Day 20. Hot Springs to Rapid City South Dakota (via Mount Rushmore). Without a doubt, this was the most epic day of cycling I have ever had in my life. I'm not saying it was the best day of cycling I ever had. But it was, in a word, epic.
By epic, I mean (like any Hollywood Epic), today had it all. Backtracking, misty covered mountains, wildlife, amazing scenery, backbreaking climbs, wicked descents, two (count 'em, two) national monuments, a National Park (or was it two National Parks?), lightning, hail, dark threatening frightening skies, breakdowns, bad roads, construction, scary heavy traffic, weird shelters in a storm, gnarly headwinds, crazy crosswinds, even a nice tailwind at the end – you name it, today had it.
Before I get going on today's ride, one last note on Hot Springs which happened after I posted my blog yesterday. Guess where we had our dinner last night? We had dinner in the Hot Springs Bowling Alley (Lucky Lanes, I believe it was called). By "in the bowling alley" I mean in the bowling alley. Right where people sit when it isn't their turn to bowl. Actually, it wasn't that bad at all. I am making it sound worse than it was (I can just hear The Duchess "...how can you make that sound worse than it really was...").
Anyway, today started as usual with a 5:15AM alarm that I didn't need because I was up at 4:05AM. I don't know why I can't sleep later. Oh wait, I know why. I was in my PJs, in bed at 6:50PM last night. I was dozing off at 7:15, slept for an hour from 8-9, and then threw in the towel at 9:45 and was gone. I guess I slept 6-7 hours which is more than enough for me. So, I went down to load my bag on the truck and then I got breakfast. I just pecked at a few things – like 2 bowls of cereal, an English muffin, and 4 danishes (really).
Before we left I was able to take a shot of fog-shrouded mountains around the hotel in Hot Springs. Then the Geldings got rolling. Or should I say, kind of got rolling. We rode about a mile and a half and then Baltimore Mark realized he forgot his water bottles at the motel. He backtracked and about 15 minutes later we really got rolling. The Geldings split up early today because there was so much to see and everybody had their own agenda. I ended up riding much of the morning with Dave from Ann Arbor, but we were also joined by Katie and a couple of others at different points.
We entered Wind Cave National Park at the 9 mile mark. I didn't really know what to expect from this place as I had never heard of it before. Well, magnificent doesn't even begin to describe it. It was a scene right out of Dances With Wolves. And I don't just mean the landscape. As we were riding, we came across a couple of ABB riders who had a herd of a couple of hundred elk stampede across the road right in front of them. On another note, at yesterday's route rap (the daily ride briefing), we were warned to stay away from buffalo (motto – "We're the endangered animal, not the city in New York") if we came near them. Sure, I thought. Like I'm gonna see a buffalo. Fat chance. Well, after riding a couple of miles in the park we started a descent and I turned to my right and no more than 10 feet from me was a buffalo the size of Orson Welles (and you know how big Orson Welles got). I mean this sucker was huge.
Totanka...buffalo...totanka...buffalo...oh shut up already with the totanka!
I no sooner got over that when I saw a massive elk off to my left grazing on the side of a hill. A mile up the road we saw another buffalo only a hundred yards away which I shot a picture of with my shitty non-zoom iPhone camera (the buffalo is the black speck on the hill in the picture above). Check the other picture above (photo courtesy of ABB tour leader Mike Munk). Incredible scenery, and it was like being in the middle of a wild petting zoo without the fences. Oh yeah, and everywhere – Prairie Dogs (noisy gopher-like animals). For some reason I didn't see them, but you couldn't miss the noise they made.
Here's video of the early part of the ride through the magnificent Black Hills and Wind Cave National Park:
However, the day was just getting started. We struggled through a tough headwind for the first 30 miles. We also climbed close to 3,000 feet by 9AM. It was exhausting. We made it to the first SAG stop in the cute Western town of Custer (motto – "If you can't lick 'em, name a town after the loser"). From there it was another 1,000 foot climb up to the Crazy Horse National Monument. This is the still unfinished monument to Indian leader Crazy Horse. I was talking to one of the other ABB riders who was here 30 years ago and said they haven't made any progress on this monument since he was here. Big wow. As you can see from the pictures, it isn't anything to write (or even e-mail) home about. Very disappointing. By the way, I think that my fellow rider Katie (the girl posing like Crazy Horse in the picture above) looks more majestic than the Crazy Horse monument anyway. Here are two videos from our visit to the Crazy Horse Monument on the way to Mount Rushmore:
From Crazy Horse we had a screaming descent to the bottom of a valley in wicked crosswinds to the start of the 9 mile, 1,000 foot climb to Mount Rushmore. Just incredible. There are no other words to describe the scenery. I wish I could hold a camera steady and shoot video of the landscape around the Black Hills. Mount Rushmore is not only impressive to look at from an artistic standpoint (yes, it is actually sculpture), but the surrounding vista is so stunning. Of course there were mobs of people, RVs, campers, etc. However, I think there is some state statute in South Dakota that prevents ethnic people from visiting this part of the world. White, white, white people everywhere. It's a little strange, that's all I have to say about it.
Anyway, undaunted by the utter whiteness surrounding us, we walked up to Mount Rushmore to gaze and take a few pictures. We took several of the obligatory "picking George Washington's nose" shots (the one above is the best of my lot). We left Mount Rushmore and had another rip-roaring descent, this time into the shameless tourist trap town of Keystone South Dakota (motto – "Ersatz works for us"). No pictures are needed here. Think Niagara Falls on a smaller scale but without the "old world charm". Here are two videos from Mount Rushmore:
However, the day was far from over. In fact, this is when things got really interesting. We climbed another 700 feet out of Keystone and onto a state highway with a 65 MPH speed limit and a shoulder no better than a 41 year old former NFL QB. I mean, this was a bad shoulder to ride on. Rough, narrow, uneven – yikes. With each pedal stroke I could hear my mother yelling at me to get off that road, right this minute! To make matters worse I noticed an ominous black cloud (is there such a thing as a black un-ominous cloud?) off my left shoulder and behind us. We were well ahead of it (or so it seemed) and it hadn't started to circulate in a counter-clockwise direction yet so we (Baltimore Mark and I) pressed on. Well, things didn't work out too well from that point on.
Thankfully, we caught a good tailwind and made tracks for Rapid City, now only 10 miles (and a good descent) away. Could we make it before the rain started?? NO!
We were descending down a huge hill at 35MPH when the skies opened. What was weird was that directly above us you could see blue sky. However immediately behind us it was pretty dark. So, the rain started coming down. I can ride in the rain. It's no fun, but it is manageable. What I can't ride in is hail, lightning, and rain (see picture above courtesy of ABB tour leader Mike Munk). I started to look for cover, but there simply wasn't any. We hightailed it down to the bottom of the hill and luckily found a motel that served as cover (motto – "Nobody cares that we're owned by Norman Bates"). The people at the motel took "rachmunis" on us (that's Yiddish for "felt sorry for us") and let us sit under their porch and even gave us towels. We were met by 79 year-old Howard, his buddy Bob, Steve from Chicago, and Helen from Indiana (Helen is Alex's mom, who my loyal readers will remember from yesterday as our new lead pony for the Geldings).
We waited out the rain, saw a break in the clouds and Baltimore Mark and I decided to make a run for it for the last 6 miles to Rapid City. But wait, no sooner do we pull out than Mark yells "FLAT" and we have to stop. We hadn't gone 100 yards. The good news was that there was a trailer park right next to the motel. Who should we meet up with, but Dave from Ann Arbor who had been waiting out the storm under the trailer park porch. While Mark fixed his flat, a scary thought crossed my mind.
Aren't trailer parks magnets for tornados in the US? Doesn't it seem like every time you see footage of a tornado, you see a completely destroyed trailer park? As the skies opened up again I started laughing to myself at the irony of seeking shelter in a trailer park in the middle of an intense thunderstorm. Another separate group of ABB riders were lucky enough to have a car pull over (motto – "We're not the Manson Family") and invite them in to get out of the storm which was lucky for them because apparently they were in a completely exposed area.
Eventually the rain let up, the trailer park survived (for another day...), and we made the final climb up (and then down) into Rapid City (motto – "Any port in a storm"). I had a great Club Sandwich and fries at Perkins and now I'm ready for bed (it is, after all 10:00PM here).
What a day. What an experience. I don't think I'll ever forget today. It was like living a whole lifetime in 8 hours.
FYI – the DQ Blizzard count is static but the milk shake count went up (good shake at Sonic):
3 flat tires
4 milk shakes
Now on to today's mail:
Mark H. from Toronto writes: "Hi Mark. It's 7:32 PM Monday in Toronto, which must mean it's 5:32 PM wherever you are at the end of another exhilarating day. I am loving your blog, so thanks for taking the time to post every day. It (almost) feels like I am along for the ride, the descriptions are that vivid. We saw The Duchess on Saturday night at the annual surf and turf bash on Nomad. She had a smile on her face, and was wearing (among other extremely stylish items) some pretty fancy cowgirl boots. Thanks for giving me something interesting to read at the end of each day (or the start of the next one). Safe travels!" Thanks for writing Mark H. I'll be home 4 weeks from tomorrow and then I can blog about some pretty boring things too. That will balance the whole thing out don't you think?
Here are my Garmin stats for the day:
This is Joe's blog:
Trip journal and photos by our tour leader Mike Munk:
This link is Jeff's blog:
This link is Baltimore Mark's blog:
And this is Katie's blog: