Monday, July 23, 2012

Day Thirty-Eight: Mt. Rushmore and More

Today was a truly exhilarating day of bike riding. I rode 48 miles, from Hill City, South Dakota, to Rapid City (population 68,000), South Dakota, via Mt. Rushmore. But the exhilarating part was I climbed a total of more than 4,200 feet and -- get this -- descended a total of almost 6,000 feet. On a lot of hairpins.

So, first things first. We had about a 14 mile ride to get to Mt. Rushmore from our motel in Hill City, and it was a lovely ride. Our climbing the past two days has been a lot, but, by and large, it has all been reasonable gradients of less than 4%. Today threw that out the window. On the way to Mt. Rushmore there were some steep climbs, the likes of which we haven't seen since the Idaho panhandle and Western Montana, with 8 to 10% gradients. But it was fun riding (and finally I felt strong on the climbs - which I guess is part of what makes it fun). And the scenery was gorgeous. Every climb, descent, curve brought with it different vistas of the Black Hills and various peaks. Approaching Mt. Rushmore, there was one turnout where, looking back, you got a perfect profile of Washington's face, but from the road, and without crowds around.

Entering Mt. Rushmore also was fun. Long lines of cars. We cruised right by and didn't have to pay any fees. Nice! And I have to say, kitschy or not, I completely enjoyed seeing the faces carved on the mountain side and, maybe just as much, reading the explanations of how it all was created. Truly a marvel of planning and execution. Borglum, the sculptor, created a scale model, and then an army of workers went up the cliff with jackhammers and chisels, and protractors, etc. to translate the model to the cliffside, and created this incredible sculpture. All in all, very cool. Well worth the trip.

After Rushmore, Bob and I parted ways. I had, niggling in the back of my head, the advice (received just this morning) from my friend, David Crow, not to neglect Custer State Park. Well, actually getting to Custer would have added just too much mileage and elevation, but his advice made me look at the maps again, and I thought I could do more of the scenic byways leading to Custer and prolong my Black Hills exposure. So I basically added 12 miles and 1,200 feet of climbing to my route. And what climbing it was. Hairpin turns, spiral turns where the road would cross over itself, tunnels blasted through rock and, yes, plenty of gradients in the 8 to 15% range. Unbelievably, that made the 5 and 6% gradients, when they occurred, feel like a relief.

The tunnels, of which I passed through four, are very cool pieces of design. Each one is lined up so that, if you look through it, it frames the Rushmore faces. Problematically, however, the tunnels are one lane only (and dark), so stopping to try to photograph this phenomenon is not such a good idea. Although, of course, I did try (and somewhat succeeded).

And then came the descents. Now I have complained (as my dear wife, Laura, has heard too often) about the weight of my steel frame Surly touring bike. And, no question about it, the weight does make the climbs more difficult. But the bike is a beast on descents. Absolutely no shimming, shaking or vibration, even at 40+ mph speeds. It is smooth, balanced and leans into turns beautifully. It was a joy to do 6,000 feet of descents today (even when I knew the descent meant another climb ahead).

Tomorrow is a transition day. We'll ride approximately 60 miles to get to Wall, South Dakota, to set up what I expect will be two days of touring the Badlands. Life is good.

Here are today's route and metrics:



  1. Laura Schwed1:27 PM

    I am delighted you got to see Mt. Rushmore! Sounds like a truly amazing day. Love to you

  2. (My apologies, Rog, if this shows up multiple times. I've tried to post comments for the last few days, but Posterous seems to be on the fritz.)

    A 15% gradient is serious. I will never again complain about climbing two flights of stairs.