Smokin’

My alarm went off at 5:30 and I promptly silenced it and rolled over for a bit longer. I blame the excellent mai tai from the best tiki bar in South Dakota. I eventually got motivated and on the road at a little after 7am. I had a long day ahead of me, but I started out on the local state routes to get the lay of the land.

The road out didn’t really change my opinion of Sioux Falls. I remained disappointed in the city and wasn’t able to find any real character outside of a few blocks of downtown and the Falls Park just down the road. Leaving the city behind me, I continued on through the warm morning air. It was more of what I’d seen in Iowa, Nebraska, and Minnesota, which wasn’t surprising in light of their proximity. Just farms, a few farming communities (though fewer and less dense than in Iowa, from what I saw), and more cows. The beef industry seems to start in western Iowa and cohabitates with the corn/bean farms in this neck of the woods.

After an hour or so I let myself get routed onto the main freeway. I wanted to do some sightseeing along the way and the added speed would help me make up some of that time on the road. Frankly, the freeway around here simply pulls you out of the nothing-burg towns that infrequently dot this landscape. Otherwise it seems that you’re able to experience the State, just at a higher speed. A fairly dense fog blocked my views from the freeway during most of the early morning, causing most of us on the road to drop our speed due to the decreased visibility. Even after it lifted, a haze persisted throughout most of my ride.

The freeway is populated by a pretty aggressive roadsign campaign. Certain businesses seem to make it their mission to have a sign or two up every few miles, even hundreds of miles from their actual location. The Corn Palace. Al’s Oasis. Firehouse Brewing. And of course, the granddaddy of them all, Wall Drug. They all had an endless supply of signs announcing their imminent (or at least eventual) arrival on the horizon. I tried to breakfast at the Oasis, but they don’t open in the mornings due to a staffing shortage. I did stop at the Corn Palace relatively early on, and then Wall Drug later in the day for lunch.

I’ve been interested in seeing the Corn Palace since I read about it in Neil Gaiman’s American Gods novel. It lived up to the hype, at least as far as a quick attraction that pulled me off the main road. It is quite cool to see intricate murals both inside and out, completely rendered in corn cobs, husks, and stalks. Inside it’s basically a basketball stadium of mid-size high-school configuration, but also decorated with these murals. Neat.

Wall Drug is just a tourist trap with food. So I ate, grabbed a free bumper sticker, and bought some tourist crap for the kids. I don’t know why Wall Drug is a thing, but who am I to fight the reality in which we live? The food was passable, at least, and it got me moving down the road again.

In between the Corn Palace and Wall Drug I opted to take the Badlands NP loop. It’s quite pretty and well worth the trip if you’re driving by. I don’t see it as a destination, like Yellowstone or Yosemite, but it’s a great side trip. It is best described as a bastard child of the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone (without the geothermal goodness).

I opted to bypass Mount Rushmore, primarily because it was the goal of a past family vacation that was thwarted mid-trip. I felt like it was something that I’d like to see as a family sometime in the future, to finally complete that trip. Plus, I could tell that I was burning through my daylight even though I’d gained an hour by moving into Mountain Time.

I ducked over into Wyoming, then backtracked and headed north to North Dakota. I did take a quick detour to drive down Main Street in Sturgis. It was exactly what I expected and I hope never to have occasion to return.

As I headed west and then north, the heat really came up, ultimately landing well into the low 100’s. At the same time the winds also came up, battering me back and forth on the freeway, and following me even on the state routes as I headed to North Dakota. But it wasn’t just the scorching heat that was smoking, I finally realized that the persistent haze that I’d been seeing most of the day was actually smoke from fires in California and Oregon. The smoke stayed with me most of the day.

Finally making it to North Dakota, I turned and headed west for the final time. With civilization somewhat sparse, I took a look at the time and mileage and ultimately decided to make the 4 hour drive to Billings. This would put me at my destination around 9pm, which was not ideal, especially since I’d gained an hour on the trip already. 15 hours in the saddle is no joke.

So I got on the back road and set the cruise control as high as I could justify. As I moved into Montana, the speed limit rose to 70mph, even on this back road. I’ll admit that I abused their hospitality a bit and cranked it up even higher, although it was always double-digit. I, too, was smokin’ now. Deeper into Montana I was spit out on the freeway and kept it cranked at about the same pace, even though the speed limit raised to 80mph. The roads took me through a kinda “Badlands Lite” area, with interesting buttes and eroded areas. It reminded me a bit of the bluffs of eastern Iowa, without the comforting goodness.

The bike sailed along and ate miles without complaint. I landed in Billings at 8:30pm, shaving a good half-hour off the trip with a bit of heavy throttle hand. I headed to a late-night restaurant for a beer and dinner, booked a hotel room, and settled in for the evening.

Starting Mileage: 60480
Ending Mileage:
Daily Mileage:

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