RIDE C2C L2 DAY 16: Black Hills Loop (some of the most spectacular cycling ever!)
Grades: 8%, 9%, 10%
Word of the Day: Amazing!
WOW- AMAZING! Is how I describe today - a day of the greats: Crazy Horse, Custer State Park, “the pigtails” on the Iron Mountain Road, the tunnels with views to the presidents, and Mt. Rushmore!
The weather was threatening to thunder shower and so we prepared with extra clothes (long sleeve shirt, gloves, beanie). We had booked a night at the Comfort Inn, just up the hill from the campground and arranged to leave our bags there for the day. We wanted to have a dry place to come back to just in case we were drenched at the end of our ride. We stripped down our bikes so that we only carried our handlebar bags + 1 side bag with snacks and clothes.
At 8:19am, we hit the Mickelson Trail for a calm 10 mile ride with about 6 miles up to the Crazy Horse monument. You could see the sculpture in the mountain from the trail.
We rode up to the visitor center to learn more. Korczak Ziolkwski, (Boston born, polish descent) sculptor who assisted with Mt. Rushmore, was asked by Henry Standing Bear to create a memorial to one of the hero’s of Native American culture, Crazy Horse. Not only did Ziolkwski begin this sculpture, but he created the Indian Museum of North America and the Indian University of North America as a part of his life’s work. The effort has no federal funding and relies on private donations. His wife and family have been the driving force to see his dreams come to fruition. It was a truly inspiring visit.
And then sometimes there are just weird signs in restrooms...
Now on the gently downhill slope to the city of Custer, we stopped for a quick fruit smoothie to fortify us for the ride ahead. As we headed into Custer State Park, we stopped at the Stockade where gold seeking pioneers had illegally set up a camp while seeking gold. The Fort Laramie Treaty granted the Black Hills to the Sioux Nation and prohibited white settlement of the lands.
After Custer, we continued east on 16A through beautiful rolling hills. There was no shoulder on this road, a bit of traffic, and the skies were looking black and heavy, and we still had some mighty uphills. I guest they don’t call these the Black Hills for nothin’!
We took a connector road “Playhouse Road” which had very little traffic and brought us up a good climb to the Iron Mountain Road that would take us to Mt. Rushmore. Not much traffic at all and incredible views of rocky outcrops and long wide vistas to the plains far below.
The skies opened and we rode under thundering skies and were pelted with HAIL and rain. Totally soaked! But not worried because we’ve gotten used to the rhythm of the weather - for about an hour, dump rain, thunder/lightning, clear off and warm up.
The Iron Mountain Road was one of the most beautiful bike rides I’ve ever been on. Forests, giant rock outcrops, curving winding road, switchbacks, three short tunnels designed to frame a view of the presidents of Mt. Rushmore.
We had long steep climbs, serious switchbacks, wild downhills, and “the pigtails” - 2 sets of 365 curls in the road meant to drop elevation quickly in a small amount of space. SO MUCH FUN!
And then we hit the connecting road to Mt. Rushmore! 2 miles on a wide busy road of 5% 6% 7% 8% 9% even 10% climb to reach the visitor center. Ugh.
This is it! The whole reason we’ve taken this route through South Dakota is so that we could visit the presidents. What an amazing feat of sculpture and engineering. Unfortunately a big part of the visitors center was closed for construction, but we could still see the big men up on the mountain. An amazing site!
Now for the ride back to Hill City - we were hoping for all downhill after that climbing, but no. Up and down, up and down. We hoped to pick up the Mickelson Trail on the way back, but just couldn’t find an access point so were stuck on the main road. At least it was smooth and we could go faster.
We are at a big decision point in our tour. While both my knees are doing just fine, Doug’s Achilles is swollen and painful. We hope the hot tub at the hotel will help! Dinner at Desperados in Hill City and an early night.
Side note: We are so thankful that we had a hotel room! It DUMPED rain last night with lightening bolts and claps of thunder right overhead.
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