Tuesday, July 5, 2011
We have been hearing about the Missouri River flooding for a while now, and knew our route would be bringing us right on up the Missouri for a few hundred miles through South Dakota and into North Dakota. In light of the situation, some people may have changed their course. We just assumed we'd figure it out when we got there and kept our route straight for the Missouri. But before we got to the river, we had a few more dry, hot days in the flats.
Blue Earth took very good care of us. From the numerous conversations with everyone we met, to the 2 interviews, and the invite to take us out for breakfast the next morning, we felt totally at home. This town's got my vote for friendliest town.
We had been told of free camping in the town park (I like this free stuff) and so we found our way there, set up camp, and started dinner.
Adam was in the shower and I was stirring the pasta and swatting the mosquitos when Dave found me. He was a teacher in town, on summer break, and had done a cross country tour a few years back. One of the women we had met earlier in the day tipped Dave off that we were in the campground, and he rode right on out to greet us and invited us out for breakfast the next morning.
Sure enough, the next morning at 7:50, Dave rode up to our site and took us to a restaurant for breakfast. Little did we know that only a few hundred yards from our little camp site was the huge Jolly Green Giant. We had to stop for a quick shot before continuing on to breakfast with Dave and his friend, Joe.
We swapped stories of the road over a big breakfast of pancakes, eggs, and bacon (I think we all ordered the exact same thing). Towards the end of breakfast, Norm from the local radio station, came to give us our second interview. Not sure if it's been aired yet, but we'll keep you posted.
Our first interview was at the library the day before with Chuck from the Faribault County Register. A few of the details are a little off, but it's a good piece. Big Correction: We STORED our wedding gifts, not SOLD our wedding gifts as he mentions in the piece. (We did get $40 for Grandma's knitted quilt).... (haha, just kidding).
After all of the meetin' and greetin' in Blue Earth, it was time for us to head off. Dave gave us a push out of town and we were again on our own, battling the winds. The blue skies and cool clouds made for some more amazing photographs as we rode south towards Iowa.
The day was long, and we're finding it's tough to get healthy food on the road now. The combination of pancakes and bacon at breakfast, with two oversized, cheese-stuffed, hot dogs at lunch, and a late afternoon snack of tacos didn't help me feel any better. But we were fortunate enough to have great neighbors at our campsite that night who invited us over to their picnic table for some ziti, salad, carrots, and wine. The cookies that John and Elizabeth offered for dessert were the perfect way to end a great meal.
This was our introduction to Spirit Lake. The popular tourist destination for Iowaonians (I made up that word and am laughing now as I'm thinking of you trying to pronounce it). We had been told it would be a great place to see, but the more we visit these touristy-type places, the more we realize these things are just not well-suited for bicycle travel. I'm sure Spirit Lake really is nice, but without knowing anything about it and showing up on a bike, it was tough to navigate. So we're sticking to Small Town America! And that's exactly what we did for the next few nights.
It was another scorching day with towns spread out 20 or so miles apart from one another. We made it to Ashton where there was no grocery store, but there was a pub, so we had no choice but to order pub food again. Their special that night? Tacos. Ugh... My stomach couldn't handle any more of that so I went with a club sandwich to tide us over until we made it to George.
George turned out to be another one of our favorite stops. They had a community swimming pool that a boy on a bike was all too excited to show us the way to. Adam fit right in with all the 10-year-olds waiting in line to make the biggest splash off the diving board. They even gave him an A+ for his superb jackknife. The people at the pool were so warm to us visitors and we even got invited to stay in Jen and Jerry's camper that night, Larry Stripey (the camper was named by their son who was 4 at the time). It was a treat to stay in AC, away from mosquitos, and in a real bed after the hot hot day.
Looking at the weather, we knew the next day was going to be even hotter so we decided to get up super early and get our riding in before the heat. By 10:30, we made it 40 miles to Canton, SD where we hung out for the day inside the air conditioned library. At 7, it was still too hot to ride, so we heard about a campsite in town, went to the grocery store to grab dinner, and got back on our bikes headed towards the camp when we ran into Bubba. He must have seen how badly we needed a drink, and because he was a bouncer at the local bar, FB Mac's, he gave us two free tokens for a beer there.
We stopped by for a drink on the way to the campground. A cold beer felt great after riding around town in the heat and the people in the bar were fascinated as to how we managed to bike ride into their town!
That night, it never seemed to cool down and we got a restless night's sleep before our alarm clock woke us up at 4:00. Our goal? Get to Yankton, 68 miles away, before it got too hot. Well, by 8:30 it felt too hot, but we pushed on anyway. Stopping to get indoors or fill up our water every chance we got. We made it to Yankton by 12:15, found a campground with a pool and an air-conditioned laundry room with a table and two chairs to get some computer work done.
Yankton is right on the Missouri River and it was where we were going to cross into Nebraska before we had heard about all of the flooding. Heading towards Yankton, we weren't sure if we were going to be able to get to Nebraska anymore. Now, let me take you back just a few months to our trip planning. In my mom's basement, we had a big map of the United States hanging on the wall. We used this as our route planner, and would stick thumbtacks in cities in each state with a string going from San Diego, through all the states, and finally to Hawaii. When my brother, Dave, was home for our wedding, he pulled out one of the thumbtacks as a joke, thinking it would be funny if we made it to Seattle only find we had forgotten to hit one state. Hahaha. Very funny, indeed. What state did he just happen to pull the tack out of? That would, of course, be Nebraska. Fast forward 8 months and here we were, not knowing if we'd be able to cross the Missouri to get to Nebraska. Fitting.
Lucky for us, the bridge from Yankton to Nebraska was open, and later that day, when the heat finally broke, we rode across the bridge, into Nebraska, and back. Our plan was to ride through Nebraska for a hundred or so miles and then cross back into South Dakota, but the bridge really was out at the next major crossing so unfortunately, that was all we'd bike in Nebraska. I feel only slightly bad about this.
As it turns out we could have ridden a good 20 miles in Nebraska and come back into SD over the Gavin's Point Dam. Not knowing there was a crossing at the Dam, we took the bike path in South Dakota and rode along the river as the fog rolled in.
When we got near the dam, we decided to detour just a bit to see it. Usually, the Dam is quiet as the water flows through the power plant just next door. But because of the late snows in Montana, the quick thawing out of the snow, and the crazy spring rains, they had to open the Dam for the first time ever. The amount of water flowing through was dizzying! Someone told us this type of flood only happens once every 500 years. I'm sure with all the flooding many people are displaced, and seeing the water surging through the Dam gives you a big appreciation for the power of water.
After taking some Dam pictures, we were off again, hoping for a good 70 or 80 mile day, but our hopes were shot down when Adam's shifting cable snapped 40 miles down the road, just two miles outside of Springfield, SD, right after we passed this sign:
We tried everything. Called the auto shop, hoping they'd have a cable that could work. Stopped by the hardware store to pick up some possibilities for a MacGyver-type-fix. All to no avail. When we kept striking out, Beth, at the hardware store called up John McNeill, an avid cyclist in town. He rode down to see us, and when he realized it was a cable that we needed, he offered to help us replace it with a cable he had at his house.
Adam was seriously lucky.
Adam says if it weren't for John, it would be a long three day break in Springfield before we could hitch a ride back to the bike shop in Yankton when they opened up again after the three day Holiday weekend. I say, it would have been a long 300 mile ride for Adam having only one gear until the next city with a bike shop.
We put in the new cable but were enticed to stay in Springfield, camp in John and Susan's backyard(after finding out the campground was closed), and join them that night as their country band played in a nearby concert hall.
As John and Susan set up, Adam and I went across the street to grab some grub. Wild Bill's was the name of the only restaurant in town, and while I ordered a burger, Adam couldn't resist the Tipsy Chicken special. It was literally half a chicken on his plate with a sweet whisky dipping sauce. When the waitress brought it out, she told us not to worry, they had to-go containers. I think Adam took that as a challenge. Half way through, he ditched the fork and knife and gnawed every last inch of meat off that chicken.
It took him so long to finish the chicken, that we skirted into the concert hall just as the first song started. It was a jam-type concert with John and Susan, The Musical Farmer, another duo, Nick and Owen, and a local banjo player. They each played back-up for the others as they shared their songs. My personal favorite? The McNeill's. Maybe I was biased because they had been so good to us, but their music was fun and I was amazed that John could play the guitar, harmonica, drums, and sing all at the same time- ok, I guess he wasn't singing and playing the harmonica at the exact same time, but you know what I mean.
The next morning, as we got ready to head out, we had our sights set on the little town of Bonesteel, SD, 75 miles away, so we wanted to head out early. I think this was a record for us, getting off so early so many days in a row. We got in some good miles in the morning and were at yet another Dam by lunch time where we enjoyed a lunch in the shade with some great Dam views and learned a lot about the Dam history in the Dam visitor's center. Adam squeezed in a little nap(as only a Coppola boy can do) before we took some more Dam pictures.
For as much water as there was at the Dam, the next 40 miles to Bonesteel were bone dry. Thank goodness for a strong tailwind for the last 10 miles north that day. We flew up to Bonesteel, stopped for a quick water and snack break, and decided to use the tailwind for another 20 miles north to Burke. Since we were riding as the sun was setting, Adam couldn't resist some good photos.
We found a campsite in the town park. As we were settling down to sleep, a man and his kids came to the park to set off some fireworks. I was amazed that he was actually letting his kids light the fireworks themselves!!! I peeked out the tent at a few, then settled in to sleep when I heard one of the kids say, after a particularly loud firecracker, "Oh no! Look at the sparks!" To which the father replied, "Don't worry, they'll go out," followed immediately by a thud next to the tent. The next morning, Adam found the firecracker laying just outside my side of the tent.
We were up early again and shared a good conversation with Zach, who showed up late that night to the campsite. He had just graduated high school and was excited to start college in Montana as an Environmental Science major. He was in town that weekend for a family reunion and brought his new hammock tent to try out instead of staying on the floor in the hotel room.
We parted ways that morning, Zach heading to his grandma's house for a breakfast of bacon and eggs and us onto Chamberlain, South Dakota. The biggest town around(over 2,000 people) which was sure to have fireworks that evening. The first twenty miles were perfect. The fog made for a cool morning and the tail wind from the night before only got stronger. We stopped for a quick break along the river before the sun came out and started heating things up.
For 40 miles we rode in the burning sun without a break. There wasn't even a place to break if we had wanted to! We had just enough water to make it to the next town of Pukwana where there was a post office. We did manage to find an awning with chairs underneath to eat a tuna wrap, and ran into the firehouse to fill up water when a fireman drove by. Thoroughly refreshed, we felt confident to make the last ten miles in over 90 degree weather.
Chamberlain had exactly what we needed. A place to take a nap, a restaurant for dinner, and a great fireworks show over the Missouri river. The firework show was only that much better from the streaks of lightning in the distance. Excellent Fourth of July? Check!