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.

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.