Well. Not our best day, score wise. No major errors, but no Aces and not even close. A short blog today as we need to think where we went off: five legs with 6 seconds best, 11 seconds worst, 46 overall. We’re sure to drop in the standings as most teams are improving as the week proceeds. Our goal now is to finish, and preferably on the first page of the standings. We were there yesterday, but…
On the other hand, what an astonishing country we have! I’ll let others show you the cars. Let me show you some of today’s slice of our America! Today was badlands and prairie. The Badlands are almost incredible, even though the Needles Highway is a hard act to follow. The prairie is not even a specific place – it’s a world of its own.
We started the day by making a small correction to our speedo. The Timewise speedo is a digital unit that is popular among serious vintage rally folk (and us pretenders). It allows adjustments to 1 part in 10,000. Not that we’re that good, but we try to get it right. The drop in elevation and maybe some tire wear gave us reason to think we should adjust by about that amount (1/10,000), and we did. That may seem a trivial difference, but remember that an hour has 3600 seconds in it, and we are on the clock for 4-6 hours a day, or 13-20,000 seconds, so even that tiny adjustment may be a second or two, and the difference between an Ace or a 1 second score. If we don’t include human error, that is….
While I’m on that topic, I have an idea for Aces Lite. Really, a zero or a one second score comes down to human repeatability in clicking the watch; so I like to think of one-second legs as Aces Without Stickers. I’d like to propose new mini stickers for 1-second legs, showing “1-Second,” “GR” (for Great Race) with “ACE” In essence a “1-second GRACE” sticker! Kinda like an Honorable Mention. What do you think?
Anyway, back to the day’s narrative. We stopped briefly at Wall Drug, a nutty but enthusiastic tourist trap where we bought some appropriate stickers and such. Then we entered Badlands National Park. Amusing or frightening, a sign at the entrance said, “CAUTION Prairie dogs have Plague!” Ohhhkaaaay….
The Badlands are the Erosion Capital of the Universe. Nowhere else has time, wind, and occasional water moved so much soil and left such outrageous pinnacles and mounds. The amount of earth that has left this place over the eons is unfathomably immense. Now the big birds ride thermals on soaring cliffs that long ago were high plains. Kinda brings that old insignificance effect right up front again. Wow. Even Fat Farley was so impressed he fell from the dash (he’s OK and comfortably restored). Near the exit we saw a sign indicating that several Sci-Fi movies were shot there. Easy to understand – otherworldly is the best word for it.
Farley admires the spires (hundreds of feet high)
So abruptly the rock spears through a flat base!
As we left the eroded highlands and ran out onto prairie proper, we were surrounded by rolling gentle hills and valleys, covered in green and gold that sometimes stretched forever in each direction, making the sky seem to be more than half our environment, and the Earth curled up below. We could almost see the curvature of our little planet.
Farley is amazed by the wide open spaces
We ran a long, long time alongside I-90, on a parallel service road with a bit more elevation change up and down over the hills and a stop sign or two per hour, to help keep us alert. I couldn’t help but torture another popular song for the situation; this one by Blondie:
One Hill then another, we’re gonna get there,
We’re gona get there, get there, get there!
But these wide, wide spaces are also the very image of the Amber Waves of Grain in the lyrics of ‘America the Beautiful’ The wind even provided the waves! And it was windy! Not unusual for this area, but Sven is unaccustomed to such buffeting and danced a nordic jig in response, while Ethan tried to lead the dance in a straight line, preferably within one lane. We dodged a Greater Prairie Chicken and we disturbed the peace of a Great Blue Heron at his lunch in a roadside creek bottom.
Amber Waves on the Prairie
One of our competitors was pulled over by the local gendarmes for a rally move at one of those stop signs, right in front of the local courthouse. Whoops. The towns here are uniformly spaced every twenty miles. We can thank the railroads for that – they set up the towns when the rails were laid, so no farmer would be more than a day’s wagon ride from a town where he could load his harvest onto a railroad car for transport back to the cities. Clever.
We rolled into Chamberlain, SD for a good lunch of taco salad (emphasis on salad after many days on the road – good stuff). We were already getting hot and sticky by then and we were told it would only get more so through the afternoon.
Into Chamberlain,SD for lunch
Yep. It did. As I write this, I feel like I’ve changed from yesterday’s stale donut to a human french fry – greasy, salty, and a bit crunchy on the outside, and nothing but mashed potato within. Sven dumps a fair amount of engine heat into the cabin, and the sun saw and raised that ante with a full house play from overhead.
Likely the most consistent element of the prairie ride today (other than the immenseness of the plains themselves) is hay.
Goodness gracious, Great Rolls of Hay!
Every bit of these huge open grasslands is subject to mowing and rolling into huge cylindrical haybales. They are everywhere, even in the highway margins. I can’t imagine who will eat it all, but I suppose the winter feeding of cattle will do it. We used to tell our kids that some haybales were really just very slow-moving animals, Hay Yaks we called them. Seeing so many today brought back the stories we built: how they start out as small juvenile rectangular bales, then mature into the big cylindrical adults; how the young ones are greenish gold, but as they age in the fields they become silverbacks, like old gorillas; or how there are civilian hay yaks, seen grazing randomly in the fields, and military hay yaks, seen in orderly rows. There’s more, but I won’t bore you. Such are topics of conversation that stave off mental fatigue on long, hot drives like this.
HAy (or Yaks) all the way to the Horizon
Hill Full of Hay (or Yaks)
Military Order (must be Yaks: hay can’t line up straight)
We passed DeSmet, SD, home of Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of the “Little House” book series that described settlers life on these plains. Ethan and I talked about how hard that must have been on foot and mule – even in the Volvo, we have the luxury of sitting and having ice-cold drinks in our cooler. Our newly acquired car, Sven the Skveelar, turned 70,000 miles today (indicated, anyway). Ethan says Sven’s a bit like the mules those early settlers used to cross these open lands: He’s not flashy and doesn’t attract much attention (at the lunch or evening stop-n-shows). He’s not powerful or fast. But he does keep on keeping on. We’re getting there, thanks to Sven (and previous owner, Rhody Ringrose in San Rafael).
We finished in Sioux Falls. Motormouth and Dennis like to make a fuss over us and the improbability of our remaining in the race after the Speedster broke, by acquiring Sven the Volvo and just going for it. Nice town! Again, smaller crowd than past years, but friendly and enthusiastic. On to the Next One!
Sioux Falls Finish
Passed on roadside:
Red E-type Jaguar