Friday, July 6, 2012

Horse Thief Trail in the Black Hills

It sure didn’t take very long for us to all get into the camping groove, and everything is working out better than we could have imagined. The boys have found a whole bunch of friendly neighbor kids in the 6-12 age range, so they’re tearing around our Sheridan Lake campsite loop with reckless abandon. Their experience is bringing back so many great memories of my childhood camping experiences, and it’s just what I was hoping would happen. The boys made smores over the campstove, since fires are forbidden due to the high fire risk.

Meanwhile Gail has found some excellent running terrain, and did her first run on quiet campground roads bordering the lake. Before she did her run, I went on my first bike ride, the Mount Rushmore scenic loop, around 32 miles and 2900 vertical ft. of climbing. It felt so good to stretch the legs and see where I landed on the Strava leaderboard. I had a bunch of second and third places, but then again, not a lot of folks are posting Strava data around these parts yet. Still, it was nice to know that I was in the ballpark. The climbs here are a little easier than in the Ithaca area, since the grades tend not to exceed 12%, even if they are longer, and the road surface is uniformly great, except for the annoying corrugated rumble strips on the shoulders. Route 244 was most definitely the highlight, with some excellent climbs and stunning views of the backside of Mount Rushmore. It runs east-west from just south of Hill City to Keystone, the tourist trap gateway to Mount Rushmore. I ended up doing something like two Cat 3 climbs and three Cat 4s, and it was similar to doing the familiar Ringwood, Hurd and Hunt loop. On the twisty descent from Rushmore I saw a spotted another cyclist making the climb up, an older gentleman who I’m guessing was a regular. I’ll be following his lead in a few days when I do this route again in the opposite direction.

On 244 I encountered an odd scene. A woman was walking along the shoulder and seemed in distress, and just ahead of her was a very friendly but clueless dog wandering on and off of the road. I stopped to talk to her, only to witness her dog getting almost hit by three separate vehicles in the span of a minute. The dog was hers, but she had no leash and the dog was having too much fun chasing squirrels to listen to her. The poor woman is a local resident whose car broke down on Rt. 244 with electrical problems last night. She didn’t have a leash, and there was no cell phone coverage in that stretch, so she had been stranded overnight and straight through 10:30, since no one bothered to stop and check to see if she needed assistance. Without a leash, she was doing her best to coax her dog to stay off of the road as she made the long walk to the KOA campground. We somehow coaxed her dog to come over and I gave her my spare tube, which functioned well as a leash. It was pretty sad to think that she wasn’t given the time of day from any tourist zipping by.

We enjoyed a picnic lunch on Sheridan Lake and some swimming at the sandy beach with nearly bath water temperatures. After that, we headed to a National Forest wilderness trail at the backside of Mount Rushmore called Horse Thief trail. I spotted the trailhead during my morning ride, and it turned out to be an excellent first hike for the boys, who enthusiastically marched through the pines, white birch and giant rock formations with their mysterious openings and small caves. I really understand now why the Sioux treasured this mystical land.

After ice cream at Mount Rushmore, we made a burrito feast and thought about how nice it would be to have a shower with some soap. Suffice it to say that it’s a good thing that Gail and I have a very large tent.

Morning Addendum:
We had our first rain last night, accompanied by a thunderstorm. The boys joined us in our tent last night, so we had some cozy family time, and we woke up very rested. We’re all a bit soggy this morning, but the sun is shining and it looks to be yet another spectacular Black Hills day.

Oh, and one more thing...If you're ever in this part of South Dakota, you really need to listen KILI, 90.1 FM, an independent non-commercial radio station run by the Lakota people from the Pine Ridge Reservation. Fascinating, educational and often hilarious conversation and lots of contemporary and traditional American Indian music.

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