Riding the George Mickelson Trail in South Dakota

Riding the George Mickelson Trail in South Dakota’s Black Hills has been on my list since I first read about it in a magazine that Rails-to-Trail Conservancy sends me periodically.  So I scratched out a three day weekend here recently and packed my bike, gear and, oh yeah, my wife and fourteen year old daughter in to the car and up from Olathe, Kansas we drove.

Driving was part of the adventure.  We stayed in Omaha on Thursday night and took in their Old Market District.  Then it was up to the Badlands of South Dakota where I had my wife drop me off so that I could get in a twelve mile (or so) ride as they did a little hiking and visiting the Visitor’s Center.  Beautiful!  And there was this descent that would have been even more fun had it not been for the van from Nebraska in front of me… Yet, he was taking in the beautiful scenery, too.

bicycling south dakota
Pausing at the end of my short ride.  Such a beautiful place, the Badlands.

As a final “pit stop” on the way to our destination in Deadwood, we were legally required to stop off at Wall Drug.  I mean, anyone putting up that many signs for 500 miles deserves to capture at least a few of our expendable dollars, right?

769 miles later we arrived at our hotel in Deadwood, South Dakota.  As my wife and daughter planned their shopping and sight seeing for the next day I readied my Masi CXGR gravel bike and supplies for the ride on the Mickelson Trail.  At 6:54 am the next morning I turned on my Garmin Edge 25 and made the first kick towards Custer.

You can find my ride on the George Mickelson Trail here.

There was some construction creating a single lane on the main road leading to the trail and yet it was early in the morning, traffic was light and a police officer was right behind me to block any aggressive driving.  As I pedaled I realized that one block to my right was “downtown” Deadwood so I hung a right and pedaled down and back the two or three blocks of brick covered streets to take in the sights and odd names of many of the stores in front of me.

Then it was on to the trail announced by bold architecture where I registered my ride and paid the fee for trail use.  I believe the trail use for one day was $4.00 I only had one $1 bill and the rest were $20s.  So, Merry Christmas Mickelson Trail!

One of my early observations of the ride was how well the trail was taken care of and, at least in the Deadwood portion, how it appears that they didn’t take up the old tracks. They simply covered the rails with chit gravel.  I know this because in more than a few places the rail bleeds through and my tires were riding on steel.  Not in a dangerous way, mind you.  I had just never seen that before.

My second observation was how beautiful the Black Hills are.  The smell of the pine and feeling the crunch of the gravel under my tires sparked my senses.  And there was the noticeable coolness in the shadows as the cold water cast off waves of relief in the unseasonable heat…even at 7:15 in the morning.  The sound of that rushing water.  Of our five senses…the only thing missing was the taste.  And with all the rain they’ve been having there wasn’t much dust to eat.

Riding the George Mickelson Trail
There were a couple of buildings protected by the fence.  Was the fence to there to keep the ghosts in?

Up and Up and Up or Down
One of the things I probably should have done, especially as a Kansan, is check the elevation map. Listen, I promise you Kansas isn’t as flat as you’d like to believe.  At least in the eastern third of the state.  Yet, we do not have anyway to simulate hills that climb for the better part of 16 miles.  Yes, our Flint Hills can have steep rollers, yet they do not go on for the distance per climb you get in the Rockies or Black Hills.

Look at the ride.  Essentially, I only “climbed” four hills in the entire 67 miles.  Yet, except for a very short respite, the first hill goes on for 16.9 miles.  AND, I ride at 800′-1,000′ most days.  This ride bounced me between 4,500′ and 6,200′ throughout the day.  With only one night’s sleep at “altitude” this may have effected me more than I realized as I was climbing and climbing.  Sure, my overall speed on the ride was respectable considering all the stopping I did for sightseeing and pictures along the way, yet I began to feel that ride in that last climb before Custer.

Mickelson Trail Black Hills South Dakota
Roughly 8 miles in from Deadwood there is this beautiful rest stop at the Russell “Uncle Russ” Vermann memorial picnic table. Thank you to whomever provided this in Uncle Russ’ memory.

LESSON: For my friends in western Kansas, southern Illinois  and most of Florida, you are either riding up and up or descending when you ride the Mickelson Trail.  Very little, if any, flat. 

And speaking of descents…WOW!  Look at that first real descent.  That’s over an 18 mile free ride!  Well worth the climbing that precedes.  I was torn between hitting speeds of 25 mph and taking in every sight as slowly as I could.  The experience was truly a remarkable time on the trail and perhaps my primary lasting memory as time goes forward.

A couple of snakes of unknown species, a deer clearly unafraid of my being on the trail, a chipmunk here and again…that was really the only wildlife I saw on the trail.  So I was disappointed on this front. It has been unseasonably warm in the Black Hills and this may account for the animals bedding down in the shade where I could not see them.

George Mickelson Trail railroad tunnel
One of the three or four railroad tunnels I traveled in my 67 miles. We don’t get many of these in Kansas.

I will write more about the George Mickelson Trial in the near future.  The trail was simply inspiring and I took more pictures and notes along the way. The journey was renewing, relaxing, exhilarating and hard work…all in the same day.  That is a good day of bicycle riding in my book.

My First Bike Ride in Tamarindo, Costa Rica

Wherever I travel I try to get on a bike.  This last week I took my wife and daughter on a trip and I thought I’d share a little about my first bike ride in Tamarindo, Costa Rica.  Since I didn’t travel with one of my bikes (this time) the first job is to source a place to rent a bike.  I found three or four “Bike Rentals” signs in stores but quickly ascertained that Tamarindo doesn’t have a serious bicycle shop.

There were a few places to rent beach cruisers and there was even one place that rented upper end electric bikes but I was looking for a higher end gravel or mountain bike.  I did find one shop that had mountain bikes, Kelly’s Surf Shop.  While they had a few mountain bikes to choose from and they did make sure the back tire (not the front) had “enough” air you should be able to ascertain by the name of the business that, although very nice people, bicycles aren’t their specialty.  Quite simply, I may have overpaid at the $15.00 per day fee I agreed to.

bicycle riding in costa rica
Looking out over the volcanic lava to Tamarindo Bay.

But off I rode on this beautiful warm day with the salt air in my nose, the beach to my right and my Garmin Edge 25 tracking my miles on a very used mountain bike in need of a serious tune up and, frankly, chain lube.  Never-the-less, onwards!

My first ride was just 3.58 miles while my wife and daughter hit the spa.  I headed southwest through the heart of Tamarindo with merchants, beachside bars and restaurants on both sides and the sounds of Central American wafting out across the open air.  I veered to the left leaving Calle Central for Central Avenue. What’s the difference?  I really don’t know.  Then it was up the small hill to down again and around another curve, this time to the right as I headed south on Calle Cardinal.  Now be sure to note that I am glancing at Google Maps as I write this because I don’t really remember seeing any street signs.  That kind of information doesn’t seem to be too high a priority.  Hey, it’s Pura Vida. You just go with the flow.

Awaiting me was a shallow climb past luxury resorts, condos and homes. Quite scenic really.  It’s amazing how so many buildings seem to be suspended in construction while others look as if they have stood the test of time.   The ride was a mix of pretty good blacktop streets drifting in to questionable pavement leading to gravel in varying stages of attention and back again.  After finishing the closed loop that is Calle Cardinal and it’s extensions I headed back to my hotel to meet Marie and Piper.  This time I cut through a neighborhood with beach access and casually rode along the beach.

A cool mural in Costa Rica
Propping my bike up against a cool shop sign. Selina looks to be an automotive repair business.

While the distance of the ride is what I consider to be quite short the enjoyment of the ride was quite high.  I simply cannot express the joy I feel as I pedal through places I have never been. Seeing the world at bicycle speed feeds my #BikeCompulsion.  There is something childlike, explorer like throughout the whole process.  I can quickly slow down to notice the details like an iguana scampering up a tree or a child chasing a scorpion on his driveway.

Later that day I carved out more time to go on a longer, much more adventurous ride and I’ll link to that when the post if finished. At this point I just wanted to share that first bike ride I had in Costa Rica.  The ride made me smile.  I hope it inspires you to do your own exploring on two wheels…even if it is through your own neighborhood. You’ll be amazed at what you notice at bicycle speed.

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