Leo’s Good Food in Redfield, SD doesn’t stay open late. But, it does open early. 5am. I got there a little after 6:
Leo’s is the kind of place you only find in small midwestern towns. Diner food done well and cheap. The location used to be a bank on the town’s tiny main street. They even had a salad bar in the former vault (it wasn’t up and running for breakfast):
A funny thing happened while I ate. A few tables over from me sat a probably-70-year-old farmer guy. Suddenly, the Game of Thrones theme song starts blaring from his direction. It was his iPhone, cranked up to what must have been its maximum volume. His ring tone. I never would have guessed this man had a smart phone. Or watched Game of Thrones. Little moments like this are the type of things I worried I’d forget if I didn’t write them down, but I ended up remembering.
After breakfast, I snapped this pic of Redfield’s historic main street:
Then, I headed west, but quickly stopped again to capture some South Dakota morning scenery:
I rode on to the state capital, Pierre. The downtown felt pretty dead for a Saturday — reminded me a little of my home state’s capital, Harrisburg, in that way. I took a pic in front of the capitol building:
And I took a break from riding to stroll along the Missouri River:
On the way out of Pierre, I saw hills for the first time in days. And I got a chance to take a photo with some round hay bales, which I had really started to admire aesthetically on this trip. I imagined them as the droppings of a giant rabbit who lives in the sky:
Little Brown Church on the Prairie near Hayes, SD:
Some buildings near the railroad tracks in Cottonwood, SD. I couldn’t tell if this was a ghost town or if people still lived here. It was kind of eerie:
Finally, I arrived in Wall, SD, where I planned to have lunch at the famous Wall Drug Store:
I had known about Wall Drug for a long time. But all I knew was that it was a place people stopped when crossing South Dakota and that there were a lot of billboards for it on the way. For some reason, I imagined something small, quaint, and old-timey — like an actual drug store with a cafe attached. It’s not that. It’s a crazy tourist trap:
It was crowded and chaotic inside. But outside the sun was beating down, radiating off the asphalt, and making 90 degree temps feel like 100. So, inside wasn’t so bad. I had a bison burger for lunch. And some strawberry ice cream. Both were mildly overpriced and mildly underwhelming.
When I felt rested enough, I set off for Badlands National Park, just 8 miles south of town. I had a hotel on the other end of the park, which I could check into and wait out the afternoon heat. For now, I’d ride through the park and just experience it, enjoy myself, try not to take too many pictures.
After 23 miles of otherworldly views, I checked into my room at the Badlands Motel and Campground in Interior, SD, cranked up the AC, and took a nap. It felt great.
On the ride today, I had made some big picture decisions about my trip. I would try to make it home to Los Angeles by July 23rd, so that I could attend a reading of my fiancé Kate’s screenplay. She’d be directing the film in the fall, her first feature, and this was a big moment in her life. I wanted to be there. Although I was only just beginning the more alone portion of my trip, I missed her and home. And with everything I’d already overcome thus far — dizziness, allergies, lost phone, etc — I was pretty sure my long gestating itch to do this journey would feel sufficiently scratched as long as I made it home and saw Yellowstone on the way.
After my nap, I looked at the map. My plan up to Yellowstone was set. From there, I was considering three options: 1) Head south through Utah to the Grand Canyon (which I love but have also visited several times). 2) Cross Northern California on the highly-recommended-on-motorcycle-forums Route 36 then head south on the Pacific Coast Highway (which I love but have driven by car a number of times). 3) Find the quickest route home via Yosemite and Kings Canyon/Sequoia National Parks (none of which I had visited before but hoped to on this trip). I threw out Utah and the Grand Canyon because it was too hot. Then I I looked up the shortest non-highway route home from Yellowstone. Although the Pacific Coast Highway would surely provide the coolest temps, going through Yosemite would be shorter. And I’d probably want to throw out Kings Canyon/Sequoia if I really wanted to give myself time in Yosemite. At last, my plan was set.
I went to Cedar Pass Restaurant in the park and had a Sioux taco for dinner — basically a buffalo meat taco on fry bread. I ate too quickly because I wanted to get out and see the Badlands in all their pre-sunset glory.
Sailing through the cool, dusky air surrounded by strange rock formations, I felt a perfect mix of freedom, joy, and awe. Exactly the sort of feeling one seeks on a trip like this.