jay and Chloe, they own "Black Hills Health and Education" (www.bhhec.org). They are very much into prevention and wellness programs, which happens to be an interest of mine too smile We talked for a while and I thought it was so cool to meet some people that could help me with my quest in trying to figure out what Im going to do. I know I want to leave the constraints of Medicare and HMOs. Before they left, one of the ladies in the back said, "can I shake your hand?" After shaking hands, she went on to say, "next to Church, you were the highlight of our day." That was a great compliment for a religous person to say and I appreciated it. But actually, they were the highlight of my day. As I stood there staring at the buffalo before they came along, I felt as if I was staring into the jaws of death. I was really scared for my life. That is a road I will never bike again and would not recommend that anyone do it!
After passing the next cattle guard, I left the plains and was immersed in a forest. My adrenaline was still coursing through my body and the slightest sound would startle me. I was riding fast and was a bit nervous. The landscape was beautiful with trees and rock formations. When I got to Custer I was starving and debated between a small green pepper and mushroom pizza at Pizza Hut or use my card for a free sub at Subway.
Well, Subway won my mental debate so I made a beeline for it. After I finished eating, I engaged in conversation with the three employees. I wanted to tell someone what Id just gone through. There were no other customers in the store so they had time to chat. They took a particular interest and listened intently as I rambled in an excited voice. I still couldnt believe what had just happened to me and Im sure it showed. When I talk to people about my trip, some are very interested, while sometimes I get a cold response from people who could care less. It was nice to talk to folks that seemed just as excited as I was. They thought it would be really cool to do this. I wanted to eat fast and leave to make it to Mt. Rushmore with plenty of daylight left. The longer I hung out here and talked, the harder it was to make myself leave.
For a moment I considered staying in town just to explore the place and get to know some of the people. But there was rain in the forecast for tonight and tomorrow. One thing Ive learned is that you need to make the most of good riding days. Today was a perfect day; it was about 70 degrees and barely any wind. So I had to say good bye and continue on.
The road north was under construction and very rough for 10 miles. A lot of dirt and gravel that challenged my bike to stay vertical as my tires would slip occasionally. Finding 244 I headed east to Mt. Rushmore. Yes! Only about 10 miles left! The road was very hilly as I kept going up in my granny gear then coasting down. That continued on and on .Geez! When are the hills going to stop? I had to keep adjusting my rear derailleur with the barrel adjuster on my shifter. This is something Ive had problems with since day 1. But it was especially bad today.
Then as I was heading up a hill, I heard a crack and grinding noise and my bike came to an immediate halt. The rear derailleur broke and lodged itself in my rear spokes. Ahhhh! That sucked! Grabbing my derailleur, I forced it out of the spokes and bent it back as far as I could to clear the spokes. Now theres nothing I can do but push my bike. As I was pushing it uphill some guy in the passenger seat of a red car yelled something at me. I kept pushing then stopped at a sign for the Mt. Rushmore Monument to get something out of my trailer. As I was pulling out some snack food, the car came back, turned around, and yelled something again. I have no idea what he said, but I wondered what kind of pleasure someone can get out of doing that? It didnt bother me though and I just kept pushing my bike up the hills then sitting on it to coast down.
After several hills like that, Mt. Rushmore reveals itself to me as I stare at the faces carved into its side. I took a couple of photos then rode the 10 percent grade down into Keystone. Entering the town, most things are closed for the off season. I stopped at a convenience store and asked the girl what the cheapest motel was. After telling her my dilemma, I asked about any bike shops in town. She was far from being personable and seemed to speak to me only because she had to. There were no bike shops in town but Rapid City had several. I knew Rapid City had a Mountain Mania store because it is a sister store to the one Herb owns in Chadron, NE.
Going to the motel, the sign said, "Be right back". The parking lot was empty like most of the other lots in town. So I pushed my bike to the next motel. The whole time my derailleur is clanking as it hits each spoke. The office was open at the Rushmore Inn, so I parked my bike and went inside. After checking in, I told the three people in the office of my dilemma. There was the lady behind the counter and two gentlemen sitting down. They all seemed to sympathize with my predicament and told me about the three bike shops in Rapid City, 20 miles away. Keith, the owner of the restaurant next door, was trying to figure out how I could get the part that I needed. He said he would drive his truck here tomorrow so we could haul my bike there if needed. He was exceptionally nice and was willing to go out of his way to help me. Since tomorrow is Mothers Day we were not sure if anyplace would be open. We decided to play it by ear and I would make some phone calls tomorrow. Wow, Im glad I came to this motel or I may not have met Keith. No matter what happens on this ride, things just seem to work out somehow :)
Wind blowing to the west
Today - 113.30 miles (rode 108.75 and pushed 4.55)