The 2015 Tatanka is just a couple weeks away, so we better get the rest of the course wrapped up for you! As promised, we’re going to give a description of the beginning of the 50k course to where it meets up with the long course, and then a description of the rest of both courses.
The 50k course starts in Piedmont, SD. Piedmont, taking its name from the French word meaning “foot of the mountains,” was founded in 1890, but remained an unincorporated town until 2007. At the start of the race, we will roll out to the Northwest along the service road (Sturgis Road) a little over a mile before turning off onto a gravel road where we’ll head west toward the mountains. The gravel road will take us back a couple miles where we’ll enter the Black Hills and finally hit the trail that will take us along Little Elk Creek.
Enjoy this fun trail as it winds along Little Elk Creek for the next few miles and takes us through the canyon of the same name. This trail used to be a road that was washed out many times by flooding and finally met its demise in the flood of 1972, which is why we’ll find a mix of narrow gravel road and singletrack. There are some spectacular views here, but pay attention to the trail, as there are some technical features in a few spots and a stretch that rides along a steep edge for a short distance.
Once we come out of the canyon, we’ll get on the gravel road and in a mile or so, we will be at the aid station at Dalton Lake where our two courses converge.
From here on out, this description of the trail will cover both courses. Leaving the aid station, we will get (back) on the Centennial Trail where we will be until we get almost all the way back to Sturgis. Remember, if you’re in doubt look for a sign with the buffalo skull on it, much like the Tatanka logo (you’ll find these either on a carsonite like the one shown in the previous post or a diamond shaped metal sign attached to a tree). From Dalton Lake we cross the creek and start climbing on singletrack. In this next stretch we encounter a few switchbacks as we climb for the next couple miles. The first part of the climb tops out and here we’ll be on a little bit of two-track for a short distance. Pay attention in this stretch as the trail is on the left after a short, but fast descent. The trail will be marked here, but can be easy to miss as people get excited that they are descending for a bit after all that climbing!
Once back on the singletrack, we’ll continue to climb for a couple more miles, but it won’t be as steep as the stuff we had just encountered. This is a fun stretch that has some stunning views to take in. I know it’s a race, but take a chance to see this scenery that not many people get to see! We’ll crest this climb and start to descend for a half-mile or so, only to have the trail turn skyward once more. Don’t worry though, as it only climbs for another half-mile before we really start to descend!
This next descent is fast and furious! Pay attention as it gets little rocky and loose in a few spots! After a couple miles of descending, we’ll encounter a few short punchy climbs followed by similar descents. As we get closer to Elk Creek, keep an eye out to the right for the Knifeblade, a spire of rock created by Elk Creek, jutting up out of the canyon floor. Eventually we’ll descend all the way to Elk Creek where we’ll cross it a number of times. Most of the time, Elk Creek is not much more than a trickle or a very small stream, but as of this writing, it is flowing fairly deep and quickly from all the rain we’ve had in May and June. Please use caution when walking through these crossings (you most likely will be walking as they can be up to waist deep in places). Hopefully this week’s drier weather will help bring the levels of this down by race day!
Note that this description was written in 2015 when the Black Hills set record totals for rainfall in May and June. In 2016 we are still setting records but for the driest May and June. All Elk Creek crossing are dry and will be on race dry unless there is significant rainfall in the next few days.
Once through the creek crossings, we just have another mile or so to go until the Elk Creek aid station, where the long course riders can have their last drop bag of the day. Fuel up with water here as we have another 17 or so miles to go until the end (although there will be an unmanned water stop with about 4 miles to go, I’d suspect at this point most people would rather keep on going). Once back on the trail, we’ll be climbing once again for the next 5 or so miles, but this will be the last “big” climb of the day! (Don’t worry, there will still be a few climbs after this one.) This climb isn’t all that steep, but at this stage it feels fairly relentless. Once we top out on this climb, we will be greeted by a beautiful mountain top meadow, with amazing views to the North that include Bear Butte! Get ready to descend! The next few miles are a stellar stretch of the Centennial Trail, combining fast and open singletrack to aspen lined, tight singletrack and stuff somewhere in between. If you’ve ridden this section from Elk Creek trailhead to the Alkali trailhead before, note that there are some stretches of the trail that have been rerouted. The great crew at Black Hills Trails have put a lot of hard work into making this stretch more sustainable while keeping the fun factor HIGH.
Be on the lookout as during this descent there are a few more creek crossings, all of them easily rideable, but can surprise you if you’re not aware of them. As we descend into Bulldog Gulch, we will cross a two-track road and then climb once again. As promised, this isn’t a big climb, only ½ mile long or so, but it is a steep little climb that hurts even the most fit racers. Once over this little soul-sucking climb, get ready for a blast back down to the Alkali Creek area. You’re almost finished!
Once we descend out of the mountains, we’ll enter some rolling prairie just before we cross underneath Interstate 90. Use caution going under I-90 here as, just as described before, there is a lot of water flowing and, while completely rideable, it can be a little sketchy in spots. We’re almost finished, we don’t want to crash here! Once out of the tunnels, follow the singletrack out and to the left, where we’ll parallel I-90 for a bit, before breaking back to the North and into the Ft. Meade area.
Ft. Meade was established in 1878 as a cavalry fort to protect the new settlements in the Black Hills. It has had some sort of military presence for most of its existence, currently serving as a National Guard training ground and a National Guard Officer Training School. Of most historical importance, it is the home of our national anthem, the Star Spangled Banner. In 1892, Colonel Caleb H. Carlton, 8th Cavalry, started using the Star Spangled Banner as music for the military retreat ceremony. He requested that everyone stand and pay it respect as it played. Something to ponder as you climb the last few punchy climbs that take us through this historic area.
Once through the Ft. Meade area, we will cross under the road and hop on the bike path for the next mile or so that will take you to Woodle Field and the finish line!
Congratulations! You did it! Whether you completed the long course or the 50k, you just completed an amazing ride! Now it’s time to kick back and enjoy the music in the park as part of the BAM Festival, get something to eat and tell stories of your day on your bike.