This sorry motel blows my mind because it offers 'continental breakfast'. The food on display has me smiling because even I, with my fridge always empty, could offer a more lavish choice at any time of the year. However, I am grateful for what I have, today I will need some fuel. Bread, peanut butter, a few apples, six mini muffins in a plastic wrapper and a coffee machine which hisses every few seconds. A TV set which spews a soap opera from the seventies, a plastic table with three chairs. That's where I am at 7 in the morning, looking tired and hungry in a room at a highway town in South Dakota. I eat all the muffins and two slices of bread with enough peanut butter to fill a toothpaste tube. I am back on the road. Highway 50 will take me most of the way and then I will continue west on 44 to Winner. As I step out of the motel the breeze hits me instantly and I realize that this is going to be a hot day. It is already warm with a nascent sun and its light barely alive. I ride the first 35 miles into a crosswind. Iowa is a vast expanse of farmland and wheat fields as I cross the state line of South Dakota I realize that the eastern part of South Dakota has even less to offer. The scenery is flat and empty. It is big nothingness all around me and I love it. This is the open sweeps of the west that define the American prairie. Whoever wants to get lost, whatever that means, well…this is the place. The long road connects lookalike villages and nothing in between. As the day draws on the temperature soars into the mid-90s and the wind does not even pretend to abate, it stays strong blowing almost head on now. For me it is a long, wind-swept ride through an empty land of fields of yellow grass. The thought of a mechanical failure fills me with panic, no bike shop until Rapid City. I try to block negative thoughts out of my brain and I press on with a constant headwind that finds its way into my mouth which quickly dries up no matter how many sips of water I take. The road turns north for 9 miles and I fly with the breeze at my back gently pushing me on the empty road. I ride by Lake Andes which I barely look at as I breeze past it I see the water shimmering under the sun. At Platte I stop at the gas station to reload my water bottles. I exchange a few words with the lady at the counter "hot day to ride today hon", that's all I remember. I am on 44 and the flat terrain ends as soon as I leave Platte, the change in the scenery portends another important moment of my ride: the crossing of the Missouri river. The road drops for a mile into the valley where the river flows. The river is large and full of water, looks more like a lake. I enjoy the ride on the bridge where the road has clearly been resurfaced recently. Once I am on the other side it is a whole new ball game. The 8% climb goes on for 2 miles then the road drops then up again on and on for about 20 miles. The heat, the wind and the hills take every bit of energy and enthusiasm out of me. Shall I have taken day off? When will I take a day off? Why didn't I take a day off? Stop asking questions and enjoy the scenery. Who has the strength to look at the scenery?! Then just watch the road. The conversation in my head goes on and on just like the hills that surround me. I stare at the horizon like a wanderer in the desert would stare at a fountain gurgling cold water. The road runs completely straight to the west and a mile ahead, always a mile or so ahead, the heat waves turn it blurry and make the surface look like a wavy shallow pool of rippling, light blue water. No matter how fast or slow I ride the wrinkles of the road remain at the same distant. Funny games the heat can play on the earth. I try to hum a few songs but I don't get past the first line, the struggle takes a toll even on my singing ambitions, I hum songs in my head but even that feels too taxing. My legs are heavy and the climb from the Missouri river valley is as tough as it can be. I shift into the lowest gear and I just move my legs knowing that sooner or later I will crest that damn hill. I work as hard as I can, but even on the flats with the wind blowing full on I struggle to break thirteen miles per hour. It feels like I'm riding up a steep, never-ending hill, except that there's no hope of finding the reward of a downhill on the other side. The wind blows a constant 15 to 20 miles per hour in my face. For hours, all I hear is wind. When I spit it blows backward so quickly that I don't see when it lands. The riding is painfully slow and still, it takes all energy out of me, draining it ounce by ounce.Temperature sits just above 90 degrees, despite the dry heat of the west, sweat is dripping off my hands and arms and I am soaked like I just got out of the shower. It runs down my chest and legs into my soaked shorts and socks. My water bottles are almost empty, no services for 54 miles between Platte and Winner. Shit! Why didn't you buy an extra bottle? Because I didn't want to carry weight on my shoulders, that's why! Some sort of crust begins to form at the edges of my lips and I don't have enough saliva to fill my mouth. I feel the soles of feet burning like two searing bbq grills. It is the hottest day of the whole ride; I wish I could jump into an ice-cold pool filled with drinking water. The land continues to be hilly but the climbs are not as abrupt, the road rises steadily and I see the straight line in front of me going on for miles and miles. When I see the 'Winner 21' sign, I wonder how the hell I am going to ride another 21 miles. I gulp down all the water I have left and pretend not to feel the burning sensation in my muscles. I trudge my way up long hills and I feel the sun on my arms and my neck searing its way into the pores like a tattoo. Behind a rusting barbwire a group of cows stop grazing and turn the head to look at me blankly. A few vehicles shoot by and I am too exhausted to even pretend to go into the crap-filled shoulder. I stay into the lane and it is their problem to go around. The last miles are a complete grind and when I enter Winner past 4pm the main st clock read 93F. The town has three motels, the first two are sold out but luckily the last one has a room for me.
The wind hits the thin glass of the window and it seems to rattle the whole structure which you would expect to come down with a sudden gust. The sky is blue but the heat turns the air hazy and white and takes out all the sharpness of the colors. I hear trucks roar by outside. Winner, despite its hopeful name, is an awful town. Two gas stations bookend a series of run-down houses and several dusty auto repair shops. The small downtown areas is still alive but not thriving. One bank and insurance agencies keep clean and bright storefronts, but they sit surrounded by a closed pharmacy, a shoe store, and a real estate brokerage. Many of the nearby shops seem to be just barely holding on.
Out west there are no motels all the way to Rapid City, which is 160 miles from here. Don't be surprised if I don't update the journal for at least a day. I have no idea where I am going to spend the night tomorrow but I will find something. I leave town at 6am, an early start might give me more options. I am riding into Badlands National Park tomorrow night, that's all I need to know.