|A Guitar Ted Productions series
Once again, 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.
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After a hot, dusty lunch break, the "Race Against Death Tour" moves on down State Highway 44 towards the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation...
After our brief repose under the shade tree it was right back into the hot sun for us. We toiled along pretty much silently with the exception of the occasional outburst from Ryan. He was really the glue that kept us together alot of the time. Every so often he'd pipe up in a whiny, New York sort of accent with " Oh my achin' ass! Ohhhhh!" and the timing would be such that Troy and I would bust a gut and temporarily forget about our misery. Or at other times, Ryan would pipe up with a spot on rendition of Ren from "Ren and Stimpy" that went something like this..."Oh no! I know what you want! You coveteth my ice cream sandwich!" Yeah, that one would always about bring us to a halt due to the laughter it induced. Yeah......it was one of those, "you had to be there moments", for sure, but I think we can all relate to how the sun and exhaustion can contribute to scenes like this.
So it was that after many long climbs and descents we arrived at the cross roads of two state highways. This was probably one of the standout memories for me due to the oddness of the situation. Here we were at a crossing of two important roads with nothing there! No gas station, no nothing. Weird I thought. There was a guy across the road with a motorcycle parked and he was eating. Troy, Ryan, and I were going to consult the map, have some water, and eat again from our stash of peanut butter and bread. It was all we had left out here to eat.
As we sat on the shoulder, just off the roadway, a car pulled up to the stop sign going the opposite way. A Native American leaned out and looked us over. "Hey man!", he drawled in a voice more appropriate for a Haight-Ashbury resident, "What are y'all doin?" We explained what we were up to as several small Native American children craned there necks to take a look at us. After our little story, the man behind the wheel said, "That's cool! I really respect what you guys are doin', man. That's cool." And with that blessing, he put the car in drive and rumbled away.
We were in need of more than just "being cool", we needed supplies! We were running low on the peanut butter and bread, and water was dangerously low. In fact, we were drinking our last drops at that intersection. Wanblee was the next town up the road. We were hopeful that we could re-supply there and for sure we were counting on getting water there. With that being our sole focus now, we saddled up under the unforgiving heat and slowly pedaled down the road westwards.
|The red dot represents Wanbli. We'd come a long ways in less than six day's time.
Wanblee came right after a quick southwards turn in the road. After some tough miles, we could see it. There were road construction signs up, but we were so focused on getting water, we didn't care. About half a mile from Wanblee the road sank into the valley. Great! A downhill that would save some energy! But to my dismay, the pavement was all gone just after that and the gravel laid down was very chunky and hard to ride on. Now we were working harder than ever, and going downhill was a slap in the face!
We saw a grocery store just before we reached the residential section of town. It was a long, low building setting all to itself by the gravel roadway. We pulled in with great expectations. What we found inside was almost nightmarish. No lights were on with the exception of the case lights in the dairy and frozen food sections. This cast an eerie glow over the ceiling and walls. The lone Native American woman in the place wanted to know what we wanted in a half scared, half demanding voice. I suppose she was as startled to see three white bicyclist wander in as we were to see the odd state of the store we were in. Troy said we needed water, was there any here? She said something incredible to our ears, "No". We asked where in town we could find water, and she said in a somewhat condescending tone, "Well, I suppose you could try one of the homes here." We were dumbfounded to the point that we forgot about food for the present time and walked directly out of the place in a near frenzy.
We grabbed our bikes and looked for the nearest residence. About half a block away stood a split level ranch home, dusty, but in good repair. We settled on it as our first try at begging some water. I walked up with Ryan beside me, Troy was right behind. We knocked. The door was silent, unmoving. We knocked again. Slowly, the door opened a crack, then about two inches wide. I could barely describe the figure of an elderly Native American woman glaring with disdainful eyes at us through the opening.
"What do you want!!"
Weirdness in spades again as we come across another village with no paved main street. That gravel was super chunky too. It really was a slap in the face after so may hard miles under a hot Sun. Then the oddness that is a reservation town can not be really described by mere words. There is a spiritual heaviness- that's the only way I can describe it- over places like that. We felt it in White River too.
As you have probably caught on to by now, water was a major issue for us on this tour and it may seem odd to you. I thought I might add in a bit of information here to help clear this up as to why this was.
First of all, in 1995, the plastic water bottles that are in every convenience store in various sizes these days were very rare. As in non-existent in South Dakota where we were riding. In fact, convenience stores were rare. It was a different age then.
By this point in the tour we weren't naive to our problem either. In fact, we ended up eventually keeping Gatorade bottles when we could get them and we used these as spare water bottles which we packed into our panniers. However; keep in mind that the last place we had been which had Gatorade bottles was Winner. We didn't have a clue yet back there as to how little water was out there beyond Winner and how badly we would be going through it. Had we been better informed we would have packed the spare empty bottles from there. White River didn't even have Gatorade in bottles, at least not that we could find. Now days I am sure there are convenience stores in many more locations which would have made our water issues less of an issue.
Finally, I have learned that Wanblee is about 11 miles from the North American "pole of inaccessibility" Essentially, the furthest point on the map away from a coastline. Were we really nearly in the "middle of nowhere"? It sure seemed like it.
Next Week: The weary tourers see signs of civilization.