Bastille Day

For the grandchild who will have no idea who I am when I get back from this trip.

The Magic Kingdom AKA Needles Highway

We left Custer in the early morning chill and climbed Sylvan Lake Road through mixed pine and birch forest, headed for Custer State Park and Needles Highway. My YouTube uplink is not working so still pictures may have to suffice until I can upload video.Words alone do not suffice.

First view, entering the Needles
Needles Eye Tunnel
The Needle’s Eye, for which the tunnel is named
This is their tunnel – we’re just visitors
Mountain kid
Beginning the descent

Once out of The Needles, it was a beautiful and swift descent back to earth on perfect asphalt and banked curves. From there it was on to Iron Mountain Road and views of Mt Rushmore. There were not a lot of opportunities to stop and take pictures, as this sign may explain:

It was a slow but beautiful climb (900 vertical feet) to the Norbeck Overlook, where I met two families from Wisconsin. I followed one of them down the other side and they were kind enough to pull over and let me pass when they realized they were slowing me down. I had earned that descent and didn’t really want to ride the brakes all the way down.

I had stopped for snacks a few times on the way, as our picnic was not until mile 48. We sat in rockers on the porch of a store just uphill from Cripple Creek Ranch.

This was my stop for a cold bottled coffee drink and a bar I was carrying.

As usual, the ride changed after picnic. We rode on fresh chipseal. Climbing on fresh chipseal is not fun; descending is worse. You pick your line, avoiding the loose gravel. generally there are two lines available, where car tires have beaten the gravel into the surface. Sometimes only one works, so there is some moving back and forth through the danger zone of loose gravel between the lines. Our cue sheet said we would turn onto “fresh blacktop”. A number of people let the router know that freshly-oiled chipseal is not the same as fresh blacktop. I decided I did not need to add my voice to the chorus – especially since the Trail Boss was one of those voices.

While we ended the day 1700 feet lower than we started, we climbed 5600 feet in the process. The day ended with an ugly ride into Rapid City – first a steep climb on a busy freeway, then a long ride into town through sprawl, followed by a busy multi-lane urban street with no shoulder. With a tailwind I was almost able to keep to the 30 mph speed limit to feel safe. Once the limit dropped to 25 I held the speed limit into camp. Riding at 25-30 mph in urban traffic after riding through paradise and climbing 5600 feet was one way to cap off the day.

in honor of Bastille Day and Mt Rushmore, a word from our sponsor.

It finally worked!

Three rides/One day?

We slept in this morning due to a late breakfast. The extra half hour meant the sun had risen and the tent was nearly dry when I packed it up. As I was coming out of the bathroom, an antlered deer passed by and stopped. I waited for it to wander on. We left Lead, SD by reversing course from the end of yesterday – downhill out of town, then up for a few miles before embarking on today’s adventure.

Spearfish Canyon panorama from yesterday

We started through rolling, pine-forested hills on pristine asphalt. If there is a heaven, it might look like this. The shade was cool, the breeze was light, the sun was warm.

the now-defunct Presidents Park
the locals hanging out at the saloon

After Moonshine Gulch we came to the “Pavement Ends” sign and embarked on 10 miles of gravel, mostly uphill. The only thing tougher than the long climbs were the descents – a few times my speed exceeded 15 mph. Cars coming the other way raised clouds of dust. A van pulling a trailer approached. I pulled over to give it room. It was labeled “Western Spirit Adventures” and the roof was festooned with mountain bikes. What sort of adventure was this, riding in a van, while we were tackling this on road bikes? Maybe they were headed to a single-track adventure and thought these miles of gravel were just a chore. Or maybe they weren’t so adventurous.

No car in sight, but the dust cloud hasn’t settled yet
No, that is not the top in the distance. Like the Energizer Bunny, this climb keeps going, and going, and going…

We returned to pavement and crossed a cattle guard at 30 mph – we barely felt it after the miles of gravel. At picnic I kept eating and eating – the morning burned through thousands of calories. We rode into Hill City where I had ice cream and then espresso before leaving the road for the Mickelson Trail. We’d been on quiet back roads but Hill City to Custer was on a US Highway that was one of the low points of 2018 (see that post for details).

Finding the trail was harder than expected – a local 10 year old guided me to it, as it was a sidewalk at the point I intersected it. It soon turned to crushed limestone and was a steady uphill grade for 10 miles. The surface was strongly crowned, so there was a good path for one bike. Meeting another bike took care, as the crown sloped sharply and the gravel was loose on the edges. Occasionally the surface would change to a red gravel which was much squirrelier – like riding in slush. After 10 miles up, the last 5 into town were down. I had planned the route via Google Maps and wanted to double-check the route off of the trail and to the school. My phone was dead. I asked a local, whose directions were wrong and I trusted my gut, which was right. Another rider later told me her phone also died today – aliens? It is plugged in and charging now. The battery had never been this low.

After setting up camp, showering, and hanging laundry, the bike needed cleaning and lubing, as well as checking bolts for tightness. The stem bolts and water bottle cages had rattled loose. My pocket-sized Silca torque wrench is proving to be a valuable addition.

I wondered yesterday about the difference between mountains and hills. A Colorado reader said if it has a tree line, it’s a mountain. If trees go to the top, it’s a hill. By that standard, many of the mountains in California, including the Santa Cruz Mountains, are hills. The Black Hills were named that by white explorers because the heavily-forested hills/mountains looked black in the distance.

Tomorrow we ride the legendary Needles Highway.