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Thursday, June 22, 2017

Bikepack Extravaganza 17

Here's a cool concept.  Choose a destination campsite, preferably within a reasonable ride from a couple of population centers.  Commit to bike pack to that campsite on a given day, solo or with friends.  Invite some other like-minded folks to do the same, from wherever they choose to start, along whatever route they choose to take, on whatever type of bike they choose to ride, with whomever they choose to bring along.  Gather together as folks filter in and set up camp.  Hang out around a campfire.  Share coffee and breakfast in the morning.  Eventually ride home.

Fun-loving group at the Bikepack Extravaganza 17!  I'm not there yet.  As usual, I'm still out pedaling somewhere.
Clockwise:  Amelia Meyer, Jay Erickson, Christopher Grady, Robert Cota, Jason Thorman, Pearl Meyer and Jim Meyer.
(photo by Amelia Meyer)
Welcome to the Bikepack Extravaganza 17, the brilliant brainchild of forest fire fighter and cycling enthusiast Robert Cota of Spearfish.  Robert loved hearing stories of bike packing adventures and yearned to give it a go.  Last summer, he enlisted cycling veterans Kristi and Perry Jewett to create a largely single track ride from Spearfish to Black Fox Campground, a Black Hills National Forest primitive campground about eight miles west of the village of Rochford.  Unable to contain his enthusiasm, Robert posted his ride on social media and invited others to create their own rides out to the same campground that night.  The Bikepack Extravaganza was born.

So jazzed about the idea last summer, I mistakenly rode 42 mostly uphill miles to Black Fox a week early.  Then, on the right day, I limped in at about 10:00 pm, after the latest of a string of 12 hour work days and a slow uphill ride skirting thunderstorms.  Both were fun sub-24ers, but the gathering of fellow bike geeks made the Bikepack Extravaganza special.  Here's a link to my two blog posts about those rides last summer.  Black Fox - A Week Early.  A Path to the Light.

It's well into mid-afternoon before I'm finally ready to roll out.
No such drama this year.  Over the course of a couple of nights, I map out a circuitous route primarily on USFS secondary roads and two track trails west from Black Hawk into Nemo, north into unchartered territory and eventually to Black Fox Campground.  All that would likely take a good chunk of the day, with all the route finding, rough "roads" and elevation gain.  I plan to start early for an anticipated 8-10 hour ride, as folks likely will start arriving by about 5:00 pm.

But I let the day slip away.  Nothing big.  Just this.  Then that.  Then another.  Before I knew it, I had no time for that ambitious ride.  How'd that happen?  Maybe I'm not so ambitious after all.

Off dirty gravel and onto gravelly dirt.  Uphill on Bogus Jim Road.
I reconfigure to ride the most direct route with the most gravel.  Leaving home at about 3:00 pm, I simply ride Nemo Road to Norris Peak Road, about 12 miles of primarily uphill pavement into a steady wind.  Light traffic and light rain shepherd me onto good gravel at Bogus Jim Road.  The skies clear and the rain stops, as I turn up North Bogus Jim Road to ride on fresh gravel uphill and upwind.  Just as I crest the final pitch, the rain resumes for the descent to the Sugar Shack on Highway 385. 

Once again, the rain stops when I turn uphill, now onto Rochford Road.  And, once again, after I pop over the final pitch, the rain kicks in for the descent.  By the time the last hill bottoms out, I'm wet and chilled, soft pedaling onto the Mickelson Trail for the final few miles into Rochford.  Time to dry off and warm up over a dinner of chili and fries at the Moonshine Gulch Saloon.  That hits the spot.  Eventually, I bid adieu to Dan at the Moonshine Gulch and tool out of town for a sweet 8 miles of mostly dirt road up Rapid Creek Road to Black Fox Campground.

Onto the Mickelson Trail.  Just because.
By the time I roll in, the party is on.  A boisterous bunch of bicyclists arise to greet me with cheers and high fives.  There's Jason Thorman, the devious mastermind behind the Black Hills Expedition and veteran of a long list of long bike packing races.  Jason rode single track on the Deerfield Trail and then up from Silver City with Robert Cota, the host of the Bikepack Extravaganza, and Jay Erikson, an outdoor enthusiast and recent convert to the whole bike packing thing.  And there's Christopher Grady, fresh off his podium finish at the 110 mile Gold Rush, who rode his gravel rig up from Spearfish.  The first on scene at 5:00 pm, Christopher snapped up the last camp site at this first come/first served, no reservation campground.  That's a gold medal performance.

A little later, Spearfish cyclists Jim, Amelia and Pearl Meyer drive past, looking for a site for some family camping on Father's Day weekend.  They find Black Fox full, but wonder what's with all those cyclists?  Well, in no time, they pull their truck in and join the party.  Now, with a motorized vehicle parked in our spot, we're a little less odd to the casual observer.

A bike packing bike can carry a lot of gear.
Robert Cota and Christopher Grady at Black Fox Campground.
(photo by Jason Thorman)
Sitting around a roaring fire under star-stuffed skies, we talk of rides, bikes and gear well into the night.  There's a great diversity of outdoor and athletic experiences among these bike packers, making for lively and wide ranging conversations.  But no matter the twists and turns, we keep coming back to bikes and our shared passion for exploring the great outdoors under pedal power.

Eventually, we retreat into our sleeping bags on our inflatable pads, tucked into our tents and bivy bags.  With the idyllic setting and the extended effort just to get here, sleep comes easily.

Packing up for the ride home.
Camping next to a mountain stream at elevation is cool, emotionally and physically.  However, the resulting overnight dew coats everything and turns to frost by morning.  We wake to bright sunshine and prepare our various breakfasts.  It's still 30-something degrees, so we pull our gear into the sun to pack up for the ride home.

Jason, Robert and Jay pedal out together by 7:00 am, heading for Silver City on their mountain bikes.  About the same time, Christopher turns his gravel rig north toward Spearfish.  I linger a bit, not all that enthused about this coming to an end.

I eventually turn pedals at about 8:00 am, cruising into the morning sun on Rapid Creek Road toward Rochford.  This is good.  This is really good.  I'll be doing more of this.

New friends are always fun to meet.  Here's Jay Erickson, an outdoors enthusiast and full-on bike packer.
Turns out he was a high school classmate of my wife and grew up right down the street.

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