I am writing from Butte, Montana, some 600 miles west from where we last finished cycling, Rapid City. We have travelled here by bus in order to get back on schedule and avoid the Arctic conditions in South Dakota and Wyoming.
It wasn’t supposed to work out like this. It is incredibly difficult to hop on a bus after this level of commitment and close to 2000 miles on the clock. Unfortunately, we weren’t left with much of a choice.
In the first 12 days we had 1450 miles of very tough but manageable touring. The days were long and the trials were many (traffic, drivers, dirt roads, heat) but we were working through it and getting stronger by the day. Things changed for the worse when we encountered the wrath of nature in the form of a very strong western headwind on Day 13. Ever since the weather has played a big factor in our tour.
Day 13 started off well with a lovely conditions, a strong southerly tailwind and lightly undulating roads. We arrived in Sioux City in good spirits and crossed the Missouri with 55 miles left on the clock. In the time it took us to pass through Sioux City the wind had changed direction and was now coming straight at us from the West. It took us 5 hours to battle our way through that wind and was as an exhausting time that I can remember on a bike. It was black dark when we rolled home.
Day 14 was even worse. Again the wind was blowing hard from the West except unlike yesterday we now had 130 miles instead of 55 to cover. It was a long, frustrating day and the headwind took its toll and we ran out of juice and time 20 miles short of our destination.
Day 15 meant adding the 20 miles from the previous day to give a grand total of 155 miles. We departed pre-dawn and spent 13 hours on the bike and rolled into Martin, South Dakota post-dusk. Needless to say it was our longest ride ever undertaken but we were elated to have made up the lost time and distance. The last three days were incredibly tough but the fun was just starting.
Cruelly, Day 16 was the worst weather we had faced yet. Gael-force winds and freezing rain greeted us when we stepped outside our hotel. We could not believe it. On top of weather, our route dictated that we pass through one of the most desolate and under-populated areas anywhere in the country, the “badlands” of South Dakota. We needed to decide if we would risk getting stranded in the middle of nowhere or stay put until the weather cleared. We decided to aim for a tiny settlement in the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation 45 miles away where they had a Motel. After that was 80 miles of nothingness to Rapid City. This was an incredibly tough 45 miles. The rain was coming at us sideways, it was freezing cold, we were doing well to stay on our bikes. We wore every stitch of clothes we had. We huddled and delayed for an age in a tiny store half way there and implored the Indian man to make us coffee to warm us up. He obliged thankfully. We got going again and we struggled on and eventually made it to the reservation and we were never as glad to unclip from the pedals. We were hopeful that the weather would clear by the morning. No such luck.
Day 17 greeted us with winter-storm conditions, gale-force winds again and a new element, snow. We were dismayed at the scene that greeted us out the window. We were faced with another dilemma. We really did not want to spend another day on the reservation (cabin fever was setting in). On the other hand, it was 80 miles to Rapid City and there was not a place to stay between here and there if the weather got really ugly. Eventually, at 11am we decided to make a break for it. We both donned a massive amount of clothing, including plastic bags to keep the feet and hands warm. The weather was really awful, it was slow going and freezing but we managed well enough – though our feet were like blocks of ice. It never really warmed up on the way to Rapid City though the rain and snow did desist. We rolled into Rapid city in the dark, satisfied that we made it back to civilisation but very very tired.
Day 18 was when we had our reality check and realised we weren’t going to make it to Seattle by pedal-power alone or indeed by our deadline of Friday October 25th. The previous 6 days had taken time and distance out of our tour, and a lot more out of us. We awoke to freezing conditions again and there was snow and ice on the ground. The plan was to cycle the 25 miles to Mount Rushmore and continue on into Wyoming. It was a 600 metre climb to Mount Rushmore from Rapid City. With that effort, the freezing weather and the toll from the previous days we quickly realised that we needed to come up with a plan B. We decided that we should return to Rapid City, take a couple of days out to recover, get a lift further west to reduce the distance and get past this awful weather.
So there you have it. We start again tomorrow (Saturday) with 700 miles and plenty Rocky stuff remaining. Mentally it is tough to get going again but we are looking forward to the challenge all the same. Seattle is now almost within reach, just a couple of hundred thousand pedal strokes to go…