This is Part 2 of 4 of the video series documenting our 101 day trip cycling across the the U.S. in the summer of 2014. If you missed Part 1, click here to check it out. This section covers from Spearfish, South Dakota all the way to the Indiana border. Straight through the heart of the Midwest in summer like true masochists.
We didn’t plan to bike through the Midwest in August. It just worked out that way. Our timing, framed around hitting New England during peak fall colors, meant we had to spend some time in the sweltering summer. To echo Vonnegut, so it goes… Trade-offs are part of living.
After clearing Montana, we headed south through the Black Hills of South Dakota. Instead of highways, we spent a few days on the Mickelson Trail, which is a 110-mile gravel trail that cuts right through the heart of the area near Mt. Rushmore. Timing it perfectly (not), we managed to hit the area just as 500,000 motorcycles descended like loud, buzzing bees for the Sturgis Rally. I think I heard, “Put an engine on that thing!” almost as much as “I could never do what you’re doing.”
The Midwest gets a bad rap sometimes, and part of it is a bit undeserved. Take Nebraska, for instance. I think most people picture horribly flat, ugly terrain stretching for miles. Flat? On the highways, yes. Country roads were rolling and nice. Ugly? Not in the NW part of the state in the pretty, rolling Sand Hills region. We lucked out and fog was more prevalent than crushing sun for the first half of Nebraska. Clear, hot skies came as we neared Omaha, as did gnarly traffic. My advice is to avoid big cities whenever possible if you go touring because navigating them on bicycle is often difficult or just plain nerve-wracking.
Iowa’s surprise was constant rolling steep hills, not flat corn country. We toiled up them through temperatures soaring into the high 90’s in humidity so thick we could have backstroked in it. Locals were kind, generous and excited to talk to us. A new idea (to us) was Casey’s, a gas station chain also featuring pizza ovens. We ate no-cheese, veggie pizza ($12.74 with tax) and scored ice cubes for our water bottles frequently to survive. That convenience was unfortunately offset by the stink of factory farms and the doomed animals inside them that permeated the air in many stretches of the state. An up-close, visceral look at the underbelly of our food system.
In eastern Iowa, road shoulders were 10 feet wide to accommodate the large Amish population and their buggies, which whisk along behind quickly trotting horses. We stopped at Stringtown Grocery, an Amish establishment featuring re-bagged bulk goods branded under the store’s name. And then we hit a big milestone – The Mississippi River! I stared at the flat brown flowing waters and thought of the Louisiana Purchase. To think that a huge chunk of land west of this grand body of water at one point wasn’t even part of the United States before France sold it to us. 2,300 miles on our bikes to get here and we were barely half way to Maine.
Scenery past the Mississippi was the cliche Midwest fare. Rather non-descript days pedaling through the corn and soy fields of Illinois blend together into podcasts and audiobooks that curbed the monotony a bit. Long days in the sun melded into one big mass of states starting with I as we left Iowa for Illinois and Indiana.
Our ability to forget difficult trials is powerful. This portion of our tour is scarcely three months ago and yet feels so long ago. The events of August in the Midwest are already softer in my mind. Memories of days where we had to linger in a gas station to let our internal temperatures cool down are slipping away. The sun’s fangs are blunted and the sauna of the humidity diminishes. Even the sameness of the landscape – corn, soy, repeat – looks better in the pictures.
What remains etched in stone is a mental confidence that we persevered as a team, pushing through conditions we normally would choose to avoid at all costs. The crucible of the Midwest forged our relationship into a stronger bond. For that reason alone, this tough section of the tour was worth it.
Enough chit chat. How about that video?! Email subscribers: click here for Part 2 of 4. Visitors to the website, just click play below in the embedded video. Enjoy…and see you shortly in Part 3!