Wind Cave National Park to Custer
Monday September 12, 2016, 21 miles (34 km) – Total so far: 21 miles (34 km)
Today is just a short day. Baby H is 11-months-old. She enjoys riding in the trailer, but only for 2-3 hours at a time. So our days will purposely be very short.
Jen’s mom, sister and nephew are going to go on a cave tour first thing. Then Sister C is going to drive up to Custer and ride back on the Mickelson Trail to meet us. Jen’s mom will meet us all in Custer later.
Jen and I get an early start with the last of the sun. The forecast this week is not too good. Yesterday was windy and in the 80s. It will start off in the 60s today and get colder all day. By the time we make it out of the park, it will already be cloudy.
Baby H settles in as we climb up out of the Wind Cave Headquarters. We’ve got a few miles on tiny shoulder roads through the park. But doing it early means there’s not much traffic. I ride just to the lane-side of the trailer in the rear in a defensive position, and the four or five cars that do pass us give us plenty of room.
Highway 385 picks up a large shoulder at the park boundary and starts into a long and gradual climb. Baby H falls asleep pretty quickly with the hum of the tires on the road.
I am riding totally unencumbered, so the hill seems less steep than when I last rode this in 2014! The bike I’ve borrowed from Sister C’s husband is brand new. It’s some sort of cheap Trek townie bike. It puts me in a very upright position and I feel like I’m riding a kid’s bike or something. All week I feel like a very un-serious cyclist on that thing! But it is light and the gearing sufficient. Jen, on her steel touring bike, towing a trailer with a 20-something pound baby will have a very different experience! The idea was that I would take turns towing, but Sister C’s bike doesn’t have a hitch (their baby trailer attaches differently), so Jen has to shoulder the burden all week while I ride completely unburdened (not even a pannier!).
We roll on into Pringle and find the Mickelson Trail. Baby H is still sleeping, so Jen keeps riding while I stop to fill out the forms and pay the trail fees. This is my first understanding of how riding with a baby is so different to normal touring. You can’t just stop and take a break at any old time. If the baby is sleeping, you RIDE. You do not stop. If you stop, the baby might wake and then you’ll have a crying baby or a baby that needs to take an extended break.
So Jen rides on ahead and I eventually catch her. We see several people on the trail. The only time I rode this way I just stuck to the road since it had a wide shoulder and the pavement rides so much quicker. That time I was racing storms. Today, there is rain coming, but it is not imminent.
One couple stops to talk to Jenny and are very congratulatory about taking a baby out to tour. The couple is from Ft Collins. They seem to want to have an extended chat but Jenny is anxious to get going – don’t stop and wake the baby!
Eventually, Baby H wakes. For awhile she is content to babble as we go. But then she is done! We tow the fussy girl up to the shelter at Sanator and take a while to play, eat (no don’t eat that!) gravel, crawl, inspect grass, eat Cheerios and nurse (well, Baby H nurses – I stand around trying to stay warm!). Baby H is so, so close to taking her first unaided steps. Several times on the trip it looks like it’s going to happen… but doesn’t….
After a break and baby feeding we head on into Custer. The day is getting colder and cloudier. Baby H sleeps all the way into town and remains asleep once we get to the park in town. Jen and I hang out – we missed her sister who drove out to the campground first and has just started onto the trail now. Her sister will end up doing an out-and-back with Baby K over the next few hours.
Jen’s mom meets us in the park and we load up all the gear. We have been advised not to ride out to the campground (two miles west of town) because of road construction. So the ride is over today.
We are staying at Big Pine campground (I stayed here in 2014). They’ve given us a big campsite that is close to a playground and the bathrooms (which are clean and warm). We get all of the tents set up before the cold rain sets in. We use the laundry/games room to cook dinner and keep everyone warm.
The forecast for the night is a low of 33F and a rain/snow mix. I have enough warm gear for myself but none to share. There is much talk of how to keep everyone warm… but it all gets sorted somehow. We all retire early to stay warm… baby bedtimes are pretty early anyway!