Sunday 27th November – Hello Chicken!

When I made for the bathroom this morning, busting for the toilet, I was stopped by a pair of campers in the back of a truck, enjoying the free camping as much as me. We chatted as long as I could hold on, then I excused myself and came back to talk at a more leisurely pace. Jerry and Marianna are from Colorado and just returning from Standing Rock! More people that had been there to support the cause. After talking with them I’m considering going up there. After I’m done riding around South Dakota I’ll see where I’m at. We exchanged details, they offered to put me up in their home in Fort Collins and even said I could park my car at their place while I’m off in Germany! So nice!

I delayed breakfast in the interest of getting to Jewel Cave National Monument in time to reserve a spot on the 10am tour. I got there just after 9am and there was plenty of room left. I went back out to the carpark after buying my ticket and, thoroughly starving by now, enjoyed a huge omelette.

The cave tour was ok, but it was not a very impressive cave. Being the third largest in the US with over 280km of networks, we only got to see a half mile of it and the tour went slowly as Dorothy, our ranger, explained different features.

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The features were interesting but didn’t have the history or the intricate designs that the Lehman Caves at Great Basin had. So now I’m a cave snob.

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Back in the sunlight and relative warmth, I drove back towards Rapid City where I was meeting up with Cara, a friend of Harrison’s. Harrison I had met back in LA a few weeks ago at the Girlz Gone Riding MTB event. We’d only talked for a few minutes, but had kept in touch and he said I should definitely get a ride in with Cara. She’d been unresponsive at first when I’d contacted her, but she’d messaged me a time and place this morning so that’s where I headed. She had said we’d be going for a ride in her backyard. When I got to the address I realised she was being quite literal, the trails started from the backyard of her house!

We chatted away as we got our bikes out of cars and off roofs and turns out she had met Harrison in the same random fashion that I’d had. We non-stop talked, so much in common. We rode off (literally hitting single track meters from her house) and climbed up narrow rocky and grassy single track before coming to the main event, “Bone Crusher”. I would never have found these trails on my own, no signs, only hints such as bones hanging from trees, it really is a local’s playground and we weren’t the only ones playing. Quite a few people were out riding in the gorgeous sunny weather.

We did a lap of “Bone Crusher”, me following Cara through technical rocky sections that made my heart soar. Cara is a brilliant rider. Same pace as me but great on the technical, twisty, balancy stuff. She did the whole lot with perfect commitment and skill, while I was putting my foot out a lot. We both had huge smiles at the end of our lap and instead of going back to the house for a glass of wine as planned, we did another lap. I lead this time and I got better, it was a pleasure to run through it again.

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We tore down the trail we’d come up on, relishing in the reward we’d earnt from the climb. I felt pretty lucky to have ridden with Cara and astounded and completely envious that she had all of this at her doorstep. She had to pinch herself too. We rode back to the house after climbing a killer hill.

The neighbourhood Cara lives in is typical rural bush. It could have been Australia if it wasn’t for the mountainous stacks of firewood in everyone’s yard. Cara had chickens that ran freely across the yard and the neighbours’ but no one cared, there were no fences, you could hear the faint song of a neighbour’s wind chime in the breeze and best of all, there was a lingering smell of fires burning in stoves that carried the scent of pine.

Cara had to pick up her daughter from a nearby town. While she was gone, she graciously offered me the use of her shower. It would be my first proper shower (with taps, a bathtub and a door) since the one I’d had in the hotel with the Kona boys almost a month ago. Don’t judge me! I definitely scrubbed behind my ears. I cannot explain how good it felt.

All clean, it was warm enough to sort out my numerous punctured tubes. I set out my Thai mat by the car, opened a beer and set to work. Before I got the bike off the car, the chickens had come over to investigate. All four of them considered jumping in the side door, but they thought better of it. Scatterwood was the bird closest to committing, but he just peered inquisitively inside. As this was going on, Annie decided she would jump right up to where the food was and peck around. Haha. I grabbed her and put her back on the ground while I got my bike off the roof. By the time I’d got it down Annie was back in, pecking away at the dirt on the carpet. I left her to it.

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I put another patch on my tyre’s cut sidewall and managed to repair two tubes. Cara and her daughter Lizzy drove up just as I was finishing. We all went inside for some warmth, chores for Lizzy and wine for the adults.

Cara was doing some major renovations to her home, the current project being timber flooring to replace the carpet that had been throughout the house. It was Lizzy’s chore to scrape away any paint or other crap on the under-flooring that wasn’t level. While Cara invited her neighbour Anne over for our supper, I got to work with Lizzy. Reminded me of all those times as Dad’s side-kick, I was well trained for the job! Beer in hand, I scraped away on my hands and knees. I’d finished the hallway by the time a smorgosboard of cheeses, vegetables, bread, dips, meats and pickles were ready.

Anne, and her beautiful labrador Lola, had brought the cheeses and a jug of tequila mix which went down beautifully with my beer. We talked and laughed and ate, me famished having not had lunch. Anne and Cara cleared away the dishes while Lizzy and I returned to the floor to finish the job. When Lizzy moved on to homework due on Monday, I vacuumed the floor. It was ready for the floorboard man to do his thing. I was just happy to have contributed in return for such wonderful treatment. Anne and Lola retired back across the road and Lizzy retreated to her room, sick of associating with adults and me and Cara talked on, about riding and all the things we’re passionate about. Being a highschool math teacher with an early morning start tomorrow, we called it a night, sure we’d meet again and ride somewhere since we were so alike, in riding ability and in what we believed in.

I parked up in the flat driveway for the night, sorry to leave the warmth of the pot belly stove but also so humbled to have met more great people. I told Harrison straight away what he’d done by putting me and Cara together and thanked him profusely.

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