Rachel Pilley
yahoo-geocities1999 American Lung Association Big Ride Across America

THE BIG RIDE ACROSS AMERICA 1999

Rachel Pilley - Rider #82


JOURNAL - PART 4
JUNE 29-JULY 4
HARDIN, MT - RAPID CITY, SD


DAY 16 - JUNE 29/99
BILLINGS - HARDIN, MT

Today was a good day for Laurie and Dave to get out on the road for their first day on the tandem because the ride was only 51.5 miles. Scott and I hung around camp and waited to see them off before we headed out shortly afterwards.

The first few miles were rather unpleasant as we had to make our way through rush hour traffic and out of town. After about 5 miles we turned onto Hardin Road which we would follow for the remaining 46 miles. The road quickly became rural as we moved away from the city and back out into the hills that surrounded Billings. The ride took us up and out onto the rim rock before enjoying a good descent out onto the plains, with rolling hills on either side.

As we approached the bottom of the hill I felt something prick my lower abdomen. I looked down to see that a bee had gotten caught between my camelback strap and my stomach. I had been stung. Fortunately I am not allergic to bee stings, but it sure did hurt. I had to get cycling again pretty quick in order to take my mind off it.

Further out on the ride I spotted a herd of antelope. While they were too far off to photograph, we were able to determine that there were 3 or 4 adults and 6 or 7 babies. It was really nice to see them because I had been quiet disappointed at the lack of wildlife that we had seen. There has been an incredible amount of road-kill, but very little wildlife.

52 miles. It was such a nice short ride that Scott and I pulled into camp at about 11:40. We were really feeling great to have made it into camp so early and to have time to relax. We set up our tents, as well as Dave and Laurieís, and then went to get showered. There was a problem: we were into camp so early that the showers were not ready. Fortunately for us, however, there was the Hardin Rec. Center across the field. For $1.50 we were able to go swimming, sit in the hot tub and then have a shower. For a while there, we had the whole pool to ourselves before all the other big riders figured out the good deal and swarmed in.

After the swim it was time to catch the bus to the site of Custerís Last Stand. I will admit that I was relatively ignorant to the details surrounding the battle so I found it very interesting and informative. We didnít stay as long as I would have liked because as with everything else, there just didnít seem to be enough time. We were all very tired and hungry so it was back to camp for the 5:00 dinner.

At 7:00 this evening most of the riders and crew gathered under the dinning tents for a variety show. It was the first time that we have had any night time entertainment and it was a good time. There were a lot of good laughs, we had everything from songs to skits, to Yankee Doodle to an informative description of the history of jazz percussion. The show lasted for just over and hour and then people headed back to their tents to prepare for another, longer, day of riding tomorrow.

DAY 17 - JUNE 30/99
HARDIN, MT - SHERADIN, WY

First things first: we made it into Wyoming today! Montana is a big state and it feels good to have finally crossed it. Unfortunately, with the passing of Montana we have also left beautiful countryside behind. The mountains are behind and the plains lay on the other side of a few more days of rolling hills.

Last night was a late one for me. Scott and I got talking about all sorts of things and it kept us up until 11:00. Scott then headed into his tent while I sat up and watched a thunder and lightning storm roll in. By the time I crawled into bed at about midnight the rain was coming down and the sky was alight with flashes of lightning. Not even the crashes of thunder were enough to keep me awake.

Scott and I got a pretty early start today as it was just the two of us riding. We left camp by 7 and headed out onto the road. We thought about going back to Custerís Last Stand battle field but it would have been a few miles out of the way so we decided not to. Had the turnoff been later in the day we probably would have, but at mile 15 it is really difficult to determine how you will feel come the end of the day.

In hindsight, it is a good thing that we did not take the turnoff because about 30 minutes later the heavens opened up and it started to pour. We ducked under an overpass to put on our rain gear before braving the rain some more. It rained on us until about mile 45, shortly before we pulled into the checkpoint.

Checkpoint had been on a Crow Indian Reserve in the shadows of the Little Bighorn Mountains. While the weather turned nice, we were warned by one of the Natives that we would have a hard time getting by the mountains without getting wet.

We didnít eat much at checkpoint because we were planning to stop in Wyola at the cafť for lunch. When we got there we were sorely disappointed to find the cafť all closed up and deserted so we were thankful for that we had made peanut-butter, jam and banana sandwiches at checkpoint. About 3-5 miles later Scottís stomach was grumbling so we pulled off the road onto a gravel driveway where we parked our bikes and wolfed down the sandwiches. Afterwards we lay back on the road and looked up at the sky imagining and letting our minds wander. It was really nice because I havenít done anything like that for a number of years. About 10 minutes later my eyes were shut, just listening to all the different birds, crickets and other animals going about their business. All of a sudden I heard some other rustling noises, Scott was moving about preparing to head off again.

Back on the road the going was good, but hilly. We were skirting our way around the Little Bighorns. Up hill, one after another until we finally reached the Wyoming border where we stopped to take pictures. Two miles further on we came across a small bar, The Parkman Bar. As we had not had a proper meal for lunch we wen t inside and ordered a pizza. By the time we were Ĺ way finished it the bar was packed with cyclists. Some had come in for a bit to eat, others for a drink, and even a few just to escape from another rainstorm. I guess that Raymond, the Native, had been right about rain in the Little Bighorns.

Scott and I put on our rain gear which was still damp from the last storm and ventured out into it. This time, however, we were pleasantly surprised that we had a strong tailwind behind us. I canít even begin to express, or properly convey what a rush it is to have a great tail wind and to cruise effortlessly down the road at 30+ mph. The Parkman Bar was at mile 60 and the next 15 miles were blown by in no time, but as with everything else, all good things come to an end. With 15 miles left before camp the road took a bit of a turn and awe were again faced with a head wind. It slowed down our progress, but the rain was enough to keep us moving forward. At last we made it into Sheridan, but the camp was still a couple of miles to go.

We camped at an horse grounds center and as soon as we parked our bikes the clouds rolled back and the sun began to shine. It was perfect timing because we had just been saying how taking tents down in the rain is not too bad, but putting them up in the rain sucks. Well, we were lucky, there was enough of a window in the weather to allow us to put up our tents, shower, change, get comfortable and then take shelter in the doorway of my tent as the rains began again. We were a couple of the fortunate ones. Many of the riders who came in after us begged out of setting up tent and chose to camp in the shelter instead.

Dinner was good, we ate plenty and then proceeded to our tents to catch up on journal writing and socializing. As with every other night, there does not seem to be enough time to do everything.

DAY 18 - JULY 1/99
SHERIDAN - GILLETTE, WY.

What a day. First things first, it's CANADA DAY and as a result the 6 Canadians on this trip decided to pull the Burley (the trailer that has been named the "Dream Machine" and carries the "Chain of Hope" which is a chain of hospital bracelets with lung disorder suffers' names on it). The Burley will be towed the whole length of the country and today it was pulled 113 miles (which according to my computer was 117).

The day started off with a steady climb out of Sheridan, but it quickly changed into more rolling hills. The problem with these rollers, however, is that they always seem to be a lot more up than down. By the time we hit mile 30 or so things seemed to level out a bit as we cycled through rich agricultural areas. Farmers were out in their fields harvesting the hay, making bails, and waving as we passed. The sun was out, but not strong enough to drain our energy.

At mile 41 we reached Clearmont, a small town which had a store where we could by soda, munchies or whatever. At this point we caught up with Dave and Laurie, the tandem team, who were excited to tell us that Laurie's family had caught up to the ride and would be traveling along with us for a few days. It was great to finally catch up with the rest of the Canadian contingent a little further on at the mile 50 checkpoint. I had fallen behind because of a flat tire, and once behind it is difficult to catch up.

The checkpoints are getting better and better with the array of leftovers that are available to be munched on. The break is needed and it is saving me money. After a pleasant lunch stop the Canadian component were off again. This time Brad, from Toronto, was hauling the burley and I was glad it was him and not me because we were back into the hills again. Brad towed the Burley for about 15 miles before general consensus was that it was my turn. I hitched it up and slowly made my way up and down the never-ending hills. About 5 miles into my bit we came up to a small bar, The Spotted Horse, where I was more than happy to take a break and enjoy a popsicle. While the rest of the Canadians socialized on the patio I decided to get a bit of a head start as they would be sure to catch up with me in no time. 20 miles later and a couple of pit stops the Canadians finally came up on my tail and took the Dream Machine off my hands. While I had felt reasonably good when towing the Dream Machine, as soon as it was taken off me I lagged behind and felt weak. Perhaps it is as simple as giving a little extra when towing it because you know you have to and then when it is gone your body unconsciously relaxes again. Anyway, whatever the cause, the remaining 20 miles were tough. Since the Spotted Horse we had been back into hilly terrain and I was tiring. When I think about how tired I was I have to remind myself that I had ridden about 117 miles and was therefore justified in being tired.

When we finally pulled into the Cam Plex (a large exhibition complex where we were camping) it was about 6 pm. It had been a long day, (11 hours) and the press were waiting to talk to us. They wanted to get all of our names and a little information about our ride because it is Canada Day. After talking with the press we lined up for more photos, the Maple Leaf flag was hauled out and we had a lot of cameras to pose for.

It was at this time that I reached into my pannier bag to get out my camera only to find it not there. My bag was open and no camera to be found. I was panicked; not only had I lost the camera, but there were 24 photos already taken on the roll. Had it fallen out along the way? Was it worth going to look for? Finally I calmed down enough to realize that I must have left it on a table about 20 miles back. Scott and I had stopped at a road side stand to buy lemonade, brownies and cinnamon rolls from a lady and her daughters who had heard we were coming through. I had taken my camera out of my bag and forgotten to put it back in. As soon as I realized this I went to the lost and found in hopes that another rider had picked it up and brought it in; no such luck. I went for dinner and felt very stressed. It had been a long and hard day and to loose my camera on top of everything else was too much. Riders were still coming in so I went back again. When I still didn't see it I mentioned it to Ruth, our camp services coordinator and she said she had it. Sure enough, she did. I was so relieved and so thankful. My only regret is that I don't know which rider had brought it in for me.

It is an early night for me tonight. I am exhausted from the ride and the emotional stress at the end of the day. Tomorrow is another day with another 80 miles to cover.

DAY 19 - JULY 2/99
GILLETTE - NEWCASTLE, WY

Wow, what a day of riding. Got up this morning and went about the usual routine of packing up my bags, taking down my tent, etc. Even the riding started off pretty normal, Scott and I were on the road at 7:00 am working our way out of Gillette. We rode by a coal mine and marveled at the number of trains heading towards it. Then all of a sudden it happened, someone lit a torch under Scott's butt. He was off, heading down the road with all systems burning.

In order to keep up I had no choice but to draft off him. We pulled into the first water stop to freshen up our water bottles, I looked at my cyclo-computer and was happy to see that our average speed, including the leisurely start, was 17.4 mph. It didn't stop there though. After refilling our bottles we were off again at the same incredible speed, if not faster. I kept my computer on AVERAGE and watched it steadily climb to 19 mph and above. By the time we stopped for lunch at mile 45 we had averaged 19.2 and at mile 50 it was still 19 mph.

Checkpoint was in a town called Upton, 45 miles from the beginning of our day. We pulled in a little before 10:00 and began to nibble on the goodies as though it were lunch time. While we were sitting there a local pulled up in a pickup and struck up conversation with some riders. There was some negotiation about getting a ride to Devil's Tower, which would have been a 3 hr side trip. I pondered going along, but when the local came back and said that his wife wouldn't let him take the van I figured that it was probably fate anyway.

It would have been neat to see Devil's Tower though. I have been informed that it is an old volcano that never erupted but instead cooled at a uniform rate. Apparently as it cooled the sides compressed and it became more lie a tower with cylindrical sides rather than a volcano.

Anyway, back on the road again for the latter half of the day. The going was still quick but our average came down a bit as we encountered long rolling hills. The down hills were fun but the ups, as always, were slow going. By the time we had 10 or 15 miles remaining we encountered a bit of a headwind as well to further slow us down. Despite everything though, we pulled into camp at about 18.7 mph over 75 miles. Not too bad at all!

As we pulled into camp and called out our rider numbers we were offered a popsicle from the crew. They wanted everyone to sing a patriotic song as we were eating "Patriot" popsicles. I begged out of it claiming ignorance to any American songs. I don't think that excuse would work a second time because for the rest of the afternoon that we were in camp I listened to each incoming rider's rendition of "America the Beautiful".

After pitching tent and showering we decided to go off for some suds and duds. First we went to the laundromat to pile our stinky cycling clothes into the washers and then we pedaled off in search of some suds. We decided to try the local golf and country club and I'm glad we did. We walked into the club house to find ourselves the only patrons. That didn't really surprise me because Newcastle brags a population of 3003.

The bartender at the Golf & Country Club was a riot. We talked and talked while drinking a few "Flat Tire" beers. She was happy to tell us all about the town, the winters, her family and so on. She was also so impressed with our ride that she wanted to give us a token of Newcastle to take with us. We told her that anything she gave us would have to be light so she gave us each a package of golf tees. A couple of hours passed most pleasantly, but then we figured that we really had better go as our laundry was waiting.

We picked up our wet laundry and took it back to camp to dry it on our tents before heading out again, this time in search of a hair cut. Unfortunately for me all the stylists in town had already closed up shop due to the long weekend (July 4th). The only place open was the barber shop, so in I went. I guess being open when everyone else has closed has it's advantages because we had to wait in line. As with the country club, however, the barber shop was just as entertaining. The barber had been born and raised in Newcastle and I got the distinct impression he had never left. By the time we had finished getting haircuts we were brought up to speed on life in a small town.

The rest of the evening was consumed by camp life: dinner, evening meeting, socializing; preparing for another day of riding, and sleeping.

DAY 20 - JULY 3/99
NEW CASTLE, WY - RAPID CITY, SD.

Its funny how one day you can feel like a fireball on wheels and the next day can be horrendous. Today Scott had a horrendous day. We think he has the stomach flu and can only hope that he will get over it quickly. Before I get into all of that, however, I should start at the beginning of the day.

We left New Castle in relatively good time. The ride started off with more rolling hills and it took a while to get my legs moving. (miles in we were at the South Dakota border and like all the statelines before we all stopped to take a picture. After the short break it was back on the road again and more rolling hills.

We had been warned the night before that we would be going through some narrow road areas and would be requiring an escort, well, we reached that point at approximately mile 22, the entrance into The Black Hills. Just as we were reaching the top of a hill where the road narrowed, the crew was ready to escort a pack of cyclists through the next 4.5 miles. The difficulty was that there was no shoulder on this segment of road and it was narrow and winding. We all headed off, a group of about 40 or more, with a sweep vehicle driving behind with it's flasher on preventing anyone from passing us from behind.

That 4.5 mile segment was absolutely beautiful. We wound our way through dense treed areas, down into a couple of gullies and up steep embankments. The pack of riders quickly spread out as we climbed the hills, but it was really nice to "own the road" and not have to worry about vehicles coming up from behind.

About 4 miles after we were finished making our way through the escorted section I looked behind me and Scott was nowhere to be seen. I finished climbing the hill before stopping to wait for him. When he did not make his way up in short order I asked some other riders if they had seen him. They relayed a message to me that he had met up with his girlfriend who had flown in from LA to join him in Rapid City for our day off. Unsure of whether or not he would continue to ride or if he would just head in with her, I decided to push on again myself.

Another 5 or 6 miles later I was pulling into the town of Custer. I stopped at a store where a bunch of other cyclists were lingering about, including Laurie and Dave, and a few minutes later Scott came barreling by and joined the pack again. After a 20 minute break, a few nibbles and an introduction to Scott's girlfriend, we were back on our bikes and moving into Custer State Park.

While the first few miles of travel in the park were seemingly all uphill we were eventually rewarded with a long series of downhill grades that curved and bent their way through beautiful country roads. Every now and then we would come through into an opening in the steep cliffs that banked each side of the road and more often than not there would be a campground or field. At one point we were following a little stream that looked so crystal clear and refreshing that we pulled our bikes over and dipped our feet in the cool water before proceeding down the hill. As we were cruising along I came around a corner to find a Buffalo Bull grazing on the side of the road. I think I was more shocked than he was. I pulled passed him before stopping to take some pictures. One of the riders who came up behind us stopped a little closer and at one point the Bull charged him but stopped a couple paces short.

Once we left the park the countryside was just as beautiful. It opened up into agricultural land but it was truly spectacular with the winding roads and rolling hills. 10 miles later we had to make a left turn onto a busier highway, Route 79. The road was being worked on so there was only one lane in each direction with a lot of traffic whizzing by.

Another 5 miles after making the turn onto Route 79 we encountered problems. Scott had not been feeling well all day and it seemed to reach a peak at about mile 68 or so. He asked to take a break so that he could lay down. He was nauseous and the only way he felt any better was to get horizontal. After about 10 minutes we were up and back on the road again. We managed to make it for a couple of miles before he had to stop and pull over again. It was a recurring routine of 10 minutes rest and a mile or so ride. Finally we found some shade and Scott lay down until I managed to flag down a support vehicle. I had been looking for one for the past 40 minutes or more since Scott really began to suffer. At last our checkpoint RV pulled up, we loaded Scott's bike onto the rack and they carried him the rest of the way into camp. It was a real shame that he could not finish the day. We were only about 15 miles from camp, but when you are sick, your sick and 15 miles is a long way. After Scott was loaded into the RV I carried on with my ride. The sun was beaming and the remainder of the ride had a few hills to throw at me so I was really happy to reach camp.

Camp is the South Dakota National Guard post. We are sleeping in barracks or tents and I have chosen to pitch my tent. The idea of a real mattress is appealing, but the idea of privacy is more so. The camp is good in that it has full, hot shower facilities and a good sized mess hall.

Now that I am showered, fed and changed I have to prepare to go out. The riders have chartered a bus company to take us up to Mt. Rushmore to see the monument and the 4th of July fireworks. They will be letting the fireworks go from on top of the monument. This should be good.

DAY 21 - JULY 4/99
RAPID CITY, SD - DAY OFF

Well, the fireworks were great. They were a lot like the Symphony of Fire fireworks that we enjoy 4 times a year in Vancouver. They lasted for about 30 minutes and were choreographed to music. Of coarse the music was very patriotic. It really was quite spectacular to see the fireworks from on top of the Mt. Rushmore monument.

The ride to and from the monument, however, was a little less than enjoyable. The busses were full to capacity, (48 hot, sweaty cyclists). The air-conditioning was on, but with the incredible heat outside compounded with bodies which have been working hard all day, it didn't make an ounce of difference. The windows were all fogged up, the people who were unfortunate enough to be in the back were having an especially hard time, but all in all, we made it to and from the fireworks and didn't lose anyone to heat exhaustion.

As soon as I got back to camp last night I went straight to sleep. We got in at about midnight which made for a very long day. Fortunately I managed to get straight to sleep and pack in 8 glorious hours.

When I did get up this morning I went into the mess hall to have a little breakfast and write some journal entries. I was planning on going to see Crazy Horse Monument but I missed the shuttle because I was busy typing my journal into another riders' laptop. In hindsight it is just as well because I needed a day to sit back and relax. The other days off always seem to be so busy and I didn't really want that to be the case with this one too.

I worked on my journal until about noon when I decided to give it a break. I loaded up my bag with stuff I thought I would need for the day and was just about to jump on my bike and head into town when I was offered a ride. Silly me, I took the ride. We were taken a couple of miles away to a park in downtown Rapid City. Downtown was dead but there was an Arts and Crafts type fair going on in the park. I walked around the fair for about 20 minutes and quickly realized that it was a lot of local artists and venders selling their wares. As I was not in a position to be buying anything I made my stay at the fair relatively short.

What I really wanted to do was get to Wal-Mart (my favorite store). I wanted to develop my film and buy another notebook for my journal (I've been writing more What I really wanted to do was get to Wal-Mart (my favorite store). I wanted to develop my film and buy another notebook for my journal (I've been writing more than I ever anticipated) but it was a few more miles away. I started walking but quickly realized that the map I have only shows major streets and consequently the distances are a lot greater than originally anticipated. I finally stopped to ask a motorcyclist how far it was and the next thing I knew he was giving me a ride. I was really thankful because not only was it further than I anticipated, but the heat was almost unbearable (over 100 degrees).

I got my two rolls of film developed, bought my new journal book and then began the long, hot trek back to the fairgrounds. Unfortunately for me I was not lucky enough to get a lift on the way back so by the time I made it to the fairground I was very hot and tired. It's funny, but I would rather be cycling in this heat than have a day off because at least when your cycling you create your own breeze to cool you down.

As I hoped, when I made it back to the park I spotted a ride vehicle and managed to get a lift the remaining couple miles back to camp. Once there, however, I was off again. This time to a ladies house (American Lung Assoc. employee) to use her computer to access the internet. This time, however, I took my bike. I spent a couple of hours on the computer reading and responding to e-mail as well as uploading my journal that I had saved on disk this morning.

Once back at camp again, there was time to go for a bit to eat with a group of Big Riders, make a couple of phone calls, have a shower and crawl into my tent. It has been a long, hot day and I can only hope that the night will cool sufficiently to allow for a good nights sleep.