(I’ve gotten far behind in my posts about my summer travels, so I’ll be interweaving them for the next month or so. This post happened in early August of 2015)
After I was done visiting the Custer Battlefield National Monument I decided to head over to the Black Hills of South Dakota and go to the 75th annual Sturgis Bike Week. Because this was the 75th anniversary it was estimated this would be the largest one ever but I decided to try to battle the crowds long enough to see it. I had left Cody, WY early, gone to Billings for shopping and then the battlefield, so it had been a long, hot day and I wanted to find a National Forest for us to camp in.
Fortunately the Custer National Forest is midway between Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument and the Black Hills. I was very impressed by how pretty this drive was along Montana Route 212 which goes right through the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation. It was a very nice forest with several creeks and rivers set in rolling hills.
I found the campground in the National Forest and it was a very nice, free campground with nine sites and most of them empty. The next day I continued the trip toward Sturgis and I was starting to need gas—the first station I came to probably had hundreds of Harleys parked outside of it. Worse, there were probably a dozen bikes lined up trying to get gas at every pump. I was in the middle of nowhere almost 100 miles from Sturgis and the crowds were already a problem! That was the first hint of the horrible crowds to come and I started thinking to myself that this may have been a very bad idea!!!
Next I came to Belle Fouche, SD and got gas and then turned south toward Spearfish. While I was still a long ways from Sturgis, the crowds were much worse! Every business in town had dozens of bikes in their parking lots and I had to wait though every street light multiple times because of the traffic. Just a little ways south of there you come to Spearfish, SD and I decided to drive through it and stop for lunch. The traffic was just as bad, the streets were thick with bikes and every restaurant or fast food place was packed.
I came across the National Forest Ranger Station and decided to stop in and get an MVUM and find a place to camp. The lady at the desk was very helpful and knowledgeable and I left knowing exactly where to camp. I took one of the roads out of town up into the Black Hills and, like always, I started looking for a smaller road that turned off it. I found one that seemed likely and followed it for a ways, then I took another, even smaller road off it and soon came to a very nice campsite, “Cody, we’re home!”
While it had been a beautiful, cloud-free day ,the Black Hills are famous for their late afternoon thunderstorms so I wasn’t surprised when it clouded up in the evening. However, this was my first time to the Black Hills in over 30 years so I was totally unprepared for what happened next.
The typical storm clouds rolled in and started with some minor thunder and lightening but it didn’t stay minor! Very quickly this turned into the worst lightning storm I’ve ever been in with a gully-washing downpour of rain! The thunder exploded directly over our heads and rattled the van. Usually you can tell how far away the lightning is by counting the time between the flash of light and the thunder, but there was no time between them, they occurred simultaneously. That meant the lightning was very near us, literally exploding all around the van.
Like most dogs, Cody is terrified by loud noises and he was petrified. He went to the back corner of the bed and curled up like it was the only safe place in the world. But he wasn’t the only one who was afraid; I’m not ashamed to tell you I was frightened as well. I have a friend who was in a bad lightning storm at the Grand Canyon and lightning struck a tree just 30 feet from his trailer. It didn’t even hit his trailer but the lightning destroyed a lot of his electronics—which he then had to replace. I wasn’t really afraid for our safety, but I was very concerned for the damage a nearby strike could do. Even worse, the road we had come in on was easy while it was dry, but once soaked by this downpour it could easily be impassable the next day.
The next morning dawned bright, clear and without a cloud in the sky, but I turned on the radio to a local station and the forecast was for a storm just as bad that night, and every night for the rest of the week!! That was all I needed to hear! Between the heat, the storms and the unbearable crowds this was NOT a place I wanted to be, time to get out of there!
Only one problem remained, the rain had turned the road into a quagmire of mud.
Cody and I took our morning walk up the road for a mile or so and everything I saw in that time seemed like I could get through it just fine. But we didn’t go all the way back to the main road and I knew that would be the hardest spot because it was the steepest, and most rutted; if I was going to get stuck, that’s where it would be. If I could get through that one bad spot, I’d have it made because it was all downhill after that.
Normally, the best thing to do in a storm is sit-tight and ride it out; I always carry enough food and water to wait-out the weather. But this time I honestly was concerned about the severe lightning and thunderstorm and its potential to do serious damage to my electronics. I also didn’t want to put Cody through that again. I decided it was worth the risk of getting stuck and I just wanted to get as far away from the Black Hills as fast as I could!!
Just like I had thought, everything was going fairly smoothly. The road was rutted with mud but I was generally able to stay out of the ruts and when I was forced into them I was getting enough traction to muscle my way through. I had to keep my speed up so we were bouncing a lot, but mostly I was firmly in control.
Then I came to the final hill, just as I feared the road was steeper and the ruts were deeper and full of water. I had to stay out of the ruts or I would get stuck for sure.
I had enough speed that I thought I could make it so I gunned it and hit the hill as fast as I could. The road all around the ruts was pure mud and slightly down a side-hill so right away I slid into the deep ruts. But the worst was ahead and I knew if I stayed in them I would be stuck for sure, so I tried to turn the wheel hard to the right and climb up out of them. Several attempts didn’t work so I turned the wheel sharper and suddenly the wheel caught some traction and threw me out of the rut but the mud was so slippery we were actually hydroplaning over the mud and that threw me violently into the side of the hill and my momentum carried me deep into it.
No harm was done, but it wasn’t good. There was nothing to do then but try to back up and go again, but my rear tires just spun in the mud, and I knew I was stuck. Spinning the tires wouldn’t accomplish anything but dig a deeper hole so I turned off the engine and Cody and I got out to assess the situation.
Because all the tires were out of the rut, I was confident I could get myself unstuck, but if I did I would just hit the ruts again and be stuck immediately in them and getting out of them would be much more difficult, probably impossible. It was about 8:30 am by then and it was already getting hot—the South Dakota sun was beating down on us and I knew the road would dry out very quickly.
The only good thing to do was to simply sit and wait and let the sun do the work for me. My one concern was that the deepest rut had 6 inches of water in it and it would not dry quickly—I needed to get the water out of it. There was a drop-off to a pond on the side of the road so I decided to try to dig a trench so the water could follow gravity and flow down into the pond. The ground was soft from the rain so it only took me about half an hour to get the water flowing freely out of the rut and off the road. There really was nothing to do but wait, so I got out my laptop and got online while the sun did the work for me. I always carry a mini, D-Handle shovel for just this occasion, get it from Amazon here: Mini D-Handle Shovel
Around noon the road looked good so I decided to give it a try. I put my “Portable Tow-Truck” ramps under the back wheels and the tires instantly popped out of the holes they were in and I was free. I always carry them and recommend them to you as well. Get them from Amazon here: Portable Tow Truck Traction Pads (Set Of 2) I put it in gear and gunned it and spun my way up the road no problem—it was dry enough for my mud tires to grab traction and stay out of the rut.
By then I was sick of the Black Hills and the Sturgis Rally and the only thing I wanted was to put as much distance as I possibly could between me and it. So Cody and I drove down to Spearfish, jumped on the freeway, and headed West as fast as we could! Feets, don’t fail me now!
I’ll pick it up from there in my next travel post.
I’m making Videos on my good friends James and Kyndal’s YouTube Channel. See them here:
I have a video out about getting another friend un-stuck, check it out:
Thanks for supporting this site by using these links to Amazon. I’ll make a small percentage on your purchase and it won’t cost you anything, even if you buy something different.
This is the Recovery Gear that I always carry with me:
- Mini-Shovel: http://amzn.to/1kxuzv7
- Portable Tow Truck Traction Pads: http://amzn.to/1PqN40a
- Smittybilt Recovery strap 3” X 30” 30,000 pound capacity: http://amzn.to/1KxVnAT
- Rugged Ridge 2-Pack ¾ inch D Rings: http://amzn.to/1kE8L1o
- Tekton 4 Ton Come-Along: http://amzn.to/1KxW5hu