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Always Learning
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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I had the opportunity to spend last weekend out in the Black Hills of South Dakota where I spent 4 hours each day (Thursday, Friday and Saturday) riding my Sugar 293 on some singletrack trails. I grew up in the area, but didn't mountain bike back in those days (in the late 60's/early 70's). Although I did learn to ski and kayak there. My parents and sister still live in the area, so I do get back every now and then to visit.. Since I had a 4 day weekend - thanks to the college where I teach having a Fall Break - I thought I would hop in the van with the bike and drive across oodles of miles of prairie to explore the Black Hills on my bike. It's about a 9 hour drive from Des Moines to Rapid City at 75 mph, but was worth it. I brought my camera along to capture a few shots to share.

The Lakota Sioux Indian calls the Black Hills - Paha Sapa. It is their sacred center of the universe. The geology of the area is an interesting study as it is the only "mound" type of upthrust that broke through the surface in such a manner throughout the globe. The Black Hills are 185 miles from top to bottom and at one time were over 12,000 feet at the highest point. Today, the highest point is only a little over 7,000 feet due to millions of years of erosion. The erosion off of the hills from the water and wind created the Badlands. Lots of quartz, shale rock, granite, caves, pine, dinosaur digs, pig digs and Native American and Wild West history in the area.

The first trail I wanted to try is called the Centennial Trail. It was built to celebrate South Dakota's centennial year of statehood. In its entirety, the trail is 111 miles from top to bottom. However, mountain bikes are not allowed on several sections of the trail. So I chose sections where mountain bikes were allowed. There is also a 100+ mile trail in the Black Hills called the Mickelson Trail which is a limestone chip trail built on an old railroad track bed. The Centennial is a mix of singletrack, doubletrack, rocks, hike a bike that goes through the forest, over the praire, over creeks, over ridges, over gorges, over damns, next to lakes and has a little of everything for everyone.

I spent about 4 1/2 hours riding a couple of sections. Here are some photos of those sections:
 

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Always Learning
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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
This trail just keeps going on and on for miles and miles. I packed lunch and snacks in my H.A.W.G. because I knew I would be a long way from anything. Weather was nice in the 60 - 65 degree range and dry. I only say 2 other mountain bikers in 4 1/2 hours and one jogger, but it was a Thursday afternoon.

I loved how the big wheels just soaked up all the creek crossings with the round rocks that I had to bounce through. I had done a lot of creek crossing in the Alps on my Trek 8000, but the big hoops make it a piece of cake - point and shoot type of routine.
 

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Always Learning
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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
I had a lot of miles to cover to get back to the van, so I packed up the camera before I could get as many shots of all the canyon walls and beautiful surrounding scenery. Often times, the trail splits off into two trails. One may say "horses only" and the other will say "hikers only". I always took the "horses only" trail because it was singletrack and did not find any of it to be filled with hoof prints. It is too dry in the Black Hills for mud to occur and the soil absorbs any rain immediately. In fact, much of the trail is covered in a blanket of pine needles. Even though the trail may appear faint in some of the pictures - when you are actually there riding, it is not a problem to see it and follow it at all. The forest service has done an excellent job marking it with Trail #89 posts all along the sections that I rode.

Here's the last shot of the Centennial Trail riding day I did:
 

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Always Learning
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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Riding the Storm Mountain Trail...

The next day, I rode the Storm Mountain Trail system. Unlike the Centennial Trail that is 111 miles long and has trailheads throughout the Black Hills, the Storm Mountain Trail is a mountain bike specific singletrack trail that averages 8" - 14" in width the entire time. It had specific interest for me because when I was a senior in college back in Iowa in 1983, there was a freshman named Steve Foss who ended up going into the ministry and one of his appointments was as camp director for the United Methodist Camp named Storm Mountain Retreat Center. While camp director, Steve - an avid mountain biker - built this wonderful trail. He now is the camp director on the other side of the state at Lake Poinsett, but his trail remains today and is maintained by a local mountain biking organization. This organization holds an annual race on the trail in the latter part of the summer.

The trailhead is near a small town called Rockerville built back in the gold mining days by prospectors. There is a small parking area that has a trailhead for a hiking only trail called the Flume trail and to the left of that - or straight out the parking lot - is the trailhead for the Storm Mountain Mountain Biking trail. Across the road is a series of some pretty serious jumps that some locals have built. It's a lung burning climb up to the top for that run, but this old man went over the jumps very cautiously on the way down the hill.

The Storm Mountain Trail had a section that was burned by a forest fire 2 years ago and the local mountain biking organization had to rebuild that section, but the rest of the trail remains intact in its orginal form. Steve did such an excellent job at blending this one in with the environment, avoiding the fault line, building excellent switchbacks and use of land that it was just a pure joy to ride. In the section that suffered the fire, it was quite eerie to ride through because according to the locals - this weed just popped up in August which they have knick named the Basque Weed (in honor of the Basque fans that stand on the edge of the road and get so close to the Tour de France riders). By the time I was there in late October, the weeds had dried out and everytime one of them hit my knuckles it caused bleeding. Your shoulders hit them, handlebars, hands, legs and it kind of feels like running into a bunch of brooms that are standing with the broomsticks down and the rest up in the air to whack you. Quite a challenge to ride through since the singletrack is really quite narrow and only about 8" - 10" across at that point. I'm sure the forest goes through quite a process following a fire and will take a couple of decades or more to replenish itself.

The main trail eventually hooks up with a whole series of trails down by the church camp where you can ride many other trails that Steve Foss built, refurbished and created. It's a real feather in the Black Hills mountain biking community.

Here are a bunch of shots:
 

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Always Learning
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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
That section through the forest fire damaged area has lots of ash in the trail. Being so narrow, and with lots of it built on the side of the hill one has to be very careful and stay in the center of the singletrack because that ash will give way. While fighting the "Basque Weeds", it makes it all challenge.

More photos:
 

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Always Learning
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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
The group that had the Maah Daah Hey - NAG (Not a gathering) in early September this year, will be doing it next year in the Black Hills. I plan on attending and certainly invite any of the 29"er crowd to come experience the riding in the Black Hills. The whispering pines with the wind blowing through them, the blue/blue/blue skies, Mount Rushmore, Buffalo, interesting geology, Lakota Sioux culture and the Wild West feel all contribute to making it quite a unique area.

I loved the Storm Mountain Trail so much, I went back and did it a second day as well as a more technical trail in Rapid City called "M" Hill. I didn't bring my camera on that one as I didn't want anything on my back or hanging from my neck. I ran my Bonty tires at about 40 psi because I didn't have a spare tube or a patch kit with me and didn't want to get a pinch flat on all the sharp granite and shale rock. This of course, made my ride a little more bouncy than I really wanted to endure for 4 hours each day, but at least I didn't flat.

Final shots of Storm Mountain:
 

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cool posts

Great write-up, Bruce! I've made the trip from MN once to the Black Hills, and twice to the Maah Daah Hey. Both are great venues. Super photos, I wish it would quit raining here!
 

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Always Learning
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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
n8ofire writes: Great write-up, Bruce! I've made the trip from MN once to the Black Hills, and twice to the Maah Daah Hey. Both are great venues. Super photos, I wish it would quit raining here!

Sorry about the rain. :(

My impression of both the Maah Daah Hey and the Black Hills is that they both offer quality riding and unique surroundings for mountain bikers. So unique - that it is worth the trip. If anyone is coming from the east, you have to drive across a lot of prairie (that used to be the Pierre Seaway which connected the Arctic Ocean with the Gulf of Mexico and was underwater for millions and millions of years) to get to either the Black Hills or the North Dakota Badlands. Thank goodness the speed limit is no longer 55 mph to cross those 350 mile stretches in North and South Dakota. What used to take well over 7 hours can now be done in a little over 4 (if you drive about 78 - 80 like me).

I wanted to mention again about Randy's organization of these NAG's (not a gathering) each fall. Prior years were in Wisconsin and this year it was called the North Dakota - NAG and held at sections of the Maah Daah Hey (another 100+ mile epic trail) in western North Dakota. Randy mentioned that early September, 2005 it will be a South Dakota - NAG in the Black Hills. Plenty of camping, motels, food and beverage available in the Black Hills. Not quite as available around the Maah Daah Hey. Unfortunately, I was not able to make the North Dakota - NAG even though I had planned on attending because I did not trust myself to stay awake at the wheel with the post concussion syndrome I was going through at the time.

You can go to his website to see images of the excellent Maah Daah Hey trail (I'll be taking my camera with me when I head out next year to ride the entire Maah Daah Hey in a supported by my wife camping trip).

Here's his website:

http://www.jlgarchitects.com/ND-NAG/index.htm

I'm already planning on attending the South Dakota - NAG next year and will post the dates and information here once it is decided. For those 29"er enthusiasts that are not too far away and can swing the extended weekend, or part of the weekend - it would be fun to participate and get some quality riding in together. The guess the only problem one faces is that long drive to and from the Black Hills. Driving out on a Wednesday late afternoon/early evening or a Thursday, riding 2 full days of Friday and Saturday (plus some night rides) and heading back on Sunday can be done.

BB
 

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Witty McWitterson
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Man Bruce. You know how to hit hard below the belt. I've long maintained that the Black Hills are one of, if not the best hidden secrets in the mountain bike world. Great trails, and nearly no users. I've long tried to find a way to find employment out there to no avail. Oh well I'll just keep visiting. Thanks a ton for the essay.

Oh yeah, wanted to add that you can count on me for coming out the BBH for the NAG next year too.
 

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Schaweeet!!!!!

Will definately have to get some time in the saddle up in them thar hills sometime soon.

Great writeup as usual BB and it made a snowy, cold, nasty Halloween day here in the Rockies much better for me. Thanks. :)
 

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Always Learning
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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
Bigwheel said:
Schaweeet!!!!!

Will definately have to get some time in the saddle up in them thar hills sometime soon.

Great writeup as usual BB and it made a snowy, cold, nasty Halloween day here in the Rockies much better for me. Thanks. :)
A snowy Halloween......I guess it comes early in the Rockies, doesn't it?

The locals that I met riding on the Storm Mountain Trail (only saw 4 other riders in a total of about 6 hours of riding) claim the trail is open all winter as it is in a section of the Black Hills that doesn't see that much snow.

BB
 

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Harmonius Wrench
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Nice Report!

Thanks, Bruce for confirming what I had thought for many years. Talk about traveling across the Great Plains. I did it on a fully loaded touring bike from Waterloo Ia, in August once. Went all the way to Hill City. Awsome even from the road out there!

I've really got to hand it to you though. I don't think I ever would have stopped to take any pics whilst riding such inspiring terrain, much less share it with the likes of us! Thanks for the pics, I'm very motivated to go back now with a big wheeled MTB. Oh, I'll definitely drive out this time!:D
 

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Always Learning
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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
Guitar Ted said:
Thanks, Bruce for confirming what I had thought for many years. Talk about traveling across the Great Plains. I did it on a fully loaded touring bike from Waterloo Ia, in August once. Went all the way to Hill City. Awsome even from the road out there!

I've really got to hand it to you though. I don't think I ever would have stopped to take any pics whilst riding such inspiring terrain, much less share it with the likes of us! Thanks for the pics, I'm very motivated to go back now with a big wheeled MTB. Oh, I'll definitely drive out this time!:D
You rode from Waterloo to the Black Hills and back? Hats off to you. That makes doing RAGBRAI in Iowa on a tandem pulling a child on a hitch-a-bike sound like a piece of cake compared to facing those immense winds on the prairie. I stopped at a town called Kadoka for gas on the way back from the Hills to Iowa. When I got out of the van at the pump, I could hardly stand up it was so windy. I nearly fell over. I mentioned the wind to the cashier and she replied "Oh, today's really not so bad compared to most other days." If you rode across that and survived....you've got legs and will of iron. The tumbleweeds were rolling across the Interstate all across western South Dakota.

I like to bring my camera along and take some shots to share (now that digital cameras are so small and easy to carry). I was hoping I would get some shots of other riders on the trails to prove people actually do ride and enjoy the area, but in 3 days of riding (a total of 12 hours of riding) I saw a grand total of 6 other riders and one jogger. And the weather was perfect, but there was nobody utilizing the great trails. On the other hand, there was plenty of wildlife to see, but I never could get the camera out in time to get a picture. I saw the occasional pile of cow or horse droppings, but never actually encountered either on any of the trails.

BB
 

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Excellent!

Great pics and writeup. My wife and I spent a couple days in the Black Hills on a cross-country drive back in 2000. We were in a rental car and didn't have the bikes with us, so it was just a hiking/camping trip. But I remember thinking that the area would be spectacular for mountain biking. Maybe my next 29"er needs to be a Slingshot or S&S coupled so I can travel with it easily.
 

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Sweet post...

...the terrain there appears more interesting, to me, that the Maah Dah Hey. I made the 03 ND-NAG but missed it this year due to newborn.

I will be there for the 05 SoDak NAG on a 29er. The only question is, will it be my turgid KM or a fancy new FS 29er.

I'm sure I will drag some Minneapplepussers out there with me.

Do they have cold frosty beer in the Badlands?

Sean
 

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Harmonius Wrench
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Please, don't misunderstand.......

That trip was one way. We did get into a wind of biblical proportions out there though. Had just left Scenic and ran into this 50mph constant blast! In the crosswind we were riding at a 45 degree angle to keep the bikes from blowing across the highway! Surreal! Well, after six hours of that, one of my companions knees gave up the ghost, and we limped into Hill City and got a ride back home. We had originally intended to go to Winter Park CO. Maybe I'll try that again some time. Anyway, thanks again! Just didn't want you to turn me into an urban legend! :D
 
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