Buffalo make an appearance before riders leave state park

  • Kelsey Cougan<br>For the Enterprise
  • Friday, February 29, 2008 11:32am

Safety lectures for cyclists cover more than proper hydration in the heat and dealing with motor homes in state parks or a lack of shoulder space on the highway.

For instance, the most recent topic of grave concern on the Big Ride Across America was what to do when confronted with wild buffalo in national parks.

It seems Custer State Park in Custer, S.D., is home to buffalo, among other wild animals. When confronted with buffalo, we were told it is best to stop and slowly retreat. Buffalo are enormous animals, roughly the size of a small elephant. They can weigh 1,000 pounds.

While I did not want to be surprised by a buffalo, after three safety lectures, I certainly wanted to see one. So I was very disappointed as I began to leave the park without a peek. While the scenery had been amazing — lush, green hills full of large, green trees and hidden lakes — we had yet to see a buffalo.

Finally, as we rounded the last corner there were at least 50 buffalo sunning themselves in a swamp. The buffalo roamed around, stopping traffic by their sheer number and by simply hanging out in the middle of the road licking their faces. As I rode the last mile out of the park, I was stopped a number of times by buffalo crossing the road. It was an amazing, but very scary sight.

After the breathtaking scenery of Custer State Park and the excitement over the buffalo, we continued east into the Badlands. Each night we have a team meeting about the next day’s course. The Badlands were described as a top-10 ride with “amazing scenery, like riding on the moon.” Never having been on the moon myself, this description made me wonder.

It turns out the description is on the money. The Badlands scenic state park has the most unusual and awesome rock structures I have ever seen. The rocks appear to jut up from the ground in the most amazing pink, beige and brown colors, each rock with amazing stripes. The park is 10 miles of rolling hills and turns, each with a new set of rocky hills, some rounded like mushrooms, others spiked high up into the sky. The air seemed to stop and while there were cars passing, there seemed to be no sound. It was like being on the set of the Twilight Zone.

The next few days were the most difficult of our trip. There are four dreaded h’s in cycling: heat, humidity, hills and (the worst) headwind. The past few days have brought all four.

The worst stretch came during a grueling ride from Kadoka, S.D., to Pierre. Described as 95 remote miles of rolling hills, we were told everyone should be in camp by 5 p.m. Generally, I come in about an hour ahead of the last riders, so I set off for the day expecting to be in camp by 4 p.m.

Unfortunately, the day was 109 degrees with easterly winds at 15 to 20 mph. With a head wind that strong you have to constantly work to gain distance, be it flat, up hill, or even down hill. Therefore, with no rest, 95 miles of rolling hills begins to feel like 1,000 miles up hill.

Thankfully, a low-pressure system is moving in, bringing both cooler temperatures and westerly winds. Never a weather watcher before I left for the trip, needless to say I am watching the winds now.

We reached the halfway point of the ride in Minnesota, by far the friendliest state we’ve encountered. Minnesota, “the land of 10,000 lakes,” is absolutely beautiful. Each day finds us biking through small lake towns with beautiful green grass and cornfields as far as the eye can see.

Our route through Minnesota is far more populated than Montana, South Dakota and Wyoming. While in those states we often biked for 100 miles without seeing a town or person outside of the group, in Minnesota we see a town at least every 10 miles. The temperature has finally cooled down to a comfortable 70-80 range and the wind is cooperating.

The citizens of Minnesota have also been of enormous help. We have had an outpouring of support by complete strangers. At an Essing, Minn., Dairy Queen the owner donated $100 to a rider. Two wonderfully friendly men in Tyler, Minn., befriended two riders and created our first — and probably only — brownie stop of the ride. The men baked delicious brownies, individually packaged them and waited in the wee morning hours to pass them out as we left town.

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