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Week Four: Wyoming - South Dakota July 7 - 13

Click here to read Matt's newsletter from this week!

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I'll start at Devil's Tower National Monument, and then explore Jewell Cave outside of Custer, South Dakota. I then ride into the thick ponderosa pine of the Black Hills. Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse Monuments are next on the list. Finally, I roll into South Dakota's capital, Pierre for a much needed rest.

Matt's newsletter from this week:


Hello again from Pierre, South Dakota! As many of you know, this summer I am riding my bicycle 4,200 miles across America in honor and memory of my father. He passed away last April about 2 months before he was to set off on his own transcontinental journey. This summer I'll be completing his dream for him, on his bicycle, while raising money for a scholarship in his honor.

This week I cycled from Devil's Tower, WY to Pierre, SD. I left the shadow of Devil's Tower, visited Crazyhorse and Mt. Rushmore national monuments, rode through the imposing Badlands, fought boredom and heat in eastern South Dakota, watched some youth baseball, visited a booming metropolis of 12 people and finally made it to the capital, Pierre for my day off. Check below for photos and descriptions (and don't forget to click on the photos to see larger images)

Also, you can check out previous travelogues by visiting www.rideacross.com and clicking on the weeks in the interactive map. Thanks!

  • Miles ridden this week: 451
  • Miles ridden to date: 2,095 (almost halfway!!!)
  • Favorite Mocha Stop: Penzoil Café (Filter, oil change and mocha special - inquire inside!)
  • Temperature on Sunday: 102 degrees according to the bank sign, but 107 on the highway according to someone's cycle computer
  • Number of pickup trucks with a dog in the cab that passed me in 1 day in Wyoming: 19

  • July 8th: The Hulkster!
    Devil's Tower, WY to Newcastle, WY
    78 miles with 4200 ft of climbing

    I woke up this morning with an amazing view of Devil's Tower peaking through the rain fly of my tent. We were literally camped in the shadow of the tower, with its jagged rock edges rising up from the hill at our feet. It was one of those moments when I realized I was riding my bicycle across America. It is a pleasantly humbling feeling.

    Today was set to be a relatively easy day, so I allowed myself the luxury of sleeping in until 6:45 AM (note to self: never embark on another adventure where "sleeping in" and "6:45 AM" are in the same sentence).

    Nevertheless, I awoke to this beautiful scene and I had another benefit: I was alone. Yes, all my of cycling companions are experiencing "departure creep," where they seem to be getting up earlier and earlier and leaving as soon as daylight allows. I guess it makes sense, since we're entering the hot zone of America, but I'd rather bike in the blazing heat than lose any beauty sleep (I need all of it I can get).

    As we cycled east and began to climb out of the valley onto the high desert plains of Wyoming, I looked back to steal one last glimpse of our old friend the Tower. I call it friend because you develop a certain kinship cycling towards an object for such long periods of time. When riding in a car, you travel so fast that these geological phenomenons are things along the side of the road. But when you spend entire days by yourself with only the Tower as your point of reference, you develop a certain attachment to that "thing by the side of the road." And no, I am not seeing things or hearing voices in my head, thank you for asking.

    As we rode into Newcastle, there was an American Legion baseball game being played right next to our campsite. A bunch of us went over to watch the game, when we learned that Karlheinz (our resident German rider) had never seen a live baseball game! So we got him a hot dog, a box of popcorn and explained the finer point of our national pastime. As we were leaving, we got the winning team (The Douglas Cats) to sign a baseball for Karl to take back to Germany. I mentioned that he could tell all his friends back home it was signed by the Yankees, they'd never know the difference.

    July 9th: CrazyHorse
    Newcastle, WY to Custer, SD
    52 miles with 3,100 feet of climbing

    Happy Birthday to my sister, Sara!!! I called her last night at midnight to welcome in her 27th birthday; did I wake you up Sara? Oops, sorry about that, I really didn't mean to wake you. Tehehehehehe.

    We started the day at my favorite mocha stop of the trip: The Penzoil Café. Yes, it was a coffee shop and an oil change place all in one: stop, go, mocha. We also had a guest this morning: since it was a short day, Karlheinz, one of the early riser speed demons, stayed back to experience America with our group. I ordered our usual, twelve ounce double shot mochas, but the oil change lady decided we needed a little extra boost on our ride, so she gave us 20 ounce triple shot mochas - I was shaking all morning.

    But, with the added boost from my morning mocha, I was able to hang with Karlheinz until lunch. He did pull the entire way (I was doing my best just to stay with him) but we sped along doing 23-25 in the flats and averaged well over 20 for the morning. Karl is extremely strong (and gracious too, for pulling me all morning!), so it was fun to pedal with him for at least a while. And I convinced him to stop for the picture of our latest state crossing - South Dakota (we used the self timer with the camera balanced precariously on the overturned bicycle, check out the picture to the right and please hold your applause until the end of the email).

    After a beautiful day of riding, we pulled into Crazy Horse monument in the early afternoon. It is an oddly spectacular sight. This monument to Chief Crazy Horse rises hundreds of feet out of the Black Hills of South Dakota. It is completely privately funded and has been in the process of carving for over 50 years (and will likely take many many more), but it is enormous and will be beautiful when completed. Check out the picture to the right for the current juxtaposed with the intended sculpture.

    July 10th: No Words
    Custer, SD to Rapid City, SD
    72 miles and 4,500 feet of climbing

    Today was special. When you think about riding your bicycle across America, today is the type of day that you dream about, that you yearn for, that you put in the thousands of training miles for, that you will remember forever. Today was simply special.

    We climbed for 6 miles out of Custer and onto the Needles Highway with its sharp narrow rock formations thrusting towards the sky like, well, kind of like needles. As we rolled along the narrow two lane road, with trees overhanging on either side, we could see the rocks brewing off to the distance. Finally, we broke through the trees and onto the amazing sight of hundreds of sharp rock needles flying to the horizon. We rolled through tunnels and next to steep cliff drop off's, then descended down a twisting, winding road, which demanding extreme concentration. As we began to level off, I caught a minivan that I was chasing the entire decent and drafted on it for 5 miles, the driver was great, maintaining a consistent 33 MPH to allow me to sit in the wind tunnel behind the vehicle (yes Mom, this is totally safe).

    Now, the needles highway would have been enough to make most days, but we were barely started today. We then rolled onto Iron Mountain Road and began to climb towards Mount Rushmore. Again, we climbed through narrow twisting roads, completely shaded by the overhanging trees, again passing through narrow bridges until at mile 40, we crested a small hill and there were the four famous presidents framed perfectly by the opening of the approaching tunnel. Again we descended toward the base of Rushmore, down a steep twisting roadway, switching back through hairpin 15 MPH turns and rolling through actual corkscrews on the road, where we would cross a bridge, the turn and descend below the just passed bridge. We finally zoomed to the base of the 2 mile 10% climb to Rushmore. This climb was no joke. But it was totally worth the effort, Rushmore is overwhelmingly beautiful.

    Upon arriving at Rushmore, we each got "monumental ice cream cones" (yes, they really call them monumental) and walked around the base of the famous sculpture. I remember my father saying how excited he was to see Mt. Rushmore, so this was a somewhat bittersweet moment for me, one of many so far and many more to come. It's wonderful that I am able to do this, but sad that he wasn't able to do it too.

    July 11th: You Ain't So Bad Badlands
    Rapid City, SD to Interior, SD
    84 miles with 2,300 feet of climbing

    We rolled along the outside of the Badlands today, getting a small sense of the craziness of scenery that we would experience in full effect tomorrow.

    We stopped midday for lunch at the beautiful town of Scenic, South Dakota. Whoever named this town had a sick sense of humor. Alone in a barren wasteland, the 5 buildings and 10 million flies provided company for our lunch. There was an interesting bar in Scenic (check out the picture to the right) that was decorated with skulls and had "Indians Allowed" written on the signpost. Wow.

    We rode into Interior, South Dakota, around 1:30 PM and stopped into the A&M café for a quick rest stop. Well, our quick rest stop started with hot fudge sundaes, then moved onto pie, coffee and taco salads (great combo, huh?). Three hours later we were still enjoying the bottomless cup of coffee and the only air conditioning for hundreds of miles. It was tough to leave.

    July 12th: They're not called the GoodLands
    Interior, SD to Philip, SD
    72 Miles with 1,500 feet of climbing

    This morning was unique - we got a respite from the usual South Dakotan scenery and rode through Badlands National Park. If you've never been through the Badlands, it's an experience. As you ride along there are small mountains carved out of different color rocks, shooting up at arcane angles, with shadows and crevasses galore. The rocks are porous like sea coral due to flying sand being carried by the blustery winds. It's almost like little gnomes are going to come walking out behind every corner.

    I rode with Marc all morning. He's a retired Air Force captain who just returned from 2 years with the Peace Corps in Senegal. He has some interesting stories to say the least. We were last today and stopped for every turn off possible; it was a very nice morning.

    In the afternoon, we passed through Wall, SD: home off Wall Drug. In case you've never been through the American Midwest, there are signs for Wall Drug for hundreds of miles in every direction, announcing free ice water and coffee for 5 cents. It's funny, because Wall Drug is just a tourist knick knack shop in the middle of nowhere, but everyone goes there; the place was packed. But everyone goes there because everyone goes there, and so on and so on. Gotta love America.

    This afternoon we also stopped in Cottonwood, population 12. Julie and I stopped in the local bar for a drink, but they just lost their liquor license (the "city" took it away from them). They must have lost the council vote, 7-5.

    July 13th: Hot Gatorade Anyone?
    Philip, SD to Pierre, SD
    93 miles and 2,950 feet of climbing

    Today we experienced mythic South Dakotan cycling: hot, dry, and inhospitable. You can argue as much as you want that each place has its own sense of beauty, its own intrinsic qualities that make it special: I say come to South Dakota and spend 7 hours cycling in 100 degree headwinds with the sweat beading down your sunglasses providing the only change of scenery for 50 miles. Some of my riding companions are much more generous, saying that the wide open spaces are unique and beautiful in their own way; well, they are better people than I.

    But, we're riding across America and we must take the Needles Highway and the desolate open roads both in turn, so today we set out for what would be a long, hot and challenging day of cycling.

    To give credit where credit is due, there were some rolling fields of wheat that seemed to flow on forever. When you're traveling at 10 MPH into a headwind, you also get time to see how they change as the winds roll through the amber waves of grain (this reminds me of a song, hmmmm).

    We arrived in Pierre (pronounced like a fishing Pier, it's the capital of SD) and went to Jake's Sports Bar to watch the Tour de France. Today was the 5,000 foot climb over Alpe d' Huez where Lance gave the historic "look" a few years ago (he was climbing the mountain a few feet in front of his main competitor when he sped up briefly and looked back to see his rival grimace in pain at the upcoming assault; Lance broke away and never looked back). It was a fun night, although I don't think the local South Dakotan sports bar has ever or will ever show the Tour de France on the big screen TV again.

    * * *

    So my fourth week has come to an end; it's amazing how quickly the ride is progressing. The group of coast to coasters is coming together like a big family and we're eagerly awaiting the upcoming week. I am definitely tired, but my spirits are high and I feel very lucky to be experiencing this amazing adventure.

    As always, I have really appreciated all the support I continue to receive from everyone out there on the RideAcross Travelogue. The list continues to grow organically from people passing it along to friends, please feel free to continue to do so; it's nice to hear from voices old and new.

    I would also like to express my sincerest thanks for those that have donated in support of my ride. If you have not yet made a donation and would like to, please visit www.rideacross.com and click on donations.



    Karlheinz's first Baseball Game and Hotdog!

    Tenting on Landsdowne Street behind the Fenway

    Our fearless leader, Rich, with his Incredible Hulk gloves - Ride Single File!

    Midwest thunderstorms brewing

    Crazyhorse, not so close to being done

    Karlheinz and I entering South Dakota

    Stop, Go, Mocha

    Harpoon Brewery, Official Sponsor of RideAcross, Thanks Schwarztie!

    Falling Matt

    Rocky Mountain What?

    I am at a loss of words

    A Bird, A Plane, A Matt?

    How do I get back to the road?

    Sun Shining on the Badlands

    Booming Metropolis of Cottonwood

    Destination Wall Drug, but why?

    Amber Waves of Grain

    The Peleton Stops for H20

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    Contact Matt: matt@NOSPAMrideacross.com (remove the 'NOSPAM' before sending)