Friday, September 9, 2011

Badlands, Bison & Big spiders

I have started a YouTube channel!

Video from the trip will be posted to this channel each time I post pictures and new blog.  There are over 20 clips so far, most under 1 minute in length.  You can access my channel by clicking on the permanent link on the left side of the page, or you can click here.  

9/7/11 Day 60: Badlands National Park to Belvidere, SD: 72 miles

When a grasshopper hits you in the face going 20 mph, it doesn't feel very nice. The plains are absolutely brimming with grasshoppers this time of year, and they hop all over me as I'm riding down the side of the road. I don't even bother trying to avoid squishing them anymore, because swerving out of the way of one just means that I'm going to hit another. There are at least 4 different species of grasshopper that I've noted, without taking too close a look. They come in all sizes and colors, and they jump all over the place. I am still very surprised and a little freaked out when they land on my bare skin with their hooked claws, and then give me a little squeeze as they jump off again. They are my constant companions.

Yesterday evening, as I rolled into Badlands National Park, I could have sworn I was on African safari. The wide, grassy canyon which held Sage Creek had bison browsing all over the place, including one right in the middle of the road as I was making my way to the campground. The trees were low and scrubby, the hills soft and dry, and the streams meandering and brown.

I had left Rapid City that morning after a very pleasant, if short, night with another couch-surfer named Michelle. She was also hosting another guy, Brian, whom she'd met through couch surfing several years earlier, and they have become good friends. Brian has been traveling on a motorcycle all over the world, and is originally from the UK. The three of us shared a simple dinner, and then I ran off to the grocery store to restock for the next portion of the trip. The next morning, I took my time packing up and cleaning the bike, and departed rather late. Rapid City has a bike path running almost the length of the city from east to west, following Rapid Creek. I pedaled through city parks, golf courses and past a farmer's market on my way out of town. In the afternoon, I took a long break to cool off in the Cheyenne River.

That night, I camped with a young couple from Pennsylvania who are in the process of moving to Seattle. Ian will be attending Graduate School for something along the lines of community and environment. Victoria, his girlfriend, had just attained a degree in assistant dentistry, and hopes to be able to do something like “Dentists without borders.” They were immediately very friendly, and welcomed me to share their table and space at the campground, which was full when I arrived. The campers next door gave us some home-made baked beans that night, which were delicious, and some donuts the next morning. Ian & Victoria were very pleasant company, and we may run into each other again.

This morning, I got an early start and pedaled my way through the main section of the Badlands. The Badlands are a very picturesque array of towers and canyons made of soft sediments which are eroding away into the White River, a few miles away. Fairly young formations, they are estimated to be completely gone in about 500,000 years, eroding away at about 1 inch every year. Alternating layers of red and white sediments make up most of the craggy mounds, with some yellows and purples mixed in here and there. I wished that I had gone through the main area the night before, as the sun was setting, because I think the lighting would have been much better for photographing them. In the middle of the day, they look hot, dry, bright and unrelenting, but still quite dramatic. Because they erode so quickly, and receive very little precipitation, the formations support almost no vegetation. Most of the park is prairie, though, which supports a huge amount of animal life.

I was stopped by a herd of what must have been nearly 1000 bison about 30 minutes into my ride, and had to wait for a break in the line of beasts crossing the road before I could continue. They are definitely frightened of a guy on a bike, as are many animals. They don't seem to care about cars at all, but they were quite startled every time I moved. The small herd of bighorn sheep that I came across about 5 minutes later was nearly the opposite. They started popping up onto the road out of a canyon about 50 feet in front of me, and spread out all over the road. As I rolled slowly toward them, having no other option, they barely moved out of the way as I went past.

The ride through the Badlands was full of ups and downs, with stops to look at ancient fossils of animals long extinct, as well as several amazing viewpoints. Many people asked about my trip. I finished the day with 40 miles of riding along a service road that parallels I-90 through grassy plains of emptiness.

9/9/11 Day 62, Pierre, SD

Couch-surfing once again with good people. A young couple from Wisconsin, Adam and Becky both work with children, and we have that in common. The ride yesterday was hot, dry and windy. I was glad to arrive here, to take a cold shower, and to watch the Packers game with a couple of die-hard Wisconsin fans. The lack of shade in the plains is unforgiving.

Yesterday, when I woke up in the hay field I was camping in, I found 3 garden spiders had woven their webs attached to my tent poles, and 3 more webs were attached to my bike.  The spiders looked fat and healthy, so I wasn't too worried about pulling my things away.  As I was preparing breakfast, a farmer pulled up in his truck to load up some hay bales, and was perfectly OK with my having camped in his field.  Good thing.

Tomorrow, I will begin a 5 day ride which will put me at my first long-term destination, Chanhassen, MN. There, I will attend the wedding of my friend Greg K, take a rest, and somehow make my way north to Togo, MN where I will work for a Wilderness Therapy program for the next 2 months. It hardly seems like I've been on the road long enough to be taking a break, but I will be glad for the time to renew my motivation and enthusiasm for cycling.

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