Saturday, July 7, 2012

Custer and drying out after some rookie camping mistakes

Gail writes:
Guess what I’m wearing? No, that’s not some sort of weird come-on. I’m sporting long pants and a long-sleeved shirt over a t-shirt—it’s downright chilly here in the Black Hills! It’s probably under 60 degrees, and sure to be a chilly night. It’s also pretty damp.

Last night, we invited our campground neighbors (a nice family from Louisiana with 3 sweet kids and a mom who’s a kindergarten teacher) over for smores. The kids were having a blast, and the adults were comparing school district stats when the drizzly rain turned into a full-fledged thunderstorm and downpour. We all scurried for our tents, and the boys bailed out of their small tent to join us in the big Copper Canyon. Despite the crashing thunder and bright lightning, we all fell asleep very quickly and had a peaceful night. We had quite a bit of work this morning as we hauled damp stuff out of the tent to dry. No problem, though. The morning was bright and warmed up quickly.

The boys spent the morning larking about with their campsite buddies, and Armin went for a bike ride. I tried this new-fangled thing called “relaxing,” which I don’t seem to be very good at. I read a bunch of New Yorker back issues and thought about maybe rewriting my library curriculum or brushing up on the Common Core. I resisted, though, and read about temple treasures in India, the raw milk controversy in California, recent changes to the city of Mecca, and a Shakespearean actor. Gotta love those New Yorker back issues.

After a tasty lunch concocted in our new Pie Iron, we headed off under sunny skies to go check out Jewel Cave. The second-largest cave complex in the world, it’s located near Custer City. The tour we wanted was sold out, so we made reservations for tomorrow, took a short stroll in the woods (which had been burnt out sometime in the past few years), commented on the warmth of the day, and headed back to stroll around Custer City. It’s a cute town, a little less obviously touristy than Hill City, with lots of character and a terrific rock shop. The boys chose some cool rocks and arrowheads and we headed back toward the campsite for a swim.

On the drive back, we noticed that the roads were wet, and when we piled out of the car at the swimming area, the temperature was at least 15 degrees cooler than it had been at Jewel Cave. We braved the water anyway (since none of us have showered in the past few days!) and came back to find our campsite a bit of a wet wreck. We hadn’t buttoned things up before we left (it was so warm and sunny!), so the sleeping bags, pads, and pillows were all wet, our chairs were drenched, and there was standing water on the floor of the tent. Yuck. We mobilized, though, and got things hanging up to dry. We’re crossing our fingers that they’ll be dry in time for bed.

We made a quick dinner of pasta for the boys and packaged Indian food for me and Armin. Cooking on two burners (one of them not really functional because of the rainstorm) is a challenge, but we’ve managed really well so far. I think there’s a Whole Foods in Fort Collins (on our way to Rocky Mountain National Park), so we may stop there on Sunday as we drive through. Maybe we’ll find some tasty options. Honestly, though, anything you eat while camping tastes extra good, so even if we continue with basic meals I’ll be happy.

Well, here’s hoping for a dry night and some good sleep. Tomorrow we’ll take our Jewel Cave tour—we opted for the Historic Lantern Tour, which means going on some unpaved paths while carrying oil lamps. We’ll be wearing our long pants and sweatshirts, since the caves are a constant 49 degrees. I can’t wait to see the rock formations!

Morning update: no rain during the night, so we all stayed dry and snug. The boys finally slept in (7:00!) and I got in a nice run. It was on the short side (about 3 miles), but it’s hilly here so I had to work at it.

Leo writes:
We are having a fun time. On the car ride I saw the Badlands. It was amazing. My friends caught 6 fish.

Armin writes:
My Friday bike ride was somewhat less ambitious than the previous day’s. I was looking for less than 1 ½ hours of saddle time, and since there really aren’t all that many paved road options, I decided to head north for around 11 miles and return. That took me just past the Pactola Reservoir, and involved a solid Cat 4 climb, 600’ spread over three miles. The reservoir looks to be quite a popular destination for boaters. The road runs right along the edge of the massive dam, and the views across the water and up the heavily wooded hills are lovely.

The shoulder on Rt. 385 essentially disappears north of the exit to the Sheridan Lake campground, so there wasn’t much roadway to spare when cars passed, but I’ve found drives to be very respectful and cautious when it comes to sharing the road in the Black Hills. There are many intriguing gravel roads worth exploring, but I’ll have to leave that for my next visit.

I was pretty happy with my pace, averaging 20.1 mph over 23.5 miles and 1900’ of climbing. I managed to snag my first Strava KOM on the return trip Cat 4 climb, thanks in great part to the generous tailwind. Interestingly, as I arrived at the end of my ride, the wind direction switch from a northerly to a southerly direction. I wonder if this is typical for this area.

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