Sunday, August 11, 2013

Bikers vs. Cyclists, and Pierre, SD

There are so many stories to tell, and no way I can tell them all, in the detail I'd want to..

Really, there are just four stories:  1) bikers vs. cyclists - my experiences as the later interacting and cohabiting with the former,  2) my stay in Union Center (a short story, relatively),  3) my visit to the White Owl Post Office, and  4) Pierre, the capital (the people and the place). Any of them could make for a 1000 word post if I were to write freely, but I don't have enough time to write it all, and most of you wouldn't have the time to read it.

Oh, I've ridden over 1000 miles as of Friday.
The rainbow after a big hail storm, which I avoided by stepping inside a gun shop.
Well, I've been fighting a head wind for the last couple weeks, and it looks like I've got another couple weeks of the same. Oh, and South Dakota is Not Flat!! In fact, the hills here rival any hills I've had to ride over to date as far as steepness and frequency (I'm in the exact center of the state as I write this). The only difference is that roads here go over the top of hills instead of between them, and the next hill comes up to the same altitude as the last one (vs. progressively climbing, or progressively losing altitude). Combining a head wind (no real coasting down hills) with the exhaustion that comes from insufficient sleep and, well, poor conditioning beforehand, it can be slightly demoralizing at times.
A pit into which, in ages past, Bison were chased to their impending death, for the sustenance of the tribes in this region.
As it turns out, I was headed straight to Sturgis, South Dakota, one of the largest motorcycle rallies in the world (as if large motorcycle rallies existed outside the US). This rally brings in somewhere around half a million people, to a town of 7,000, effectively doubling the population of the state around the first full week of August.

Yup, I went right through the middle of it.
The best picture I got of motorcycles. I was too busy getting through Sturgis to take any pictures.
Yes, I went right through the middle of town, at sundown, at the peak of traffic flow...

In spite of the fact that they have almost the same name, there's a world of difference between bikers and cyclists - as I'm sure you already know. Speaking of names.. why is it that people who ride motorcycles are called bikers, not.. cyclers..?

Most of my interactions with bikers have been quite pleasant. For the most part, the vast majority of bikers (and people generally), seem to ignore me. About one or two per dozen headed the opposite direction waves as they pass. When they pass coming from behind, as with the rest of traffic, when possible they often move into the oncoming lane to give me room (I guess it makes sense.. they are so loud a little extra distance is appreciated).

When I have the opportunity of talking to bikers, I generally get reactions ranging from the highly enthusiastic "Man, that's **** Awesome!!", or "Good for you!", to the more reserved, "You're tougher than me..", or just some variation on just, "Wow.. I can't imagine". Not only am I traveling for 6 months solid (something very few people ever do), for nearly 6000 miles in one trip (something few bikers would even want to do - many hauled their motorcycles here with RV's *rolleyes*), I'm doing so on a bicycle (which has every discomfort of riding a motorcycle, magnified by 5, and most comforts of the same removed), alone (even most bikers are in groups of 2-5), and am barely out of high school (where the majority of people I've spoken to on motorcycles are old enough to be my parents at least).

Riding into Sturgis was one of the most unique experiences of my life. Traffic was so heavy I actually was able to move faster than most vehicles - going beside them. In Sturgis, Main Street is where all the motorcycles are parked, on both sides and in the middle, leaving about 5 feet on each side for motorcycle (only) traffic. I was riding beside the bikes, and a couple people stopped to take my picture. Then a security person told me bikes weren't allowed on Main...

On my second day out of Sturgis, I met up with a couple who had gone on a half our ride out of town, then decided to turn around. They were from West Virginia, and invited me to visit them when I get there.

There are no real towns between Sturgis and Pierre - a distance of nearly 180 miles, taking highways 34 and 14. However, there are houses everywhere, and communities here and there. It was in a little place called Union Center, which wasn't even on my map, that I stopped on Thursday evening. I saw a few places of business, a house or two, a young child on a bike, and what turned out to be her grandfather, a man named Gary - owner of the local feed store. He had three sons, a veterinarian, who lives and works in Sturgis 51 weeks out of the year, a wood worker, and a taxidermist, who have businesses on the same property. To make a long story much shorter, I ended up eating dinner with their family - son, daughter, two daughters-in-law, 5 grand kids, then sleeping in the Union Center Community Baptist Church, where I also got a shower. This was the first time someone had randomly given me a meal.
The church I slept in. It was quite a large building, really..
I mentioned White Owl above. In brief, I found a set of keys (as well as, at different times, a cell phone, and a credit card), along the road, and stopped in at the Post Office (which doubles as a store, art gallery, and residence), as they had a tag that said to drop them at any post office, and postage would be guaranteed. I ended up getting a history lesson on the region, and some brownies to send me on my way.

For some reason or another I decided I didn't want to be in the middle of nowhere when I stopped on Sabbath, so I ended up negotiating a ride the last few miles (ok, it would have taken me a day or two to ride it on my bike..) into Pierre. The switch from Mountain to Central time is right as you are entering Pierre (said "PEER", apparently), so I arrived in town at 9:00, and stayed with a couple who are sufficiently old enough to be my grandparents.
There was a car show in front of the Capital.

Me in front of the governor's mansion.
The World War II memorial.
After sleeping in a bit more than I'd intended, I got dressed and walked barefooted the block and a half to church. (I try to avoid wearing my shoes when I don't have to). After potluck, at which everyone was old enough to be my grandparent, and curious about my trip, I got a tour of the town, and the Capital building, by a church member who used to work there as a cleaning lady. Luz, an immigrant from Colombia also cleaned at the governors mansion (for somewhere around 30 years), and actually got married in the capital building - she said she was the only person to have done so.
Marble everywhere in the capital building.
The South Dakota state house of representatives.

Most of the floors were this hand laid tile.
This drinking fountain was almost too high for me to reach. I guess politicians area all tall people?
 Not a particularly eloquent piece, but I made the mistake of trying to finish this up first thing in the morning. I can't write in the morning.
A pike eating a bald eagle, in the Oahe Dam Visitor's Center.
So, abrupt ending.

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