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  • Writer's pictureAl S.

Boiling A Frog - Spearfish, SD to Hardin, MT

Updated: Jan 25, 2023

Wyoming and Montana are big states... really big. The only way to get across these states is to start pedaling. Devils Tower, Indian Reservations, and The Little Bighorn Battlefield make it an interesting ride.



 

Jun 26

Mileage: 67.4 miles

Odometer Start: 4475.1

Odometer End: 4542.5

Avg Speed: 11.4 mph

Max Speed: 32.5 mph

Riding Time: 5 hrs, 54 mins

Spearfish, SD City Campground to Belle Fourche Campground at Devils Tower, WY


My goal for the day was to reach Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming. There is a campground run by the National Park Service near the entrance to the monument and I was planning to stay there. The only problem was that the campground did not take reservations, it was first-come, first-served. That is a disadvantage when you are on a bike.


The 12th state of the journey.

I was expecting Devils Tower to be very busy and the campground to fill up pretty early in the day. It was approximately 65 miles from Spearfish, SD to Devils Tower, WY and I was concerned there would be no vacant sites by the time I covered the distance between Spearfish and the park. Therefore, I was on the road right at first light.


I hopped on Old U.S. Rt 14 which runs adjacent to I-90 all the way into Sundance, Wyoming. I was sharing the road with very few cars because the interstate pulls all of the traffic.


The first glimpse of Devils Tower from U.S. Rt 14.

I was very excited to cross off another state as I crossed the Wyoming state line. South Dakota was finished and the huge (and intimidating) distances of Wyoming and Montana were directly in front of me. I had enough experience riding through the mid-west to appreciate the challenge associated with the distances involved in Wyoming and Montana. You would think by this point I would have been very confident in my ability to ride across these 2 enormous states, however, I had something tickling the base of my brain telling me that I was in over my head.


I stopped for some breakfast and Gatorade at the gas station/convenience store just over the Wyoming line. It was a nice cool morning. In fact, it was cool enough that I was wearing my long sleeve shirt for the entire day. There were also some clouds rolling in and it looked like there would be some rain in the afternoon.


I got my first glimpse of Devils Tower from about 10 miles away as I crested one of the rolling hills . It was just a small blip that sticks out against the sky. It didn't seem that impressive or awe-inspiring from a distance.


My campsite in the shadow of Devils Tower. This was the most picturesque campsite of the entire journey.

I pulled up to the entrance gate to the monument right around noon. I had made decent time and was optimistic about getting a site at the campground. There were 15 or 20 cars waiting at a stop light to turn into the shops and restaurants just outside the park entrance, so I rode up to the light on the shoulder. Unfortunately, I misread the situation and all of those cars were actually waiting at the light to get into the park. I was getting ready to turn around and go wait at the back of the line when some guy in a car waved me in front of him. Works for me! (Also, I had an annual pass for all National Parks, so it only took me 20 seconds to get my map and have the ranger wave me through).


I pulled into the campground around 12:30 and was dreading finding all of the spaces filled. To my surprise, the campground was almost empty and there were maybe only 10 other tents and RVs scattered around the campground. I had my choice of almost any spot in the place. I picked a site that was convenient to the toilet, but also had a great view of Devils Tower through the trees. From the perspective of the view, this was probably the best campsite I had on the entire trip. Sometimes things just fall into place.


Whoever added the googly eyes to this sign... kudos.

It was just starting to rain as I arrived, so I dropped my gear under the picnic table took care of registration and a quick lunch while the rain fell. Fortunately, the roof of the bathroom building had a nice overhang where I could stay dry and eat my lunch. Once the rain stopped, I got my tent set up and my gear sorted. This campsite was so nice that I almost immediately decided to take the next day off and spend a good bit of time exploring the base of Devils Tower.


After getting my camp set up, I rode over to the prairie dog town to gawk at the little critters doing their thing. Afterwards, I rode out of the park to the shops and restaurants just past the entrance station. I picked up a couple of non-dehydrated items for dinner that evening. Sometimes, you get tired of eating Knorr's rice dishes every night and you just need to add a can of green beans to the diet.


I spent the rest of the afternoon watching the tower, taking care of some basic bike maintenance, and resting. Interestingly, the tower seems to continually shift colors throughout the day. When the sun hits the tower directly, it is almost white. It is practically black when it is wet from the rain and at other times it shifts between a slate gray and brown. After the sun went down, but there was still a bit of remaining light, there was even a touch of purple on the tower. I was really glad I made a point of visiting this place.


 

Jun 27

Mileage: 8.3 miles

Odometer End: 4550.8

Avg Speed: 11.7 mph

Max Speed: 34.3 mph

Riding Time: 0 hrs, 42 mins

Belle Fourche Campground at Devils Tower, WY


This was the second day off in the last 3 days, but the area around Devils Tower was just so nice that it needed some extra time. I wanted to hike the trails around the base of the tower, hit the visitors center, and simply enjoy the day. After all, what is the point of taking all of this time to ride a bike all the way across the country if you can't slow down and enjoy the journey.


Devil's Tower as seen from the Tower Trail loop at the base of the tower.

I started the morning by registering my campsite for a second night. I ran into the park ranger as I was dropping off my envelope and told him I had decided to stay a second night. He felt that was an excellent idea and told me to enjoy the time around the tower.


It was perfect weather for a hike with clear skies and mild temperatures. However, the forecast called for rain to start around 1 pm. I packed one of my saddlebags with walking shoes, a pair of shorts, and some snacks, then hopped on the bike and headed up the hill to the visitors center at the base of the tower. It was a quick ride and it was still early enough that the traffic was light.


The visitors center was closed for renovation, so I went straight to the "Tower Trail" and started hiking around the base of the tower. The trees near the base are draped with Native American prayer cloths and bundles that are left by individuals. These cloths and bundles may represent an offering, a request, or a remembrance of a person.


A view of Devils Tower from the Red Beds Trail on the south side of the tower.

Unfortunately, part of the "Tower Trail" was being resurfaced, so it was closed halfway around the tower. I walked the open portion of the trail, reached the "Trail Closed" sign, then turned around and retraced my steps. This still allowed me to get around to the back of the tower and get a good sense of the tower from multiple angles.


Once I made it back to the parking lot, I found the "Red Beds Trail". This trail also went all the way around the tower, but it was unsurfaced and a bit longer. It runs 3 miles through some of the interesting geological features around the base of the tower.


Of particular interest is the red cliffs made of sedimentary rocks that are part of the Spearfish Formation that is present throughout the Black Hills. This trail also provides some nice views of both the Belle Fourche River and the Prairie Dog town. Although, it is really difficult to take your eyes off of Devils Tower.


Devils Tower in the background and the Prairie Dog Town directly behind me.

Once I completed my circumnavigation of the tower, I took a look at all of the signage that was posted around the parking lot explaining some specific details of the tower. This didn't take very long since the visitors center was closed, along with all of the exhibits it contained. I hopped back on my bike and headed back to the campground. I was back at my site shortly after 11 am.


I decided to head over to the KOA shop and restaurant just outside the park for lunch. I had some ice cream as a bit of dessert and then picked up some canned food for dinner along with a couple of snacks. I was back at the campground by 3 pm and spent the rest of the afternoon enjoying the weather and appreciating the views of the tower.


Each campsite had a small driveway that was intended to be used as the parking spot for campers and RVs of the people spending the night. As a joke, I had been parking my bicycle in the middle of this driveway. I found it humorous seeing my tiny little bike sitting in the middle of this large parking spot all by itself.


As I was sitting in my camp chair enjoying the afternoon, some guy and his young son walked by on the campground road. As they passed, the father took a look at me in my small chair, my bike, and my little tent. Shortly after, I heard the father comment to his son "I guess that guy is a minimalist". To be fair, you quickly become a minimalist when you have all of your possessions strapped to the back of a bicycle.


 

Jun 28

Mileage: 62.9 miles

Odometer End: 4613.7

Avg Speed: 13.0 mph

Max Speed: 39.2 mph

Riding Time: 4 hrs, 50 mins

Devils Tower, WY to Gillette, WY


It was foggy and cool when I got out of my sleeping bag in the morning. The view from my campsite up toward Devils Tower was very dramatic. I packed up and got on the road as quickly as possible so that I could beat the bulk of the tourist traffic. By this point in the journey, I was accustomed to getting up as soon as it became daylight, so rising early was not really a big deal.


The Circle of Smoke sculpture next to the campground at Devils Tower.

This was one of the most boring days of the entire tour. I rode from Devils Tower and backtracked down to Wyoming Hwy 14. I headed south toward Moorcroft, WY. The terrain is wide open, flat, and generally boring in this area. The most interesting event of the day was when I came across a turtle in the middle of the road. I stopped and gave him a quick lift over to the other side so that he could carry on doing his turtle things without fear of becoming road pizza.




Devils Tower shrouded in mist first thing in the morning prior to my ride to Gillette, WY.

Once I hit Moorcroft, WY I turned onto Hwy 51 and headed west toward Gillette, WY. This road paralleled I-90 for the next 30 miles all the way into the city. The only thing of note on this stretch was a BNSF rail yard that was used to marshal trains together. For some reason, BNSF had assembled a huge number of locomotives at this site. I could see a line of locomotives stretching as far as I could see. I began counting and there were at least 94 locomotives right next to the road. This string of locomotives stretched for 1 1/2 miles. There was a second set of engines on a parallel set of tracks, but I couldn't count both sets of engines at the same time. There must have been at least 200 locomotives all sitting in that rail yard. I had never seen anything like that before.


I arrived at the Crazy Woman Campground in Gillette, WY by mid-afternoon. I had time to set up camp, get a shower, do laundry, and stop at a local grocery store before 5 pm. What really excited me in Gillette was the Indian restaurant just down the street from the campground. I was really looking forward to a delicious meal of Indian food because this was the first Indian restaurant I had seen in 1000+ miles. I walked over to the restaurant... and it was closed. Monday is the only day they are closed and I timed it perfectly. I left disappointed, but there was a Mexican restaurant nearby that proved to be a suitable substitute.



 

Jun 29

Mileage: 100.2 miles

Odometer End: 4713.9

Avg Speed: 15.5 mph

Max Speed: 34.1 mph

Riding Time: 6 hrs, 28 mins

Gillette, WY to Broadus, MT


I knew this was going to be a big day on the bike. I had reviewed the map and I needed to reach Broadus, Montana today. Unfortunately, there was nothing in between Gillette and Broadus except for 100 miles of open road. There were no small towns, no gas stations, and no easy place to get water in between. I was going to have to get on the bike and just ride until I got there.


The point just north of Gillette, WY where I hit 3000 miles from Baltimore.

Once again, I started as early as possible because it was supposed to be hot. I stopped at a convenience store at the edge of town and got some breakfast and 2 large bottles of Gatorade. I stowed the Gatorade into my saddlebags and made sure that I had as much water as I could carry, then started pedaling.


Just outside of town I passed the Eagle Butte Coal Mine, an immense open pit coal mine that stretches for several miles... and you can only see a small piece of it from the road. Regardless, it was actually pretty depressing seeing the huge open wound on the earth that stretches so far.


The road was mostly empty of traffic, but it stretched for miles and miles across the prairie with no trees or shade to speak of. It was mostly flat with some soft rolling hills. I noticed by mid-morning that I was receiving some road magic... I had lucked into a tailwind blowing out of the south. I was maintaining about 15 mph without expending more effort than normal.


Welcome to Montana... state number 13 on the trip. Do you see any trees in this picture?

I hit the Montana state line after about 60 miles. There was a pull-out for cars next to the "Welcome to Montana" sign, so I took a nice little break, hydrated, and had a bit of "first lunch". Of course, I had to take my break in the direct sun since there was no shade anywhere to be found. My favorite moment from this break was watching a car drive by without stopping and the woman in the passenger seat had her phone up to the window and was taking a picture of the "Welcome" sign. Seriously, are you in such a hurry that you can't pull off for 2 minutes to get a proper picture?


I was more than a little daunted by crossing into Montana. I had traveled a long way to get here, but I had done the math and knew that almost 20% of all the miles on this trip would be covered while crossing the state of Montana.


As I continued riding, I began to ponder how I had managed to ride all the way from Baltimore to Montana. It was 3000+ miles and I was on a bicycle. It didn't feel like I had ridden that far. I realized that my situation was very similar to "boiling a frog". There is an apocryphal story about placing a frog into a pot of water and slowly raising the temperature one degree at a time (I don't want to Google this story, because I don't want to know if it is true or not). The frog does not recognize the increased temperature of the water because it increases so slowly, and therefore, does not try to escape the pot. The slow increase in temperature eventually reaches a very dramatic conclusion... a boiled (and very dead) frog.


It isn't a perfect analogy, but it occurred to me that my situation was very similar to "boiling a frog". One day, I got on my bike and went for a long ride. The next day, I got up and did the same thing again. Then I did it again, and again, and again. Eventually, I found myself in Montana. Like many things in life, a consistent effort over time can result in huge accomplishments. (I'm just hoping to avoid the whole "dead" part).


Shade! A well-deserved break from the sun in eastern Montana.

As mentioned, there was no shade to be found along the side of the road. Occasionally, I would see a tree off in the distance, but nothing that I could use to take a break and get out of the sun. Around mile 85 for the day, there was a small building next to the road. It was not a house, but looked more like a disused storage shop. It didn't matter, I could reach it without jumping a fence, it was not occupied, and there was a bit of shade on one side of the building. I stopped, set up my camp chair in the shade and had a well-deserved break.


I'm not sure why, but I used this opportunity to take one of my favorite pictures from the entire trip. This picture (shown above) really captures the spirit of the experience. It shows me, my bike with all of the gear and the bare background of eastern Montana. I am looking happy, possibly satisfied with myself, despite getting too much sun and not looking my best. I generally show this picture to people who ask me what it is like to ride your bike across the continent.


My neighbors at the campground for the evening.

After the refreshing break in the shade, I covered the last 15 miles into Broadus and reached the Wayside RV Park. I got situated with my campsite and then met my neighbors for the evening... a bunch of chickens and a small herd of goats and sheep.








 

Jun 30

Mileage: 42.5 miles

Odometer End: 4756.5

Avg Speed: 13.8 mph

Max Speed: 34.5 mph

Riding Time: 3 hrs, 04 mins

Broadus, MT to Ashland, MT


Do you know what time roosters in eastern Montana begin cock-a-doodle-doo'ing? I do. In late June, they start at 4:30 am. I was awoken on this morning by a couple of roosters telling me that the sun would be rising at any moment. The chickens had a roost right next to the goats and lambs that were next to my campsite, so they were basically right next to my head. I resigned myself to the fact that I was not going to get any more sleep and began preparing for the day.


Looking up the hill at Custer National Forest between Broadus, MT and Ashland, MT.

This was not going to be a very long day because the Northern Cheyenne Reservation begins just west of the town of Ashland, MT. This reservation bumps up against the Crow Reservation which means there is a 75 mile stretch of road west of Ashland with no camping options. My plan for the day was to reach the Red Shale Campground in Custer National Forest just prior to the town of Ashland.


I was at the campground well before noon and started looking for a campsite. There were plenty of openings... in fact, the campground was almost empty. However, when I started looking I realized there was no water supply in the campground. There were some pit toilets, but no way to replenish my water. This was just not an option that would work for me. I had to have a water source. My only choice was to continue another 6 miles into the small town of Ashland and see what my options were.


There was one small motel in the town and it didn't look very busy when I pulled into the parking lot. The door to the office was locked and there was no contact information for the manager/owner. I went next door to the convenience store and asked the clerk if he knew how to reach the owner of the motel. (I honestly figured that in a town this small everyone knows each other and would know how to reach the appropriate person). Sure enough, he made a call and 30 minutes later I was sitting in my air-conditioned room with all the other comforts of home. The room only cost me $50 for the night and I can assure you that I have spent far more money staying in far worse places.


After a quick shower, I rode back down the street to a little diner and had a nice lunch. I spent the afternoon relaxing in my room, taking a nap, and being generally lazy.



 

Jul 01

Mileage: 80.0 miles

Odometer End: 4836.5

Avg Speed: 13.5 mph

Max Speed: 33.7 mph

Riding Time: 5 hrs, 55 mins

Ashland, MT to Hardin, MT


I got a good night's sleep in a real bed and was on the road early. The convenience store had not yet opened when I started riding. I was following MT Rt 212 all the way to the intersection of I-90 near The Little Bighorn Battlefield. The Northern Cheyenne Reservation begins about 1/4 mile west of Ashland, so I was on Native American land immediately.


Lame Deer, MT on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation.

The route was mostly flat with the exception of a 3 mile hill with a 6+% grade about 10 miles into the ride. Once that was out of the way, I began making really good time. There is almost nothing in this huge landscape. There is an occasional house, herds of cattle, and lots of fences lining the road, but otherwise it is only the open sky and the open road.


There are 2 small towns between Ashland and Little Bighorn, one of them had probably the most interesting name that I encountered on the entire ride; Lame Deer. There was not much to the town except for a casino. I didn't even see a gas station or convenience store, but it did have a good name.


The entrance to Little Bighorn Battlefield near Crow Agency, MT.

The other town on this 60 mile stretch of road was Busby. I didn't expect anything, but there was a small, run-down convenience store at the top of a small hill looking out over the town. I didn't even realize it was a store until I noticed numerous cars and a semi parked next to the building and people milling around. I stopped and was informed by one of the people out front that the store opened at 9. That was only a 5 minute wait, so I hung around.


While I was waiting, the driver of the semi truck walked over and introduced himself. He then informed me that he had passed me a few minutes ago and apologized for not being able to move over further because there was oncoming traffic. That was the first time someone had approached me like that on this trip. I explained that I didn't even notice, so he couldn't have been that close, but I (and all cyclists) really appreciate him paying attention to us.


As we talked, he eventually told me a story about the owner of the convenience store. Apparently, 2 weeks prior, some guy on meth had walked into the store, pulled a gun on the owner and tried to rob him. At that point, the owner pulled his own gun and proceeded to shoot the would-be robber. The story that was related to me was that the owner "blew the guy's shoulder off". About that time, the owner walked out of the store, went over to his truck and retrieved an AR-15, and then went back inside. The AR-15 was probably back-up to the hand cannon that was nestled in his shoulder holster.

The Custer National Cemetery at the Little Bighorn Battlefield.

With that, the store was open and I went inside to get some Gatorade and a muffin. We might all be Americans here, but I'm not sure that we all live in the same country... and sometimes, I'm not even sure it is the same planet.


I picked up a tailwind after leaving the convenience store and was making really good time. I will never stop appreciating a tailwind on a bicycle. I was about a mile away from the Little Bighorn Battlefield when I hit a piece of road debris and had a major blowout on my back tire. Normally, leaks are slow and it will be several minutes between the puncture and when you notice the tire going flat, this was nothing like that. My tire went from fully inflated to flat in a second.


I set about changing the tire and the actual tire had a large hole in it. I had to break out my backup tire to fix this properly. As I began pumping air back into the tire, my pump started giving a lot of resistance. Shortly after that, the gasket on the interior of the pump failed and the pump was dead. This bicycle pump had pumped its last pump, would not be moving air again... it was pining for the fjords. This was bad... this was really bad. I had less than 10 pounds of air in the tire and no way to add more.


Headstones mark where soldier's bodies were found on the hill of Custer's Last Stand.

I took a couple of breaths, thought about the problem, and realized my only real option was to walk the bike up to the Little Bighorn Battlefield and find someone in one of those huge RVs that had a bicycle pump that I could borrow for a few minutes. I could literally see the parking lot off in the distance.


I loaded up the bike and began walking. I didn't get more than 100 yards when the rear tire came unseated and the edges of the tire wedged between the frame and rim of the tire. There was no other option, so I began taking everything off the bike again so I could re-seat the tire. This was going to take me hours to walk a mile with this rate of progress.


Just as I was finishing unloading, a van pulled off the road and stopped in front of me. The driver was Paul M. from Arkansas. He had been driving all night and was headed to a memorial service up in northern Montana. He asked if I needed help and I explained my problem. Paul opened the back of his van and there in a nice rack, inside the van, was his mountain bike. He dug around a bit and pulled out a handheld, battery powered air pump. He had my tire filled and ready to go in about 20 seconds.


The 7th Cavalry Memorial on top of the hill of Custer's Last Stand.

After getting the tire fixed, he started digging around in one of his tool bags and pulled out a small bike pump. He said that he had recently won this pump in a raffle and that I could have it. I cannot express how grateful I was. The nearest bike shop was 100 miles away in Billings, MT, but the pump gave me the assurance that I could get there without getting stranded.


Paul, if you ever read this, I can't thank you enough. You really saved my bacon that day. I still have that pump tucked away in my pannier waiting to be given to another cyclist in dire need.


With my freshly fixed tire, I was at the Little Bighorn visitors center in no time. I walked through the national cemetery that holds the remains of soldiers from the battle in 1876 in addition to soldiers from other wars up through the Korean War, I also visited the 7th Cavalry Memorial and the Indian Memorial that are on the hill of Custer's Last Stand. The visitors center had an excellent and informative history of the battle and the aftermath. It was a very worthwhile visit.


The Indian Memorial at Little Bighorn Battlefield.

Once I was finished with walking around, I made my way back to the parking lot and found a tree with some good shade where I could sit and have lunch. There was already a family there, so I asked if they would mind sharing the shade. As I sat down they asked me where I was from and where I was headed. I explained I had ridden from Baltimore and was headed to the ocean. It turned out they were from Virginia. We spoke for a while as they finished their lunch. As they were preparing to leave, they offered me a huge ziploc bag filled with strawberries and watermelon. They said they were just going to throw it away. Yes, please!!! I sat in the shade and ate the entire bag. It was delicious. Fresh fruit is not easy to carry on a bike and it was very refreshing.


I continued on to Hardin, MT and stopped at the campground in the town. This had been a weird day, it started off well, teetered on the edge of disaster after the flat tire, but was completely redeemed by the kindness of a couple of strangers.



 







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