The weather has been cold. And I have a cold. And the cold, hard truth is I haven't been on my bike for a while. But I still have been reading, thinking, dreaming about biking. Daydreaming about adventures to come, and remembering rides from the past.
In the fall of 2005, my sister's husband, Bruce, told me he read a write-up of the inaugural Tour de Kota that had taken place that summer. He was thinking about signing up the following year and asked if I would be interested. I liked riding my bike, and I liked not going to work, so taking a week off to ride my bike? What's not to like! So we registered, and planned, and waited. And the second week of June, 2006 I headed for South Dakota.
The route for the 2nd annual TdK was from Yankton to Milbank, from the southeast corner of South Dakota to the northeast. We met in Milbank on Saturday morning for the shuttle to Yankton where the ride would start the next day. Bruce had some points to use, so he had booked a room at the Holiday Inn Express. Sunday’s ride was a loop from Yankton to Vermillion and back. Though I felt that we might be missing out by not camping with all of those at the park by the river, by the time we had done 80-some miles in a cold drizzle, the hot tub at the motel was a welcome sight. And we still had four nights to enjoy the camping experience.
Monday we rode out of Yankton and climbed the bluffs along the Missouri under a clear, blue sky. We headed north through rolling farmland and past Mennonite communities where I waved at a woman and several children sitting on the side of a hill, waving at the riders as they passed as we made our way to Freeman.
The next day was a century ride to Garretson. We crossed over I-29 and crossed briefly into Iowa before rolling into Garretson. We enjoyed dry, blue skies again, but the temperatures climbed into the 90s by mid-afternoon. I skipped the last rest stop as I rolled through Canton and ran out of water about 15 miles from Garretson. Some salted nuts and a bottle of water at the first gas station I saw got me to the end of the century tired, but pleased.
Wednesday we rode to Volga. By late morning we saw lightning on the horizon. As it neared, we took shelter in a barn with several other riders and waited for the storm to pass. We rode another couple hours before the rain started again. After a stop for drinks and snacks it seemed to let up a little so I headed out again.
Several miles down the road it started to pour again. I saw a couple of bikes turn in a driveway and I followed them. It turned out to be an indoor bait farm, and they welcomed us in to wait out the rain again. There was a huge bull mastiff wandering around the place that delighted in making friends with a couple of teenage boys who were riding with their Dad. He sat on their feet while they scratched his ears.
I eventually rolled into Volga, desperately in need of shedding my wet bike shorts. A hot shower never felt so good. They had us camping in the city park, complete with beer garden and entertainment. Scandinavian clog dancers were followed by a guy with a Scandinavian name singing some pretty good blues. There was a lot of good food available too, including pie from the ladies of the Lutheran church.
Thursday we rode in a monster cross-wind as we rode east. It was the kind of wind that makes it hard to stay upright on your bike. It was a pleasant change to turn north and have the wind at our back for a while. We were able to sustain some speed for several miles and were rewarded with a rest stop at the Lake Cochrane recreation area where we enjoyed sandwiches and root beer floats. Then we had to head back west towards Clear Lake, fighting rolling hills and cross-winds again. The local people arranged for transportation from the fairgrounds where we were camping, into town to enjoy the local restaurants and bars including a horse-drawn carriage and a party bus.
Friday we rode out of Clear Lake in a northerly direction. The miles, rain, cold and wind had started to take their toll on me, and I was close to a cumulative bonk as I pulled into the rest stop in the old school in Strandburg. It turns out a cup of coffee, a bottle of Gatorade, and a jelly doughnut was all I needed. I headed toward Milbank with renewed vigor. The 57 miles for the final day included taking a left turn on Highway 12 and several miles up the hill to Blue Cloud Abbey. Then we doubled back heading west into Milbank. It was tempting to skip the side trip, but the TdK’s motto is “miss a mile, miss a lot”. And the chance to see the Benedictine monastery was worth the trip.
As we rolled into Milbank passing cars would lightly tap their horns and wave encouragement to us for having made it to the very end. It wasn’t cowbells, but it was nice. I’m pretty easy, but it did bring a little tear to my eye. It pales in comparison to a lot of things, but I had a real feeling of accomplishment and desire to do more.
Now, every time I drive through South Dakota from Kansas to my hometown of Fargo, North Dakota, the names of the towns on the exit signs mean more to me than they ever did before. I’ve met some of the people, seen their towns, and experienced their hospitality. I’ll always have fond memories of that trip. And because I was able to do that, I’ve been willing to try more.