Greetings from the pheasant hunting capital of South Dakota!
I’m writing this post from a hotel room in Winner, South Dakota. It’s a tiny town in Tripp County, about three hours east of Rapid City, with fewer than 3,000 residents. Winner’s claim to fame is pheasant hunting. Fun fact: Winner was established in 1909 and named because the town emerged as the most successful trading post in the county.
Thank you, Google.
When I searched “things to do in Winner, South Dakota,” two suggestions popped up: hunt pheasants or go to the drive-in. Winner is smack dab in the middle of farm and ranch country in south central South Dakota and is renowned for its pheasant hunting. Not to mention prairie chickens, grouse, partridges, doves, and turkeys. If you’ve got wings and feathers, Winner is not a place you want to hang out! Sure enough, as soon as you pull into town, you are assaulted with pictures of pheasants everywhere. Not to mention the ever-present smell of cows. This is ranch country, after all.
What am I doing in Winner, you might be wondering? This is the first leg of a business trip. I’m traveling clear across South Dakota, meeting with a grocer, a quilt shop, and a rural hospital to gather information for a series of stories revolving around the response to the pandemic in rural communities across the state. I’ve got two interviews tomorrow and one on Wednesday morning before I return home.
I’m excited about this trip for two reasons:
- It’s the first business trip I’ve taken in about 20 years, and
- I get to see a bunch of places in South Dakota I’ve never visited.
I left the office at noon and drove a little over three hours to Winner, though I did jump ahead into the Central time zone. The drive was mostly uneventful; there was a little rain here and there, but nothing to write home about. Sure enough, traversing rural Highway 183, I did, in fact, spot several pheasants.
I was not impressed when I pulled into Winner. It’s your typical small town in the middle of nowhere; it looks kind of run-down, and one side of Main Street is a gigantic pit as they have dug up the entire road to…I don’t know…lay down pipe or something? My first thought was, why in the hell is my company making me stay in this sketchy little cowpoke town? LUCKILY, my hotel proved the exception to the rule. It’s actually very nice. Plush king bed, modern decor, swimming pool/hot tub, refreshingly cool A/C. Here’s the view from my room:
Directly across the street from my hotel, there’s a questionable-looking Mexican restaurant. I decided to check it out, because there aren’t a ton of places to eat in Winner, and the reviews on Yelp were excellent.
Fortunately, it looks nicer on the inside than the exterior would lead you to believe. I was led to a booth and immediately ordered a margarita on the rocks.
“Small or large?” my server asked.
Large. Duh. The company is paying for my meals, after all!
I also ordered the chili verde, and lo and behold, everything was absolutely delicious.
I now have a new corollary about Mexican restaurants: the smaller the town, the better the food. I have no idea why, but the best Mexican meals of my life have all been served in tiny podunk towns where you wouldn’t expect to get good Mexican food. Places like Bloomington, Illinois. Sheridan, Wyoming. Pendleton, Oregon. And now Winner, South Dakota. Click on any of those links and you’ll see me rave about obscenely good Mexican food in out-of-the-way places.
And yet, in Rapid City, we can’t find a decent enchilada to save our lives.
In any case, I’m back in the room now, churning out a quick post. I might hit the hot tub in a little bit. Gotta take advantage, right?
My first interview isn’t until 11:45 tomorrow in a town 30 miles down the road, so I should be able to enjoy a semi-leisurely morning before then.
The only downside to this trip? The fact that it’s driving on top of more driving. Let’s just say this past weekend was not relaxing.
Remember those kayaks that Tara ordered online? The next day, Tractor Supply Co. cancelled the order without any explanation. Which is weird, right? They could have at least given us a reason.
This led to the biggest wild goose chase these parts have ever seen. I searched every big-box (and small-box) retailer in a five-state area, and nobody had kayaks. Not Cabela’s or Scheel’s or Fleet Farm or Runnings. Not in Wyoming or Montana or Nebraska or Colorado. Finally, finally, I lucked out and found a Dick’s Sporting Goods in Bismarck, North Dakota, that had just received a shipment of 10 kayaks.
Now, Tara and I had discussed how far we would be willing to travel to pick up kayaks. We agreed on five hours. Bismarck is 4 hours and 51 minutes from Rapid City, so it met our criteria. I didn’t even hesitate; I bought two kayaks on Thursday morning for an in-store pickup.
Have I mentioned that Bismarck is 300.1 miles from Rapid City?
Normally, we’d have made a weekend of it. No big deal. But it just so happened that we were hosting a reception for Tara’s boss and her new husband, who just got married two weeks ago, in our backyard. On Saturday night. Eliminating the possibility of making a weekend out of our trip. Furthermore, Dick’s will only hold an in-store pickup for four days. Which meant, if we really wanted those kayaks, we were going to have to make a 600-mile, 12-hour roundtrip drive to Bismarck and back on a Sunday, after a late night, a day before I had to hit the road for a business trip across the state.
Nobody in their right mind would do that, huh?
Yes, it was a long-ass day. The longest-assest day imaginable. And we barely got a glimpse of Bismarck, a city we had never seen before and would have loved to explore further. But time was of the essence. We exited the freeway, stopped for lunch at a Hawaiian restaurant, drove two blocks to a strip mall, picked up our kayaks, secured them the best we could, and made the long trek back home while battling strong crosswinds, occasional rain, and the incessant tedium of driving down two-lane country highways for pretty much 10 solid hours.
We left the house at 5:50 a.m. after barely 4.5 hours of sleep. Got back home at 6 p.m. But you know what? We are now the proud owners of a pair of groovy Pelican Mustang 100X kayaks.
Guys. It’s been a crazy busy few weeks. Between out-of-state visitors and camping trips and backyard receptions and 600-mile journeys to neighboring states and business trips across South Dakota, we have been go-go-go. We are so looking forward to this upcoming long holiday weekend! And the first thing we’re doing Saturday morning is hauling our kayaks to Pactola Lake and spending a few hours on the water.
Five more days…