Wall, South Dakota: I’ve covered much ground since my last posting. Over the past four days I have cycled 315 miles and climbed 12,080 feet through some rewarding, and at times challenging, terrain. From Casper, Wyoming the boring flatlands soon evolved into rolling, arid terrain with dramatic buttes, which then evolved into grasslands leading into the beautiful and rocky Black Hills. As we’re making our way across South Dakota, the fourth state on this journey, we’re cutting through the heart of Souix Indian territory. So far it’s all been beautiful and vast and just as Dances with Wolves represented, but as we progress eastward the terrain will be more horizontal and the challenges more mental, less physical.
Going into South Dakota we traversed the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands. Yesterday we cycled through the Wind Cave National Park, where buffalo and prairie dogs were busy grazing in the early morning. We cycled extensively through the Black Hills National Forest, so called because of the appearance of the ponderosa pines from a distance. The Black Hills have an interesting ecological mix of Rocky Mountains and Great Plains. We saw two significant monuments: Crazy Horse, a gigantic work-in-progress stone carving that in memorial to the Souix chief; and Mount Rushmore, the granite sculpted heads of four American presidents. Can you name them? Answer at the bottom of this post.
We spent one night in Lusk, a Western Wyoming town of about 1400. There’s really no reason to visit Lusk, except for perhaps the Legend of the Rawhide celebration, which takes place during the second weekend of each July and which coincided with our visit. Lusk is a creepy town and this Legend celebrates the white man’s supremacy over the Souix Indians. There’s a parade, which we watched, and an elaborate outdoor historical performance involving hundreds of cast members. This performance recreates the Legend, which goes something like this: White American settlers travelled Westward along the Oregon Trail to California to strike it rich during the Gold Rush. These pioneers travelled through Souix Indian territory. An Indian girl was raped, and the Souix retaliated against the Pioneers. The Pioneers retaliated and skinned the Indians. This victory seems to be a proud and contemporary unifying force for the people of Lusk, and I was very happy to bid the town farewell.
The other historically noteworthy point about Lusk is the town has the only known monument to a prostitute in the United States. “Featherleggs,” as she was known, was seemingly well-liked by at least the men of Lusk, and a pink granite monument was erected years later in her memory.
I’ve made progress in sighting some candidates in South Dakota for Prettiest Barn in America. I also have been hard at working trying to find the best ice cream in America. Today’s homemade pumpkin pie ice cream from Wall Drug Store may just be on the shortlist. Wall Drug is a screaming tourist trap in this town of 800 for which people travel far and wide to spend money on stuff they don’t need. Throughout the Midwest, signs dot the interstates promoting this faux old-fashioned Drug Store. The success of Wall Drug is a great testament to effective marketing, and making something very commercial and celebrated (signs pointing to Wall Drug have been photographed in Antarctica and in Iraq, among many other places) out of nothing.
What strikes me most as I cycle through this country is how sparsely populated the place is. There’s a vast space and an even more vast emptiness — so much land, so few people. The towns redefine tiny. One town I cycled through in Wyoming, Lost Springs, has a population of 1. To put it into perspective, the population of the four states of South Dakota, Wyoming, Idaho and Oregon which I have cycled through is less than the population of Hong Kong.
The other thing that strikes me is how my body reacts to the demands of some challenging cycling. Three weeks into TransAmerica 2010 I have a raging metabolism, and there are days (yesterday, in fact), when I just cannot eat fast enough to satiate my body. The other funky thing happening is I am developing a cyclist’s suntan, with very weird tan lines on my legs, arms, hands and face. I suspect I may look like a raccoon by the end of the trip.
As we pas through these small Western towns, broadband access is very spotty, which has limited my ability to blog and to post a good sampling of the many pictures I have taken. I’ve managed to post a few pictures here, but in consideration for a very hard day tomorrow (117 miles; some strong headwind; 3,000 ft of climbing; and very hot weather) I need to call it a night.
Days 20 to 23 summary:
Days 20 to 23 Route: Casper to Lusk, Wyoming to Hot Springs< South Dakota to Wall, South Dakota
Days 20 to 23 mileage: 315.64 miles
Cumulative mileage: 1,687.71 miles per my odometer
Days 20 t0 23 Climbing: 12,080 feet
Cumulative Climbing: 59,050 feet of climbing
Terrain: Black Hills, Forest, Grasslands
PS: The presidents sculpted in granite at Mt Rushmore are Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt.