Updated: Jul 19, 2022
Monday, 20 June 2022, Rapid City SD
When initially choosing a specified adventure for most parks, I settled on 'bicycling with bison' for TR NP. Seeing the scenery at a slower pace appealed to me - and the chance/risk of coming across the behemoth wildlife without being encased in a steel cocoon added a soupçon of danger to the adventure.
in 2021, TR was only the 30th most-visited National Park,
with less that 2/3 of the visitors that Badlands NP gets. That meant less traffic on the park road - and visiting on a Monday meant still fewer autos - perfect for us. The main South Unit road was advertised as a 36-mile loop trip (actually a ~5-mile road leading to a 26-mile loop, then back out on the first segment).
However, the final portion of the loop road was a testament to the power of the forces that had carved this wild terrain. The park had closed that part of the road due to damage in 2017, as erosion had destabilized the sloping land. Since then, the park has studied how to re-engineer the road (and possibly relocate other stretches of road also). Having created a plan, the park will put it out for bids this fall. "But now we've got a new problem," explained the ranger. "Funding. Given the Yellowstone floods a few days ago, that popular park will take a lot of funding for recovery, leaving less for us and other parks. We're looking at a few more years at least before we have any chance of re-opening our road."
We still looked forward to cycling as much of the road as we had time and muscles for. We arrived at Dakota Cyclery before 9:00, ready for Jen to set us up for biking. By the time we received the bikes, got the seats adjusted, had fenders attached, grabbed helmets, signed waivers, and played with the kitten that Jen had running around the shop, the clock read 10:00. The park entrance beckoned from only one block away.
If a picture is indeed worth a thousand words, then a video must be worth a couple million or more:
Not much flat about the terrain here! We faced a slight climb to escape Medora, then a downhill toward the Cottonwood Campground. After that point, the loop begins, and the land grows hillier. The badlands scenery is never far away: it felt like we had dropped into the set for a Western movie. Traffic stayed light. I regularly waved at the cars which passed us, and most people waved back. A few shouted words of encouragement as we inched up the hills.
I had looked forward to this adventure, the chance to exercise in the open air, to feel at one with the landscape. Words fail to describe the euphoria I felt. Well, maybe one word comes close:
Iron Man and I ended up cycling over 16 miles before turning back. I kept pedaling on, hoping to see bison, to make the adventure complete, but bison stayed away. (Maybe they took Mondays off.) We stopped at one viewpoint to have someone snap our pictures, chatting with that visitor about our outing.
"I drove by you two on that last hill," she said, "and thought I should be doing that." Bill smiled and replied, "Hmmm. I thought I was crazy to be doing this!"
On the way back, we had to climb two steep slopes on which we had enjoyed a swift downhill. I slipped into hill-climbing mode to slink up them: focus on nothing but reaching a spot roughly 20 yards ahead. wait to pass it, then choose another spot 20 more yards further, then lather, rinse, repeat. At least I'd had the benefit of living in an area where every bike ride involves hills - Bill had not had time to practice hill climbs, so he had to walk a portion of those hills. "I'd love to do this on an e-bike," he mused.
In all, I filmed over 40 minutes of cycling on my GoPro - finally getting a chance to put it to good use. One more edited clip:
Back in Medora, we had a leisurely lunch on a second-floor deck overlooking the Western town. As forecast, heavy clouds rolled in, soon wiping out the blue overhead.
We followed lunch by driving back into the park at 2:30 to see the part of the road we'd missed. As we rolled along, the skies began spitting rain. We finally saw our only bison of the day at mile 20.
With the afternoon running down, we pointed the car south for Rapid City. A driving rain accompanied us for the first hour before the clouds vanished. Blue skies shined down on us we passed through Sturgis, a place my dad had visited a few times on his Harley-Davidson. Since his passing a year ago had motivated me to do this trip, I felt a twang driving past all the motorcycle campgrounds, past the businesses catering to the Harley-Davidson riders, past the billboards for motorcycle-specialist lawyers.