We haven’t had our bikepacking bags on the Cuttys since we took them off in Antelope Wells last August. Needless to say, we were a bit rusty!
Undaunted and maybe even a little underprepared we set out to ride the George S. Mickelson trail from Edgemont, SD north, a little over 100 miles to Deadwood and then turn around and ride back to our car. Done and done!
On the drive out we stopped in Sioux City to check on a local brewery and so we’d also have time the next day to cruise around the Badlands and visit Custer State Park.
The scenery (even from the car) was spectacular. We chose some lesser travelled gravel roads once we got to Custer State Park and got to watch a lone bison for a while just doing what he does best, graze and grunt.
When we rejoined the Wildlife Loop, we found ourselves as others often do, surrounded by a huge herd of bison. They are magnificent! The herd was so close to our car if I rolled my window down I could have pet the critter.
Day 1: Edgemont to Hill City, 64 miles, 2677 feet of elevation climb
Super nice ride with a bit of a headwind at times. We did NOT expect that a nearly 40 mile climb at an average of 2% grade would have any affect at all on our legs. Whoops… like a headwind, it wears on ya. And since we were now hauling bags that made a difference.
There were three breweries close to our campsite in Hill City which happened to be a little off route but worth it. We camped at Firehouse Campground and had showers, wifi and electric – all the necessities.
Day 2: Hill City to Deadwood, 51 miles, 2220 feet of elevation climb
We were looking forward to this part of the Mickelson as we’d run a marathon on it in 2015. It was even better than we remembered and we were shaking our heads about running uphill for the first 13 miles of the marathon. Cycling again on this day was stellar with bluebird skies and clear air.
At one of the trail heads we met Steve and Sissel who have come to the US from London to ride bikes from DC to Portland. Steve is FundRiding for Multiple Sclerosis. We exchanged notes on routes and gear as bike tourists often do and we were on our way.
Patrick and Janice, from Fort Collins, have been retired just one week and didn’t waste any time at all getting out in their RV and on their bikes.
Deadwood came early and we quickly found a campground at Whistler’s Gulch. Our camp host sent us to the “back 40” and straight up what seemed like Mt. Everest to tent site 10. Again it was gorgeous even if we did have to work for it. We unpacked bags, set up the tent, and took a dip in the pool (back down the hill) even though we had to improvise a little on bathing suits. 😬 Then into town we went, smelling more like chlorine than dust and sweat from the trail.
Day 3: Deadwood to Custer, 65 miles, 3050 feet of elevation climb
The days begin to melt into one another on bike tours. I’m always amazed that these old grandma and grandpa bodies of ours rise to the occasion without too much protest. The hardest part for me is getting up off the ground and out of the tent in the morning. 😂
We jumpstarted our 4 minute plank and 100 push ups a day routine. I mean I had to. Our grandson Archie squeezes my arms and tells me they’re “fluffy.” 😂
The coolest thing about the whole day was meeting Jerry Baldwin as he was out riding the Mickelson with his family. As a side note, Mr. Baldwin was a college roommate of former South Dakota governor George S. Mickelson for whom the trail is named. Gov. Mickelson’s life tragically ended early while he was still in office in a plane crash. Back to Jerry, now in his early eighties, he helped champion the creation and development of the Mickelson Trail. He explained it wasn’t easy in the beginning. There was a lot of push back but he persevered. Not surprised and grateful for his vision, intelligence and persistence. #trailboss
Day 4: Custer to Edgemont, 45 miles, 515 feet of elevation climb.
Recall that first day coming out of Edgemont when we punched those pedals on a gradual uphill for about 40 miles? Well today we sailed down that grade for an easy cruise back to our car. And now it’s on to Nebraska for a spin on The Cowboy Trail.
Note to cyclists: The George S. Mickelson trail is the real deal! It’s a hallmark rail trail. It’s so well maintained with nary a rut or washboard to be found. There’s no litter and the edges of trail are well groomed. There are clean vault privies along the trail as well as shelters. Historical markers also highlight the trail’s past.
If you’re going to start in Edgemont as we did, the Edgemont campground will let you park there while you ride the trail. Their camping fee is just $15 and they provide bathrooms and showers. It’s a bit noisy however with the trains passing throughout the night hauling coal back and forth but that’s all part of the experience.
Click on the image below to view more pics and videos from our ride.