SPEARFISH — After a three-day rest, Tyler Thompson is back on the road again.
Thompson, 31, of Smyrna, Ga., is riding his bicycle from sea to shining sea. Well, almost, he was about six miles short of seeing the Arctic Ocean, because of permit issues.
Thompson, is riding his bike from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, to the Florida Keys, a near 7,000-mile journey. A self-proclaimed, vagabond at the moment, Thompson is traveling a part of the route his parents rode a little more than 30 years ago.
His dad, Josh Thompson and mom Carol Thompson drove to South Dakota in 1985, John thinks. A history buff, Josh wanted to drive to Broadus, Mont., where he thought the closest town to the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument was located, and then ride fat bikes — the term at the time for mountain bikes — to Badlands National Park.
The two got to the Badlands and said enough driving, time to ride. So they geared up and hit the pedals riding to Wall, Rapid City, Mount Rushmore, Deadwood, and Lead, down Spearfish Canyon to Spearfish where they arrived on a Friday night. The Black Hills Sawdust Festival was being held at the time, and the two entered several events winning $94. They stayed several days after being welcomed with open arms, before heading out on the road. The two made it as far as Devil’s Tower before running out of energy fighting the winds blowing in their face.
They rode to Newcastle where they took a bus back to the Badlands.
That journey prompted Tyler to retrace part of their journey – 30 some odd years later.
“I grew up hearing a lot of stories. It was always in my head,” Thompson said.
His first overnight adventure was when he was in college, using the same 1985 or 1986 Cannondale bike his dad used.
He took a 250-mile trip through southern Georgia and then rode from Empire, Colo., located west of Denver, to Yellowstone National Park.
When he was in the Peace Corps, he road throughout Croatia.
“This is my fourth trip and clearly the longest,” Thompson said.
He left Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, on June 14, about 3,900 miles ago. Key West is another 3,000 miles.
“The road to Purgatory could not be as hellacious as the four-hundred-fourteen miles of gravel and packed earth stretching between Prudhoe Bay and Livengood, Alaska,” he wrote on his blog chronicling his journey.
That gravel road, he said, had many vehicles broke down on the side of it beaten and shattered by the rough conditions and excess speed people drove.
“It wasn’t that bad for me except for the physicality of it,” he said. “It is remote. There is nothing out there. The only thing out there is the pipeline and pump stations.”
“I’m taking my time. I met two guys who are doing the exact opposite route. … They were flying. They were doing it in two or three months,” Thompson said. “My approach is much different. It is more about the experience. They are more about covering the distance.”
So he spent a week each in Jasper, Banff, and Glacier national parks. He has spent several days in other towns visiting with people and resting. This included in Spearfish where he spent three days before leaving Monday afternoon on his way to Sylvan Lake. He plans to tour Needles Highway, Wildlife Loop, and Iron Mountain Road and then the Badlands.
Random sights and acts of kindness
When asked what his favorite parts have been, he laughed.
“A lot of downhill moments. And tailwind moments,” he said. “It’s one of those experiences that is a collection of randomness. It’s hard to string together a narrative about it. … But it’s random people you meet and random things you come across. I scared up a black bear along the side of the road hiding in the bush. I could have touched it. Thankfully it ran the other way.”
One evening he was looking for a campsite and found the only suitable area along a riverbank near two RVs. He, and his brother, who joined him for a time, struck up a conversation with the two couples.
“The next day one lady gave us a bunch of food and Gatorades and stuff. She gave us a letter and said ‘don’t open this until you get to the next town.’ When we did open that there were two crisp $100 bills in it,” Thompson recalled.
When broke down in Alaska, a fellow cyclist gave them tire patches they desperately needed. And a man gave him a ride 350 miles to the closest bike shop.
When at a campground, a group in a RV immediately adjacent to his tent began getting rowdy at 2:30 a.m. Thompson confronted them and a shouting match ensued.
“Then out walks this beautiful blonde lady in a white wedding dress. She apologized for the noise and said they had just gotten married and this was their wedding reception,” Thompson said. “In a way I felt bad because it was their wedding night, and on the other hand, it ended up being 3 in the morning.”
But the next morning the married couple invited Thompson to join them for breakfast,” he said.
He has also had moments of danger. In mid July, three murders took place in British Columbia, and Thompson was in close proximity.
“A guy I met came across the bodies. He thought they were just sleeping in the grass.
He saw the raw scene before police got there,” Thompson said. “The next say I passed the crime scene. There was (police) tape all around it, the van was still there with the shattered glass window.”
“I know I’ve come across some dangerous situations, but I haven’t felt danger with wildlife or people,” he added.
Upon his return home, Thompson said he would like to start a business with his dad. Josh Thompson is an environmental writer and the business would educate people how to purchase environmentally-friendly products and ways.
He encouraged people to step out of preconceived ideas.
“Anybody can do it,” he said of his journey. “There are a lot of barriers people construct for themselves. ‘I can do this but I can’t do that.’ For whatever reason. At the end of the day if you back up and look at this guy who cycled from Alaska to Georgia, yeah, that seems daunting, but it you zoom in and take it by the daily-, hourly-, minute-by-minute experience, you really are looking at it one pedal at a time and anyone can do that. “We’re all more capable to do things outside of our comfort zone.”
He plans to arrive in Key West in December.
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