We started today with a gentle climb through mixed aspen, birch, and pine forest.
It doesn’t look like we’re climbing, but I need to look to make sure my tires aren’t flat and I’m not dragging a sea anchor. As our elevation approaches 6000 feet I see on the cue sheet we are about to climb 1.1 miles. I’m not sure what he thinks we’ve been doing for the last 5 1/2 miles. A half mile later it becomes clear. Before this we’ve just been going up, now we’re actually climbing. When I run out of gears, it’s obvious. (Dictated at the time; that’s why it’s in present tense.)
We rode up Needles Highway, where I overheard, “What planet are we on?” It was an otherworldly landscape. Rocky spires rose everywhere, coming right to the edge of the road. The road itself was possibly the most beautiful pavement I have ever seen, a narrow, barely 2 lane ribbon of flawless asphalt, too narrow for trucks or RVs, just big enough for regular cars.
I could have spent the whole day there. Someday it would be great fun to take that entire road at speed, were it closed to all other traffic. I would first want to ride it slowly at least 10 more times to enjoy the scenery.
We had to share a narrow tunnel with a family of mountain goats.
This could have been a day trip – ride up to the Needles Highway, ride it a couple of times, get out and walk around, go back to where we started.
But it was only the beginning. Next up was Iron Mountain Highway. A small sign announced how may switchbacks were to come. I didn’t bother to take a picture, nor to count them.
Iron Mountain Highway also boasts “pigtail bridges”, wooden bridges that create a helix, so you ride over the bridge, then curl around and ride under it – like a freeway off ramp in miniature, and built of logs. (Difficult to see in the image below, but the road curls back under the bridge.)
We climbed the mountain and had a view of Mt Rushmore. It was an up and down day, over 5000 feet of climbing, but way too much fun to be of any concern. This may have been our last foray over 6000 feet.
In Keystone we saw a rare sight – a telephone booth. Also bison grazing by the roadside.
Food deserves a mention – last night’s dinner in Custer was from a caterer in Rapid City. It included a spinach/artichoke lasagne and focaccia bread. Lunch today (from our staff) featured risotto and pesto bread. We’ll have the same caterer for the next two nights. This also gives me an excuse to show you the catering truck from Gillette; as you can see, it is rather large.
The route into Rapid City was bad enough that the boss apologized for it. It was miserable (long climb, headwind, busy highway) but not enough to ruin the day.