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Stuck in the mud in the Black Hills near Spearfish, SD!

Stuck in the mud in the Black Hills near Spearfish, SD!

(I’ve gotten far behind in my posts about my summer travels, so I’ll be interweaving them for the next month or so. This post happened in early August of 2015)
After I was done visiting the Custer Battlefield National Monument I decided to head over to the Black Hills of South Dakota and go to the 75th annual Sturgis Bike Week.  Because this was the 75th anniversary it was estimated this would be the largest one ever but I decided to  try to battle the crowds long enough to see it. I had left Cody, WY early, gone to Billings for shopping and then the battlefield, so it had been a long, hot day and I wanted to find a National Forest for us to camp in.
I left Cody, WY, drove to Billings, MT and shopped there and then toured Custer's Battlefield. That made it a long day so I spent the night i Custer National Forest in the free Red Shale Campground. The next day I drove onto Spearfish on the way to Sturgis.

I left Cody, WY, drove to Billings, MT and shopped there and then toured Custer’s Battlefield. That made it a long day so I spent the night I Custer National Forest in the free Red Shale Campground. The next day I drove onto Spearfish on the way to Sturgis.

Fortunately the Custer National Forest is midway between Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument and the Black Hills. I was very impressed by how pretty this drive was along Montana Route 212 which goes right through the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation. It was a very nice forest with several creeks and rivers set in rolling hills.
I stayed one night n this very nice FREE campground along Highway 212 in Montana.

I stayed one night in this very nice FREE campground along Highway 212 in Montana.

I found the campground in the National Forest and it was a very nice, free campground with nine sites and most of them empty. The next day I continued the trip toward Sturgis and I was starting to need gas—the first station I came to probably had hundreds of Harleys parked outside of it. Worse, there were probably a dozen bikes lined up trying to get gas at every pump. I was in the middle of nowhere almost 100 miles from Sturgis and the crowds were already a problem! That was the first hint of the horrible crowds to come and I started thinking to myself that this may have been a very bad idea!!!
Every parking lot in Spearfish was packed with Harley's!

Every parking lot in Spearfish was packed with Harley’s!

Next I came to Belle Fouche, SD and got gas and then turned south toward Spearfish. While I was still a long ways from Sturgis, the crowds were much worse! Every business in town had dozens of bikes in their parking lots and I had to wait though every street light multiple times because of the traffic. Just a little ways south of there you come to Spearfish, SD and I decided to drive through it and stop for lunch. The traffic was just as bad, the streets were thick with bikes and every restaurant or fast food place was packed.
I came across the National Forest Ranger Station and decided to stop in and get an MVUM and find a place to camp. The lady at the desk was very helpful and knowledgeable and I left knowing exactly where to camp. I took one of the roads out of town up into the Black Hills and, like always, I started looking for a smaller road that turned off it. I found one that seemed likely and followed it for a ways, then I took another, even smaller road off it and soon came to a very nice campsite, “Cody, we’re home!”
My camp in the Black Hills above Spearfish, SD.

My camp in the Black Hills above Spearfish, SD. 

While it had been a beautiful, cloud-free day ,the Black Hills are famous for their late afternoon thunderstorms so I wasn’t surprised when it clouded  up in the evening. However, this was my first time to the Black Hills in over 30 years so I was totally unprepared for what happened next.
The typical storm clouds rolled in and started with some minor thunder and lightening but it didn’t stay minor! Very quickly this turned into the worst lightning storm I’ve ever been in with a gully-washing downpour of rain! The thunder exploded directly over our heads and rattled the van. Usually you can tell how far away the lightning is by counting the time between the flash of light and the thunder, but there was no time between them, they occurred simultaneously. That meant the lightning was very near us, literally exploding all around the van.
I took this photo of Spearfish from the freeway. I was camped up on the ridge-line just below the Black Hills.

I took this photo of Spearfish from the freeway. I was camped up on the ridge-line just below the Black Hills.

Like most dogs, Cody is terrified by loud noises and he was petrified. He went to the back corner of the bed and curled up like it was the only safe place in the world. But he wasn’t the only one who was afraid; I’m not ashamed to tell you I was frightened as well. I have a friend who was in a bad lightning storm at the Grand Canyon and lightning struck a tree just 30 feet from his trailer. It didn’t even hit his trailer but the lightning destroyed a lot of his electronics—which he then had to replace.  I wasn’t really afraid for our safety, but I was very concerned for the damage a nearby strike could do. Even worse, the road we had come in on was easy while it was dry, but once soaked by this downpour it could easily be impassable the next day.
The next morning dawned bright, clear and without a cloud in the sky, but I turned on the radio to a local station and the forecast was for a storm just as bad that night, and every night for the rest of the week!! That was all I needed to hear! Between the heat, the storms and the unbearable crowds this was NOT a place I wanted to be, time to get out of there!
Only one problem remained, the rain had turned the road into a quagmire of mud.
So close, and yet so far! I always try to get as remote as I can when I camp so I take little roads of little roads. In this photo I'm standing on a road which was dry and downhill, had I made it to here, I would have gotten out just fine.

So close, and yet so far! Had I made it to here, I would have gotten out just fine….

Cody and I took our morning walk up the road for a mile or so and everything I saw in that time seemed like I could get through it just fine. But we didn’t go all the way back to the main road and I knew that would be the hardest spot because it was the steepest, and most rutted; if I was going to get stuck, that’s where it would be. If I could get through that one bad spot, I’d have it made because  it was all downhill after that.
But this was the steepest and muddiest part. It was so goey I had no choice but ti sit and wait for it to dry in the hot South Dakota sun,

… but alas,  this was the steepest and muddiest part. It was so gooey I had no choice but to sit and wait for it to dry in the hot South Dakota sun,

Normally, the best thing to do in a storm is sit-tight and ride it out; I always carry enough food and water to wait-out the weather. But this time I honestly was concerned about the severe lightning and thunderstorm and its potential to do serious damage to my electronics. I also didn’t want to put Cody through that again. I decided it was worth the risk of getting stuck and I just wanted to get as far away from the Black Hills as fast as I could!!
You can see just how gooey and slick the mud is--it has zero traction.

You can see just how gooey and slick the mud is–it has zero traction. You can see the mini-shovel I dug the trench with. Every vandweller should have at least that one shovel, if not a full-size one

Just like I had thought, everything was going fairly smoothly. The road was rutted with mud but I was generally able to stay out of the ruts and when I was forced into them I was getting enough traction to muscle my way through. I had to keep my speed up so we were bouncing a lot, but mostly I was firmly in control.
Then I came to the final hill, just as I feared the road was steeper and the ruts were deeper and full of water.  I had to stay out of the ruts or I would get stuck for sure.
The right side of the van was in the deepest mud and without a locking rear-end when those tires broke lose and spun I was done for.

Because the road had a slope, the right side of the van was in the deepest mud and without a locking rear-end when those tires broke lose and spun I was done for. I hydroplaned over the mud and into the side of the hill.

I had enough speed that I thought I could make it so I gunned it and hit the hill as fast as I could. The road all around the ruts was pure mud and slightly down a side-hill so right away I slid into the deep ruts. But the worst was ahead and I knew if I stayed in them I would be stuck for sure, so I tried to turn the wheel hard to the right and climb up out of them. Several attempts didn’t work so I turned the wheel sharper and suddenly the wheel caught some traction and threw me out of the rut but the mud was so slippery we were actually hydroplaning over the mud and that threw me violently into the side of the hill and my momentum carried me deep into it.
No harm was done, but it wasn’t good. There was nothing to do then but try to back up and go again, but my rear tires just spun in the mud, and I knew I was stuck. Spinning the tires wouldn’t accomplish anything but dig a deeper hole so I turned off the engine and Cody and I got out to assess the situation.
Because all the tires were out of the rut, I was confident I could get myself unstuck, but if I did I would just hit the ruts again and be stuck immediately in them and getting out of them would be much more difficult, probably impossible. It was about 8:30 am by then and it was already getting hot—the South Dakota sun was beating down on us and I knew the road would dry out very quickly.
The biggest pind would take a long time to dry, so I dig a drainage ditch to drain it out. It didn't take very long and it really worked well.

The biggest pond would take a long time to dry, so I dug a drainage ditch to drain it out. It didn’t take very long and it worked really well. Lesson: Always carry a shovel!!!

The only good thing to do was to simply sit and wait and let the sun do the work for me. My one concern was that the deepest rut had 6 inches of water in it and it would not dry quickly—I needed to get the water out of it. There was a drop-off to a pond on the side of the road so I decided to try to dig a trench so the water could follow gravity and flow down into the pond. The ground was soft from the rain so it only took me about half an hour to get the water flowing freely out of the rut and off the road. There really was nothing to do but wait, so I got out my laptop and got online while the sun did the work for me. I always carry a mini, D-Handle shovel for just this occasion, get it from Amazon here: Mini D-Handle Shovel
I was distracted and forgot to take a picture of the "Portable To Truck" traction maps at work, but they made all the difference--I'll never be without them.

I was distracted and forgot to take a picture of the “Portable Tow Truck” traction mats at work, but they made all the difference–I’ll never be without them.

Around noon the road looked good so I decided to give it a try. I put my “Portable Tow-Truck” ramps under the back wheels and the tires instantly popped out of the holes they were in and I was free. I always carry them and recommend them to you as well. Get them from Amazon here: Portable Tow Truck Traction Pads (Set Of 2) I put it in gear and gunned it and spun my way up the road no problem—it was dry enough for my mud tires to grab traction and stay out of the rut.
With the drainage ditch, in three hours the road had dried enough to let e claw my way up it. Having mud tires made all the difference here, street tires wouldn't have worked.

Because of the drainage ditch, in three hours the road had dried enough to let me claw my way up it. Having mud tires made all the difference here, the wide, deep lugs allowed the mud to fly out as they spun. You can see the globs of mud that were thrown out. Having the lugs empty allowed them to bite and get traction when they hit again. Street tires would have been slicks with no bite.

By then I was sick of the Black Hills and the Sturgis Rally and the only thing I wanted was to put as much distance as I possibly could between me and it. So Cody and I drove down to Spearfish, jumped on the freeway, and headed West as fast as we could! Feets, don’t fail me now!
I’ll pick it up from there in my next travel post.

I’m making Videos on my good friends James and Kyndal’s YouTube Channel. See them here:
I have a video out about getting another friend un-stuck, check it out:

Thanks for supporting this site by using these links to Amazon. I’ll make a small percentage on your purchase and it won’t cost you anything, even if you buy something different.

This is the Recovery Gear that I always carry with me:


  1. Calvin R

    Thanks for the helpful information. Mud is more likely than anything else to get most of us bogged down.
    While I often enjoy people a few at a time, large events are not for me. Never mind Sturgis. I don’t even go to county fairs.

    • Bob

      Agreed Calvin, now I know better!

    • Sean McCloy

      Go to HARBOR FREIGHT buy some of those long white zip ties that or get some bailing wire. You can run that through rubber garden hose you should carry a bit of that for fillups of water here and there? I rather carry a 5 lb hose than 50 lbs water jugs? Sure you will sacrifice your hose but you will have something that will grip the mud better than the tires. You need rims that have openings that will allow you to lace your hose to the tire. Also LOWER THE AIR PRESSURE that gives you more traction. You can replace the air pressure after you are out the bog. I never left home without bailing wire when I was a trucker. I have put mud flaps on trailers I picked up I have wired fenders on the trucks that hit deer. I have had chain that would have become a hazard just bail wire it in place and roll on. The best use I used it for was I would wire my glad hands on to the trailer so a robber could not just grab it and make my truck unable to drive because brakes lock up when you take that glad hand off. They grab my brakes they saw they had to get some tools. I have seen these glad hands pop off when making a turn never want that to happen again. Same thing with the electrical pigtail.

      • Bob

        Those are great tips Sean, thank you!

  2. Ming

    thanks Bob, I learned a lot from this post and your video. These are things that I could definitely do myself to get the truck unstuck. I had to laugh though, once the rains start up here in the PNW, you could wait for months for the puddles to dry out!!

    • Bob

      Very true Ming, that’s one of the great things about Arizona, it does rain hard sometimes but it dries out really fast.

  3. Al Christensen

    That’s a familiar situation. 😉

    • Bob

      I wasn’t kidding when I told you I did the exact same thing is South Dakota!

  4. Linda Sand

    I’d be so happy to be out of there I’d probably drive off and leave the traction pads rather than take a chance of stopping to fetch them. Maybe the next person down that road would appreciate having them.

    • Bob

      I understand Linda, but I’ve run into lots of problems out here and have learned to cope with them pretty well. The best thing is just to stop, relax and think over what the next step is. I’m certain you’d do a lot better than you think!

  5. Cathy P.

    Great info! Every piece of information contributes to help one feel more capable of handling the “what ifs” which can bog one down. Also, I didn’t know about the YouTube channel so won’t get much done next week other than catching up with it! Yes, I subscribed. Thanks again!

    • Bob

      Thanks Cathy, being prepared and aware is the most important part of staying safe and happy.
      Thanks for subscribing, I hope you enjoy and learn from it.

  6. Cae

    Great video. Keep me coming

  7. Steve

    You are right Bob in that not calling a tow truck in that sort of instance of being out in the woods like that will save you lots of money, if you have the right equipment, but……you also will probably have it unstuck before a tow truck would even get there. So the time you would spend fretting, waiting, and wondering when it will show up you could be working on slowly but surely getting out. It is true what you say about it being a little inconvenient carrying the jerk tape and come along in your vehicle, but when you need it you will be glad you did. It’s like insurance, in that you have to have it but hope you never have to use it.

  8. tommy helms

    That was a good video…but those dogs weren’t any help at all.

    • Steve

      No they might have been trying to help because I thought I saw one of them in the video hiking his leg trying to rinse the mud off the tires.

      • Bob

        Helpful is Cody’s middle name!

    • Bob

      I don’t know tommy, they are the ultimate moral support and that is a great thing! Maybe we could hook them up and mush his van out of there!

  9. jim

    Getting stuck is always a ###!!** to get out and when you do most of the time you like a hog that’s been playing in the mud this time of the year where I live you would stay stuck if a person try camping like you do glad you got out ok you might look into getting you a portable wench from harbor fright they come way down in price and can be use on the front or back sure save you a lot of trouble,the gentleman in your without bounds video with the cube truck talk while setting at a picnic table do you have is email address I would like to ask him a few things about his rig like gas mileage,how he keeps the doors close after he’s inside,and the main thing what does he use for steps getting in and out thinks

    • Bob

      Hi Jim, he’s a friend of mine and I can’t give out his email. I do know his box van has the Ford 7.3 diesel and he averages 10 mpg with it. When I lived in a box van I used the front doors to get in and out and I’m pretty sure he does as well. My cargo van has doors that latch from the outside as well and I lock the doors so I can’t get locked in and use a simple bolt to keep anyone from getting in.
      I don’t think he goes in and out through the back door.

  10. Hunter

    Genius Bob! Brilliant!
    Please detail your cleanup proceedure.
    Tell us about screws/anchors you can put in sand or dirt.

    • Bob

      Thanks Hunter, I don’t know what you mean by clean-up procedure. In the desert I suggest you attach the come-along to your spare and bury it as an anchor.

  11. richard smith

    When I read that you were going to Strugis, I knew that this was going to be a interesting and fun read. I rode motorcycles for 20 years and went to Strugis 9 times. If there was one thing that I learned is that one does not want to be in that area for the last week of July thru the second week of August. That is if your not on a motorcycle. The Black Hills are a great place to spend some time in. As for getting unstuck in that type of situation those are great tips. Waiting and thinking out your options is always your best move. Getting yourself worked up and in a panic is not going to help you or fix the problem. Again great advice.

    • Al Christensen

      “Waiting and thinking out your options is always your best move. Getting yourself worked up and in a panic is not going to help you or fix the problem.”
      This is true of most problems.

    • Bob

      Good advice Richard.

  12. Hunter

    Please tell us what equipment you used for the video.

    • Bob

      Hunter we are using a Panasonic V550 camcorder with an eternal microphone.

  13. Ming

    Hi Bob, I just had a thought that I wanted to run past you. How often do you run across problematic puddles that have lower lying ground nearby? It occurs to me that if this is a common occurrence, it might be less work to just carry a hose (25 feet?) or tubing that could be used to make a siphon to carry the water away from the puddles. Saves digging a trench and leaving a conduit for water to erode the road?

    • Bob

      Ming, I don’t think that situation comes up very often, not often enough that I would carry a hose just for that. A lot of us carry hoses to fill our water tanks, but I don’t think I would use it for this purpose as well.

      • Ming

        Thanks Bob, good to know. Though I’m sure when I next come to a small lake across a dirt road I will wish I had a sump pump and a really long hose!

  14. jim

    Thinks for the info mr Bob I understand about the email address I seen some of your youtube videos really enjoy they it’s nice to be able to put a voice with a face after keeping up with you on your website so long do you have much trouble getting stuck on blm land what I’ve seen look like a lot of sand and nothing to hook your come along to

    • Bob

      Jim, I have gotten stuck one time that I can remember in the sand in the desert, but a friend was with me and pulled me out. If there isn’t anything to attach your come along to, you can dig a deep hole, attach the hook to your spare tire, and bury it. Hopefully it’ deep enough that you can then winch yourself out. It’ll take a log time, but if you get yourself out you can save a LOT of money on a tow bill.

  15. jim

    Just watched your video with Mr Sameer love it please keep them coming and think you so much for your time I can never think you enough for the happiness you have give me reading and watching you

    • Bob

      Jim, that is very kind of you to say! I very much appreciate it.

  16. Jeff Agueda

    Oh man I bet that was just a little bit exciting! Great post on what to have on hand and how to be prepared for poor road conditions. My truck is 4×4 which I very rarely use, but it sure is nice when I need it. Thank you for all of your wise information that you share with all of this. I will hopefully get to meet you one day.

    • Bob

      Jeff, my camp is always open to you! I lived in a 4×4 truck with a small camper for awhile, and I really miss it.

  17. Beth

    I HATE mud.
    But Bob, why does it look like you’re at full tire pressure?!?!?!

    • Bob

      You’re right Beth, I didn’t air down. I didn’t think I needed to air down as far as I walked and after I was sure it wouldn’t get me through the mud that was ahead. After it dried out I didn’t think I’d need to, and I didn’t.
      In retrospect it was a mistake, it might have gotten me out without getting stuck. Live and learn!!

  18. John brunson

    Here in the Deep South, all riggers and linemen call your “D-Rings” shackles. Also, Google the phrase “Flip flop winch”

    • Bob

      Thanks John!

  19. Norman

    Thanks for the awesome story! Winch would be of great help here I guess

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