The Mickelson Trail

When you are out on the trail, in shorts, with no gun or mace, the thought of three dog running toward you barking is a little unsettling. I know what you are thinking. This is going to be an icky story with a bloody ending…right? Well, not today.

Most of the hikes Bob and I take are uneventful, and often even void of a lot of human contact, but sometimes things go a little differently. As we were hiking yesterday, we walked behind a bike rental shop that was located at the family’s home. Suddenly, as we neared the bicycle advertiser they had by their open gate, three dogs came running out toward us barking. As I said, that can be a little unsettling, but we soon discovered that these dogs were very friendly. So friendly, in fact, that they decided to walk along with us.

At first we said, “You guys better go home!!” But, when it became obvious that they were not leaving, we just hoped they knew their way home, and that the owner knew that we weren’t stealing them. It soon became very apparent that these dogs knew this trail very well, and that they spent a lot of time on the trail. They knew their way around. They stayed out of trouble. And most importantly, the knew proper trail etiquette, i.e. do your business off of the trail!!!

So, along we went, the 5 of us. The dogs would run down to the river to cool off, but not splash us when they came back…very unusual. If we stopped, they stopped. Where we went, they went. It was almost laughable. They seemed to have taken us on a their responsibility. They chased each other around and jumped over weeds. They seemed to want to entertain us with their antics. They were very funny dogs. They seemed to want to make sure that it was entertaining. And it was…we thoroughly enjoyed our first “guided tour” of The Mickelson Trail.

After going about half a mile or so with us, we came upon a bridge and the dogs just seemed to know that it was time to go home. Almost like they had been trained. It occurred to me that we should have pictures of our tour guides, and we almost got them all. One had decided to lead the way home. So his picture is a little dot at the very last point on the trail. And after their pictures, the other two followed suit.

The rest of our trip was without our tour guides, but with a smile. And after a beautiful hike, we got to see them again as we passed by their place on our way back. They came running out, barking, but this time if was to greet old friends, and after we petted them and talked to them for a minute, they went back to their yard, and we went on to finish our hike. What a joy those dogs were, and what good masters to have trained them so well.

Since 1995, Bob and I have been hiking in the Black Hills. Our first hike, was up Harney Peak, and while we were pretty unprepared for that hike, it whet our appetite for hiking, and we have been doing it ever since. It is challenging, but beautiful. And when we get to the top, and have lunch, it’s like eating at the top of the world. From the top you can see 5 states. Harney Peak is and probably always will be our favorite trail. We try to hike it every year.

One of our favorite easy trails is The Mickelson Trail, which runs from Edgemont to Deadwood and is 109 miles long. This trail is part of the rails to trails system. It is a great way to get off the main streets of the Black Hills and get the feel of being close to nature without going too far from civilization.

We have walked sections of the Mickelson Trail several times, but a couple of years age we decided to make it our goal to walk the trail in it’s entirety. When we are done, we will actually walk the entire trail twice, because we walk part way up and then back to our car. In 2009 we completed the Custer to Hill City section. That is 31.2 miles total, going up and back. Then add Harney Peak, and it gave us 37.2 total for that trip. In 2010, we walked the Hill City to Mystic section. That is 29.2 miles up and back. We also did a 4.5 (9 total) mile section south of Custer. With Harney Peak we did a total of 44.2 miles last year. This year we plan to walk the Mystic to Dumont section, which is 17.9 or 35.8 total and with Harney Peak a total of 41.8 miles. We usually spend 5 days hiking.

I know…a lot of you think we are crazy, and even our friends and family have told us that too. I don’t know, maybe we are, but we really got hooked and we totally love it. We are able to see things that most people will never see, because they are off the main roads. It is a very cool experience. Yes, we come away with sore muscles and tired feet sometimes, and sometimes it is really hot out there, but every ache, every pain, and even the heat is worth it. There is no other feeling quite like it. We will keep doing this as long as we can…and I’ve heard of hikers at Harney Peak in their 80’s, so we have lots of time left.

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