1. The Northern Prairie - North Border to Spearfish (roughly 150 miles)
Pedals start turning in Harding County, South Dakota on Harding County Road 867 at the North Dakota border and less than 3 miles east of the Montana border. It's a remote, nondescript, inauspicious start, an hour's drive to the nearest village, way out there in the open prairie. Perfect. It's also the only option, given that I want to enter the Black Hills from Spearfish and stay west of the heavy, fossil-fueled traffic on the paved highways to the Bakken oil fields.
|Actual Geographic Center of United States.|
2. The Black Hills - Spearfish to Wind Cave (roughly 110 miles)
The BackBone ventures into the ancient mountains of the Black Hills via National Forest Road ("NFR") 134 bearing south of Spearfish. Ahead lies about 30 miles of long, forest gravel climbs up and around Big Hill and Old Baldy, before topping out at O'Neil Pass. The Forest Service calls NFR 134 a "primary" road, which is relatively wide and maintained, at least for forest gravel. After a couple of paved miles on U.S. Highway 85, the BackBone again turns south on NFR 231 for a nice cruise to the Black Fox National Forest campground. Then it's south for another 30 miles to Deerfield Lake on much less developed forest gravel roads, referred to as "secondary" NFRs 233 and 189. Along this ridge line is a sweet surprise: fleeting glimpses below and beyond of hundreds of acres of rolling high altitude prairie surrounded by the conifer stuffed Hills. Deerfield Lake marks roughly 200 miles into the BackBone.
|The conifer stuffed and granite spiked Central Black Hills.|
3. The Southern Prairie - Wind Cave to the South Border (roughly 60 miles)
When entering Wind Cave National Park, on a bicycle or otherwise, have your camera handy and lens cap off. In addition to the stunning landscape, Wind Cave is crawling with critters, large and small. On every single bike ride through Wind Cave, I have seen deer, elk, pronghorn, buffalo and the ever
|Traffic jam in Wind Cave National Park.|
South of Buffalo Gap, the BackBone returns to wide open, rolling prairie passing through the villages of Oral, Smithwick and Oelrichs for a final 45 miles to the Nebraska border.
|On the road to Smithwick.|
Like the start, the finish is only a spot on the map, and not even that on some maps. But it will occupy a spot on the heart of all who rode to it on the BackBone.