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Erik Trautman

“Everything you can imagine is real.”
-- Pablo Picasso

The Winding, Windy Journey From Minneapolis to Rapid City

The Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St Paul are in some ways like midwestern versions of Boston — fairly well populated but still retaining some of that small-town charm. It’s an area that got its start due to the early economic potential of the Mississippi River, grew strongly during the Industrial Revolution, and struggled to redefine itself as a modern city in the late 20th century.

We started our half day in town with a slow riverboat tour down the Mississippi to learn a bit about the history of the area and to take in the local scenery. The experience was high on leisure but a bit light on history. We did see the cave where Pierre Pigs-eye Parrant, the bootlegger forefather of St Paul, set up the operation which eventually evolved into the first settlement. We paddled down to where Fort Snelling sits high atop a bluff before turning around.

The real highlight of the day was a visit to St Paul’s Blue Door Pub, a small burger joint that was recommended to us by a local friend. It was well worth dealing with the crowds (at 3pm!) to get one of the most interesting burgers I’ve had.

We both left not long after that early afternoon meal but the roads were already hopeless. I must say that, despite being a much smaller metro area, it was more difficult to get out of MSP than it was to leave Chicago. I baked in my leather for 50 straight miles of traffic before I finally hit fifth gear on rt 10 west. Where that same road had been painfully beautiful outside Green Bay, this time I was terribly disappointed by the constant intrusion of an ugly suburbia and never ending stoplights.

Central Minnesota is a pretty empty place. That’s not to say it isn’t beautiful, it’s just not the kind of beauty that’s meant to be enjoyed from the road. The “land of ten thousand lakes” stretches flat all the way to the horizon and the wild forest is broken up by patches of grassland dotted with dark blue water. The scent of mud and algae on the breeze took me back to the days when we used to go on canoe trips for a week at a time in the wilds of Ontario, some of the best memories of my childhood.

When the raw wilderness was eventually broken by long stretches of commercial farmland, the damp air gathered into a low mist above the fields which held the light of the setting sun and seemed to set the land afire. Northern Minnesota actually felt more populated than had the middle of the state. That civilization, unfortunately, also brought rows of large-scale chicken coops and I was forced to hold my breath for long stretches to avoid gagging on the stench. One resident who didn’t seem to mind much was a rather content-looking bear who was exploring the edge of a soybean field as I rode by.

Fargo, ND was a pretty uneventful place without a whole lot going on (and they probably like it that way) and we spent the night there so my girlfriend could see some local family. The next morning I continued south to Sioux Falls, SD, hoping to outrun another batch of thunderstorms that were supposed to break up the heat in the afternoon. The countryside opened up even more than before, with the forests of Minnesota thinning out in favor of a steady yellow South Dakotan grassland dotted with wildflowers that waved in the breeze. The lakes gradually changed from the earlier deep blue to a vibrant turquoise.

I made Sioux Falls, SD under perfectly blue skies. The storms I’d been racing were now scheduled to arrive shortly after sunset so I spent a few hours exploring the town’s namesake feature. A quaint little park lies alongside the falls and an old railroad bridge crosses just upstream. In a year that hadn’t been crippled by drought, I can imagine how peaceful it would have been to sit by and listen to the sounds of the water. Now, though, there is a certain quiet starkness to the dry rocks that poke up like bones from the river’s anemic flow.

The storm hit that evening with predictable violence, carving another swathe of destruction through the midwest with tennis ball-sized hailstones and heavy rain. We had to leave early in the morning to make Rapid City, SD in time for my girlfriend to attend a wedding shower so there was no time to wait until it had blown itself out entirely before getting on the road.

It was a cool morning made colder by the constant drizzle that plagued my route for the first hour. When I’d finally passed beneath the storm, the timid morning light opened up the miles of grassland ahead. I had noticed a few hardy bikers like myself on the road during the storm but they seemed to multiply like weeds once the rain let up. We were 350 miles and three days away from the start of the Sturgis rally and 90% of all traffic on the road was bikes, trailers, and RVs headed that way. I started getting excited for the coming week.

Aside from the bright yellow fields dotted with perfect rolls of fresh hay and golden sunflower patches outside Sioux Falls, the most defining feature of that whole ride was the wind. The gusts came from the northwest and were strong enough to push the bike erratically back and forth against the lane lines and to crush my gas mileage by over 15mpg. My jaw began to hurt because I had to clamp my lips shut to prevent the wind from puffing up my cheeks like a blowfish and forcing strings of drool out the corner of my mouth and into my ear. At one point, I passed an RV towing a trailer and the turbulence was enough to rip my sunglasses from my face, requiring a 1-in-100 desperate grab for their recovery.

A few hours and a healthy windburn later, I finally made it into Rapid City, SD, where we’d be staying for the better part of a week with my girlfriend’s family. It felt good to settle in and get the chance to really explore an area again, since much of my previous travel had been pretty A-to-B. I’d visited Rapid in March, so I knew how amazing the opportunities for adventure in the surrounding area could be. The real wildcard this time was Sturgis…