Trans South Dakota 700 Mile Unsupported Bikepacking Race


Set within the great state of South Dakota you begin your adventure in Beulah, WY and end in Sioux City, Iowa. The course blends in every surface that exists in South Dakota, other than pavement which is almost nonexistence on the course. The article is for what the mid and back of the pack rider will experience - including all you Clydesdales!!! This race is the perfect training grounds for Tour Divide based on rider’s who have accomplished both.

I cannot share the GPX for the race as it crosses private land, riders only have permission during the race. Please respect this as riders have followed the route outside of the race which has resulted in losing the land permissions.

My steed of choice was a Salsa Fargo Ti custom build. See at the end for a spec list if interested.

Ride Days Overview

  • Day 1 - Beulah, WY - Lead, SD (~57 miles)
  • Day 2 - Lead, SD - Wall Drug (Mile ~217)
  • Day 3- Wall Drug - Some Farm (Mile ~300)
  • Day 4 - Some Farm - Blunt (Mile ~402)
  • Day 5 - Blunt - Wessington Springs (Mile ~503)
  • Day 6 - Wessington Springs - Sioux City, IA & Finish (Mile 714 – with missed turns etc it ended up being 730 miles of joy 😊)

Day 1 – HILLS with Single Track and Gravel

Beulah, WY - Lead, SD (57 miles) 

I have never moved so slow over 60 miles! The race begins with 15 miles of climbing 3000 feet through gravel farmer roads. Cows roam the range in herds, keep your eyes on the road for cow patties, no constipation in these parts. The route descends into Iron Lake, SD campground where you can load up on food and water. Now begins the single track, keep
a close eye on your GPS and your gear packed tight! I really enjoyed this portion, especially when I caught tiny air on a loaded bike, smiles and miles were flying by! This 20-mile section had some of the most scenic views of the entire course. Now the real fun began for the day, Annie's Creek. It is about 4-5 miles up a rocky gravel road with water crossings, the hike a bike kicked into high gear. Luckily, we had a group of four and took advantage to get off the bike and enjoying conversation. After Annie’s you continue up a climb to fast gravel through a mining area and then rocky descents – and I mean ROCKY!! We landed in Lead, SD where we decided to stay the night, partly due to Tom’s front brake being mangled and partly due to just being tired. Tom and I were conflicted, Hill City was over 40 miles which would land us into the early morning or we could grab a hotel and have a great night rest. Paulette and Sarah continued on. We took the motel which later proved to be a great decision. Disappointed at only 57 miles for the day, however it was one of the best days I have ever had on a bike!!

Day 2: Long Haul, Presidents and Buffalo

Day 2 - Lead, SD - Wall Drug (Mile 217) 

Tom and I opened the door to our motel and the rain started. They say in SD that it only lasts for 30 minutes, not this fine morning. We hit the Mickelson Trail and thunder showers hit hard with what felt like freezing rain. It is a slow climb and the trail began to soften. Tom and I had separated as I missed the trail and had to back track to start the trail at the correct entry point.  I landed in Hill City and made the mistake of thinking the route would take me through town, I was wrong. A few miles later I was off track, at mile 107.5 you need to get on the Centennial Trail 89. This is a big one, if you miss it you will find yourself in Keystone. I met these nice folks who pointed me in the right direction and filled my water bottles. The Centennial hike a bike trail is only a mile or so and then you descend to Mount Rushmore, the views are exceptional on the way down. Be careful as there is a lot of traffic who are preoccupied with the view. I stopped at Mount Rushmore for the Mega Nachos and a Coke. While I ate and enjoyed the view, I had time to people watch and eat my over sized nachos. Numerous people who stopped to ask me WTF I was doing. Recharged from the conversations I headed downhill to begin a 6-mile climb. Most people despise this part of the route, I quite enjoyed it. I road and walked, enjoyed the keyhole views back to the mountains of Mount Rushmore. From there you descend for a few miles and enter rolling hills of gravel.  
I arrived at Hermosa, SD (mile 137) and had a nice supper at a gas station that had a small restaurant (make sure you load up here). Called home, ate soup and fries then continued on. The next stretch from Hermosa to the Badlands entrance was thoroughly enjoyable with sweet gravel, rolling hills and a nice sunset. At about midnight I hit the Badlands National Park entrance. My plan was to camp at the Sage Creek Campground but I missed it. I was running low on water and had a choice, ride to Wall and conserve my water or be thirsty all night and have some water for the 17-mile ride into Wall. I decided to continue, put my head down and pedal it out. I get down in the aero position and hammered down, just need to get there. Next thing I know I see nothing but large shadows, I lock up both brakes and realize – BUFFALO!!! So now what? I turn off my head lamp thinking that would just piss them off, back up and wait. In a moment they gallop away. I continue, relieved for the moment until I shine my headlamp into the field, nothing but eyes. Within a mile I encounter another herd, I repeat my last response and wait. This time they start making loud noises that rippled across the field like a buffalo grunt wave. They slowly moved to the side and I pedal very slowly with my SOS button ready for activation until I came to the next herd, I turn around to find out that I am boxed in. I wait until they clear in front of me and pedal slowly once again. It was a very narrow gravel road with buffalo no more than 5 feet on either side of me. I get past the bulk of the buffalo only to have the largest one standing on top of a mound to my right, all I could think was “Please don’t ram me, please don’t ram me.”. I was fully awakened and scanning for buffalo for the rest of the park ride, never so happy to finally hit the pavement to Wall. 

I arrive at Wall to sleep between tall grasses and a fence, finally to bed at 4am after almost 160 miles of riding. 3 hours later I wake to a train, they were working on the railway about 50 ft from me, note to self “do not camp next to trains”.

Day 3 – Awoken to Trains

Day 3- Wall Drug - Some Farm (Mile 300) 

Tom and I meet up for breakfast at Wall Drug, take in some of the sites and
swap buffalo stories, his much more entertaining than mine. We roll out and I notice my tire is low and let Tom know I am going to pump it up. The pump loosened the valve and all the air came out. I take out my CO2 cartridge not realizing the issue. I had my fat bike CO2 value with regular cartridges, well that did not work. I figure out the issue pumped it up and worked hard to catch Tom. It was hot and windy, pushing myself to catch him 30 miles in I was dying. Tom gave me a magic Coke and off we went!

We landed in Blunt late afternoon at a Subway – this became our main source of calories. We were beat from the day before and took our time to get extra supplies. The place was empty so we asked if we could take a nap on the Subway benches. She had no issue but within 10 minutes country music came on blasting, we quickly realized the manager wanted us out of there. Tom thanked him for the music and we left. 

At this point the route got rough again and we were consistently stopped by drivers to find out if we were lost. We even met a real-life cowboy!! We road until we were tired, as usual we would plan to stop by ten, but it would always be after midnight.

That night we ended up sleeping next to a farmer’s gate and at 4 am awoken to a dog barking at the gate. Thinking to myself “Yesterday morning was a train, today a dog, I should make a better choice tonight.”

Day 4 – Headwinds and Rolling Hills

Day 4 - Some Farm - Blunt (Start at Mile ~400) 

We road gravel, double track, grass track and headwinds until we arrived at Fort Pierre, STD Checkpoint # 1 and finish of the Sprint Race (355 miles). This is the only checkpoint where you receive support from the lovely Joe and Tina Stiller. We had pickles, Coke, hamburgers and beans – so good! Grabbed a shower, took care of some down under issues and had a 30-minute rest in the grass before pumping up the pack raft and beginning our 5 mile journey down the down the Missouri river. By the time you inflate the raft, load the bikes, paddle and put everything back together you can plan for 2-4 hours. We got lucky and had lots of head wind (theme of the race) and waves for the paddle 😊. Ensure you fill up on food and water once you cross, next stop is a water spigot about 50 miles out. 

Heading out of Pierre was uphill but gave a nice tour. We road some pavement for a change and just outside of the city we road some firm gravel, so much nicer than pushing through it. The evening was beautiful apart from the South Dakota bug sunset (nightly occurrence) – from sunset to 90 minutes thereafter you are facing bugs in your eyes, mouth and ears. Bring multiple glasses that cover sun and bugs, or maybe a beehive hat? Be prepared to keep moving during sunset plus ninety minutes, not kidding. On the flip side great time for photos, at least according to Tom. Based on the photos he took, he is correct. 

We landed in Blunt just as the bar was closing but they let us come in and get some supplies. Tom and I slept at the public park across the street. The owner drove over as we were setup and offered a place to stay for free including a shower and laundry. South Dakota folks are some of the nicest you will ever meet. We declined as we had all we needed and our site was setup, sounds nuts but we were beat.

Day 5 - More Headwinds and Hills

Day 5 – Blunt - Wessington Springs (Mile ~503)

We grab supplies at the local store and Sarah came rolling in! She was up early and had ridden 40 miles by mid-morning. The wind just would not quit, up to 40 mph headwinds. Our goal for the day was Wessington Springs, just over 100 miles away. Considering the lack of sleep, headwinds and loose gravel this was a feat. Long day of rolling hills and headwinds, did I mention headwinds??? The winds would decrease but not quit into the night. This was a very rough day, pulling our bikes through water varying from 6” to 3 ft in tall grasses and thick mud. Our feet were trashed by the time we hit Mitchell - home of the Corn Palace.  The best part was meeting Cody from Palace City Pedalers. He was there to give the next medal, to our surprise there were a few folks there who had been tracking us. We had the please of meeting Cody’s nephew and his buddies.

The rest of the way was much like the beginning, at this point we were feeling it hard. 20 miles out, Jan (a local) was out after 10 pm to give us food and water. I mean, come on, how awesome are people from SD!! She gave us the weather, were to stay, and hills left to conquer.

We finally made it to Wessington Springs, I had the best shower ever! It took a long time to get the matted dirt out of my leg hair. Tom and I shared our food, very little but who cares at that point we had a shower and bed!! The Traveler's Motel really was everything you need – affordable, clean and a fantastic staff!

Day 6 – Da Push, Dirt Naps and Walking, Wind and Whining

Day 6 - Wessington Springs to Finish (Mile 714)

Honestly, the next 38 hours is hard day to remember, much a blur. We started the day at the Springs Inn Café, best breakfast of the trip. Family owned, exceptional food. Sarah, Tom and I rolled out just before noon. We decided to push through and road until about 11 or 12 pm. We deployed the food and 30 minute nap technique, being off the road was all that counted. We pedaled on until 4:30 am were we found another spot to nap with the idea to wake up with the sun. I was cold, bitten by bugs and it was not exactly a comfortable bed. We road on and hit Viborg, this was a key stop for us. We ate at a breakfast joint and suddenly Gloria showed up, a friend of the Stiller’s. The community center was being used so she offered us her home!! We had a shower and an exceptional 2-hour nap, OMG!!! Lynn and Gloria saved the day for us!! Tom and I were able to dry out our gear on their driveway, when we put them back on they still stunk but they were dry! The kids in town cheered us on as we left for the final 100 plus miles.

No more naps, this was it, we wanted to finish. The last miles were not easy, we had hike a bike, head winds, washboard gravel and B roads (unmaintained roads) galore. We had no idea how far we were from the finish as we had taken wrong turns, detours, etc. My daughter texted us saying we were 23 miles out, WOW. Finally, we see pavement and lights!!! Joe Stiller was there on his motorcycle. He escorted us to the finish, after all that I was sad to be finished. 

Tom and I started out as acquaintances and ended up developing a deep friendship. I couldn’t have made it without him, getting to know each other was the best experience of the trip. 

We finished at 6 day and 17 plus hours, about 84 hours of riding. It was a long haul to the end, 38 hours in total for that last 210 miles. This race is an amazing experience that I will never forget. Thank you Winnebago Bicycle, Terrene Tires and BarYak for their support!

Bike Specifications

  • 2018 Salsa Lg Ti
  • Firestarter Carbon Boost Fork 
  • Tempo Wraps Custom Design
  • Rear Derailleur Sram Force 22
  • Shifter Sram Force
  • eeWings Mountain Bike Crank
  • XT Pedals
  • Ti Chain
  • Whiskey NO 9 40W Carbon Rims
    • Rear Hub: DT Swiss 350 with ceramic bearings
    • Front Hub SON 
  • Terrene McFly 29 x 2.8
  • Linskey seat post and stem
  • Salsa Woodchipper Carbon bars
  • BarYak Expedition with Ti Wings & Talon Front Bag
  • Brooks Seat
  • Porcelean Rocket rear and front bags
  • Cedero frame bag
  • Revelate designs tank and Jerry
  • Ti King Cages
  • Garmin eTrek 30 and a Mini InReach 
  • Wahoo Element

Sleep System

  • Silk Liner
  • Bug Net
  • Orange bag
  • Klymp mattress


Post a Comment

Popular Posts