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Sunday, July 5, 2015

Passing the Flame on the Mickelson Trail

Scrolling through memories over Christmas with my family, I realized that the summer of 2015 marks 25 years since I cajoled my two younger brothers to join me on a weekend bike ride - the 1990 South Dakota MS 150.  On very little training or experience, they pedaled 100 miles on that hot, windy Saturday and then 55 miles on Sunday to successfully complete the ride.  I know they enjoyed it and they still mention from time to time.  But the two of them, combined, likely have ridden less than 100 miles total since then.  Just not their thing.

Well, I have ridden a few more miles over the years and enjoy riding with all kinds of folks at all levels of interest and ability.  So, I proposed that we ride together this summer to mark the occasion.  That idea morphed into a Fourth of July weekend tour of the Mickelson Trail in the Black Hills of South Dakota.  My youngest brother Chris, along with his daughter Brooke and son Tate, somehow carved some time out of their busy schedules to share a weekend of riding and camping.  Let's ride.

Exploring the Mickelson Trail on the Fouth of July weekend is Team Groseth - Tate, Brooke, Craig and Chris.
Not pictured, but greatly appreciated, are shuttle drivers Colleen and Chani.
We start from the Dumont Trailhead in the Northern Hills late Saturday morning under brilliant sunshine and puffy clouds.  The hills are green, the creeks full and the trail dry.  We're looking at about 36 miles of Mickelson Trail to reach our destination for the day - the Crooked Creek Campground, a few miles south of Hill City.  Although some of our training and experience may be a bit thin for this ride, our team is stocked with enthusiasm and determination.  The day looks good.

Re-creating a photo from grade school days, Tate enjoys the break in the shade of a hard rock tunnel,
while Chris and Brooke refuel.
We cruise downhill the first 10 miles to Rochford, adjusting to the equipment and uneven trail.  Tate is motoring his brand new Trek hybrid, a nice tool for this job.  Other than a handle bar that works loose late in the day, the new bike and its new owner ride flawlessly.  Brooke, a former high school cross country and track runner, smoothly spins her own well-used Trek hybrid.  Chris powers a 2-9er hardtail borrowed from my riding buddy Shaun Arritola.  This, too, is the right ride for this rider.  I'm on my beloved Black Mountain Cycles monster cross bike, just a quick tire, chain and brake check away from Odin's Revenge.  The bikes fit the riders and the ride ahead.  We're well on our way.

Brooke's sunny disposition is always on display.
After a Rochford refuel and more downhill, we eventually turn upward for the 8 mile climb up to Redfern, one of a number of town sites abandoned, or nearly abandoned, over the years when the local mining or timber operation dried up.  Brooke and Tate find their rhythm, steadily pulling away up the long incline.  As they disappear from view around a distant turn, Chris spins at his own pace, pleased that his kids are doing well and having fun together.  We steadily work our way to the top, relishing the cold water dousing from the Redfern shelter's cistern.  It's hot, but the big climb is behind us.  We float another 8 miles downhill to Hill City and a few miles further to the campground.

Home for the night - the Bird tipi at Crooked Creek Campground right off the trail just south of Hill City.
We're a hot, tired team that checks into our tipi at the Crooked Creek Campground.  The long, mid-afternoon climb up to Redfern takes as much perseverance as time and we made it.  But now we move slowly around camp, eventually enjoying a refreshing shower, a cooked meal and rest in the shade.  Before long, we're sound asleep inside the tipi, wondering how this hole in the roof design works when it rains.  But it doesn't rain, and the tipi very comfortably sleeps all four of us.

We stream out of Pringle on Day Two.  Our destination is Edgemont, another 32 miles away.
First light comes early in summer in the North and we clean, eat, pack and move out of the campground before 7:00 am.  Today we plan to ride from Pringle to the trail's end at the railroad town of Edgemont, a total of 32 miles of rolling, open prairie.  That's an ambitious day ahead, given the effort expended yesterday.  But the team's enthusiasm carries us to the Pringle Trailhead and we set sail.  After yesterday's hot afternoon, we hope to reach our destination before the day really heats up.

Chris, Brooke and Tate spinning out of Minnekahta Junction, still smiling after all those miles.
The exposed prairie at the southern end of the Mickelson Trail presents substantial challenges when the elements work against you.  But the winds stay home, the rain waits for late afternoon and the sun warms, but does not bake.  Team Groseth cruises through buffalo herds and prairie dog towns towards Edgemont.  We're moving quickly today.

Heading into Sheep Canyon, we first have yet another gate to negotiate.
The miles count down, we round another sweeping turn and drop into Sheep Canyon, a hard scrabble canyon with an earth-filled 126 foot trestle towering over the creek bed below.  Another great place to stop, with unique views and a cold water cistern tucked away in the shade.  With about 6 miles to go, we push off for the finish.  Flying downhill and focused on the finish, Tate somehow misses a fast moving rattlesnake slithering directly in front of him.  I brake enough for it to pass into the tall prairie grass.  We don't go back to look for it.

Mile Post 0.  The southern end of the Mickelson Trail at Edgemont City Park.  Still morning.  Still smiling.
We roll through the Sunday morning emptiness of downtown Edgemont to a most welcome sight.  Mile Post 0.0 of the Mickelson Trail and our awaiting shuttle.  68 miles in 2 days.  A healthy bite out of the 109 mile Mickelson Trail, with many of its highlights.  A weekend to remember and build on.  Thanks, Chris, Brooke and Tate for sharing it with me.  You challenged yourself as much as anyone I have ridden with.  And Chris, let's not wait 25 years to do this something like this again.


Addendum:

Before starting the bike ride Saturday, we swung by Hot Springs for the Firecracker 5K/10K, where daughter Cara ran her first 10K and daughter Chani ran her first 5K with her puppy Poppy.  Nice work, girls!


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