DAY 43 (7/23/05): Midland to Interior, SD 63.6 mi. To beat the heat, I got up at 4am this morning and was on the road well before 5. The prairie is very cool and beautiful at that time of day, and the usually sparse traffic drops down to basically nil. I rode through more long rolling hills along US-14, and then took the back-road short cut between Cottonwood (pop 12) and Cactus Flats on my way to the Badlands National Park. The short cut was an unpaved county road but it was in very rideable condition and saved me almost 20mi over the paved route. From the crest of one of the hills on the short cut, I could make out the weird sandstone formations of the Badlands on the horizon. I rode into the park and on to the campground, arriving there just after noon and in time for the hottest part of the day. There are of course no trees here so I changed into my bathing suit and hid in the shade of the wooden shelter over my picnic table and periodically dumped quarts of cold water on myself to stay cool. It was pretty effective, and the view from the picnic bench was awesome, a row of pink and grey jagged sandstone peaks against an almost impossibly blue sky. Since I had time to kill, I read through all the handouts that I had been given on my way in. One handout warned that interactions with any of the wildlife in the park, including birds "can lead to serious injury." You can imagine my alarm, then, when a single western meadowlark landed near my left hand on the table. I froze and watched him survey the scene with his beady little eyes. While birds can seem inoccuous, I have seen Alfred Hitchcock's informative documentary, "The Birds" and know what harm these innocent looking creatures can do. Fortunately, the meadowlark seemed much more interested in the crumbs from my sandwich than in wreaking avian havoc, and I lived to tell the tale. Incidentally, the organism responsible for the largest number of reported injuries every year in the Badlands is: the prickly-pear cactus. DAY 44 (7/24/05): Interior to Rapid City, SD 98.1 mi. I had intended to leave early again this morning but when I woke up at 4, another big thunderstorm was raging outside. It was not nearly as strong or as close as the one in De Smet, though, so I went back to sleep for an hour until it had blown through. When I got up I could see that the tents of my neighbors, not being as sleek and aerodynamic as the Northface Roadrunner 2, had blown down during the night and many people were sleeping in their cars. I packed up quickly and rode through the badlands, taking the longer scenic loop through the park. I saw lots more weird and wild sandstone, and then hit an unpaved road through the grassland portion of the park. On that road, I saw wild herds of both big horn sheep and bison. Bison are truly tremendous creatures, about 2000lbs each, with most of the mass concentrated in the front third of the animal. Fortunately they did not seem perturbed by the presence of a cyclist. Although in the end it was worth it to see those animals, the unpaved road was really rough and washed out, and I was very relieved to return to the pavement at the end. From there, it was smooth sailing all the way to the metropolis of Rapid City, which, at 60,000 people is the largest city that I've been in by far since Minneapolis. Because of the extreme heat and severe thunderstorm warnings (including quarter sized hail!), I sought refuge in another motel, which had a swimming pool. I changed into my suit and spent 20 min floating in the pool letting the tired muscles loosen up a bit. Then, I dried off and sat on the little patio in front of my room with all the other folks from the motel as we watched this giant storm blow in. The lightening was very frequent and impressive, with many flashes lighting up the whole sky, and loud thunder rumbling overhead. Thunderstorms seem to have a habit of making me sleepy these days, so before it was all over I had to retire to my room for some much needed rest.