The "Race Against Death Tour" rides into another blazing hot summer day on a lonely stretch of State Highway 44 in South Dakota.....
As we rolled along, the heat increased and the cloudy haze began to give way to more intense, bright sunshine. We were going through water like crazy with the temperatures hitting around 100 degrees that day. So it was that we came to a tiny spot in the road that on our maps said was a town named Witten. We pulled off the road to see what looked like a feed mill and grain elevator operation in a dusty, unpaved "cul de sac" with a few houses back behind that. We noted that there was a little water spigot located right behind a small shack. We didn't need to knock, as our conversation alerted a few of the operations employees to step outside in the blazing heat to see what the heck all the commotion was about.
After one of them gave the okay to use the water spigot, he quickly ducked back into the air conditioned shack, leaving a short-ish, wiry fellow to speak with us. I quickly found Troy taking my bottles so I would have to be the one to talk to this fellow. Ryan sort of shadowed me for a bit, but when it became apparent this guy was slightly odd, he too shrank away, leaving me to deal with our latest "V.I.P". Actually, I thought this guy was okay, just sheltered, shall we say?
He kind of was a cross between that character on the 60's show "Gunsmoke" named
"Festus" and a town drunk. We'll call him Festus since I didn't get his
right name. He was not what you'd call "sensitive to cultural
differences", and I am not going to sugarcoat his language here. This is
exactly how it went down in '95. Anyway, you have to think of his
dialogue in a western drawl....
Him: "So, where ya'all headed?
Me: "We're going to the Black Hills, and then to Rocky Mountain National Park."
Him: "So, yer goin straight up 44, eh? That's Injun country, ya know. Those folks is a little waspy. Why I carry me a pistol by my side on the seat in the truck whenever I go through there.
Me: So those folks aren't too friendly?
Him: "Well theys shoot ya soon as talk ta ya, but it depends on what yer doin'.
Me: "Huh! No kiddin? "He then goes on to tell me he trades in horses. He says he carries large sums of money at times from the sales of the animals, and that he needs the protection of the side arm.
Him: "Did yew know that it's zactly two hunnert miles from here ta the race track at the edge of Rapid City? Two hunnert miles! From right here!" He points to the ground at his feet.
Me: "No kiddin?"
Him: "Yep! And didja ever go up in any of them caves? "He goes on to tell me of a family vacation where he describes the stalagmites and stalactites as "icicles" that shown like "jew-wells" in the lights and "didja know its a constant 49 degrees in there?"
Well, you get the point by now, I am sure! Troy and Ryan finally tore me away from this guy and we were off to the road, but not before Troy could voice his fear of the Native Americans. He had overheard the "V.I.P's" comments about the "waspy" folks and heard "guns" and was thinking we should re-route. I said that we were not in danger of anything. Heck, the guys the "V.I.P." was afraid of were after his horse money, and we had nothing any Native American could want. We were about as poor, destitute, and stinky as they come. What would they point a gun at us for? Our stinky chamois? And with that we went off down the road again.
It wasn't long though, and we were in need of more water. We saw a spot on the map and aimed our bikes for there. The town was named Wood, and it was slightly off the road. As we approached on the blacktop leading into this tiny town, we saw busted off trees, broken buildings, and there wasn't a green leaf to be found. A small pack of dogs took up to barking and gave chase as we rode up to the first outliers.
It wasn't so much like a tornado had hit this place, even though it may have, but it looked like one of those WWII pictures from my high school history books. Bombed. That's what Wood looked like. A bombed out town. We scattered as the dogs approached, Ryan with his frame pump held high, ready to strike, me barking back, and Troy yelling at them in a stern tone of voice. The dogs finally relented, we rolled up to a gas station, and searched for something to drink.
Next week: The Tour continues to the shock and horror of our overnight stop......
Van of Constant Sorrow: Day Two
16 hours ago