LEAD — Lead native Gabe Dirksen is preparing for an intensely personal journey.

Dirksen will embark on a 300-mile hike starting Sept. 24 to raise funds for the “Smile Train” foundation. 

“I have a cleft palate lip,” Dirksen said. “It’s the second most common congenital birth defect.” His parents donated to the “Smile Train” when Dirksen, now 24, was younger.

The foundation works to completely repair cleft palate lip conditions on young children, some in Third World nations. 

Children need multiple surgeries over their lifetimes. They are checked to make sure they are healthy and able to eat, speak, and function like a child not having a cleft palate lip.

Dirksen knew of a climber and mountaineer named Kyle Dempster who lost his life in 2017 along the Ogre II mountain in Pakistan. Dempster and his partner, Scott Adamson, encountered a major storm and were never heard from or seen again.

Dempster’s family created a grant in his name to help adventurers do the things they wish. Dirksen applied for the grant and received the Kyle Dempster Solo Adventure Award earlier this year.

“I always try to reach an adventure close to home,” Dirksen said. “We can find adventure in our backyard.”

Dirksen’s trip will begin and end at the same spot: Wind Cave National Park, where the Centennial Trail begins. He plans to reach Bear Butte before bicycling to Deadwood, where he will join the Mickelson Trail. Dirksen will then hike the Mickelson Trail before getting on a bicycle to connect with the loop back to Wind Cave.

Dirksen started hiking and engaging in outdoor activities as a child. His parents love the outdoors and took the family to national parks on many occasions.

Skiing and mountain biking were some of the other activities. Dirksen said he has also started rock climbing.

What does Dirksen enjoy the most about outdoor activities?

“It sounds kind of corny, but when you’re outside, it makes me feel smaller,” Dirksen said. “It kind of makes me feel like I’m not as big of a deal as sometimes you think you are.”

Dirksen’s goal is to raise $5,000 for the foundation. Individuals wishing to donate may do so by visiting the website https://www.mightycause.com/event/Bhmfs

“I’ve planned pretty much every step of the way,” Dirksen said of the upcoming trip, which he estimates will take two weeks. He said the pace would be constant.

“I’ll be putting in 15 to 20 miles a day,” he said. “I’ll stop when I can, take pictures.” He also plans to create a video of his journey.

What if the trip takes a big longer than two weeks?

“I’m not planning on quitting unless something happens: if I get injured or sick or something.

“Anything can happen, but I’m going to do my best to push through the whole thing continuously.”

Dirksen’s temporary itinerary follows.

Sept. 24: Southern terminus of Wind Cave National Park to French Creek Natural Area, 15.2 miles;

Sept. 25: French Creek Natural Area to Horse Thief Lake, 17.6 miles;

Sept. 26: Horse Thief Lake to Sheridan Lake, 11.2 miles;

Sept. 27: Sheridan Lake to Pactola Lake, 10.69 miles;

Sept. 28: Pactola Lake to Dalton Lake, 20.5 miles;

Sept. 29: Dalton Lake to Alkali Creek, 20.6 miles;

Sept. 30: Alkali Creek to Bear Butte, 11.64 miles, then bike to Galena, 18.8 miles;

Oct. 1: Galena to Deadwood, bike 10.3 miles and then bike to Dumont, 13.4 miles;

Oct. 2: Dumont to Mystic, 17.9 miles;

Oct. 3: Mystic to North Hills City trailhead, 14.6 miles;

Oct. 4: Hill City trailhead to Mountain Trailhead, 10.5 miles, then bike 33.4 miles to Minnekahta Trailhead; and

Oct. 5: Minnekahta Trailhead to southern terminus of Wind Cave National Park, bike 60.2 miles

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