Pierre, South Dakota to Minot, North Dakota

Trip # 15 - Following the Lewis and Clark Trail through South and North Dakota

(By Plane, Bus, Bicycle, and Train)

October 1, 2006 to October 10, 2006

399 miles

My Fellow Traveler

Richard and I are old friends. (Here's Richard near the "Grain Belt Beer" Bridge in downtown Minneapolis). We have run with the same running club for years, travelled to Australia together for a triathlon, and rode the Raleigh D.C. AIDSRIDE together in 1998, among other things.

Richard has also travelled extensively throughout Africa, Southeast Asia, and Europe. I know that Richard is hardy enough to do the ride and camp out. In addition, I know Richard well enough that if he had a miserable time on the trip because of my poor planning, weather, or bad luck, he would still call me a "friend" after the trip.

Richard turns out to have much more energy than I did. He also had a great nose for good bars and restaurants in Minneapolis. He was a great travelling companion.

So thanks Richard for joining me on this trip and adding so much to it.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

First Stop - Minneapolis

On Saturday morning, September 30, 2006, Richard and I flew into Minneapolis. It is here that we would catch our bus to Pierre, South Dakota.

We had a day to explore the Saint Anthony's Falls area of downtown Minneapolis, which included a tour of the City Mill Museum, a well done museum housed in an old mill building. It was a beautiful, warm fall day.

Flour Capital

Flour milling was king in Minneapolis. All the grain from the wheat farms north and west of Minneapolis poured into the city on the many railroads that radiated across the northern great plains from Minneapolis. St. Anthony's Falls, which rests just up river from the Pillsbury mill on the north side of the river, and the Gold Medal Flour elevator on the south side, powered the many mills that lined the river. Eventually the mills converted to standard electric power, and by the 1960's/1970's had largely moved out of town. It became cheaper and easier to ship grain, rather than flour, in rail cars and barges, so flour production dispersed throughout the country.

Sunday, October 1, 2006: Martha Gets Us on The Bus to Pierre

Our bus to Pierre, South Dakota is leaving at 6:20am. It's obvious when we arrive at the bus station, that there are an extraordinary number of people catching our bus.

There is only one bus a day from Minneapolis down to I-90 and west. You don't get the feeling that Jefferson Bus Lines has back up buses and drivers nearby.

Fortunately, Martha, pictured here, helps us out. We met Martha the day before, and it was clear she was "in charge" of the station, whether she officially had that job or not. She was extremely knowledgeable and helpful.

The day of the departure, we move our bikes next to the baggage bays under the bus, and then, once our bikes are loaded under the bus, Martha makes sure we get on the bus. The bus ends up being crowded, with people and luggage sitting in the aisles. I don't know if everyone in the line gets on. Thanks to Martha, though, we get our bikes on the bus and seats to sit in.

Many Thanks Martha!!!!

Of those in line and on the bus, 15 passengers are from Bali. They are seasonal workers who are moving from summer hospitality jobs on the Outer Banks of North Carolina to new hotel jobs in Rapid City, South Dakota. (I hope they get lots of fall color in the Black Hills; it seems that fall may not have the crowds that summer does there.) The Balinese are quite friendly and don't mind sharing about why they are working in the U.S., their job brokerage agency, and that they will be in the U.S. for a while. They seem to be content with their circumstances, even if they did not know where Rapid City is. (We show them on a map.)

Monday, October 2, 2006: An Eventful First Day Biking North from Pierre

We spend yesterday afternoon visiting a huge Scandinavian Festival being held at the State Fairgrounds. It impresses upon you how nordic the folks from the Dakota's are. Also, sadly, that the economics of farming in Scandinavia were not very good in the 1880's and 1890's, so farmers immigrated to the Dakota's in large numbers.

After overnighting in a hotel in Pierre, Richard and I spend time this morning buying food and bike supplies for our first day out. We start riding about 11:30am. It's about 65 degrees and sunny. Here's a picture of us at the South Dakota State Capital. Soon we leave the hustle and bustle of Pierre (pop. 14,000) and we are riding through the rolling farmland of South Dakota. Being on the road again feels great.

A welcome and familiar route number - 1804. It traverses the east side of the Missouri River through South and North Dakota all the way to Williston, North Dakota. 1804 is the first year of Lewis and Clark's journey to the Pacific.

We get our first taste of South Dakota hospitality. While inquiring about local restaurants or convenience stores to find lunch, we meet Dave and Larry Steffen. They run Steffen Brothers Outdoor Expeditions (866-791-6222), a hunting outfit. They invite us to join that day's party of hunters for lunch. We enjoy great hamburgers, the best tomatoes I have had all summer, and dessert. The hunting must be pretty good, because the hunters look happy. Thanks Dave and Larry.

Mostly it's wheat we see in the fields as we ride by. Things look green out here, though the Dakotas have had a very long drought this summer, and I had feared much of our riding would be through dry brown countryside. It finally rained, a lot, at the end of August.

There are an a lot of sunflowers, too. I have a pleasant interlude in a sunflower field. Sometimes it gets a little lonely on the road.

Big Blow Out

We are plugging along Route 1804, when a loud bang rings out. I have heard over-inflated tubes blow out, usually taking the tire apart with them. I have never seen a rim blow out.

Lucky Richard.

I'm sure he had a few concerns running through his head, quickly calculating: Pierre has 14,000 people; I'm 30 miles from Pierre; this is the most rural part of America I've ever been in.

Richard remains calm. I wouldn't have.

Mark to the Rescue

Each bike trip reminds you that people are really nice and want to be helpful.

With a little bit too much assurance, I tell Richard not to worry. We talk about possible options. Richard quick releases the blown out wheel from his bike.

I look up, see a pick up truck coming down the highway in the distance, walk over to the Pierre-bound side of the road, hold out my thumb and raise up the broken wheel.

Mark immediately slows to a stop, gets out, walks over, and figures out our plight. Soon Richard and Mark are off to the bike shop in Pierre to get a new wheel. Mark even arranges a ride back for Richard the next morning.

Richard and I agree that I would keep on riding a few more miles to "Bob's Place" - a campground, convenience store, and steakhouse that is listed, with a phone number, on our bike map.

Later in the day, just as I pulled into the "Bob's Place" convenience store, Richard calls "Bob's Place" and the clerk, somewhat startled, asked if I am on a bike. Richard and I finalize our plans to rondez vous at Bob's Place late the following morning.

We see lots of pheasant today - we flush at least 25 birds from one field as we ride by.

56 miles today. 56 miles total.

Mark - I hope we can pass along your help and consideration to someone else in need.

Tuesday, October 3, 2006

It's a nice leisurely morning for me. Though Richard gets a ride back from Pierre north, he has to do a few miles of biking before he reaches Bob's Place. He arrives, and we take off about 10:30am. It's cloudy and we have some strong headwinds from the northeast. The sun comes out in the afternoon, and we cover flat country passing corn, wheat, and sunflowers. Finally, we hit a downhill and tailwind and glide into Akaska, SD about 4:30pm.

We have a big lunch/dinner at the town cafe, the Akaska Bait Shop, Bar and Grill (real name) and feel like we meet just about everyone in town by the end of dinner. We talk with a rancher named Daryl Thompson about the economics of farming and ranching in the Great Plains. And keep waiting for someone's new (used) mobile home to come through town. After a few false alarms, it finally shows up. Someone is going to be happy, because the folks in the Bait Shop/bar/cafe are celebrating.

37 miles today, 93 miles total.

Wednesday, October 4, 2006

Head out at 9:30am. It's cool. About 55 degrees. We soon hit a 9 and 1/2 mile section of gravel road. We knew it was coming, and it didn't turn out to be bad at all. We are again riding through big green country, and there is virtually no traffic. No winds or headwinds today and sunny. We have lunch in Mobridge, at Rick's "Friendly" Cafe. "Friendly" is not exactly the ambiance. There are signs indicating that ladies should not wear perfume, signs about calling in early to make reservations to ensure they won't be out of food when you arrive. Signs about not doing this and not doing that. The place doesn't exude hospitality, but it is crowded and the food is good.

After lunch we bike on to the little town of Pollock,SD and settle in at a Corps of Engineers campground next to Lake Pollock and a five minute walk from downtown Pollock. We have a drink and dinner at one of the two bars in town. The other bar decided it wasn't selling food that night.

67 miles today. 160 miles total.

Thursday, October 5, 2006

By now we have figured out that about 70% of the people in South Dakota are 55 years or older. Not many younger folks here. You wonder who will farm the farms, and who will take care of all these good folks when they can't drive or it takes them more than 30 seconds to stand up straight.

We have also figured out that a green salad consists of iceberg lettuce and croutons. In order to get our five vegetables and fruits each day, we classify croutons and, eventually, bacon bits as vegetables.

After breakfast, we spend some time in the Pollock City Museum, which tells the story of old Pollock - flooded by the waters behind the Oahe Dam. It has maps of what the river valley looked like before the dam was constructed.

Lake Oahe is 35 feet down now because of the drought and old Pollock is popping up from the water.

Soon we cross into North Dakota.

As we continue our journey north, I notice concentric rings (like bathtube rings) of young cottonwoods along the shore, some fifteen feet tall, some ten feet tall, some five feet tall, each ring of cottonwoods lower and younger than the last. Cottonwoods sprout in muddy soils, so Lake Oahe has been receding for many years - at least that's what the cottonwoods are saying.

At a campground just north of the North Dakota stateline, we take a break and look at the Missouri River floodplain. There are large groves of large cottonwood trees in the distance, indicating to me that this part of Lake Oahe has been dry for a long time.

We have a strong southeast tailwind today, and again are crossing big rolling farm country. It's greener here than back in Mobridge, which was the driest of the drought areas. It's sunny, bright and warm by noon.

We end up at a nice Corps of Engineers campground near Beaver Creek. It is in a field, at the top of a bluff. We pitch our tents along a row of lilac bushes because there is still a stiff breeze. Out of drinking water, we approach a house nearby, and knock on the door. No one answers. I use their hose to rinse off the days dust and salt :-) and we refill our water bottles.

The campground is located on the Missouri River above the head of Lake Oahe. Walk to the bluff and look over and you can see a magnificant stretch of the Missouri and see what it must have looked like before all the dams were built. Broad flood plain and good farm land.

A beautiful sunset tonight.

56 miles today, 216 miles total.

Friday October 6, 2006

We are up before sunrise, pack our gear and eat some breakfast. Wander over to the bluff and take one last look at the Missouri River Valley from this perspective. We have a moderate paced 30 miles to Bismark, and 14 miles before town, we pass the last reach of Oahe Lake and the road moves down and starts to follow the "real" river. Large golden yellow cottonwoods line the riverbank and fill the floodplain.

Tonight we check into a hotel. It's laundry time,too. And we spend some time walking around Bismark. It's bigger than I had imagined so we don't get where I originally wanted to go, and we get a little lost coming back. But the weather is pleasantly warm and sunny.

31 miles today. 247 miles total.

Saturday, October 7, 2006

This morning, we visit the North Dakota Heritage Museum, which is next to the Art Deco State Capitol Building. Exhibits tell the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of the Dakotas. It wasn't an easy life out here for anyone, yet it is a beautiful state.

We head out of Bismark with a strong tailwind and travel along beautiful bottom lands along the Missouri. The forecast calls for a change in wind direction and tempurature, but it's beautiful so far.

At 3 pm we stop for lunch at a park/boat access ramp. Richard braves a swim in the Missouri, while I watch from the boat dock. Sometime during our pause here, the wind swings around to the northwest and picks up speed.

We have strong crosswinds on Route 83 southwest of Washburn, and once, both of us have our bikes blown out from under us. As we are riding into Washburn, a guy on his riding mower waves us over. He has already figured out that because of the wind we might need a safe place to stay tonight. He offers a bed or a place behind the garage.

We opt for pitching our tents out back, out of the wind, and accept the offer of hot showers. We are invited in for a great dinner. Our hosts are the Blazeks - Mike and Valerie. Mike is former Air Force and now a Realtor, Valerie is a nurse. They have lots of kids and grand kids. We're lucky.

44 miles today. 291 miles total.

Sunday October 8, 2006: Great Day for Pictures ...

After a big breakfast with the Blazeks, we head out. We visit Fort Mandan (a reconstruction) in the morning, and get some nice views of the far bank across the river. We bike over to the south side of the Missouri, and again are traveling through rich farm country. We stop in Stanton for lunch and then visit Knife River Indian Village National Historic Site (another reconstruction and a large archeological site), one of several indian villages in the area where Lewis and Clark wintered in 1804/1805.

These pictures were taken just as the sun was setting. The sky was unsettled and darkly cloudy.

Then the sun shown through a break in the clouds on the horizon.

And then everything looked irridescent.

... But We Missed The Rooster Roping Contest

We arrive after dark in Pick City. We stop by Teresa's Bakery for advice on food and campgrounds. We lay out our sleeping bags behind the visitor center at Sacacawea State Park, and eat dinner at Little's.

Little's is a lively place. Fairly crowded - locals and lots of hunters. We are extremely disappointed to learn we are one week early and will miss the "Rooster Roping Contest". There is some quiet discussion in the bar about whether it is actually legal to have a rooster roping contest. I guess they will find out next week.

Some friendly hunters, who have been at the bar for a while, offer us a place to stay for the evening. Folks are very friendly here. But I figure, with them having had their share of beer and us having to be hospitable back, we are looking at two hours minimum before getting to bed in their hunting cabin. So I stick with the sleeping bag in the state park down the road. Fortunately Richard doesn't complain.

One of the hunters runs a shoe store down the block from a bike shop in Minot: Val's Cyclery. This information helps us out in the coming days.

Sometime this evening we hear a weather forcast that calls for 30 mile per hour NW winds, 20 degree temps, and snow for northwestern North Dakota on Tuesday. Something to think about.

45 miles today. 337 miles total.

Monday, October 9, 2006: Cut It Short and Head to Minot

The ranger at the State Park initially is upset that we had laid our sleeping bags out behind the visitor center, and not at a campsite down the hill, but after I tell him that we arrived after dark and didn't know if there were any lights down in the campground, and I pay the nightly fee, he warms up a bit. We have breakfast at Teresa's Bakery, and ride north across Garrison Dam. Because of the forecast, we decide, reluctantly, that the last hundred miles due west through some lightly settled country to Williston is not advisable. So we head due north to Minot, where we can catch a train back to Minneapolis.

We leave the Lewis and Clark Trail and head north on 83, through beautiful prairie pothole country. Richard is thoroughly energized and booming along. I'm dragging to keep up. The land is flat - we are up and out of the floodplain - and the views expand exponentially. We are passing big wheat fields.

The wheat harvest is good up in this part - they got more rain here than farther south - and so we see a big pile of wheat outdoors - no room at the grain elevator for it.

We arrive in Minot at dusk. Check into the Super 8 hotel, shower up, and have a nice italian dinner.

62 miles today. 399 miles total.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The Amtrak train to Minneapolis doesn't leave until late this evening. It has turned cold and cloudy, and there is occassional light rain and a few flurries, but not the 1 to 2 inches of snow in the forcast. We spend the day doing laundry, packing, hanging out at the library, and exploring Minot.

We also drop our bikes off with Rory at Val's Cyclery (701-839-4817). He did an excellent job boxing and shipping our bikes back to D.C. Rory tells us about CANDISC, an annual organized bike ride around North Dakota. Click here to find out about CANDISC.

We board the Empire Builder late in the evening, and take it overnight to Minneapolis, where we arrive the next morning.


Having cut our trip short and diverted to Minot, we have two days to explore Minneapolis before we fly home to Washington. Richard manages to find some great restaurants which definitely raises my perceptions of the Twin Cities.

Last Update: Dec 23, 2006