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Sunday, September 27, 2015

Bikepacking the BackBone? - Part 3

What would it look like to bikepack the entire Black Hills BackBone route?  I'd probably try to roust a few friends to make it a rolling multiple day party.  Honestly assess my riding capabilities and interests, as well as those of everyone else.  Ensure that all are up for about the same number, pace and difficulty of daily riding hours, about the same type of rest and food, and about the same type of overall ride.  Then just ride, camp and have a good time.

Nothing quite like sharing a campfire.
After riding every bit of the BackBone route, in bits and pieces of various combinations, and after riding much of the Black Hills portion loaded for bikepacking, I think I have a good sense of what would be fun for me.  I'd shoot for three days of riding, two nights camping and a shuttle to the start and from the finish.  Plenty of daily riding, hopefully with some time at nights to relax.

The first day would pretty much need to cover the 133 miles from the North Dakota border to Spearfish.  There's just not much out there for camping between those spots, other than the ditch and an occasional tree.  That's a long day on a loaded bike, especially with the stark exposure and remoteness.  But the gravel is relatively fast and the rolling terrain is relatively mellow, so I think it sounds about right, as long as the weather doesn't get too crazy.  If it turns out to be a bit too much, one could pull into the Belle Fouche Reservoir campground about 20 miles or so before Spearfish.

All in at the geographic center of the United States.
The second day would cover much of the Black Hills portion of the BackBone route, about 90 miles to Custer.  That's a long day on a loaded bike, too, due to the steeper climbs, significantly greater overall elevation gain and rougher roads.  But the route stays on primary and secondary USFS roads, or county roads, so the gravel is still good, the exposure is more reasonable and there are alternative camping spots along the way, if needed or desired.

Typical Black Hills gravel on the BackBone.  Look for over 100 miles of riding like this.
The third day would start with some climbing in the Hills, before dropping to the rolling southern prairie stretching to the Nebraska border, for a total of about 83 miles.  Depending on the willingness of the shuttle driver to negotiate remote gravel roads to get to the finish, one may need to ride another 20 miles back to Oelrichs.
Southern exposure to the Nebraska border.
That's how I'd bikepack the Black Hills BackBone.  How would you?

There are always other ways.  With this daily plan, although the riding itself is remote, the overnights are at the good sized tourist towns of Spearfish and Custer.  One could camp nearby to maintain the "out there" experience, maybe just topping off water.  Alternatively, both towns have campgrounds right in town, for the option of more substantial resupply or meals or connecting with family or friends.  One could even bypass the whole carry-it-all-on-the-bike thing and have the camping gear stashed or delivered by shuttle.  A "credit card tour" is also possible, simply by staying in a motel, cabin or house of a friend.  Many options, depending on the experience desired.

If I were riding this trip solo, I'd probably just bikepack it, while enjoying a substantial dinner meal, and maybe breakfast, in Spearfish and Custer.  But I can see a great group ride, traveling light and meeting up with non-riding family or friends for dinner and campfire at night.  May have to carve out a couple of long weekends next year.
Nice way to end the day.

1 comment:

  1. Craig, This looks like a great adventure. Thanks for mapping it out and writing about your experience along the route.