Sunday, December 02, 2018

The Touring Series: Hopes Dashed

A Guitar Ted Productions series
 Thanks for joining me again on another adventure in "The Touring Series". This tour was dubbed the "Race Against Death Tour". This tour occurred in August of 1995. The three participants, Ryan, Troy, and your's truly, left from Cedar Falls, Iowa to try and get to Winter Park, Colorado in two weeks. Here I am reproducing the tale as it was posted on the blog in 2009. I also will add new remarks and memories where appropriate at the end of each post. 

 Once again to remind you, there were no cell phones, internet, social media platforms, or digital cameras in use by we tourers in 1995. I will post images where I can, but this tour wasn't well documented in images, so there probably will be very few sprinkled throughout. A modern image will be used only where it depicts things I want to clarify, like where we were in that part of the tour via a map image, or the like.

The "Touring Series" will appear every Sunday until it ends. Look for past entries by scrolling back to a previous Sunday's post, or type in "Touring Series" in the search box to find more. 

After an unsettling night's sleep in White River, South Dakota, the "Race Against Death Tour" awakes to start day six......

Well, nothing happened overnight as we slept in White River, and that was the best news we had. Still, we weren't completely at ease, no- Actually far from it. It was nothing you could point at, nothing tangible, but the feeling we all were getting was that this wasn't a good place for us to be at that moment in time. We were not saying much this foggy morning. We all just wanted to get the heck outta there.

But as I said, there was fog. A really thick fog that we didn't feel real comfortable riding in. So we were being pulled one way and another. We really wanted to get out of White River, but we really didn't want to ride into a fog on a lonely state highway and get hit by some crazy person. In the end, we wasted a bunch of time and ended up riding into the fog anyway, the want to get out overcoming the fear of being hit.

In the end, it all didn't matter anyway, for as soon as we crossed the bridge over the White River on the western edge of town we climbed up the steep valley and out of the fog . It was fitting in a way. We were now shrouded from the unseen fears and unpleasantness we experienced with nothing but rolling, empty countryside before us.

The lateness of our start wasn't a concern now. We were full of joy as we rode along. We were making up lyrics to popular songs and Ryan was totally cracking us up with his Ren and Stimpy routines with various renditions of our "V.I.P."s thrown in. My favorite was his monologue impersonation of Tour de France announcer, Phil Ligget that included "Team Gypsy" on the "Tour de Pain". Too funny! As we were rolling along, we all were aware that it was still foggy and we were keeping one ear tuned to the road behind us, listening for any vehicles that might be passing our way.

When the fog wore off, the clouds could be seen hurrying along the way. There was a head wind for now, but at least this cloud cover kept the temperatures from going through the roof right away that morning. Then I heard it. A car was coming. No sooner than I had yelled "Car back!", it was upon us. A bronze colored Cadillac with a large, male Native American wearing a ten gallon hat and waving his arm about him as if he were shooing away flies. He was gone in a flash. It was the only car that would pass us all day long.

The long hills, head wind, and building heat were starting to take their early morning toll. We all stopped for a rest and we were alarmed at how were were already depleting the water supplies. We looked at the map which showed a healthy sized "dot" on the road ahead marked with the name "Cedar Butte". Visions of convenience stores and grub filled our minds. We were further encouraged when we came across a big green informational sign that gave the mileage to Cedar Butte. Surely they wouldn't do that for any ol' place on the map. Not out here, or so we thought.

So we soldiered on, pedaling our heavily laden touring bikes with high hopes that Cedar Butte would be an oasis in this grassy desert. We were very badly let down in the end. As we approached the site, all we saw was a crude building near the road with two broken down gas pumps outside. A semi-circle of broken down cars filled a lonely, dusty parking lot devoid of pavement. A low ranch style house was behind this. At various intervals, an individual would appear at the side door, open it, and dump out a five gallon bucket of dirt. Judging by the size of the pile, the fellow had been quite busy, no doubt digging a tunnel to escape this gloomy prison called Cedar Butte.

Troy standing in the midst of what was supposed to be a "town" called Cedar Butte
 Troy was livid, and Ryan was dumbfounded. Me? I just decided it was too funny. I mean, what could we do? Somehow the others came around and we all decided to have a bit of fun with the situation. We managed to refill our bottles from a pump head, but no extra water was available to carry out of Cedar Butte. Obviously, there wasn't any food either. So with that we moved on from there, now looking for a good place to eat lunch.

As we crested a hill we saw a small stream down in the valley below us. It was very sunny and hot now. We were all quietly suffering along in the never ending grassy hills. I saw a tree just off the road and I said, "...we're eating lunch under the shade of that tree." Troy and Ryan looked funny at me, but I was dead serious. I wanted shade. When we got to it we dismounted and walked across a fence into shoulder high brown grass. Dead from the heat and lack of rain, no doubt. It must have been over a 100 degrees that day.

As we sat and ate our PB&J without words, a single fly could be heard buzzing about us loudly. Like a cheesy spaghetti western, only this fly and the occasional breeze that disturbed the dry grass could be heard. Suddenly, Troy deftly shot out his hand and snagged the creature, a large horse fly. Remembering what I had said at the outset of the tour about how you could survive in the wilderness on all sorts of insects and plant life, he thrust the captured fly in front of me and said, "Here ya go Stevenson. See if ya can survive on this. I dare ya!" So without hesitation, I popped it in my mouth and chewed heartily while staring into Troy's wide eyed face. He retorted, "You sick bastard!", got up and walked away. Ryan followed suit, while I laughed quietly. I suppose this means that is the end of lunch, eh?

I took a turn hamming it up by posing with this automatic transmission in Cedar Butte, South Dakota.

Leaving White River was a tough climb, as I recall, but it felt soooo good to get out of there! As we crossed the bridge over the White River, I recalled the old Korean War vet's stories about playing with other Native American children his age as they tried to escape the incessant Summer heat of the Great Plains by swimming in the mineral stained waters of the river. That was soon replaced by our silly first miles out of town. Again, another one of those joy-filled cycling moments you never forget.

It would be a fair thing to ask why this story isn't called "The Tour de Pain", taking the cue from Ryan's monologue, (which he recreated in various forms every day, sometimes multiple times a day, after this), but the original name stands and personally, it means more to me today. The "Tour de Pain" thing, while funny at the time, has no real meaning to me now. The "Race Against Death Tour"? That still has meaning to me today! 

It's strange how certain things can be burned into your memory so well that you can vividly see the images years later. The Native American in the Cadillac is one such image. I find that strange since it was a split second visage and nothing more. Seeing that shade tree off to the side of the road was another image I can see clearly to this day. Weird.

The fly eating story has been retold over the years. That was a great moment on the tour. However; the ensuing afternoon hours were once again drama, fear filled moments that fairly erased any good memories from earlier in the day at that time.   

Next week: Out of water, the "Race Against Death Tour" has found itself begging for water from unfriendly folks.


graveldoc said...

Your vivid description of your experiences while touring through the lands of the native Americans brings back, to me, memories of just driving through some parts of Oklahoma and the desert southwest; as well as some recollections of doing medical missions trips to Central America. Your words pain a picture of a "third world country". The only other other question that, to me, bears asking is: "I wonder what part of the horse or cow that horsefly had been chewing on just prior to your consuming it?". Well, I guess if you're hungry enough, it doesn't matter too much, eh?

Guitar Ted said...

@Stephen Butcher- Yeah, since those days I also have seen much of what you are describing as well in New Mexico, the El Paso Area, and from just looking at Ciudad Juarez from the border.

But at the time of this trip, I hadn't seen anything like that. It was shocking.

The horse fly? Well......maybe that might account for how I turned out, eh? :>)