Sioux City, Ia - Wagner, Sd: 123 miles. Total: 1462 miles
I wake up to a promising day. The sun begins to glow at the far side of the sky and the air is crispy and fresh but not so cool to warrant an extra layer of clothing. I am wearing all clean clothes and the feeling of soft cloth and soap smell makes me smile. After a good night’s sleep and the prospect of a fast day on flat terrain ahead of me puts me in a good mood. I am out of the hotel at 7.15 and I ride through the empty downtown streets of Sioux City. The world is still asleep. An homeless man pushes a cart across the sidewalk, the traffic lights turn red, then green and yellow for no one. I reach the west end of town and I feel the urgency to get out of here. I can't wait to hit the plains. I am too eager because I am already dreaming about the mountains. I shoot down the old highway 105 with a tailwind of 15mph which turns into a crosswind as the road veers west. Past Vermillion I ride for 25 miles into a fierce headwind which makes me utter the most absurd curse words at the elements. Yet again. I ride through two tiny towns, all I see is a gas station, a post office, one diner and a grain elevator along Main st and a bunch of houses and that's it. On a Sunday morning there is absolutely not a single soul anywhere. There is a timeless air to these places, the wind blows through the empty streets and howls fiercely, the whole place is almost disquieting but I don’t mind it, there is something hypnotic about the peace which hangs over these little places where times seems to stand still. I dismount and decide to wheel the bike to soak in the small town atmosphere. I enjoy the sedation and dopeyness of these hamlets. One village pretty much bleeds into another, the only distraction is a different diner’s name or the slogan chosen to welcome visitors. What visitors? I wonder. So the country is really a large and flat land with small towns scattered along the road with an empty highway in between. I spend most of the afternoon staring fixedly at the empty road ahead humming all sorts of songs. I am in a good mood despite the crosswind blowing from the south which gradually grows in strength and frustrates me by the time it explodes into a headwind has me all riled up again.
I am in South Dakota, the Mount Rushmore state, I'm at the gates to the big American landscape. I want to ride fast to Yankton because the bike shop in Sioux City is closed today and if I get there before closing time I can get new parts for the bike. Yankton is a messy and noisy town which sits on the shores of the Missouri river. Lots of trailer parks, truck entrances and fast-food places. I make it to Yankton on highway 50 which has a smooth and large shoulder. I spend one hour in the bike shop because I get a new chain and a new tire. There was a slight gush in the rear tire which could have been nothing or could have caused me trouble later on and since the next bike shop is 300 miles west I want to be safe. I exit the store and I am not sure whether to take on the 60 mile trek to Wagner, the next hotel-serviced town or spend the night in Yankton. Of course ambition has the better of me. I leave the bike store just after 2 pm. As I leave the urban area I realize that the wind won't be on my side today. The afternoon is tough. I work hard for every mile, I stop here and there to sip water and mount up again. The road cuts through a flat land of unassuming features. Wheat fields and some dry farm land which begins to take over the scenery as I move west. The last 30 miles to Wagner make a dentist's drilling sound good. Winter has left three-inch-wide cracks in the pavement, and the bike crashes and rattles with a violent whump-whump every eight feet. When they go away, they're replaced by a shoulder of fresh blacktop covered from one edge to the other with rumble strips half an inch deep. Mixed in with all of this are a series of long hills and the furious wind which has me all tensed up to keep the bike on a straight course. This goes on for miles and miles, all while hoping that semis and RVs do not drive too close to the white line. Traffic is light though and I can hear the approaching vehicle almost a mile away but when they pass me the air swirls and sucks me out like a tumbleweed. Past Yankton the traffic thins out even more, but the harsh, never flush, chip-sealed surface pounds my arms and my ass and my soul for the rest of the afternoon. The skinny and scrubby bushes, the cattle that graze carefree on hillsides, a long field of tall green grass, the occasional creek and the thick wood power poles that line the highway don't do much to offer a spring in my step.The wind is still raging and I arrive in Wagner with my lips completely dried up, bleary-eyed and exhausted. 125 miles might not seem a lot but with the wind today, a long stop in Yankton, the mileage counts as 200.
Wagner must be one of the most uncharacteristic places I have seen. There is nothing discernible about it. It has a population of 1650 and offers two motels. The lady that runs the place I am staying at asks me all kinds of questions about my ride. I do my best to refrain from screaming "Stop the interrogation, I just want to take a shower!". A large man with a black beard walks in and the conversation about my ride includes a new player and takes off big time, "From Washington DC in 12 days?! Holy crap man!!! Jeezz!" you get the point, I find a gap in the conversation and I excuse myself before I let hot water run all over me for I don't know how long. Through the room window the blue skies turn to orange and then purple. The day is dying quickly. I eat two large Subway sandwiches before I set about getting ready to write and go to bed. The scattered lights of this tiny town are about to come on and in a few minutes they will glow in the clear evening air.
I'm drained tonight. But as quick as this ride can break me down, the smallest comforts help build me right back up. I hear a dog barking in the distance and a car engine rumbles to life before fading rapidly. Writing the journal feels good, my mind feels busy with an input overload from hundreds of miles on the bike across the vastness of this land. I have cleaned the layers of dirt and sweat and sunscreen from my face. I have drunk plenty of water and my stomach is full of food. I check the weather for tomorrow and it does not come up in my favor. Never mind. Something else will.