The editor and Debbie White trek through 114 miles of the beautiful Black Hills in South Dakota.
By Rinda Maddox
Debbie White and Rinda Maddox just about met their match in South Dakota.
It was a fierce battle of wills but when it was all said and done the two local ladies came out the victors and they will receive a FREE sticker for their accomplishment – as well as the satisfaction of being able to say they “did it!”
The two bicycled the entire Mickelson Trail through 114 miles of the Black Hills. Being flatlanders, they are used to flat, blacktop roads at a mere elevation of 682 feet above sea level.
When they made plans to “conquer” the Mickelson, they didn’t take into consideration that a trail through the highest mountain peaks this side of the Rocky Mountains would have elevations ranging from 3500 to 6200 feet. Being a rails-to-trails path, they knew that the grade should never be more than about four percent as trains didn’t go up “steep” hills so they weren’t worried about the fact that there were “big hills” in those Hills.
They also didn’t have any idea that one doesn’t breathe as easily at 6200 feet as you do at 682 feet! Shallow breathing results in less energy. Also, the loose gravel trail was the most difficult base they had ever had to ride on.
Add that all up and there was about a total of 30 miles out of 114 they considered “down hill” easy and that included 11 miles downhill in heavy rainfall.
They started at mile marker 109 in Deadwood, S.D. and rode to mile marker zero in Edgemont, S.D. With side trips off the trail, they logged 114 total miles.
At the end of each day, they were picked up by Rinda’s daughter, Amanda, and her husband, Jon-Michael Rull, and Rinda’s husband, Steven. The Rulls live at the base of the Black Hills in Rapid City so they had to travel each evening from 40 to 85 miles from their home to the trailhead where the ladies left their car and then up the trail to where they would end each evening.
The first day was the only day the ladies expected to be a difficult ride. They knew the trail would climb from 4200 to 6200 feet in just 16 miles right out of Deadwood. They had planned to ride just a 26 mile section that day. That distance is an easy three hour ride in Illinois. It took them six hours to make it in the Hills. Frequent stops for photo ops contributed, in part, to slow travel. The 2000 feet climb didn’t help either!
They carry a tripod so they can get photos of themselves in some of the scenery shots. There was full sunshine, few fluffy clouds in the bluest sky that Illinois never sees. Temps were in the low 70s at that elevation and NO HUMIDITY!
The last 10 miles that day was a good grade down hill, the best they would have for the entire trip. They were picked up in the big town of Rochford, population 25. They all ate supper in the Moonshine Gulch Saloon in Rochford. The country singers, Big and Rich, filmed their Big Time music video at this one horse saloon.
On the way back to Rapid City from Rochford they were literally driving through a cow pasture on a gravel road and had to dodge lots and lots of cows.
On Day 2 Jon-Michael drove them back through the cow pasture to pick up the trail again in Rochford. They planned to travel an “easy” 22 miles that day to Hill City. Rinda and Amanda had ridden eight miles of this section last summer and knew how beautiful of an area they would be riding. But they didn’t realize that 11 miles of the 22 would be uphill.
The girls were pretty exhausted before even getting on their bikes that morning as their legs hadn’t had time to recover from the first day’s ride. It took two hours to do the first seven miles that was downhill because of the constant stops to shoot photos.
Remember the cows the car had to dodge the night before? Well, there on the path was a “cattle crossing” as they sat and waited for about eight or ten cows and calves to make their way from one side to the other.
After the first seven miles they spent the next 11 miles pedaling two and three miles per hour as they slowly made their way up hill.
The two didn’t think they could muster up the strength to pedal another mile when they reached the summit of that section and were able to coast the last four miles into Hill City. It was another beautiful sunny day with a little warmer temps as they were not as high elevation.
The ladies took a break and skipped one day before picking the trail back up for Day 3. Unfortunately, their short 11 mile ride scheduled for that Sunday afternoon happened to catch them in a very heavy rainstorm with lightening.
The trailhead was called “The Mountain” and was a quarter mile past the Crazy Horse Memorial, which is visible from the trail. Because of their struggles with the grades, they decided to ride this 11 mile steep hill “backwards” on the trail so they could ride it downhill instead of uphill.
They wanted to get this side of the mountain done this day so they could do the last 49 miles on the other side of the peak the last day, eliminating any uphills and spending the last of the trip downhill. Or, so they thought.
They were just heading into a box culvert that would take them under the four-lane highway to the other side when it started to rain. They waited out the rain inside the tunnel, then headed out again, only to run into it about a half mile later. They found another shelter close by and waited until it looked as though the rain was about to quit. They only had four miles to go, but the rain started once again and this time it poured hard. They kept going until it started lightening and then finally took shelter on the porch of a small hotel before finishing the last two miles.
The worse part of the rain is that it prevented them from enjoying some of the most beautiful scenery and photo ops. Hard to see the surrounding countryside when you have a rain hat pulled around your face! They were soaked through and cold by the time they met the kids at the trailhead in Hill City. They were told that big hail stones fell just a couple miles from them so they were very thankful they avoided that.
They took another day off as rain was still predicted and they had had enough of that. Looking at the elevation map they had 49 miles left to ride, dropping from 5200 feet at The Mountain trailhead to 3400 feet at the end of the trail.
Piece of cake. It will all be downhill and they can coast most of the way. Or, so they thought.
Thinking they would be able to cruise 15 mph or more the last day, they didn’t even start early though they had a lot of miles to travel. The kids weren’t picking them up until 5:30 so they didn’t want to get to the end too far ahead of time. If only they had known what was in store for their last day’s ride.
Two days of rain made the trail really soft and even harder to pedal. The beautiful pine forest was mostly behind them now and much of the fourth and final day was out in the wide open. Now at lower altitudes, the temps were warmer, hovering in the upper 90s. Not a cloud in the brilliant blue sky.
The first six miles were an easy down hill and gave a false expectation of the rest of the day. Even though the elevation was dropping, the grade kept going uphill as much as downhill. They were also met head on with winds that gusted up to 35 mph. Even on a downhill slope they couldn’t coast with the wind factor. It was the hardest day they ever experienced on any bike ride. Ever.
There was little stopping for photos as the ride became such a struggle. They knew they were going to miss their expected arrival by at least two hours!
They had been warned to take plenty of water with them, that there would not be but two towns and few water pumps on this stretch. So they had plenty of water, but when the water in the bottles warmed to about 90 degrees, drinking it became a problem. The hot water made Rinda sick at her stomach and Debbie, who had gone off without her sun glasses, had such wind and sun burn to her eyeballs that she had blurred vision. She had also felt nauseated. Heat exhaustion was setting in and the end of the trail wasn’t yet near.
One of the most spectacular views of the trail was passed with only a glance and no photo shoot, to now be regretted. Exhaustion prevented any pleasure at viewing Sheep Canyon. The trail through the canyon was at the top of a high, narrow and long earthen dam that was built over a once wooden railroad trestle.
The trestle was the largest on the rail line at 126 feet high and 700 feet long. It was so dangerous as a trestle that the engineers would not ride the train over it. The engineer would walk across the trestle and wait on the other side. The person in the caboose would send the train across while he waited on that side and then he would walk over the trestle after the train crossed.
When the ladies rounded the curve into the enormous canyon they glanced around but mainly concentrated on getting across the narrow trail. There was a split rail fence on each side but there was still a lot of “open air” at that point of the trail. The ladies were just glad that an earth dam had been built over the trestle.
Very soon after the trail was finished they were sorry they didn’t stop for photos, although they probably would not have been comfortable stopping on the middle of the land bridge!
With three miles from the end the ladies were resting on a fence along the highway when along came Amanda and the boys to meet them at the end. Rinda, who had ridden as far as she cared to go suggested they load the bikes on the car at that point, but the shuttle drivers wouldn’t allow them to quit when they were so close to the end. They drove off to buy cold drinks as the two ladies struggled back on their bikes.
As they rode down main street through the small town of Edgemont the flags were hung from each light pole and the girls were sure it was in honor of their arrival. As they took off into the city park and the ZERO mile marker, a red ribbon was held across the sidewalk by Steven and Jon-Michael as they rode through the finish line to end the 114 mile ride.
Six pages could be written about the awesome spectacular sights the two saw on that ride. Over 500 photos were taken on the four days. The Black Hills are so beautiful, pristine and smells heavenly with their beautiful Ponderosa pines.
There are stories to be told of each rider taking one spill from their bike, of how much one can pack on a bike and still pedal it, of how hard it can be to pedal when giggling like a third grader and how one rider completely blew out her seat before the trip was over. And although the riders didn’t see any mountain lions and snakes that they were warned about, the girls are sure the lions and snakes saw them!
Two years ago the ladies rode the 225 mile Katy Trail in Missouri in five days. Taking four days to ride 114 miles is evidence of the difficulty of this ride.
Was it worth it? A life time of memories were made and a book full of photos will help remember each mile of the trip. Will they return to ride it again? Most likely not.
The Black Hills Forest Preserve offers free stickers for anyone who completes the ride. The ladies ordered their free sticker the next day – a fine reward indeed for the ride of a lifetime.