Not a chance encounter

August 16, Day 45 of TheHopeLine Tour of 2014

“Beep, beep, beep,” echoed the alarm at 4:30 a.m. through the confines of Big Agnes. It was pitch dark outside as we proceeded to pack up our belongings and head to Yankton to pick up various packages awaiting us at the post office. Why did we leave so early? Three reasons come to mind: the post office is only open until noon on Saturdays, our confidence in our bicycles is lagging, and there are no hotel rooms or camping sites available in Yankton for the entire weekend. So we started pedaling the anticipated 30 miles to Yankton at 6:10 in hopes of arriving in plenty of time.

Debbie cycling in South DakotaAs dawn began to break, we felt like we were bicycling in New England or maybe Seattle. It was foggy, cool, and damp outside with overcast skies. Of course, we have never been up this early to bicycle so everyday could have started out this way without us knowing it! The deer were out and we got a close up view of a doe and her fawn jumping across the road right in front of us. It’s a good thing that Tim and I will be reunited with our helmet cam this morning in Yankton so we can catch those awesome moments that we can’t capture when we need to stop and dig out our point-and-shoot cameras.

We were pleasantly surprised that our trip to Yankton was shorter than anticipated. I love it when that happens. Tim kept on saying, “we could have slept another hour or so.” We actually arrived BEFORE the post office opened!

As we rode through Yankton we found ourselves in the lineup of the big parade in town as part of the Riverboat Days celebration! It is a gleeful to whiz through traffic on a bicycle while cars are at a standstill. Popular Breakfast SpotThe policeman gave us a personal escort across the main drag in town to help us avoid the parade and related traffic. The post office had all of our expected bounty. After stopping for a late breakfast, we headed out of town.

The rainy forecast for the area thankfully never happened. We enjoyed a delightful ride to Vermillion, home of the University of South Dakota. This is our third town we have visited with state universities in them. Can you remember the other two? A quiz for those following our blog!

Upon arriving in town, we had a most unexpected, but timely, encounter. Tim was bicycling ahead of me and stopped at the traffic light in the center of town. As he rolled up to the crosswalk and applied his brake, a gentleman was passing directly in front of him on foot in the crosswalk. Had Tim not applied his brakes, he would have hit the man. The man was unfazed, but looked back and saw our heavily loaded bicycles. He then identified himself as the owner of a bicycle shop located just down a side street. He was not officially open for business, but offered his services to us if we needed anything. Within a few minutes, he had adjusted Tim’s rear brake to eliminate some periodic rubbing. Chance encounter? Not a chance! In fact, you might call it a “not a chance encounter.”

As soon as we checked into our hotel, we jumped into a warm shower. It is amazing how much you appreciate the little things in life when you don’t have them every day.

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Never too old to learn

August 15, Day 44 of TheHopeLine Tour of 2014

Power station Fort Randall DamAfter yesterday’s stiff wind and short day, we opted for an earlier start to the day today. We were off toward Pickstown just shortly after 7:30. By 10 am, we rolled over the Fort Randall Dam on the Missouri River and into Abby’s for breakfast, with 26 miles to our credit. Skies were overcast, yet the wind still relatively calm. We felt justified in our earlier start.

The locals and staff at the restaurant were friendly, courteous, and most interested in what we were doing. Several inquired and expressed concern about the threatening weather. And, incidentally, if you’re ever in Pickstown, make sure you eat breakfast at Abby’s. The cook did a top-notch job on the entire breakfast, particularly on the jumbo pancake.

More beauty in South DakotaOur return to the road an hour later was accompanied by more ominous clouds. Yet, we seemed to stay one step ahead of the downpour all day long. As we cycled through an Indian reservation, it began to sprinkle on us, but this served as mobile air conditioning for much of the remainder of the day. The reservation was filled with much of the same greenery and lush crops that we have seen in South Dakota.

Missouri River on Indian reservationWe cycled toward the Missouri River again and followed it for miles until we left the reservation. This portion of our travel was completely devoid of traffic, promoting a leisurely ride through beautiful countryside, while the overcast skies and light rain quelled the wind. The easier pace of travel was welcome relief after the last several wind-filled days. Once we rolled into Springfield with nearly 70 miles under our belts, we dealt with the accommodation challenges. The next city up the road had a special weekend event and vacant rooms had vanished.

Supper at Do Wa Diddy’s was served up with some sound advice as well. We were told about a “primitive” camping site down on the banks of the Missouri River. There was an outhouse and running water, so this would suffice. Elderly locals frequented the restaurant and were piling in for a Friday evening treat before their weekly dominos night out. They were most friendly, interested, and supportive. Soon, the 6’9” chief of police came by to pick up an evening snack, a large box of pizza. He was as friendly and helpful as the other patrons.

We arrived at the campsite shortly before dusk and set up the tent. The bug-infested site was otherwise well-suited to our needs. Committed to an early start for the next morning, we made fast order of setting up camp and nestled into Big Agnes at a record time and speed. We may not be young, but we’re still adaptable to learning! You’re never too old to learn.

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Suicide Sightings

In the past week, I have spoken to two teachers about suicide. One was working this summer at a campsite we stayed at in Chamberlain, South Dakota. The other was cycling with me for a stretch after we left Chamberlain. Both of them taught on Indian reservations. There are several throughout South Dakota.

When I mentioned our fundraiser for TheHopeLine and our desire to help prevent suicide in teens and young adults, they both concurred that suicide is a huge problem on the reservations. Both women indicated that the suicide rate surpasses the projected suicide numbers year after year on the reservation. This is a very disturbing trend, and who is doing anything to help?

Even though both women left their teaching jobs on the reservations, they were still reporting the sad reality of life on the reservation. It seems like there is a world of difference between life on and off the reservation. But suicide is suicide. And now, with the news of Robin Williams’ suicide, there is no escaping the topic in the news.

THL-Logo-Square-clear_bgTheHopeLine focuses its efforts on ages 13-29. When I was talking to two women we met at a local motel, one of them mentioned a 12-year-old in Iowa had hung himself at his home recently.

I know suicide is a depressing topic to talk about. No one wants to bring it up. That’s part of the problem. We are trained on TheHopeLine to address the topic head-on, and not to avoid it. Many in despair need to tell someone what they are considering before it is too late. Bringing the issue out into the open increases the odds of a successful outcome.

I keep on thinking about Robin Williams. At 63 years of age, you would think he would have better coping mechanisms than a 12-year-old has…but suicide can happen to anyone at any age. We’re all susceptible to losing hope. That is why we want to bring awareness to this grave issue, and to TheHopeLine’s efforts to curb it, in order to help prevent more suicides.

If these recent suicide sightings disturb you, won’t you consider doing something to help prevent more of them? In the year 2013 alone, TheHopeLine intervened in the lives of over 3,000 young people who were struggling with suicidal thoughts. If you’ve not already made your pledge to TheHopeLine, please do it now. Your tax-deductible contribution will make a difference in the lives of hurting teens and young adults. You can pledge your support by clicking this link. If you have already pledged support, thank you and please share this post with others who you think might share your concern.

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Fighting the wind

August 14, Day 43 of TheHopeLine Tour of 2014

Tim climbing on Route 44We tackled a huge hill leaving our rustic cabin on the Missouri River this morning. Yet, that was nothing compared to the unrelenting wind we encountered as we headed south and east from the Snake Creek Recreational Area. Give me hills over a headwind any day. I love tailwinds. They push me farther than I thought possible. However, with a headwind, even when I want to move, I can’t. Wind is a humbling foe, or friend, depending on what direction it is blowing.

Lake Francis Case Missouri RiverThere were times today when we were on FLAT terrain and I was pushing to go 6 mph. In my twenties and thirties, I could run faster than that. At times, we were riding downhill and we were only able to muster 10 mph. Normally, a downhill ride would get us up to 40 mph. Today was a struggle to say the least. It took us over five hours to bicycle 44 miles.

So, we stopped in Bonesteel, South Dakota, for a break from the wind, and to decide what our journey forward should be for the remainder of the daylight. Many of the towns we bike through on the Adventure Cycling maps are one-or-none-motel-room towns. Bonesteel happened to have a small motel run by a 90-year-old woman. Marge does not take credit or debit cards and rooms go for $30 a night.

We met a pair of sisters who were visiting their 98-year-old mother (who is a friend of the motel proprietor). I hit it off with the two sisters and they highly recommended the motel. The only problem was that Marge was out of town and wouldn’t be back until later. So, Tim and I hung out talking to the sisters and getting some insight into the town of Bonesteel. It seems that everyone is related to someone in town.

Debbie crossing MissouriThe most enjoyable part of traveling through South Dakota is the small-town, friendly communities. People look at you and greet you with a hello or a wave. They seem generally content and relaxed, enjoying life on a day-to-day basis. It is refreshing to be around a slower pace of life. Maybe it is the wind that slows them down, it sure did that to us today. They actually just accept the fact that it is always windy. Maybe I need to do the same, accept the wind, even if it is knocking me back on every turn of my pedals. Fighting the wind just isn’t working. I can’t change the direction of the wind so I might as well not fight it or complain about it.

Such is the case with life. You can wrestle with your uncontrollable circumstances, and wear yourself out with little to show for it. Or, you can accept them and make the most of the situation, or choose to work around it. It’s helpful to recognize those things that you can change and those you can’t. Accepting what you can’t change and working to change what you can will maximize your progress.

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Return to Big Sky Country

August 13, Day 42 of TheHopeLine Tour of 2014

We tore down camp in short order this morning. We’re starting to get the hang of this. I must say that last night was one of my better rests at a campsite on this trip. Yet, it still does not compare to sleeping in a motel with a comfortable mattress. A brief ride into Chamberlain and a stop at their McDonalds would provide an ideal breakfast spot and staging ground for our morning water bottle routine.

Tim crossing Missouri RiverFirst, however, we encountered the Missouri River. Several weeks earlier, in a town named Three Forks, Montana, we had cycled through the area where the Missouri begins its flow toward the Mississippi. Today, we became reacquainted with a much wider river. This river also welcomed us back to the Lewis and Clark Trail. Whether by bicycle map or road sign, the trail is a landmark for all sorts of travelers.

Windy DayAfter breakfast, we were off in earnest. Forty-four service-less miles presented a bigger challenge than expected due to a persistent wind from the southeast. We were traveling south and east, so there was no escaping the stiff breeze. Travel in South Dakota is distinctly toward one of the four primary compass points. When cycling these roads, you form squares around large tracts of land, usually filled with corn or soybeans. Triangles or arcs, along with forty-five degree angles, are allowed here only upon rare occasion; ninety-degree angles are the standard. The wind, it seemed, strengthened as the day wore on…and as we weakened. We had underestimated the task by leaving one water bottle each empty.

Despite the wind, the weather was magnificent. And so were the surroundings. It’s difficult to capture the experience in a photograph or video, especially compared to the multi-dimensional, mountain-dominated landscapes we enjoyed farther west. But the expansiveness of the views and the 360-degree bounty are an eyeful.

South Dakota's Big SkyFor other states that self-identify as “Big Sky Country,” they don’t have an exclusive on the term. You can’t get much bigger than the skies we’ve seen around here. Massive fields of corn or beans surrounded us at every turn, and along every straightaway—and there were many of those on this day. Incredibly, those fields traveled miles within our eyesight to meet the horizon, where the sky began its semi-circular ascent to enclose us in this one-of-a-kind imagery. We’ve shared a few photos. But, believe me, you have to be here in person to really digest what is happening around you. It’s delightfully peaceful, despite the wind whipping across your ears. Crops are thriving everywhere you look, yet no one is around…except someone in an infrequent vehicle, speeding by, surprising you from behind, bringing you back to reality before you begin to drift back again into the entrancing environs.

Street signOne aspect of these parts I find interesting as one who has lived his entire life in the eastern US. Check out the “street” sign. Mind you, you won’t be able to flag down a yellow cab at these intersections, as you gaze off into adjacent mega-fields separated by a dirt road, albeit with a 55 mph speed limit. Whoever the city planner is in these parts, he’s organized the road system quite well, with plenty of expandability. They may be missing a few dozen of the numbered streets and avenues, but there’s plenty of room for them within the neighboring corn fields, should the need arise.

By 4 pm, and completely without fluids, we finally reached the long-anticipated service stop. A late lunch and review of accommodation options led to a decision to camp across the street at a state-run campground. We rented a rustic cabin to upgrade our camping experience, which we anticipate will provide better rest for tomorrow’s ride.

Tomorrow's ChallengeIndeed, we are satisfied with our choice. It is a simple one, but as I write this, we are gazing at a sun setting over the Missouri River and its surrounding banks. And just like the corn fields earlier in the day, no one is around, but for my lovely wife. In the distance, on the other side of the river, the road winds up a sizeable hill. But that is tomorrow’s challenge. We’re content to simply sit here and enjoy the setting. Life is short.

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