Weather: Beautiful… until the ride home.
There was quite a dichotomy between the way Pierre, South Dakota was described to me, and what I actually found when Frogwing and I rolled into town. The gulf between myth and reality was as wide as the Missouri River at Lake Oahe. You can blame that on modern times, and the ubiquity of giant, multi-national corporations, I suppose. Super Walmart is here, along with the usual assortment of fast-food emporiums. The invasion continues…
While I was expecting a dusty cowtown straight out of the Wild West, what I experienced instead was a sort of Anytown, USA, with a hint of USDA-approved Western-Style flavoring. Even personal emails from friends of mine who hail from South Dakota warned me of being shot at for trespassing, and made the place seem like it was just one step evolved from Dodge City, during that town’s bloody heyday.
Here is a sample of what I was reading before the trip, and one of the main reasons for the big letdown when I discovered the reality:
If your personal motto is, â€œLeave your neighbor alone. The poor bastard has enough trouble already.â€ so much the better. If not, keep driving. Youâ€™ll save wear and tear on yourself and the entire populace of South Dakota. But if getting full of whiskey and driving your car down main street while shooting at street lights is something youâ€™ve always secretly wanted to try, keep reading. You may have found paradise on earth right here in good old South Dakota.
…wait for someone to offer a political criticism of our government in action and join in with the alcoholic approval, especially if said approval involves the â€œGod-Damn bleedinâ€™ heart gun grabbinâ€™ commie liberals, ruininâ€™ the whole country.â€ On no account should you try to stick up for the liberals. If you bought a new gun from Cody, now would be a good time for show and tell. Make sure it’s not loaded.
This is from an excellent piece by a fellow named Jack Diamond. I’m going to watch for more of his travel reviews, because they fit right in with my ideas about myth and legend being so much more entertaining than straight reporting. But I’m not going to use him as a reference to guide my travels anymore. He paints word pictures that are impossible to live up to, in our modern reality.
That should explain why Frogwing and I spent very little time in the city, and why we rode so many miles on the wide open prairie to the west of Fort Pierre.
Another good reason to stay out of town, was the excellent Pierre ORV, or Off-Road Vehicle park.
This is a playground the likes of which Frogwing and I have never experienced. After I took this photo, I packed up the camera, lifted all my luggage off of Frogwing’s back, and stashed it near some prominent bushes, where I could be sure to find it again. The great thing about these open prairies is that you can see people coming for miles. I wasn’t concerned about losing my luggage to local bandits.
Fully unburdened, we spent the next two hours bounding over the hills under an enormous blue sky. Some places were built up with moto-cross features. We rolled slowly over the “whoops”, but attacked the table-top jump with gusto. I don’t know if it was the road-biased suspension settings or my own rusty riding technique, but we bottomed the front forks landing that one.
I can tell you this: If there was any cubicle-generated tension remaining in my mind, body, or soul after the past three days on the road, I left it all out there on the dirt trails of the Pierre ORV park. Dirty and sweaty, we returned for our luggage, and headed back to the room to clean up for dinner.
Mike and Jodi Schwinler run a tight ship at the Fort Pierre Motel. Newly renovated, the room was clean, the A/C worked, and the bed was comfy. This was much better than I usually expect at the prices I am willing to pay on the road.
Jodi was at the desk when I checked in, and we had a nice chat about the local attractions. She gave me a local town map, and confirmed my choice for dinner at the Cattleman’s Club to be one of the best in the area. We had several such chats over the course of my stay, whenever I couldn’t think of where to go next.
Myril Arch’s Cattleman’s Club Steakhouse is famous nationwide for it’s simple policy of preparing three or four cuts of beef to absolute perfection. The place looks like a large, modern ranch house with big picture windows overlooking Lake Sharpe.
Hunting prints adorn the walls, and sawdust covers the floor. Guests sit at unpretentious formica tables on institutional steel-framed chairs, with black vinyl cushions. Your steak or prime rib comes with the usual sides of salad, potato, and ranch toast. Nothing fancy here. At the Cattleman’s Club, it’s all about the beef.
I had the 16-oz. top sirloin, rare, and with the blend of spices they rub on, I didn’t even need the A1 steak sauce I habitually use. I can’t remember the last time that happened. The Cattleman’s Club Steakhouse goes straight to number one on Rush Hour Rambling’s new Ride-to-Eat list.
Before we left on this epic journey, I wrote a piece in here called “(Portions Unpaved)”. In that, I talked about finding those little towns and settlements at the end of the dotted lines which represent dirt roads on a map. The one such place that I fixated on while planning this trip was called Mission Ridge.
Some thirty miles northwest of Fort Pierre, Mission Ridge lies past the end of route 1806, on a long, dirt road that shares the same name. It does NOT, however, lie at the T-intersection of Minneconjou Road and Mission Ridge Road.
I only found this out after I got home and started writing this piece. In the photo above, you see a confused traveller, thinking he is at the location called Mission Ridge, ready to rename it “Missing Ridge”, because there is nothing there but a T-intersection on a dirt road.
This happened because, instead of following the DeLorme’s Atlas and Gazetteer you can plainly see rolled up on Frogwing’s seat, I followed the directions given to me at a gas station by one Wylie Redwing, a local fisherman.
I met Wylie while filling up at the Shell station in Fort Pierre. Though a native of this town, he has travelled around quite a bit, and even spent some time in Lake Minnetonka, very near my workplace in Plymouth, Minnesota. We had a pleasant chat, and he told me to follow Minneconjou Road to the end. Mission Ridge was right out there somewhere. At least, that’s what I think he said… So I followed his directions, and ended up in the middle of nowhere, about three miles northwest of my intended destination. Then I turned around and went back the way I came.
Maps are wonderful devices, when you actually USE them! This is one reason why I’m not an Ironbutt rider.
Frogwing and I returned, slightly dejected, to Fort Pierre. I pulled out Jack Diamond’s article, and located a couple of places he mentioned on the town map that Jodi had given me. The Possum Lodge sounded intriguing, so I set off in search of that.
Unpretentious in the extreme, The Possum Lodge “Adult Daycare Center” is housed in a corrugated, galvanized-steel shack which used to be a welding shop or something. It is in that part of town which still supports small businesses, and far away from the mainstreet tourist venues. The people I met in there were a wealth of local lore, and I wish I had brought my notebook inside with me. As it happened, I enjoyed an hour or so of their conversation, before heading out on their recommendation to Jake’s Goodtime Place for a meal of hot buffalo wings.
Mark Larsen is the chef at Jake’s, and the wings are his specialty. He offers them in a range of pain from simply hot to Super Nuclear. As a travelling moto-journalist, there are just some risks I have to take, in order to bring you the whole story about the places I visit. Sampling the “Super Nuke” wings at Jake’s is one of those risks.
Habenero peppers are dangerous. I believe they have been weaponized in aerosol form to disperse rioters, for particularly sadistic police agencies. Although I was able to eat several of the Super Nuke wings without hurling them back out, I could feel them lying there in my stomach, emitting their own kind of lethal radiation. After failing to douse the flames with a cold beer, I knew it wouldn’t be long before the meltdown ensued, and I would have to spend substantial time, er, decontaminating in the bathroom. Time to head back to the motel, then, at maximum speed.
Saturday night was spent mostly in my room, for obvious reasons. I did venture out to the Hopscotch club, because it was only a couple of blocks from the motel. This place had been highly recommended by nearly everyone I talked to, with a nudge and a wink and a particularly knowing kind of smirk. As a married man, I do not frequent such places, where young women remove their clothing for fun and profit. Back in my Marine Corps days, however, I became something of a connoisseur in this field. I felt that I owed it to you, my faithful readers, to investigate.
Well, just like the city of Pierre, which has been transformed by the arrival of multi-national commerce, the Hopscotch club has been “cleansed” of the activities that gave it such a bawdy reputation. Ten minutes in that joint, and I was convinced that it was just another urban blue-collar “Gentlemen’s Club”. Nothing remarkable, nothing dangerous, and certainly nothing very titillating for one so jaded as myself.
The ride home on Sunday was almost non-stop. My digestive tract had mostly recovered from the Super Nuke wings, but I didn’t quite trust it to function normally all the way home. Only one gas stop was required, but we made a couple of extra “safety stops” along the way.
One of those was in Nicollette, Minnesota, at a place whose name escapes me right now. But it was there where I met members of the Flying Dutchmen Motorcycle Club. These guys have their own off-road and flat-track facilities, on private land in southern Minnesota. I’m definitely going to be talking to them again. But that is a story for another time.
Frogwing and I have been home for a week now. It’s been a long week of sitting in my cubicle, typing up reports, going to meetings, and generally getting caught up on all the misery I dodged while riding around in the wide open spaces. Existential Gravity always sucks me back to this place, where I suffer for my daily bread. But for awhile there, under that big blue sky, I achieved escape velocity, and savored the illusion of Freedom. It was a beautiful thing, while it lasted.