As a little guy I took a couple of family vacations that passed through the Black Hills in South Dakota. I recall sitting in the backseat of the car wearing a straw cowboy hat with a sheriff’s badge pinned to my chest, thumbing through a large print book about regional legends. I found it hard to concentrate on the exploits of Wild Bill, Calamity Jane, and Custer as my mind longed for the next motel swimming pool. To say that I was missing the point at the young age of 11 would be an understatement.
Things have changed since those days. I’m all grown up, so to speak. Some would certainly laugh at the notion of me being anything other than a child. Nevertheless, my wife, Amy and I were due for a vacation. It had been a long hot summer of work, racing, and long car rides. A break was in order and we like being outside, “Let’s go to the Black Hills!”, I told her as I thought back to those childhood vacations. Plus, Salsa’s recon of their trails were stuck in the back of my mind. My ears had perked up each time I heard the crew mention the sweet trails of the Black Hills. In addition, I desperately wanted to race the Dakota Five-O, a Salsa sponsored event that many in the cycling world have raved about. And, as luck would have it, the date of the race would land right at the end of our vacation. Perfect!
We stuffed the car with what seemed to be all of our household belongings and headed west from our home in Duluth, Minnesota. A list was made of all the things we’d do and see. I secretly thought about how difficult it would be to complete the training rides I needed and see the sights all in the same week. The list of activities was huge, the Badlands, the Needles, hikes into the Cathedral Spires, historic Deadwood, Mt. Rushmore, and a myriad of animals to spot, preferably baby ones if Amy had her way. Oh well, I’d just have to get up super early to get my saddle time. Earlier research had me hooked in with what promised to be the best of the best trails. I wanted to come into the race sharp and ready.
Things began to change in regard to my training plans as I was quickly swept up in the beauty of the area. Adjustments were being made to a tentative ride schedule I had planned as Kid Riemer’s last email ricocheted through my head. He simply stated, “enjoy it and don’t worry about results”. That’s Kid, he has a way of putting a hand on your shoulder and making you relax, but does so in a way that causes you to think he knows something you don’t, so it’s best to just go with it. I commenced with, “just going with it”. Sure, I’d train, but I wouldn’t be thinking about heart rates or GPS stats. Instead, I’d appreciate the fact that the woods in the Black Hills don’t seem to have any underbrush like they do back home. I’d soft pedal across that meadow down below, because there aren’t meadows in northern Minnesota. I wouldn’t mind carrying my Spearfish on my back for 20 minutes up a mountain side, because there aren’t mountains back home. I found that I was even fine with carrying the rig down the other side, because it seemed a little too steep for me to ride. It even became fine with me to ride with my camera dangling from my wrist, because I knew that I’d probably be stopping in the next 50 feet or so anyway.
I came back to our campsite that morning and Amy asked how my ride was. I told her that my understanding of “rugged” was clearly different than our campground host’s. I went on to tell her that the trail I picked involved me carrying or pushing my bike for at least 60% of the ride. She looked at me as if she felt bad, yet I rambled on about my stunning experience with a smile stretched from ear to ear. Excitedly, I told her that I’d be heading north on the same trail in the morning.
Amy is the runner in the family, I’m the biker, and our cats are the sleepers. Despite her hesitancy to swing a leg over her mountain bike I assured her that the best way to see the Black Hills was from the back of one. She cowgirl’d up and knocked out a 6-hour ride through the interior of Custer State Park with me the next day. Granted we stayed on gravel roads the majority of the time, but there were a couple miles of some pretty rough trail that had her worrying (about rattle snakes that weren’t there), but we saw things we’ll never forget. We rode next to pronged horned antelope, herds of buffalo, and listened to the prairie dogs bark out their warnings to each other as we approached.
I toed the line in Spearfish, South Dakota for the Dakota Five-O on our last morning of vacation with 600 other racers. I was calm, relaxed, and ready to “enjoy it”. The race went better than I ever expected it would and I even heard one photographer compliment me on my Spearfish as I slowly climbed past him. “Yeah, it was a good choice”, I thought. Not only a good choice for the race, but a great choice for the Black Hills. It was, in fact, pure gold.