After one of the weirdest, most incredibly tough days of cycling on the tour, "The Race Against Death Tour" hits the Black Hills.
August 14th, 1995: We awake early and pack up our stuff for our first foray into the Black Hills of South Dakota. Things were kind of glum as we made ready since Troy made an announcement right outta the sack that his knee was pretty iffy. Apparently, the previous days efforts were too much, and one of his knees was giving him fits. Even during the previous day, he knew of it, but didn't want to admit it. Troy was the guy who the year before most rued the day we had to call it quits in Manistique, Michigan. Troy was the one that wasn't going to be the reason we didn't make it this time when we set out. In fact, he wasn't going to let any of us "not make it". And here he was, admitting that he had an injury that would "possibly slow us down".
Well, I think Ryan and I both saw through his pride. We said "the right things", encouraging Troy. Saying it wouldn't be a big deal if we had to stop. So we kind of danced around the problem that we both knew was going to close out this trip. It was now just a matter of when Troy would say he was done.
So it was that we set out with a quiet, brooding mood about us. It should have been an exciting day, the sun was out, it was cool, it wasn't windy at all. By all appearances it was a great day to be on the bike. The nicest one we had experienced on tour so far. However; we set off as if we were headed into a drizzling rain on a gray morning.
The way the road was laid out didn't help. The climb started right at the door of the motel. Straight up into the Black Hills on busy Highway 16 West. At least there was a paved shoulder wide enough to insulate us from the heavy morning traffic. Troy was up the road, Ryan in second, and I followed. We were all separated by about a hundred yards. Granny gear climb all the way into the Black Hills. Probably about a five mile slog without any relief.
Oddly enough, I felt great. I found a rhythm and was able to stick to it all the way up. At the top the road entered the pines and the scenery was fantastic. We stopped near a laminated, arched wooden bridge to check the maps. We decided on a course and set off. Troy was soldiering on, and it seemed now after the huge climb was behind us that he may recover enough to keep going. However; his pace wasn't the fiery, aggressive one we were used to. His speed was about what it was going up, whether the road was flat or tilted up. Soon I found myself off the front, with Ryan hanging back with Troy. I don't really know what Ryan was doing, maybe trying to talk Troy into stopping. Maybe encouraging him to go on. Whichever it was, I never did find out. I had to wait for them several times. Finally it was obvious that Troy couldn't go on. We had to put a stop to the madness before he really destroyed his knee.
Basically Troy knew it, but he let us talk him out of it, I suppose to assuage himself somewhat of his guilty feelings for being the reason we had to quit. At any rate, the next campground we saw, we were going to stop at for the day. I rode on ahead a bit, checking all the signs. Looking at all the "post card" scenery. I was a bit excited because I knew we were in the same area I had been in when I was much younger on a family vacation. We stayed at a really cool campground/dude ranch called Rafter J-Bar Ranch. I was curious if I would see any signs of it again on this road, if this was the right road.
Once again I had to stop. Ryan came up not soon after. He was worried about Troy. He was really hurting, basically riding one legged now. He said we needed to find a place pronto. Well, Troy rolled up about then, and Ryan said, "What's up this driveway?" I said I didn't know, but not a second after the words came out of my mouth, Ryan found a sign that said "Rafter J-Bar Ranch" and an arrow pointing up the road. It was still here! The very same joint I had stayed at years ago when I was a child.
It was a nice place too. We found a camping spot right near the showers that had a laundry attached. It was time to set up camp, relax, and just goof off. We were all resigned to being done with the tour now, but what we would do with the remaining days, we had no idea just yet.
Next Week: A Different Routine.