Sunday, July 8, 2012

From the Black Hills to the chilly Rockies

It really is hard to comprehend that I'm parked at a picnic table at an elevation of around 8300', surrounded by high peaks and black bears not too far away, while only a few feet away from flush toilets and working online via a portable 4G wireless hotspot. I have mixed feelings about being online right now, since I was really enjoying the limitations imposed by having very restricted access in the Black Hills. Back in South Dakota we were ferrying blog entries to the Internet much like I was carrying water to our campsite. We composed offline, then quickly uploaded from the grocery store parking lot in Hill City. On the other hand, it really is good to catch up with the outside world a little and find out who's leading the Tour de France.

Since I didn't have a chance to blog yesterday, here's a brief Saturday update. We started the day much like we do at home—Gail went running, then I went for a bike ride, while the boys took advantage of their last opportunity to play with their Louisiana friends. I just love how kids are naturally so good at cutting to the chase and playing together like old friends after just meeting for the first time.

My bike ride was far more adventurous than I had expected. I'm trying really hard not to retrace my previous routes, so I followed the sign near the Sheridan Lake campground entrance that directed me toward Rt. 16, the main road that takes you to Rapid City. After 1/4 mile the road (Calumet Rd.) became gravel, and even though I had my road tires on, I decided to press on. The road was hard-packed, and it was more than manageable without switching to my cross tires. Strava suggests that the climb was Cat 3, and descending was a little tricky, since the washouts caused some corrugated sections and potholes that forced me to brake quite a bit. This gravel road with no traffic spilled onto a very busy highway with a crappy shoulder, quite a contrast. I'm quite satisfied with my cycling experience in the Black Hills, and look forward to some challenging climbs here in the Rockies.

We headed out to Jewel Cave for a picnic lunch and an adventurous lantern tour, which required a lot of crawling and ducking into narrow passageways. The boys loved their caving experiences, as did Gail and I. Jewel is a breathing cave, which means that if there's a low pressure system coming, you feel a rush of air entering the cave, and if a high pressure system is coming, air comes rushing out of the cave. A storm was brewing, so we experienced quite an incoming wind throughout our tour, which brought us into some huge chambers.

The rest of the day was consumed with laundry duty and packing for the trip to Colorado the next morning. It was sad to leave the Black Hills, but there's so much more adventure to come! Everyone contributed nicely to the packing efforts, and we were able to hit the road by 7:15 this morning.

The trip between the Black Hills and Rocky Mountain National Park is fascinating. There is so much geographical change, and I loved how we descended into wide open grasslands with giant buttes with no tree in sight, then drove through rolling hills and up to the high plains as we crossed the Wyoming/Colorado border. We stopped for groceries in Fort Collins, and were really taken by the charming downtown and the little bungalow-style houses. It seems like a great city to visit, and it reminded me a little of Minneapolis for some reason.

We climbed up to the park in misty rain, and we were all wowed by the views along the way. I had no idea how big a city Estes Park is, so we have plenty of options if we get rained out during our stay here. Tomorrow we'll be seeking out a fairly ambitious hike, so it's time to retire to the tent and pull on some woolies. Brrrrr!

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