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Monday, September 21, 2015

Bikepacking the BackBone? - Part 2

What about bikepacking the Black Hills BackBone route?  In my last post, Bikepacking the BackBone? - Part 1, I left off at Buffalo Gap, after riding about 63 miles of the route from Deerfield Lake.  Now, it's decision time.  Continue to ride the known Black Hills BackBone route on rolling prairie to the Nebraska border and on to Edgemont to camp or turn west to climb back into the Black Hills to explore unknown-to-me back roads?  Either way, I'll camp and then check out some gravel and dirt north of Jewel Cave National Park on a round about way back to Deerfield Lake.

Only one room at this resort.  Very exclusive, although some assembly is required.
Having confirmed the fun potential of the Black Hills portion of the BackBone route as a bikepacking ride, I turn back west, into the Hills.  Riding west on 7-11 Road, I now climb into a growing headwind.  Progress is slow, but steady, but really slow.  Eventually I reach paved Highway 385 and opt to ride some pavement up through Wind Cave National Park Visitor Center and Elk Mountain campgrounds.  At the outpost of Pringle, I return to gravel and dirt roads heading west and north to eventually camp near Highway 16 between Jewel Cave National Park and Custer.  100+ miles of gravel and dirt, all told, with an unknown, but healthy amount of elevation gain on a loaded bike.

Day 2 starts with a nice gradual climb up Lightning Creek Road.
Temperatures drop into the 30's overnight, so I don't mind the early morning climb up Lightning Creek Road (USFS 288).  After about 6 miles primarily up, I reach a ridge line with views of Crazy Horse Monument and other big rocks to the East.  Then it's back to climbing west on Custer Limestone Road (USFS 284) to Antelope Ridge Road (USFS 283).  Nice Black Hills gravel, virtually no traffic of any kind and great country to ride through.

An early morning wake-up climb to a ridge line with Crazy Horse Monument views.
Spinning past Cooper Ranch Game Production Area, I see some of the results of the Jasper Fire, which consumed over 83,000 acres of forest in the year 2000.   These primitive roads pass through high rolling hills with large swaths of grass, aspen and occasional pine trees.  Every few miles, around a corner or up the next ridge line, the more familiar thick pine forests reappear, only to disappear again shortly thereafter.

Not much of the forest left here, 15 years after the Jasper Fire.
The number and variety of back roads explode back here in the West Central Black Hills.  The primary USFS roads are pretty well marked with upright signs showing names and numbers.  As are most, but not all, of the secondary USFS roads.  Lesser developed roads, if a sign is present, may have numbers with additional digits, or decimals, or letters.  Or maybe a just a name.  Or maybe not.

No sign here.  Somewhere in the vicinity of Wildcat Draw.  I think.
Lots to explore.  Lots of opportunity to get lost.  I bring a collection of maps and a compass, and ride whatever looks interesting.  More than once, my seemingly well defined road dwindles to little more than a cow path, before abruptly reestablishing itself or intersecting with something more developed.

Fall colors from the new growth forest.
These roads would be even more fun riding without lugging all this bikepacking gear along.  On the other hand, it's reassuring to know that I have gear, food and water for at least another night, if I really get lost.

Pointing north en route to Deerfield Lake.
Late in the day, I reach my Camaro at Deerfield Lake.  Just short of another 100 miles, but more miles of rougher "roads" than Day 1.  I cannot recreate the exact path I rode through these parts and I'm not sure that I'd want to.  But I know there's great riding out there.  And I remember enough of the best.

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