South Dakota 2014 – Day 32 – Hill City – Rod and Gun CG: The Mickelson and Rimrock trails

Friday June 20, 2014, 55 miles (89 km) – Total so far: 1,414 miles (2,276 km)

The health fairy must have come last night and beat me with the bad wand while I was sleeping. I’m very raspy and phlegmy this early morning – my asthma is playing up in the cold, damp air. My fingers seem to have been replaced with inflexible wood stumps, too. The arthritis in my fingers means they often ache and it can be difficult to form a tight grip in the mornings, but this morning the pain is pretty searing and I can’t bend them much at all.

I break down the tent. It is absolutely soaked inside and out from the heavy dew and condensation. I think a seal would have better dexterity than me this morning. Ugh. I shake out the soaked tent fly – not a nice chore when it’s 39F. But I’m still on the road quickly – pedalling off down the Mickelson Trail at 5.45 am. I’m happy to be riding again after several days of other activities.

Much of the trail lies in shadow. The crunch of my tires on the crushed stone is like a white noise background for the birds’ early morning melody of tweets and chirps. They call from the pines and understorey along the trail. I flush some out as I travel over small wooden bridges.

Mickelson Trail. Last year when we rode this, the weather wasn’t very nice. This year it is sunny but COLD.

There are a couple runners out on the trail close to Hill City, but no one else has ventured out onto the trail in the miles beyond. It is still quite cold, but the clear sky promises sun and warmth later.

Mickelson Trail between Mystic and Rochford.

The trail is in good condition and I make good time. I meet a group of Boy Scouts hiking the trail south of Rochford, and finally, the sun crests the hills and takes off the chill. I’m pretty frozen at this point, so I take a break, eat and soak up the radiant heat.

Mickelson Trail north of Rochford.

North of the last tunnel, the trail breaks out of the narrow, scenic canyon and into a wide valley of pasture and meadow. Last year, I fought a headwind and very soft trail in deteriorating weather conditions through this section. Again I find a headwind and soft trail – but not as bad as last year. I stay on the trail until the high point, then hop on County Road 17 up to Hwy 14A.

I crank up the hill to Terry Peak – I’m missing a couple gears at the moment that would have been nice to use, but I make do. I’m looking forward to the 7% grade downhill through Ice Box Canyon, but the headwind promises to wipe some speed. So I pedal hard into the upper slopes of the downhill and then tuck down low on the bars to try to get out of the wind through the long, sweeping curves. My chin nearly rests on the handlebar bag behind Verne and Kermit. Elbows in. Yeee-ha!! The gusts of headwind are a bit like blows that strike the bike, but I hold on and just balance through the buffeting. My fingers are pretty useless today, so I can’t really the grip the bars very tight – but the loose hold on the bike adds a bit of extra thrill at 38 mph. Yee-ha! Some motorcyclists going the other way give me the victory wave. One honks and raises his fist in the air. All too soon, I have to brake hard as 14A splits right from Hwy 85.

And then I’m heading north on the Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway. I’m cranking hard to keep up the speed as the high canyon walls stream by high above. It’s all a downhill cruise to Savoy through thick pine and riverine vegetation growing low in the canyon. The pines climb the talus in places. Limestone cliffs frame a bright blue sky. Deep green rows of pine line up along the canyon rim.

Dirt road up to Rod and Gun campground from the Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway is in good condition.

At Savoy, I head gently uphill on gravel on FS 222. The road is in good condition, but the traffic isn’t terribly considerate. Well, all the guys on ATVs actually are – they slow down as they pass, but none of the cars do, so I ride through intermittent clouds of road dust. That doesn’t help the raspy lungs today!

The guys enjoy some habitat on our way to the campground.
Roughlock Falls – just a little ways up FS 222 from Savoy.

I ride all the way up to Timon Campground, but it is full with ATV folks, so I head back down to Rod and Gun. This place fills up, too, later on. The Forest Service lists the usage at these campgrounds as “light”. Uh-huh. I set up the tent then head out on the Rimrock Trail.

Out for a hike through forest and cliffs on the Rimrock Trail.

The trail follows Spearfish Creek through thick, scratchy bushes. There is a filming site for Dances with Wolves a little way down – don’t come up here for that. You would be disappointed. We cross over the creek then begin climbing up through the cliffs on a narrow trail in a gully. The smell of damp wood, pine and soil fills me with a sense of well-being.

Eventually, we gain a ridge and can really see the impacts from the major blizzard that blew through last October. There are lots of trees to climb over and under. All of the young pines, anything under six feet, are still all bent over. It looks like a crowd of believers all bowing before a god or king. Over and under the trees I go – it’s a couple miles of a limbo contest combined with a hurdling event. As I brush through all the short trees bowing into the trail, I feel like I’m running through a line-up and high-fiving each tree. I then get some good views over to cliffs in the distance before the trail dives down another steep gully to the road. It is steep and requires clambering over and through rocks and over and around downed trees.

All of the cliffs along this trail are Pahasapa Limestone – a very common formation in the Black Hills and where most of the caves are found. It was deposited about 330 million years ago in the Mississippian in a reef environment under a shallow sea.

Six miles of scratching up my legs and climbing over all of the trees that haven’t yet been cleared from the trails is enough for me, so I don’t hike the other trail on offer. Instead, I head back to the campground to fiddle with the bike a bit. I just can’t get the gears dialled in. It skips in three of the gears, no matter what I do. I play with it until my fingers have had enough. Then I go play with some kids on the grassy area – we start with a soccer-type game with continually changing rules. Then it is keep-away Frisbee. One of their dads comes over to join us. We joke around and keep the kids bouncing, jumping and running hard. Later, I become the catcher for a game of kickball to give my fingers a rest.

The kiddos head off to toast marshmallows and the dad asks the standard six and a few more. He thinks I’m brave and adventurous and a whole bunch of other things that I am not. I’m just pedaling a bike most days and having a look at plants and rocks along the way. Really, it is safe and easy nearly all of the time. I’m more comfortable with the rhythms of the road than I ever am in stationary situations.

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