Black Elk Peak-Nic

A Mountain Picnic is a triathlon created to challenge someones physical capabilities. This version was biking at the beginning, swim across and back a small lake, then run up South Dakota's highest point, then do the whole thing again back down.

August 7th, 2019 I turned 30.  I had been looking at 30 for a while and was thinking that it was very daunting and such a big age. I was afraid that it would mean I was getting old and had to have everything figured out. Not all of that is true, and to show that I was still capable of doing challenging feats I came up with the idea to do my own triathlon, similar to the video REI made: A Walk In The Park. After watching that video, I started to get more excited about turning 30 because it meant I got to do a demanding physical activity! 

The morning of August 7th I woke up at 5:10 AM, ate a quick oatmeal breakfast, jumped in the pickup and drove to town with my wife who would be my pit crew for the day. I was able to stretch for a few minutes and get my bike and backpack ready, my goal was to start at 6 AM, I was about 2 minutes off though, I started the biking portion at 6:02. Almost immediately I could tell something was not quite right with my bike, leaving Harbach Park in Custer the bike trail was flat and level, but it felt like I was going slightly uphill. There was some kind of friction or rubbing in my bike, I did not want to stop to figure out where or what it was, I just kept on going. Consequently, I felt like the first bike portion was more difficult than I anticipated, but part of that was that I was trying to make good time as well and push it decently hard. I was able to finish the first 7 uphill miles in a decent time of 45 minutes to get to Sylvan Lake.

Since I wasn’t competing against anyone but myself and the clock, I did not care about my transitions and they were not very speedy by any means, especially the first one. I didn’t want to take off into the swim feeling really tired and get myself in a predicament by cramping or being out of breath in the middle of the lake. Thankfully the water was not extremely cold, because I am not a huge fan of really cold water and it was early in the morning. I was able to swim across the lake, then took a little break on the far bank and then swam back again. While swimming I would go back and forth from the American crawl, and the backstroke which was helpful because I can swim, but do not have the best swimming endurance. The whole swim took me about 18 minutes. 

When I started running I had been competing for 1 hour and 3 minutes total. The run was the part that I was feeling the best about, I felt like I could do really well on it, but at the same time the elevation and hills did worry me a bit. The run was going to be about 3.5 miles long from the lake to the top of Black Elk Peak. The first mile and a half was gradual, and then there was a little bit of downhill as well that helped with keeping a good pace. Just after 2 miles it started uphill again and got more challenging. I did have to walk multiple times but when I would walk I would keep walking briskly. Along the way I passed a couple groups of people hiking to the top. My wife did have a head start to get to the Peak, because once I started the swim, she saw me begin the swim, then she took off and started running for the top. Her goal was to get to the top before I could get there, my goal was to beat her to the top. 

As I was just under a half mile from the top I heard her voice as she was narrating with her GoPro, I may have picked up the pace a little bit, but I was definitely going to catch her regardless. The last stretch of the trail is an area where there are irregular stairs and climbing them is tiring, even more so when you have been on the go for the last hour and forty-two minutes. My goal was to make it to the summit in less than forty minutes from the lake, I was able to do it in 39 minutes! My wife was only a minute behind me, so she did tremendous as well, she even carried my special treat which was a peanut, caramel, cookie dough bar! They were delicious! She did bring other treats as well, but I didn’t want to have any others because I was afraid that I was going to get a stomach ache. I took about 22 minutes to rest a little and eat my treat, The good part is, pretty much the rest of the Picnic was all downhill from there. At the top I was able to look at my stats on my trail app, total miles 10.4 bike and run, 2,359 feet of elevation gained, and 1 hour 43 minutes of total time. 

There was one issue on the way down, Colleen had told me that she lost my truck keys because they fell out of her backpack on the way when she was running to the top, her stuff was bumping around and the keys fell out, but she did not know where they fell. So, on the way down we both were looking closely for the keys. I was running down and about a mile down the trail I came across a lady that immediately asked if I had lost a set of keys, she had put them on the wilderness registration stand. The lady was able to relay the message to Colleen and so by the time I was down to the lake and swam Colleen arrived with the keys so she was able to drive to town as I biked downhill and made tremendous time. The whole triathlon picnic took me 3 hours and 28 minutes. The hardest part was the bike, and at one point biking up a hill on the last stretch my left quad was cramping just a bit, thankfully it was just a short uphill. Now that I have done it, I am very glad that I did do the triathlon and tried my hardest, it was well worth it.

To watch from my wife's view or from my perspective running the whole thing on youtube: Black Elk Peak-Nic

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

Isaac Parsons

I love massive trees, sitting on the edge of a cliff, and chasing waterfalls! I reside in the Black Hills of South Dakota, which I think is a hidden gem in this amazing world.