Zach and Jennifer are both (not too seriously) trying to visit all 50 United States; they’re each down to less than 10 to go. A while back, we compared our lists and found that neither of us had ever been to Wisconsin, Minnesota, or North Dakota. Minnesota seemed like a nice place for bicycle riding, so we concocted the plan of riding across northern Minnesota and visiting the bordering states of North Dakota and Wisconsin at the beginning and/or end of the ride. It turns out that the Adventure Cycling Association “Northern Tier” route, maps 5 and 6, is exactly that ride — they publish really great maps, complete with turn-by-turn descriptions of well-researched routes that keep you off major highways and instead take you through small town America, and Jennifer is a life member. So, this summer we got the maps and started thinking seriously about doing the trip.
A major consideration on a trip like this is logistics: we would need to get ourselves and our bikes to one side of Minnesota, and then after the ride, get ourselves and our bikes home from the other side of Minnesota. We decided to do it as a car trip, since there are some interesting things to see between here and Minnesota; by taking a slightly longer route on the way there, Zach was also able to add South Dakota to his list of states (Jennifer had been there before but Zach hadn’t).
So, on Friday the 11th of September, we set off driving east with our bikes on Zach’s car. We made it to the Little Big Horn National Monument before they closed for the day, and saw our first pronghorn (antelope) of the trip, along with markers commemorating General Custer and his men, as well as the native Sioux people who were fighting him for the right to continue their way of life. It’s one of many sad and unfair chapters in U.S. history.
We made a peaceful camp that night in a free (and primitive) U.S. Forest Service campground, and set off on Saturday morning for a full day of driving and sightseeing. Our first stop was Devil’s Tower National Monument, where Jennifer had to endure Zach continually humming the 5-note theme from Close Encounters. Luckily, that was more than made up for by the really cute prairie dogs and spectacular (and surprisingly huge) rock, which we walked all the way around, gazing up at climbers and explaining to the other tourists what the climbers were doing.
Our next destination was the Black Hills of South Dakota, which we drove through on one of the scenic byways. Jennifer was very glad that since her last visit in 1988, the billboards that had littered the place then had mostly been removed, and we enjoyed the scenery. At the southern end, we visited Mount Rushmore, because you really need to see it once (or twice, in Jennifer’s case).
Then we headed to Badlands National Park. We arrived in the late afternoon; stopped to see some vistas, some big-horned sheep, and some more prairie dogs (did we mention how cute they are?); and camped at a commercial campground in Interior, SD, just outside the park (which was about the same price, about 2 miles away, and way nicer and quieter). Sunday morning, we got up early and did a several-mile hike in the Badlands. It’s a spectacular place.
After our hike, we got back in the car and drove across the rest of South Dakota and on to Minneapolis. We stayed there Sunday and Monday nights with Jennifer’s Drupal pal Les (thanks Les!). We unpacked everything, and pared down to the essentials we would actually carry on our bikes, putting the rest back into the car. On Monday, Zach drove the car about 3 hours to Fargo, North Dakota, and took the bus back (5 hours), while Jennifer worked on proofreading the index for the second edition of her Drupal programming book (which she worked on several more evenings during the bicycling portion of the trip).
Stay tuned… in the next installment, we set off bicycling!