Wednesday, August 4, 2021

South Dakota: How I Stayed Entertained While Corrine Suffered

Post by Eric 

Once Corrine decided to suffer through the Trans South Dakota bikepacking race, I had three simple jobs: Drop her off at the start, entertain myself for several days, and be at the finish before she did. 

The first part was easy, since Corrine made sure I got her to the start on time. The end was easy too, since I made sure to get to North Sioux City a couple of days ahead of time. In between was a little trickier, since I’m not crazy about constant travel or hotels, and I was a little dubious about what South Dakota had to offer, but I found lots of places to explore.

(The above photo is from some singletrack trails on the rim of Spearfish Canyon from the day before the start of the Trans South Dakota. Corrine took an easier ride that day for obvious reasons.)


I visited Wayne Alderman, an old college buddy, and his wife Marian. They live in Spearfish, close to the race start. They wanted to meet Corrine and were very curious about the concept of bikepacking races. We met Corrine and a couple of her “competitors” at Spearfish Canyon Lodge, about Mile 37 into the race. We weren’t allowed to help in any way, but I did give Corrine a hug and a kiss. Corrine and the other racers talked about how the race had gone so far, which gave Wayne and Marian a snapshot into what it was all about. They immediately became dot-watchers, keeping track of Corrine throughout the race. 

Wayne plays a tune on his mandolin while Marian (and I) listen. 

Later that day, Wayne and Marian showed me around Spearfish, which included a tour of the D.C. Booth Historic National Fish Hatchery & Archives. Some of the trout there are HUGE! I mean, like salmon sized! 

I forgot to take a photo, so I grabbed this one off the Internet. Those are trout!


I was a little unsure about what to do or where to be. Corrine was nervous about the heat and a couple of 100-mile sections without water resupply. I wanted to be ready to go save her, if necessary, but I also wanted to have fun. I got a motel in Rapid City, on the eastern edge of the Black Hills. On the way from Spearfish, I drove by Annie Creek Trail, a notorious part of the Trans South Dakota with a bunch of hike-a-bike. Corrine was already past it, but I decided to check it out. 

I biked for a few miles but kept running into trail intersections and didn’t know for sure which way to go. So, I just guessed, riding and pushing farther back into the woods. The trail did have some hike-a-bike, but it wasn’t too bad. Finally, I came out on a subdivision. That kind of blew me away. Being from Alaska, I’m not used to heading deep into the woods and coming across a modern subdivision. I figured I had gone the wrong way, so I rode a bit of the subdivision roads and then turned around. (Later, I learned that was the Trans SD route! Not the wilderness I’m used to.)

A rocky (and pretty) part of the Annie Creek Trail.

After that I drove the roads that more or less paralleled the Mickelson Trail, which the Trans SD follows for about 40 miles. It would have been fun to bike part of it, but I didn’t have time. I stopped in a dinky town called Rochford to get something to drink. About the only thing open was a bar/restaurant with a bunch of people hanging around inside and out. The bar had bottled sodas, so I got one. 

As I walked back to my car, someone called out to me. A young couple had spied my T-shirt, from the Sluicebox 100, and were curious. They turned out to be Ryan and Emily Wanless, residents of Sioux Falls. Ryan had competed in the Iditarod Trail International to McGrath on foot and knew mutual friends. Ryan had signed up to go all the way to Nome this year, but COVID turned the race into a shortened out-and-back. Emily is also an ultrarunner. They knew about the Trans South Dakota and were eager to hear about Corrine when I told them she was competing in it. We talked for a bit, happy to have found someone in tiny Rochford who “got it” about ultramarathons. Small world!


I felt confident Corrine wouldn’t be calling me for a rescue, so I thought I could wander a bit from Rapid City. I checked out the Trail Forks website and found several trails and trail systems in the area. One new system, Buzzard’s Roost, was only about a half-hour from Rapid City and looked interesting. I headed out after breakfast. 

The system is on a fairly steep hill but is well-built with lots of switchbacks. I made my way to the top, which ends in a rocky outcrop with nice 360-degree views. I putzed around on the trails a bit, before heading back down, chatting with some cows on the way. I was glad to be finishing as the temps climbed into the 90s. 

The view from atop Buzzard's Roost.


Staying in place for a couple of days allowed me to check out some nearby trails I found on the Trail Forks. Some visionaries in Rapid City long ago helped save big parts of two ridges right in town. Both now have extensive trail systems. I spent the first day biking around Cowboy Hill and on the Leonard Swanson Memorial Pathway, which follows a greenbelt through the middle of town along Rapid Creek. I had a great time and was out longer than I had planned. I got saddle sores from sweating so much. Temps were in the high 80s and low 90s. How can people live in that heat?!  (P.S. I also learned that marmots live on Cowboy Hill and that people down there call them rockchucks!)

Some of the trails in the Hanson-Larsen Memorial Park on Cowboy Hill. 

A particularly nice section of the Leonard Swanson Memorial Pathway. 

The second day I went running in the Skyline Wilderness Area on the other ridge. That was an odd mix of nice quiet trails, noisy trails right above a bustling part of town, and a kitschy private dinosaur park. Fortunately, through dumb luck I started with the kitsch and noise and ended up with the quiet. Then I drove east to Badlands National Park (where real dinosaur bones have been found) and did some fast-hiking on several of the developed trails in the park. Most were a little too crowded for my tastes, but it was fun to see features of the Badlands, all created by erosion. What a surreal place! I also saw some birds, but I was moving too fast to ID most of them (though I did see a blue grosbeak!). 

There be dinosaurs!

The surreal landscape of the Badlands. 


After spending the night in Wall, I went back to the Badlands. I drove the main road, stopping at all the roadside pullouts (including a stop to see some Badlands bighorn sheep) and then hiked most of the trails that I didn’t get to hike the day before. 

This time I went slower, since I knew the temps would be in the low 100sF. I did a bit of birdwatching, but I didn’t see that many. Still, it was good to be going slow. I was walking leisurely and still sweating up a storm! I couldn’t dawdle, though, since I had made reservations in North Sioux City starting that night to make sure I was at the finish well before Corrine got there. 

Feeling the heat on the Castle Trail of the Badlands. 


Once again, the Trail Forks app gave me some good info. Using it I found the Bacon Creek Park singletrack trail. One big loop about 6-7 miles long. I wasn’t expecting much, but it was a swoopy, well-maintained singletrack that was super fun on a bike. It had some tricky features (most of which I avoided) and even some views. I had a great time on the trails but was happy to finish after a couple of hours. Temps were rising and eastern South Dakota has higher humidity than in the west. 

I was going to go for a hike on yet another set of trails nearby, but I got lazy. Plus, Corrine did a big push of almost 150 miles that night. (She traveled at night to beat the heat.) She was figuring she might finish as early as 5 a.m. the next day, so I went to bed early. 

Bacon Creek Lake from the high point of the Bacon Creek Park singletrack trail.


Corrine texted me a few times in the night. She had only 75 miles to go, but most were hard miles (see her post here). She was struggling, but I would have done everything I could to avoid rescuing her that close to the end. Fortunately, she never asked. I drove out and cheered her on with about 8 miles to go. 

Corrine finished at 7:20 a.m., looking awesome and energetic! Since she was the last finisher, Joe and Tina Stiller, the race directors, didn’t have to wait for anyone else, so we all went out for breakfast. After we were done, Corrine wanted to nap for some reason! I went out for another trails exploration, another find on Trail Forks. 

Corrine poses with her finisher's medal while Joe Stiller takes a photo
at the end of the Trans South Dakota.

I went for a run on the trails at Stone State Park, just a few miles from our hotel. These were doubletrack trails, mostly in thick woods, much different than the dry, sparse forest on the west side of the state. Not many views, but interesting stuff on the trails, like green seeds the size of golf balls (walnuts, probably) and green beetles and ladybugs. I was happy to get out for a trail run, but the heat and humidity started ramping up, so I didn’t go long. 

Stone State Park in North Sioux City. Things were much greener - and more humid - on the
east side of South Dakota. 

All in all, I had a great time exploring while Corrine did the Trans South Dakota. I was delightfully surprised by all that South Dakota had to offer. I never ran out of things to do, and there was more exploring I could have done. 

1 comment:

  1. Congrats to Corrine, she made the hard work look easy! So nice to meet you and keep posting about all y'all's shenanigans...those that "get it" love to see what y'all are up to!