After putting in 21.13 miles just dinking around the Black Hills on Day 9, "The Race Against Death Tour" makes its final short ride into Hill City on Day 10.....
August 16th, 1995: Today is the day. We only have to pack up one last time for a short ride into Hill City to meet Ryan's Dad at the Conoco station by 9am. As we get moving, the conversation is non-existent, other than the asking for details about the pick up. A solemn air hangs over all of us. It belies the feeling everyone around us has as it is another picture perfect day in the Black Hills.
As we roll out of Rafter J-Bar Ranch for the last time, a bittersweet feeling comes over me, as I remember all the years before when I was here as a child. Then I turn to follow Ryan and Troy down the long driveway as they have gone out of site already. It seems as though the uncomfortable feelings are better put behind them as quickly as possible.
In fact, they are motoring along at a fair clip as I dangle off the back. What's the hurry? We had plenty of time to make our rendezvous and I was enjoying these last miles for all they were worth. Watching folks getting ready for fall. Seeing the local high school football team practicing for opening day. All the little things were in sharper focus for me today. This is the day.
We arrive at the Conoco station and Troy goes to find a phone. Ryan looks for some grub to chew on, and I sit by the bikes to guard them one last time. It seemed like we were sitting there forever waiting for something that might not happen. I felt a bit of anxiety. What if we have to stay another night? Money was tight, I was almost out. I could only afford a few Cokes for the ride home. Man! It seemed like the minutes were taking hours. This was the day.
Then Ryan's Dad pulled up pulling a white aluminum box trailer. Greetings, some small talk, then we loaded the bikes in the trailer, and we sat down for a 12 hour ride back home. This is going to be a long day.
The ride was uneventful. I figured we were like a band on the road. Traveling to another show. I thought of Jackson Browne's "The Load Out". Somehow it seemed appropriate. I was wishing we could "play just a little bit longer" but we couldn't. Today was the day.
That 12 hours was like a foggy memory. It seemed surreal. Then a sharp focus when we got within sight of familiar territory. Finally, we reached the outskirts of Cedar Falls and I saw the twinkling lights of the city. The plan was to get dropped off at our bosses house. Then we were going our separate ways. Tom was there, he had a big smile, as usual. He was excited to hear about our adventures, but Troy and Ryan were ready to get home, and I was left to sip a few beers and give Tom the lowdown on the highlights. And that was the end of the day.
I turned my bike towards home. Rode it through the black of night with the promise that I would attend a "welcome home party" that Saturday night. It was pretty lonely on that ride, but not as lonely as that empty house I stepped into that night. That was the day. The day the tour ended.
Next Week: The "Welcome Home Party" and a weird encounter.
Hidden gem: Idaho.
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