Fort Pierre and Beyond!

Weather: Beautiful… until the ride home.

Frogwing at the Casey Tibbs Monument
The Casey Tibbs Monument, at the entrance to Fort Pierre.

There was quite a dichotomy between the way Pierre, South Dakota was described to me, and what I actually found when Frogwing and I rolled into town. The gulf between myth and reality was as wide as the Missouri River at Lake Oahe. You can blame that on modern times, and the ubiquity of giant, multi-national corporations, I suppose. Super Walmart is here, along with the usual assortment of fast-food emporiums. The invasion continues…

While I was expecting a dusty cowtown straight out of the Wild West, what I experienced instead was a sort of Anytown, USA, with a hint of USDA-approved Western-Style flavoring. Even personal emails from friends of mine who hail from South Dakota warned me of being shot at for trespassing, and made the place seem like it was just one step evolved from Dodge City, during that town’s bloody heyday.

Here is a sample of what I was reading before the trip, and one of the main reasons for the big letdown when I discovered the reality:

If your personal motto is, “Leave your neighbor alone. The poor bastard has enough trouble already.” so much the better. If not, keep driving. You’ll save wear and tear on yourself and the entire populace of South Dakota. But if getting full of whiskey and driving your car down main street while shooting at street lights is something you’ve always secretly wanted to try, keep reading. You may have found paradise on earth right here in good old South Dakota.

And…

…wait for someone to offer a political criticism of our government in action and join in with the alcoholic approval, especially if said approval involves the “God-Damn bleedin’ heart gun grabbin’ commie liberals, ruinin’ the whole country.” On no account should you try to stick up for the liberals. If you bought a new gun from Cody, now would be a good time for show and tell. Make sure it’s not loaded.

This is from an excellent piece by a fellow named Jack Diamond. I’m going to watch for more of his travel reviews, because they fit right in with my ideas about myth and legend being so much more entertaining than straight reporting. But I’m not going to use him as a reference to guide my travels anymore. He paints word pictures that are impossible to live up to, in our modern reality.

That should explain why Frogwing and I spent very little time in the city, and why we rode so many miles on the wide open prairie to the west of Fort Pierre.

Another good reason to stay out of town, was the excellent Pierre ORV, or Off-Road Vehicle park.

Pierre ORV Park
Frogwing and I had some real, dirty fun here!

This is a playground the likes of which Frogwing and I have never experienced. After I took this photo, I packed up the camera, lifted all my luggage off of Frogwing’s back, and stashed it near some prominent bushes, where I could be sure to find it again. The great thing about these open prairies is that you can see people coming for miles. I wasn’t concerned about losing my luggage to local bandits.

Fully unburdened, we spent the next two hours bounding over the hills under an enormous blue sky. Some places were built up with moto-cross features. We rolled slowly over the “whoops”, but attacked the table-top jump with gusto. I don’t know if it was the road-biased suspension settings or my own rusty riding technique, but we bottomed the front forks landing that one.

I can tell you this: If there was any cubicle-generated tension remaining in my mind, body, or soul after the past three days on the road, I left it all out there on the dirt trails of the Pierre ORV park. Dirty and sweaty, we returned for our luggage, and headed back to the room to clean up for dinner.

Mike and Jodi Schwinler run a tight ship at the Fort Pierre Motel. Newly renovated, the room was clean, the A/C worked, and the bed was comfy. This was much better than I usually expect at the prices I am willing to pay on the road.

Jodi was at the desk when I checked in, and we had a nice chat about the local attractions. She gave me a local town map, and confirmed my choice for dinner at the Cattleman’s Club to be one of the best in the area. We had several such chats over the course of my stay, whenever I couldn’t think of where to go next.

Myril Arch’s Cattleman’s Club Steakhouse is famous nationwide for it’s simple policy of preparing three or four cuts of beef to absolute perfection. The place looks like a large, modern ranch house with big picture windows overlooking Lake Sharpe.

Hunting prints adorn the walls, and sawdust covers the floor. Guests sit at unpretentious formica tables on institutional steel-framed chairs, with black vinyl cushions. Your steak or prime rib comes with the usual sides of salad, potato, and ranch toast. Nothing fancy here. At the Cattleman’s Club, it’s all about the beef.

Cindy Arch-Blair and Big Twin Hog.
Cindy Arch-Blair runs the Cattleman’s Club, when she’s not riding her custom Harley Davidson.

I had the 16-oz. top sirloin, rare, and with the blend of spices they rub on, I didn’t even need the A1 steak sauce I habitually use. I can’t remember the last time that happened. The Cattleman’s Club Steakhouse goes straight to number one on Rush Hour Rambling’s new Ride-to-Eat list.

Before we left on this epic journey, I wrote a piece in here called “(Portions Unpaved)”. In that, I talked about finding those little towns and settlements at the end of the dotted lines which represent dirt roads on a map. The one such place that I fixated on while planning this trip was called Mission Ridge.

Some thirty miles northwest of Fort Pierre, Mission Ridge lies past the end of route 1806, on a long, dirt road that shares the same name. It does NOT, however, lie at the T-intersection of Minneconjou Road and Mission Ridge Road.

The Lost Travellers...NOT Frogwing's fault.
I might indeed be an idiot. This is not Mission Ridge.

I only found this out after I got home and started writing this piece. In the photo above, you see a confused traveller, thinking he is at the location called Mission Ridge, ready to rename it “Missing Ridge”, because there is nothing there but a T-intersection on a dirt road.

This happened because, instead of following the DeLorme’s Atlas and Gazetteer you can plainly see rolled up on Frogwing’s seat, I followed the directions given to me at a gas station by one Wylie Redwing, a local fisherman.

I met Wylie while filling up at the Shell station in Fort Pierre. Though a native of this town, he has travelled around quite a bit, and even spent some time in Lake Minnetonka, very near my workplace in Plymouth, Minnesota. We had a pleasant chat, and he told me to follow Minneconjou Road to the end. Mission Ridge was right out there somewhere. At least, that’s what I think he said… So I followed his directions, and ended up in the middle of nowhere, about three miles northwest of my intended destination. Then I turned around and went back the way I came.

Maps are wonderful devices, when you actually USE them! This is one reason why I’m not an Ironbutt rider.

Frogwing and I returned, slightly dejected, to Fort Pierre. I pulled out Jack Diamond’s article, and located a couple of places he mentioned on the town map that Jodi had given me. The Possum Lodge sounded intriguing, so I set off in search of that.

Unpretentious in the extreme, The Possum Lodge “Adult Daycare Center” is housed in a corrugated, galvanized-steel shack which used to be a welding shop or something. It is in that part of town which still supports small businesses, and far away from the mainstreet tourist venues. The people I met in there were a wealth of local lore, and I wish I had brought my notebook inside with me. As it happened, I enjoyed an hour or so of their conversation, before heading out on their recommendation to Jake’s Goodtime Place for a meal of hot buffalo wings.

Mark Larsen is the chef at Jake’s, and the wings are his specialty. He offers them in a range of pain from simply hot to Super Nuclear. As a travelling moto-journalist, there are just some risks I have to take, in order to bring you the whole story about the places I visit. Sampling the “Super Nuke” wings at Jake’s is one of those risks.

Habenero peppers are dangerous. I believe they have been weaponized in aerosol form to disperse rioters, for particularly sadistic police agencies. Although I was able to eat several of the Super Nuke wings without hurling them back out, I could feel them lying there in my stomach, emitting their own kind of lethal radiation. After failing to douse the flames with a cold beer, I knew it wouldn’t be long before the meltdown ensued, and I would have to spend substantial time, er, decontaminating in the bathroom. Time to head back to the motel, then, at maximum speed.

Saturday night was spent mostly in my room, for obvious reasons. I did venture out to the Hopscotch club, because it was only a couple of blocks from the motel. This place had been highly recommended by nearly everyone I talked to, with a nudge and a wink and a particularly knowing kind of smirk. As a married man, I do not frequent such places, where young women remove their clothing for fun and profit. Back in my Marine Corps days, however, I became something of a connoisseur in this field. I felt that I owed it to you, my faithful readers, to investigate.

Well, just like the city of Pierre, which has been transformed by the arrival of multi-national commerce, the Hopscotch club has been “cleansed” of the activities that gave it such a bawdy reputation. Ten minutes in that joint, and I was convinced that it was just another urban blue-collar “Gentlemen’s Club”. Nothing remarkable, nothing dangerous, and certainly nothing very titillating for one so jaded as myself.

The ride home on Sunday was almost non-stop. My digestive tract had mostly recovered from the Super Nuke wings, but I didn’t quite trust it to function normally all the way home. Only one gas stop was required, but we made a couple of extra “safety stops” along the way.

One of those was in Nicollette, Minnesota, at a place whose name escapes me right now. But it was there where I met members of the Flying Dutchmen Motorcycle Club. These guys have their own off-road and flat-track facilities, on private land in southern Minnesota. I’m definitely going to be talking to them again. But that is a story for another time.

Frogwing and I have been home for a week now. It’s been a long week of sitting in my cubicle, typing up reports, going to meetings, and generally getting caught up on all the misery I dodged while riding around in the wide open spaces. Existential Gravity always sucks me back to this place, where I suffer for my daily bread. But for awhile there, under that big blue sky, I achieved escape velocity, and savored the illusion of Freedom. It was a beautiful thing, while it lasted.

15 Responses to “Fort Pierre and Beyond!”

  1. irondad Says:

    If you’re like me these days, it’s the reality of living in a cubicle for the work day that bottomed out your forks. It seems like once upon a time I was more svelte. You can’t seem to resist eating the things you know will cause “intestinal distress” can you? I’m the same way. This little thing is a major clue to our personalities, isn’t it?

  2. Gary Charpentier Says:

    Well Dan, the fact is, I have actually lost ten pounds since winter. This happens every year. We Minnesotans are arctic creatures, for good or ill. My “winter layer” has receded, and my belt is once again hooked into it’s summer notch.

    As for the spicy food thing, well, yes. You know it as well as I do. Somehow, we find battle in almost every aspect of our lives. It is what defines us as Warriors!

    Of course, there’s a chance I might be full of crap. (NPI) That happens sometimes too.

    Ride well,
    =gc=

  3. Steve Williams Says:

    I really believe that we could be dropped blindfolded into almost any commercial part of America and you would have no idea where you were. The franchising and desire to have everything familiar has made it difficult to retain local flavor to areas. It lingers in people’s minds but the reality is different.

    We have our own version of trespasser aversion—endless NO TRESPASSING signs along forested areas. Often it seems as if every other tree has a sign on it. Not very friendly. One legal eagle I know said they are there to help people minimize their liability exposure for anyone who does go onto their land.

    The Pierre ORV Park looks fantastic. Such a big empty area to ride….

    I’ve been on vacation for one week now and have another week off before returning to work on June 5. I have not been able to shed the Existential Gravity though—it permeates my thinking. Maybe I should be doing something else for a living….

    steve

  4. Gary Charpentier Says:

    Whose desire is it to have everything familiar? Oh, don’t answer that…

    We know that it is the very same majority of people who choose four wheels over two for their personal transportation needs. The very same human sheep who tolerate sitting and idling in gridlock traffic every day, as they travel to and from the relentless, slow slaughterhouse of modern wage slavery.

    In other words, people content to simply exist. People too scared or too lazy to actually LIVE.

    Consumers… wow, I have never actually realized the full impact of that word. While I have always instinctively loathed it, the implications just dawned on me as I was contemplating your comment.

    If you look at our cities from a God’s-eye perspective, you would see millions of tiny producer/consumer units on myriad conveyer belts (highways), being guided slowly to their eventual doom. Consumed by the very system they help perpetuate.

    Oh, this is horrible!

    “We gotta get outta this place… If it’s the last thing we ever do.”

    Or, for a more recent reference: “Why, oh why didn’t I take the Blue Pill?” (see “The Matrix” for clarification)

    Maybe riding to work is the real-life equivalent to taking the Red Pill?

    Ride well,
    =gc=

  5. irondad Says:

    I personally don’t think you’re “full of crap”. That probably became inaccurate after the second or third restroom trip! :)
    My God, I haven’t become reduced to “bathroom humor” have I?

  6. Terry Says:

    Wow, what a concidence. I’ll be heading out to Fort Pierre this Friday for a weekend of camping and motorcycling. What is even stranger is that I’ll be out there with members of the Flying Dutchman Motorcycle Club that you ran into on your way home; my dad is a member. In fact, we usually eat at the Cattleman’s club when we get out there. You have me itching to leave. :)

  7. Steve Williams Says:

    Gary,

    If you had taken the Blue Pill you wouldn’t have enjoyed that steak!

    Can you fly yet?

    steve

  8. Seagullplayer Says:

    I skip a week and miss everything!
    Glad you had a great trip, glad your
    back safe. The pictures are great. Wish I
    could have been there.

    Rubber Down

  9. Dan Flittie Says:

    Gary:

    I hope my notes to you weren’t tinged so much as others… Though I’ve been told I’m a bit on the sarcastic side sometimes – I just call it as I see it. Hope I didn’t steer you wrong.

    I guess it is just too many years of growing up in Nowheresville, SD – seeing it go by the wayside into leased land for guys w/ too much disposable income.

    Gone are the days of a 17-yr old kid, with a hand-me-down shotgun, a beater of an F-150, and a mutt named Joe – asking the local landowner for permission to hunt his south 40 for a few roosters. Big names, and bigger money. Gone are his hopes of passing on his love for hunting (much as your love of M/C) on to his future son. God help you should you want to ride a motorcycle on that same land. Sorry to rant.

    Great places – great faces – hey, I think I’ve heard that before…

    Thanks again for the great writing.

    Dan

  10. Dan Flittie Says:

    Gary:

    Well I was reading up on Jack Diamond’s site, and he cites a few books on the Pierre area (and yes, long e, one syllable – the Scandanavians we are don’t take kindly to the French).

    “Looking for History on Highway 14 by John E. Miller.”

    Professor Miller taught (yes, an actual Ph.D. teaching undergrads, shees – what a concept those hick state schools have) my American History class while I was at SDSU. Guy didn’t know me from Tom, Dick, or Harry – but was nice enough to write a scholarship reference letter on my behalf after I completed his lowly 200 level class.

    The guy is a wealth of SD knowledge – knows the towns/history better than any political bub you’d ever run across.

    Small, small world.

  11. Gary Charpentier Says:

    Irondad: Your gleeful delivery betrays you. I’ve always had a sneaking suspicion that you couldn’t wait to go there…

    Terry: Small world, eh? Sounds like fun. Where are you guys camping? If you go to Mission Ridge, please send back a photograph.

    Steve: Yes, Frogwing and I CAN fly! It’s the landings we have to work on…

    SGP: Is there a road outside where you are right now? Is there gas in your tank? You know what to do…

    Dan: You told it like you remembered it, and I thank you for your candor. When the Invasion occurs, it is quick and insidious. I would definitely like to talk to Professor Miller, and get his take on the Pierre transformation, but I should probably read his book first. That’s always the best way to break the ice with a writer.

    Ride well,
    =gc=

  12. Terry Says:

    We will be camping at the Oahe dam.

  13. Irishcowboy Says:

    My friend, Wylie Redwing, said to check this site out because some guy on a green bike dissed him and his advice on his website. I agree that you can’t miss Mission Ridge, with or without advice or DeLorme’s.

    Sorry you missed the real Fort Pierre. Motel, Hop Scotch, and Cattleman’s? That’s funny. This little river city has so much to offer that you missed.

    Tip: When traveling, seek the local watering hole (Chateau Lounge). Two, see if you can check out one of the local museums. Three, seek out local experts, fishermen, outdoorsmen, and adventurers (Steamboat Bait & Tackle is a good start).

    If you ever return, check out the following:

    Chateau Lounge
    LaVerendrye Museum
    LaVerendrye Monument
    LaFramboise Island
    UUU Buffalo Ranch at Mission Ridge
    Bad River Road
    Etc., Etc.

    I could continue but a little research will reveal that these and other sites are what locals hold most dear. Tourists eat at the Cattleman’s and drink at the Hop Scotch.

  14. c robledo Says:

    LOL Yeah I wonder who told WYLIE about the guy on the green Motorcycle…Yeah you miss the goot stuff if you just head to the TOURISTY PLACES…better luck next time.:)

  15. Taija Says:

    Hey – haha! I went to high school (in Ft. Pierre) with Redwing …

    And I do agree with Irishcowboy – those sites he listed are interesting.!
    I’ve been away from there for about 4 years now – going back in July for our high school reunion!