To Make a Prairie

To Make a Prairie

To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,
One clover, and a bee.
And revery.
The revery alone will do, If bees are few

- Emily Dickinson

We have been talking about prairies and we have covered some 700 miles of the Great Plains since leaving Wayzata 16 days ago. So, you may ask, what is a prairie anyway? Simply put, a prairie is an enormous, vast expanse of natural grassland. There is not enough predictable precipitation and soil moisture to support consistent shrub and tree growth, and the harsh extremes of drought and wildfire always bring it back to hardy tough grasses. Because prairies are so suitable for agriculture and grazing, less than 2% of undisturbed native prairie ecosystems still exist in the US.

Interspersed with the Badlands over the last couple of days, we have ridden through protected “mixed-grass prairies” that represent a remnant of this ecotype. These prairies contain a mixture of the tall grasses of the moist eastern prairies and the short grasses of the more arid western prairies, and consequently they have a large number of prairie grass species represented.

Today we crested one of the rolling prairie hills to see a black horizon of distant forested mountains that represent the end of the vast expanse of prairie land we have ridden since Wayzata. It is actually a temporary end, since the Black Hills are an island range of mountains within the Great Plains. Many more miles of prairie in Montana await us.

Last night we assessed today’s day of travel and saw oppressive heat and gusty winds on the nose beginning early. We moderated our expectations accordingly, eying a campground in New Underwood some 40 miles ahead. Starting too early would flirt with the winds and too late, the heat. So we set the alarm for five. At 2:00, I got up to “water the lawn” and the gusty winds were in full force – a bit ahead of schedule. I climbed back in the tent with a peaceful-easy-feeling (PEF) that the winds would subside for our ride.

Morning in Wall, SD as we began

Our morning start was efficient. The winds were not too bad. But google maps led us onto gravel roads to avoid the freeway. Through force of will, I adopted a faux PEF regarding the gravel (pleasant enough to ride but cutting our speed in half, the gravel ate into our morning “cool” riding). We would soon find pavement.

Regarding the second PEF – no luck. Our gravel would last some 20 miles before we would get back to I-90 for ten miles, our first forced riding of freeway for the Zephyr North. Regarding the second – Zephyr was kind to us and my peaceful-easy-feeling was a premonition that came to be. But we lost time due to the gravel and arrived after noon (one of our prescriptions for beating the heat) to New Underwood. To our dismay, the campground did not allow tents and the single motel was full.

Next port-of-call: Rapid City – 20 miles further, in the afternoon heat (not an ounce of shade in between). After brief debate while consuming various substandard foods and beverages in the local air conditioned C-store, we loaded up with fresh cool water, some five liters each, and launched for Rapid City, against our hot weather prescription of pre-noon riding only. We drank some of the water and poured the rest of it liberally and periodically along the way over our heads and soaking our clothes. We made it comfortably and safely to Rapid City, temperature reading 94, where we now cogitate our visit to Mount Rushmore and the Black Hills.

And as for riding the prairie – revery is the right word. But there are more. Awe. Respect. Fear. I guess that those words, along with the time to contemplate it, is all part of revery.

Wall to Rapid City, South Dakota

Author: Mike

Mike Jostrom lives with his wife Sue on a houseboat in Seattle when he is not touring on his bicycle or cruising by sailboat. He is a forester and enjoys viewing the world through the lens of the physical landscape. He also is a musician, with the uke being his instrument of choice on a bicycle tour.

8 thoughts on “To Make a Prairie”

  1. Wonderful writing about the prairie!! I’m sure I would be able to perfectly see it in my mind without you fun photos! What kind of “Campground” doesn’t allow tents!🙄. Thanks again for your effort in writing every night!👍🏻👏🏻

    Liked by 1 person

  2. That sunrise is beautiful tho!! Sounds like this leg of your adventure is quite challenging!! And I have never heard of a “campsite” that doesnt allow tenting??! Uggg

    Like

  3. As a former edge of the prairie Minnesotan I am especially loving this weeks ride. I crossed that same prairie on my first tour, but in early Fall. I like your respect and undaunted fear of the heat. You two are real warriors of the hot road. An RV park in SD so hoity- toity that it wouldnt let you set up your teenie- wennie tent is un-American. Great opening poem. Thank you for the time and creative skill you put into your blog. One of my BGF (bicycle girl friends) is Jo that you met with Happy on the ST in 2019.

    Jim

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Jim!
      Thank you for reading and commenting!
      Today was by far one of the most challenging – ending in a 2.5 10% up from Keystone to Mount Rushmore in 90 plus heat. Sheesh. You will read more in a bit..!
      Big hello to our bike pals Jo and Happy!!

      Like

  4. I love the the vocabulary you have assembled for the prairie journey: Awe, Respect, Fear.
    All the words describe what I hold in my heart for your journey ahead. At the top of the list….Respect. So so much.

    Liked by 2 people

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