Day 6 – Custer to Pierre


We had a bunch to do today, so we were up early. Paul grabbed the coffee, as I was lagging a bit. But sooner rather than later we were packed up and headed down the road back to Wind Cave NP. Ranger Bess said to be there around 8 to make sure we got a tour ticket, and we pulled in around 8:20. Not too shabby, and we scored tickets to a “Natural Entrance” tour. Sweet! I actually prefer “natural entrances,” although I know I’m bucking current societal norms. A cave entrance without some grass outside just feels…unnatural to me. Sue me.

So we parted the natural grasses and entered the cave, along with the rest of our group. Together, we penetrated to the depths of those caverns before spewing out… Alright, enough of the cave innuendo. We went down the stairs into the top level of the cave and walked through a gorgeous but linear shaft of the cave, back to the elevator entrance that most tours use. It was fun and eye opening. This cave has around 160mi of mapped, accessible tunnels, and they estimate that this is around 5-10% of the total cave volume. But I’d never even heard of this place before plotting out the route for this trip. If you’re in the area for Rushmore and Crazy Horse, this is a worthy detour to add to the itinerary.

After the cave tour we checked that box, jumped on our bikes, and moved on to Crazy Horse. As you come up the hill, the monument is clearly visible. Then you come up to the ticket booth and they charge you $10 bucks for it to be…slightly more visible. And for the opportunity to buy things from the associated tribe. We paid. It was slightly more visible. We bought. We left.

Because I was expecting a relatively straight shot to Pierre in the afternoon, I opted to take us on a Grand Tour of the Black Hills. We dropped into the tour on a crazy good road that led down from the top of the hills into Custer State Park. The road rose up into the exposed rock of the hills, offering valley vistas interrupted by steep outcropping of solid stone. As we moved through the hills, the road cut through several one-lane tunnels. I was getting stressed out about passing over the double yellow line, when thankfully the line disappeared and it became a two-way one-lane road. “Fuck it,” I thought, “Can’t pass over a double yellow if there’s no line to begin with.” So I got back to passing. With a little planning and a lot of aggression, I generally had a run at these roads with lots of clear asphalt in front of me. The path was fairly technical, with extremely tight corners, true hairpin turns, and a narrow lane to work with. It was a great road. We kept going south out the bottom of the state park, and then looped east and back up towards Rushmore. In the beginning, the road got less interesting after leaving the park. We turned back north and it started getting curvy again, followed by a series of hairpins. Then shit got real. A blind corner into a one-lane tunnel leading directly into a 270 turn that went under itself? Yes please. A second one, almost exactly the same with more turning? Bring it. Is that a third that somehow did a 540 on itself? HELL TO THE YES! I may be tacking on some extra degrees on that last one, but it certainly felt like it went on forever. I started laughing about halfway through it and I didn’t stop giggling for a good 10 minutes. That was the most fun I’ve ever had on a motorcycle, clothes on or clothes off. Simply amazing.

Still giggling, we took a left turn and headed up to Rushmore. Like Crazy Horse, the monument is very visible from the road. You pay $10 for the privilege to…hey. I’ve danced this dance already today. 🙁 So, freshly fleeced, we walked up the stairs and down a suspiciously patriotic promenade to a monument viewing area. They were, indeed, slightly more visible. I made the observation that I’ve heard criticisms of the inclusion of Teddy R. as pandering to the sitting president to win support for the project. While I think this to be a valid argument, it’s hard not to think that TR was contextually the best choice for a monument in South Dakota, on land that was adjacent to or included a significant number of national parks formed because of Teddy’s actions. While Andrew Jackson would’ve been a good choice to emphasize the use of stolen native lands to commemorate the people that stole it, TR isn’t a terrible choice for that purpose, either.

The clientele seemed significantly trump-y, which I guess wasn’t surprising given the location and the nature of the National Memorial. I confirmed my suspicions when a passerby offered to take our picture together in front of the monument. (I’m not sure why, but many people seem to assume that Paul and I are a couple. We don’t like to disabuse them, but I’m starting to feel awkward with the hand-holding and PDA bullshit that we “need to do so we don’t embarrass them.” Okay, Paul. But only to make the locals happy….) Anyway, this guy was taking our picture and I told him, “Make sure you get Trump’s face in the picture.” He loved it. I’ve never seen a picture-taking-volunteer person undertake their job so enthusiastically. He’s framing us. He’s trying to shoo away passersby to make the scene more dramatic. I was half-surprised that he didn’t just climb the mountain and start chipping away to reveal The Don’s face right then and there. Patriotic Duty done and box checked, we grabbed some stickers and boned out towards Pierre.

We got on the state highway and settled in for a long afternoon. I had routed us south of Badlands with a trip up into the Park through Interior, which is near the eastern end. I hadn’t been through that part before. Paul expressed a burning desire to see Wall Drug. I tried to talk him out of it, but no luck. Trust me, this place sucks. It’s crowded, pointless, and just commercialized BS. But I’m a giver so I routed us north into Wall about halfway through the Park. I am sure that this route actually exists, but when we went to turn off the state route to head north, it was dirt. It looked good enough for the GS, but the Goldwing seemed like a bad candidate for this stuff. We kept rolling and I watched as my GPS routed me down dirt road after dirt road until we would’ve had to backtrack dozens of miles to get to Wall. No thanks. But we did have an opportunity to see a (the?) Park Lodge. It didn’t look awesome, to say the least. And then we climbed out of the valley up onto the raised rim of the park. As we went, we passed through a number of sections of very cool sandstone formations that looked almost alien. While we overwhelmingly preferred the red rocks of Utah over this gray sandstone desolation, these sections were quite interesting., We stopped a couple of times to take pictures, but time was ticking by and Pierre wasn’t getting any closer.

We cruised on out of Badlands and on down the road, rolling into town in time for dinner. Checked in to a pleasant hotel and poked around for a dinner place. I found a likely candidate restaurant and called an Uber….nope. No cars available. So driving ourselves it was. I walked down to the hotel bar/restaurant to have a beer while Paul finished getting ready. The place was pleasantly crowded and the atmosphere was good, so we ultimately just stayed in the hotel and had a nice night without doing any more riding. This turned out to be a great plan, as the heavens opened up not long after. Not only was rain dumping down, but lightning was playing in the sky non-stop for minutes at a time. Never seen anything like it before. Thankfully, I was able to watch that from a dry room, turn off the light, and go to sleep. So I did.