Monday, August 29, 2016

Race Report: Anchorage Mayor's Half Marathon

12,500 miles.  That's all I had to use from my bank of Delta SkyMiles for my one way trip from New York City to Anchorage. Leaving on a Wednesday after work, I'd fly across the country to LAX (really nice flight - Delta Comfort+ passengers get a free sandwich, snacks, complimentary drinks, and a popsicle!), and then sit around for a 3 1/2 hour layover (yay, bar food at the airport) until my "red-eye" flight to Anchorage on Alaska Airlines that left just before midnight.  I'd arrive in Anchorage at 4:15 in the morning.  Perhaps that's why the flight only cost me 12,500 miles.

I decided to pony up some money on my return flight, also so that I could log the mileage that I'd be able to get from the long haul flight (which ended up being a little over 2,000 miles. Score.)  In my research, an Alaska vacation would also be pricey for accommodations and for a rental car, but I lucked out with what I was able to reserve.  For accommodations, I relied on trusty Airbnb and found a rental for a fantastically cheap $48 a night + service fees, coming to a mere $136 for three nights.  Compare this to a hotel room which would probably be that much (or even more) each night.  For my rental car, nothing was showing cheaper than $100 a day, which seemed to be the norm for car rentals in Alaska over the summer. I judiciously checked practically every day for any cheaper rental rates that popped up, and randomly in mid-May, Hotwire began to post a ridiculously cheap $12 a day rate with Thrifty, costing me just under $100 for the four days of rental.  It turned out to be an error on Thrifty's part, as they were posting it for $102. Only four reservations went through, and all four were able to keep the rental without any added cost - Thrifty corporate would eat the difference.  So I REALLY lucked out in that regard.

Thank you for having me, Kenai Peninsula!
Back to the actual travel weekend itself - so, I arrived at 4:15am in Anchorage, after sleeping practically the entire flight from LA to Anchorage. Upon landing, I headed straight to the car rental area, where only one company (Avis) was actually operating.  I knew the Thrifty counter wouldn't open til 6, so I put my suitcase right at the "front" of the line, while others began to line their things behind mine while sitting on the waiting area chairs within line of sight of the line.  I headed straight up to the counter when the attendant came, right at 6am, and got my car.  I headed out of the airport, blindly finding my way to a Starbucks (mind you, cell phone service in Alaska is absolutely atrocious for Sprint users, and you'll pretty much be using "extended area" roaming for the entire time you're there since Sprint shares towers with the local services, but doesn't have their own.  AT&T users, and I think Verizon users, too, are luckier...) I booked a noon boat cruise from Seward Harbor, which was a 2+ hour drive south on the Seward Highway, well known as one of America's most beautiful and scenic drives, and it most definitely did not disappoint!

After finding a nearby Starbucks (and a wifi signal so that I could get my phone to at least start Google Maps), I began on my trek down to Seward.  The drive down was absolutely beautiful.  Seriously, jaw-dropping doesn't properly describe the views.  Since I had roughly six hours to get down to Seward, I decided to make a couple stops along the way, keeping an eye on the clock with the amount of time I would allot at each place.  My friends Steve and Tammy spent a year in Anchorage after Steve had finished law school (he clerked for the Alaska Supreme Court) and before my trip provided me with a list of must-do's in Anchorage, so I tried to hit up everything he had suggested, which included a couple easy hikes en route to Seward.

Byron Glacier
At first, I stopped in the town of Girdwood to the Alyeska Resort, to see if I could go up their aerial tram to the top of the mountain, but found it to be closed upon getting there.  Mind you, it's 7:00 in the morning.  So I decided to see about doing that when on my way back into Anchorage. I decided to do one of the hikes that Steve and Tammy suggested - first up was driving about ten minutes off of the Seward Highway to hike the relatively easy mile-long Byron Glacier Trail.  Mind you, it's maybe 7:30 in the morning, so nobody is really out and about, but I was intent on doing the hike and checking out the glacier.  When I got to the parking lot at the trailhead, it was completely empty.  So I chanced it... likely a VERY stupid thing to do to go out and hike a mile long trail out in bear country on your own. Thankfully, I brought a whistle and a can of bear spray with me just in case... I decided to jog the trail a bit, and got to the end to the beautiful sight of Byron Glacier.  I spent a max 45 minutes out here before heading back.  While the weather was quite nice, temperate enough to not need my hoodie, I still wore it when I realized how HUMONGOUS the mosquitoes were.  There's actually a joke that in Alaska, the mosquito is the state bird.  FOR SERIOUS, they are gigantic.  Recommended purchases on a trip to Alaska is effective mosquito repellent - preferably, the oil version with high amounts of DEET (as close to 99% as possible!).  Thankfully, I didn't get bit on this little trek (or so it seemed), and I went off on my next excursion after returning to my car, heading to another glacier hike further south.

Alaska's mosquitoes... aka, the state bird.
At the edge of Exit Glacier
After a quick stop with the nice "Welcome to Alaska's Kenai Peninsula" sign (see above), I proceeded about an hour and a half further south, getting ever closer to Seward.  With roughly an hour and forty-five minutes to spare, I decided to make a stop at Exit Glacier.  This glacier is one of the most accessible valley glaciers in Alaska and is a visible indicator of climate change, as it has retreated several hundred feet over the last few years. Park scientists continue to monitor and record the glacier's accelerating recession. Exit Glacier was definitely a more touristy location, and being that it was already 10am, there was a decent amount of cars already parked in the parking lot.  I also encountered a bit of traffic on the way there, as there was construction occurring on the road heading to the Nature Center. With the option of doing a couple different short hikes in the area from the valley floor, I decided to do the half-mile long Glacier View trail, which met up with the slightly longer and moderately strenuous Edge of the Glacier trail hike that led up the the wall of blue ice at the edge of the glacier... but to make things a little more interesting and to complete it in the time allotted, I decided to jog it.

Views from the cruise!
There definitely were quite a few tourists at this hour of the day, so I did have to dodge several people moving casually up and down the trails.  And the hike up the trail was definitely more strenuous, which made the run back down a bit more cautious for me. I made it back (a two mile roundtrip hike this time) after seeing the beautiful view at the edge of the glacier (not so blue, in fact it was kinda grey and dirty...) and then headed back to my car to try to beat traffic leaving the area and make it to Seward in time for my cruise, which would leave promptly at noon.

Leaving Seward Harbor.  Those three dots in the water are otters!

The blow of a whale coming up the surface!

The many faces Denali,
the Golden Eagle!
I made it to Seward with enough time to spare, and boarded my boat along with other tourists, bound for the 4 1/2 hour long cruise that would make its way into Resurrection Bay, viewing glaciers and wildlife along the way, as well as a stop onto Fox Island, a remote island about twelve miles south of Seward in Resurrection Bay, where cruisers would be able to have a salmon buffet lunch, and observe a wildlife demonstration.  The biggest takeaway from this excursion was seeing as many as seven humpback whales coming to the surface the further we went out toward the ocean - the captain had even acknowledged that she hadn't seen this many out on a 4 1/2 hour cruise!  The views were absolutely magnificent, seeing the glaciers both along the bay and in the distance, many which have no road access to get to them; as well as the many birds that frequent the pristine wildlife sanctuary islands that dot the mouth of the bay.  The lunch was delicious, and it was accompanied by a demonstration by a volunteer who helped to raise a golden eagle named Denali, who was born with an injured wing, in captivity over the last few years.

Seriously, it's 10pm.  THE SUN IS UP.
Upon return from the cruise, I headed back to Anchorage, with a stop at Alyeska to check out the views from the aerial tram (thank goodness I came back; they have a reduced rate of $15 roundtrip if you take the tram after 7pm!). Heading up the 2,000 foot tram, one can see beautiful views of the Turnagain Arm, up to seven “hanging” glaciers and endless peaks deep into the Chugach Mountain range. I then headed back up to Anchorage and to my Airbnb to finally check in, and then went out for some dinner in the city's little "downtown" area.  I was exhausted by 10:30pm, after having been awake for over 18 hours; plus, the sun still being up at that hour began to mess with me!

Hank the Moose!
After a restful night's sleep, I woke up early in the morning to begin my day with a trip back into town and to get some delicious breakfast at the much lauded Snow City Cafe, right near the water.  It's a very popular spot, and had an hour long wait for a table, but with my watchful eye toward the counter, I got a spot in about 7 minutes.  I had a delicious "Ship Creek Benedict" - poached eggs, housemade smoked salmon cakes, toasted english muffin, housemade hollandaise, and diced red onion - along with several cups of local Kaladi Brothers coffee.  Afterward, I headed to the expo at the Alaska Airlines Center on the campus of the University of Alaska-Anchorage (UAA), home of the university's athletic department and programs, including UAA Seawolves basketball and volleyball teams.  It was cute little expo, much like other races', but unique with an added opportunity to ride "Hank the Moose" - a taxidermied moose that people can ride for photos.  Of course, I took advantage of that.

My 49th state... in THE 49th state!
Denali in the distance from Mt. Baldy
After the bib pickup, I decided to do the hike up Mount Baldy in the nearby town of Eagle River.  According to Steve, it was another one mile hike, but it gets really steep in sections.  And BOY did it ever.  At one point, I decided to stop because I was afraid I wasn't going to be able to get down because of potential slippage on the loose dirt and gravel.  However, it afforded some pretty amazing views of Anchorage, and because of how clear the day was, an awesome view of Denali, America's tallest mountain, in the distance about 130 miles away. After getting back down off the mountain (cautiously), I decided... hmm, why don't I drive in that direction!  The endpoint being the little town of Talkeetna, well known as the gateway to Denali National Park, and offering some beautiful views of the mountain range from the shore of the Talkeetna River.  Fun fact: the town of Talkeetna has an honorary mayor in Stubbs the Cat.  Like, a literal cat.  More about him here.

I don't see Russia at all.
To Talkeetna, it's about 100 miles, which will take two hours depending on traffic, which I definitely encountered through the city of Wasilla, well known as being the city where 2008 Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin served as mayor before becoming governor of Alaska.  And you know I made sure to get a photo with a Wasilla sign to try to look for Russia, since Palin notably said she "could see Russia from her house."  (No bueno, of course, since Russia is a mere 700 miles away.) After Wasilla, the road gets pretty monotonous and boring (save for the ever present mountains), with forest surrounding you pretty much the whole time.  At one point, there was a moose crossing the road, so yes, there is wildlife out there... but the monotonous road is like that for a good hour.  Notable, though, is that on the turn off on Talkeetna Spur Road is the Denali Brewing Company, which I did make a stop at on the way back!  Talkeetna is TINY; literally one street long downtown, but teeming with people who drove in or took the Alaska Railroad northwards from Anchorage, off to check out Denali National Park and Preserve and beyond.  I didn't spend too much time there as I wanted to get back to Anchorage in time for dinner.  So two hours up, and two hours back, I met up with my good friend De Moe, also in town to run the race which would notably be his 50th state in half marathons, and some of his running buddies, at the famous Moose's Tooth Pub and Pizzeria.

Behold, Moose's Tooth's Avalanche Pizza.   Pepperoni,
Blackened Chicken, Bacon, Red Onions, Parsley,
Cheddar, Mozzarella, Provolone, and BBQ Sauce (but without the BBQ sauce)
The start line
It was, of course, another long day of driving, so I headed back to my Airbnb to catch some z's as the race - the main reason I was in town - was the next morning!  The following morning, I headed back into town to park my car at the Airbnb that De Moe and his friend Daniel were staying at, a few blocks away from Delaney Strip Park, where the start and finish of the race was. We met up with a few other friends, including my "Cali mom and dad" Mike and Jann Carlson, who had come into Anchorage fresh off of an Alaskan cruise.  At 9am, we were off!  And lo and behold, literally seconds after crossing the start mats, I see a woman to the right cheering runners on with a cute little corgi puppy at her feet.  Who knew I'd find a corgi in Alaska?!


An Alaskan corgi!!
Going over Westchester Lagoon
We started off down West 9th Avenue, then zigzagged down the streets heading to U Street and to Margaret Eagen Sullivan Park.  The road had a pretty strong downhill, dropping nearly 50 feet in elevation before reaching the park, which surrounded Westchester Lagoon.  The park is actually one of the most popular places for birdwatching in Anchorage, and we crossed bridges before running along the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, known as one of the most beautiful coastal trails in the nation.  The 11 mile trail stretches from downtown to the chalet at Kincaid Park, but we would be running a portion of the trail; in fact, the trail itself would make up roughly 70% of the race course.

The early miles were a bit crowded, as the paved trail hugging the coast was narrow.  On one side was the water, on the other a mix of backyards of private homes and forest. We were told that there was a chance to see some wildlife along the route, most likely moose, which are ever present in and around Anchorage - on city streets as much as in parks. Approximately 1,500 live within the city limits alone.   About 2 1/4 miles into the race, the coastal trail goes into Earthquake Park.  In 1964, this 134-acre area was a neighborhood that slid into the ocean during the most powerful recorded earthquake in North American history, and the second most powerful recorded in world history. Known as the Good Friday Earthquake, it measured at a 9.2 on the Richter scale and lasted 4 minutes. Today, this tragic event is commemorated in Anchorage’s Earthquake Park, where visitors can find signs explaining the circumstances of the quake and its effect on the area.  The path took us through about a mile of the park before we exited onto W. Northern Lights Boulevard, making its way around the northern and western perimeter of the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport.  After mile 5 (and where the name of the road changed to Point Woronzof Road), we ran for a mile southward with extensive views of the active airport runway with the beautiful mountains in the background.  And then came our turn at mile 6.

The Coastal Trail was super narrow at times!
Right up against the Knik Arm of the Cook Inlet
Running on Point Woronzof Rd, alongside the Anchorage International Airport
Steep elevation drop on a jeep trail.
At mile 6, I had been forewarned about the jeep trail that we would end up having to run on.  Thankfully, the trail was a little over a half mile, but boy was it tough!  The elevation changed drastically as we ran over mostly single track dirt and grass trails, with one especially steep drop of 80 feet over 2/10 of a mile.  I emerged unscathed out of the trail and got onto the Coastal Trail again for the remaining 6.5 miles of the course back to Delaney Park Strip where the finish line was located.  Miles 7 through 9 proceeded northward and through Point Woronzof Park, a 191.7 acre municipal park.  At mile 8, we had a thrilling moose spotting along the course!  The trail as we returned back to Margaret Eagen Sullivan Park had some minor rolling hills, and by the time we emerged off of the trail and back onto the zigzag of roads heading back toward Delaney Park Strip, we were well within a mile left remaining in our run.  The last half mile was one of the toughest half miles I've ever run at the end of the race, as that strong downhill we experienced at the beginning of the race became an extremely difficult uphill!  We finally got back into the park, as we crossed P Street, making our way diagonally across the grass to the finish line.  I finished in a respectable 2:10:03, and marked off my 49th state of half marathons in THE 49th state!

The beautiful trails through the park

Official finisher photo from the race

Same corgi from this morning!
A fitting Victory Headstand with the mountains in the background.

De Moe crossing the finish line!
I got to see my friend De Moe finish his 50th state as he crossed the finish line a bit later, and we celebrated with post race drinks at the beer garden, while also running into some fellow 50 States, Marathon Maniac, and Half Fanatic members who had flown here from the Lower 48.  After getting back to De Moe and Daniel's Airbnb and taking a quick shower, I got myself back to downtown and joined in on a super fun Anchorage Brewery Tour, provided by Big Swig Tours.  It was a small tour, with only five of us - a group of four fun ladies from Iowa, a couple of them having finished the half marathon that morning. It was probably one of my most favorite parts of my quick trip to Anchorage; owner and "hoperator" Bryan Caenepeel is an excellent tourguide and has made valuable partnerships and connections with local breweries and bars to give visitors a fantastic opportunity to learn about beer, the beer-making process, and the beer culture (continuously growing in popularity) in Alaska

Enjoying the brewery tour!

Cheers!
From the ability to sample SEVERAL different types of beer, to the history lessons you get from Alaska's early years becoming a US State to today, you get to learn A LOT. We visited King Street Brewing Company and Midnight Sun Brewing Company, and then made our way to the quintessential Alaskan bar, Koot's (formerly known as Chilkoot Charlie's).  The long day ended back at my Airbnb where I immediately went to bed and woke up ten hours later to a rainy Anchorage day, spent taking in a few last spots in downtown Anchorage before my return flight home to New York, via Seattle.  And with that, 49 states were done!

What happens when you're several beers in.

Perfect shirt for Big Swig Tours!

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Race Report: Deadwood Mickelson Trail Half Marathon

It's been 24 years since the last time I stepped foot in South Dakota.  In 1992, I was eight years old, and my parents, two cousins, and I drove from Wichita, Kansas up to the Rapid City area to check out Mt. Rushmore and Crazy Horse.  I flew into town late Friday evening (with a stressful connection in Minneapolis, as we landed a mere 13 minutes before the boarding door to my connecting flight to Rapid City - THE last flight to RAP - would close) and arrived around 10:00pm, picked up my rental car and drove forty minutes northward to Sturgis, where I had my Airbnb accommodations.

The "start" of the Volksmarch
I woke up VERY early the following morning in order to start off the trip with the Crazy Horse Volksmarch.  The Volksmarch, in its 31st year, is one of only two times a year that the public is allowed to hike up the world’s largest mountain carving in progress. The route is roughly 6.2 miles round trip (but this changes depending on the "course" layout on hilly, rough terrain with some steep inclines.) From the valley at the Memorial’s visitor center, the rugged woodlands trail rises about 500 feet up to the mountain. At the top of the mountain, near where the figure's fingertip would be, volksmarchers get panoramic views of the Crazy Horse Memorial's 1,000-acre campus and close up views of the completed nine-story high face, not otherwise available to the public.

Crazy Horse in profile. From the parking lot.

True trail!
I got myself registered and then in line, anticipating our 8am start, but we actually got out onto the trails about 15 minutes early.  As people strolled down the path, I began my run, with maybe one or two others in front of me also running.  The trail was TOUGH - lots of roots, only a few neon yellow trail marking ribbons marking the trail.  Lots of steep sections too; a steady and somewhat slippery downhill over the first mile and then, just up up and up.  We had a couple stops where we could get water from hydration stations (which you had to pay for!) but was also a "check-in" area where we would have an attendant mark a card given to us at registration.  We even saw some wildlife; there was a deer running through the forest near where I was heading uphill.  It wasn't until maybe 1.5 miles in when we finally reached some real packed gravel trail that curves around the back of the mountain.  I proceeded up the steepest climb that went up to the face and onto the arm of the monument, reaching it about 50 minutes in.

Made it to the top!

My "punchcard" and medal :)
I stuck around for maybe two minutes and then headed back down the mountain, covering the steep downhill in a careful sub-9 minute pace, and was pretty much alone as I passed several people heading up to the mountain.  I took the route that bypassed the unmarked trail and continued along the dirt road all the way back to the parking lot, and passed quite a few marmots laying out in the sun. I ended up being the first person back from doing the Volksmarch - if it was an actual race, I would've finished first!

For the remainder of the day, I went around the grounds of the memorial, checking out the museum, which I hadn't been to since my last visit, and then headed to the Lodge at Deadwood to pick up my bib for the race and meet Emily Schulz-Wheeler, the race director. For singing the national anthem, she gifted me the very nice long sleeve half-zip shirt!  I ate a quick bison burger lunch at the Lodge before heading out again, checking out Spearfish Canyon (and one of its beautiful waterfalls) and the Black Hills National Forest.  I then decided to head out to Wyoming, a short one-hour drive to go check out Devil's Tower National Monument, a site I wasn't able to see the last time I was in this part of the country, and on the way driving through the sleepy town of Sundance, made famous from the 1969 movie "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid."


Devil's Tower, Wyoming
Once you get off U.S. Highway 14 and then take State Highway 24, before long, you'll see the unique  butte top of Devil's Tower.  When exiting off of the state highway, and then go past the trading post and past the entrance booth, cars go up the Devils Tower National Monument Road and pass by hundreds of prairie dogs, who make their home in the grasslands between the base of the monument and the Belle Fourche River.  I made my way up to the monument itself, and then took the 1.3 mile paved loop around the laccolith butte, which happened to have some climbers going up it.

State signs and the Center of the US
I headed back to South Dakota, but took a quick detour that took me to the extreme southeastern corner of Montana, only adding about 20 more minutes to my trip.  And a trip that saw a lot of deer just trotting unbothered by the roadside.  But that detour out to Alzada, Montana, gave me the ability to say I've been to all fifty states!  I crossed four state lines that afternoon - SD to WY; WY to MT; MT back into WY; and WY back into SD.  I stopped into the city of Belle Fourche, South Dakota, to go to the park next to the Tri-State Museum that has a proxy marker marking the "Geographic Center of the Nation," before heading down to Deadwood for dinner, and then much needed sleep before the Sunday morning race.


Getting ready for the anthem
I woke up super early Sunday morning to do the 30+ minute drive from Sturgis into Deadwood to get my car parked at the parking area in the rodeo grounds, then boarded a bus to head up into the forests to the start line 13.1 miles up the road to the Deadwood Mickelson Trail, near the town of Dumont.  I got there super early, one of the first shuttles (for fear of traffic coming into Deadwood to park), but bided my time meeting up with several friends who had flown in for the race, including Lynn, Dan and Paula, and Deb and Jake.  I met up with the sound guy at the start, to figure out logistics for the national anthem, and then waited it out a bit more, before I sung the anthem - about a half step higher than normal, but still effective.  South Dakota became state number 10 in my bid to sing the Star Spangled Banner in all 50 states!


With Deb and Jake from Nebraska

 

The Half Marathon start!
And then, on the narrow trail... we were off!  Now, this race would mark my first half marathon that could be considered mostly on trail - in this case, a loosely packed gravel.  The first mile or so was pretty crowded... lots of jostling to get on a good path and speed, and actually a slight uphill of 75 feet over the first half mile.  And then, the downhill started.  From 0.5 miles to mile 4, we descended about 535 feet.  Still a little crowded, we needed to pay attention to ensure we weren't gaining too much momentum on the downhill.  At mile 4, we emerged from the forest into an open area where we got some of our first spectators, just south of the town of Englewood.  This included a guy dressed in only a speedo, ambushing a runner friend of his only a few feet in front of me... LOL. The downhill continued til about mile 5.75... and then there was a dreaded short uphill section that lasted for the next mile, maxing out at about 90 feet of gain.  I slowed down considerably at this point, feeling woefully out of breath, but still maintaining that I could finish a half in one of my faster times in recent memory, thanks to the net downhill.

Within the first mile of slight uphill...

Hello shirtless runner, lol...
Slight downhill. LOVE this course!
A tree tunnel!
 
Crowd support along the trail!

And then there was this guy in a speedo, who ambushed
his friend (running the half) about 30 feet in front of me...
Why you putting clothes back on??? It's hot!

Just such unimaginable beauty
on this course!
Just before the mile 7 mark, we had an aid station, and then the steepest section of the race, a VERY steep area where I managed an average 8 1/2 minute pace.  From then on, it was downhill for the remainder of the race.  We crossed a few bridges, and I kept on with a steady pace that hovered right around 9 minutes per mile over the next few miles, coasting and doing strong... even toa  point where I ended up ingesting a flying bug (ewww... but I got some protein!), until we reached mile 10.

Running over a few wooden bridges
Mile 10 was around where the race reached the outskirts of the town of Lead, and where more spectators were around to line the course.  While it was still trail, we followed the steady downhill, having dipped below 5,000 feet of elevation, with even more to go (remember, our max was over 6,200, so we had definitely made our way down from considerable height!)  The trail crisscrossed Whitewood Creek and over Kirk Road, and we made our way to the last couple of miles paralleling State highway 385 and highway 85, both of which were undergoing some construction.  Somewhere along the way over our last mile or two, the gravel trail became paved concrete, and we made our way into Deadwood, finishing at the historic Engine House at the end of the line, the Deadwood Trailhead.  Meeting us as we crossed the finish line was the legendary Jerry Dunn, founder of this race, decked out in a snazzy tuxedo for the festivities.

With race director, Emily Schulz-Wheeler

With race founder Jerry Dunn.
Say hello to my new corgi friend!

Corgi #2


Despite the strugglebus section that I walked, I still managed a pretty fast time, posting a 2:05:07, my fifth fastest time ever. I stuck around at the finish line and grabbed photos with Jerry and Emily, who was close by.  I cheered on my friends Dan and Mike as the ran in, and managed to even find a couple corgis who were at the finish cheering on their owners! But my main reason to stick around was to help my friends Paula and Janice (respectively, Dan's wife and Mike's wife) as they made their way to the finish line.  I ran them in and loudly exclaimed their impressive feat of completing this race, another notch (#37/38 for Dan and Paula, #47 for Mike and Janice) on their belt of fifty states!  Paula and Dan (and myself, for a short quote) even got interviewed by the local paper, the Black Hills Pioneer, which you can find here!

DEADWOOD!

A headstand for the ages!
So glad to spend some
time with Dan and Paula!
After milling about town, to try to get something to eat unsuccessfully, as well as completing my customary headstand photo, we headed back toward where my car was and where their hotel was, and vowed to meet up for lunch at The Knuckle Saloon and Brewery in Sturgis, close to my accommodations, but also en route for them on their long drive back to Kansas City.  After a delicious lunch, I headed back to my Airbnb tired out of my mind, and retired for the rest of the day in the comforts of sleep, which I absolutely needed after all of my adventures!

Mount Rushmore by helicopter!
I woke the next morning for my final day in South Dakota, with a schedule of heading out to Mount Rushmore and then driving out to the Badlands to hike the Notch Trail.  I had a very set schedule, so I needed to compact everything as best as I could into the hours I had.  After a necessary breakfast at Denny's, I made my way to Rushmore, only to decide last minute that I wanted to take a different approach to seeing it, since I had gone to the mountain itself when in 1992, and wanted to avoid crowds.  I got into the town of Keystone, gateway to Rushmore, and ended up deciding to see it by helicopter instead!

What an experience!
What a rush.  I had never been in a helicopter before, but for about ten minutes, we were able to fly over into the area surrounding the mountain (not directly over it, since there are restrictions to how close of airspace helicopters can fly near the monument).  It was an incredible feeling, being able to see the four faces of former presidents at such a unique angle.  After coming back down to earth, I decided to make my way out to Badlands National Park, and check out the Notch Trail, which I was told offered some pretty spectacular views of this unique national park.

Drove out to Badlands...
The 1 hour and 45 minute drive took me out to scenery seemingly out of a sci-fi movie, and to the beautiful pinnacles and spires that dot the horizon of this region.  I gave myself a specific amount of time in the area before I needed to head back, as the drive returning to Rapid City only gave me so much time before my flight back to NYC (via Minneapolis).  I took lots of photos, and then sped my way back to Rapid City, with a quick stop in Wall, SD, made famous by the hundreds of signs plastered along the I-90 roadside, sending visitors to the tourist trap of Wall Drug Store.  I literally ran in and stopped for maybe 10 minutes tops, before heading back on the road, to grab a root beer float (which was kindly purchased by another person in line in front of me, who saw my harriedness to try to get in and out as quickly as possible!)

Luckily I didn't see any!

Some minor acrobatics :)

Look at that scenery!

Quick stop at Wall Drug for a root beer float!

I definitely made the most out of my trip to South Dakota... and Wyoming and Montana!  Excited that I got to experience the beauty of this part of the country once again, albeit 24 years later!