Biking today was designed to get us into the Badlands Nat'l Park, so we could have most of the day to tour this corner of South Dakota.
The Sturgis Rally swamps, or overwhelms, all of Western South Dakota. More than 300,000 motorcyclists and assorted hangers-on jam the roads, campgrounds, motels, and tourist attractions. Remember, this state only has about 700,000 people in it, and most of them are east of the Missouri. Harleys dominate the roads, the parking lots, the airwaves; black-shirted, scruffy-haired greybeards and their women dominate the landscape. It's a little like what happens in a large bike ride, with several thousand cyclists; the road is theirs, the rest stops are theirs, they can feel in the majority. At these numbers, they have to police themselves; an example of how good a job they do: only 16 motorcycles have been stolen this week.
Our first (only) stop was at the turn-off to Badlands Park, a Philips 66/Trading Post. We've gotten used to wearing our biking clothes, which look a lot different from THEIR biking clothes, but they must have wondered why we were buying two six packs of commemorative Sturgis beer, in black cans with the Harley logo.
The next ten miles were on the Badlands Park highway. Cruising on the tandem around the pink and tan pyramids of eroded sandstone, we felt a bit like being in Arches, down in Utah. But this landscape is cooler, less vibrant, without the flagman-orange/reds of the Southwest. With toned-down colors, and smaller formations, it's a little like a construction yard, where pieces of the earth await placement into their proper form. Riding on a bike, of course, gave us the wind and the sounds, and the heat, and the smells, as well as the view, and all at a much slower pace.
We picked a site at the national park campgrounds, and then had blueberry pancakes for lunch, with music. I've taken to listening to just two CDs , out of the scores I brought: Paul Simon's "Graceland", and Neil Young's "Unplugged", which has a song that opens "She rides a Harley-Davidson..." ("Unknown Hero" is the title.) Somehow they both seem to fit this environment.
Then it was off to the Badlands loop road. At one stop, Cheryl said, excited, "This is just how my family used to do national Parks! We'd rent a camper, and drive from overlook to overlook. We took pictures at the overlooks, like most tourists. We stayed for five minutes, like most people. We didn't do any hiking." Which was just they way we were doing it now, and not the way we've done nat'l parks in the past. Before, when we had fewer and/or smaller children, when we had a VW pop-up camper-van, we'd take long walks away from the crowds at some place like Yellowstone, or Rainier or Olympic or Glacier. Several family stories came from those walks. At Glacier, we took off from the top of Going-to-the-Sun Highway, and found a lunch rock facing the sun away from the chilling mountain breeze. A furry mountain goat came along, clattering down the boulders, to our picnic site. A few of her friends joined us, curious, munching grass, not eager to socialize, but not afraid of us either. That's the "Day We Had Lunch With a Mountain Goat". Then, there was the walk through Yellowstone, where we saw no one for three hours, but kept finding mini-mud pots and bubbling springs, some obviously new that summer, as they ran over fresh green grass. We saw elk grazing, buffalo in the distance, and took all day to enjoy ourselves.
That's not this trip, obviously. For one thing, Cheryl and I have no legs for walks; biking is easy, but walking is hard these days. For another, we've got this obsession with making it from MA to WA in two months on bicycles, and lingering in any one place puts that at risk. Cheryl is always saying, "We've got to come back here!"
One place we know we don't want to come back to is Wall Drug. Wall is like Zsa Zsa Gabor: very tacky, but very famous for being famous. With all the signs leading up to it, and the goofy brochures describing it, our kids (from cody: I didn't care after I found out it was more than just a hole in the wall <tee hee> in the middle of nowhere....somthing this big and tacky is just stupid) insisted on a visit. For me, the best part was being able to buy a newspaper, sit down on the front porch, and read it while the bikers roamed up and down and parked their hawgs in neat rows in the middle of the street, front wheels all turned smartly to the left.
At one of the Badlands pull-outs, Cheryl saw a rather good looking bike, and stopped to take a picture. Two folks came up, wearing the Sturgis uniform of black souvenir T-shirt (this place must be where the phrase "Been there, done that, got the T-Shirt" was invented), Levis, bandana, and greying countenance. The man, as usual was a little portly, and the woman was leaner than she needed to be. They both had bikes, and Cheryl had been photographing the woman's. The plates were from NY.
Cheryl started a little bit, not wanting to insult them by stealing the soul of their Harley through the photograph. But bikers are proud and vain about their choppers, and love to show them off. After all, it's why they're here. Cheryl recovered by saying, "All I've seen are men bikers; I didn't know any women were here on their own bike. I only see them riding on the back."
"Oh no, there's more of us all the time," was her reply, with a thick Long Island accent. "This rally's for all of us you know; it's not just a man's thing anymore." She let Annie sit on the bike for a picture.
Cheryl asked about the clothes. "Well, everything's got its own purpose you know. The gloves are for the handlebars, to keep us from getting chaffed, and the leather protects us from the wind, or if we take a roll, you know. And the bandana, of course, keeps our hair out of our eyes in the wind."
"What about the chain on your belt?"
The man pulled at his, throwing the attached wallet toward the ground. It arced down to his knee, and stopped, like a bungee jumper who'd lost his bounce. "See, there's no way I can lose my wallet.!"
We didn't ask about the tattoos or souvenir T-shirts.
That evening, we stopped at the Woodenknife Cafe, in Interior, SD, just outside of the park. Years before, in Bluff, UT, we'd discovered "Navajo Tacos", made with indian fry bread, meat, beans, lettuce, cheese, etc. Mild, filling, and perfect for the empty spaces. The Woodenknife looked exactly the same inside as the Sundance Cafe, where we first ate the tacos (here called "Indian Tacos"). Cheryl and I both had larges, she a vegetarian, me with meat. We finished quickly, but as we did, we saw our first FAMILY on a motorcycle. This was a man and woman from Iowa, with their ten-year old son behind the driver, and the younger daughter with mom in the side car. We were afraid to ask if they'd come from Cedar Rapids like that, or had towed it behind them for the rally. None of them had helmets.
In the evening, the sunset and the ranger talk ended the day for us. This one was on the re-introduction of the black-footed ferret to the park. These guys are parasites, requiring prairie dogs for both food, and for their homes (the ferrets eat them and steal their domicile). Rediscovered in Wyoming a decade ago, after being thought extinct for nearly 20 years, they've been raised in captivity, and now, like Condors, are making a comeback in the wild, in the protected environs of the Sage Creek Wilderness Unit of the Badlands National Park. First we kill their food, then we save their butts, then we collar and tag them, and let them live on our terms. Is a zoo better than extinction, even if its a national park?
Miles: Al (Tandem) 28; Cheryl (Tandem) 28.
Total Miles: 2243
**Next Day's Journal**