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Tuesday, September 1, 2015

A Simple Thing Overlooked

Note to self - If you want to actually ride those long, remote road routes you cook up, you might want to check your gear before heading out.  Yesterday I walked my bike almost two hours because I forgot my pump.  First flat in well over 5,000 miles.  And no pump.  Also, no cell coverage, no traffic and no occupied buildings.  Hard lesson.

Typical two track Black Hills gravel on USFS secondary roads.
I pedaled out of Spearfish to ride the Black Hills portion of the Black Hills BackBone route - 123 miles from Spearfish to Buffalo Gap, almost all on U.S. National Forest service gravel and dirt roads.  These forest gravel roads climb up to and along the spine of the Black Hills, with streams and occasional campsites for water, very little cell coverage, and one town of Custer for provisions.  Throw in some significant elevation gain and you're in for a nice, long, remote ride sampling much of the best the Black Hills has to offer.

 There are not many route options to climb south out of Spearfish up to O'Neil Pass on gravel, unless one is willing to venture west into Wyoming.  The Black Hills BackBone is a South Dakota route, so it goes up Tinton Road, USFS 134.  This a "primary" USFS road designed and maintained for higher volume and higher speed traffic, at least relative to my preferred "secondary" USFS roads.  In general, one finds more gravel on a wider, three track road bed, with longer sight lines, more gradual grades and washboards.  But it's all relative.  It's still really good.  From Spearfish, it's about 10 miles uphill before there's any respite at all and then another 20 miles of mostly uphill to O'Neil Pass Road.

Tinton Road climbing up to O'Neil Pass from Spearfish.
The temperature stays cool, the wind rests quietly and the sun hides behind early clouds darkened with the haze of Montana wild fires.  It's a steady, low energy climb, until a couple of mountain bikers shoot out of the forest onto the road.  They've been out riding the course for the Dakota Five-O, a 50 mile mountain bike race next weekend and the biggest cycling event around these parts.  A couple of fist pumps and hoots proclaim they are ready.  I return their greeting and find a bit more pop in my cadence.  Before too long, I'm on pavement, U.S. Highway 85, the Can-Am Highway, for a couple of miles to O'Neil Pass Road.

Returning to the Mother Lode scene.  It looks so benign in daylight, coasting downhill, with no clock running.
Another mile of climbing on O'Neil Pass Road leads to South Rapid Creek Road.  After the first few miles of vacation homes and retreats, the road narrows and enters more remote forests.  This is a most welcomed descent, after hours of climbing.  I had to stop at Besant Park Road for a moment.  This is where I had stopped, hard, at the Gold Rush Mother Lode, before Amy and Randall Smith of North Platte, Nebraska whizzed by, inspiring me to just beat the cut-off time at O'Neil Pass and eventually finish.  A moment worth remembering.  See Mother Lode Race Report

Black Fox Camp Road - primo Black Hills gravel.
The downhill scoot eventually ends at Black Fox Campground, where I turn right onto Black Fox Camp Road, USFS secondary road 233.  These five miles are a real treat - a barely developed, two track basically dirt road flows beside a mountain stream slowed by a series of beaver dams, with cliffs and rock formations above framing the valley.  Every pedal stroke was a photo opp.

Although Black Fox Camp Road was mostly uphill, too soon I turn off to continue to climb on Flag Mountain Road, secondary USFS road 189.  This road climbs up to and rolls along a ridge line, offering expansive views to the western horizon before cresting yet another ridge to showcase the monuments to the east - Harney Peak, Mt. Rushmore, Cathedral Spires and more.  After hours of riding through the thickly forested steeps of the Northern Hills, these big views seem even bigger.

The Montana wild fire haze hides most of the big peaks, but not the high plains below.
Here's where the wheels come off, or more accurately the air comes out.  On one of the fast descents on this rolling ridge line, my exuberance carries too much speed around a corner and onto a cattle guard.  Although I've crossed dozens of cattle guards that morning without incident, I hit this one too hard and too heavy.  I manage to stay upright, but the hiss of escaping air cut through my senses like an angry rattlesnake.

No problem.  A couple of minutes and I'll be flying down to Deerfield Lake for my planned lunch and water stop at the lakeside White Tail Campground.  I remove the spare tubes, tools and patch kit from the seat bag and reach for the pump in the top tube Tangle bag.  I find my turned-off cell phone, wallet, mud shank, spare batteries for the lights, spare map and no pump.  Ahhhhh.

With that sinking feeling in the gut, I remember removing that pump from the Tangle bag to carry in a CamelBack on my M-Hill mountain bike rides last week.  I had other pumps to use, but for some reason, I took that nicer one from the gravel bike and forgot to put it back.  I don't know how I didn't notice that when loading up the bike for this ride.

It doesn't matter.  This ride is over, until I find a pump that takes a Presta valve.  My cue sheets and odometer shout the bad news - almost 7 miles to the Mountain Meadows Resort.  Time to start walking.

A sad sight to see.  At least nothing is broken.



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