I woke with the sun but didn’t get up right away, though I did start hydrating. We are using a gravity filter as our main clean water source. Not great on the move, but in camp it filters a lot of water while freeing us for other chores. Like laundry, which Jenessa & I did in the creek. I carry two pairs of hiking socks and rinse the pair I wore the day before, hanging it on my pack to dry as I walk. It’s great having fresh socks to wear.
Custer State Park did not impress me at first, but today it redeemed itself. A chubby, hand-sized toad sat at the entrance to the French Creek natural area which was beautiful with its slow, wide winding creek and grass-covered banks. There were two crossings with no bridge. I took my shoes off for the first one and it felt quite refreshing. At the second crossing, I hopped across rocks and watched a yellow and red plumed bird play in the water. Later on, I enjoyed the open oak & pine forests and spots where the trail shone with large chunks of mica. We startled two groups of elk, the first with three young ones.
A wonderful aspect of the trail is how few people we encounter. In two days we’ve seen one other pair of backpackers, plus a couple day hikers and three people on horseback.
We made it close to the end of the park before stopping to camp amongst slender pine trees. A small creek meandered close by but we chose higher ground to escape the bugs and it seemed to work. I shared a taco meal with Jenessa. We always prepare a couple meals to share with one another. She brought a packaged creme brûlée dessert that required amusing preparation. Mike and I beat the batter simultaneously with our sporks to simulate beaters while Brendan counted down the time. All four of us shared the dessert and it was tasty! We played a game of Love Letter before drifting off to our tents to sleep.
Mike termed it President’s Day since we were due to reach Mt. Rushmore around noon. I suggested we each write a haiku about one of the presidents and read it on arrival.
A short distance into the morning we entered the Black Elk Wilderness. As the boundary sign promised, there were lumpy granite rocks and sweeping vistas. I couldn’t help myself from climbing one of the larger rocks.
We arrived at Mt. Rushmore around noon. I was excited to get rid of trash and use an actual toilet. Then we sat in a circle on the ground and read one another our haikus. They were all good and all different. Next we went to view the presidents. I enjoyed the entrance arcade where plaques show when each state joined the union. We took the obligatory pictures of and with the monument. Then onto snacks! Brendan brought a bunch of paleo dinners so he is carb hungry. I felt a little low on snacks. So all of us but Mike got ice cream. Then the boys got bison burgers while Jenessa and I ate our trail lunch.
Funny thing about Mt. Rushmore, the thru-hike made it way better! If I drove there I would’ve enjoyed the history and loop trail, but been put off by the retail food and items. Being on the trail makes me appreciate modern conveniences that I take for granted.
I returned to the trail full of energy from our large lunch. We ran into more poison ivy near the creek, but since it is our third day of encountering the plant I am getting better at identifying it. There were also ferns and moss covered trees, surprisingly lush.
We exited the wilderness area and arrived at Battle Creek, where we hoped to get water for the night. The creek had scummy, dark puddles so we continued on. It was getting late so we stopped to snack as we weren’t sure how far we needed to walk for water. Then we ran into a small stream, but in a buggy area full of downfall. So we collected five liters of dirty water in case we found nothing better. We ended up dry camping in a lovely pine area.