Do gravel miles count double?


Monday night I drifted off to sleep to the soft patter of raindrops on the tent, punctuated occasionally by thunder and lightning in the distance. We were sleeping at the “top of the world” as it’s known in Lead, SD.

Lead-Deadwood High School is on a hilltop overlooking the town and the field is 88 iron steps above that. We were told the stars would be fabulous up there, but the clouds never parted.

The day started by retracing our steps from the day before – a screaming descent through town followed by a 2.5 mile climb. I barely touched the pedals before the climb began, so there wasn’t much warmup.

At mile nine there was a beautiful alpine meadow on the right @6000 feet – the kind that makes you want to kick off your shoes and run barefoot – made even better by the gentle descent and sweeping curves, making for an effortless glide.

The meadow was followed by rolling hills through mixed pine and birch forest.

We headed into the hamlet of Rochford, highlighted by the “Small of America” and  the “Moonshine Gulch Saloon”.

We then left the pavement for 10+ miles of gravel National Forest road. Someone with a sense of humor posted a sign reading “Rough Road Next 2.2 Miles”. I couldn’t discern a difference between those 2.2 miles and those before and after.

10+% grades are harder (both up and down) on gravel, but the scenery was great!

It was eerily quiet when we returned to pavement without the crunching of gravel under the tires.

Lunch was at a trailhead at the base of a steep descent (stopping for lunch ruining the momentum) and was followed by  steep climb.

We rolled into the town of Hill City, full of tourists. After a stop for ice cream we were back on the road. The weather had been perfect all day – mixed sun and clouds keeping it cool, wind not an issue.

Everything changed after Hill City. The final 15 miles were brutal.

We were back on a high speed highway, which was under construction. There were lane closures and areas with no shoulder. The new pavement featured transverse grooving, which gave car tires a high-pitched whine as they rolled along inches from us.

The wind was 15-20 mph and a headwind.  The sun was out in full with the temperature around 90. There were multiple climbs as I crawled along at 6 mph with traffic at 10 times my speed.

I didn’t stop at the Crazy Horse Memorial – I wanted to be off the road and not have to get back on it. (The monument is in the distance in the photo at the right. On the left is the view when I just had to pull off the road for a minute when I needed a break from the traffic.)

I considered a stop for a beer in Custer before heading to the school on the edge of town, but didn’t have a lock and didn’t feel safe leaving my bike unattended there.

Tomorrow has been described as “epic” and “classic”. Today I’d describe as “the best of times, the worst of times.”

Question: Why are the Black Hills, rising to over 7000 feet, “hills” and not “mountains”?

Since uploading appears to be much smoother today, I’ll end with some of the photos I couldn’t  upload yesterday.

Somewhere in the Black Hills of Dakota…

We left Wyoming behind today, but not until staring at Devil’s Tower from new angles while riding away.

On the way out we passed a Historical Marker which (surprisingly to me) acknowledged that the US seizure of the Black Hills was a violation of the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 and is “an action of which the legality is still being disputed in courts.” (How one can acknowledge a treaty violation but still think there are questions regarding legality is beyond me.)

I finished off my 4 lb jug (about a gallon size) of Cytomax and had to resort to drinking Gatorade today. Now I know why athletes dump it on the coach’s head after a victory. It tastes too vile to drink. I’ve also gone through a tube of sunscreen.

A thundershower came through in the middle of the night and we awoke to a sunrise rainbow. (Insertion of picture here failed after a 4 minute attempt to upload.)3983F6B6-B780-4DD6-A4BB-C83D1161C4D9I met a guy at a convenience store in the next town. He told me he knew about our trip because he had been talking to Charles (one of the riders who stayed at the motel in town in lieu of camping). Charles later told me the guy had been an extra in the film “Close Encounters”.

We spent much of the day riding up through Spearfish Canyon. My connection here is slow so I’m not sure if I can include any pictures.

The climb went on for 11 miles but was gentle enough that my speed stayed in double digits. The vegetation looks more like Wisconsin than anything so far – the roadside weeds are similar, the forest is mixed hardwoods and evergreens.

We followed Spearfish Creek until it eventually crossed under us. There was a water stop just past the bridge and this made an excellent spot to take my shoes off and get my feet in the water.

I’ve said before that I realized my maximum mileage without caloric intake was about 40, and as long as I take something in every 20 miles I can go a long time. This trip has made me realize I could also use a cold mountain stream every 20 miles to cool my feet.

I wrote yesterday (in the post that died) that, three weeks ago, I couldn’t really imagine riding 90-100+ miles day after day. Now that I’m doing it, I can’t say that it gets easier. Some friends said “You’ll ride yourself into shape”. I think riding oneself into fatigue is equally likely.

We passed through a small community of palatial log homes. One had a 100 foot elevated walkway to a garage that was bigger than my house.

After the canyon we had another treat in store, a 7% climb for almost 3 miles. The special treat was that a shower had come through shortly before, so steam was rising from the pavement – evaporative cooling for the pavement, heating for us. After a quick descent we came in to Lead and had a short but very steep climb up to the school – saving the best for last!

We are camped on the football field – up 88 steel steps from the level of the school. I’ve made two trips up so far (one to set up camp, another after my shower to hang laundry and write this). I hope for only one more – up to bed after dinner.

I hope for a better connection for Black Hills pictures some time this week.

Aaahhh! (Aaarrgh!)

This post was 429 words, 2 video links, and 6 pictures a few minutes ago. Now when I look, it is only a title. None of my saved versions survived. I guess this is all you get today.

(Four hours later)…I just found a Wi-Fi network that might work so maybe I will try to repost.

At sunset Saturday the van rolled in to our campground carrying all the riders who are staying at a hotel 9 miles down the road in town.We are camped right at the foot of Devil’s Tower.

As they disembarked the party began. The staff had spent the afternoon preparing margaritas and bean dip, and they strung glow sticks around the bar, which was the open back of one of the cargo trailers. Greg’s Cantina was open for business. Live entertainment followed shortly.

(Fast forward to 26:15 for “Reba’s Cantina”)

Robin, one of the British riders, was in an uncommonly good mood, as he had ridden out early Saturday morning to watch England defeat Sweden in their World Cup match in a pub 40 miles down the road.

He sat down and immediately asked all at the table to name our favorite movie. A lively discussion ensued. He was impressed that some of us Yanks knew the film “The Loneliness  of the Long Distance  Runner”, and were aware of the actor Tom Courtenay.

As the party wound down, I made my way to the outdoor seating area behind the camp store to watch the climactic scenes of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”.

When the film ended I found myself in more complete darkness than I have seen in quite some time. I was guided back to my tent by the North Star. Scorpio was visible on the western horizon.

Being up so late, I planned on sleeping in. I was awakened by a barking dog at 6 AM. I guess that counts as sleeping in these days.

I did laundry before breakfast, took advantage of the hot sun to recharge my back up battery with the solar charger, and took advantage of the shade and breeze to recharge myself.

Next week we head across South Dakota, including  the Black Hills and the Badlands. Had we been traveling as the crow flies, we would be in the middle of Wisconsin by now. We are following the route of the drunken crow.3CEED3E9-726D-419F-A486-3CD09643C6C9