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Week Five: South Dakota - Minnesota July 14 - 20

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

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The week I travel from Pierre, SD to Northfield, MN crossing the streams and rivers of eastern South Dakota's open prairie and entering the lake-covered woodlands of Minnesota, the "Land of 10,000 Lakes." Outside Minneapolis and St. Paul, I will enjoy riding beautiful lakeshore paths on one of America's finest bicycle trail networks. The week ends in the small Midwest town of Northfield, where locals foiled a Jesse James Gang robbery, forcing Jesse James into retirement from his life of crime.

Matt's newsletter from this week:


Hello again from Minneapolis, MN! 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 Pierre, SD to Northfield, MN. I left the overpowering heat of South Dakota's capital, rode through miles and miles of absolutely nothing, saw the world's largest pheasant, the Lutefisk capital of the world, passed the halfway point of the trip, went to my first tractor pull, and went lawn bowling with a good friend from Boston. What a week! Check below for photos and descriptions (and don't forget to click on the photos to see larger images)

For all my friends and family in Rochester (NY), I will be riding through the area on Tuesday August 5th. I will be having lunch at Perinton Park along the Erie Canal around Noon (keep in mind that timing it totally variable based on weather) and will be staying at home that night with my Mom (and yes, going out in Rochester that night - I cannot wait to have some buffalo wings from Jeremiahs and the Spring Rolls from MamaSans).

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: 477
  • Miles ridden to date: 2,572
  • Number of dead squished frogs seen in the road on one rainy morning in MN: 26
  • Number of times I've mentioned "headwinds" in the first 4 emails: 15 (Thanks to Eric Laughlin for complaining that I complain too much)
  • New Beers Tried in Minnie: Summit Ale, Micheloeb Golden Light Draft, Rogue Ale

  • July 15th: Nothing Happened Today!!!!
    Pierre, SD to Miller, SD
    88 miles

    Ladies and Gentleman, boys and girls, welcome one and all to the most boring day of the trip. Really, I want to write something spectacular about this day, but I just cannot force myself to lie to everyone out there in RideAcross Land.

    Well, I guess it wasn't all boring, we had our first mountain pass of the Midwest. As we climbed out of the Missouri river valley, we approached the daunting Missouri River Pass. This intimidating challenge presented 300 feet of vertical climbing that stretched a little under 1 mile. Now one might say that this was easy compared to the 5,000 feet and 32 miles of vertical ascent over the Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming, but I say everything is relative. For the Midwest, this is a challenging hill.

    Well, we conquered the pass in style and continued riding through cornfields and soy fields. We then rode through some more cornfields, followed immediately by some soy fields. Every once in a while, we were treated to a water tower and maybe a tree or two, then retuned again to our good old friends, corn and soy.

    We did stop in the cute little town of Highmore where we met most of the 300 people that live there. They were very proud of their friend Tom, you know Tom from Aberdeen that drives around in the beat up green Plymouth - yeah, Tom Daschle, Senator from South Dakota and one of the most politically powerful individuals in the country. Well, he passes through here 5-10 times a year and always stops to chat with everyone in the town. I've never chatted with Senators Kerry or Kennedy, maybe I should move to South Dakota.

    July 16th: World's Largest Pheasant
    Miller, SD to DeSmet, SD
    78 miles with 1360 feet of climbing

    We had a great mocha stop this morning at ABCrafts'n'things in Wessington, SD. Jane and Sharon have a great little shop and make a mean mocha. Although their single shot espresso maker was a little overwhelmed when 25 cyclists pouring in at the same time. Actually it was just Jane at first, she had to call in Sharon as reinforcements.

    As we approached lunch, we came upon one of the 7 wonders of the world. Yes my friends, I have now seen the World's Largest Pheasant (I wish I could have music playing when you read that line, you know, something majestic, royal even. Choose something and hum along as you read the line again. Done? Okay, you may now continue) So, Huron, SD, is home to the world's largest pheasant, check it out to the right. As my sister said on the phone that night, I am now a better person than I was the day before. Thanks for the perspective Sara.

    About three quarters into the day, we passed Manchester, SD, where a tornado blew through 3 weeks before our visit. The 24 residents were unharmed, but the 10 buildings were completely destroyed. There was nothing left of the town but rubble and a few trees stripped of their leaves and branches. It was somewhat eerie to see the power of these twisters, check out the photo to the right.

    We ended the day in De Smet, SD, home of Laura Ingalls Wilder. As many of you know (me not being one of them), she wrote the Little House on the Prarie books and launched Michael Landon's acting career. I have never forgiver her for that.

    July 17th: Parkview Assisted Living Day
    De Smet, SD to Watertown, SD
    59 Miles

    We had a special treat today: the people at the Parkview assisted living center in Bryant SD welcomed us into their home for tea, coffee and fresh baked snacks. Parkview is home to about 30 elderly folks from around South Dakota, who live in their own apartments and have some help from nurses and the like. It was a great morning, I stayed for about an hour or so, chatting it up with different people, hearing their stories and telling mine. On the right, you can see Esther and Viola, my best buddies of the morning. A huge thanks goes out to the folks at Parkview for being such great hosts!

    I left Parkview by myself to have some time alone to think about life and stuff. I still haven't decided what I am going to be doing after the trip and the realization that my journey is halfway over has started to force the issue a little higher on my mind. I'm not very worried about it yet, and I don't really expect to be too worried about it ever, but it still helps to think about plans from time to time.

    So it was a welcomed break from group riding, but I began to regret the decision when the winds picked up and I was pushing my butt off to go 8 MPH. I knew my group was coming behind me and that they should catch me soon enough (groups always go faster in headwinds, more people top share the load of breaking wind). About 3 miles before lunch we came to a left turn that changed our angle so we had cross instead of headwinds. As I was looking back to signal my turn, sure enough there was the group, perfect timing guys, thanks for the help.

    The rest of the day flew by; we were chasing a Midwest thunderstorm all afternoon, but thankfully never caught up. The last 20 miles though we had a really ferocious wind that went from cross to head and pushed at pretty consistent 30 plus MPH. It was actually funny how hard it was blowing, pushing our little bikes around like they were play toys. We would shift 3 to 4 feet left or right when hit with a strong enough cross gust, thankfully there was no traffic. When we finally arrived at Watertown, I was pooped and went to bed early. Today was our last full day in South Dakota, although I have enjoyed parts, I am happy to be leaving this state.

    July 18tth: HALFWAY!!!!!
    Watertown, SD to Montevideo, MN
    84 miles

    As of today I have ridden my bicycle halfway across America. Okay, let me say that again, as of today, I have ridden my bicycle halfway across America. It doesn't seem real, it seems as though I'm just getting up everyday and riding with some new friends, and seeing new sights. It's days like today when the enormity of my journey seeps through and smacks me in the face.

    About 40 miles into the day's ride we passed into Minnesota and crossed the official halfway point of the ride. (Note to investigative readers - you will notice we have already passed the halfway point in terms of miles and riding days, but CycleAmerica has chosen today as the Official Halfway Point, so we all play along. I think someone messed up 10 years ago and painted the huge halfway drawing where it stands today and the staff just paints over it every year, why repeat all that hard work). We don't really care though, it was great to approach the crossing, and pass it with all your friends alongside. We chalked our names in the street and took tons of pictures. There were streamers and smiles for decorations with a healthy dose of laughter to complete the moment. We are halfway across America, halfway through our journey, halfway home.

    This afternoon I also had the opportunity to visit Madison, MN, the Lutefisk Capital of the world. For all you non Scandinavian readers, Lutefisk is cod soaking in lye for preservation. It has not been eaten since the invention of refrigerated storage, but is still celebrated in Madison, MN. When we stopped at the local café for drinks, no one in the restaurant had ever eaten the stuff and everyone was pretty sure it tasted awful, but they were still proud to have it represent their town. Makes perfect sense to me.

    July 19: Sunday, Sunday, Sunday: Tractor Pull Time
    77 Miles with 10 feet of net elevation change!!

    I felt pretty awful this morning when I started the ride, kinda like lance looked at the end of the time trial the other day. I had a huge plate of nachos last night with some really spicy salsa - note to self: don't ever do that again. But, our group is great, as I was slowly falling back off the pack (which was only cycling at 15 MPH), and as I started to turn whiter and whiter, then greener and greener, Steve from San Diego fell back to ride with me. He took one look and told me to get on his rear wheel and just focus on staying upright until the next town. We pulled into Clara City where I ordered some dry wheat toast and some Maalox at the local café, drank tons of water and started to feel better. This really is a group effort, thanks Steve.

    We also had a new member of the Mocha Crew today. Rick from Belgium usually wakes up very early, puts his head down and motors to the next camp. However, he decided he wanted to try our style for a day. So he came along and was extremely surprised with what he found. It's funny, but most cyclists assume that we ride very slowly because we stop a lot. But we actually push at a pretty decent pace when we ride, averaging 17-19 in the flats with no wind, but stop to experience everything we can find. So, Rick was expecting a rest day, but was pushing pretty hard all day to keep with us - it's always fun to challenge stereotypes (and yes, we pushed a little harder because he joined us, but don't tell him that).

    There is really no place to stop for lunch today, it's just corn and soy as far as the eye can see. So about 5 years ago, Cycle America approached the Nere family, which owns a farm around the halfway point, and asked if we could set up our picnic lunch in their front yard. They graciously agreed and have been enjoying the company of our 70 odd cyclists once a year since. We stayed for over an hour and chatted with the whole family. It was great to chat about farming and to learn about what it's like to live in rural western Minnesota. We had a great time, thanks to the Nere family!

    Finally, when we pulled into Hutchinson, the National Tractor Puller's Association Finals were being held at the local pullgrounds (is that the right word?). I had never been to a tractor pull, so a bunch of us decided to go together and experience this American tradition. Sure enough, 5 minutes after we walk in, the sky opens and rain starts pouring down. The whole crowd runs under the metal grandstands to drink Bud and seek shelter from the rain, thunder and lightning (yes, I said metal grandstands). About an hour later, the sky broke, the track was cleared and the pulling began. It was surprisingly fun to watch these huge machines pull the weights down the track. Mud flying from the wheels, smoke erupting from the pipes, the crowd cheering their favorites, I really got into it. And was it loud, I mean really loud. We enjoyed a few Bud's (you have to drink Bud at tractor pulls) and watched some great pulls - what a night.

    July 20th: Lawn Bowling with Budd
    Hutchinson, MN to Northfield, MN
    91 miles with 2000 feet of climbing

    We knew today would come eventually. I awoke this morning to the incessant pitter patter of rain careening into the rainfly of my tent. We have been very lucky in terms of weather this summer. Yes, we've had heat and wind, and bouts of rain and hail, but we have yet to wake in the morning with the dull roar of a consistent storm. Until today. But we're riding across America and we knew this would happen eventually.

    So we put on our smiling faces, our wet weather gear, waited for the lightning to stop and set off into the downpour. It actually wasn't that bad at all. Within 15 minutes you're about as wet as you can get and as long as you keep going you stay warm. Plus it was kinda fun (in a "I'm trying to justify why the heck I'm riding in this downpour" kind of way) because we would never ride in this at home, but we're touring, so off we go.

    The rain stopped after a few hours, the sun began to shine and we enjoyed a beautiful day of riding through the farmlands of southern Minnesota. When we pulled into Northfield, Eric Budd Laughlin, a good friend of mine from Boston who is working in Minneapolis for the summer, was there to greet me. After introducing him to the group, we headed north (in his car) to Minneapolis for a great night out on the town.

    I had never lawn bowled before, but there is a bar named Britt's that has a grass lawn bowling court on its roof deck. We grabbed a few beers and played the lawn bowling game to end all lawn bowling games. Actually, we were pretty pathetic (as Laura, the official Lawn Bowling guru can attest), but it went down to the wire and I finally pulled it out 10-9 with a curving bowl that crept inside his ball. After Laura measured (yes, she actually carried a tape measure), I was declared victor and the crowds rejoiced. We'll chalk it up to beginner's luck; Eric is definitely a far superior lawn bowler than I.

    * * *

    So I'm sitting in a coffee shop in Minneapolis, about to head back down to rejoin the group in Northfield for the start of the sixth week. Next week we'll be heading through eastern Minnesota and into Wisconsin, where I'm looking forward to eating cheese curds (my friend Anna introduced me to Cheese curds a few years ago in Madison WI, they are great). I'm still feeling really well and having an amazing adventure.

    We also had to say goodbye to a rider and honorary member of the mocha crew today: Julie had to go back to work teaching English to high schoolers in NC. We're all going to miss her tons, it's been great riding with you over the past month plus. Hopefully you're enjoying your new house and your Mom's collard greens.

    As always, I have really appreciated all the support I continue to receive from everyone out there on the RideAcross Travelogue. Please feel free to send this along to your friends, I always like 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.



    Day 1: As I walk in fields of gold

    Day 2: Stop, Group Mocha Time

    Day 2: The World's Largest What?

    Day 2: What the heck is that?

    Day 2: JRA - Staff member Tony demonstrating the CycleAmerica approved riding location

    Day 2: Tornados do not mess around

    Day 3: Esther and Viola at Parkview

    Day 4: HALFWAY!!!

    Day 4: Horses on springs, $30, some extra energy at lunchtime, free, a digital camera when they're not looking, priceless

    Day 4: We're the Lutefisk capital of the world, we've got that going for us, which is nice (Congdon, that's for you)

    Day 4: Theresa, Paul and Matt - Minnie Bound (and look at the bullet holes in the sign too)

    Day 4: The group makes it halfway

    Day 5: Lunch at the Nere Farm

    Day 5: Pulling Nationals

    Day 5: Check out that smoke!

    Day 5: Chillin by the tractor

    Day 6: It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood

    Day 6: Lawn Bowling Championships

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