Hwy 10, West of Mandan

Hwy 10, West of Mandan

Sunday, June 22, 2014

George S. Mickelson Trail – Part I

I planned to participate in a 400k brevet in Colorado on May 31st.  I awoke at 1:30 a.m. that morning in time to drive to Colorado Springs to make the 3:00 a.m. check-in.  I had even turned south onto I-25 at exactly 2:00 a.m.  All was set.  My gear was on, the bike was ready, and all I needed to do was to arrive, get my bike cleared by the RBA, fill my bottles with water, stretch a bit, and mentally prepare for a long day in the saddle.  No problem, right?

I turned around at the first exit and headed north through downtown Denver.  My reasoning came to me just as I started to drive south.  I had slept approximately 10 hours the last three nights and was understandably tired and admittedly a bit grumpy.  The upcoming brevet had 17,000+ feet of climbing, meaning a very challenging day lie ahead.  Finally, my work schedule had changed such that I had to be back in the office on Monday, no excuses.  How was I going to ride 20+ hours in an already fatigued state and then drive home (safely) on Sunday?  I concluded it wasn’t worth the risk.  I would have to reschedule a 400k later in the season.

Disappointed by the situation, I thought about how I might salvage part of the day by riding somewhere along the route back to Bismarck.  Before I arrived at the Wyoming border, it struck me.  I’d ride part of the Mickelson Trail!  It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, the weather was good (no rain forecasted), and my schedule was favorable for getting in a good ride.

The George S. Mickelson Trail is a 109 mile crushed limestone trail through the Black Hills of South Dakota.  The trail follows the historic Deadwood to Edgemont Burlington Northern rail line, and as such, is one of the longest ‘rail-to-trail’ conversions in the United States.  The full length of the trail formally opened in 1998, and is named after former South Dakota Governor George Mickelson, who was early supporter of the trail’s development.

My ride started in Edgemont, which serves as the Mickelson trailhead.  Arriving at approximately 8:00 a.m., the weather was cool following a significant rainstorm the previous night.  After driving six hours, I was eager to get underway.

(Start at the beginning.  At the trailhead in Edgemont.)

From Edgemont, the trail travels east and then north past Hwy 18 (to Hot Springs).  My new tires absorbed the increased rolling resistance from the limestone, as I made good time into Pringle where I stopped to rest my shoulder/back and enjoy the local ‘art’.

(New Compass tires provided a smooth ride on crushed limestone.)

(Looking to the southwest approximately nine miles outside Edgemont.  Wyoming in the distance.)

(Bike ‘art’ in Pringle.)

The trail was quiet for most of my ride, having passed only two cyclists en route to Custer.  This allowed me to fully enjoy the scenery without having to worry about traffic along the trail.

(Bison grazing lush grass just south of Custer.)

After a little over three hours, I entered the town of Custer.  Here I decided to turn around, but not before refueling with lunch and cold water in my bottles.  The temperature was rising fast, and when coupled with the dry air, I was sure to need ample hydration on my way back to Edgemont.

(Harbach Park Trail head in Custer.  Time to find lunch!)

(I didn’t have to go far.  Baker’s Café was just around the corner.)

Instead of retracing my path along the trail, I chose to ride back on Hwy 89 and 18.  I had ample room along the shoulder and traffic was light, so the ride was enjoyable (minus my aching shoulder/back).  The decreased rolling resistance of the pavement was also welcome, and I returned to the Mickelson trailhead by 3:00 p.m.

(Final downhill stretch into Edgemont along Hwy 18.)

Following a shower at the Spearfish City Campground and a tasty burrito from Barbacoa’s, it was smooth sailing all the way home.  Not a bad way to salvage what started as a disappointing day!  I hope to return soon to complete the Custer to Deadwood leg of the Mickelson trail.

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