Final month, I joined an estimated 365,000 leather-clad bikers in South Dakota to hit the open roads on two wheels. Beards had been thick; tattoos had been plentiful; Trump flags had been all over the place. August 2020 marked the eightieth anniversary of the Sturgis Motorbike Rally in Sturgis, South Dakota, however that’s not what took me to this sparsely populated Plains state. Certain, my journey had two wheels however my “bike” was pedal powered; my vacation spot, the George S. Mickelson Trail, a 109-mile car-free rail path by the Black Hills area of South Dakota.
I’m initially from Milwaukee, the birthplace of Harley Davidson Bikes. My uncle labored as a machinist at Harley Davidson for 18 years and I offered T-shirts at Harley’s one centesimal Anniversary once I was in school. The motorbike scene isn’t new to me. For the previous 15 years, nevertheless, I’ve lived in New York Metropolis, the place you may typically catch me sipping home-brewed kombucha in a Bernie Sanders T-shirt. I don’t precisely slot in at motorbike rallies. To keep away from the crowds and accompanying COVID-19 instances, I headed to Sturgis on a drizzly, overcast afternoon when the half dollar-size hail forecast stored most riders away. I spent about an hour there, which was lengthy sufficient to take just a few photos, purchase one of many few girls’s T-shirts that didn’t have an Elvira-plunge neckline, and get kicked off the primary drag—“Sorry, bikes solely.” The spotlight of my go to to Sturgis? The meals employee who yelled out “Bicycle Lives Matter!” You will be positive there have been no “Black Lives Matter” T-shirts on this crowd.
South Dakota is well-known for its spectacular parks and historic monuments: Badlands Nationwide Park’s canyons, buttes, and fossil beds; Wind Cave Nationwide Park’s underground cave community—one of many largest and most advanced on this planet; Custer State Park’s herd of 1,300 buffalo; Mount Rushmore, Loopy Horse Memorial, and numerous different historic websites. Fourteen million vacationers go to these websites in South Dakota every year however solely a tiny fraction of them make it to the Mickelson Path.
Named after a former South Dakota Governor who helped spearhead the venture, the George S. Mickelson Path stretches from the wild west city of Deadwood to the sleepy, semi-ghost city of Edgemont. Although no campsites exist proper alongside the path, primitive tenting is obtainable and loads of inns are positioned alongside the route. The path is effectively organized and its clearly marked trailheads have maps, informative historic plaques, loos, and clear ingesting water. A number of trailheads even have bike restore stations the place you may borrow instruments or pump up tires. Why aren’t extra individuals using this path? One native rider I met (who admitted to initially being from Washington State), heard me point out that I stay in New York Metropolis and advised me to not inform anybody in regards to the path. I couldn’t inform if he was joking. Oops.
Because the creator of a biking guidebook to Cuba, I must be bodily ready to journey 109 miles in two days. I satisfaction myself on as soon as having ridden 107 miles in a single day on a single pace (gearless) bicycle—shout out to the New York Metropolis Century journey!—however that was a pair years in the past. These are pandemic days, days that I often spend baking cookies and doing puzzles at my kitchen desk. Certain, I’ve been climbing and biking right here and there and have even accomplished just a few 60-mile rides, however I used to be nervous to aim the Mickelson Path in two days—the one time left after I’d spent all the week visiting Nationwide and State Parks (how typical). Although the path is effectively maintained and doesn’t require a mountain bike, it consists of crushed limestone and gravel, which require a bit extra effort than pavement, so I made a decision to lease an e-bike.
Apart from by chance grabbing an electrical CitiBike, the bike share program in New York Metropolis (then subsequently being charged additional for doing so), I’ve zero expertise with e-bikes. They’re rising in recognition throughout the nation they usually’re massively in style with meals supply employees in New York Metropolis who’re fast to cross you going uphill whereas smoking a cigarette and speaking on their telephone.
Discovering a rental bike—electrical or in any other case—close to the path is way more troublesome than you’d count on. Like the remainder of the nation, the pandemic has contributed to a bicycle scarcity within the state and bike outlets simply can’t preserve bikes on the cabinets. ACME Bicycles in Speedy Metropolis, South Dakota usually rents out high-quality bikes (and is a wealth of information for anybody planning to bike within the state), however they briefly eradicated their bike rental program because of COVID-19. Demand for bike purchases was so excessive that they offered their fleet of rental bikes however plan to buy a brand new fleet in 2021. They’re additionally trying into opening a second store in Hill Metropolis, roughly the halfway level alongside the Mickelson Path, to help path riders.
Most of ACME’s clients ship their bikes to the store in Speedy Metropolis, take a Lyft or Uber to the Deadwood trailhead, then rideshare again to Speedy Metropolis every time they’re accomplished using. Although most riders intend to journey the total 109 miles to Edgemont, many wind up spending a lot time at websites alongside the route (Mount Rushmore, Loopy Horse Memorial, Custer State Park, and many others.), that they don’t make it previous Custer, about 44 miles earlier than the tip of the path.
I reached out to Rabbit Rental, positioned in Hill Metropolis, which gives bike leases and shuttle service. Given that almost all of their fleet was made up of dusty hybrid cruiser-looking bikes that didn’t appear fitted to a 109-mile journey, I used to be stunned they had been capable of finding me a shiny new Specialized e-bike. It was clear, clean, quick, and virtually good. The one downside was that it didn’t have a water bottle cage on it. I appreciated the bike supply to my lodge in Deadwood, however did they actually count on me to journey 109 miles in 95-degree climate with no place to retailer a water bottle?
As I waited on the trailhead, a Rabbit Rental consultant rushed to the greenback retailer and ironmongery store and finally confirmed up with a plastic toolbox and bungee cords. I believed she was joking. She wasn’t. We strapped the Lil Brute toolbox to the again rack and I threw in a water canteen and bag of almonds. I’m obsessive about my New York Metropolis Biking jersey, which depicts the Statue of Liberty in a shiny pink bicycle helmet, so I deliver it on just about each journey I take. The jersey has pockets within the again so I threw one other water bottle in there so I didn’t need to unstrap the toolbox each time I needed a drink. Contemplating one of many toolbox clasps broke on the first relaxation cease, I used to be grateful to be carrying my favourite jersey.
Anybody you ask will inform you that the prettiest stretch of the Mickelson Path is simply north of the city of Mystic they usually’re not mendacity. Rolling fields of inexperienced are studded with purple wildflowers and yellow prairie sunflowers. Streams meander alongside the path, as do white tail deer, households of untamed turkeys, rabbits, and grazing cows that can scatter as you strategy. I additionally cherished the stretch simply south of Deadwood, the place the path passes by dense forests of white birch, aspen, and Black Hills spruce (South Dakota’s state tree). For many riders, the spotlight of the Mickelson Path is using by certainly one of 4 outdated prepare tunnels round Rochford and Mystic, the clearest reminder that the path occupies a former rail line.
Technically, you possibly can begin using at both finish of the path or at any trailhead alongside the route, however there’s a slight downhill benefit in the event you begin within the north. Should you can’t do all the route, I like to recommend beginning in Deadwood and using to Hill Metropolis or Custer. In Hill Metropolis, you may journey the 1880 steam train, however in Custer, there’s way more (and much better) eating choices. Anybody wanting to increase the route might reduce east from Custer and journey by Custer State Park or east of Pringle to journey by Wind Cave National Park. The additional south you go, the less individuals you’ll encounter. A pal joined me for the second day of using and over the past 40 miles of the path, we didn’t encounter a single different individual.
About 30 miles from the tip of the path, you’ll encounter a big Bicycle Sculpture within the city of Pringle. A whole bunch of rusty bikes and bicycle elements are heaped on high of one another, some being artistically welded collectively to type archways and towers. In keeping with locals, it’s acceptable to take elements off the sculpture so guess who lastly acquired a water bottle cage for her e-bike! Down the highway from the bicycle sculpture is the Hitchrail Bar and Restaurant, the place we stopped in for drinks and dialog with some pleasant bikers.
“Whats up my fellow two-wheeled vacationers” I’d say, which generally drew smiles and waves, and generally drew stares of bewilderment. We took benefit of bars, espresso outlets, and eating places that had welcome indicators for bikers. We popped into a present store in Custer that had a big signal providing free espresso for bikers, assuming our spandex shorts, biking jerseys, and helmets made it clear that we arrived on bikes. Apparently, it wasn’t apparent to others that we, too, had been “bikers” and the worker that served us discovered herself explaining to a supervisor why she felt we had been entitled to free espresso.
“I rode 50 miles yesterday, let a Harley rider inform me that I’m not a biker!” I mentioned. The supervisor maintained the confused look on her face however we acquired our espresso and continued on. We nonetheless had one other 44 miles to journey.