KADOKA, SOUTH DAKOTA—Plugged into my MP3 player I’m sitting with my back against the west wall of America’s Best Value Inn at Exit 150 of I-90. Like a child playing peek-a-boo, the sun is stetting behind fingers of clouds stretching from the broad palm reaching up from the western horizon. And endless stream of Harleys and other motorcycles are buzzing west toward Sturgis in packs of three and four.
Gary Jules mournful version of Mad World is filling my ears now. He’s not the only one who finds things “kinda strange,” and in some regards I agree that today as been “the daily races going nowhere.” Instead of heading west on the two-lanes south of I-90 to Hot Springs, our staging point for the next day’s visit to the Crazy Horse Memorial, Mount Rushmore, and a pass through the bike rally at Sturgis, we went north to avoid the big radar blog of green and yellow rain that covered out route.
Foregoing breakfast, we pushed north on SD37, keeping an eye on the mass of clouds to our left. It was our best decision of the day because it brought us to the Coney Island Café in Huron, after we passed through downtown Mitchell, home of the legendary Corn Palace. We dismounted for a few photos. An vital and eclectic community, seeing the American Legion Café & Bar, we agreed that it would have been a good place to spend the previous night, if it had not required another hour or so of riding in the rain. But I’ll be back one day.
Riding through the heart of Huron we didn’t see any place worthy of breakfast. Stopping at the end of the business district, Ed queried his iPhone and then asked how the Coney Island Café sounded to me. Perfect. It was behind Hurst’s Corner and Dakota and 2nd St., a bar that has been “Family Owned & Operated Since 1903. Walking in the side door and unsure of which way to turn, an older man with thick gray hair and van dyke, wearing a Budweiser t-shirt asked if we were hungry, and then pointed to a screen door in the hallway.
The café was 12-foot square. Ed counted the 12-inch dark and light gray tiles. A refrigerator was in one corner. In the opposite corner was a coffee urn. Opposite the screen door the the kitchen portal. Clanging and banging and female voices drifted from it. Filling the remaining floor space were four tables, two singles and the other two pushed together. We plopped down at free square of Formica walnut between the refer and coffee. I didn’t have to get up for the help-yourself refills.
We didn’t catch the gentleman’s name, but he was, we saw later, the bartender. I assumed he was Pa Hurst. A perpetual motion human of endless good humor, he moved with the awkward gait of some who’s spent a life on his feet. He knew everyone in the café but us, and he doted on a toddler he called Grasshopper. We were soon part of the family as he asked where we from and where we were going.
When Rhonda, the cook and maybe his wife, brought our food (I can’t remember the last time a ham and cheese omelet tasted this good) he shared our itinerary, she she asked if she could ride along to Sturgis. We said sure, and Pa Hurst said we could take her all the way to Seattle and back, because it would be a nice break, he said as he stepped into the kitchen. When the phone rang, his voice sang out, “The phone’s ringing!”
Visiting the bar’s sandbox on the way out, there were maybe a dozen customers filling the dark room. Good business for 1030 on a Saturday morning. Pa Hurst was scuttling up and down behind the bar, talking nonstop. As we were saddling up after breakfast, Rhonda came out “to see what I’d be riding on.” we chatted for a moment; then she said, “I’d better get back, I got eggs cooking.”
Following the route suggested by another diner, we rode west on US14/SD34, which took us to Pierre, a neat and tidy little town in a valley with with its black-dome capitol. SD34 scribed a line through, what Ed called “a whole lot of nothing,” but the prairie was beautiful, rolling grassland under a blue dome dotted with fair weather cotton-ball clouds. We intended to follow SD34 to Sturgis, but we’d already logged several hundred miles, so the intersection with SD73 we stopped to reconsider. With biker butt starting to manifest itself, and unsure of where we’d spend the night, we headed south on 73 to Wall.
Wall is where I disconnected from the day. The bike rally in Sturgis starts this weekend, and on every road we saw pods of motorcycles, mostly snarling Harleys. In Wall, which is dominated by its legendary drug store, the streets were filled with thousands of motorcycles and a greater number of humans, mostly older, all seemingly attired in denim and leather and ink framed by sleeveless t-shirts and tank tops. The noise was an omnipresent visceral sonogram.
After making a quick circuit of the main Wall Drug drag, but not entering any of the packed stores, other than to get an iced blended coffee, Ed started working his iPhone for a place to stay. Anything available within 40 miles started just shy of $300 a night, so we looked farther afield. That led us to Kadoka and American’s Value Inn, who’s west wall is a fine back rest.
For dinner, the desk clerk recommended the Club 27 steakhouse that was, she assured us, just a half-mile walk away. Like our previous ambulatory dinner, she was off by about 100 percent. The prime rib was good, but not as good as the overheard conversations. The night’s winner was the biker asking his buddies what after dinner cigar he wanted, the “light or dark mac-a-doo-doo.” We’re guessing he was talking about a Macanudo.
We were not able to come up with answer to the day’s other vexing questions: Why do cows stand together in a field in a tight group, like Emperor Penguins trying to stay warm. When was the last time you saw a gas pump without a credit card slot, where the station trusted you to come in and pay? And why do the gas stations in Kadoka offer three grades of gas, unleaded, extra, and plus, at increasingly greater prices per gallon, and they are all placarded as 87 octane?
Working the numbers before dinner, we rode 370 miles today. The direct route between the two is 202 miles, but many of them would have been quite soggy. And we wouldn’t have met the Hursts and had a great breakfast, or seen the Corn Palace, or been aurally inoculated at Wall Drug for the base note battering we’ll surely endure tomorrow at Sturgis, before we return to Kadoka.