What a day! The best of the ride. The scenery was just spectacular. The highlight of the day: the Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway.
After the tough desolation of the prairie I welcomed the alpine scenery of the Black Hills. A new frontier, a new state, a new test.
What a scenic ride it has been, superlatives aren't enough, I still have a large smile frozen on my face while I am lying on my bed trying to process the images in my head and put some order in my emotions. I would have so much to say but I am so tired that these few words won't do justice to the beauty of the Black Hills and the sheer joy that it has been for me to ride 148 miles today. The Hills are a miniature version of the Rockies but simply because they are at a lower altitude, my definition should not detract anything in terms of natural beauty or even difficulty to traverse by bike.
I slip in and out of sleep. My legs are restless, they shuffle like they are about to climb a slope. My feet move frantically looking for pedals to attach themselves on. No need to fret, the dirt flecked cyclist (indeed Helen!) will have its fair share of climbing today.
At the silent dining room, I gorge myself on six biscuits and three yogurts and with the sun not out yet, at 6.50 I am on the road. I cycle through an almost traffic-free downtown. The ride out of Rapid City brings no surprises. It's the kind of busy roads, average houses, gas stations, machine shops, feed lots, and high-capacity power lines you'd expect to find on the outskirts of a city of 70,000 people. After about ten miles the human elements fall away and leave behind nothing a busy highway which rises fast. I go south on highway 16 for a few miles. The famed Blue Hills rise right behind the city. I take a county road which winds into beautiful green valleys and rises sharply for miles. The climb makes me sweat even with the lowly temperature of 62F and the chilly air that does nothing to aid my struggle and there go my six biscuits out of my pores in less than an hour. But the beauty begins. The road twists around hills and continues to climb with birds chirping all around me. At almost every turn as I round the turn deers bolt and run off into the forest frightened by my sudden presence. It makes me laugh every time it happens. I try to stop to watch them run but they are quickly out of my sight. The forest thickens as I gain altitude and I throw my glance left and right at the rocky outcroppings that stick out of the green grass. The pine trees are tall and smell deliciously, I open my nostrils as much as I can when I breathe in. My lungs are happy to receive such a wonderful aroma. I hit Keystone after 20 miles of climbing and behind the town I see the big rocky faces from the distance. Keystone is a row of hotels, restaurants and souvenir shops, one after the other. They are all built in "alpine style" but the place try too hard so it all looks incredibly fake. From Keystone the road climbs up steeply for four miles, I immediately stand on my pedals pushing as hard as I did on the Appalachians. Several cars pass me but the Mt. Rushmore early morning crowd is still manageable.
Mount Rushmore is a weird place. It looks like a gigantic paper mache construction but it is a real mountain so it is pretty cool after all. Four pairs of eyes that gaze resolutely into the distance: Jefferson, Washington, Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt. Big faces, big dreams, big changes to the American social and political landscape. This project took 14 years to complete. The visitor centre has a nice movie which shows how it was done. Lots of dynamite involved of course. I am wheeling my bike around the place and I am itching to get going so I don’t spend too much time dallying around but at least I make sure to take enough snapshots and my legs get a few minutes rest.
I am back on the saddle and I ride for 45 miles on highway 385 which runs in and out of valleys, along two lakes and through the thick forests of the Hills. Temperature hits 80F and the hills do much to keep the wind at bay. I feel fine and I don't mind the roar coming from the bikers that fly by me. The ride goes fast, I focus half of my attention on the beautiful hills and mountains all around, and half of my brain keeps track of what's behind and about to pass me, because people here don't seem to like waiting for anyone or anything. Everyone's hauling ass and passing at close range. One bastard totally cuts me off on a straight stretch with no cars coming from the opposite direction. What the hell was that? I have no idea. The situation does not take anything away from the excitement of cycling through the Black Hills. After about 60 miles big clouds close in and the weather turns, just like that. A dreary sky above me makes me grumble. Rain comes, it is only a brief shower but strong enough for my feet and shorts to get soaked and I know I will have to ride the next 5 hours with wet feet. I climb up and down until I grind my way up the 3 mile 9% ascent to Lead, a town completely built in 1870 around a gold mine. Past Lead I climb 5 more miles to the Terry Peak pass at 7064 ft. This climb is a proper kick in the ass and by the time I crest the pass I am spent. The wind coming from the east blows with a rushing sound and hit me in cool waves. With my feet soaked I begin to shiver so the moment I hit the top I am eager to descend and when I do I completely let loose; from the Pass I blast down the road forgetting that the bike has brakes, reckless, careless, joyful. I yell like a mad man all the way down. I pass a couple of old people sipping coffee by the side of the road that look at me like I have two heads. I give the thumb up to the approaching cars and they send me their cheers by honking the horn. Just when I thought the fun is over, the real fun begins.
After the steep descent, from Cheyenne Crossing I take road 14A, the Spearfish Scenic Byway. This is the surprise of the ride. I did not realize that it is rated as one of the most beautiful rides in the country and for good reason! The route meanders down the Spearfish Canyon, which has towering walls of rock protruding through the fir trees. It runs next to the narrow but lively Spearfish creek. It is really is quite spectacular, I look left and right and above to admire the world that is my world today. I keep stopping to take pictures. I ride the whole road in awe and I am quite sure that I am the happiest person on two wheels. I enjoy it so much that I wish it didn't end. Before I enter Spearfish I run into a local cyclist named Bill. He accompanies me to the local bike shop, shows me the downtown area and offers me tips about local trails. The town is really pleasant and offers lots of green spaces, tree-lined streets and attractive parks.
At 4.30 pm, with almost 120 miles in my legs and lots of climbing the safest thing would be to take it easy in welcoming Spearfish but I don't. I am a man on a mission. Bill kindly rides with me to the edge of town to show me the old highway 14. 35 miles to Sundance Wyoming and an elevation gain of 1500 ft. I eat a tasty peach that Bill offers me and after I tighten my shoe straps to stop my soaked skin to rub against the socks with a tailwind coming the east I start down on the old highway. I ride the whole 35 miles fast, efficient, happy. The road runs next to interstate 90 and it is a wonderful option because all motored vehicles prefer the highway so I have the whole for myself mainly. I get a few honks of support from the cars whizzing past. I stop by the 'entering Wyoming' sign to take the usual picture and I look around me to enjoy the streaks of late sunlight hitting the rugged land. The wide open land is an endless shades of green, yellow and brown that no matter where you look makes you stop dead in your tracks and takes your breath away. Wyoming, I got a feeling that I am going to fall in love in love with you. 11 states down, 4 more to go.
Just before 7pm, I reach the outskirts of Sundance having ridden almost 150 miles, having spent 12 hours on the road, with my toes a total mess of water and dirt, my fingers totally numb and with sore knees that I wonder how I am going to walk after this. I tear across the road at the first motel I see, a Best Western by the side of the highway. When I take off my socks the skin of my feet is so wrinkly that it looks like paper, I am surprised it hasn't peeled off like the skin from an old apple. My clothes smell bad, my hands are sore, muddy and black, the bike is dirty and the body aches. But none of this matter. For a few minutes I sit on the edge of the bed unable to move not because I am tired but because I want to let it all sink in. Today has been one of the most beautiful rides of my life.
Rapid City, downtown
Road 235 out of Rapid into the Black Hills
Can you see Mt. Rushmore in the background?
This is Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway
Old highway 14 next to Interstate 90