Two Families Bicycle the Black Hills, 2010

Page 1: Four Corners to Sylvan Lake
Page 2: Sylvan Lake to Wind Cave
Page 3: Wind Cave to Custer State Park
Page 4: Custer State Park to Rapid City

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Next week our family will begin a self-supported bicycle trip through the Black Hills of South Dakota. We expect to find beautiful scenery and challenging climbs as we visit the places that this area is famous for, like Mount Rushmore, Wind Cave and Custer State Park. We also expect this trip to feel different from our previous bike tours because we're trying something new - we are biking with another family.

Although our many bicycle trips have been wonderful for bringing our family close together, we've always had trouble sharing the fun with other people. We just haven't known many people who enjoy multi-day bike trips, let alone biking with small children plus camping equipment. That changed last year when we received e-mail from Dave and Allison, a couple that loves bike touring with their son Damian. They wanted some advice for biking through southwest Colorado, an area where Kathy and I have traveled. Since bike touring families are a rare breed, we all had the same thought: we should meet sometime. This year Allison suggested that we plan a trip together, and I suggested the Black Hills, a place that Kathy and I have wanted to visit. As luck would have it, Dave and Allison have relatives and friends in the Black Hills, making this trip much easier to plan.

Today we drove to Four Corners, Wyoming, just across the border from South Dakota, and arrived in time for dinner at Dave's mother's house. Over the next eight days we'll meander through the southern Black Hills to Dave's brother's house in Rapid City, where our car will be waiting for us. Kathy and I will ride our tandem bicycle while Daniel rides an attached trailerbike and Maggie rides in a child trailer. The loaded bike will be heavier than ever before and I don't know if we're really strong enough to bike it up hills, but we're going to try. I love biking in the mountains and I want my family to bike with me.

Riding with another family should add another dimension to the trip, especially for our kids. Daniel and Maggie are 5 and 2 years old, and Damian is 4. The three of them played together from dinnertime until bedtime tonight, and I expect that to happen most nights of our trip.

Dave and Allison watch Maggie and Damian play before dinner.

View from the garden at Dave's mother's house.

The children practiced rock climbing skills after dinner.

A nearby barn on family property.


Sunday, June 27

Distance: 39.4 miles
Riding time: 3 hours, 26 minutes
Average speed: 11.4 mph
Maximum speed: 42.4 mph

After eating the good breakfast that Dave's mother cooked, we finished packing our bicycle (we did most of the work last night) and began our bike tour at 10:30. Dave and Allison finished getting ready at nearly the same time as us, so Kathy and I aren't the only parents who have trouble getting an early start.

Since our bike was super heavy, I'm relieved that we were able to bike up all the rolling hills as we rode from Wyoming into South Dakota and the Black Hills. We had so many supplies that our child trailer was completely filled even when Maggie was the only child inside. We knew this would happen, so we've had to figure out how to make room for both Daniel and Maggie when Daniel needs to rest in the trailer. My solution is a large bag fashioned from an old pair of my pants. This bag, filled with supplies, sits next to Maggie in the trailer until Daniel needs a rest, and then he and the bag trade places. After the trade my old pants "ride" the trailerbike with the help of a nylon strap, and they must look odd to passing motorists - like a pair of legs riding our bike without an upper body.

Breakfast at the house.

Beginning our ride in Four Corners.

A mesa on the way to Newcastle. Generations ago it was part of large ranch held by Dave's family.

Allison climbs one of the many rolling hills.

An overlook in Wyoming. Daniel is resting in the trailer with Maggie, and the "pants bag" is riding Daniel's trailerbike.

Looking at the western edge of the Black Hills from Wyoming.

We had a bunch of delays during our ride, including a flat tire and an extremely poopy diaper, but shortly after 5 p.m. we reached the quiet forest road that we'd been pushing toward and pitched camp in the neighboring forest. There aren't any campgrounds in this area so we just picked a spot shortly before Jewel Cave National Monument, which we hope to visit in the morning. Eating dinner with another family felt more fun than eating alone, and Dave, the kids and I worked together to hang our food from trees in the evening. We didn't hang it high enough to avoid the reach of bears, but that's alright because all the grizzly and black bears were hunted out of the Black Hills long ago, and have never returned.

The summer solstice was just a few days ago, so sunset was late and the evening stayed light past 9 p.m. That's wonderful for cleaning up after dinner, but not so good for putting excited children to bed.

Fixing a flat tire in the hot afternoon.

Maggie watches Dave cook dinner at our primitive campsite.

Dinnertime in the forest. Our families cooked meals separately to keep our schedules more flexible, but we often ate together.

Everyone else stands back while Michael tosses a rock and rope over a high tree limb. There must be a safer way to hang food at night, but I don't know it.

Monday, June 28

Distance: 34.5 miles
Riding time: 3 hours, 40 minutes
Average speed: 9.3 mph
Maximum speed: 43.2 mph

Today's ride had the most climbing and some of the steepest roads of any day that we've planned for this vacation. That challenge worried both us and Dave and Allison as we ate our breakfast in the forest this morning, so Dave and Allison packed up camp quickly and departed a full hour before we did.

We took our first break just a few miles down the road at Jewel Cave National Monument to get water and use the bathroom, but we couldn't afford the time to take a cave tour. I'd been planning to tour the cave, which is filled with pretty crystal formations, but I didn't want to arrive at our campsite right a dusk. Instead we just toured the visitor center, and Daniel joined other children to hear a presentation about bats. Dave, Allison and Damian chose to take a cave tour and then bike a short-cut later in the day that cut 9 miles from their ride.

Breakfast in the Black Hills

Damian and Daniel draw pictures of bats at the Jewel Cave visitor center.

After the cave we pressed on and took breaks only to get ice cream in Custer City (where we met Dave, Allison and Damian again - families love ice cream,) and to take pictures of the Crazy Horse Memorial, a mountain that has been gradually carved to look like Chief Crazy Horse over the past 62 years. Along the way we passed by a couple of young women bike touring from Seattle to New York City, and they were so impressed by us that they took pictures of our bicycle. Our bike rig is unusual, but of course we're not trying to ride it from Seattle to New York.

Late in the afternoon we began climbing up to the Sylvan Lake campground in Custer State Park, and those final six miles were the steepest climb of the day. I was sure we would need to walk the bike, but our legs were strong and we pedaled the whole way. Whenever we needed a brief rest I stopped to take pictures of the surrounding mountains and rock formations. When we finally arrived at about 7 p.m., Damian ran to greet Daniel and introduce him to all the other children that he had befriended while waiting for us. This campground is packed with little kids, so Daniel and Damian played in the woods with a few of them until dinner was ready.

We all went to bed late, but tomorrow is a rest day and a chance for us to explore the sights around Sylvan Lake. Kathy and I are happy to have climbed so well today, and we have a new confidence in our ability for the rest of the trip.

The Crazy Horse Memorial. If it is ever finished then it could be the largest sculpture in the world. The finished statue should look like Chief Crazy Horse riding a horse and pointing forward with his finger. It's inspired by a quote attributed to Crazy Horse, who as a prisoner was asked, "Where are your lands now?" and answered, "My lands are where my people lie buried."

A switchback on the steep Sylvan Lake Road.


Page 1: Four Corners to Sylvan Lake
Page 2: Sylvan Lake to Wind Cave
Page 3: Wind Cave to Custer State Park
Page 4: Custer State Park to Rapid City