A great wood paneled palace in Grand Portage MN was where I spent the night, drying up but not drying out. This truck stop came complete with a gift shop selling all sorts of worldly goods, even beer and cheap ciggys. It even included a new riding buddy at zero cost with no down payment. A cool dude no less, but of course you got to be cool to be on your bike in a world like this. The storm didn’t break until morning, and even then just for a split second, enough time to pack the bikes and blast off. Just a couple of international playboys on the move.
The hunt was on for a new chain, for that current chain just wouldn’t last. 2800 miles is what a brand new chain will get you these days. That’s not a lot and it’s not enough. A pit stop in Grand Marais yielded Grand Malaise for it was told that I would find what I was seeking, but only in Duluth, a scant hundred plus miles away. Would the CB make it? Of course it would and new was swapped for old in the motoshop parking lot. Dul(l)uth is good for something now, isn’t it?
A quick stop at Aerostitch to gaze at some tremendously overpriced riding garb and we were off, AP’s other riding buddies having procured a cabin for the night in Albert Lea, some 250 miles to the south. Sometimes you just have to ride the highways, to escape time or to escape the storm. Better to ride the bike than to ride the dog though.
The CB blasted down I-35 through Minnesota and through Minneapolis. I hate interstates.
We rode out the storm and made it before night. I’ve never been to a KOA before. They’re pretty nice I guess, although they’re expensive. The cabins are cool, I admit, but only make sense for the traveller on a budget if you’re travelling in a tribe because they cost as much as a hotel room. They’re just little log cabins with beds in them. There’s no bathroom or running water, although there is electricity. I slept on the porch.
In the morning I parted ways, striking for Austin MN and the SPAM museum. Look, if the sardine industry is dead and dying in America, the salted and canned pork products industry is alive and it’s absolutely kicking. The SPAM museum is better than the Guggenheim. It’s free, it’s cleaner, and the staff are incredibly kind and patient, especially to the lonesome adventurer. Pure Americana baby. The displays and framing are better too. You can tell an incredible amount of thought, care, and lots of money went into this museum. You wouldn’t think that a huge meat manufacturer like Hormel would even give a shit about one of their products, especially when that product is basically inedible garbage, but they do and it shows. The SPAM museum is absolutely top notch, a road trip staple. Don’t miss it! Look, I really like SPAM, but it truly is filth. Don’t eat it.
I got off the interstate after Albert Lea and explored some of the Minnesotan hinterlands. There’s just not much out there, really. But I’m glad to be in America, really. Rolling farmlands stretch horizonally in all directions. Great fields of green. Don’t forget to stop in Blue Earth for a chance photo with a 50 foot tall Jolly Green Giant.
Travel Tip: Should you find yourself in Blue Earth tuckered and tired towards the end of a long, dusty day, take heed that this particular Minnesota city provides FREE camping to those passing through. Set up shop in their fairgrounds. It’s free! And there’s a Walmart across the street. Stock up on beans.
It was a good day. SPAM museums and giant roadside attractions send the heart aflutter for the American rubber tramp, you know, the one in search America. A brief stop at Pipestone National Monument yields a glimpse of ancient petroglyphs and quarries held sacred by the Native Americans for their most excellent pipe making stone. Pipeadamstone?
But a stone’s throw away from Pipeadamstone lies the municipality of Jasper MN, a scant 3 miles from the SD border.
Travel Tip: Should you find yourself in Jasper MN tuckered and tired towards the end of a long, dusty day, take heed that this particular Minnesota city provides $10 camping to those passing through. A short trip up main street will lead one to what looks like a little park but which is also a campground. Although it feels like you camping on someone’s front lawn because there are houses across the street and an apartment complex 50 yards away in this bustling metropolis of 655, know that this is indeed a campground. There is a port-o-potty and electrical hookups. Don’t forget to put your 10 kopeks in the box, lest the Jasper Lyons Club come hunt you down and slay you like a wild dog.
Yup, Jasper MN was where I spent the night. Oh, I forgot to mention to watch out for the shirtless mentally ill man. This denizen of the dark will catch you off guard while you’re taking a leak outside in the night air. Sure, he might startle you, but he’s harmless and merely out for a brisk shirtless stroll in the middle of the night. Muttering to himself.
Pay him no mind, for South Dakota awakes.
South Dakota greets you with vast rolling prairies that stretch to the horizon. Gusseting wind blasts threaten to tip manboy from bike in this vast cartoonish landscape. But they are no harm. Blast forth and breakfast at the Corn Palace in downtown Mitchell. Truly a palace of corn, the Mitchell Corn Palace is of the purest Americana. $2.50 will garner you a couple of egg sandwiches and a coffee. Don’t pass it up man. I’m warning you.
But only stop in Mitchell for the briefest of intermissions, for the Badlands await! Get on that bike and ride young gun. The West indeed is waiting for you!
I struck for the Badlands and made it a couple hours before dark. A long hot slog on the SD interstate will get you there with no style and no grace, but you’ll get there. The Badlands are instantaneously recognizable as something remarkable. They are a delight and they are truly awe inspiring. BNP hosts two campgrounds. The first is right across from the visitors center and boasts cabins as well as tent sites, and running water for 15 kopeks or so a night. I camped the night at Sage Creek, a more remote campground with no running water that is free. Prairie dogs have set up shop here as well and they are indeed an adorable subspecies. Watch for Bison strolling through in the morning light.
The weather has been abysmal on this long hard ride. At this point, nearly 3 weeks out, it had rained every single day. I was completely and utterly drenched. The video speaks nothing to the thunderstorm which passed over the previous night. Great volleys of wind and hail threatened to take the tent, my only means of shelter, out into the Badlands. I sat in the middle of the tent, gripping both the wall and rain fly with white knuckles for 45 terrible minutes, praying that this Walmart puptent would not disintegrate into scraps. That shit makes you question what you’re doing out there. I had a job and an apartment.
I went into Wall in the morning and got a room at the Sunshine Inn. The name of the place speaks to the disposition of the owner, really it does. Great service and the cheapest place in town @ $39.
Travel Tip: Haggling for a cheap motel room over the phone seldom or never results in any form of success. Go in and meet the man face to face. A ruddy complexion and adventurous spirit do wonders in winning over the hearts and minds in small town America.
I dried out and waited out the passing storm. I wanted to spend some more time in the Badlands. I couldn’t give up on them just yet and there was no riding that could be done that would get me out of the wet. I waited it out, went to Wall Drug and spent most of the day there. Interstate signs signal for miles the coming of Wall Drug. It’s like South of the Border if you’ve ever driven I-95, but way better. They have free bumper stickers, ice water, and nickel cups of coffee. It’s pure kitsch man and you can’t beat it. But there’s an undercurrent there, a mellifluous vibe, and a real wink and a nod to those in search of America. A great collection of western paintings line the walls. They’re brilliant, really, and thoughtfully written descriptions of both subject and author enlighten the traveller. Should you stop at Wall Drug, and you should, be sure to grab yourself a nickel coffee and ride out the storm. It’s better than the Guggenheim.
I couldn’t let the Badlands slip from my grasp man. I went back and spent the entire next day there, camping out in the same camp ground. A 5 mile hike into the middle of park will get you out there, alone in the bush. Few park goers venure forth into this terrain, nary the least bit eager to leave the 10 foot safety radius of their million dollar motorhomes. The night was resplendent and a million stars filled the sky. The first day without rain, and I gotta say it was a good day.