August 4 - Approaching the West: Vermilion to Platte, SD

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times (hey, it worked for Dickens, didn't it?) Cheryl and I crashed today, our kids are finally having fun together, and we saw the West, across the wide Missouri.

But first, a little note about yesterday's ride. Since we stayed in Vermilion an extra unplanned day, so Cheryl could be with her old friend Catherine, I went out to do the route I would have done, had we gone on. Our old friend, the Midwest heatandhumidity, had returned, with low temps in the morning about 72. The day before, and yesterday, were both foggy in the morning. On the 2nd, it had broken at 9:00 AM; on the 3rd, it lasted until 10:30, about halfway thru my ride. Strange experience. On Sunday morning, there are few cars out on South Dakota back roads; the ones traveling all sported headlights, and folks dressed up for church. I had on my safety yellow vest, and it seemed to work; no one ran into me, or even got close. But, looking ahead, I had no idea what to expect. Trees would materialize slowly but suddenly from the mist, irising into view softly, but never very clearly. Mist coated the front side of my handlebars, wetting the hoods and tape there. I took my amber lensed glasses off, letting them dangle behind my neck; my eyelids and brows got good and wet. Blinking, or looking surprised, I could get the water to roll down my cheeks, cooling off my face as I rode. My long lycra sleeves caught the moisture, which beaded up on the black fabric into little spikes of white, no bigger than a gnat's eye. I had no idea the length of the hills I was rolling up and down - that was refreshing, as I could only go a steady pace, not knowing the nature of the terrain I was in.

Come 11:00, I could see I was on a flat table land, following a straight line over the bends of the Vermilion River. The end of my trip was along the base of bluffs, green with full spring rains even here, August in Dakota. Corn still rules, with soybeans second., but not every farm makes it. After fifty miles, I stopped at a recently abandoned farmhouse. The brown stained wood was not yet weathered; the swings in the side yard still worked. Because it was the only shade for miles not in someone's front yard, I stopped for a PowerBar break. My Camelback insulated water was rapidly warming up to the 86 F outside temp. I peeked inside the new old house. Nothing; no dust, no cobwebs, no furniture, no sign of why they left, why the fields were now fallow, why the orchard was abandoned, and the swings had no children on them.

Today, we pulled away from Catherine's apartment at 6:30; drove to Yankton, got supplies, and kept going to Avon, 65 miles away. Cheryl and I started up on the Tandem, and really got going with the southeast wind (we were heading alternately west and north, getting gradually back up to the level of I-90 towards the Black Hills).

Our girls have not been riding a lot recently, from the heat, the rest days, and the problem with Annie's kid-back. They seem to have gotten the RV equivalent of cabin fever. As they towns thin out here, I've noticed they all have a city park, most with swimming pools. Will had gotten us into the habit of planning rest stops/meeting areas at intersections of numbered highways - easier for him and Cody to understand where we were going, rather than roaming around a town trying to find each other. With most towns having less than 1000 people living in them, that no longer seemed necessary. So, we tried stopping in the local park.

It worked for lunch. Though the pool was closed from 12-1, we did eat at the park, and Annie got to meet a few little girls, and impress them with her biking feats (by deed, not word). But, Cheryl had her first big fall there. She had gathered up an Indian Country newspaper, her lunch, and her Crazy Creek chair, and took a step out of the RV. Usually, there's a step pulled out to ease the two foot drop. This time, it wasn't there. She tumbled, and bruised both knees (looked just like road rash). When I rode up, she was sitting in the chair, ice pack on her knee, holding the flowers Ann had given her, and receiving first-aid ministrations from Shaine.

After lunch, we started up again, naming "Geddes" as the next stop, 15 miles away.

Just after a "straight turn" in the road, switching from west to north, I dodged an insect as it zoomed toward my chest. This is happening all the time. Butterflies have gotten trapped in my helmet, freed, and flown away. Gnats have smashed en masse into my sternum, not to be washed away until the evening's shower. Crickets/grasshoppers (some bigger than my thumb) continually try to hitch a ride on our calves. Once or twice, a bug of some sort has flown into my shirt, and was allowed to go, when I could get a hand loose to free it. This time, I thought I spied a bee/wasp-like creature going in out of the corner of my eye.

Our shirts of choice for this trip are from the Poison Spider Bike Shop in Moab, Utah. (Thanks, Chuck and Judy. For those who want to know more about this place and their world-wide trips, try These are made of CoolMax, and have LONG zippers, going almost to the navel. They serve well in a broad temperature range, from 60 F or less, with add-on sleeves (see above), to nearly 90, when fully unzipped. In a dryer climate, they wick and evaporate superbly.

Well, it was nearly 90, and I was fully unzipped. The beast buzzed in, and didn't buzz out when I shook at it savagely. The wise thing to do at this point would be pull the shirt out from my Go-Be's belt (forgive the brand names, it's basically a fanny pack with a water bladder in it), turn the bottom part inside out, and let it go. But I looked in, saw him sitting on my tender stomach skin, and decided to stop. I yelled, "I gotta stop!", and put on the brake with my left hand. Cheryl was right on my tail. She's never on my tail. She hates to draft, as she's afraid the person in front will stop or swerve, or just get in her way. And besides, she can't see the road ahead, nor the scenery, as well. "Just like on the tandem", she says. "I'd like to get away from that on my single".

But; she was there, and hit my wheel. She couldn't control it, and went flying. My stop became uncontrolled, and my reflexes took over. I've had a bit of a spill on my mountain bike, so my unconscious reaction was to jump up off my bike away to the right, and roll over my hands. Worked well; all I got was a surface left thigh bruise as I went over the handlebar. I hit the ground, and looked to see if Cheryl was OK.

She was holding her elbow, but seemed intact. I instantly saw her bike, which had a front wheel looking like a potato chip. That made me very mad, so I picked up MY bike and threw it out from under me. Stupid. (But, in the end, inconsequential; no damage as it hit the soft stubble on the road side). She added to her road rash and her bruises, but was walking and talking and alert.

Cell phone wouldn't reach Cody; Geddes was five miles away. I would go there on my bike while she waited, and bring the rig back. She went down to the grass to "hide", while I checked out my ride. I felt a bit of a wobble in the rear wheel. As I did this, a pick-up did a U-turn back to us, to find out if we were OK.

"We crashed, ran into each other. We're OK, and our family's waiting for us up the road in Geddes. Could you take us there?"

"Sure", said the smiling farmer, who was riding while his dark-skinned wife drove. Threw the bikes in the bed with the random important farming implements he had stored back there. While we rode the five miles into town, he got two calls on his CB, one from his kid, telling him about a caller, the other from a farm worker, discussing whether to hay a particular field. He just said he'd be delayed, didn't explain why. Drove us right to the park, dropped us off, we shook hands, and went away. Didn't even exchange names. We were too shook, and they were too reserved, I guess.

We had thirty miles to go; we debated quitting for the day, but Cheryl demanded we go on, riding the tandem. We headed off into the sunset, giving the kids instructions to head for Snake Creek State Park, on the Missouri. Along the way, we found sunflower fields, funny signs, massive bulls, and other odd items of South Dakota culture. Took pictures of all of them.

At the park, the kids had set it all up, right down by the water. Shaine and Annie were at the river's edge, covered in mud ("looked like a spa treatment", Cheryl said). The evening progressed with Shaine building a fire, under Cody's tutelage, Shaine and Annie firing pots made from Missouri clay, and the three of them all roasting marshmallows on Shaine's fire. All with only minimal parental oversight, as Cheryl was writing her journals on Vermilion, and I was repairing bike wheels as best I could.

The kids finally seem to realize they are the only constant friends they have, and are banding together to create their own world within our trip. It's not a perfect fit, as Ann is so much younger, and shrieks still at times. But swimming, playing, creating and trying to keep the trip going, they are all talking with each other, without yelling or getting on each other's nerves too much.

The evening's sun set over the high ridge across the Missouri. We could see the corrugated hills across the bridge, with a ribbon of road climbing to the top. We'd have to tackle it in the morning.

"Is this the West?" Shaine asked.

"I think it is," I said.


"Well, there aren't any towns, the roads are empty, the land is no longer flat, and we see cattle grazing everywhere, instead of corn fields." It's a place that looks like home to us - quiet, open, drier. We've got 1500 miles now to travel thru it.

Miles: Al (Tandem&single) 75; Cheryl (Tandem&single) 65.

Total Miles: 2075

**Next Day's Journal**

-Al Bikrutz