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WORDS: Daniel Wakefield Pasley PHOTOS: Daniel Wakefield Pasley
Perry Jewett is a firefighter and has been for nearly 20 years. He is also the Race Director of an annual Labor Day mountain bike race called the Dakota 50. He lives with his wife and daughter in downtown Spearfish, South Dakota. He rides everything; snow, trails, mud, dirt, roads, bikes, boards and if forced to, a horse.
On his lawn in crisp early morning light, wearing something that resembles a cycling kit — touring shorts, a jersey and what looks like a skateboard helmet — Perry suggests that this ride is a Vision Quest. I stare back at him, smiling and waiting for him to either elaborate, deliver the punch line or at the very least, to qualify his assertion. It is true that South Dakota, land of countless cowboy and indian references, is synonymous with American native culture. But why, and how is this ride a quest for a spiritual vision?
In response, and speaking to the laughter and happiness regarding the very nature of the ride to come, Perry lowers his head and raises both arms. He places a pointed fist over each ear like horns, arches his back, stomps his left foot down and scrapes it back several times like a mighty animal before a thundering charge, saying in an almost passable Kevin Costner accent, “Tatanka.”
And so we begin.
A Vision Quest is a rite of passage always involving nature and usually involving a power animal of sorts — in our case, Tatanka. Vision Questing may involve sleep and sensory deprivation, long walks through landscapes like tundra and deserts — in our case, a lengthy bicycle ride should do the trick.
Yet, for us that day, it was different. It was easy and fast. Like galloping, hat in hand and kicking up dirt. Out-running the local Sheriff, with panache, or some unscrupulous bad guys and their errant posse on our tail. The Black Hills make you feel that way, like an old west magic carpet ride. Like a western theme park rush past abandoned gold mines, pine forests, and even the legendary buffalo (Perry’s Tatanka.) We passed frontier towns, and the famous national monument, Mt Rushmore. We rolled over alpine meadows and into towns with prohibition era saloons with swinging doors and just a hint of cowboys and indians. Then back out the other side and back to the forests teaming with wildlife and rivers. Our ride felt big, wide open and sunny. It came in plummets past Ponderosa Pine and wildflower meadows, up the narrowest one-lane roads in the country. The ride, Perry’s ride, corkscrewed three times through four tunnels and five bridges. It was like living and riding through American tradition and folklore.
Near the end, at the bottom of a series of long, swooping corners, snaking into Custer State Park we passed one more Tatanka on our way to the State Game Lodge.
In the end it was too easy and too much fun to be a Vision Quest. There was too much bubbling enthusiasm near the babbling brooks and too much camaraderie. But even with that being said the Black Hills is without a doubt one of the most stunning and abundant regions of the country in which to just get out and go for miles.