Day 15
June 18th, 2003
Sturgis, South Dakota

I slept late today.  My eyes flashed open early, but warm in the knowledge today is a short ride, I went back to sleep.  I crawled out of my tent at 8am, only because it was getting stuffy inside with the rain flap on.

I took my time striking camp.  I had to finalize the last couple of days.  I sat at my camp table under a bright sun and pondered how to play out these last few days.  I can feel the trip peaking, after which its just a matter of getting home.  I had the tour pretty well planned out to today, but after which I could not make up my mind on what to do.

I planned a long time ago to spend the night in a motel in Pierre, then turn south for home the next day, riding through Nebraska, and Kansas.  The center of the lower 48 is in Lebanon, Kansas, and I wanted to check it out.  But things got fuzzy after that.  I thought about riding back roads south into Oklahoma, and coming home through Arkansas, but that would mean at least a day on I-40 ugh.  The other scenario would turn take me east out of Kansas on I-70, just as bad.  The latter would shave at least 1 day off the trip,  maybe even 2.  If I was already retired, I wouldn't worry about it, I'd just take the long way home, but the extra day at home before going back to work would be nice.

I'll see how today goes.  I'm flexible, and I hate feeling rushed when on vacation, goes against my nature.
I finally got my lazy butt going around 9am.  I rode into Sturgis and took a few pics, but none are worth anyone spending time downloading.  Sounded like a good idea at the time.

I have one objective for today, in fact it was one of the main ones of the trip. The kind of goal if not met, could cast a shadow on the entire tour.

I admit to being quirky.  It's why I ride alone.  I have no idea why I have the thoughts I do, I have no idea why some strange out of the way place can occupy my mind space, and I have no idea why I am compelled to ask questions of total strangers.  I like answers, I like knowing, I like putting things to rest once and for all.  If I'm curious about something, I'm going to find out.  If I have to ride to South Dakota to put my mind at ease, so what.  I can ride 3 states over, like most guys would going for a loaf of bread.

Now I was in Sturgis, poised to find out something that I've been curious about for 2 years.  In 2001 I was riding south on US 85, when I saw something about 25 miles north of Belle Fourche.  I was looking for the geo marker for the center of the United States- Alaska and Hawaii included.  I came across a old tourist trap of some kind a few miles south of SR 168.  It was fenced in and impassable.  I wondered what was behind the fence.  High above stood another fenced area, what was behind it?  From the highway to the top looked to be 1 mile.  An old shed stood on the grounds.  I wanted to see what it looked like from up there, but didn't have time to walk 2 miles on that day.  But, today I do.

I did ride into Belle Fourche that day and discovered the area use to house the geo marker.  It was a rest area, but the state closed it down long ago, and moved the marker into Belle Fourche.

I'm going back today to see what's behind the fence on the hill.

I can remember riding the back roads in Alabama the last 2 years thinking what could be behind that fence.
After taking some useless pics in Sturgis, I jumped on I-90 and went to Spearfish and went to the Belle Fourche exit.  I went through town, picking up US 85 north.  I was riding north, confident I could find the gate from 2 years ago.  I remembered it was on the northbound side, and a few miles south of 168.

Not a cloud was in the sky, another good day to be on a mission.  After riding north about 15 miles I really started looking hard.  The prairie is void of trees and other landscape obstacles, allowing me a full visual of things.  The only problem with such starkness there are no landmarks to help guide a Long Rider.  I was looking for a cattle gate in the fence, with steep hills in the distance.  Sure enough, I found it.  Just like I remembered it.

I pulled the ST to the fence and dismounted.  I looked over the scene and saw a paved road with grass in the cracks, it went up the hill for perhaps a half mile and looped around.  No vehicles had been beyond this point for a very long time.  Natural rock formations sprinkled the area.  The old white shed was still there, and when I looked up I saw the fenced area from 2 years ago.  I stared at the area in question and could gather something indeed was behind the fence on the rocks.  What was it?  What makes it so important they have it secured?

Only 1 way to find out.  I'll have to walk the mile up there and see.  I took off the Roadcrafter and hid it behind a rock.  I wasn't worried about anyone toying with the ST while I was gone.  This is South Dakota, not some big city on the coast.  Farming was the main occupation.  You are going to have a hard time convincing me a hard working farmer is going to steal from somebody.  These are honest people, I'm sure folks in NYC make fun of them for being out of touch, but which can go to sleep at night with the door unlocked?  

I started my walk up the driveway, and made it to the looped part of the road.  I looked around and saw evidence of the old rest area.  The shed was a rest room in the old days.  I saw a grown over stair path to the top of the hill.  I followed it toward my final goal.  The closer I got the more confused I became.  I made it to the top and turned around, and I was treated to a great view of the surrounding area.  I was up high and I could look over the limitless farmlands of South Dakota.  I could see cows in the fields below, many were walking to a small pond down below me. 
​"What was it?  What makes it so important they have it secured?"
I went a few more feet to the foot of the fence, and found what it circled.  Inside you will find rock formations, they were stacked like pyramids by sheepherders over 100 years ago.  They used them to mark areas or as guides, or maybe they just grew bored of watching sheep, and turned to  stacking rocks.  Whatever, their handy work survived the time, and could still be seen.  

I sat on a rock and looked out at the world below me.  Not one person knew where I was.  I was my own man.  The only sounds I could hear were chirping birds.  I saw them flying low from roost to roost.  The tiny dots on US 85 were cars.  No sound came from them as they moved along the highway far below.  The sky looked so big, I thought it might swallow me up.  A soft wind soothed my ears, and I could change the tone by moving my head from side to side.  "What a special place this is God, thanks for bringing me here." I cannot help but believe the inner voice inside me to come here was Him.

If I had the money I would buy this parcel of land from whoever owns it, and build a nice home with lots of windows so I can spend hours gazing at the country side.  I stayed as long I could, but it was time to get back on the road.  The walk back down went too quickly.  I was sad to be leaving my discovery.
​Quiet Beauty
The horizon above was probably 60 miles away, and went all the way till it met the sky.

The ST came into view and I suited back up.  I rode a few miles north and took the 168 cut off over to SR 79.  I took a few pictures of Castle Rock when I came by.  A very appropriate name.

I passed 2 tractor mowers cutting the shoulder, and the smell of fresh cut grass hit me.  It is pretty and green here this year, and the grass had a sweet scent to it.  I blew clippings from the road when I shot by at 80mph.  
Bear Butte stood out as I came by.  A smaller version of Devil's Tower.

From SR 79 I went to SR 34, it would take me all the way to Pierre.  SR 34 is a nice quiet road.  I waved at the few cars I saw, and occupied myself with the meaningless mind games that always come over me when riding such a road.

I sang "Different Drum", by Linda Ronstandt.  They use to play it all the time at the skating rink I went to when I was 13. "I'm not ready for any person, place or thing, to try to pull the reigns in on me!!", was a line from that song.  Fitting.

Pushing east past the rolling pastures I went, thinking what a relaxing, have to be no place, day this is.  A good feeling.  The highway was bordered by some kind of purple wildflowers. 

Union Center looked like a good place for a butt break so I pulled off the highway.  I went in the auto repair/shop/ store.  No one heard me come in so I waited patiently for someone to come around.  The cash register was right there in the open, I could have robbed the place blind and walked right out.  Finally a clerk came out of the back and said-

"sorry I didn't know you were out here"

"that's ok, its not like I was going to spend 2,000 bucks"

Only in the farmland of South Dakota would you leave a store unattended.  They didn't worry about shoplifters, or armed robbers in Union Center, yet so many people call these folks "hicks".  Go figure.  I was beginning to have a special admiration for the folks that call this land home.

A few miles east of Union Center, I saw a farm house.  Nothing special about it, you can find 100 like it anywhere you wanted in this land.  I slowed down as I came by, then stopped.  
A tribute to a South Dakota family and farm.
Just a house to the folks who pass it on SR 34.  It is only when you take the time to think do things come to life.  Simple folks live in this house, a good chance they have never been more then a few hundred miles from this spot.  They spend their days feeding cows, and mending fences.  Only in their wildest thoughts have their kids spent a week in Disney World.  New York City is another country.  They have never seen the ocean or a beach.  A Key West sunset is something unheard off, and the painted skies of the Southwest is the stuff in magazines.  They pay their bills and their taxes and help their neighbor.  When one of them passes away they take him down the road and lay him to rest in the same church he was baptized and married in years ago.  

I could see all that from the saddle of the ST as I sat idling on SR 34.  The people who call this house a home do not think of themselves as special.  But I do, and celebrate your lives in this simple way, and leave you this tribute on my web page in honor of the few moments I stopped to think about what it is that makes this home unique, if only to people that live there.  Perhaps none of the above is true, but it doesn't matter, I'm sure there is a home out here somewhere on the prairie that will fit the description.  I hope someone notices me from the window, so when the snow piles high here on a overcast January afternoon, and the cold wind blows bitterly out of Canada, you will think back to this warm summer afternoon, and think about the solitary Long Rider from a far away warm place, that stopped to pay homage to your existence.

Through the towns of White Owl, Plainview, and Bridger I kept riding east.  I saw a old man with a cane on his way to his mailbox.  I waved at him and he waved back.  Friendly enough, so I turned around and came back to him.  I pulled in his driveway and he smiled at me.  I said-

"how ya doin?"

"good, how bout you?"

"pretty good, just thought I'd ask ya how long ya lived in that house"

"that's easy, over 60 years"

"then I was right"

A lot of nice people in South Dakota.  I did remember his name.  It was stenciled on the silver mailbox in white letters, "CLARKSTON."
​Mr. Clarkston bringing in his mail.
I followed SR 34 all the way to Pierre.  The smallest state capital in the country.  A city of about 15,000.
I was almost out of gas and found a Texaco Mart and pumped over 7 gallons.  A little too close.

The Super 8 was advertising a special rate so went in to check it out, and found myself checking into a 29.95 room.  It was clean and neat, a great deal.

I covered 287 miles today and got off the road early.  It was fun.  

After a shower I strolled down the street and had a ok Chinese buffet.

I was glad to be back on Alabama time.  For some reason I struggled the entire trip with the time zones, especially in California.

It was still early and I knew the DVD "Tears of the Sun" had just been released, so I quizzed the motel clerk for Wal Mart directions and headed that way.  I found my DVD, but I also picked up a box of Dots.  I have to quit eating so much candy.  

I read USA today, then made a few phone calls and checked messages.  I studied my atlas and made the decision to return home via I-70.  Probably not the best decision but there it was.  I had a feeling my son was going to land the Wells Fargo job and I wanted to be there to help celebrate.
I will have 1 more day of back road riding, aiming to end tomorrow somewhere near Topeka. 

My portable DVD player was a great compliment on this ride, it was fun to have around.  Tears of the Sun was a good movie, and when the movie was over I was off to sleep.  Need a early start in the morning.