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Thursday, July 8, 2021

2021 Black Hills Bounty (Day 3) - All American

I'm proud to be an American
Where at least I know I'm free
And I won't forget the men who died
Who gave that right to me
And I'll gladly stand up
Next to you and defend her still today
Cause there aint no doubt I love this land
God bless the USA

God Bless The USA, Lee Greenwood (1984)

Mark Hoffman, Ben Cooper, Lane Bergen, Craig Groseth, Jeff Bloom, Paul Brasby
Mount Rushmore, The Shrine Of Democracy
Day 3 of the 2021 Black Hills Bounty

Layover Day! 

On Day 3 of the 2021 Black Hills Bounty, we drop all our bikepacking gear at our campground in Custer to ride a paved road loop of iconic Iron Mountain Road and Needles Highway, with a memorable stop at Mount Rushmore National Monument. This is a bucket list ride for many cyclists, motorcyclists and motorists, near and far. The Black Hills Bounty posse is stoked, to say the least.

Look uphill through the trees. Paul Brasby spins up a series of switchbacks on Iron Mountain Road.
Day 3 of the 2021 Black Hills Bounty.

This is not a rest day, even though our bikes are much lighter without all that gear and most of our miles are paved. We're still looking at almost 60 miles and 6,300 feet of elevation gain in the heat of June.  

Bring it on. We fuel on big breakfast burritos, omelettes, pancakes and cinnamon rolls at Baker's Bakery in downtown Custer. Spirits are high. This promises to be a ride to remember.

Jeff Bloom, Lane Bergen and Ben Cooper
piggyback on a car through a one lane tunnel.
Day 3 of the 2021 Black Hills Bounty.

We roll east on the paved bike path running parallel to U.S. Highway 16A, the Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway. We soon pass the Gordon Stockade, a restored encampment from the 1874 Custer Expedition that discovered gold in the Black Hills. Bismarck Lake and Legion Lake fly by. Boy, this feels light and fast.

We turn onto the lower stretch of Needles Highway (U.S. Highway 87) for a few miles to access Playhouse Road (753), which rolls up to re-connect with U.S. 16A, also known here as Iron Mountain Road or Pig Tail Highway. Up to now, the ride has been scenic and fun. Now, it turns iconic.

Mark Hoffman rounds a corner on Iron Mountain Road
to see Mount Rushmore framed by the forest itself.
Day 3 of the 2021 Black Hills Bounty.

Almost immediately, the road reaches a ridgeline with big views all around, including an occasional glimpse of Mount Rushmore through the forest. Over the next 3 miles of sweeping curves and steep switchbacks, we climb almost 1,000 feet to reach the Norbeck Overlook atop Iron Mountain. This ride is starting to warm up.

The Overlook is packed with tourists, even on this Wednesday morning, so we ride on. Rounding a bend, we abruptly drop that 1,000 feet over the next 4 miles of twisting, curving, narrow pavement. We lean through 270 degree turns over and then under pig tail bridges and squirt through one lane tunnels. The road even splits a couple of times, so we have a narrow lane all to ourselves to drop even faster.

Ben Cooper, Jeff Bloom, Mark Hoffman, Paul Brasby and Lane Bergen
celebrate another one lane tunnel on Iron Mountain Road.
Day 3 of the 2021 Black Hills Bounty.

Just as abruptly, that sweet downhill ends and we stare up a 2 mile, 800 foot climb to Mount Rushmore, with a pitch exceeding 14%. We each find our own rhythm here and grind up to the steady beat of tourist traffic.

Mount Rushmore National Monument charges $10 per vehicle to park in the multi-level garage, but there is no entry fee per se. As such, bicyclists are greeted by attendants with a smile and a wave-through. Once up to the entrance, you can actually walk your bike directly into the Monument, including right up to the main viewing pavilion.

Riding west of Mount Rushmore reveals a profile of George Washington.
Day 3 of the 2021 Black Hills Bounty.

We filter into the air conditioned cafeteria for lunch and treats. The burgers are good, but the ice cream merits its own area and draws the longest lines. This is quite a change from eating peanut butter/honey tortilla wraps sitting on a rock under a tree along some remote road.

We assemble outside for pictures and a last close-up look around Mount Rushmore. Laughs, smiles and good vibes abound. We've already ridden through a highlight reel of roads and we're not even halfway through the day.

Mark Hoffman, Jeff Bloom and Ben Cooper spin up toward Needles Highway.
Day 3 of the 2021 Black Hills Bounty.

Riding west of Mount Rushmore on 244, we roll down and up large rollers alongside substantial tourist traffic. About 6 miles later, at about 33 miles on the day, we finally hit our first gravel at Palmer Gulch Road (357). This rolling 2-3 miles of gravel restores a bit of the remote road vibe of the Bounty. 

Palmer Gulch Road also starts the day's final substantial climb of about 1,600 feet over the next 8.5 miles. But almost half of that elevation gain shoots up in a 2.5 mile series of steep switchbacks. This is a grind, but our bikes are still unloaded and the surface is still paved. It's not hard, it just takes time.

Jeff Bloom is pleased to clear those climbing switchbacks.
Day 3 of the 2021 Black Hills Bounty.

We re-group again at the intersection of Needles Highway (87) and Sylvan Lake Road (89). The big climbs are behind us and just ahead lie some big final highlights, including Sylvan Lake, Needles Eye, Cathedral Spires and the sweet downhill scream down Needles Highway. But it's also 17 more miles and 1,200 more feet of elevation gain to reach the end of this planned route to Custer. At this time of day, that's not nothing, even for this group.

There is an option to turn south on Sylvan Lake Road for a scenic 6 mile primarily downhill cruise to our campground in Custer. That would still be a memorable 46 mile/5,000+ foot elevation gain day.

Not surprisingly, no one takes the short cut. No one even considers it aloud. In fact, I think they took offense that I even mentioned the possibility. They want the big stuff ahead.

Lane Bergen threads through some spires on Needles Highway.
Day 3 of the 2021 Black Hills Bounty.

After a quick stop at Sylvan Lake, we spin up the last mile or two to Needle's Eye, the signature granite rock formation at the top of this rise. Folks congregate here to scramble on the vertical spires and to soak in the big views. The Cathedral Spires lie to the east, attracting hard core rock climbers from all over. To the south lie the Needles and, eventually, the rolling transition to prairie. 

After a final squeeze through a one lane tunnel, we drop, drop, drop for almost 6 miles down curvy Needles Highway. This is a hoop and holler ride all the way down, and for a long spell afterward. We don't have many pictures on this stretch, I suspect because we're all just hanging on for the ride.

Jeff Bloom snaps a few more pictures before descending Needles Highway.
Day 3 of the 2021 Black Hills Bounty.

All screaming downhills eventually end and all these bikepackers eventually return to gravel. We turn off Needles Highway onto American Center Road (345) for a rolling 6 miles of good gravel back toward Custer. We spin through the forest and pass a few small ranches, as the day winds down.

Day 3 of the 2021 Black Hills Bounty is filled with big memory highlights, all day long. It ends on a quiet gravel road, reminding us of the days behind, and the days ahead.

These mountains are ancient. A 2 billion year old Precambrian core uplifted 70 million years ago.
At the time, the peaks exceeded 15,000 feet, but even granite wears down eventually.
Day 3 of the 2021 Black Hills Bounty.

Riding our bikepacking bikes up iconic Iron Mountain Road and Needles Highway, with a lunch stop at Mount Rushmore and a couple of gravel connectors, we finish Day 3 in Custer after about 57 miles and 6,300 feet of elevation gain. And not one audible.

Here's a link to the map I created for Day 3 of the 2021 Black Hills Bounty, as ridden by Ben, Craig, Jeff, Lane, Mark and Paul. 2021 Black Hills Bounty - Day 3.

For my prior posts on the 2021 Black Hills Bounty, go to Day 0 - Come Together, Day 1 - Start Of Something Good, and Day 2 - Trust.

God Bless The USA, Lee Greenwood, USAF Band, Singing Sergeants & Home Free (2020)


  1. Man, that route just screams to have the Paha Sapa worked into the descent down to American Center Road!

  2. Yep. I kept a few variables open to be able to change things up a bit for the possibility of a 2022 Black Hills Bounty.

    1. I have no desire to camp, tent OR car anymore but I would be game to jump in for a section next time around!

    2. I don't know if that group will want to return for a Black Hills Bounty ride in 2022. We'll see. In any event, I'm always open for a ride in the Black Hills, when I'm here.

  3. Pedal Power! Fun route and pics.