Total Day: 267.9 km (166.5 mi)
Total Trip: 3223.1 km
We woke up today well rested, and ready to take on the world – or at least that part of it that we had planned for, namely The Mount Rushmore National Memorial. It may seem odd, that somehow this most American of monuments might be something looked forward to by a Canadian, but this isn’t just an American monument. There is a cultural touchstone about Mount Rushomore, something that has been in my subconscious for years. It’s been the star in some movies I’ve seen (great and not-so), like North by Northwest, Mars Attacks!, and National Treasure: Book of Secrets.
The great part of today was that, after riding some pretty hard miles the last two days to get here, today would be an easier day – and one more filled with unique roads and sights. We were looking forward to riding a few roads around the area, and after speaking with some folks, we knew that we wanted to be on Needles Highway, Iron Mountain Road, and Sylvan Lake Road – the latter of which was odd for me, as I had lived in Edmonton for 10 years, and Sylvan Lake is not that far away.
The Revzilla Get On Adventure Fest, as it was formally called, included all meals in your registration, which was great. Breakfast was a buffet, and included that uniquely American staple of biscuits and gravy. The great part was that there was free coffee from Bivouac Coffee. A quick shout out to them, as they brewed a mountain of proper cups of coffee for us, rather than just something that resembled hot brown liquid. This stuff is good, and the staff they had there were riders themselves. Check out their site, and their blogs, as it’s worth it. Even though they’re based in Colorado, I’m thinking of ordering some from them because they are a neat company, and Rev’It is one of their partners.
Off we went to our bikes with fresh water for the road, and a box lunch (some fruit, tortillas and PB&J provided by the rally). We rode out of Buffalo Chip, and made our way along through Sturgis, towards our destination. And then it hit me – I had no idea which way to ride the roads we were looking for. Clearly there was an order – I had looked a “loop” up online, but looking on the phone was a pain, and I had left my maps back at the cabin. We stopped at a pull-out to do some e-mappping on phones and GPS, when a couple riding two bikes in the other direction pulled in. They were wondering if we had lost a yellow drybag further up the road – we hadn’t – and we got to talking. They had a local map, and pulled it out to show us the way we wanted to go. That map was a spare, so they left it with us – thanks very much to them! We did figure out that the way we wanted to go (given where we were) was first Sylvan Lake Road, then Needles Highway, then finally Iron Mountain Road up to Mount Rushmore. Great!
With the route chosen, we rode on, and by the time we reached Hill City, SD, we decided it was time for lunch. This place clearly caters to the motorcycle crowd out on tours during the Sturgis Rally, as it was packed with bars, restaurants, and leather shops. We ate at the Hill City Cafe, where I was boring and had a burger, but RRP had “fish and chips” – a fish sandwich and… potato chips. The British delicacy has clearly been transmorgified on the way over to the Black Hills!
Just south of Hill City we turned to the east, off of Highway 385/16 and onto Highway 87/89, known as Sylvan Lake Drive. This was a beautiful tree-lined road with lots of dappled shade, until the Needles came. The Needles are amazing, truly – they are tall, thin granite pillars rizing like trees, and covering a huge swath of the landscape. The road through them was a delight to drive, as it was one jaw-dropping view after another. With all roads that we rode today, and in fact all roads that we rode on this trip, there was no other traffic on them. They were blissfully deserted – even the most touristy of the roads.
From Sylvan Lake Road, we rode to Needles Highway (Highway 87). This road traverses Custer State Park, and the government of South Dakota realized a money-maker when they saw it. $20 USD later, and we were in with a day pass (a ribbon tied around our mirror). Still, this let us travel the famous Needles Highway, with more jaw-dropping views, more increases in elevation, and more of the famous Needles. Then we got to the thing everyone raves about on this road – the one-lane tunnels. There was a backup at the first tunnel, but once we were through, the glory of this ultra-twisty, winding, slow-paced road was revealed. The tunnels, the needles, the tarmac, it was all great, and made for some fascinating riding. As we climbed, however, the sky grew darker – the more we climbed, the more threatening it was, until it started to rain. And then that was joined with hail.
The rain wasn’t torrential, at least not compared to what we might get in the fall or winter in British Columbia, but it was good enough that we pulled over and zipped up our vents. Secured, we carried on, and were now on the downhill and the run-out from the Needles Highway, coming to the juncture of Highway 87 and Highway 16 (Alt). As the rain came down, RRP reported he was getting wet through his Rev’It goretex suit. Wet enough that it was distressing, and once we made the turn at 16, he elected to return back to Buffalo Chip. It looked like it was clearing a bit. I was still dry in my Klim suit, so I elected to venture on.
It wasn’t long before even the spray died down, and I was able to open up my vents and visor again. The temperature stayed cooler now, fortunately, and I made my way along 16 to 16A – Iron Mountain Road. This was the road that lead (the slow way) to Mount Rushmore – and what a road it was. Little to no traffic in either direction, the road being almost empty most of the time. Even more of the one-lane tunnels, and amazing “pig-tail bridges” where you ride a full 360° and then exit under the supports of the road you were just on. Crazy, fantastic, slow, scenic riding with the smell of everything having just been washed by rain. This was the only part of our journey that I did alone. I was very sad that my RRP was not going to get to see Mount Rushmore, but there was no way I was going to miss it.
Soon, the road ended, at the Mount Rushmore National Monument. I parked the bike ($5 or $10, I can’t remember), which was the only entrance fee. As I was there late in the afternoon, I had my choice of spots quite close to the main pedestrian entrance. As soon as I set foot in the entrance, more rain. I was still in my suit, so it wasn’t a bother, but I took the moment to jump into the gift shop and by some souveniers. By the time I was done, the rain was gone, and I walked up to get my photos of the monument.
All the photos that you have seen of Mount Rushmore, if you haven’t been yourself, have been taken with ultra-wide angle telephoto lenses. I know this because it’s impressively… small. It’s much smaller than I’ve always had in my mind. Still impressive as anything, don’t get me wrong – but it’s just not the scale I always thought it was. Photographic trickery!
Then, it was time to get back on the bike and head to Buffalo Chip for dinner. I elected to take the quickest route, Highway 16 north to I-90 West, back to Sturgis – short jumps on a major highway and the interstate. Highway 16 was no problem, but heading west on I-90, I ran into lane restrictions due to construction. And then the rain and hail caught up with me. The rain and hail were so dramatic, in fact, that my visibility was near zero, and I was having to use my peripheral vision for the white line on the right and the cones on the left. At one point, I followed the right line to an off-ramp, where I took a bit of a break – and once I reached the top, so did the weather.
I jumped back onto I-90 for one exit, and then got off it again, coming in the back way to Buffalo Chip – which was unpaved but compacted dirt the whole way. Here I had promised myself no off-road, but this was such good off-road, with such amazing rolling scenery, that it was absolutely worth it. I was up to 80 km/h (50 mph in the measurements of our oppressors) on the dirt, and having a whale of a time. The sun was dipping, the weather was gorgeous, the road was completely empty except for me. Almost too early, the entrance to the camp arrived, and I made my way to our cabin.
Changing quickly, I went down for dinner. RRP had seen me come in, and was waiting for me down by the Bikini Beach area, where I grabbed some food and we relaxed for the evening. There was some film going on near our cabin, but we just sat with the folks around us and told tall tales before retiring for the night. Today was, without question, some of the finest riding and scenery I’ve ever experienced – short in distance, but long in memory. What a day!