Writing the book on the Centennial Trail

By Gray Hughes

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The Centennial Trail is a 111 mile trail running from Bear Butte to Wind Cave National Park.

After biking the Mickelson Trail, Cheryl Whetham and Jukka Huhtiniemi, they wanted another challenge.

So the couple decided to not only hike the Centennial Trail but also write a book on it.

“The book started out as a personal challenge,” Whetham said. “We had just recently watched that movie with Reese Witherspoon called “Wild.” So after we watched that I said to (Huhtiniemi) and then I said ‘Ah, let’s do Centennial Trail.’ So that’s how it started. From that, we started researching information, and we found it was really difficult to get any information on trails.”

The process started in 2016, Huhtiniemi said, and they finished the hiking in 2017.

They didn’t “through-hike,” the process by which one hikes an entire end-to-end in one go, the trail due to the scarceness of water and an aging dog at home, but they did hike the entire trail in sections during 2016 and into parts of 2017.

This made it easier to digest for readers to understand day hikes on the trail, Wetham said.

“So the book breaks it down into sections so the user can then decide, you know, how difficult of a hike do I want, how long do I have, and where am I in the Black Hills,” she said. “So that was kind of the idea, to market the trail to people who don’t normally hike or would not consider hiking the trail continuously.”

While not recommended for through-hikers due to the lack of information on topics such as where to get potable water, both Whetham and Huhtinieme said the book is a good guide for those wanting to do day-hikes.

The information on the trail is sparse, Huhtiniemi said, which made the book even more worth doing.

There are books, Whetham said, that do have information on the Centennial Trail, but the information does not go into a great deal of specifics, such as distances, the topography and other helpful insights.

“So there just wasn’t any information out on it, so we said we are going to hike this, so why don’t we gather data,” Whetham said. “(Huhtiniemi) is an engineer, so that aspect intrigued him a lot, and he’s a photographer so all the technical data and all the photography is his. Maybe two photos are mine.”

While the hiking could be challenging at times, writing the book was much more challenging, the two agreed.

They started writing the book in Microsoft Word and then shifted to MS Publisher, however, they determined that Adobe InDesign would be the best program in which to write the book.

Their book, “Hiking the Centennial Trail,” was self-published through Create Space.

It’s now available on Amazon and in 19 different stores in the Black Hills area, including High Mountain Outfitters in Custer, Firehouse Smokejumper Station, Granite Sports and Mountain Store in Hill City, and Grapes and Grinds and Keystone Mercantile in Keystone, for $19.99.

The book is also availalbe on Amazon.

Hiking and writing the book was a labor-intensive process, Huhtiniemi said.

“You have to start gathering the information when you hike, you have to have GPS with you, then you have to study the route, what is the distance, estimate that, and then you have to go home and really use the data to make the measurements to get the length of the route,” he said.

Whetham kept a log that had beginning and end trailhead information, date, time, weather, FitBit steps and information on scenic overlooks.

They kept track of everything, she added, and would go home immediately and write the description and enter the data while it was fresh in their minds.

“And then these technical things that (Huhtiniemi) did,” Whetham said. “If you have been on Mickelson Trail, what we found very useful with that was the elevation profile, and which way you want to bike, but we could not find any elevation profile on the Centennial so I think that was a very valuable thing (Huhtiniemi) did.”

There are also time estimates of how long it would take to hike that portion of the trail, Huhtiniemi said.

When it came time to write the book, the two sat down in January and worked on the book through March.

It was almost like a full-time job, Whetham said.

Hiking details in the book also include a description of the flora and fauna and available amenities.

The two were also concerned about the popularity of the book since, as they said, the trail is not as popular as other trails such as the Appalachian Trail, spanning the length of the Appalachian Mountains in the eastern United States.

That, though, was not the case, selling over 500 copies so far.

“One hundred plus was our target,” Huhtiniemie said. “We thought, maybe, there would be 100 people who would buy this.”

The two decided to undertake this project because they love the Black Hills, hiking and South Dakota.

They wanted to shed light on the geographical diversity of South Dakota ­with the trail beginning and ending in prairie but winding through the Black Hills.

“Nobody knows about the Centennial Trail,” Whetham said. “I grew up in New Castle (Wyoming), and my friends in New Castle had never heard of the Centennial Trail.”

The book, too, has received acclaim, winning Best of Show in Writing in the 2018 writing and photography contest held by Rocky Mountain Outdoor Writers and Photographers.

“A well-organized, practical hiking guide loaded with useful information and first-hand insight from the authors,” said Mary Taylor Young, writing judge for the contest. “Nicely illustrated with color photos and maps. This guide creates a sense of discovery by profiling a great trail in a state (South Dakota) not usually known for its hiking.”

The award is “cool,” Whetham said, but winning an award is not why they decided to write the book.

It does, though, make the effort more worthwhile, both Whetham and Huhtiniemi said.

“We weren’t doing it for the pat on the back,” Whetham said. “We were doing it to share this great resource with other hikers, and we are both in a couple hiking groups, people say that now they’ll attempt the Centennial Trail.”

The two are now trying to get the book into an e-book format for further distribution.

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