This being my first group ride, I was a little apprehensive about riding with crowds on the trails, worried that I might be dragging in near the last and also worried about not being able to get to a port-a-potty when I needed it. But at the same time I was excited to be trying a new adventure in bike riding, where almost all logistics had been worked out by the trail planners and there are many people doing the same thing I’m doing. On Thursday afternoon we had picked up my rental bike from Ed at Rabbit’s Bike Shop in Hill City. That was a good decision because the bike was very comfortable!
The Thursday night before the ride started, after I signed in (having already pre-registered and paid my $150 months ago), they hosted an outdoors reception in the trail head park. Ron came with me so that I wouldn’t be standing by myself all the time, which was good, because it turns out most people either came with friends or have ridden the trail so many times in the past that they were meeting up with old acquaintances. However, I did talk to a few nice people who made me feel at ease about the ride. And I was beginning to get really excited about starting out the next morning.
So around 8:30 a.m. on Friday morning Ron dropped me off at the trailhead in Custer. Many people had already left, many were leaving at the same time, and word was that many would still be leaving within the next hour. Ron took my picture at the trail head, and I took off, really looking forward to the ride, even if I was riding alone. A total of 600 people were registered and riding the Trail Trek, a fairly even mixture of men and women, most seemed to be in their 50’s and 60’s, and most people lived within a day’s drive of South Dakota’s Black Hills. (The actual statistics that were sent to us after the ride are as follows: 28 states and Canada were represented at the Trail Trek; the top five states were South Dakota with 349 participants, Colorado with 64, Nebraska with 54, Minnesota with 21 and Iowa with 17; there were 315 men and 285 women that rode the trek; the average age was 55 with the oldest being 81 and the youngest being 14.) I heard that there was a fellow from Alabama, but I never met him. Otherwise, when most people encountered me on the trail their comment was “Georgia! Wow, you’ve come a long way!” Because I also wore my short pants and long bike socks Martha had given me last year and my polka dotted long socks from a Feuerstein Training a few years ago, I also got the passing comment of “I like your socks!” Everyone I talked to at breaks or at lunch or as we rode along the trail were really nice people. I can see why people develop a comradery and keep coming back to ride with these people.
Speaking of breaks, even though there were bathrooms at every trail head along the way, I took advantage of their traveling potties at every break and the lunch stop because I never knew when the next pit stop would be available. Most of the time the lines were reasonable; only at lunch did I have to wait in line for about 15 minutes. They didn’t smell nice, but I adapted.
Martha had said that this section was the least scenic of the trail segments, and I tend to agree with her, but it was pretty in its own way. For most of the ride we were in the midst of pastures and hay fields, with pine trees either close by or in the distance. Glacial moraines formed scenic hills that were nearby, but the trail itself didn’t have a lot of hills on it. After a short climb out of Custer, most of the ride was slightly downhill. The prettiest part was through Sheep Canyon, where we rode near some interesting rock cliffs and were away from all roads. The least scenic part was the last few miles into Edgemont, where the trail was rather primitive (narrow and dirt and gravel with weeds) and we were paralleling the highway and for the last couple of miles on a detour and actually riding on the highway side with the cars and then into the town to find the park where the trail has its southernmost trailhead. On this section we passed through some private land where I had heard there would be gates to open, but the Trail Trek planners had already opened them for the day with so many riders going through.
On this first day I met the people that I tended to stay in contact with on the breaks and at lunch. I don’t remember any names except Liz, the dentist from Colorado, with whom I spent the most time. At lunch in Minnekahta I sat with some men about my age who have ridden this trail many times, and that was interesting. Along the way today I met a group from somewhere near Sioux Falls, South Dakota, who were really nice. Donna, Gloria and Joann are the only names I remember. Joann is a 74 year old woman who when she was 68 rode across America for about three months with another group of twenty women. I admire her for doing that—that’s a bit too many days for my rear end to be sitting on a bike seat, but it does sound like fun. I think this was her first Mickelson Trail Trek, and Gloria was keeping up with her to make sure she was doing ok. Ron and I had lunch with them at the end of the three-day ride, and she did just fine. I hope I can do that in five years when I’m 74. I can if I keep riding. As I said earlier, my apprehension about the large number of people riding the trail at the same time quickly faded, because people just naturally spread themselves out. At times, even, I could see only one or two or maybe even no people ahead of me.
The trail was not paved, but a combination of crushed limestone, gravel, and dirt, with some really soft spots where it would be easy to fish tail and fall, but they were avoidable. It had been packed down through the summer, which was the problem Martha and Ed encountered when they rode it in May before Memorial Day weekend—they had many soft spots that were hard to pedal through. The trail was a little too narrow for riding along and talking to people for long periods, because when another group approached from the rear, I either had to go ahead or fall behind the person I was talking to. But that didn’t stop me from having some interesting conversations with riders along the way, even if it wasn’t for long periods of time. More people than I at first thought had come by themselves to ride the trail, like I had, and several were riding it for the first time, like me. On the back on our name “vest,” which most people wore on their backs so that we could read their name as we approached them, was a number indicating the number of times that person had ridden the Trail Trek. Several were there for the 6th or 7th time. I can see why. It was a fun experience.
At 2:00 I pulled into Edgemont at the end of the trail. So I had ridden for 5 ½ hours with one 15 minute break in the morning and a 45 minute lunch stop. It wasn’t bad at all. I think my average speed was around nine miles per hour. This stretch of the ride was 44.5 miles. I thought it would take longer, and I was relieved that I wasn’t at the end of the group coming in. Several rode in after me. I had to wait in the park for Ron, though, for about an hour after everyone had left because he had gone over to Jewel Cave for the afternoon because I didn’t expect to get into Edgemont until around 4 o’clock. But there was an interesting museum and a gazebo where Teddy Roosevelt had come when he was President and had given a speech, so it was an okay rest waiting for Ron.