Wayne, NE was a resting point en route to Sioux Falls, SD. The lights of Wayne twinkled in the distance and this was it-there wouldn’t be any other stops ahead for a nights slumber. Earlier that day I had been in Seward, met a reporter for an interview, and done some blogging at a coffee shop. The shop had just opened that day and even had a wireless signal available, but from a local business. All day I was still sweating and laboring with the bike and gear. All said, the day had been long, hot and very introspective. I was drained but had a particular feeling a contentment, heightened by the thoughts I had worked through earlier on death, justice, peace, community and war.
The sublime sunset that carried me into Wayne accented a feeling that I am learning and growing out here on the road. That night the motel gave me a spectacular deal and room 108-my favorite number. After tearing through my pack and doing some grimy sweat stained laundry I rested hard, but brief.
Sioux Falls was still many miles down the road, but I was slow moving in the morning. All of the ladies at the motel were friendly and curious about the trip.
While I was packing up one of them called the local paper and the next thing I knew, an interview materialized. The reporter tried to maneuver me over to the hotel sign and they joked that it would be great press for the chain. To which I said no, unless they wanted to offer me free stays at their other motels along the way. It happened very quickly and hopefully, I wasn’t seen as rude. The reporter was very nice and asked better questions than most people have on such short notice. That was two interviews in two days-hopefully the project will keep getting press like that!
The heat seemed to be breaking, temperature only in the 80’s. The skies were rather dark, and soon enough a massive thunderstorm rolled in. At first it didn’t seem like much and that most of it would be avoided once I headed north. However, my call was wrong and led me down a road in the middle of the plains-no shelter and intense lightening striking everywhere around me. All I could do was scoot on, marveling at the beauty of the lightening and pondering how bad it would hurt if I got hit. I think my fear of lightening has just about diminished. Not enough to stop and take photos of it….
I didn’t break out the rain gear since the drops weren’t too heavy, nor did it rain too long. Soon the skies were sunny on one side of the road while totally darkened on the other.
I reached the South Dakota state sign and the sun completely broke through. The past six days had been relatively free of obnoxious, menacing traffic and still I scooted down empty country roads. South Dakota is an absolutely beautiful state, with three main regions- the Central Plains, where the Badlands are; the western part that house the Black Hills; and the Eastern Prairie. The Peace route has me in the eastern prairie-not as scenic as the other two regions, but the crops and colors of the landscape had changed slightly from Nebraska. There were lots of low growing soybean crops instead of cornfields, opening the horizon up nicely. Honestly though, at this point I was getting slightly sick of smelling fertilizer, day after day. That smell doesn’t go away easily. And the road kill is really wearing on me. Some roads have been bloodstained.
I always pay attention to the time line of a town when cruising in from the rural roads, through outlying areas of town, suburbs and then to the epicenter of downtown. The first impression of Sioux Falls was a bunch of newish middle-class housing developments that all mimicked one another. Next, the streets took me past hordes of casinos, gas stations, liquor stores and other sundry shops. I was looking for a health food store that popped up on a google search and found it really easily.
The Natural Foods Co-op was a welcome sight and a real surprise. Out in the Plains, I have found little health food to consume, most options derived from something that once moved. There were bulk goodies galore so I refilled the Dr. Bronners soap, grabbed seeds for sprouting, quick oats, cous cous, beans and such. I could tell this place was a real oasis to the community. I chatted with locals for awhile about the stores history and the P.E.A.CE. project. They encourage me to hang up some postcards on the bulletin board. I gave away two stickers to some young girls who were goofing off while waiting on their parents. While stuffing all my goodies into the cooler, their parents came looking for me. They were super excited about the trip and generously donated $20. That covered my food expenses!
The next person I met was really interesting. I’m not quite sure how we got into such a deep conversation, and its hard to convey this, but she started telling me some really intense stories. The sun was beginning to set behind her and she took on the look of the Oracle-from the Matrix. It was a bit surreal-I just kept listening to her speak. Her stories were a bit complicated to follow in some places. There were long pauses but no prompt or appropriate place for me to ask a question. So, I just hung on and after a long story that wove throughout a thirty year span, she brought it back. To her original point? Not sure?? What she was trying to convey to me related to experiencing peace, or in her words-love and protection. She talked about having a near death experience in her youth, during WW2, from an influenza. Apparently, the odds were against her living, but she did, and recalled the presence of a “friend,” sitting by her bed. This “friend,” was a spirit watching and protecting her and she suddenly leaned in and said she willed it for that spirit to travel this journey with me. I guess I was tapped by the Oracle, eh? This nice lady then led me down the street so I could buy a new USB cord for the camera, which I had left back in NE. Doh!
The sun had almost sunk on the horizon as I pulled into my next stop, the Black Sheep Coffee House.
There was no salad on the menu, but the barista offered to make me one. My body was so happy to finally have greens. The shop is also a community oasis and felt like a comfy living room. Not pretentious in its presentation; just good local artwork hanging, cool bicycles propped up here and there, and a huge roaster taking up one section of the shop. After devouring my salad I had some espresso and was uploading photos when I heard two people discussing the bike. Todd, the proprietor, as he introduced himself, was quite the character. Such a fantastic guy! He was totally amped, maybe the espresso, but genuinely excited about the trip. He was really moved by the work of the Peace Pilgrim and recommended that I read her book-something I will do after the trip. He asked for some postcards and then offered me some fresh roasted beans. That’s definitely Pit Crew support right there, keeping me on the road with organic Ethiopian Yirgacheffe. He also warned me NOT to take rides in flat bed trucks-as thats how the Peace Pilgrim met her unfortunate demise. She never accepted rides-and the one time she did ended in death. So sad. Our conversation was engaging, rapid, and covered many things; coffee, music, peace, scooters, politics, local history. I wish we had longer to talk, but the KOA Kampground had told me to be there by 10pm or the gates closed.
I had not camped in awhile. After driving in 102 degree heat, it wasn’t tempting to sweat all night too. Since the temperature was bearable, I decided to save some cash and enjoy nature. Well, I saved cash, but the space was right along a major traffic thoroughfare and it was quite loud.
The campground hosts were friendly, charming folk and they put a lot of nice touches into the grounds. It was nice to see them enjoy retirement by hosting travelers. Internet was a suprising extra- surprised to find out most campgrounds offer this amenity. However, it ultimately was a restless night from the noise and heavy thunderstorm that hit in the night. I was sleeping under a tree and just didn’t care to move the tent, even in the lightning. I was also too damn sleep deprived to move when the rain came in the tent. It was like sleeping and showering at the same time! Bonus.
Feeling groggy and grumpy, I headed out to see the Sioux Falls that run through town. My conversation with Todd had delved into the native history of the land. At a particular moment in our conversation it hit me that many of the places on the Peace map have experienced some form of intense conflict. I did not specifically research this type of history before picking my route, but I now have this perspective for the trip. I will be writing in more detail, possibly in a book, about the effects of such historical conflict in creating community and peace. The Sioux Falls were once sacred grounds to the bison hunting Dakota and Lakota Indians. The Falls were seized in 1856 by two groups, who saw a promising townsite in its beauty and water power. The grooved, pinkish brown quartzite stones and rushing water are still beautiful, though the suds from farm run-off probably weren’t there when the Native Americans lived off the land. There were some pretty ducks who came by to share my trail mix.
I watched them fight for nuts and raisins a bit and then Robert came over to talk. He had been painting by the falls for awhile and commented on the fun I was having feeding the ducks. I joked that from my enthusiasm for playing with ducks, it must be obvious I’ve been alone on the road awhile. Robert had served most of his life in the military, though I never would have guessed. I told him that I am traveling the country to understand the different definitions people have of peace, what their vision for our future is, and to experience the many communities across America. He was really fun, wired and zany-though I worry about the amount he was chain smoking. His appearance reminded me a bit of Jack Nicholson, but a bohemian painter version. He jumped right into a story about how he has experienced peace in his life, so I asked to film him. Several themes from the day were tying into together; community, diversity, peace, rankism, local history, sacred spots.
Sadly, there did not seem to be much diversity in Sioux Falls. It’s a mainly white, middle-class, corporate employed town. Many credit institutions and banks are headquartered in Sioux Falls to take advantage of relaxed usury laws. That contributed to the boom in the 90’s, the award for best place to live in America and the homogenized housing I saw coming into town. Robert told me about pursuing his interest in art after an injury and release from the military. He offers all of the money earned from art sales into Native American cultural preservation. He was speaking a lot about the need for community and diversity. It was a great time with Robert and he told me it was a good thing I wasn’t sticking around town or he might have to fall in love with me. He also offered me a huge Prayer Flag that had just been painted. I accepted, and told myself to mail some stuff home soon, as the packs were fully loaded. My mood wasn’t quite so grumpy anymore after visiting this beautiful, powerful spot centered right in the middle of town. I snapped some pictures of the industry right around the Falls. One is the John Morrell meat packing plant, its building filling the skyline from a view at the Falls. Apparently, it has brought diversity and prosperity into town. And also pollution, as it dumps into the Sioux River, only to be slapped on the wrist. At least, that’s what Robert told me, who had conducted river sampling at points above and below the plant.
On my way out of town towards Fargo, I stopped for another salad at the Black Sheep. As I was finishing up, Todd rolled in, moving with his charming frenetic pace. I could talk to him for hours! My time in Sioux Falls was brief, less than 24 hours, though well spent. He threw some more goodies my way for the trip. Apparently he had been talking to his morning customers about the project. I met Mike, who donated $20 and promised to stay up on the travelogue. Todd walked me out and we talked about his business and its stronghold as a community spot. It reminded me a lot of my last employer, the Mudhouse. It’s a place where everyone congregates, where the goods and knowledge are just as important as the service. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to come back-but you would be foolish not to. I chided Todd for not having a website, but he’s pretty Maverick about the whole business. He knows his beans, was the first high test coffee spot in town-and not going anywhere. People try his coffee once on the way through town and wind up doing mail order! He gave me a squeeze goodbye and I scooted off towards Fargo, ND. On the way out of town I ran across this mural, and did a turnabout to snap it.
It was a good decision to put Sioux Falls on the P.E.A.C.E Map, even though it was 25 miles off course. I wish everyone that I met there all the best….