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Saturday, March 28, 2015

Route Overview: The Big Picture (Final Cut)

Whoa.  This is going to be one long, challenging ride.  The individual pieces each seem reasonable, but reality hits when viewing them all together in the big picture.  This will be more than a stretch for me.

So, the Black Hills BackBone route is complete, with a turn-by-turn narrative for the entire route spilling over 8 separate blog posts.  This is a recap of each of those 8 posts, with running mileage, additional pictures and links to the full posts.  The final tally:  305 miles, over 270 of which are gravel or dirt, with about 16,500 feet of elevation gain, most of which are jammed into the 100 miles within the Black Hills.  For those wishing to physically or mentally ride along, GPS mapping is in final review and cue sheets are drafted.  Should be a ride to remember.

The signature shot for the Black Hills BackBone.  The best remote roads around.

1.  The Start:  NoWhere, North Dakota to the Geographic Center of the United States  (79 miles / 79 miles total)

The beginning of this 300+ mile journey lies at the northern border of South Dakota, less than 20 miles east of Montana, on Table Mountain Road (Harding County Road 233).  There's actually a carved stone marking the state border, if you look for it long enough, are willing to hop a barbed wire fence and cross a solid 50 meters of cow pie laden pasture.  Notwithstanding the marker, it's still way out there.  It's still NoWhere, North Dakota.  Full Post HERE


In the beginning, the northern prairie stretches before you, unfolding its unvarnished character. 

2.  The Geographic Center of the United States to Spearfish  (56 miles / 135 miles total)

From the high plains of the Geographic Center of the United States to the entrance into the Black Hills at the college town of Spearfish, these 56 miles of the Black Hills BackBone deliver a visual feast.  Of all the highlights, however, two stretches really stand out, both Minimum Maintenance Roads specifically included as a tribute to TransIowa founder and gravel grinder guru Mark Stevenson.  Thanks, Mark, for your inspiration and dedication.  I'll need all of it, with these deeply rutted, nearly impassable when wet roads starting over 120 miles into the Black Hills BackBone.  Full Post HERE

More so than individuals, herds of buffalo inspire wonder, knowing that their ancestors filled the northern plains.

3.  Spearfish to O'Neil Pass  (30 miles / 165 miles total)

Coasting into the college town of Spearfish after 135 miles of big prairie gravel and dirt, the Black Hills BackBone is about to earn its name.  Time to climb into the Hills.  This stretch is essentially a 30 mile climb on a National Forest Service Road.  Yep.  30 miles.  Full Post HERE

The 135 mile warmup of exposed prairie pays off with a 30 mile washboard climb to the spine of the Black Hills. 

4.  O'Neil Pass to Deerfield Lake  (30 miles / 195 miles total)

With the 30 mile ascension of O'Neil Pass, the Black Hills BackBone deeply embeds one into the thick pine forests of the Northern Hills.  Ahead promises another 30 miles of shorter, but steeper, climbs and descents, winding along secondary U.S. National Forest Service gravel and dirt roads through remote logging and recreational high country.  The next destination is Deerfield Lake, a high altitude sparkling jewel at mile 195 of the BackBone.  Full Post HERE


Grades steepen, roads narrow, sight lines shrink, ruts multiply, gravel diminishes.  But glimpses of distant granite.
 5.  Deerfield Lake to Custer  (31 miles / 226 miles total)

In designing the route for the Black Hills BackBone, I set out to include my favorite back country roads, with memorable highlights, within the constraints of a generally North to South traverse of the Black Hills.

That can get complicated.  Spinning south out of Deerfield Lake, the Central Black Hills explode into a confuzzling labyrinth of gravel roads, dirt roads, abandoned roads, wanna-B roads, skid trails, hiking trails and paths.  Some are labeled, perhaps with numbers, letters or numbers and letters.  The roads may be county, state, a division of the state, like the Game, Fish & Parks, or one of a smorgasbord of federal agencies.  Some aren't even roads.  They just look like one, until they don't.  I've been misplaced on many of these "roads."

Time to simplify.  Sort of.  Some things I just had to include.  Full Post HERE

Wind wears.  Water weakens.  Earth cracks and heaves.   Crops of granite burst into daylight in the Heart of the Hills.

6.  Custer to Buffalo Gap  (33 miles / 259 miles total)

For me, this is the best of the best.  This is where I most love to ride.  In about 33 miles, these remote roads wind up conifer stuffed, granite spiked hills, roll down creek filled valleys, climb a final ridge to a stunning vista, and drop to the prairie below.  All along is history, wildlife, folk culture and more.

I know there's nice stuff further west, from Jewel Cave to Pringle to Edgemont.  But that's for others, or for a different day.  I'm going from Custer to Buffalo Gap.  Full Post HERE

Emerging from the blanket of thick forests and hard rocks of the Black Hills, the broken prairie beckons.

7.  Buffalo Gap to Oelrichs  (26 miles / 285 miles total)

From Buffalo Gap, the Black Hills BackBone bursts out of the shadows of the Black Hills and hurtles into the wide open spaces of Western South Dakota prairie.  This 26 mile stretch from Buffalo Gap to Oelrichs is full of surprises, so stay alert.  And know this.  There are very, very few trees, hills, rock formations or anything else that shields, or even slows down, the relentless winds out there.

One exception is Ash Road, a 3 mile roller coaster of short, steep hills, a rare-for-these-parts center pivot irrigation system and a hint of a gravel grid system, all reminiscent of Gravel Worlds.  Gotta pay tribute to the Pirates.  Full Post HERE

The hard life of the dry southern prairie, where cemeteries outnumber towns.

 8.  The Finish Line:  Oelrichs to NothingThere, Nebraska  (20 miles / 305 miles total)

Although the journey may be more complex, the destination of the Black Hills BackBone is simple:  the South Dakota border with Nebraska.  The finish line itself is equally simple:  an unmarked boundary between the two states where Black Banks Road t-bones into Dakota Line Road in Fall River County, South Dakota.  No town.  No lights.  No markings.  Not even a spot on a regular road map.  Just a STOP sign.  If you want to ceremonially enter Nebraska, you can dip your wheel into the ditch across from Dakota Line Road.  Perfect.  Full Post HERE

The billowing ribbon of snow-lined gravel fades to dirt as the BackBone reaches for the Nebraska border.
All that's left is to ride it.  Maybe a few minor things like my bike and gear, nutrition and hydration, resupply possibilities and other logistics, like a ride to the start and from the finish.  Mere details.  The Black Hills BackBone is now out there.  Waiting.

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