• Lead to Custer, SD
  • 64.3 miles (1576 total)
  • 4455′ gain
  • Slowest day, avg 11.2
  • Very hilly & headwinds

We woke up this morning and thought, “Only 62 miles. After all those days of 70+, 80+, 90+ miles, this should feel like a rest day.” And you know, we shouldn’t have let that thought even emerge. It set into action a whole string of expectations which did exactly what expectations do. They let us down. Big time.

It was very warm in the sun when we started. One sign said 80 degrees at 7 AM. We began by retracing our route into Lead. That meant a half mile downhill followed by a 2.7 mile climb. First thing in the morning on wobbly legs. Oh boy. We should have known what the day was going to be like right then.

The climb went well. Then we rolled along a very pretty back road through the Black Hills National Forest. We saw many of these half-sized logging trucks. They were so cute. Guess the logs here in the hills aren’t as big as at home. We were treated to beautiful mountain valleys with fast roads. We played tag with Dennis, on a single and ended up pulling him down the hill to Rochfort, the first water stop. He took this photo of us riding.

Then the day got tough. Our average speed was only 13 and was about to go way down. We turned onto a gravel road that ran for 10 miles, probably 3/4 of that was climbing. We could barely muster 5 mph. It wore on you and seemed to go on forever. You’d think there would have to be some down eventually. And indeed, we had a couple of downhill stretches, but they were rough enough that you couldn’t go very fast on them. Once at the top, we were in a wide open range land that seemed to touch the sky. You can see why the natives held this land sacred.

Not long after we regained pavement, we arrived at our picnic stop. It was the first time we were both hungry at picnic. It was almost noon. And we’d only gone 33 miles. But it was located at a idyllic mountain lake and it felt wonderful to rest.

After picnic the roads were better, but still challenging. We had several mile-long climbs. We eventually got three nearly consecutive long downhill swoops. How glorious to speed along faster than the wind. That landed us in Hill City where we got a soda and sat and visited with the store owner. The pines here are being decimated by pine bark beetles. Brown patches appear all over in the forest. He says they’re trying lots of things, but nothing is working.

Now we had the last 14 miles to go. In our experience, the last 10 miles of every day’s ride is the most difficult. It doesn’t matter if the ride is 60, 70, or 93 miles. The last 10 always seems hard. Today didn’t break that string. We had to ride on the Crazy Horse Memorial Highway, a 3 or 4 lane road populated by large RVs, motorcycles, and semis. We had a 5′ shoulder with a 2′ wide rumble strip. That left us little room to maneuver. It was loud. It was noisy. It was uphill. And it was plagued with headwinds. Not nearly as idyllic as the rest of the day.

We saw the Crazy Horse memorial from the highway. We didn’t have energy to ride the 2 miles in and out to it. About 4 of our crew rested at the top of that pass. Crazy Horse has got a face now. When we saw him 20 years ago, the facial features were blocked out but uncarved. It looks cool when the light hits it right.

Then, praise be, we got to go downhill all the way into Custer. Another glorious payback for all our climbing. We saw painted buffalo on the streets (some kind of fundraiser). Now we’re at the high school. Winding down and contemplating tomorrow, which should be our last day in the mountains for this journey. The Great Plains are a comin’.

South Dakota!
A monumental day