Big Sky Country. A couple of days ago, I overheard a guy at the table next to us in a local restaurant–ok, yes, I was eavesdropping–regaling his group with adventures at Glacier Park over 50 years ago when I remembered that I never did complete journaling our own trip to Montana in 2021. Unlike that guy, my husband and I have been to the state often several times each year. before Covid Interruptus, for the past 20 years. And, while each trip has been special, I’d not be a good “granny” if I didn’t choose the two for the births of grandchildren #2 and #3 as the most special,* and #2 was already graduating from high school. So, what else? Road trip . . . with bikes, of course.

The Blue Slide in Thompson Falls with the Clark Fork River winding through it.

Over the hill–way over–age-wise, we checked off several bucket-list cycling adventures and discovered some back roads in western Montana. We’d driven by Blue Slide Road that stretches between Trout Creek and Thompson Falls, MT many times on our day trips to Idaho, but on this trip we were actually staying on it.

While Montana is a HUGE state with LOTS of open land, it’s not ideal road cycling territory. The two-lane frontage roads that parallel major highways don’t normally have a lot of traffic, but never mind bike lanes, there are seldom any shoulders and the daytime speed limits may be 75mph. So, we chose our riding routes carefully, and we were rewarded for safety with beautiful scenery in early June, and few passers-by even in the midst of the area’s over-saturation with Covid refugees from the coastal western states.

Plains

View of Plains “downtown” from the road near the Clark Fork River put-in

The actual name of this tiny town is Wild Horse Plains. To us, it’s the last town we travel through from the airport in Missoula before reaching Thompson Falls. Where we have to slow down to 20mph for the 1/2 mile stretch of small shops and RR crossings. Where just past the town, we’re likely to see big horn sheep that love to “take the road” there. The town whose high school teams played our grandkids’ teams. It’s not a place we’d ever thought of stopping in, until this trip.

Just a turn off route 200 and a couple of blocks over the RR tracks, (Railroad tracks run aside the main streets of most western towns.) we found a small public park where we could park and unload our bikes for a ride through town to Lolo National Forest, 2 million acres of trees and wildlife. As we were setting out for our mid-day ride, a horse and buggy passed us; this was the 4th or 5th town in which we’d ridden on this trip that was home to either Amish or Mennonite families.

Bend in the Clark Fork River in Plains

The ride, itself, was a pretty uneventful couple of hours–no need for the bear spray as we didn’t reach the forest’s roads–but we did climb one perspiration-producing hill that was a thrilling descent on the way back. A few locals in pickups passed us, each offering a wave and respectfully slowing down.

Unlike in the Northeast where we would meet other cyclists no matter the time of year or day of the week on a road like this, we were lonely travelers. Our gear included a couple of canisters of bear spray, per the advise of our older granddaughter, who had worked as a firefighter for the US Forest Service in the Plains Ranger Station the summer before.

Trout Creek

Trout Creek is the other bookend for Thompson Falls. Another town in which we never before stopped for any reason on our annual day trips to Idaho. However, we found ourselves staying in a small cabin on Blue Slide Road on the Clark Fork River, 23 miles drive to our daughter’s and son-in-law’s home. Twenty-three miles would make a great bike trip, if it weren’t all on route 200 with its 70 – 75mph speed limit most of the way.

The longest ride I could convince Bill to do from our cabin a couple of times was down the western end of the road and over a bridge on 200 to the only market in town. Timing is everything in life, so no photos taken on that bridge as it took some pretty quick pedaling to avoid being on the short bridge with vehicles.

Trout Creek is a very deceptive little town. It took some searching to find the spot where our cabin’s owners told us they bike, but when we did, the search was worth it. Another bluebird perfect day for riding a couple of hours, this time with even fewer passing pickups. View of the snow-capped mountains made it hard to keep eyes on the road ahead of us that was a bit rougher than in Plains.

With no reliable cell service in Trout Creek, i.e. no GPS, we were afraid that doing the loop I chose from River Road might have had us been biting off more than we could do in the dry heat. We learned (the hard way, of course) early in our travels to the state that even a “short” back road could go on and on with no cross roads. To the “locals,” 30 miles is “just down the road a bit.”

Thompson Falls

This little town, excuse me, “city” with approximately 1,200 residents is our adopted home away from home. We spend every Christmas holiday there and when visiting do what the locals do. Attend HS basketball games. Eat breakfast at Minnie’s. Shop at Harvest Foods. But, the one thing that locals don’t do is bike through town. So, our pedaling was limited to a few loops around town roads on the shores of the Clark Fork River with our grandson. He considered it his “training” for our trip to the Hiawatha Trail in Idaho that he’d been looking forward to for the two years since we’d last done it. Unfortunately, nowhere in Sanders County could we replicate the experience of pedaling through the Taft Tunnel.

Our daughter, who spent lots of time around farms in New England, finally got her own acreage and barns a few years ago. Sanders County has a milder climate and longer growing season than most of the northwest, so we eat lots of fresh veggies whenever there.

Did I say how big Montana is? Two other more common modes of transportation than bicycles–an airstrip behind the house and train tracks across from it. Almost every small town has a small airport.

If I could sum up our rides on back roads in Sanders County, they were peaceful. And, awe-inspiring–not for their distances or challenges, but for all the beauty around us no matter which direction we looked.

We spent two weeks in Trout Creek and Thompson Falls. Much too little time with loved ones, but with lots of memories and adventures that had this granny in gear and keeping up with the young’uns. It’s six years until the next HS graduation; I plan to be still wheeling around on my ebike, God willing. After all, our grandson is counting on another trip over the Thompson Falls Pass into Idaho to the Hiawatha.

, ,

A Tribute: Solidarnosc z Ukraina

Every beat of my heart the past month has been in Solidarnosc z Ukraina. If you’ve read Granny in Gear before, you may have read Babcia on a Bike in Poland and the subsequent posts. Slavic blood flows through my veins; my father, uncles, and grandfathers would have been taking up arms to defend and preserve what was theirs and their neighbors’ without a moment’s hesitation. Some would call such action “foolish.” They would have called it “patriotic.”

Like many who are watching from near and far, I can’t help but compare what’s going on today with the countless invasions these Central European countries have endured over the centuries. Warsaw had to rebuild completely after WWII. Here’s hoping that in the not-so-distant future, Kviv, Kharkiv, Mariupol, and all the other besieged towns and cities will flourish and blossom again.

Faith is strong in Poland and I’m sure is playing a huge part in their opening their country to their besieged neighbors. There is such strong national identity in each country in the area, that it’s not surprising that Ukrainians want to return to their country as damaged as it is.

Music and dance are integral to life in Central European countries–not to be confused with “Eastern European countries” as we learned from our young Polish guides our first day in the country. The Poles, who have been enjoying the fruits of capitalism and modern life since 1989, want nothing to do with anything associated with Soviet life. In 2018 when I wrote An Apple a Day Keeps Putin Away, millions of bushels of apples were being left to rot on the ground due to an embargo imposed by Russia, Poland’s largest market for the crop.

But this isn’t a political post. It is a tribute to the spirit of the Poles and Ukrainians and all people who just want to wake up in the morning and live in peace. To plant their gardens and paint their houses. To dance at weddings and peddle their crafts at fairs. To pedal to the market or into the mountains just for the fun of it.

In 2018, our granddaughter, then a junior in a rural US high school, had the opportunity to go on an Eastern European history tour during her spring break.* I was skeptical at the time that a trip to Auschwitz was “appropriate” for teens whose greatest “hardship” so far has been that they’ve never had cable tv at home. But, today, as the older one texts her boyfriend stationed near the Polish border with the US Army, she understands why he is there and why my heart is breaking.

Yes, I left my heart in the country and I feel so helpless today as we watch Poland’s good neighbor suffer yet another invasion. This is my way of doing what I know how to do so that we never see the structure below used again.

A reconstructed checkpoint on the border of Germany and what was then Czechoslovakia. We biked through one Schengen country to another without being stopped anywhere. Let’s hope that doesn’t change.

*Unfortunately, our younger granddaughter was deprived of the same experience with the biannual Eastern European History trip in 2020 due to the pandemic, and now, it looks like this year’s students may be, too. I hope that somehow, young Americans, are learning world history and geography, and not from Twitter posts.

Old Spokes as Groupies

Post-pandemic inertia. A year plus stolen from us who can’t afford to toss them away. Time to clear the cobwebs, put away the puzzles and masks and try new things. An invitation to join a cycling group idled in my inbox for a year until I asked myself one sunny day, “Why not?”

By then, I needed air pumped into more than my bike’s tires. My lungs needed it, but my psyche needed it even more. Cycling seemed like a good way to thumb our noses at New Hampshire’s notorious mud season, miles of gooey, rutted bike trails, and endless talk of vaccines.

I was well acquainted with Bob, the group leader who’d sent the email, but I have to say that in spite of a sincere invitation, I was a bit intimidated by him and his riding buddies whom I saw unloading their bikes in the Park & Ride each week. This group was (is) legendary in our small community–both for their unflagging devotion to “only-rain-and-snow-will-stop-us” rides on our hilly terrain several times a week, but for the endurance of the cyclists who, in spite of an average age north of 60, and an inventory of replaced hips, knees, and arthritis meds, are not only fit, but ride furiously.

On a warmish day in May, I was off on my first local group ride. It was reassuring that of the group of 16 that day, most were over 60, and about half the group was riding ebikes, a/k/a “cheaters.” Bill and I had just garaged our road and hybrid bikes after buying a pair the previous fall–no easy feat in itself during a pandemic that catapulted cycling to unprecedented popularity.

It wasn’t long before I realized this wasn’t your ordinary group of senior cyclists. Even on the flats, powered up with Eco (low) assist from my super Bosch battery, I was soon looking at Spandexed derrieres and strobing red lights of the “roadies” as they sped far ahead. Our first meet-up spot, agreed upon at the start of the ride ,would be a covered bridge about seven miles from our starting point–a lovely place, that in spite of my living in the area for close to 10 years, I had never visited.

I rode awhile with Bob on a long flat stretch (“flat” in New Hampshire meaning you’re always going slightly up or downhill). In his late 70s, Bob recently decided to “convert” to an ebike, too. His was a lighter weight road bike, so I immediately had “bike envy” as I pedaled my 50 pounder trying only to use my battery on the uphills. Midway to our first stop, Bob fell back to ride sweep and I pedaled on finding myself averaging 17mph in pursuit of the leaders of the pack.

First small victory

I arrived at the covered bridge several minutes after most of the group, but definitely not last. Bill pulled in a couple of minutes after me, and behind him, Bob with a guy named “Jimmy” pulling up the rear. It turned out that Jimmy was a regular who resisted converting to a “cheater.”

The next several miles were literally uphill, but through some scenic parts of town that I’d missed in years of driving through it. Who would know that the placid Sugar River would have falls once you get off the main road that hugs its banks?

The 24-mile loop was the first of many I rode with the group in 2021. The emails arrived regularly from the early spring thaw until snow covered the bike lanes. My average group ride was 30 – 34 miles, but every week members would test their mettle and do a 50+ mile one. Needless to say, this Granny passed on those. Even on the shorter routes, I was still concerned about holding the group up, so, as surreptitiously as I could, would check to see if Jimmy were riding that day.

Other spokes for old folks

I connected with another local group, too, that I found on Meetup.com. They called themselves the SloPokes, and on the day I joined them, even those on ebikes, were. Ironically, we met up with “my other group” going the opposite direction on the popular route both groups chose that day. I could see them from a distance, their bright-colored shirts sparkling in the shade as the hare passed by the tortoise.

At the end of our short New Hampshire season, I had clocked over 800 miles. Certainly, something to be proud of, but only half of Bob’s 2021 goal–which he achieved, and then some.

Granny

I plan to ride an annual charity event in July again this year with the group, and have even ordered the jazzy Live Free and Ride shirt that members of “our” group wear when riding together. The group also rides a 70-mile charity ride in the fall, but 70 miles, when over 70, even on flat-for-real roads on the seacoast has me straddling a fence, not my saddle. And, unlike with tennis, for which I wonder each year if this may be my last to play competitively, I have no doubt that I have several more years left in my legs for cycling–thanks to ebikes and groups like those I rode with in 2021. And, for every Jimmy, there is an octogenarian on a road bike to inspire me.

Not so surprising as we live in an area where “active senior” is taken to a whole new level, this cycling group transforms into a Nordic skiing group when we put away our wheels. Some hotter-blooded members even don their Live Free and Ride cycling jackets.

Mother Nature being the fickle soul she is, has sent several warm spells our way this winter and the skis are sitting idle in a corner. But, not to worry, our first group ride sets out already in mid-March—two whole months ahead of the one we joined last year. Let us live free and ride!*

*New Hampshire State Slogan: Live free or die

Day 34 Great River State Trail, WI

“The river.” Ole Man River. The “Great River.” A trip through the U.S. wouldn’t be “American” without at least seeing the Mississippi. (I wonder if kids today can spell it with the same gusto and cadence we old spokes did.) So, we headed to LaCrosse, WI on our final leg home to the Northeast.

I picked out a trail to bike, not for any particular reason except that it was on the way and would go through or was near Madison where old friends (non-cycling) moved last fall. I also like the name of the town we stayed in, Onalaska.

Ironically, we never did bike through Onalaska, but launched our 20-or-so mile trek from a place called Lytles Landing on a peninsula that juts into Onalaska Lake.

After four weeks of biking throughout the western U.S. and never encountering a single bug (much too dry this summer), we quickly became lunch for hundreds of mosquitoes while unloading our bikes. Out came the Off and off we went.

The hard-packed gravel trail itself, is literally nothing to write about, but its worth cycling to visit the towns at both ends of our short ride, Trempealau and LaCrosse, plus the wildlife refuges in between.

Within a few minutes cycling, we crossed the Black River on a 1,600′ trestle. Having passed on the Cowboy Trail in Nebraska that has a comparable one, this was by far the longest bridge we encountered in our travels. I wish I could say that there were raging rapids or an armada of kayakers paddling beneath it to add to the experience, but it looms above a very placid, brown-water section of the Black River. Not even the Ole Mississippi.

Locals at the “landing,” told us that this was the more scenic section of the Great River and we soon found out what “scenic” means in the area–water. Lots and lots of water. The trail traverses the waters of the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge, (I wonder if the US Department of the Interior has an acronym for that!) but, unfortunately, all the wildlife were in hiding somewhere else in the 6,500 acres on this muggy Saturday afternoon. The only sign of life we saw were a few kayakers who pulled up to a muddy bank for lunch.

While the trail was uneventful, Trempealeau beckoned with a promise of a choice of eateries for a relaxing lunch. After a few miles of road cycling on a quiet route through town, we found the Trempealeau Hotel without a problem and had our choice of indoors or out where there was entertainment. We opted for a screened porch overlooking Ole Man River and enjoyed a couple of “cold ones” and tasty fare that betrays the unappealing structure. Nearby is an ice cream shop that was very busy as we passed by. (Next time.)

Yes, real rail lines run along the Mississippi and from this point across from the hotel, we could see the lock upstream. (The road leading down to it is very steep, so we passed on that detour.) A couple of times on our two-plus hour ride, we could hear trains running aside us through the trees.

While we didn’t pedal into LaCrosse (the less scenic end of the trail), we booked a second night in Onalaska and were lucky to snag the last two seats for a dinner cruise on the river. So, we changed from our sweaty cycling gear to casual “out-on-the-town” garb and drove to LaCrosse.

The prime rib dinner was delicious, but the scenery even more so. Being a Northeasterner and used to restrictions as to where and when you can pull up on shores, I was surprised at the laid-back way boaters would disembark any place they found an open beach and set up camp for a sunset dinner and what seemed to be Wiscosiners’ idea of a Saturday night out.

Off the trail . . .

LaCrosse was a pleasant surprising mix of urban chic and outdoorsy attractions. People milled around several modern upscale chain hotels, sat on benches a la Parisians on the Seine in the evening, and cyclists pedaled leisurely on the bike path that parallels the Great River. While savoring dessert and sipping our final glasses of wine, I plotted a reason for a return trip to the area, both to bike all four rail trails that make up a network of connecting trails and to spend some time in the charming small city on the river. And, maybe if we time it right, another relaxing cruise on the waters.

Next cycling stop: Home, with maybe a stop on the Erie Canal where this all began

Day 33 Cannon Valley Trail, Minnesota

Compared to Sioux Falls and Great Falls, Cannon Falls, Minnesota is a tiny speck on the map. The town has, you guessed it, falls. But, it also has a one of the best kept secrets in rail trail cycling–the Cannon Valley Trail (CVT). The CVT is a well-kept secret in the cycling world outside the midWest. While I had done painstaking research when planning our Great American Road/Bike Trip 2021, I hadn’t come across it anywhere. It was during a chat a couple (hot) days before with a three-day trekker on the Mickelson Trail that the Minnesota cyclist recommended it for its tree canopy and easy pedaling on a smooth paved surface.

We planned our trip eastward around this stop in a place we’d never heard of for a ride on a trail we’d never considered until 48 hours before. We weren’t disappointed.

The trail that was once the Chicago Great Western Railroad line parallels the Cannon River, which after the Missouri, is the second largest waterway in Minnesota. Only 1.5 miles into the ride, we could catch a glimpse of the river from a perch high, high above the river.

The trail, as claimed by the cyclist we met in South Dakota, is in great shape. The first two of the several bridges we crossed on the 20-mile trail appeared to have been recently reconstructed with new boards and rails. What a pleasure to roll over a bridge without the usual bumpity, bump, bump!

With temps well over 80 by midmorning, we were very happy to be pedaling under the promised tree canopy for miles before stopping for a rest in the town of Welch. But before reaching Welch, we stopped at the beautiful Anderson Memorial Rest Area to read about the habitat. Had it not been in full sun at the time, and so early in our ride, it would have been a nice place to take a break. A bench below the bridge, seemed like just the perfect place for anyone wanting to read a book, or maybe, meditate to the soft ripples of a creek.

Midway on the trail, the town of Welch draws a heavy stream of cyclists throughout the day. The rest stop has restrooms, water fountains, lots of picnic tables, and most importantly, lots and lots of shade. I hear that the town also has a good cafe and ice cream, but we didn’t leave the trail to find out.

If you’ve neglected to purchase $5 day passes from self-service kiosks in Cannon Falls or Red Wing, you can get them from an attendant in Welch who’ll also be happy to sell you CVT swag. I was very disappointed that the stand was closed that day as I really wanted a CVT shirt!

Bill and I made good use of this rest stop in both directions. On our way east, we met up with a gent with whom we chatted in the parking lot at the Archie Svenson Softball Fields in Cannon Falls who was also heading for Red Wing. Several (maybe many) years younger than Bill or I, he looked rather worse for the wear when we joined him a picnic table and said intended to cut his ride short. He told us beforehand that he bought an ebike the year before, but quickly sold it.

Bill and I pedaled on eastward along the stretch that we were told would not be as scenic as the one between Cannon Falls and Welch. And, it wasn’t. About four miles from the eastern terminus, we began passing through more urban areas in full sun. In order to get to downtown Red Wing–which I really, really wanted to do until that moment–we would have had to bike on a busy road with no bike lane. So, we ditched that plan and opted for lunch outdoors at Pottery Place, a quaint renovated mill that now houses shops and the popular Pie Plate Cafe within yards of the trail’s end.

The return trip on full stomachs was pleasant, but the temperatures were rising, and there seemed to be less shade. A stop in Welch to refill water bottles and for me to soak my feet for a few minutes. By this stop, we had pedaled 35 miles. When we got to the parking lot there was only one thing to do besides load the bikes on the CRV–high fives!

We had met our goal of biking the entire 40 miles!

Off the trail . . .

Cannon Falls seems to be an outdoor paradise in summer. Off the trail, dozens of young tubers and kayakers floated on the river below us. When we couldn’t see them, we could hear them enjoying the cool waters. A water baby myself, I wished we had another day in the area to enjoy the river and all the other fun stuff that Cannon Falls has to offer.

The town also has a few miles of city trails and a 2-mile spur that leads to a nearby lake. A brewery aside the river–the falls are right downtown–and several restaurants also would be worth visiting on a return visit.

And about my chatting with cyclists on the trails . . . even Bill had to admit that the Cannon Valley Trail was a great “find” from one of those chats. And, my chat with the gent on the CVT added another Minnesota riverside trail that will be on our itinerary on a planned return to the midwest to do more cycling. Sometimes, you just learn the darndest things when you least expect it!

Next cycling stop: La Crosse, WI

Days 29 – 31 The Dakotas

What could be worse than crashing while cycling? How about being chased by a 2,000 pound “fluffy cow”? Or wild horses? . . . That’s what we thought, too . . .

Day 29 — Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota

If you’ve been following my blogs for our Great American Road/Bike Trip 2021, you know that we had a bit of bad luck in Great Falls, Montana. We needed to build a couple of extra days into our itinerary to undo it, but we first headed to the South Unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park in Medora, North Dakota.

Cycling is allowed on roads in the park, but it was immediately obvious why it is not advisable. Obstacles are numerous, not the least of which are distracted drivers ogling views on very narrow roads that wind through the spires and bluffs that create blind curves throughout the 36 mile Scenic Loop Drive. Equally scary, the park has wildlife with some serious attitude. Bison outnumber visitors on any given day and they make it known that, without a doubt, it’s their place. We encountered the beasts “taking the road” in three different locations and there’s no ebike on this planet made that could stand up to them.

And, they aren’t the only four-legged park residents that lay claim to the roads.

Wild horses bucked their heads and snorted as they approached us. Their behavior was quite a contrast to the more elusive wild ponies on Assateague National Seashore.

Numerous trails crisscross the South Unit with options for hiking from a few minutes to a few hours. With morning temperatures in the 90s and cycling not a good option, we opted for the short Boicourt Trail, a mere 0.6 mile out-and-back, but noted for spectacular views from a pinnacle. My sunglasses hid eyes that turned green with envy of the fearlessness of a group of teens perched on the pinnacle, but becoming a park fossil from a tiny misstep or gust of the constant strong winds was not on my agenda. The views of both badlands and distant grasslands were awesome enough from benches strategically placed on the trail, thank you.

No offense intended to the smaller creatures in the park, but, unlike other drivers, who stop to watch endless shows of wildlife whack-a-mole, we decided to drive past the several prairie dog towns that dot the landscape. Having gotten up-close-and-personal with too many of them scavenging at a rest stop a few years before, the rodents quickly went from being “cute” to “pests” as we tried to eat our lunches.

And, most importantly, there is the historical aspect of the visit. While his attempts at ranching in the grasslands in the area were not successful, Theodore Roosevelt credits his time in North Dakota for shaping his character and leading him to the US presidency. Roosevelt’s interests in preserving the natural environment led to the establishment of both the US National Park system and the US Forest Service.

Roosevelt lived in the Maltese Cross Cabin that is now behind the park’s Visitor Center in the South Unit.

The landscape is varied in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. During the couple of hours it takes to drive through the South Unit, we passed through badlands, grasslands, prairie dog towns, and a smattering of petrified trees. (An expanse of Petrified Forest is in the North Unit.) Speaking of being “dried out,” hours in this unspoiled environment produce a hearty thirst for a brew and “grub” and Medora has few saloons that bring out the Wild Bill Hickok in locals and visitors alike.

Day 30 – Hill City, South Dakota

Early this summer, staggering numbers of visitors have been drawn to the Dakotas to release their inner adventurers. A steady stream of RVs and campers headed for fully booked campgrounds and there were more Bigfoot sightings than hotel vacancies. However, if our cycling to the Mickelson Trail was to be like Days 9 – 11 of our trip, we wouldn’t have to worry about trail traffic. IF . . .

Route 16 between Rapid City and Custer is a spectacular drive itself. Fortunately, it leads to some popular watering holes in Hill City, including the saloon/brewery/winery whose ubiquitous billboards rival those of Wall Drug’s on I90.

Having to “tend to business” in the morning before biking, we missed the narrow window of opportunity before beating the heat. The irony in this was that we didn’t bike two days in May because daytime highs were in the 40s, and now we weren’t biking because temps were in the high 90s.

Average daily temperatures in the Black Hills in May and June rarely fall below 48 degrees and rarely exceed 94 degrees F.

So, we drove to a nearby brewery/saloon/winery whose ubiquitous billboards rival those of Wall Drug’s on I90 for a leisurely lunch and tasting, lounged by the hotel’s pool before the families returned, and enjoyed a great, and extremely inexpensive, steak dinner in a restaurant we discovered on our way west. After all, this was a “bonus day” on our journey and as we retirees know: there’s always tomorrow.

Day 31 Back on the Mickelson Trail

Obviously, things heat up on the Mickelson in June, and I’m not just talking about the climate.

The passes we purchased

for the trail had been

burning holes in our pockets

for two days. It was great

to finally be using them .

.

Starting out going north to be in the shade, we pretty much had the trail to ourselves as it cut through neighborhoods of new construction and a park. Then, they began to come. First, a few at a time with numbered 5 x 8″ green tags on their seats. Then a few more. Then more and more, a few solo riders interspersed between the small groups of cyclists of all ages, most from South Dakota, but others from nearby states. Had we kept going north, we would have met up with 250 cyclists all going north on their second day of the biannual Three-Day Mickelson Trek. But, alas! We had to check out, so turned around after five miles and coasted all the way back to our hotel.

Since it was still before noon, we decided to bike south a few miles starting from a park that serves as the Hill City trailhead. Look for the small brown Mickelson Trail signs on lampposts on what appears to be a wide sidewalk outside the park to connect with the trail in either direction.

As we left the trailhead for our second ride of the day, a group of teens began congregating under the pavilion that had just been vacated as a SAG spot for the Three-Day Trekkers. We would later meet up with the 30 or 40 of them on the trail. So, all in all, we had plenty of company that day–unlike our ride three weeks earlier.

Off the trail . . .

Before this trip, as soon as it was known that Covid travel restrictions would be lifted–at least in some states–I researched all the organized tours on the Mickelson that I could find. Each was completely SOLD OUT. So, I did what I do for bike trips nearer to home: I copied itineraries and we decided to do out-and-backs on our road trip from New Hampshire to Montana. There are shuttle services available on the Mickelson, but that would have taken too much commitment from us–arriving in the Black Hills at a certain time, cycling in rain if necessary, etc.. So, we winged it and it worked out ok, but I still want to do the 109 miles end to end.

However, one of the first things I did when we finished biking for the day was to look into reserving spots for the Mickelson Trail Three-Day Trek in the fall. Unfortunately, it is already all Sold Out. So, we may just have to repeat the Great American Road/Bike Trip in 2022.. .

and on the rails . . .

I learned over 20 years ago when we began visiting Montana to sleep through the almost constant rumbles and whistles of trains. It’s hard not to in small towns in the west as tracks often run parallel to main streets (or vice versa) and freight moves on the rails 24/7/365. The sound is almost a lullaby to me when we’re out west. Maybe it goes back to my childhood, when even in New England, trains passed through small mill towns several times a day, or it’s just the lure of the open rails.

The sound of trains passing through the night is augmented in Hill City by the regular daytime tours on one of area’s family attractions, the 1880 Steam Train–Black Hills Central Railroad. While I find the sounds comforting, so much so that I wondered if I could sleep when I returned back East, I wouldn’t know for another week.

And, last, I like to chat with strangers (much to my biking companion/husband’s chagrin). For me, a good chat with a “local” is worth much more than any marketing promo material in a guidebook or online. It was during one of my impromptu chats with a Mickelson Trail “trekker” whose green tag read Rochester, MN that we got a recommendation for our next ride. And, it was 100% reliable.

Next Ride: The Cannon Valley Rail Trail, Minnesota

Day 27 River’s Edge, Great Falls, MT

Great Falls, Montana. The name says it all. Or, maybe it doesn’t as it didn’t speak up loudly enough for us to pay it any attention in the 20 plus years we’d been visiting the state annually, or sometimes more often. What a surprise we had in store for us when we discovered that it has a 60-mile recreational trail that runs on both sides of the Missouri River!

The trail has it all. I know I’ve said that before in my blogs, but this one really outdoes the others with 60 miles total of: paved trail, single track, flat terrain, hills, river views, bluffs, murals, sculptures, train depots, parks, a state park, a dam, and not one, but three falls. And, great folks.

Since only one of us was riding a mountain bike, we opted for the pavement on this ride. There are numerous access points and the aptly named Caboose Parking area was fairly easy for us newcomers to find with GPS.

It wasn’t long before we were awed by the scenery and sounds of the “big falls.” The Missouri makes itself known all along the trail, but at the falls, she roars.

After enjoying the magnificent falls and park on the River Greenway in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, I expected similar scenes of lots of rocks and rippling currents. But, like most everything else out West, the falls on the Missouri River in Great Falls are unique. The Great Falls below is created by the nearby Ryan Dam and is the largest of the five falls in the city.

Cycling downstream from the Great Falls is slightly uphill and its almost impossible to keep your eyes on the trail pedaling aside the Missouri with its strong spring currents and colorful bluffs along its shores. Mountain bikers could be spotted pedaling on the gravel part of the trail across the Missouri and walkers strolling in the park near the power plant the weekend afternoon we were there.

Perched high on a turnout on the trail, Lewis and Clark and Sacajawea point out the way west. This is one of the many metal sculptures that line the trail.

Pedaling past the historic trio, we continued toward Giant Springs State Park, a site that was first recorded by the famed explorers. While the low-hanging clouds fortunately didn’t open up this afternoon, the winds picked up in this area. A few miles downstream from the big falls, we reached the other two “little falls,” the Crooked Falls and Rainbow Falls, and the terminus of the paved path. It was on the path to the latter that the strength of the winds began pushing my bike sidewards as I pedaled. I could say after that, that despite biking in headwinds near the Atlantic Ocean and Lake Champlain, these were the strongest winds I’d ever pedaled in.

Past the falls, the trail continues as single track for hikers and mountain bikers who continue through the park. We met up with a young woman hiking and I admired her fortitude for walking through those winds while I had my ebike suped up to “turbo” charge.

Having oohed and aahed at the sights of the dam and little falls, we turned around and headed back to the Caboose trailhead. The winds, that we hardly noticed pedaling out from the city, were even stronger then, and for the first time in our travels, I used my bike’s battery on pavement for a long stretch. Passing Lewis, Clark, and Sacajawea, the roar of the Missouri at the Great Falls seemed louder and mightier and the views even more awesome. Nonetheless, it was a relief to reach the trailhead as it seemed that the winds weren’t going to abate anytime soon.

Urban Delights

Heading upstream from the caboose, we pedaled alongside the Missouri with wide-open views across the river. Like in many cities established on big ole rivers, Great Falls has long spans of industrial areas. Our reward past the less-than-scenic views of mills and storage tanks were more attractive urban sights–and delights.

Up about a mile or so and around the majestic old Milwaukee Railroad Station and the more current Northern Pacific Railroad building, we pedaled into downtown Great Falls where we found one a bustling farmers’ market.

While its brick buildings and historic architecture would have been attraction enough in this area, the River’s Edge Trail has been adorned with numerous metal sculptures and murals along this stretch of the trail. Had I stopped to photo each sculpture, most of which seemed to be constructed with scrap pieces, I would have been braking every quarter mile or so.

The Saturday morning farmers’ market from June – September in downtown Great Falls is a “must-stop when cycling the River’s Edge Trail.

Food trucks lined the streets and musicians entertained shoppers. While we were saddled with bike panniers too small to purchase any of the diverse handcrafts or fresh produce, I did buy delicious super-large snickerdoodles from an Amish farmer that we enjoyed for several days on our eastward journey. (Four for the price of one purchased in a bakery in Idaho earlier that week!)

All in all, we biked just under 10 miles out and back on the River’s Edge–a far cry from the 60 that wind through the city and Giant Springs State Park. But, we spent three hours doing it: stopping in the farmers’ market and taking lots and lots of photos and video. Benches and picnic tables are placed strategically on the scenic overlooks, and if you go to Great Falls, pack a lunch or snacks, and plan to spend a few hours in this great city.

Great Falls — Great Folks

The River’s Edge Trail and Great Falls, are two of Montana’s best-kept secrets. We were just looking for a place to stop midway between where we was “a’comin’ from and where we was a’goin,'” when I found the trail on the Visitgreatfallsmontana.org web site. The trail is mostly used by locals, lots of them cycling solo, who, whether on foot or bike, waved, nodded, or called out a “howdy.” The camaraderie was notable and welcome. We arrived too late the night before to check out the city’s restaurants, but the one in the hotel was bustling. The median age in 2018 was 38.6 and from the crowd in the restaurant/casino, it’s obvious young people outnumber us “old spokes.”

Our visit, unfortunately, ended with an unfortunate incident (of our own making) that required finding a glass repair shop on a Saturday afternoon when most repair shops were closing early. We found a locally owned one where the technicians couldn’t have been more accommodating and wouldn’t take a single cent for the work that enabled us to drive 300+ miles across Big Sky plains to our next destination.

Helmets off to the great folks in Great Falls!

Next cycling stop: Back to the Mickelson Trail in South Dakota

Days 25 – 26 Coeur d’Alene Trail

Our bike trip on the Coeur d’Alene Trail–a/k/a on and offline as the “CDA”–began two years ago. No, we haven’t been crawling on the 72-mile paved trail, it just took us a while to return thanks to the interruption called a “pandemic.”

Our introduction in 2019 was on a trip out West that allowed us a single day in the area that began with renting bikes in Kellogg, ID from a shop right on the trail that is now the CDA Bike Shop, but still offering great service.

For two long years I fantasized about riding the CDA.

I even bought a book in the Northern Pacific Railroad Depot Museum in Wallace, ID that mapped out the trail town by town. For this trip, I asked Bill to study it (Yep, I am a “planner-to-a-fault.”) so that we could gauge our rides and hopefully complete the trail while soaking up some local western culture.

I needn’t remind anyone about the best-laid plans. First of all, we lost the book during our travels (along with the only fleece pullover I packed). Second, on our return on days 25 and 26 of the Great 2021 Road Trip, we had already biked a couple of hundred miles of trails, so lots of experience to compare the CDA with those.

The paved CDA has some very nice scenery, and truth be told, I think we missed the prettiest parts that meander away from I90. Because we biked east from Kellogg to Wallace in 2019, we chose different sections for our 2021 adventure.

Day 25 Wallace – Mullan

We checked into our room at the Wallace Inn in late afternoon and since we would have light for a few more hours, we decided to do a short ride before dinner. So, we biked a short quarter mile on quiet city streets to cross the main drag under the I90 overpass diagonally across from the hotel and headed toward the eastern terminus in Mullan, ID. From Mullan, it’s a short ride into Montana and Lookout Pass where you purchase passes to ride the Hiawatha Trail that we had biked a couple of weeks before (and in 2019.)

The short ride between Wallace and Mullan hugs the north side of the highway, but it felt like we were biking in the woods for most of the way. As daylight faded into twilight, we pedaled with the highway on one side and a rippling creek on the other. A number of benches in the shade along the way would have been nice to use earlier, but temps were dropping fast. So much so that I soon began regretting leaving my cycling gloves behind in the hotel.

Off the wooded path, I got a quick shot of downtown Mullan before sunset as we turned to return to Wallace, and warmth and dinner. Freezing fingers and sharp headwinds had us pedaling furiously past the photo-worthy scenes we enjoyed going eastward.

But, here’s something that you don’t see every day from a rail trail. A convoy of vehicles transporting arms of wind turbines was parked in one of the many turnouts on the steep ascent to Lookout Pass.

Day 26 Kellogg – West (or not)

Having ridden the trail west between Wallace and Kellogg in 2019, we decided to drive to Kellogg and bike westward from there. It turned out to be one of few disappointments on our trip so far. After a few miles of passing through an industrial area, a crowded campground at the base of Silver Mountain, and pedaling aside a busy I90, we decided to turn around and retrace our way towards Wallace which was much more scenic and peaceful. We shortened our ride and instead of charting miles, enjoyed a relaxing lunch at the restaurant/bakery/wine and gift shop where we dined the night before. It was definitely a silver lining to the morning’s decision in ore country as we also bought freshly baked goodies to take with us.

wallace, Idaho
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Wallace has grown on me. The city that lays claim to being the “Center of the Universe”–not due to any geographical data, but because its mayor in 2004 said it was so and had a manhole stating such implanted in the main street in town as a marker. In spite of the plaque, on first visit a few years ago, the city seemed sleepy, outdated, and a big sleezy to me. However, after a couple of return trips–and some new businesses that have cropped up in the city–Wallace has become a “do-over” destination for us whenever out West.

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Nearby Kellogg, with a ski area, campground, and waterpark, garners a lot of tourist attention, but Wallace, in my opinion, is the “real thing” if you want a taste of the old West. The mining town, that is a mere nine blocks by four blocks, epitomizes the old wild West with saloons and a brothel, (Don’t call the vice squad; it’s just a museum, minimum age of 16 to enter.), and the regularity of freight train whistles. It’s also a very quirky town. The memorabilia-packed Red Light Garage with a 1960s Sputnik-era spacecraft in its parking lot claims to make the best huckleberry milkshake between Seattle and Boston, while the the relatively new and chic Blackboard Cafe with its wall of chalk sketches offers views of Wallace’s historic buildings through an expansive wall of windows.

It’s easy to pass by Wallace on I90 as a span of the city’s twelve blocks literally lies beneath the overpass. When cycling the CDA trail that runs directly under the highway along the Coeur d’Alene at this point, be careful to look for the white lines that mark the deep dip in the trail where the access bridge to the town is. Yours truly almost went right over the edge in both directions before seeing them–a move that I’m sure would have definitely ended with a trip to the emergency room.

On our second day in Wallace, we discovered The Wallace District Mining Museum within yards of our hotel. The pride the region takes in its mining history is apparent in each of the brightly painted displays of mining tools and apparatus in the gem of tiny parkland. Visitors can walk–or bike as I did–on narrow track through a 10′ section of a faux tunnel or get a look at the ores from nearby mines in labeled cages. And dozens of visitors, mostly adults off bikes, were visiting on the day we were there, including some cyclists coming right off the CDA trail. Since the trail that leads to the museum separates from the main trail, this, too, is easy to miss–even at 10 mph.

On a previous trip with young grandkids, we visited the Northern Pacific Railroad Museum where we were given a tour and trip through time by the conductor. I’m not sure if he’s a member of SAG (Screen Actors Guild), but he sure can capture one’s imagination with a story! Just beyond the overpass is the City Limits Pub & Grille–another one of our discoveries pre-2021. A family-friendly place, it’s also become a “do-over” for us.

Northern Idaho is a cyclist’s mecca. If the 72 miles of the Coeur d’Alene Trail isn’t enough biking for you, there is an equally long Centennial Trail between Spokane, WA and Coeur d’Alene with 20 miles in Idaho, as well as the Hiawatha Trail. All have spurs that add s of pedaling for both paved and gravel enthusiasts, and many inns, B&Bs, and hotels near them welcome cyclists. The Wallace Inn has a bicycle storage room that is locked at 10 p.m.–the time it gets dark in the northern Idaho and Montana in summer.

Centennial Trail

Views of Lake Coeur d’Alene and city streets and parks from the paved Centennial Trail in the city of the same name plus my lunch in Post Falls, ID–the largest stuffed potato that I’ve ever seen or attempted to eat. (That’s a 10″ dinner plate it’s on.) The guy in the Idaho potatoes TV commercial isn’t kidding!

In case you’re skeptical of biking in cities, this ride is very safe and uncrowded and the folks using it friendly. On our way to Higgins Point, I dropped my iPhone off my bike and didn’t realize it until we pedaled several miles. When we circled back, it was lying near the trail apparently untouched. One last note: the Centennial Trail is a recreational bike path, not a rail trail, so at times you will be pedaling at 4 – 8% grades, not the normal 1 – 2% pitches of rail trails. But, the views and breezes of Coeur d’Alene Lake are worth it!

Next stop: River’s Edge Trail, Great Falls, MT

Day 20 – The Hiawatha Redux

I like to say that it’s become a family tradition to bike the Hiawatha Trail in Idaho the weekend after a high school graduation, however, we’ve only had two of those events so far. Two years ago, our first-born grandchild, her parents, younger brother, and we old spokes, the granny and gramps, rounded up the wagons and headed over to Lookout Pass, Montana to bike the trail together. To say that everyone enjoyed it would be a great understatement–especially for then 9-year old Billy.

The Hiawatha is operated and maintained by the US Forest Service and is 15 miles long with 10 tunnels and seven high trestles. When you enter the first tunnel, the St. Paul Pass that is 1.66 miles long, you enter in Montana and exit in Idaho.

For the past two years, Billy had been looking forward to a replay of the trip following next older-sis’ graduation, and the time came the first weekend in June. The Hiawatha only opens on Memorial Day weekend for a very short season, so on both our treks, the trail was very busy with families, teens, and older folk eager to get on with summer. While it is a family-friendly, almost totally downhill adventure, cyclists beware: the family friendliness comes with its own hazards for those who want to keep on pedaling. And, each time that I, (not one of your most patient and tolerant older spokes), encountered one of those “hazards,” I reminded myself that we were rolling on the Hiawatha primarily for the scenery and family time.

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The Tunnels

Ten of them. The St. Paul Pass Tunnel at the beginning and end of the trail IS the highlight of the trail–especially for Billy. He couldn’t wait to go back through it on the first trip and was all he could talk about for this one. So, headlights all tested and set on high beams, our pack pedaled into the pitch black entrance with recent grad Jody in the lead. On this trip, a blasting cold wind welcomed us as we approached the tunnel, a harbinger of what we would encounter inside. Fortunately, I only had to call out “on your left” a few times to pass slower cyclists, some of whom appeared to not have been on bikes in many years–and some quite possibly never.

Two of the next longest tunnels are within two miles of the St. Paul Pass and it was in one of those that my headlight died. Yep. I literally went dark and came to a quick halt. Now, mind you, I have a light on my bike right above the front fender, but in these tunnels the beam doesn’t cover much ground even at 7 or 8 mph. Finagling with the lamp did no good, so I inched my way toward the light that I knew had to be at the end of this short tunnel. Relatively short, that is.

After 25 minutes pedaling in the dark, trying to avoid slipping into the ditches of water on both sides of the tunnel, we emerged into daylight at the foot of a waterfall. It was nice to be on “dry land” after dodging puddles created by the dripping from the ceiling.

On the way back, with better lighting on my head, I would notice that on this trip, there were balls of snow along the side walls of the long tunnel and some of the dripping came from icicles!

The remaining seven tunnels range from 178′ to 760′ long, and all are manageable with a “buddy light.” On our first trip through in 2019, I discovered that riding slightly ahead of or aside someone with a strong beam let me “steal” some of their light. So, not being too keen on pedaling in semi-darkness, I hung back to partner up with Bill who was given a strong handheld light by a ranger at the beginning of the trail as a backup for on-again-off-again headlamp. That worked for both of us–my bike light and his flashlight–in the shorter tunnels, but I had serious concerns about the St. Paul on the return trip.

When all of our group met up farther down the trail, we learned that the three adults all had problems with our headlamps at one time or other in the tunnels (all lamps owned by us, not rented). So we did what any technically challenged adult does with malfunctioning electronics. Tap. Hit. Jiggle. Tug. And, voila! We all had functioning lights before we boarded the shuttle for the return to the long tunnel.

The Trestles

There’s not much to say about the seven trestles except that they are awesome. Some are long, some shorter, some straight and some curvier. The Kelly Creek trestle, six miles down the trail is the longest and highest at 850′ long and 230′ high, but the Clear Creek trestle three miles yonder isn’t far behind in length and height.

The one thing that they all have in common is that they induce cyclists to stop and gather and gawk. Often en masse right in the middle of the trail. On this day, the boardwalks on the trestles (All clearly marked forbidding riding on them) became make-shift picnic tables for many, solo cyclists and groups.

The Trail Redux

I was afraid that after the excitement of the first ride in 2019, this one may have diminished a bit in both its allure and fun. Not a bit for Billy, nor for me. Although, as the old Greek Herodotus once said about not being able to step in the same river twice, the awe and wonder of seeing something so dramatic cannot be totally replicated since it’s no longer a “first.” However, I don’t think that the Hiawatha could ever be anything but awe-inspiring for me. As I wrote in Hooray for the Hiawatha, this is certainly pedaling through God’s country. And, how can that ever get “old”?

Trail Musings–The Good, the Bad, the Ugly

As much as I think of this as a “family” tradition, we didn’t have the full family together either time, unfortunately. But, we still get another chance for a full contingent when Billy graduates from high school. However, this granny and her gramps will be 80 then, so maybe we will try for his 9th grade graduation in three years, instead. Until then, we will keep our ebikes lubed and ridden regularly!

I am SO glad that neither graduation fell in 2020. The Hiawatha was open during the “summer of Covid,” and NBC Montana reported on July 31, 2020: Route of the Hiawatha sees record bike trail users during Covid-19 outbreak. However, the list of Covid safety regulations was almost as long as the St. Paul Pass Tunnel. Bike sales skyrocketed in 2020 and it seems that the trend is continuing. Bikes on the trail ranged from teeny, tiny minibikes for toddlers to adult tricycles to recumbents.

On the second Saturday of the 2021 season, the Hiawatha’s East Portal parking lot was full by noon and families of five, six, and seven flowed out of vehicles. Each of the other trailheads also had lots of vehicles in them and dozens of cyclists (mostly teens and twenty-somethings with strong legs) were cycling the slight uphill grade towards the East and West Portals–something we did not see in 2019. Groups of teens–one all girls and about 20-strong–were also on the trail. (Weren’t bicycles just something you had in the garage before you got your driver’s license pre-Covid?)

The Good of post-Covid riding is that thousands of people have discovered the benefits and joys and cycling–and in Idaho in 2021, you can do it unmasked without anyone looking at you like you’re dangerous.

The Bad is that among those newbies, some (maybe many) are not familiar with the “rules of the road.” Single file is an unfamiliar concept even on narrow trails in a busy park, never mind in tunnels. When I called out “on your left” when passing two or three cyclists riding abreast in the long tunnel, it seemed from their reactions that I was speaking a foreign language. (In 2019, foreign languages on the Hiawatha were not uncommon; however, in still travel-restricted 2021, it was English only.) One man quite indignantly replied to my “on your left,” that he was pedaling a tricycle. (Why that entitles him and his entourage to take up the entire tunnel, is still a mystery to me since recumbent riders don’t seem to claim any more space than two-wheelers.)

The Ugly . . . actually, there is no “ugly” to the Hiawatha. Unless the throngs of new cyclists disregard the “carry-in, carry-out” guidelines for trash (as some have at trailheads in the Northeast during the Covid spike in outdoor activity), I don’t expect that the Hiawatha will be anything less than “awesome” on a third, fourth, or any subsequent visit and ride.

But, if I could do it again and again, I would choose to ride on a weekday. And, I sure do wish that the weather would get warmer on our next visit!

Days 9 -11 The Mickelson Trail

I’ve had South Dakota on my mind for several years now for a biking vacation. No, it’s not Provence, or the Dolomites, or even Napa Valley. But 2021 isn’t a normal year, either. It’s the year that Bill and I have decided to “see America first.” And, South Dakota just happens to be on the way to a family event in Montana, so we carved out time in our travels for doing the Mickelson Trail in the Black Hills.

The Mickelson Trail is named after the South Dakota governor who crusaded for its development. There is a $4 daily fee for its use, or $15 for an annual pass. Fees cover trail maintenance.

Day 1 in the Black Hills

With aspirations of biking a major portion of the 109 miles of the trail in the three days we were spending in the Black Hills, I chose the old west town of Custer as our base camp. From there, we could bike either direction and cover a lot of the trail. Our biking began from Harbach Centennial Park as we headed south on our first day in the town.

Soft red gravel takes some getting used to after hard-packed crushed stone and pavement. However, the Mickelson Trail is very well maintained; the first sign of just how well came just a couple of miles into our day’s journey.

A sign warned us of “windrows.” A what? We soon found out that it is actually a row of gravel. What “wind” has to do with it is still a mystery to me since the precise rows seemed to have been formed by a machine, not wind gusts.

We biked steadily downhill for miles, weaving in and out of pine groves and between granite spires. The exhilarating ride in the gorgeous scenery was spoiled once again, though, by more windrows. And, these were twice as long as our initial encounter with them. What a relief it was when we finally came to a spot in the trail where the rows had been rolled. Aha! The “windrow” is not a permanent thing. We just arrived before the early-season trail maintenance had been completed.

This being the northern Plains, the weather changed as quickly as Bill can uncork a bottle of cabernet, which is what we were thinking of when we decided to turn around and head back. What goes steadily downhill one way, must go steadily uphill the other. Thank goodness for ebikes!

The Mickelson provides a palette of contrasting warm and cool colors in every direction. It also contains still life along with wildlife. An old rusted jalopy sits aside the trail south of Custer. Deer scamper amidst birch trees on one side of the trail and scurried up the hill on the other. Fortunately, there were no buffalo on the trail; it seems they stay farther east in the state parkland.

We ended our first day on the Mickelson as temps dropped quickly with the greying skies. After adding a stop at the grocery store on our ride back to the park, I finally got to use a leather wine carrier that Bill had bought me on our last trip out west. It was 5 o’clock and happy hour on the deck of our cabin was out next best idea.

Day 2

Oh, I had such good intentions to bike a second (and third) day, but Mother Nature had other ideas. We woke to temps in the low 40s and biking in multiple layers of clothing had no appeal–especially after biking in shorts and short sleeves for the previous eight days. So, off to Plan B–Mount Rushmore in the morning and the wildlife loop in nearby Custer State Park in the afternoon to see the buffalo.

Day 3

It got even colder for our third day planned to ride the Mickelson. So, as we drove north to Deadwood where we would stop for a brief look-and-see before heading to Montana, it broke my heart to drive by the signs for the trailheads for the trail. But, gosh darn, golly gee, it was just too darn cold to ride. At mid-day, I could see my breath.

You know that old cliche: Timing is everything. Well, we proved it with this trip to the Mickelson. May was probably just too early. Yes, we knew that there were organized bike tours already on the trail, but the only evidence that we saw of those was a “sighting” of a marked tour van in Hill City. My guess is that the cyclists were warming their tootsies in a nearby saloon as we intended to do.

So ended our cycling journey west, at least for a few days while we reconnect with family in Montana. However, we haven’t by any means given up on the idea of cycling the Mickelson Trail. With warmer temps and the help of a shuttle service, it may just be in the cards for our return trip East. By then, too, the wicked windrows will have melded into the trail–and a memory of the trip that could have been.

Next Ride: The Hiawatha (again) with our 11 year-old grandson