Don's Bike Across America
Astoria, Oregon to Portsmouth, New Hampshire
June 19 to August 7, 2006

Don’s Blog: July 11: Tar Wheels

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When most in the group saw the distance for today’s ride, 58 miles, they filed it away as an easy recovery day, especially coming off of three strenuous days on the bike, and the day before a 116-miler. As is often the case however, what looks good on paper does not always turn out to be the case, and that was certainly true of this day’s ride.

We began in Rapid City, and has been the pattern lately, Ted, Steven, and I got off to anything but a rapid start. We were the last to leave breakfast at the local restaurant, and even before we had even gotten up to speed Ted had a flat tire. A half-hour later we were on our way, but the day had already begun to heat up in earnest.

Traveling a service road next to the highway, we found it tough going, as the rolling hills and rough road surface kept the speed slow, even though we seemed to be putting out a serious effort. I was wishing we could get to the portion of the ride that would take place on Interstate I-90, about 19 miles worth of riding. I have found that the miles on the interstate, although somewhat scary at times, move much faster. The hills are more gradual and the wind vacuum of the passing traffic helps pull you along.

Such was the case for the half of the interstate riding today, but with less than 10 miles remaining, I came upon a traffic worker holding up a stop sign. This woman said something in a soft voice that I could not hear. It was too late by the time I realized what she was saying was not to ride on the hot tar surface that had just been laid down that day. After a few pedal strokes my tires were coated with hot tar. Ugh.

In addition, all but one lane was closed off up ahead. The traffic worker directed me to the left hand shoulder of the road, a dangerous place to be on a highway, but there was nowhere else to go. A few hundred yards later I saw the tour group sag van parked in the grass on the median. Several riders had stopped and were being transported to the finish. I decided right away that this was not an option I wanted to take. I would continue on the shoulder and move off to the grass median when the traffic came by. It might take me a long time, but I would cover the distance on my bike, and not in a van. I would even walk my bike the reaming miles if necessary.

It was slow going and not a lot of fun, but I slogged out those final miles and made it to the motel under my own power. About half the group did what I did, while the other half took the van in to the motel, bikes in tow.

There is saying I have come to learn on the trip, with the initials “EFI.” It stand for Every (expletive deleted) Inch, meaning that when you say you cycled across the country, you mean you cycled across the entire country─every inch of it─and not just “most of it.” I suppose it depends upon your philosophy and point of view, whether you need to cover every inch on the bike, or just most of it. I know I fall firmly into the EFI category.

In any event, there was a considerable amount of anger among the group at the finish, for having not been warned by the staff about the paving project and the ensuing problems it would present. Most everyone’s tires were caked with tar and the grit, pebbles, and grass that subsequently stuck to the tires. Some were ruined. Chains and gearing were also affected by the tar. We all spent quite a long time cleaning our tires and bikes during the afternoon. At the daily meeting, the staff was grilled by several of the riders (including this one) as to why we were not warned about the paving. There was not a real good answer given, but they promised to do better in the future. In a trip lasting more than seven weeks, it is inevitable that something like this will crop up. I am amazed it has not happened before today. Meanwhile, I have still covered every (expletive deleted ) inch from Astoria, and hope to continue to do so.

Wall Drug

The finish of the ride today was in town of Wall, home to the famous Wall Drug. (Although I had not known about it before this trip.) Throughout South Dakota we had seen roadside signs advertising Wall Drug, much in the same way the South of the Border theme park advertises on I-90 heading to and from its location on the South Carolina border. I can remember seeing those signs as a kid when we drove to Florida on a family vacation.

According to Wikipedia, “The small town drugstore of Wall Drug made its first step towards international fame when it was purchased by Ted Hustead in 1931. Hustead was a Nebraska native and pharmacist who was looking for a small town with a Catholic church in which to establish his business. He bought Wall Drug, located in a 231-person town in what he referred to as "the middle of nowhere", and strove to make a living. Business was very slow until his wife, Dorothy, got the idea to advertise free ice water to parched travelers along the road. From that time on business was brisk. Wall Drug grew into an enormous cowboy-themed shopping mall/department store (although unlike a standard shopping mall it remained a single store subdivided into many smaller shops and restaurants). Wall Drug includes a western art museum and even a chapel based on the one found at New Melleray Abbey near Dubuque, Iowa.”

I can certainly attest to the fact that there a lot of roadside signs for Wall Drug. In addition to the free ice water, they offer coffee for five cents and other small bargains. A few of us took a walk down there after dinner tonight. It was somewhat quaint, but had the look of a tourist trap. Since we were mostly wrung out from the heat and the controversy from earlier in the day, we made a quick visit and headed back to the motel.