Two Families Bicycle the Black Hills, page 4

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, July 3

Distance: 32.7 miles
Riding time: 4 hours, 9 minutes
Average speed: 7.8 mph
Maximum speed: Unknown

Packing up camp was peaceful and pleasant this morning because there weren't any wild little children running around. Dave and Allison left with Damian before 8 a.m., and Nicolas took Daniel, Maggie and Elijah to the playground right after breakfast. We talked with Patricia about Switzerland while we packed, and she gave us her address, phone # and e-mail in case we want to visit during our bike ride across Europe a couple years from now.

We left camp on Iron Mountain Road headed towards Mount Rushmore. Daniel has been waiting for this day all week long, always asking, "Do we get to see the faces on the mountain today?" His book Curious George and the Hot Air Balloon talks about Mount Rushmore, so he knew what he was looking for. He had to wait until mid-afternoon to see the faces up close, because Iron Mountain Road is extraordinarily difficult. It has lots of short steep hills and a few very long steep hills. In some places the mountain is so steep that the roads winds under itself in a corkscrew shape, giving the road its nickname, "Pigtail Highway." The steep climbs were much longer than what Kathy expected, which put her in a bad mood for part of the afternoon, but at least our kids were well-behaved.

Elijah eagerly points out a squirrel to Daniel. Nicolas told us that wildlife in Switzerland is so sparse that even squirrels are rarely seen there.

Nicolas, Patricia and Elijah at our campsite.

Biking Iron Mountain Road.

Taking a break after our first view of Mount Rushmore. The faces are carved near the left edge of the leftmost mountain in this picture.

A tunnel on Iron Mountain Road points straight at Mount Rushmore.

One of three pigtail bridges on Iron Mountain Road.

We saw our first view of Mount Rushmore when we were still many miles away. I'd always assumed that an entire mountain was carved away to form the faces, and that the faces dominated the surrounding hills. That's how Mount Rushmore looks on postcards, but from a distance we saw that the faces are just a small part of a large mountain in an area covered with large mountains. Compared to most of the hard rock mining operations that I've seen in Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona, the amount of rock carved away at Mount Rushmore is very small. Further down the road we passed through several single-lane tunnels cut through rock, and one tunnel deliberately frames a good view of the presidents.

We became so tired that we had to walk our bike up hills for the first time during this trip, once on Iron Mountain and once on the final 2-mile ascent to the monument's entrance. As we pulled up to the bike rack Maggie squealed, "Damian! Damian!" because Dave and Allison's bikes were already locked up there. They had been at the park nearly 3 hours, had toured everything and had watched the park's movie twice. They sat down with us in the cafeteria while my family ate a ton of overpriced but yummy food (I think I ate most of it.) A rainstorm passed while we were eating, and then we all took our ice cream cones out to the terrace for a better look at Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Roosevelt. Gazing at Mount Rushmore while listening to the patriotic music played on the terrace felt very fitting for this Independence Day weekend. Daniel learned a lot about American history during his final month of preschool, so he understands who Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln were.

We left the monument at almost 6 p.m. with 11 miles left to go, but those miles weren't as difficult as the earlier ones and our late lunch gave us the energy we needed. Now we're camped just outside of Hill City on a property belonging to one of Dave's friends, who was friendly enough to greet us with fresh cantaloupe and brownies.

View of Mount Rushmore from the highway.

The Mount Rushmore terrace.

Taking a closer look with a telescope.

We had one last view of Harney Peak on our way to Hill City.

Sunday, July 4

Distance: 29.8 miles
Riding time: 2 hours, 15 minutes
Average speed: 13.2 mph
Maximum speed: 38.4 mph

On this last day of the trip we parents gave our kids a special treat by riding the "1880 Train," a restored steam-powered train that runs between Hill City and Keystone. Daniel and Maggie like trains, but Damian loves trains and has carried a Thomas the Tank Engine toy with him all week. The kids peered out the train's windows as it chugged at 10 m.p.h., but we adults nearly fell asleep as the passenger car rocked back and forth. It rained for much of our 2-hour ride, but we were warm and dry in the train.

Our afternoon bike ride into Rapid City should have been a fast and easy downhill cruise on Sheridan Lake Road, but I accidentally missed a turn so we rode a much hillier and busier highway instead. Dave and Allison, who departed more quickly and did not miss the turn, beat us to Dave's brother's house by almost 2 hours. At the house it was time for our families to part after a very full week together: Dave and Allison left for a party with Dave's mother, and Kathy and I made the long drive back to Fort Collins. Daniel was sad to see Damian leave for a party without him.

Steam locomotive for the "1880 train."

Riding a restored coach car.

Watching the scenery chug by.

Traveling with another family this week was interesting, especially since we had never met each other before. I had wondered before the trip started if we would enjoy each other's company, and we truly did. It helped that we were all similar ages, had small children and enjoyed bicycling, but bicycle touring is a tough, fatiguing pastime that can bring out the crabby side of people. We never got crabby enough to really bother each other, perhaps because we biked separately during the day. When we met again at our destination each afternoon we were all smiles as we talked about the best and worst parts of the ride.

At camp we had another interesting social experiment, because with Daniel, Maggie and Damian constantly playing together and sometimes getting into trouble, we inevitably had to correct each other's children and discipline our own children in a group setting. I'm sure this could cause contention between some families, but Dave and Allison seem like good parents and Kathy and I didn't mind them scolding our kids.

During this 8-day trip we biked 206 very hilly miles, climbed the highest mountain east of the Rockies, and walked down into the world's 4th largest cave. It seemed like the epitome of an American vacation as we camped in national parks, watched antelope and bison herds, roasted marshmallows over a fire, and visited Mount Rushmore during Independence Day weekend. Of course, most American families don't travel by bicycle, but our little group of families showed many people that it can be done. We received many admiring comments both on the road and at camp, and I hope we've inspired others to think of bicycling as a classic American family vacation.

Dinner on our back deck the day after our bicycle tour.


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