We got up early on Sunday morning, getting our camp packed up fairly quickly. The Boy was a big help that morning, knowing that he needed to assist in the effort a lot more this year than he did last year. We put everything on the bike and in the panniers except the tent and the bags as once again they were wet from a dew filled evening.
The campground we stay at is literally right on the Mickelson trail (as I mentioned) and one of the benefits is they offer a pancake breakfast in the morning. The Boy and I rolled into the breakfast building a few minutes after breakfast was being served. As we were sitting there, another camper came up and sat down next to us. After a little discussion, we found that he was riding the same trail as us, but he was going to continue on, riding back north on the Centennial trail. HARD CORE. The Centennial is decidedly NOT a rail-trail and is much more difficult.
Anyhow, fully fueled up, we packed up the remnants of our camping, lashing our stuff down as best as we could, and off we went, right on the 8 am start time I wanted to stick with.
The one drawback to camping where we do (or anywhere around Hill City) is we start the day with a fairly significant climb up to Crazy Horse. Now, I realize that it is a rail-trail, so none of the grades are that big, but after 7 or so miles of continually going uphill, it is a climb regardless of the grade. I will tell you though that this year the Boy ROCKED the climb this year. I remember last year having to stop on the climb. Not this year. We kept the tandem rocking at a nice, steady pace and before we knew it, we were at the top, looking at the massive monument to the late Native leader.
The upside of this climb (or any climb) is that there usually a descent on the other side, which in this case there is. We BLASTED into Custer, making our traditional stop at the little grocery store for a bit of fuel, water and a light break.
After getting the things we needed, we were on our way with 40 miles to go. The last significant climb of the day takes us out of Custer and we rode it with vigor, knowing that once we were at the top, we'd have it comparatively easy for the remainder of the ride. Sure, there are a few more uphill sections on the trail, but nothing of any significance.
As we rolled out of Custer, I also told the Boy we'd take a break at every mile marker post that ended in zero, or every 10 miles. It gave him the big goal broken up into smaller goals. As we finished up the climb, the Boy decided that he needed to go to the bathroom and needed a snack. We stopped, he dinked around for a few minutes, climbing the rocks and eating some jerky. I told him since we stopped here, we wouldn't stop at the next "zero" but at the next trail head, which was a bit farther down the trail. A bit farther for me is NOT a bit farther for a 8 year old I found out. He was not too happy with me for the distance we traveled before the Lien trail head.
As we rolled into the last trail head (the Minnehatka trail head) we had been bucking a head wind for quite a while and the sun had cooked the earth into a 95 degree day, which I suppose isn't a surprise for the southern end of the Black Hills. We stopped at this last trail head, knowing we only had about 15 miles to go. We chatted with the day-trippers gathered at the shelter, having the longest conversation with the 75+ year old gentleman that has ridden rail-trails in 48 of the 49 states on the North American continent and he would get his 49th (in Arkansas) in the next few weeks. He said he and his wife rode 1000-1500 per summer on the rail-trails. That is the guy I want to be when I am 75+ years old. How cool is that?
Despite the head wind, we pushed into Edgemont with relative ease. As we hit the last milemarker, the Boy started yelling with joy "WE DID IT, WE DID IT!" It made me swell with pride that this tough little kid sat for 2 days, 5+ hours each day, pedaling his ass off and he enjoyed it. He rode much harder this year than last and while we didn't necessarily have a better time than last year, we had as good of a time. I knew it was fun because when we hit Edgemont he asked when we were going to do it again. Soon, I promise soon.