"The Race Against Death Tour" is camped out at the Rafter J-Bar Ranch.........
August 15, 1995: After doing a measly 27.6 miles the day before, and hanging out the rest of the day, we were all pretty refreshed and rested considering all the brutal riding and weather we'd seen so far on this trip. The weather here in the Black Hills was optimum. Cooler than we'd had, sunny, and not at all windy. In fact, you could say it was about perfect. We decided to hit up Hill City for breakfast and we rolled the short way into town to find a decent place to eat. We seemed to be oddballs, outcasts, and drifters to the local populace. I suppose "touristas" were all treated this way, but as we were from a non-tourist destination, we didn't quite "get it", and we were a bit put off by the attitudes we seemed to be attracting.
We ate our breakfasts and by now had decided that the Sylvan Lake option was our best bet especially in regards to Troy's knee. It was feeling better, but he didn't want to stress it out climbing all the hills around here and we really didn't have a lot of time. So off we went in search of the Needles Highway and Sylvan Lake.
The climb up started not far from where we had camped. It was sort of gradual for about a half mile, then we saw them. Switch backs! real, honest to goodness switch backs! It was pretty amazing to climb up this road. It went on for six miles like this, and then we saw the turn off to Sylvan Lake right as things leveled out a bit.
The turn off was lined with cars waiting to get in, so we three just fell in line. Waiting our turns, we chatted and laughed. It was a relaxing, fun time with no pressure. Not like we normally had on the bikes up to this point. When we got within eyesight of the Ranger's hut, we were waved up. We looked around like, "Who? Us?!", went around the cars of scowling faces, and were told bicycles get in for free. No need to wait in line to pay! Yes! Bicycle benefits! Me likey!
Once we entered the park, the awe inspiring landscape of Sylvan Lake took us in, and we began to cruise around checking out the place. We saw rock climbers and hikers everywhere. The spires of rock jutting straight up out of the lake were like something out of a sci-fi movie set. It was like nothing I'd ever seen before, nor since then.
Ryan had his rock climbing shoes in his pannier, just in case he saw a place in the Rocky Mountains where he could spend time trying them out. Well, we weren't going to make it out there now, but this would certainly do! Troy tried a little bit, but I was content to watch. After Ryan had his fill of that, we relaxed a bit, got some photos, and decided to head back down the mountain for the campground and supper.
The six mile screaming downhill of switch backs was pretty hairy. Ryan almost rolled a tire, and my bike was skipping across the pavement on the skinny roadie tires. I was used to fat mountain bike treads, not these 35mm Avocets! I went as fast as I could, but Troy and Ryan had better handling bikes and left me in their dust. Oh well! It only took 13 minutes to descend that 6 miles, so it wasn't long until I caught back on at the bottom.
Back at the campground, we hit up another game of hacky sack, then cooked up our last meal on the road. The next day, Ryan's Dad was heading out to meet us at 9am in Hill City to pick us up with a trailer for our bikes to ride in. The end started to settle in on our minds. This trip would be over soon, and we all retreated into silence as the night time advanced.
I suppose it is hard to explain what one feels after such an ordeal. Especially when you sense a bond with your fellow travelers that goes beyond your comfort level to express. Silence becomes your only option at that point, I suppose, because you know you are heading down a different path once the fellowship is broken.
At any rate, we hit the tent for the last time on "The Race Against Death Tour".
Next Week: The Load Out