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Tuesday, January 16, 2018

NothingThere, Nebraska to Edgemont

Starting at the stop sign finish of the Black Hills BackBone, this section of the DoubleBackBone swings west through Buffalo Gap National Grasslands before angling north to the railroad town of Edgemont. Wide open prairie translates to stark exposure and long sight lines. It's hard to miss the herds of cattle, but watch for the wary pronghorn and majestic elk that patrol these lands. With big views through rolling, hard-packed gravel, these fifty miles can pass quickly, unless of course the winds pick up, the rains fall or the sun comes out.

Winding down to the railroad town of Edgemont nestled in the distant trees.
From the start, head west on Dakota Line Road for 3 miles and then north for a mile, before turning west on East Ardmore Road for 13 miles to the ghost town of Ardmore. A few of the buildings in Ardmore appear to be occupied, but there are many abandoned structures and no commercial establishments. If you need water before Edgemont, still about 33 miles away, knocking on a door here may be an option. I plan to ride straight through, other than perhaps stopping for a moment to snap a picture.

The long anticipated Stop Sign finish of the Black Hills BackBone?
Well, yes, unless you're on the DoubleBackBone. Then it's time to turn right and head west along the Nebraska border.
Continue west on Ardmore Road for 7.8 miles and then north on Edgemont Road (Fall River County 6412) for 10.9 miles. Although the BackBone finish sits 25 miles ago, the Nebraska border is still just 2 miles to the south. Miles of open prairie lie ahead, with but a few man-made structures.

Solitary building, perhaps an abandoned school house, on Edgemont Road, about 4 miles north of the Nebraska border.
Makes one wonder about life on the prairie as a kid. There are no other buildings in sight.
To avoid an 8 mile pavement run into Edgemont, the DoubleBackBone stays on gravel by turning back east on South Highway 471 for 3 miles, north on Plum Creek Road (Fall River County 65) for 4 miles, and west on Indian Canyon Road (Fall River County 3292) for 2 miles. This is good, fast, prairie gravel with few other options, so navigation is straightforward.

Turn north on Lookout Road (Fall River County 6) for a twisty 4 miles that eventually T-bones into paved Highway 471 for a short coast into Edgemont. Stay on Highway 471 through town to U.S. Highway 18 at the north end.

Small herd of elk just off a gravel road south of Edgemont.
Edgemont sports a spartan city campground with showers on the south end of town, a bar and grill on main street, a motel for those so inclined and convenience stores on the north end of town. Enjoy the amenities and stock up on supplies. The next town on the Black Hills DoubleBackBone route is Spearfish, about 130 miles and more than a few thousand feet of climbing away.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Imagine a DoubleBackBone

Spanning the height of the State of South Dakota on 310 miles of remote back country gravel and dirt roads, the Black Hills BackBone creates a host of challenges for the adventurous cyclist. One not to overlook is just getting to the start at NoWhere, North Dakota and from the finish at NothingThere, Nebraska. From Rapid City, it's a three hour drive one way to the start and two hours one way from the finish.

How to eliminate those long shuttle drives? Make the route into a loop and start where convenient.

Imagine, if you will, riding along the original Black Hills BackBone route to the stop sign finish at the Nebraska border. Celebrate for a moment and certainly snap a few pictures, but then head west onto Dakota Line Road to access the Wild, Wild Western reaches of the Black Hills. A serpentine network of barely used gravel and dirt roads wind generally north for a return up O'Neil Pass, before dropping onto the Northern Prairie to the North Dakota border.

Now, that's one big, bad loop. Well over 600 miles, all told.

The Black Hills DoubleBackBone.

Out there. Somewhere. On the Black Hills DoubleBackBone.
Sometimes, more is more. More rolling prairie patrolled by herds of cattle, buffalo, pronghorn and elk. More obscure canyons scoured by flash floods. More twisty ridge lines climbing to soaring views. More hills stuffed with pine and aspen. More dirt near-roads connecting with secondary Forest Service gravel. And even more remote than the easterly side of the loop, which is a bit hard to believe until you're out there. Get you some of that! Details in the posts ahead.

The Black Hills DoubleBackBone, like the original BackBone, is just a route that I think is fun and challenging, however one chooses to experience it. Solo or group. One continuous ride, a series of days or in sections over time. Self-supported, shuttled or fully supported. Maybe some combination or even all of the above.

Go big. Eventually you'll go home. But you won't be the same.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Black Hills BackBone Bump

The Black Hills BackBone was a whimsical daydream that materialized into a 310 mile gravel and dirt road route spanning the height of the State of South Dakota along the spine of the Black Hills. From the Dakota Marker start at NoWhere, North Dakota to the Stop Sign finish at NothingThere, Nebraska, the Black Hills BackBone showcases the remote ruggedness of western South Dakota.

This route is out there. The first 200+ miles pass through but two towns, one of which offers little more than a bar/convenience store. There very well may be more miles without cell phone coverage than with. And in this back country, people are outnumbered by cows, and probably by deer and elk, too.

Conceived as an unsupported, solo ride, the Black Hills BackBone readily lends itself to a multi-day bikepacking ride or even a multi-day supported tour. In 2017, a small group of friends rode the entire route over three days in the heat and winds of a Fourth of July weekend. For a six part report on that ride, go to these posts. An Idea Takes Shape; Gathering; Crossing the Northern Prairie; Up and Into the Black Hills; Focus on the Finish; A Weekend to Remember.

From the broad shoulders of Flag Mountain, the granite peaks of Mount Rushmore and Harney Peak loom on the horizon.
To my knowledge, the entire Black Hills BackBone has not been ridden on a bicycle as a continuous, unsupported solo ride. That is not from lack of preparation or effort on my part. In my first attempt in 2015, I stumbled into ferocious prairie winds with horizontal rain that eventually spit me out in Spearfish 135 miles later, barely able to stand.  A Rancher's Kindness.  In my second attempt in 2016, I flew across the 135 miles of Northern Prairie in ideal conditions before plowing into a freak ice blizzard climbing O'Neil Pass, dropping me into a trail head outhouse shaking like a frozen leaf.  A Sudden Turn.  My third attempt remains undocumented, as I still cannot wrap my mind around that ride.

So, the first to complete an unsupported, continuous Black Hills BackBone will hold the course record. Whether anyone else gives it a go, or not, I'll be back out there again.

Lots of details and pictures of the Black Hills BackBone route are posted throughout this blog, if you're looking for a nice, long, remote ride. To save a trip through the blog archives, here are links to prior blog posts for the route.  Introduction;  Overview;  Final CutNew Cue Sheets & Tweaks; BackBone Photo Essay.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

A Gravel Pilgrimage

Trans Iowa. The birthplace of today's adventure gravel bicycle racing.

Back in 2005, Trans Iowa was created by a couple of free-thinking bike shop jocks with too much time on their hands and too little sense to understand that one simply does not ride a bicycle across the State of Iowa on 340-ish miles of gravel roads, on an unmarked course, with no team support and no aid stations, in less than a day and a half in April. You just don't. And nobody would want to, anyhow.

Mark Stevenson and Jeff Kerkove, however, dared to think otherwise. Unconstrained by an aristocratic governing body, or by any other conventional thought, they dreamt up a mind-bending ride that challenged what one thought of as possible and then opened it up to anyone curious enough to give it a shot. In return, they asked for little more than a commitment to show up, follow a few rules of conduct and ride with all you have. A culture was born.

A Trans Iowa B-road, with a little April seasoning. (photo by Trans Iowa veteran Kevin Fox)

I discovered the initial Trans Iowa on the forums, simultaneously intrigued by the challenge and baffled as to by why anyone would want to do such a thing. But ride it they did, creating gripping tales of brave souls willing to go way out there just to see what's way out there, and to find what's within. Even afterwards, racers struggled to articulate their near mythical experiences deep in the gravel hinterlands of central Iowa, far beyond their perceived physical and emotional boundaries. Something special was happening out there.

As the years passed, Trans Iowa took root and endured, building a grass roots following, unleashing a legion of converts and sparking a movement across the country. All sorts of different grass roots gravel races, events and rides sprang from this humble beginning in Iowa.

I eventually experienced firsthand the blossoming midwest gravel scene at the 2013 Odin's Revenge, where an eccentric collection of bike geeks gathered to tackle an exceptionally beautiful and brutal 180 miles of rough roads in the middle of Nebraska. During some early miles, I happened across Mark Stevenson himself, the Trans Iowa co-founder and keeper of the gravel flame. Mark was a great ambassador, patiently introducing this new-comer to the mindset that made riding gravel special.

Mark Stevenson, aka Guitar Ted, pulling me up the final climb to Checkpoint 1 at the 2013 Odin's Revenge.
(photo by Kyle Vincent)
Now approaching 5 years later, I have thoroughly enjoyed many gravel miles with many others, but have not appropriately thanked Mark for his welcoming me into this gravel community or for his service to that community. I don't know if that's even possible. As a start, though, I offered to serve as a volunteer at this year's Trans Iowa, in whatever capacity needed. I'm honored that Mark welcomed me once again.

So, here's to you, Mark Stevenson, and to your intrepid partner-in-grime Jeff Kerkove, for your continued service to the cycling community.

I look forward to a memorable weekend in April somewhere out there on the back roads of Iowa.

Addendum 1.  Here's a link to Mark's comprehensive site for all things Trans Iowa.  And here's a link to Mark's daily blog.

Addendum 2.  For an entertaining insight into Trans Iowa, watch the documentary "300 Miles of Gravel," the trailer of which is linked here. 300 Miles of Gravel trailer.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Over the Mountain

Recently I crossed paths with an old friend, a wonderfully warm and fuzzy surprise at an unexpected setting. For a fleeting moment, we both toss aside our pressing tasks at hand and share our life happenings. It makes my day and makes me commit to reconnecting with others.

Not surprisingly, cycling comes up. He asks if I'm still racing cyclocross and 24 hour mountain bike races. Well, no, I dropped out of those scenes almost 15 years ago. Now, I enjoy exploring remote roads and near-roads. Just to see what's out there.

Right then, I realized that sometimes it takes expressing a thought to better understand it. I'm not a bicycle racer. Hmmn. Haven't been one for awhile. Hmmn. I'm a bicycle rider. Hmmn. Hmmn.

That's good.

In a moment, or two, I'll get up over that hill to see what's on the other side.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Enjoy the Show

Out riding around the western reaches of the Black Hills on a gorgeous autumn afternoon, I wander over remote roads through golden forests of aspen, ripened meadows of grass, and bellicose herds of cattle. Oh, some of these roads may find their way onto a return loop for the Black Hills BackBone or another gravel ride. I check maps, jot notes and take pictures, but I'm out there to ride.

To just enjoy the show.

This did not happen by chance.

Cherishing an autumn afternoon riding in the Black Hills.
This past week, with baseball in the air, I watched for the first time the movie "MoneyBall."  This is the story of Billy Beane, an actual major league baseball player, scout and executive, who is consumed by a fear of failure that overwhelms everything else in his life. His drive to challenge conventional thinking changes the game of baseball, but he cannot see his own success.

As much as I enjoyed the movie, the father-daughter scenes hit the hardest. In the movie's final scene, Billy plays a CD recording his young daughter made for him, as he considers a $12.5 million job offer from the Boston Red Sox that requires a cross-country move away from her. She plays guitar and sings a popular song, modified slightly for her dad. Here's a few lines:

"I'm just a little girl lost in the moment,
I'm so scared, but I don't show it.
I can't figure it out, it's bringing me down
I know, I've got to let it go,
and just enjoy the show."

Sometimes, we strive so hard to achieve, we don't recognize success, let alone appreciate the journey.

Just enjoy the show.

Daughter Casey Beane playing for her dad Billy.

Here's a link to a video of the MoneyBall final scenes.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Clearing Cobwebs

Nothing clears the cobwebs quite like roaming around back roads.

With some time off and no commitments, I turn to the Black Hills and surrounding prairie to just get out there.  Plenty of amazing roads and near-roads all over, but I focused on the Western Black Hills around Jewel Cave National Monument and the Southern Prairie south of Edgemont.

On bike, on foot, behind the wheel. Several hundred miles, one way or another, over a few days.

Got out there. Got lost. Got stuck. Got tired. Got thirsty. Got back.

Cobwebs cleared.

Out exploring secondary USFS roads north of Jewel Cave National Monument.

Stretching the definition of both "gravel" and "road."

Some fall foliage hanging on in the lower elevations of the Southern Black Hills.

Cool and wet earlier in the week.

Emerging from a Southern Hills Canyon.

Southern Hills meadows.

Red Canyon Road, Fall River County Road 15.

Boys Club.

Old schoolhouse out in the Southern Prairie near the Nebraska border.

New paint scheme - Back Roads Fade with Splatter option.