Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Bike America Day 21: A Very American 4th After All

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Day's distance: 65.83 miles
Average speed: 12.2 mph
Maximum speed: 31.9 mph
Overall distance: 1,268 miles

Around the country, people with the day off work would be sleeping in and then spending much of their day on the beach, grilling food, eating watermelon, and watching fireworks. My parents and I, however, planned to spend our day just like all the rest: waking up early, riding our bikes, and eating peanut butter sandwiches. Without expecting to celebrate in an all-American way, we at least made a point to wear the limited supply of red white and blue bike gear that we had with us.

When we woke up, the TV informed of us of nearby forest fires. Outside our motel, the entire city of Gillette was dark and smelled like a campfire. I love the smell of campfires but assumed that it wouldn't be the best thing for my lungs to breath in that air over the next 60 miles.

The continental breakfast at the Days Inn began at 6AM so we grabbed breakfast and hopped in the car to head back to the spotted horse cafe. On the drive up, we ate and discussed the possibility of driving to the nearby Mount Rushmore in the afternoon if we finished our ride in time. My dad fought the idea, saying that it would be better to ride our bikes there next week. When we were dropped off and rode away at 7:15, our plan was still up in the air. Another morning that was earlier than any others yet and we felt good.

The first thirty miles were hilly but we had a lovely tailwind so we cruised.  Early on, my Achilles Tendon screamed a little so I brought my seat down very low. I worried about my knees hurting because of this but knew it was worth the temporary risk to help my Achilles heal. My dad noted that he felt like a pedaling machine, powering up the hills and then speeding back down. He also declared that he'd changed his mind and that he wanted to visit Mount Rushmore that afternoon. What better day than the Fourth of July to make that trip! I agreed with him.

We hit the 30 mile mark just before 10AM and I cheered at what good time we were making. Since the wind was blowing south, the skies had cleared an all the smoke from the fires had blown away. Soon, we passed this coal mine. I thought all coal mines were underground but apparently the coal isn't as shallow out west so this is how it works. Seems a lot less dangerous to go digging for coal this way.

We rode around Gillette to avoid the downtown and were sufficiently past it by mile 38. At mile 39.55, my mom was stopped with the car, ready to switch roles with my dad. It was 10:50 and I wanted to beat another record by completing 40 miles by 11AM. I downed a peanut butter and nutella sandwich and we hit the road, just barely breaking the record. We had a short day with only 25 miles to go. I told my mom we'd surely be done by 2 and have plenty of time to see Mount Rushmore.

We had turned straight east and the wind was no longer behind us but to our side and, occasionally, head on.   The fight with the wind was hard but we still made decent time and finished our day's ride by 1:30. We met up in a gas station in Moorcroft, WY, where we'd resume riding on Tuesday morning. We grabbed wraps for lunch which turned out to be delicious and hopped in the car.

We drove the hour and a half to Mount Rushmore and I laid down most of the way, not wanting to spoil the terrain of the next few riding days by first seeing it from a car window. As we approached, we were in the black hills and I couldn't help but notice how spectacular (and HILLY!) they were. We thought the mountains were behind us but this part of the country will definitely be some challenging riding.

When we pulled up, I couldn't help but think that the heads were smaller than I'd always imagined them to be. They get bigger as you get closer to them but you first see them from afar so it's less breathtaking. When I learned that they are scaled to a person who would be 465 feet tall, though, I felt bad for my initial judgement. The carving is still pretty unbelievable and I just love to imagine Borglum (the sculptor) and his helpers hanging off this cliff, chipping away at the rock, with some serious determination and patience until this came to fruition.

Thirty miles from Mount Rushmore, we arrived at the home of another set of strangers, Amy and Sean, where we'd be leaving our bikes for the next five days. My mom met them through the Ragbrai website and they'd offered to store our stuff during our break. After talking to them and unloading our Bike America necessities, we headed into downtown Rapid City, SD for dinner. We ate at Tally's and I had a mouthwatering buffalo meat burger topped with blue cheese, peppers and onions. The icing on the cake was the heaping bag of waffle sweet potato fries that came on the side. Genius.

Inspired by the Mountain of Presidents, Rapid City has erected a copper statue of all past presidents, with one on each corner of the downtown. George Washington, with whom my mom shares a birthday, was hanging out across the street from our restaurant so we stopped by for a picture.

Because of the dryness and fire danger, all fireworks have been banned in this part of the country this year. So the creative downtown Rapid City combined a lit-up water show (i love the symbolism of the water to counter the fires) with a recording of the 2008 firework show at Mount Rushmore. Everyone, especially the kids who came prepared in their bathing suits, seemed to have a fun time.

It turned out to be a much more festive fourth of July celebration than I had expected. I felt weird going to bed that night with the knowledge that I wouldn't spend the whole next day sitting on my bike seat and pedaling my legs but the break was long overdue and my body was very ready for it.

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