This was article written for The Post SD and is a first hand account of participating in the Tour de Kota.
“I’ll have a brownie, a Coke, a piece of strawberry-rhubarb pie, and that bag of Chex Mix,” I said.
“Whipped cream?” she asked as she pointed to the pie.
“Absolutely,” was my obvious answer.
“So how far did you ride today?” asked the lady selling baked goods at the Lutheran church booth.
“About 80 miles, I think,” I answered as I finished off the brownie.
“So why are you guys doing this?” the lady who sold me my fourth piece of homemade pie in as many days asked.
“I don’t know…I guess it’s just fun,” I answered in between bites, trying to refuel after a five-hour bike ride straight into the wind.
“You guys are crazy. I can’t ride around the block without getting tired,” she responded.
This was a common exchange between the cyclists and host-town volunteers during the annual week-long bicycle ride across the state of South Dakota, the Tour de Kota.
The ride lasted from June 6–11 and covered approximately 480 miles. It began in Elk Point and ended in Sisseton. There were about 725 riders throughout the week, with about 250 registered to ride the full week. There were riders of all levels—the veteran, the novice, and everything in between.
The week started with a drive to Elk Point from my hometown of Aberdeen on the Saturday before the ride began. Though we weren’t driving the route we would travel, it was pretty sobering to think about the distance we would be covering on two wheels during the next week. I listened to some stories of past tours from my TdK veteran cycling buddies. I had heard the perhaps “tall” tales before and I have to say, it sounded like a great time.
As would become common throughout the week, we camped in the city park. Local groups were set up all over the park selling everything from homemade pie to hot dogs to beer. We were even treated to a little live music.
Later in the evening, smart phones in hand (we’re high-tech cyclists), we searched for the weather forecast for the next day and tried to plan our departure the following morning accordingly.
“Calm early with a strong northwest wind developing.” The tour route happened to be heading just that direction so we planned to leave early and try to get as many miles in as we could before the wind started to blow.
As would not be common the rest of the week, our plan with the forecast worked very well and we rode most of the day in calm weather. The last stretch turned out to be quite difficult, but we made it to Tea without too much trouble. We only battled a headwind for the last 15–20 miles. I know many people got caught further out and it turned into a difficult day very quickly.
We tried to plan for the weather like this every day and at best, I’d say it was hit and miss. In fact, it backfired on us a couple days—one of which where we could have avoided rain entirely had we just slept in and left a couple hours later. Instead, we hoped to beat it and rode in a thunderstorm for most of the ride. Mother nature always has the upper hand and we were put in our place more than once.
Upon arriving in town, we’d be directed by signs to the designated camping area. Our luggage was carried from one overnight stop to the next for us so we sifted through the huge pile of bags to find ours and proceeded to set up camp.
It was interesting to see the little community within a community form so quickly. As more riders came in, the tent city grew and grew. It got to be kind of close quarters sometimes, but cyclists are notoriously friendly (just ask us) so the vibe was always very comfortable and welcoming. People shared stories and maybe even ran into an old friend or two from rides past. It was a really great atmosphere.
Around 9 p.m., the live music would end and the makeshift campground fell quiet as riders turned to their tents to rest up for another day. Most nights were peaceful, although, we did get the occasional rain shower and had to deal with a thunderstorm one night. There’s nothing quite like watching your tent flap violently above you while trying to remember if you pounded in all of those steaks properly.
Around 4:30 a.m. each morning, we’d wake up to the distinct sound of tents unzipping. Most riders were early risers. The tent city was broken down even more quickly than it was built. Gear was stored and placed in the pile ready to be hauled by truck to the next town.
Though the process at each overnight stop was about the same, each town definitely had their own personality. They were all fantastic hosts and were incredibly friendly and accommodating. They may not have completely understood what we were doing (see the conversation above), but it was an example of Midwest hospitality at its best.
After a week of headwinds and homemade pie, rain and brownies, communal showers, port-a-potties and tents, music, Dakota Style potato chips, breakfast burritos, homemade ice cream, conversations with church ladies, flat tires and Fat Tires, I will say my bed was a very welcome site come Friday night.
The week was challenging and at the same time a lot of fun, but it definitely wore me out. I’m fairly certain everyone had moments during the week when they questioned their own sanity (I know I had a few). And to all those folks, I say, “I’ll see you next year.”