Hike or Bike, I Like M Hill
It’s an early morning in early May, with the promise of a warm day just beginning to waft in the breeze, as I start walking the trail to M Hill in Hanson-Larsen Memorial Park behind Founders Park in Rapid City. Up the hill I go, and in only a few minutes the promise of a warm day is a reality. It’s going to be a workout, but I’m quite taken by the phenomenon of being in the piney woods while a busy city goes about its work-a-day routine below.
The park encompasses 300 acres of wilderness right in the center of town. Top biking magazines have compared the 12 miles of trails to some of the “best mountain bike meccas of the west.” But just like me, lots of local folks and visitors enjoy walking, hiking and running in the park.
It’s a pretty rugged landscape, and I’m beginning to understand why mountain bikers who come to the Black Hills Fat Tire Festival, held every year in Rapid City around Memorial Day, might not mind the often misty and cloudy conditions that greet them. Biking in a cool fog would be just the ticket, I decide, as I round another corner and clamber up a rocky incline. Not that I would do very well biking up this mountain, but I could probably hold my own on the paved bike path down below that winds along Rapid Creek.
That’s one of the great things about biking in the Black Hills. There’s a path or trail for every inclination. Flatlanders like me can meander the more than 40 miles of the Swanny Pathway that begins on the western edge of Rapid City and runs all the way through town to the eastern edge. Just about every Hills town also has a pleasurable bike path, and much of the top-rated Mickelson Trail is appropriate for folks who are in no more than moderate physical condition.
But for those eager to test themselves, the Black Hills offers some of the most challenging tracks around – as anyone attending this year’s Fat Tire Festival, set for May 25-27, will discover.
Race events include a 25-mile loop in the Black Hills with at least 3,000 feet of climbing. Or you can careen downhill on the Edna’s Super D or the Flight At The Phoenix Downhill. You don’t have to race to challenge yourself. There’s single-track tours, with guides provided, for every skill set.
Now in its sixth year, the Fat Tire Festival is a popular event with more than 1,000 expected to attend. Along with races and rides, participants can enjoy films, concerts, a geocaching adventure, a triathlon and lots of social networking. For families with kids, there are events such as the Shimano Youth Series. And the nearby Rapid City Dirt Jump Park always has lots of youngsters doing daredevil tricks.
The popularity of the festival is likely one of the reasons some fantastic new facilities will be coming on line in June. More parking, restroom facilities and a bridge across Rapid Creek will provide more amenities along with easy access to the trails for future festival-goers along with every other recreational user.
Recreational, but sorta pooped out, is how I feel as I descend from M Hill along an old rocky roadbed. The view from the top was worth the climb, as was reading the plaques around the big M, put in place by graduating classes of the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology. The M was constructed in 1912 for the school’s first “M-Day” homecoming celebration. Every year, in a long-standing school ritual, the new freshman class makes the climb and whitewashes the M to keep it visible below.
No doubt about it, having forested hills right in the middle of town means the best of both worlds. It takes me only a few minutes and I am mulling over which downtown eatery suits my fancy as I stroll past the city’s new Main Street Square. A few more minutes, and I’m having clams on the half-shell, flown in fresh daily and cooked most delectably by one of Rapid City’s fine chefs. The server doesn’t seem to mind that my somewhat frazzled and overly warm appearance doesn’t match the room’s sophisticated ambiance. And I don’t mind either. It’s been a great hike and these clams, along with a craft brew, are a perfect conclusion to my in-town adventure.