Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Dakota Hogback

Back to plan A. The Mickelson Trail was a great idea, but Dee and Cal received an email this morning from the S.D. Department of Parks indicating that the majority of the trail is still snow covered, so they will be going to Rapid City after all (presumably via SD 79). I am still curious about their route from here to Belle Forche, but apparently there is only 8 miles on I-90 and the highway patrol has blessed this.

Maybe the rest of this entry should wait until Dee and Cal are actually in Rapid City, but since it is on my mind, I will go ahead post it now. When I was looking at the Terrain view on the Google map this morning, I zoomed in close on Rapid City. The interesting thing about this is that the city is cut in two by a ridge of mountains. This ridge is called the Dakota Hogback. There is a break in the hogback on the north end, through which Rapid Creek runs. The ridge takes its name from the Dakota Formation, a sandstone formation that underlies the ridge. The Dakota Hogback also goes past Hot Springs, which accounts for all the sandstone buildings.

Then zooming back out, it is also fascinating to see how the Black Hills stand apart from the Rocky Mountains like an island of mountains and trees in a sea of prairie.

George S. Mickelson Trail

As a rule, in this blog, I try to resist anticipating where the trikers will stop each day and how they will get there, but half the fun of travel is planning the trip, and half the vicarious fun for me is researching the road ahead. I had been wondering, therefore, how Dee and Cal would ride from Hot Springs, SD to Williston, ND, or rather, how they planned to get to Belle Fourche, since north of I-90, US 85 would appear the only route.

Vertical Feet
From Hot Springs to Spearfish, however, the quandary was this. US 385, winding around the west of Custer State Park, is steep, with grades of up to 4% in places, maybe more. The vertical climb is 3500 ft. The alternative route is SD-79, which runs along the east side of Custer Park and is relatively flat and straight. There are a few grades of 2%, but most are 1% or less. This is not readily apparent from the road map, but if you click on the Terrain button in the upper right-hand corner of the Google map, it becomes obvious. SD-79 is also the shorter route to Rapid City, but I had thought they might want to bypass the city because it appears to me that the only direct route from Rapid City to Spearfish is I-90, not so great for trikes. Nonetheless, when Dee mentioned stopping in Rapid City for supplies, I assumed they would take 79, and then I would just have to wait and see how they would get to US 85.

Last night, however, I received an email from Dee saying that they have changed their itinerary, which I take as permission to share it here. They are no longer going through Rapid City, having found a "rails to trails" bike trail called the George S. Mickelson Trail (map). It starts in Edgemont and ends in Deadwood (109 miles). They will pick it up at Minnekahta Junction just west of Hot Springs. It follows the route of an abandoned railroad branch line constructed by the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad in 1890-91 and last operated by the Burlington Northern Railroad in 1983. Therefore, even though there is still a pretty good climb, its slopes are much more gentle than US 385. It sounds marvelous. Dee says that they plan to sight see in Hot Springs all day Wednesday and leave for the bike trail Thursday, weather permitting.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Spelling and Pronunciation

The "ch" in Wichita and the "tch" in Hutchinson are pronounced like /ch/ in chair, but the "ch" in Chadron, derived from Chartran, is pronounced like the /sh/ in shower. Between Chadron and Hot Springs, SD is a little town named Oelrichs, where the "ch" is pronounced like /k/ in kid. Apparently it depends on the source of the words. Hutchinson is an English name, and Wichita is the Anglicization of the Native American tribe by that name. Chadron is French in origin, and Oelrichs, German. Those of you familiar with German know that "ch" is pronounced in different ways depending on the context in that language, too, but to my knowledge "chs" is always pronounced /ks/.

To take this a step further, recall that yesterday Dee and Cal posted a picture of a marker for the Chadron-Chicago Cowboy Race of 1893. Notice that the "ch" in Chicago is /sh/ as it is in Chadron. From this we might guess that the name "Chicago" is French in origin, and we would be right. It is the French version of the Miami-Illinois word shikaakwa (wild leek), a kind of onion plant common along the Chicago River. The name Cheyenne is also a French version of a Dakota or Sioux word, although apparently there is some question about exactly which.

If we look at the names of other towns or counties in Nebraska we find "tch" (/ch/) in Mitchell, Thatcher, Litchfield, and Hitchcock, all of English origin. Likewise, Chase, Cherry, Orchard, Champion, Manchester are English (so /ch/). Wolbach (/k/) is German, and Antioch (/k/) is Greek. It turns out that Burchard is pronounced "ber'-churd" by the locals, and I am guessing this has been Anglicized from either German (berk'-hard) or French (bur-shard'), but that is pure speculation.

On an unrelated note as the trikers leave the great state of Nebraska, my sister lives in Rulo, which is about as far from Chadron as a town can be and still be in the same state.

P.S. Enjoy the Plunge!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Crazy Horse, Part I

If there is one thing I enjoy more than hiking for relaxation it is reading, so when Dean Simmons recommended author Mari Sandoz to Dee and Cal, I rushed right over to my local B&N to pick up a copy of Crazy Horse. I am about a fourth of the way into it and enjoying it thoroughly. Not only does Sandoz tell the story from the perspective of the Native American, her distinct style of writing draws the reader into that point of view.

This is not intended to be a review of the book, but I would make a couple of personal observations. First, I am struck by the notion of contingency, in the fact that the whole sequence of events with far reaching consequences was set in motion by an unpredictable and seemingly minor occurrence, the emaciated cow of a Mormon emigrant straying off the "Holy Road" (the Oregon/Mormon Trail) on the Platte River. The lives of thousands of individuals were altered inextricably by the whim of this otherwise insignificant beast.

Second, when I was much younger, the history of the settling of the West seemed like the distant past to me. But now that I am sixty, I realize that General Custer was born less than three of my life-times ago, just two life-times before I was born, one life-time before my grandmother, and Crazy Horse was younger than Custer. Not so long ago.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The French Fur Trade

One of the things now on my list of things to research is the French fur trade in the High Plains during the 19th century. This first came up in my reading about Fort Kearney. Then today I started reading Crazy Horse (which I will write about later), and a prominent character in the second chapter is a fur trader by the name of Jim Bordeaux. And now Dee and Cal have stopped in Chadron, named after the manager of the fur trading post in that area, a Frenchman by the name of Louis B. Chartran.

The ride from Alliance to Chadron must have been miserably cold and wet, but it would seem that the last 14 miles so so might have been "all down hill," as they say. Here is the elevation map from MapMyRide.

Case in Point

It doesn't take a rocket scientist (or even a meteorologist) to see what I meant yesterday about temperature extremes on the High Plains. It was just Wednesday that the Trikers were happy for a patch of shade in 82 F, and now less than three days later they are waiting out a broad band of snow and ice with ground temperatures right at freezing. The wind chill might be even lower, although the wind at present is just 3 mph. The high today is predicted to be 47 F.

Dee, if you are stuck in Alliance another day, I am guessing your mobility will be limited (like not moving your trikes from the room), but it would be interesting to see what Carhenge looks like in the snow. Still I hope you can find enough of a break in the weather to get north of this band.

Friday, April 24, 2009

The High Plains

Elevation mapping tools are improving, but I am still not entirely sure of their accuracy. The image above was prepared using MapMyRide, and a map created by Gmaps-Pedometer is similar but slightly different. For example, the latter does not show the "valley" at mile 163 (around Hyannis) shown on the former. (You can click on the image above to see an enlarged version.) Nevertheless, what is quite clear from both maps is the relentless but gradual climb from Hazard to Alliance, almost 2000 feet over 230 miles. At an elevation of 3967 ft Alliance, NE is nearly the highest point on this trip so far, though there will be some higher mountain passes further north.

The high elevation but lack of mountains is a perfect setup for the high winds that Dee and Cal have been fighting. The High Plains has the highest potential for providing wind generated electricity of any part of the country except for off-shore areas. Combine this with the semi-arid climate, and you get wide extremes in temperature as well.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Anselmo B. Smith

This morning I was reading about the "TINY" town of Bingham, where Dee and Cal spent last night (Wed). The population is said to be twenty, give or take a few, but it may have been as high as 200 in the 1920's. Surfing from this page, I clicked on links to Ashby, back down the road where the trikers stopped for a break yesterday, and Whitman. This then brought me to Hyannis. Hyannis, NE was named for Hyannis, MA, home town of the civil engineer who surveyed the Nebraska town, Anselmo B. Smith. End of story, except for the fact that Mr. Smith shows up in the histories of a number of Nebraska towns, including one named after the man himself, Anselmo, NE. Dee and Cal rode through this town between Broken Bow and the National Forest on Monday.

In the town of Anselmo, NE there happens to be St. Anselm's Catholic Church, nicknamed the Cathedral of the Sandhills. The church, of course, is named for St. Anselm. No one else may find this remotely curious, but it seems like a strange coincidence that the church named for a late 11th century cleric in a town named for a 19th century surveyor should have such similar names.

Incidentally, Anselmo B. Smith also platted the metropolis of Kearney, and one source I found indicates that he may have surveyed the city of Lincoln for the state.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Hooker County

Last night (Tuesday) Dee and Cal stayed in Mullen, NE, half way between Broken Bow and Alliance. It is the county seat of Hooker County, the least populous of Nebraska's 93 counties (population 793 in 2003). Named for General Joseph Hooker, the county has one post office (69152) and one K-12 school district. The Dismal River, a canoe trail, runs through the county. John Howell, safety on 2003 NFL Super Bowl Champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, went to high school in Mullen.

(Note added later: General Hooker's penchant for booze and women was once claimed to be the source of the word "hooker" for prostitute, but the American Heritage Dictionary says this is not true. )

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Five Hundred Miles

The lyrics don't fit, of course, but I couldn't help but think of the Reba McEntire song 500 Miles Away from Home when I saw that Dee and Cal have ridden 496 miles since leaving home less than two weeks ago.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Nebraska National Forest

The fascinating thing about the Nebraska National Forest is that it is entirely man-made. Established in 1902 by Charles E. Bessey, this was an experiment to see if forests could be created in treeless areas of the Great Plains for use as a national timber reserve. The effort resulted in a 20,000-acre forest, the largest human-planted forest in the United States. Today, the forest's nursery supplies 2.5 to 3 million seedlings per year.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Sandhills Journey Scenic Byway

From Hazard, Dee and Cal have started northwest on NE-2, the Sandhills Journey Scenic Byway, stopping tonight in Broken Bow. By the time they reach Alliance, our trikers will have climbed nearly 2000 ft in about 230 miles.

Incidentally, I have added yet another gadget at right. In the Gmaps-Pedometer you can click on the "elevation: large" link on the left-hand side to calculate a graph of elevation change over the distance.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Kearney and Hazard

With 27 thousand inhabitants, Kearney ("car-knee") is the largest city Dee and Cal have encountered since leaving Hutchinson (40k), and probably the largest they will now see until well into Canada. The city is named for the nearby Fort Kearney on the Oregon Trail. The Great Platte River Road Archway Monument over I-80 that Dee and Cal wrote about (picture) is half way between Boston and San Francisco. Also of interest is that the name Kearney did not always have the first "e", but due to persistent misspellings, the current spelling stuck. Any guesses as to the population of Hazard? (The sign says 66.) Obviously friendly folks.

The Highway List

This morning while researching the Lincoln Highway and US Route 36, I discovered a fascinating resource (at least to people like me who are easily fascinated by such things). It turns out that Wikipedia has descriptions of all the US numbered highways as well as many of the state highways (KS | NE). So I decided to create another "gadget" on the right side of this page with a list of highways (and their links) that Dee and Cal have traveled. Several caveates. First, I have had to guess in a few places. For example, I assumed they took K-18 from Lincoln instead of going north to US 24 at Beloit, and I assumed they took US 136 west from Red Cloud. Second, some highways run together for a stretch, like K-181 and US 281. Third, there may be back roads or side roads that I miss. Finally, let me say that I will do my best to resist the temptation to anticipate their route, but instead wait for Dee and Cal to report their progress.

The Platte River Valley

It is fitting that when the rain stops and Cal and Dee resume their ride, they will be entering one of the most important travel corridors in our nation's history, the Platte River Valley. Although the river is too shallow to support water navigation, its wide, flat valley invited travel by natives for centuries before Europeans came to the continent. In the 1700's, French fur traders followed the river, opening up much of the west. The name "Platte" is the French word for flat. As settlers began emigrating west, the Platte River Valley formed a crucial part of the Oregon and Mormon Trails, as well as the Pony Express route. The Union Pacific portion of the first transcontinental railroad came through the Platte River Valley. The first road across the United States, the Lincoln Highway, came through this same region, and the first fully paved highway across the country, US Route 30, followed the Lincoln Highway. Finally, the second longest Interstate in the country, I-80, closely parallels (but does not overlay) US 30 here.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Red Cloud and Minden

While the trikers are taking a much needed break (and staying in out of the rain), I will make a few observations about their current location, Minden. NE. It turns out that more than fifteen states have towns or cities named Minden, apparently because there were so many immigrants from Minden, Germany in the 1850's. Minden, Nebraska is known for its Christmas lights and festival each year and for Harold Warp's Pioneer Village. The town had a population of nearly 3,000 people in the 2000 Census.

The trikers spent the previous night (Wed) in Red Cloud, NE. This town was named for the famous Indian chief, who was born in the region (though closer to North Platte). He is most famous for battles in Montana and Wyoming. The town of Red Cloud was founded in 1871 by a former captain in the Union Army, Silas Garber, and has a current population of a little over a thousand.

Tools for the Vicarious Journey

The thing that probably drew me into this adventure more than anything else was looking at the planned route from Wichita to Alaska. I quickly realized that after the first 300 miles or so, I hardly had a clue where any of these places are. So I pulled up Google maps and searched for each of the cities listed. It then occurred to me to save this as one of "My Maps" so I could look it up frequently, and subsequently to update it as the trikers post their location on their blog each day. That map can be found at: You can also always find it in the "Tools for the Journey" gadget in the upper right-hand corner of this page.

The fun thing about the map is that it is interactive. You can zoom in or out for more or less detail by clicking on the + or – on the left-hand side of the map. You can also move the map by dragging the hand, or with the upper left-hand control. Between the two controls is a little yellow figure that you can drag to a given location to get a "street view" of that location. Talk about vicarious! (Unfortunately, the street view doesn't work in Canada, at least not yet.) In the upper right-hand corner of the map you can select from Map, Satellite, and Terrain views.

The other tool that allows me to travel vicariously with the trikers is the live Doppler radar. I will do my best to keep their location updated on the area radar tool as well.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Why the Vicarious Triker?

Let me begin with a story. Sometime around the middle of March, I joined Facebook. One of the first people to write on my wall was Dee Simmons, a high school classmate whom I had not heard from for years, maybe not even since we graduated in 1966. In looking at her FB wall and profile, I noticed a few postings from friends and family about an upcoming "trike" trip. I was intrigued, but assumed they were talking about a group trip like Bike Across Kansas. I was astounded to learn that Cal and Dee were planning to ride from Wichita to Skagway, Alaska, and just the two of them. Amazing.

Then on April 9 they began their journey and started posting about it to their blog, trike trips. I was immediately mesmerized, and for a variety of reasons. First, I enjoy outdoor activities myself, and was not just a little envious of what they are doing. Second, I am quite familiar with (or used to be) most of the roads they took for the first few days. Third I like travel and maps, so it was natural to want to see where they were going. Fourth, the use of the Internet has long been a hobby of mine, and I love Google maps,, and blogging tools. Needless to say, I became completely captivated by their trip and now look forward to following along with them every mile of the way.

You might wonder, then, why I don't just post my comments on their blog. Actually I do intend to write an occasional comment there when it seems appropriate, but this remarkable journey stands by itself. It obviously requires no remarks by me. If anything I would only like to call attention to what they are doing. In any case, Dee and Cal have graciously given me permission to start this blog as a creative outlet for my own observations and thoughts about their trip. This is merely my way of experiencing their trip vicariously. Thank you for sharing this adventure with us.