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Sunday, July 31, 2016

Northern Transcon Day 15 - Custer to Rapid City SD

Today was not long on mileage, but still had plenty of hill climbing.  Two options were offered to reach Mt Rushmore and about 20 of us went with the shorter (45 mile) route, also known as the Crazy Horse Route.  The longer 75 mile route went through Custer State Park and offered up close (like, in the road) views of bison.  The longer option also had some tougher climbing.

Mt Rushmore is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the country, and I was here 25 years ago on a cross country family car trip.  Since then, many changes have been made to the surrounding area, including a long walkway through some square columns with the names of states engraved on them, and state flags flying.  There is also a large outdoor amphitheater.  Getting into the park on Highway 244 required plenty of climbing, but the road is good with a wide shoulder.

We had packed some walking shoes in the Caravan (one of the PAC Tour vehicles), as we had a couple of hours to tour the area before heading to the lunch stop at the Keystone city park.

The last 20 miles had some more tough rolling climbs, as well as great downhills with 7 - 10% grades.

Tomorrow is a long day - almost 150 miles to Murdo SD.  Everything is moved up an hour so we will have a PAC Tour breakfast in the parking lot beginning at 5:30 and leave shortly after 6 am.

Looking at the Crazy Horse Memorial in the Black Hills of SD
Plenty of huge rock formations in the area around Mt Rushmore
Washington's head can be seen about a mile before getting to the visitor's center
Riding pals - Michelle and Jack, both PAC Tour veterans
Grateful to have Retta (Deane) along as a crew volunteer

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Northern Transcon Day 14 - Gillette WY to Custer SD

This morning I was sitting in the motel room in Gillette WY at 6:15 am, checking the weather, and the big headline reads "Massive Hailstorm in Wyoming; National Guard Called Out".  Yikes.  Further reading revealed that the storm took place in Pine Bluffs, about 300 miles south of Gillette.

I did have a tough day, though not due to weather (maybe a little hot in the afternoon).  I suffered from some hot foot (pain on balls of feet due to constant pressure), and a painful little pimple right where I am sitting.  How something about a millimeter across can cause so much discomfort is frustrating.

Today's route had most of the 3500 feet of climbing in the last 25 miles, after entering South Dakota's Black Hills.  We have some more climbing tomorrow to get to Mt Rushmore, but the mileage will be the shortest of the whole tour - about 70 miles in order to give us time to hike around and sightsee.

The last part of northeastern Wyoming was pretty dry and desolate.  We passed a facility on Highway 51 (a frontage road to I-90) operated by Black Hills Energy.  This company is heavily involved in coal mining and natural gas production.  There were several very long freight trains with only open top hopper cars for hauling coal.

The terrain changed almost immediately after entering South Dakota at mile 90.  Trees and hills replaced the open and dry landscape of Wyoming.  According to Jack, who I rode with, the road up to the Jewel Cave Visitors Center is much improved for cyclists over what it was 4 or 5 years ago.

Early morning outside Gillette, with Black Hills Energy facility in the distance
Black Hills Energy facility on Hwy 51 outside Gillette WY
Start of a line of railroad engines that stretched over a mile
Scenery in northeast Wyoming
Northeast Wyoming
Northeast Wyoming
Northeast Wyoming

Old Town near Upton Wyoming

Leading a line through Wyoming.  Faster riders passing us.
Big Horn sheep
Our fifth state on the tour
We just got to the top of the climb to Jewel Cave Visitor's Center
More progress each day
Ate here tonight in Custer SD

Friday, July 29, 2016

Northern Transcon Day 13 - Sheridan to Gillette WY

Today's route was mostly rolling hills with some stiff headwinds in the morning.  We have left the Rocky Mountains behind but face the Black Hills and Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota in a couple of days.  Weather continues to be sunny with hot temperatures in the afternoon (90F +), necessitating an extra rest stop with some ice.

The northeast section of Wyoming is largely open range.  Traffic, once out of town, is usually light.

There haven't been any major mechanical issues so far - I personally haven't had any, but other riders have suffered a broken rear derailleur, inoperable shifter, and bad crank bearing.  PAC Tour carries a lot of parts and even some spare bikes and wheels.  If they don't have what you need, parts can be shipped to the next overnight.  I don't know of anyone who had to ride in a van because of a mechanical issue.

We had a little sprinkling of rain the last five or six miles today, but the storm cloud quickly moved off.

Tomorrow we ride 116 miles and enter South Dakota.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Northern Transcon Day 12 - Powell to Sheridan WY

There was a rainstorm last night but skies were clearing as we had another great PAC Tour breakfast in the parking lot in Powell WY.  Everything was moved up an hour due to the long strenuous day ahead.  122 miles with 7300 feet of climbing, and the climbing was largely concentrated in about 25 miles.

Wyoming's Big Horn Mountains are magnificent, a display of the Lord's handiwork.  You don't really think much about that when grinding up a 10% grade for several miles.  The day started out with 32 miles of mostly flat terrain, marred a little by some rough shoulders.  We had a quick rest stop before starting the long climb, which began with a few miles of 2-4% grade, then pitched up to 10% for 10 miles, with a half mile section of 14%.  I had brought two gears lower than I thought I would need, and used both of them.

Weather was excellent, although there were some dark threatening clouds at the top.  The top actually required some more climbing past the rest stop, and then there were about 20 miles of downhill and uphill sections before lunch at 77 miles.  After a 3 mile descent, the climbing began yet again with a 4 mile 7% incline.  All of this work finally paid off with a 12 mile descent.  A jacket was a must, as the temperature really plummeted.

The Big Horn Mountains lived up to their reputation, as this day was by far the toughest we have had.  More challenges lie ahead, but I feel good knowing I completed this day successfully.

Early morning view of the Big Horn Mountains
About 2/3 of the way up.  Tough grade!
The road just kept going, and going, and going ...
Looking down from pull off area at the road we just came up

The sign shows the grade we just climbed
Not done yet - another 6 miles to the summit
At the summit, with a jacket on due to cold temperatures
Lunch trailer was most welcome
Stopped to take this photo on the way down
View from Big Horn Mountains
 A note on bike maintenance during the transcontinental tour - the goal is to keep your chain clean and lubricated, tires at correct pressure, and the bike clean enough to take in your motel room at night.  All of these can be completed in less than 5 minutes using the equipment and procedure Lon demonstrated.  The cleaning supplies are all provided, but it is a rudimentary cleaning, not designed to make your bike look perfect.  A thorough detailed cleaning will have to wait until the tour is over.

Ed cleaning his bike after a long day

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Northern Transcon Day 11 - Columbus MT to Powell WV

We turned south today, away from I-90, and into some serious climbing through the area surrounding Red Lodge MT.  Many long grades and steeply rolling hills contributed to a total of 5500 feet of climbing.  The second half of this 110 mile day was less strenuous, with a lot of good downhills and flatter terrain.

Wyoming is our fourth state, and the lunch trailer was parked just over the state line.  After lunch we rode through many miles of treeless wilderness, with little sign of life.

I started the day with Jack and Michelle, but decided to drop off the back of a rather large pack of riders that they had hooked up with.  I rode with Sridhar and Kathleen to the first rest stop, then left with a couple of other riders.  It is normal to ride with different small groups; they just spontaneously form depending on how long one stays at rest stops and how fast a pace is desired.  Generally I try to avoid getting in a paceline, as they take away some of the enjoyment of the trip, which is to observe all of the beauty and have fun.

Tomorrow is the big one we have all been nervously anticipating - climbing the Big Horn Mountains.

Along Hwy 78 in southwestern Montana
Good looking farm
Another farm
Sridhar leading the way in our final miles in Montana
Saw a lot of these hay bales
Entering Wyoming.  Lunch trailer with riders can be seen in the background.  I'm standing with Tim and Kathleen, a couple from AZ who are riding this tour.
Wyoming landscape
Many miles in Wyoming look like this
A lot of arid land
Some rock formations to break things up a bit