Click on the first one and advance manually to see the captions. Unfortunately, I trashed my camera on the first night. I bought a replacement but didn't have a chance to charge the battery until after I had ridden up Spearfish Canyon, which was one of the most scenic parts of the trip.
My original itinerary included a foray into remote Northwest Nebraska. However, when I reached Edgemont on Day 3 I met a family at the municipal campground who told me the 35 mile dirt road that would take me to the main reason for going to Nebraska—Toadstool Geologic Park—would be a tough ride under good conditions and likely impassible by bike due the extensive flooding the area had experienced, so I scrubbed that portion of the mission and took a rest day in Edgemont instead. From there, It was a relatively short ride to Hot Springs, which was on my original itinerary. This change in plans resulted in a total point-point/day ride mileage of about 400. Excursions into towns and attractions such as the mammoth dig site in Hot Springs added at least another 30 miles. Ride With GPS shows about 26,500’ of climbing for the point-to-point/day ride mileage.
Things worked out like this:
Rapid City to Spearfish
Spearfish to Hill City
Hill City to Edgemont
Day Off in Edgemont with a 17 mile ride towards Nebraska and back
Edgemont to Hot Springs via Old Hwy 18 and U.S. 18
Hot Springs to Custer via Wind Cave N.P.
Loop from Custer to Sylvan Lake then Needles Highway
Day ride from Custer to Hill City and back
Custer to Mt. Rushmore KOA then a loop via Old Hill City Rd. Keystone, thence to Mt. Rushmore and back to the KOA via SD 244.
Mt. Rushmore KOA to Rapid City
Some random thoughts:
Food: This was my first tour of more than two days where I did not bring cooking gear. The reason for not doing so was that cooking on at least four days was not really practicable, either because of a lack of grocery stores and the fact that I was staying in a motel at the start and end of the trip. I thought this could be a problem and it was to some extent. When touring my body runs best on a high carb diet, and high carb meals are hard to come by in an area dominated by beef and fried foods. Even salad bars are short on fresh vegetables and long on things like tuna salad and macaroni salad drowning in mayo. Later in the trip, while staying in Custer for three nights, I did find a restaurant that had some options with decent carbs, which provided pleasant relief.
The Mickelson Trail: My route included nearly all of this 108 mile rail-trail. It is unique. The surface varied between fine to larger gravel, dirt, lose sand, and even some rocks. Ruts from unusually heavy runoff were prevalent. There are several cattle gates which you have to open, negotiate and then close. There are many bridges that are less than smooth and have transitions which, in the exercise of caution, require you to slow down. Four tunnels and countless road and driveway crossings also require slowing. One evening I had to lift my bike over a downed tree. And not only is the trail not flat, you top out at over 6,000' and are over a mile a in altitude in several places. My first day on the trail I underestimated the time it would take me to get from the Englewood trailhead to Hill City. I didn't arrive in town until 8 p.m. With that said, it is a beautiful trail and passes through some isolated territory. Fortunately, there are several trailheads with shelters, rest rooms and cisterns with drinking water. If you plan to ride this trail without fenders, expect to get dirty if the surface is wet.
Sun & Rain: The sun was intense nearly every day. Even the official map for the Mickelson Trail warns you to bring sun block as much of the trail in not shaded. I know a few days were in the upper 80s, but even days in the high 70s felt much hotter due to the blazing sun hitting you at altitude. Every day but one was dry. Around 10:15 p.m. on the second night a storm that looked like it would miss my campground on the edge of Hill City suddenly moved over the area. It went from doing nothing to raining and then hailing in a matter of 90 seconds. The hailstones ranged from pea to ping pong ball sized. There were also heavy thunderstorms two nights in Custer.
I recommended good foul weather gear for the Mickelson. Before starting out on my day ride to Hill City I met a couple in the city park who was being shuttled up north on the trail so they could ride back to Custer. I thought I might run into them in Hill City. I did. While the brunt of the that afternoon's storm missed Hill City, the couple had gotten caught in the worst of it during the long descent into town. The temperature in town dropped by what seemed like some 20 degrees, so I can only imagine how cold it was up on the hill. Compounding matters was the fact that they had been delayed in the deluge by a herd of free range cattle blocking the trail. When the couple pulled into the shelter in town, the husband's fingers were literally blue from the could. He called the shuttle service, which was based in Hill City, and they got a ride back to Custer.
Climbing & Wind: The Black Hills are, well, hilly. The first day of the trip featured nearly 4,800’ of climbing in 60 miles. Much of that was in the first 35 miles or so of the ride. The second day threw close to 5,000’ of climbing at me. That’s a lot considering 40 of the day’s 70 miles was on the Mickelson Trail. The famed Needles Highway had many steep sections. I rode it clockwise and without gear during a no-move day in Custer. That allowed me to avoid the double-digit grade sections I would have encountered going the opposite way. On day two, including a fifteen minute “I need to get out of the blazing afternoon sun” shade break, one 3 mile climb took me nearly an hour going into the wind. On that subject, there was a good deal of wind, and it was often in my face. Not strong, gusty winds, but rather steady, usually between 10 and 15 mph.
Camping: Campgrounds where generally decent. The municipal campground/park in Spearfish was the nicest municipal campground I have ever stayed in, with lush grass and modern, clean facilities. I spent two nights at the municipal campground in Edgemont, which is next to the main BNSF coal train route out of Wyoming. At the height of traffic there were 135 car unit coal trains about every 35-45 minutes. I work in the rail biz so the action was of interest to me, but the noise did wake me a few times.
Overall: I had a great time. While I would have liked to have added Nebraska to the list of states I have toured in, everything worked out well in the end. Skipping Nebraska allowed me several days where I could take day rides without having to break camp. It also insured that I had time to visit the mammoth dig site, which would have been unlikely otherwise as the day from Nebraska to Hot Springs would have been an 82 mile one.
I have the route details on Ride With GPS if anyone is interested.