Hwy 10, West of Mandan

Hwy 10, West of Mandan

Sunday, September 18, 2016

George S. Mickelson Trail – Part II

My intention was for this to be the last installment reviewing this trail, having ridden the Edgemont to Custer section of the Mickelson Trail in 2014.  My plans were start at Deadwood and ride quickly to Custer along Highway 385, and then return to Deadwood by way of the trail before nightfall.  However, a loose crank bolt in the first six miles of the ride compromised these plans significantly.  Not wanting to push my luck over 112 miles with an uncertain mechanical and few useful tools, I explored my options to salvage the day.

(Starting at the Deadwood Trailhead, 8:00 a.m. sharp!)

(Reviewing my options along Highway 385…   …feeling ‘Closed for the Season’)

Fortunately, the map I brought identified a nearby gravel road with a direct route to the Mickelson Trail.  In fact, the distance from Highway 385 and the Englewood Trailhead was a mere six miles along mostly smooth hardpack.  Even by adopting a slower pace and stopping periodically to tighten the crank bolt, I arrived at the trailhead in less than 25 minutes.

(Smooth riding on this gravel road…)

(…passing directly by a gravel quarry, naturally)

Following a short pit stop at the trailhead, I learned there was a marathon being held from Rochford to Deadwood.  This was another setback, for if I were to head south along the trail I would soon come in contact with heavy traffic.  After a few minutes of mulling this new news, I decided to ride to Rochford anyway.  As a multi-use trail, I certainly wouldn’t be the only cyclist the marathon participants would come in contact with.  Tightening my crack bolt again, I headed south from Englewood along chipped limestone.

(More smooth riding...  ...wide tires at low pressure rolled nicely over this variable surface)

The marathon appeared to be a veteran’s benefit, as there were numerous military personnel participating.  I passed many in full fatigues with standard-issue boots, and even some with what appeared to be full backpacks.  Running/walking 26+ miles in that gear was surely no easy task.  Most impressive!

(Here come the marathoners!)

Riding in the opposite direction of the participants allowed me to find open trail quickly.  As I approached Rochford I soaked up the changing colors of the trees under bright blue skies.  The disappointment of my changed plans dissipated.  It was a turning out to be a good day.

(One of many bridges crossed on the way to Rochford)

(Tunnel shortly before Rochford)

The Rochford Trailhead was a hotbed of activity, with cyclists arriving from Custer as part of the 2016 Mickelson Trail Trek.  The trailhead was also the starting location for what appeared to be a Boy Scout bike ride.  I quickly used the facilities, filled both water bottles, and pointed my bike north.

(Rochford Trailhead)

(A welcome spigot to refill bottles for the ride back to Deadwood)

Not wanting to ride in the same direction as the marathon participants, I opted to take Highway 17 out of Rochford.  My hope was to pass most (if not all) the walkers prior to the Englewood Trailhead and then take the Mickelson Trail the rest of the way into Deadwood.  Despite the absence of a shoulder, the highway was essentially devoid of traffic making for some enjoyable riding.

(Bovine criminals?)

(They appeared peaceful enough from the highway)

My plan to leapfrog the walkers worked mostly.  I passed less than 20 participants in the last 10 miles into Deadwood, making the final descent particularly enjoyable.  Should I have the opportunity to ride the Mickelson Trail in its entire length in the future, I would want to experience this descent again.  Perhaps someday…

(A slight rise to the trail before dropping into Deadwood)

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Theodore Roosevelt National Park – South Unit Loop

With my planned brevets in September and October derailed by work commitments and ridiculously priced lodging, I’ve opted to sneak in some rides with a local flair, beginning with North Dakota’s own Theodore Roosevelt National Park.  The park includes north and south units, and while separated by approximately 70 miles, they both feature some amazing geology, flora, and fauna.

I’ve ridden the south unit loop nearly every year since moving to North Dakota in 1999.  The loop is a reasonable distance (36 miles) and offers short, but challenging climbs.  The wind is always a factor, frequently compounding the challenge of the variable terrain.  Wildlife (particularly bison and wild horse) are often found near the road, so one must be constantly on the lookout for their presence.

Today I rode the south unit loop under overcast skies, occasional showers, but light and respectful automobile traffic.  Three bison herds near/on the road made for some anxious moments between Wind Canyon and Boicourt Overlook, so I declined riding a second time in lieu of a short out-and-back to the Wind Canyon pullout.  It was just as well, for as I descended into the town of Medora at the end of the ride the skies opened up with pouring rain.

Below are a few photos from the ride.  The beautiful surroundings and light traffic made for another excellent day on the bike.  In fact, this ride never disappoints.

 (Entrance to the south unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park)

 (Nice hill near the park entrance to warm up the legs and lungs)

 (Passing over I-94)

 (Prairie dogs galore at the top of the bluff)

 (Cottonwood Campground along the Little Missouri River)

 (Climb up to Wind Canyon)

 (View of the Little Missouri River from the Wind Canyon pullout)

 (Lots of calves in this bison heard)

 (Glad this one is at a distance from the road)

 (Another bison heard in valley below)

 (At the Boicourt Overlook, facing southwest)

 (Evidence of geologic erosion)

 (Yet more evidence, resulting in a single lane road)

 (Where there’s horse manure…)

 (…there must be a horse!)

 (New trail signs for hikers)

 (Geological strata I)

 (Geological strata II)

 (Geological strata III)

 (Descending to Cottonwood Campground)

 (Bison herd too close for comfort)

 (Second visit to Wind Canyon)

 (Prairie dogs near their mounds)

 (What an amazing ‘mound collage’ created by the prairie dogs!)

(Medora overlook)