Adventure update: South Dakota

June 15 -A month of poor internet access has prevented me from putting posts up on the blog.  I’m now able to post, so it’s catch-up time.  This post covers the ride across South Dakota into Minnesota.

Location as of June 10: Lake Benton, Minnesota

Miles so far: 2,069 miles
Ascending feet: 77,451 ft.
Peak elevation: 7,422 ft.
Current Elevation:  1,801 ft.

Adventure Ride Day 23 –Custer, SD to west of Rapid City, SD

June 5 – Our stop in Custer gave us the opportunity to visit a friend from my childhood, now living in Custer.  Back in the day, my family would visit my grandmother in Pittsburgh, PA every other year, and we would all pile in the Plymouth to go for a play date with the Johnston family.  My brother and sister and I were the same ages as three of the Johnston kids.  One of them, Kathy, is now living in Custer, working with her husband, Steve Leonardi, in his gallery.  Steve has made his career as an artist, specializing in drawings and paintings of nature.  I hadn’t seen Kathy in over 30 years, so this was a unique occasion to re-connect.

Custer Is, of course, named for General George Custer, so many people think that the Battle of Little Big Horn must have been fought somewhere nearby.  But no, that battle was in Montana.  Here, General Custer had led an expedition that discovered gold, beginning a rush of prospectors to the area, and the breach of treaties that had promised the land to the native tribes.  The confusion is increased by the presence of the Crazy Horse monument nearby on the way to Mount Rushmore, which appears to have been a reaction to the carving of Mount Rushmore in the Black Hills territory.


The ride from Custer to Rapid City was relatively short ride through the Black Hills.  Impressive rock outcroppings along the winding roads eventually lead to Mount Rushmore.  I had never seen Mount Rushmore, so this was an opportunity to check it off my bucket list.  Well, here it is.  Bucket list checked.


Miles: 36.7
Avg. speed: 12.8 mph
Ascending feet: 2,579
Peak elevation: 5,715 ft.
Ending Elevation: 4,253 ft.
Net elevation gain: -1,045 ft.

Adventure Ride Day 24 –Rapid City, SD to Wall, SD

June 6 – After Mount Rushmore, the next big objective was to cross South Dakota.  My plan for the route included a stop in Wall, to see what all the fuss was about with the Wall Drugstore.  If you ask someone from South Dakota what there is to see in the state, Wall Drug will come up.  It made its name with scores of billboards along the roads offering free ice water to travelers on the highway.  It was successful enough that it has now become a tourist attraction of sorts.

There was no clear bicycle route to get from Rapid City to Wall.  South Dakota’s country roads are mostly unpaved, and the route to Wall required either riding on dirt or riding along busy highways with speed limits of up to 80 mph.


The first 40 miles was aided by a tailwind and a good paved road paralleling I-90. At about mile 50, my route (which had been mapped using RidewithGPS) took me onto a dirt road, which ended at a gate with No Trespassing signs mounted on it.  If you look at a detailed map, the road behind the No Trespassing signs appears to exist, but I couldn’t chance it, and turned around to get onto the only other route available to me, which was I-90.


I tried getting off at the next exit for Wasta, which turned out to also have only dirt roads (and no businesses or services).  I could ride dirt roads, but I was concerned that they could deteriorate or turn into no road at all (like the last one), so it was back to the interstate shoulder for me.  I was beginning to see why Wall Drug succeeded in offering free ice water—there are still few services along this route.  I didn’t know if riding a bicycle on the interstate was allowed here, but I figured that I’d have a reasonable case to make that the state of South Dakota offered me no other option.

About 10 miles from Wall, my rear tire went flat again.  But now I was on the shoulder of an interstate highway with no place to pull over.  The road was pretty flat and the wind was at my back, so I could ride on the flat with modest effort.  If I rode on the flat I risked damage to my tire and the wheel rim.  I’d had it with this bike’s tires constantly going flat on me, so I decided that I would ride my Bianchi road bike on the next day’s ride and on to Minneapolis, where I could get new tires and check the wheel rim.  (We’ve been carrying the extra bike on the RV for this kind of problem).  So I slowly rode into Wall on the flat.

Later, Stephanie and I walked into Wall to see what the big deal is with Wall Drug.  I guess if you like to shop in truck stops, you’d like Wall Drug. I’m glad the weather would be good for a bike ride out of town the next day.


Miles: 76.8
Avg. speed: 11.6 mph
Ascending feet: 2,831
Peak elevation: 4,326 ft.
Ending Elevation: 2,816 ft.
Net elevation gain: -1,508 ft.


Adventure Ride Day 25–Wall, SD to Pierre, SD

June 7 – On today’s ride, I was buffeted by high crosswinds from the south as I headed east across the grasslands.  There was one twenty-mile section where I headed north and was able to maintain speeds over 30 mph on the flats.  I was on my Bianchi road bike, which turned out to be perfect for these conditions.  A long 119 mile ride.  I was glad we had a night in a hotel ahead of us, where I could have a long shower and big breakfast.  I got in early enough that we could go to the Cattleman’s restaurant for a steak dinner.  It was nice to be in the city.

South Dakota grassland at Plum Creek
The Plum Creek Waterhole story
The first view of Pierre
The South Dakota capitol building in Pierre
South Dakota capitol building
Ready for my Cattleman’s dinner!
Steak, yam, and Texas toast at Cattleman’s!

Miles: 118.6
Avg. speed: 14.0 mph
Ascending feet: 3,467
Peak elevation: 2,864 ft.
Ending Elevation: 1,441 ft.
Net elevation gain: -1,376 ft.


Adventure Ride Day 26–Pierre, SD to Miller, SD

June 8 – After a nice breakfast at the hotel, I got back on the Bianchi and headed through Pierre’s city bike trails.  The rest of my route across South Dakota to Minnesota was a straight shot across the state on US Highway 14.  It was a beautiful day.  A very strong tailwind helped me along across the grassland to our next stop in Miller.  Miller is a very small place, but it has a nice city park where we could hook up the RV.

Miles: 74.5
Avg. speed: 18.2 mph
Ascending feet: 970
Peak elevation: 1,898 ft.
Ending Elevation: 1,567 ft.
Net elevation gain: 131 ft.


Adventure Ride Day 27–Miller to DeSmet, SD

June 9 – Today’s ride was another wind-assisted ride along US 14.  Our campsite for the night was at the Ingalls Homestead in DeSmet.  This is the place Laura Ingalls Wilder spent “The Long Winter” in her “Little House on the Prairie” books.  There is the restored little 2-room house the Ingalls family lived in, replicas of dugout and stick-build houses, a garden, horse and wagon rides and activities for kids.  The winds were blowing across the grassland.  It was clear that this was a challenging environment for a homesteader to make a life.  The growing season is short, the soil is rocky, and precipitation is low.  It’s easy to imagine the wind howling through tough winters.

The Ingalls Homestead
Camping at the Ingalls Homestead
Little camper on the prairie
South Dakota grassland
South Dakota grassland
South Dakota grassland
A typical South Dakota salad
Nobody said the world’s largest pheasant would be a real one,

Miles: 79.0
Avg. speed: 17.5 mph
Ascending feet: 900 ft.
Peak elevation: 1,783 ft.
Ending Elevation: 1,701 ft.
Net elevation gain: 128 ft.

Adventure Ride Day 28–DeSmet, SD to Lake Benton, MN

June 10 – DeSmet was our last stop in South Dakota, and today’s ride would take us into Minnesota.  There was road closure on US 14 that directed me to a detour that added about 10 miles to the ride (and moving out of the tailwind into crosswinds).  The landscape changed rather remarkably as I crossed into Minnesota.  Lakes, woods, and gentle hills appeared.  I began to understand why Minnesota was populated easily and South Dakota was not, so that a Homestead Act was needed to populate the points west into hard-to-farm grasslands of South Dakota.

Brookings, SD courthouse
Our campsite near Lake Benton, MN at Hole in the Mountain County Park

Miles: 77.7
Avg. speed:  17.8 mph
Ascending feet: 1,400 ft.

Peak elevation: 1,964 ft.
Ending Elevation: 1,801 ft.
Net elevation gain: 94 ft.



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