After 4 and a half days (and 4 sleepless nights), 213 miles, and 27,658 ft. of climbing my riding partner and I decided it was time to throw in the towel on our first attempt at the Black Hills Expedition bikepacking event. We had gone back and forth, in a muddled state of semi-delirium, as to whether to keep going or not, but in the end our reasons seemed clear that we needed to stop and discontinue with the ride. It was a tough call, but as I sit here reflecting on all that happened, I believe it was the right call for us both, for this ride.
So going into the race I had a fair amount of bikepacking experience, having done quite a few weekend trips with my husband, Perry Jewett, over the last 3 years. I learned a lot on those trips, and felt fairly confident that I could succeed on my own on this adventure I was about to undertake. However, I wasn't quite comfortable enough to set out by myself, so I was relieved that my longtime friend, and riding buddy, Heather Heynen was up to try this challenge with me. Due to busy schedules we were only able to get in one overnighter practice run, and this would turn out to be the only experience she would have with bikepacking, before the race started. I tried to give her as much advice as possible as to what clothing to bring, how to pack, what necessities to carry with you on the bike, etc. and she is also a planner and researcher, so she reveled in getting things figured out and dialed in for her ride.
My personal, biggest mistake of this ride, was to decide to ride my new bike. I love my new bike because it's a much more fun ride and handles extremely well as it is a 27.5. But....it's a 1x with a 30 tooth ring, and this proved to be extremely hard pushing with the extra weight on my bike and the tough BHX terrain, which put a big strain and pain on the old knees. They started aching in the first 10 miles, and continued to hurt the entire time I was out there. I took Ibuprofen twice a day to try and help with the pain, but even so, every pedal stroke was irritating and varied between mild and extreme pain at times. My next run, I will be sure to switch over to a 28 or maybe even 26 tooth due to the steep continuous climbs that are on this course.
We decided to do an individual time trial rather than start on the race date due to schedules, and the fact that this was our first time trying a bikepacking race so we had limited experience, we had no idea how long we could go each day, and neither of us had ever ridden in the dark much. Our goal was to try to get in around 50 miles a day, which was actually a lot for us both as we'd both had very little riding the month prior due to sickness and busy schedules. We were also a bit concerned about the weather forecast as it called for a bit of rain during the week, cold nights, and a lot of rain for the coming weekend. But overall, things looked good and we were both ready to get the wheels rolling!
Our Sunday morning start was chilly at 37 degrees. We met at the Conoco gas station and were off by 7:45 am. I'm very familiar with the first 22 miles as it takes place on my hometown trail, Tinton Trail, which consists of some beautiful singletrack through the Northern Black Hills. When we got to the singletrack I was however, a bit disappointed as the previous two days of rain had made the trail a bit muddy and it was pretty torn up the whole way by the cows tramping up and down the path. Our tires were immediately coated with a thin layer of mud that stuck with us through the whole stretch of singletrack. Normally this wouldn't bother me too much, but when your bike already weighs 48 pounds (yes I weighed it just before I left) every extra bit of weight makes a difference. But even with this slight setback, the ride was beautiful. There were butterflies everywhere, to the point of it being mystically weird, and the fall colors were blossoming in the surrounding aspens.
|Big Hill Trailhead|
|Fall colors going off on Tinton Trail!|
We clicked away the miles and made it to the first resupply at mile 22 by noon. After quickly filling up our camelbacks and water bottles we headed up Spearfish Canyon road pedaling pavement for about 3 miles. We then turned onto Annie Creek road, and headed into unknown territory. I had heard that this was a tough section with a lot of hike a bike, and sure enough, we did plenty of hike a bike through the rocky and steep sections of the trail.
|Hiking up Annie Creek|
|Terry Peak Summit|
We finally summited on Terry Peak, which was followed by some new trail down into lead. Here we quickly stopped for lunch and a few more supplies from the grocery mart. After this the riding got interesting. We navigated the streets of Lead, which included a series of steep metal stairs that almost ended my ride as I slipped and struggled to get my bike down the "stairway to hell". Once we reached the bottom, it seemed we turned around and headed on the steep Lead roads right back to the top of the stairs!?! then we rode some new singletrack that wound through the hillsides and ended up right back where we started...well ok maybe not quite but it sure felt that way.
Finally after being in the Labarynth of Lead, we got to the Mickelson trail for about 15 miles of rails to trails riding. We arrived in Dumont just before dark and decided it would be a good idea to stay in the Dumont warming hut, so we could just throw our bags out on the ground rather than setting up our tents. It was handy having a roof over our heads and tables to organize our gear on, and it stayed much warmer inside than it was outside. The only downside of it was that I kept waking up throughout the night whenever I'd hear a car drive by and kept thinking someone would burst in on us. Due to this I got very little sleep on our first night out.
|Packing up in Dumont|
The next morning we were up before the sun and were both eager to get going. This would be the first time I'd ridden in the dark for years, and I actually really enjoyed it. We rode on mostly dirt, rocky forest roads until we began to ascend the Custer Peak fire lookout road. It was really beautiful as the sun was just beginning to rise.
|Heading Up Custer Peak|
From the top of Custer Peak, we descended back down to a small campground called Mystic. The store wasn't open yet, so we casually went over to an unoccupied campsite and got water from the spigot. We weren't sure if the water was good for drinking so we used our filters for the first time, and filled up our bottles and camelbacks. After riding more forest road for awhile, the riding suddenly got interesting. We found ourselves on some cow trail, and eventually the track just turned into the forest. We kept looking around for where we had missed a turn, but eventually just decided to bushwhack through the brush.
|Learning to trust the Garmin|
We had to trust our track as there was no trail to follow, just a line on the Garmin. The non-existent "trail" lead us along a barbwire fence and up a hill. We were getting a little frustrated at this point trying to figure out where to go, but eventually were spit out onto some dirt and gravel roads.
The roads took us to a really beautiful section of trail that crossed a creek about 6 times? (I've done a lot of exploring in the hills, but had never been to this area before, and was grateful to be in such a beautiful setting) We would find a spot on the creek where there were enough rocks to hop across, as we didn't want to get our feet wet. We ended up being very successful at this rock hopping and rolled out of the area happy and with dry feet!
|Keeping the feet dry|
We continued to navigate the unfamiliar roads down into Sturgis where we would stop for our first "real" meal in two days. I had the idea to 'drop' our bikes off at the bike shop and go next door to a brewery/restaurant. It worked perfectly as we ordered our food, and instead of sitting and waiting, were able to go back over to the bike shop and get water and resupply for the next section.
|Top notch service!!|
I need to give a huge shout out to Xtreme Dakota Bikes at this point as we were treated like royalty. They proceeded to pump up our tires, lube our chain and thoroughly go through our bikes fixing this and that (my front brakes were even replaced). We were very grateful for this as neither of us has much knowledge on the ins and outs of bike maintenance.
After eating half a pizza, and stuffing the other half in my camelback for later, with fully tuned up bikes, we were ready to take on the next section of trail. Once again I was very familiar with the trails that lie ahead, and was ready for the next section of easy gravel rolling out to Bear Butte, and the start of the much anticipated Centennial Trial!
|Centennial Trailhead...let's get this started!|
|Crossing bridge was tricky!|
I was a little anxious for the following days ride. It would be a full day of steep climbing with all single track. I'd done this section many times, but never on a fully loaded bike, and I knew the extra weight would make this already difficult section, even more cumbersome. My legs felt great though, and we headed out in the dark, onto some of the most beautiful trail in the Black Hills.The riding was pretty much as I expected, with some great flowy trail, followed by long hike a bike sections.
|Chilly but beautiful!|
|Centennial Trail Bliss!!|
This seemed to be repeated throughout the day, as well as the constant changing of clothing, as we'd hit areas of chilly creek bottoms, then climb up and out into the higher hills. We filtered water at Dalton Lake and then headed onto the motorized trails that would take us to Nemo.
As we got closer to Nemo, we decided that it might be a good idea to hole up there for the night. We knew there was a small store where we could resupply and we'd have water available. We also knew that rain was in the forecast for the evening, and the sky was looking ominous, so as soon as we found a spot with cell service we called the guest ranch to see what kind of lodging would be available. We didn't have any luck with the guest ranch, but were given the phone # of "Lotty", so we called to see if there was anywhere we'd be able to rest comfortably for the night. "Lotty" ended up having to call someone else, and after waiting patiently on the hilltop for around a half hour, we were finally reconnected and told there was a room available at the old Schoolhouse that we could stay in. Great, we'd be there within the hour!! I was very excited to have a warm bed to sleep in, and perhaps get a good nights rest. We made it to Nemo in the early afternoon, so the store was still open. We stopped here and resupplied food, from a very limited selection, before heading over to the Schoolhouse. Lotty was there promptly and informed us that we were the only ones staying for the night and could have the whole place to ourselves! It had a full kitchen and living area, and was a super cool little place. We showered, washed our clothes, and I warmed up my can of chicken noodle soup on the stove. I felt revived(and lucky) as I looked out the window at the rain coming down, and felt relieved that we had just missed it. We had only rode a little over 30 miles that day, but it was tough riding as it was a lot of single track with hike a bike, and about 5,000 ft of climbing. I was also running on sore knees and not much sleep, so I was eager to sleep in a warm bed, out of the elements, and give my knees some much needed relief. Since we quit early we also decided to start early and were up the following morning at 4:30am. We had packed our bags and filled up our water the night before so we could make an easy exit onto the trail. After a quick breakfast of mac and cheese (it was all I could find at the store in my muddled state of fatigue) it was fun to once again be riding in the dark and navigating the trails by headlamp. The temps were brisk and there was frost on the ground which made for some beautiful scenery as we clicked away at the early morning miles.
|Heading up the motorized section out of Nemo.|
|Frosty, cold morning!|
One of the best moments of the morning was when local Photographer Randy Erickson met us on the trail to take our picture (he took pictures of all the riders) and handed us each two strips of Bacon!!! What a treat!
|The Bald Mountains =beautiful views|
The trail was beautiful and we were both feeling refreshed from the previous days rest and short mileage. But we also knew that the dreaded Samelius climb lie in wait. Our goal for the day was to just make it up and over this section, and then see if we could muster the strength to continue on to Rockerville. I tried just to concentrate on what was at hand and really enjoyed the days riding.
At Pactola we were able to find a nice little stream to filter from, but at Sheridan we had to filter directly from the lake. The water had a bunch of green moss and dirt, and all I was carrying was a steri-pen, so I resigned to drinking really nasty water for the next section of hike a bike up Samelius. And hike a bike it was. It took us two hours to go the three miles from Sheridan Lake to the Summit.
another hour to descend/walk back down the other side. Somewhere in the middle of the climb we
encountered an angry rattlesnake that I completely missed as I hiked by. Heather, wasn't so lucky as I had disturbed
it from its sunning, and it was coiled and ready to strike as she approached. Lucky for both of us, we made it by unharmed but much more alert to
watching our step as we finished the hike up and over the summit. We were determined to make it from here to
Rockerville before the restaurant closed so we could resupply food, and get
fresh water. We continued on Centennial
for several more miles, before getting spit out onto the highway for a relaxing
and refreshing ride to Rockerville. We
did have to ride some of the storm mountain singletrack before making it to
Rockerville, but the trails were fun and flowy, and we made it to the
restaurant before close. Right away I
dumped out my nasty water and filled up with fresh new water, ordered and ate a
whole Indian Taco!, and we headed back out onto the trail. We made it just to the top of the storm
mountain trails as the sun was beginning to set. It was warm up top, and we had a nice area to
camp in the trees. With a full belly,
nice clean fresh water, a secluded
campsite in the woods, and a long day of riding under my belt, I would get
probably the best night of sleep yet.
|Hiking the dreaded Samelius|
|Another beautiful early morning start!|
Once again, we rose before the sun was up, to start riding. I felt fairly good, but immediately new my eyes were puffy and swollen. This has happened to me before on trips so I wasn't too concerned and figured the puffiness would subside throughout the day. The next section of the trail we'd be riding was called Fosters Gulch. I'd never ridden this section, but had been warned of the technical riding, and the cliff that I would have to traverse. I actually ended up enjoying this section, but it was very slow going, and very technical, and we got a little lost several times navigating the trail with our garmin.
|Navigating through all the sections on Foster's was tiresome!|
|Traversing the Cliff in Fosters!|
|Pretty steep slope, no room for a fall!|
|This swimming hole was one of those spots that helped me forgive the race director for taking us on such a crazy trail :)|
|Feeling pretty lost through this creek crossing corridor!|
We were both pretty exhausted at this point and were starting to second guess where we were at on the trail. For some reason we got confused and thought we had somehow missed a turn into Keystone. We were out of water, and thought we had another 6 miles to go before hitting Horsethief Lake. We considered going back to the Highway we had crossed earlier, as we knew there was a stream where we could filter water on the way back. But at the same time, that would be just as far as going forward to Horsethief Lake, however we didn't know if there would be any water to filter before we could make it there. Just to put things into perspective, it had taken us about 6 hours to go 12 miles through the technical and difficult to navigate trails of the morning and we were feeling a bit defeated and lost. I finally got some sense and decided to check for cell reception....Bingo! I quickly called my husband and told him to look on Trackleaders to see where the hell we were at, and that we were lost, and there was no trail! He told me to calm down and that I was acting Delirious!! Ok maybe I was, as we found out that we had not yet made it to Keystone and were only about 3 miles away. What a relief! Feeling a little more confident, we blindly followed the garmin route through some grass (with no trail) where it miraculously turned into a trail and then a road, and then dumped us out onto the highway for a short stretch into the town of Keystone. We found a restaurant and ordered food, and decided we should discuss what our plans were for the remainder of this trip. We were 4.5 days in, with 213 miles and 27,600 ft of climbing completed. We knew that we only had the rest of the day and the following day to ride before the weather took a turn for the worse. Rain was in the forecast....a lot of rain. And at the pace we were going we knew if we tried to wait it out, we'd be out there longer that either of us wanted to be. We weren't willing to try to ride through the rain and hike-a-bike for miles upon miles of muddy trails. We pretty much knew our tour would be over be the end of the following day. So the question was, do we keep riding or just quit now? We tried to work out a few details of where the next water supply would be at, where we could camp for the night, and where we could end up the following day that would have shelter and a phone to call for someone to come get us before the rains started. At some point during all of this, I went to use the restroom, and removed my sunglasses and looked in the mirror. Yikes!! My eyes were really puffy with fluid pockets, and my whole face in general looked a little puffy. I've had puffy eyes before...but never quite like this. I also noticed my lower legs were a bit swollen. And for some reason I also started thinking about the wreck I had a few days previous where my tires slid out and I took a tree to my left side. I hadn't been hurt, but I smacked it pretty hard, and I started thinking about concussion issues (I've had 3 concussions in the last 2 years and seem to get them very easily now). Was it stupid for me to continue? In the end we both decided that we should probably call it quits as we were both a little delirious and warn down, and only had 1 day of riding left anyway, and I think the final straw was that I started getting paranoid about the concussion stuff.
Anyway, now I know that it was the right call. My husband came and gave me a Ridge Rider Rescue, and brought me home where I showered and slept like a baby for the first time in 4 nights. The next day I noticed my stomach area was very sore. At first I thought it was just sore muscles, but as the day progressed, it just didn't feel right, so I decided to go to Urgent Care. They pushed on my stomach and it was very tender to the touch. They then did blood work and found elevated enzymes (triple the normal) in my liver. They sent me to the ER for a CAT Scan and Ultrasound where they found a large amount of fluid around my liver. They mentioned Hepatitis, Liver Disease, Gallbladder issues. They brought in the surgeon. Luckily after asking me a multitude of questions, they decided to wait on surgery and hooked me up to an IV and pumped fluid and antibiotics into me. They also wanted to keep me overnight. My blood pressure was high and my pulse was low at 47 beats per minute. They also gave me a dose of Morphine for the stomach pain...that was wierd, felt like my head was on fire for a moment. After a sleepless night they released me the next morning and told me I needed to get a HIDA scan. I scheduled an appointment with my doctor the following Monday, and the first thing she said when she came into the room was "well this is weird". Yeah right?! My blood pressure and pulse had returned to normal, and my stomach wasn't nearly as tender to the touch. She told me we should still get the HIDA scan. So now I sit at home, wondering what happened? Was it the water I drank, the food I was eating, all the ibuprofen I was taking for my sore knees?? The Hepatitis test came back negative, and I'm scheduled to get the HIDA scan next week. My stomach no longer hurts, but I don't feel 100%. Hopefully I'll get some answers, and eventually heal up. I need to figure out what caused the swelling so I can continue on this crazy ride, live life, keep pedaling forward. I could never quit riding, it's what I do, it's what I love, so my body is just going to have to figure things out.
-and thanks Heather Heynen for being such an amazing friend and riding partner! it wouldn't have been nearly as fun without you!! Looking forward to many more adventures with you......