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Thursday, July 13, 2017

Three Days of BackBone (part 2) - Gathering

The Black Hills BackBone.  A cross state bike route on 300+ miles of remote gravel and dirt roads spanning the height of the State of South Dakota along the spine of the Black Hills.  Conceived as a continuous ride, the BackBone readily lends itself to a more manageable multi-day tour.  So, I invite some friends for a three day ride over the Fourth of July weekend.  A few actually bite.  Part 1 - An Idea Takes Shape.

Dave Litzen, me, Rob Sorge and Shaun Arritola at Picnic Spring Campground near the North Dakota border.
Yep, this is how we prepare for the Black Hills BackBone.  (photo by Corinne Sorge)
Several months ago, riding buddy Shaun Arritola was the first to join this little group ride.  He's an experienced endurance athlete and gravel grinder, with finishes at Dirty Kanza, Almanzo Royal and Odin's Revenge and many scouting rides part of forming the BackBone route.  But, with recent life happenings, for many months Shaun hasn't ridden longer than a regular 30 minute spin on a stationary bike.  Nonetheless, he longed for a shot at a three day BackBone, so he dusted off his trusty Specialized Tri-Cross a few weeks ago for a quick spin at the Gold Dust 70 mile gravel grinder.  OK, good to go.  Lounging comfortably around the campfire at Picnic Spring Campground on the eve of the ride, Shaun confidently relaxes knowing that he's not overtrained.  Not by a wee bit.

Shaun sweeping away the cobwebs at the Gold Dust.  (photo by Les Heiserman)
School of Mines roommate Rob Sorge drives in from Texas on Thursday afternoon, full-on Tigger bouncy-trouncy-flouncy-pouncy to check out his new bike, a fun-fun-fun-fun-fun Salsa Vaya adventure road bike.  I stumbled across this bike locally for him several weeks ago and thought it just right for the BackBone.  Without hesitation, Rob blurts out, "Just buy it!"  Now that he's finally in Rapid City, it's New Bike Day.  All giddy goodness.  Rob promptly installs his own saddle, seat post, pedals, water bottle cages and bags and makes a few adjustments.  A 100 meter spin and a big grin later, he pronounces it good.  Time for a pre-ride beer.  Love it.

Rob's wife Corinne volunteers as shuttle driver and support crew, but she's so much more than that.  She becomes the Team Mom, taking care of everyone and all the details of making this work.  Always positive and encouraging, Corinne is a tremendous add to the team.

Rob cranking up the Centennial Trail on Day 1 of our 310 mile DED Dirt Ride in 2014.
The length of the Centennial Trail and the length of the Mickelson Trail, with gravel connectors.
Compared to that ride, the three day Black Hills BackBone will be a breeze, so I tell him.
Rob and Corinne head across town to catch up with Dave and Lori Litzen, two more School of Mines classmates.  Rob cajoled Dave into riding along on the BackBone.  Easy-peasy, he said.  Being a chemical process engineer, Dave dives right into the deep end, researching bikes, equipment, clothing, nutrition, and training.  He eventually picks up a new all carbon gravel uber-rig, a Norco Search, and knocks out a series of increasingly difficult weekend rides, including a sprint up to Mount Rushmore.  Already fit, Dave drops 15 pounds from the heartier cardio workouts.  He's ready.

Dave's wife Lori also joins as shuttle driver and support crew.  She's not so keen on our plan to camp Friday night near the North Dakota border, so she'll meet everyone in Spearfish on Saturday night.  We're just glad to have her spunk and irreverence along.  This party is getting ready to roll.

Dave cruising at the Black Hills Gravel Series finale out of Spearfish.
He's as fast as his bike.  (photo by Lucas Haan)
Early Friday afternoon Shaun's son, Jonis, picks me up in a topless Jeep Renegade for a breezy bop up to Spearfish to meet Shaun.  We transfer gear into Shaun's 3/4 ton toy hauler for the trek to Picnic Spring Campground, a primitive site in Custer Gallatin National Forest near the North Dakota border.  Jonis tags along as our second shuttle driver and, as a current School of Mines student, fits right in with this HardRocker crowd.  Rob, Corinne and Dave pull in shortly thereafter and we set up camp at this little forested oasis surrounded by more than a few million acres of open prairie.

We share a quiet evening around a campfire, talking of all things related to the ride ahead and talking of nothing at all.  Rob zeroes in on tomorrow's ride, refusing to allow any thought of riding anything other than the roads ahead on the exposed northern prairie gravel toward the Black Hills.  That's not a bad approach.  It brings a degree of clarity to our mental preparation.

The weather looks favorable, the roads fast, the bikes ready, the clothes laid out, the maps and cue sheets handy, the food parceled out.  Even breakfast and coffee are ready to go.

Our path lies before us.  We await the dawn.

Super Support Corinne firing up the stove, while Dave and I hover hoping for coffee.
Even if the stove isn't primed, we are.  (photo by Rob Sorge)

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