At this juncture, we are about to embark upon the Lewis and Clark Trail, as brought to you by the Adventure Cycling Association maps.
Like many of you, I have a very cursory late-20th-century U.S. public-school skim-over knowledge of the Lewis and Clark expedition. Schoolhouse Rock’s “Elbow Room” about Manifest Destiny pretty much sums it up. As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, I’ve been reading Stephen Ambrose’s well researched and reviewed (and highly recommended by my friend Kathryn in Missoula, MT) book Undaunted Courage which I’d been planning to complete before this leg of the journey began. Yeah, and I was also going to blog daily – and here it is July 15th and I’m writing about Day 24, which was June 15th! By Day 24, I don’t think I’d made it past Chapter 1. I had wanted – or thought I’d wanted – to really explore the history and their journey unfolding before my very eyes! But.
Yes, but whose whitewashed story are we telling on all the historical markers and plaques? And within the formal exhibitions along the way? Personally, I cannot don the costume of the coonskin cap and boy-wonder wander my way across this land blithely decontextualizing the standardized narrative from the ‘alternate’, less often told ones. This is the Buffalo in the Room. I’m of course talking about the fact that the land explored by Lewis and Clark and their men (and now by me) was stolen from the Native peoples who’d resided here for tens of thousands of years before the French and Spanish and then the Americans explored and pillaged and claimed it as their own, with ‘assistance’ from the ‘savages.’ Sacagawea is one of our watered-down historical prizes. Everyone knows that she was a guide for Lewis and Clark on the river. Not that much else is known about her history except that she was probably kidnapped around age 13 and purchased for marriage to a (white) fur trapper. Clark had his valet slave, York, with him on the expedition. And Jefferson, our president whose vision this expedition was, owned more than 600 slaves. And unlike the ‘Indians’ whom he believed could be educated and assimilated into society, according to Ambrose, Jefferson did not believe the same of enslaved Black people.
It would be simpler to go with the tradition of not mentioning the decimation of indigenous societies and natural resources in the name of American progress – and that our then-fledgling country’s wealth that made the purchase of Louisiana from the French and the expedition possible stemmed directly from the enslavement of Africans. Ditto for the personal fortunes, and, therefore, the opportunities for Jefferson, Lewis and Clark. I can’t do justice to any mainstream history or herstory or story of ‘Other’ or whateverstory anyway. I’m no historian nor botanist nor cartographer nor academic. I’m just a guy on his bicycle following some maps across an area with a multitude of narratives. I’ll just tell mine. And acknowledging the above is part of that.
I know that my compulsion to write about this stuff can be viewed as my being a ‘libtard’ party pooper. To many conservatives out here, this compulsion is more eye-rolling proof that progressives care too much about ‘political correctness’ and ‘identity politics.’ Can’t you leave well enough alone or at least make it great again?
While cycling through these largely homogeneous (white, Christian, conservative) swaths of the U.S., this liberal snowflake has indeed been vexed, whether it’s encountering those pesky “states’ rights” Confederate flags people are just so gosh darned sensitive about, or from hearing the occasional offensive remark, e.g., someone whom I stayed with actually trotted out the “some of my best friends are black” trope [literally stated this – yes, with some irony/self-awareness – yet unaware that what she was being faux-apologist about was not actually the racist part of her statement – that was the unintended irony!] As a guest in someone’s home or on other people’s territory, I let the remarks slide (which is absolutely the right thing to do – more about this later). But more relevant to the topic at hand, which is (I believe) multiple coexisting narratives that contextualize history and culture (I made that up – not sure what it means). But.
Let me just say more directly what I’m trying belaboredly to say: in South Dakota (and North Dakota and Montana, too – but SD is the place where I witnessed it first), a story that gets told and retold is that Native people and their communities are dangerous, especially for the white man. Take this from Sergeant Gass, one of the men on the Lewis & Clark expedition, (as quoted from a letter of his in Ambrose’s book): “the local inhabitants warned that they were ‘to pass through a country possessed by numerous, powerful and warlike nations of savages, of gigantic stature, fierce, treacherous and cruel; and particularly hostile to white men.’” This trope was trotted out several times over the course of my time traveling near Native reservations. Kelly and Milo, two cyclists I met and traveled with in SD for a few days had bicycle trouble one day that we were together. I was ahead and did not realize. A (white) sheriff stopped to help them. When they told him what the ACA route was, he said, “Oh, you should definitely get a ride. You can’t ride a bike through the reservation. It’s unsafe. [White] people get murdered there all the time.” Chilling. (But not for the reason he meant it to be.) At that moment, I was riding right through the reservation. Only the headwinds were out to murder me. The man who drove Kelly and Milo and all their gear to Pierre is white (or at least we assume he is) and local, and he said the deputy was full of shit.
It’s actually Native women who go missing or are murdered at epic rates. There’s a movement dedicated to bringing awareness to this issue. Check this out. In Washington state, Native people make up less than 2 percent of the population, but they represent more than 5 percent of its missing persons cases. Nationally, it is non-Native men who commit the majority of assaults against Native women.
Not really relatedly, when I look at the statue (the featured image of this post) of Lewis and Clark (and Lewis’s dog), I see love and tenderness between the two men backlit by the morning sun. Was there a romantic affair between the two, or is that merely my lens? Is Lewis’s hand on the small of Clark’s back… or his butt?! Lewis never married, and he apparently committed suicide…he ran in huge debt to be sure, but maybe it was over Clark or…? Something’s going on there… “Oh, Daniel, why do gay people always have to make everything gay?” It’s impossible for me to look at history without putting myself in it (that’s what history is, to some extent, right?), impossible for me to read it uncritically, and impossible for me not to point out that the established history is written via its own lens. The fact that history traditionally has been etched as a white male monolith isn’t big news or anything. I didn’t stake the claim, but I’m raising my flag there. These are my handlebars, and this is my confessional.
Okay, okay! I won’t dwell on genocide and slavery, or on early 19th century homo gossip about our heroes or lightweight historiographical musings. We acknowledge these, then continue the journey. What else can we do?
Just one more quick comment about the Lewis and Clark Trail. My choice to use this particular route once I got across Iowa wasn’t dictated by an interest in the history, to be frank. Part of what drove the decision is simply that I’ve never been to either Dakota or to Montana or Idaho or Washington. The Adventure Cycling Association’s other routes skip South Dakota entirely, and this one hit all of the above, plus I’d get to visit Kathryn and Eric and kids in Missoula and a whole bunch of folks in Portland.
Day 24 = Beginning of the Lewis and Clark trail! (For me anyway. The route starts in Missouri, but I think we’ve already established that I’m not an L & C diehard.) I’m back on the Adventure Cycling maps and accompanying app and will stay on them for the rest of the journey and (except for navigation within cities). And it’s a state border crossing day! South Dakota is more or less a Git It Done Kum n Git It n Go State, which is why we are lumping it into two parts despite spending 9 days and nights there.
Still in Sioux City, Iowa on this hot Friday morning, I partake of breakfast in the Howard Johnson’s creepy dining room. It’s dark in there with a giant fan blowing. People off the street are sneaking in to use the bathroom and grab food at the modest ‘continental breakfast’ spread. Kum n Git It!
I’m unsure of my final destination for the day. It’s a day to be cautious about the heat. All week long people I’ve been overhearing people say, “Just wait ‘til Friday and then Saturday even worse if you think it’s hot now!” In this area of the country people leave their cars/trucks (and AC) running while they pop into the C-store to grab smokes and beer. That makes sense for winter when the car might not actually restart easily, but seems like a fossil fuel wasting luxury during summer.
While I’m eating instant oatmeal mixed with peanut butter, I decide Yankton is the best choice despite the heat. I’m told Vermillion is nice, apparently because it’s a college town, so I’ve heard) but it’s only 50-something miles from Sioux City. I’m thinking around 75 miles in the heat is fine as long as I drink enough.
I set off as early as possible to beat the heat. Too bad. It’s already muggy at 7:30am. (Briefly about Sioux City: it’s reasonably big, has over 80,000 people and a thriving arts community. Notably, as I left town, I noticed their community theater which was gigantic and looked new. When I arrived the night before, a weekend-long biker convention of sorts was just getting going. Tons of Harleys and other motorcycles lining 4thStreet. I went out to eat at a brewery. Or I think it was a brewery. I had brussels sprouts! They were fried, but still! There were 2 parties dining: me and a group of about 20 bikers dressed in their red-white-and-blue best. Glad I’m not spending more time there. No offense to all you bikers out there, but the event looked and sounded like runoff from a Trump rally. A band was playing on a dais that nobody was listening to. I hate seeing people performing when no one is watching. It’s painful. Ok, Sioux City, come and gone.)
The morning ride along the Missouri River (finally!) is quite beautiful, there’s a significant bike trail (The Gateway Trail), and I ride by Lewis and Clark-themed sites including a museum and an ‘interpretive’ center (this is a new term to me or else I don’t remember having heard it – am I crazy or forgetful or is it actually a newish thing?). And a statue of them and a dog called “Spirit of Discovery.” As I mentioned above, the sculpture seems to really capture the brotherloverhood spirit. Above them, an American flag with 15 states flaps in the blue. It’s waving effortlessly and triumphantly making a gentle fwip fwap fwupin the morning breeze. I can appreciate the sight, and the photos turn out well. Am I feeling a touch patriotic? I don’t know.
From the park along the river, the Iowa-South Dakota border will be at mile 15. I turn left to cross a bridge over the Big Sioux River (not so big, really) into SD and wave goodbye to Iowa. Seriously, I’m a bit sad to leave this state…And there’s no Welcome to SD! sign. Sooo disappointing after the authentically convivial “The People of Iowa Welcome You” sign last border crossing. Earlier, in the park I saw Nebraska signs. (Where Sioux City lies on the Missouri, it’s Nebraska that’s across the river, not South Dakota). I debated just crossing the bridge so I could say I rode in Nebraska. My brother-in-law Larry would definitely do that – in a car, yes – but it’s too hot to fuck with the route and I can wave to the great state of Nebraska
and take a pic of the sign to document almost hitting that state.
From the second I cross the river and am firmly on SD soil, it’s corn ‘n beans again. Fields and fields. Grain silos and elevators. A couple of farm dogs bark but none chase me down. And some prairie grasses (well, that’s what I call them) gyrating in the wind which is alternately blowing at my side and in my face. But it isn’t too bad, compared with other days. As I have mentioned previously and likely will 100 more times, in the heat headwinds have a cooling effect as they fan my face. Slow riding but not quite as hot when you have Mother Nature’s sweat-dryer a-blowin’.
At mile 35, I hit Burbank! Just like home! Except the town’s so small there’s no population indicated on the sign. It’s really just a grain elevator and a railroad junction. I try to get a selfie with the sign in it to post on Instagram (like, “Look, I’m in Burbank… South Dakota!’), but no matter what I do, I can’t figure out how to get my face and the sign (not backwards!) in the frame. A million tries later with the clock striking noon and the temp hitting 85, I must be satisfied with just the sign.
Then it’s Gayville! Wow, South Dakota is more progressive than I imagined! Very excited to get a photo of that sign, but I know my limitations now and don’t bother with putting myself in it. Plus, I don’t really want anyone to see me take it, just in case they think I’m, ya know, from Gayville, as it were. Realizing I haven’t eaten enough in my hurry to get through the heat, I stop at Ma & Pa’s C-Store. I eat a ham ‘n American cheese sub there (wait, who am I again? – don’t worry, I’m still me, that was the only choice) and a Ma-made peanut butter Rice Krispies treat with chocolate that is utterly delectable. I sit at a table in what seems like a rec room attached to the C-store (do we use this term – ‘C-store’ in LA? I’m spending an awful lot of time in C-stores on this trip. Maybe I’m missing something by minimizing my participation at home.) In the cool, I chat with Pa and some other guy who’s drinking a Bud Lite. This is one photo that I wished I’d taken. Pa is probably nearly 80. Bald. American Gothic-like but without the pitchfork. The room is dark. The light above the billiard table is dark green glass and there’s a high window to my left. The wood paneling is painted red. Clearly, this room has a night-orientation. I ask Pa about the room. He says, “People come in here for birthday parties. Buy beer and have a good time. Sometimes Ma cooks.”
“Oh, you rent it out for events?” (I want to add, “like for a quinceañera?” but figure that won’t be funny once I explain it, just confusing.)
“Nope,” Pa chuckles.
Ma and Pa’s is an institution…that I must take my leave of.
It’s only another 10 miles or so to Yankton, but the wind is now full-force in my face. That, plus the temperature which is 97 now and humid, transform slightest incline to a steep hill. The sun is blazing. Am I feeling dizzy? The hotel is not quite on the route and is still two miles away. There’s a park with a tree. I need shade. I ride on the grass toward the tree and at the critical moment can’t unclip from my pedal, and I fall sideways into grass, rocks and skin-piercing pine needles! Of course, as I struggle out, I’m hoping no one is pointing and laughing. No one is. No one I can see anyway. Grrrr. My legs are tired and lifting Whitey upright is a struggle. Am I bonking? ‘Bonking’ (for those unaware of the term) is when you haven’t taken in enough carbohydrates and your body is depleted of glycogen. Similar to the term ‘hitting the wall’ for long-distance runners. I’ve never really bonked on the bike, but I have hit the wall during marathons. You feel like you can’t go on. Because you kinda can’t. But truthfully, I didn’t learn the lesson about blah blah carbohydrate blah blah glycogen, because I was thinking I wasn’t getting enough protein. Or fluids.
When I am safely ensconced in an air-conditioned hotel room (for $38!), I text Diego, my triathlon coach:
Me: I almost bonked today. It was soooooooo hot. I drank constantly. Nuun tablets in water. The heat plus the wind. 💀
Coach Diego: Make sure you try and stop to get cold water (ice water would be best), and consume at least 40 grams of carbs per hour, no more than 60…Are you enjoying the trip?!
Me: Oh carbs. I was eating jerky and nuts.
Coach Diego: Do you not remember ANY of our nutrition talks??? 🙂
Me: Yes I’m not drinking PLAIN WATER!!!!
Coach Diego: Someone is HANGRY!!!… go get some carbs in you!!! You can still have some protein during the rides, but they don’t break up fast enough to properly fuel you.
Me: Oh …that sounds vaguely familiar. Maybe someone said that ONE TIME. IM NOT HANGRY. I want ice cream
Coach Diego: No fucking way… way more than once. Go have ice cream….
Can you believe he treats me like that?
(Hey, since I have your attention, help Diego’s nonprofit (Athletic Performance Foundation) bring the sport of triathlon to low-income kids who wouldn’t otherwise be able to participate in youth events! Donate here!)
I plan on considering Diego’s instructions very carefully. Whether I’ve heard them before or not. And plan on following them. Mostly. Well. Closely enough so I won’t die.
Yankton is a reasonably sized town, river touristy – campsites, cabins, RV resorts. The Broadway Inn is located uphill from the river (which is where the route mostly is in this section of the map and explains the extra climb at the end there). It’s standard. The AC works. It’s a nonsmoking room (apparently all the rooms are), but the sheets have burns in them. Dirty. Might be a night for the sleeping bag on top. I search for ice cream. There’s a convenience store. When I inquire about frozen treats, the guy tells me to go next door to Subway. “They have the real stuff.” He mimes scooping ice cream.
Weird that this Subway also houses a hard ice cream shop. Or maybe it isn’t? I should know based on how much time I’ve been spending in Subways the past 3.5 weeks. The workers are all busy down the line making subs, so I busy myself musing aloud at my choices. “A hand-packed pint.”
A beefy guy about my height has appeared. Handsome. “You need a pint packed?” he asks. “I’ll pack you a pint.” The guy says this in a way that might suggest something suggestive in a sorta euphemistical sorta way, sort of. If I were somewhere else rather than Yankton, South Dakota.
“You’ll pack me a pint…?” I respond ever so slightly suggestively if there were to be something perhaps to suggest anything about, if this establishment were, say, in a place like Los Angeles, specifically West Hollywood or Hollywood or Silver Lake.
“Sure, I’d do that for you.” This he says in the same way that he previously said it, yet backing off slightly from the something that was now to be understood as perhaps misunderstood but not entirely…probably…?
Well, now I have to let him pack me a pint. “Chocolate chip on the top; strawberry on the bottom.” This I say apropos entirely of the literal pint-packing activity, not the perhaps mythically euphemistic activity, and now as I type this am just realizing just how much further this could have gone on…if we weren’t at a Subway cum (!) ice cream parlor thousands of miles from everything and everybody I love. I got my ice cream. (The real thing. I think next time this happens, I’ll get the strawberry on top.)
Back in the hotel, I say fuck it and sleep like a normal person or at least someone who doesn’t care that someone used to smoke in this bed. The sheets have holes, sure, but they’re clean. I don’t feel like unstuffing my sleeping bag.
Day 25 is the Saturday where the heat gets even worse. I try to leave early but have barely been able to get out by 7am no matter how early I get up. I make an executive decision that Whitey and I do a very short day after the 3 previous long, hot days; it’s about 35 miles to the next town, Springfield. The first 10 miles are a bike path along the Missouri River, Gavin’s Point Dam and the Lewis and Clark Lake that’s been created by the dam. It’s Saturday, and there are tons of families around, many blond and pretty people. Women that look like former sorority girls with their cheerleader daughters, men that look like CrossFit success stories tempered by chronic inhaling of wings and beers with their varsity sons who start their summer lifeguarding gig at the pool at the club next week. The RV park and cabins are teeming with vacationers, partying it up for Father’s Day. There are a lot of Iowa license plates.
I stop right before the climb from the river basin to the main road to eat an entire Clif Bar (45g of carbs) even though I’m not that hungry. Also, I consume an orange that will become unappetizingly warm if I wait much longer. The rest of the ride is uneventful. When I arrive, the Weather Channel app says 97°but “feels like” 101°.
I hole up in the Wagon Wheel Inn. My room has a kitchenette! And a recliner that’s a bit, umm, stained, but the sheets have no burn holes! I have my scheduled Saturday afternoon phone call with Alex and I fill him in on the past week’s joy, dramas, uncomfortable moments, and the pint-packing exchange. For dinner, I head to the typical South Dakota (and North Dakota and Montana) establishment which is a bar with fried food and burgers and a casino (actually there’s a casino everywhere in South Dakota, every C-Store has one, it makes me sad and a little queasy). I order the “4-piece chicken dinner.” It comes with a vegetable (haha, fries) and another vegetable (haha, a pickle), though the pickle doesn’t come. The joke’s on me. The chicken is fried, probably something that is fully cooked, then frozen, then popped into the deep fryer and voila! Who am I again? Fried chicken isn’t usually on the menu. (My menu.) As terrible as this is for me and what a horrible life the chicken must’ve had, it’s kinda good. Ok, it’s really good. I have a conversation with Alex (in my head, we’ve been off the phone for an hour by now) where I pretend not to know whether to eat the crunchy outside part or not. “Do I peel it off or just eat it?” Imaginary Alex is proud of me for eating so terribly. Or ‘tairribly’, which is how real Californians like Alex pronounce it. Neither Imaginary nor Real Alex thinks this meal is tairrible, which is why he’s proud.
Whereas the previous four riding days were mostly about heat management and survival, Day 26 promised cooler temps, some rain, and ‘possible’ thunderstorms later in the afternoon. About 15 miles in is my first face-to-face encounter with Kelly and Milo, a couple traveling from Florida back to their home in Portland. I heard about the “two young girls traveling alone” from one of the workers at the C-store in Springfield as well as the proprietress of the Wagon Wheel the day before. (What she failed to mention is that when Kelly and Milo tried to negotiate a better price for a room, she basically sent them on their way, saying “take it or leave it”… but they ended up staying in the well air-conditioned firehouse. For free!) When I come upon them, they are having a snack of tortillas, beans and cheese. I stop to ransack my rear rack compartment for some nuts (oops, sorry Diego – some carbs!) and we chat for a while. Turns out that they are both from Ventura County (just north of Los Angeles), met while they were still in high school, and have been together for 7 years. We are mutually excited to meet other queer people on the trek. They’ve both toured before, and we briefly shared our dream of doing the Alaska to Patagonia ride. Part of their dream is to do it with a gay male couple so when we’re in, um, unchartered LGBTQ territory, then we can pose as two straight couples. Bam! Only problem is that it’s going to be hard to find another gay guy that wants to do this, one that I want to sleep with anyway. But ya never know! Kelly is about to start law school anyway, and they are thinking of doing the trip in 10 years. Hmm. We’ll see if I can wait that long. But ya never know! Before I take off again, we exchange numbers and blogs and promise to keep each other apprised of our progress. I’m planning on going a little further than they are, but we may meet again. Ya never know!
I stop to refuel in Pickstown where I am charged for ice at a C-store for the first time. The woman at the cash register convinces me to eat at the restaurant/casino adjacent to the C-store. It’s full of those blond athletic vacationing family units. I order an iced coffee. “We don’t have that! I’m sorry!” she says. (Iced coffee at a regular ol’ bar/restaurant/casino/café in this part of the country doesn’t exist.) Rather than have a glass of ice and a hot coffee poured over the top – always tairrible! – I just have water and a chicken sandwich that sounds healthy on the menu (fresh grilled chicken, with salad) but is wilty with gobs of warm mayo that spurt like someone had his pint majorly packed! (Okay, I know, mixing metaphors. Or euphemisms. That don’t exist.)
Over the pretty towheads of my fellow diners, I’m eyeing the graying skies outside. Rain’s a-comin’ soon. I kin smell it! Check, please!
As I approach the town of Bonesteel, which I have been saying aloud repeatedly with a Gold Rush Era gap-toothed whistled ‘s’ that I’ll imitate for you when I see you or if I ever meet you in person and one of us remembers, it starts to rain. My goal had been to reach Burke, another 20 miles yet. I am antsy. Short day yesterday, and today only 73 miles, not exactly making up miles. But, breathe Daniel! There’s a decent grocery store in Bonesshteel, and I am going to find a weather expert in there to tell me what the storm’s up to. One of the cashiers pulls out his phone and shows me the STORMTRACKER app! You have to say this out loud in a Weather Channel EMERGENCY WEATHER UPDATE SUMMER 2018 LIVE-OR-DIE sort of way. Seriously, try it. …STORMTRACKER! Now say STORMTRACKER 2018 LIVE-OR-DIE! Okay, brief rabbit hole. The storm doesn’t look too bad, but I’m tired and this grocery store has produce, so I’m not going anywhere except out of the rain with a bag of spinach. The Bonehsshsshteel Motel is not as cheap as the Wagon Wheel, and the room is tiny. But oh well. It’s getting a bit chilly actually! I can’t friggin’ believe it! Whitey and I will fit just fine. It is hard to manage the door situation, but thankfully no one sees me struggling and I don’t have to ask for help. Winning! Kelly and Milo text that are staying in Pickstown where I had lunch. Oh well. That probably will keep them a day behind me…
Or will it..?
The rain will stop in the morning! … Or will it?
I will get a good night’s sleep with the tweakers next door banging open the door all night to go outside and have a smoke. … Or will I?
Stay tuned for the next post! From. The. Future!