|Shaun Arritola, me, Dave Litzen and Rob Sorge at a Dakota Marker near the start of the Black Hills BackBone.
Our future's so bright. (photo by Corinne Sorge)
|Super Support Corinne Sorge fires up the stove to brew fresh coffee.
|Always amiable shuttle driver Jonis Arritola patiently waits for us to unload bikes.
With Shaun in the background is North Dakota, not that it looks differently to the South.
|More than ready to roll at the start of the Black Hills BackBone.
Notice the nearly vertical grass, showing practically no wind. (photo by Corinne Sorge)
|Here it is! Out here! We found it! A Dakota Marker!
We spin easily over the early miles of gently rolling prairie with exceptionally long sight lines. The swiftly rising sun reveals a cloudless sky filled with promise. The only traffic out here is the prolific pronghorn antelope, who gracefully prance away as we sail through their territory. The light wind always seems to be a bit of a cross wind, no matter our direction. But it's still cool and the hard packed, lightly graveled roads feel fast and lively.
|No limits. Rolling through the vastness of Harding County on the Black Hills BackBone.
Right on cue, there's Corinne and the Support Truck, with ice, cold drinks, food and everything else we need at the ready. We replenish and restock, grateful for the support.
As we sprawl across the road shoulder, a rancher pulls up towing a trailer full of critters, wondering what's going on. She lives "just down the road" and is a "next door neighbor" with Gayle Penn, the Harding rancher who saved my day on the first solo attempt of the BackBone in 2015. A Rancher's Kindness. Moments later, as we're about to pedal off, here comes Gayle hustling down her driveway, flagging us down. Called by her neighbor, Gayle rushes out to meet everyone and to hear how we're doing. Of course, she invites everyone inside, "out of this heat," for cold drinks and snacks. But with temperatures rising and miles remaining, we reluctantly bid farewell after a delightful chat. Corinne lingers a bit longer to fill all our water reservoirs with fresh, cool water from Gayle's deep well. Thanks, Gayle!
|Harding rancher Gayle Penn meets and greets the crazy cyclists pedaling through her town.
Gayle is an angel with a heart as big as the land she calls home. Great to see you again, Gayle! (photo by Corinne Sorge)
That last hot, windy stretch takes its toll on all of us, but especially on Shaun, who has already ridden more miles outside today than he has in total all year. He plops down in a small patch of shade, assessing his day. Shaun wants to keep riding, and I know he could ride into the evening and well into the night. He would make Spearfish, but it would be late. By this point, Shaun has ridden all the roads unknown to him, knows well the roads ahead and wants to ride as much as he can on Day 2 and on Day 3. He reluctantly calls it a day.
Shaun is not alone. Everyone is beat. We try to refuel and rehydrate, but mostly just want to lay down and cool off. There's little respite in this treeless expanse. We sit about eight miles from U.S. Highway 85, where Corinne turns right toward Spearfish and the BackBone route turns left toward Brooker Road. We ask Corinne to wait for us there. That would be about 87 miles, which may well be the end of everyone's day.
|Geographic Center of the United States about 79 miles into the Black Hills BackBone.
(photo by Corinne Sorge)
I finally catch Rob and Dave on Arpan Road, which eventually turns to a short stretch of pavement near Orman Dam. They're running on fumes. Rob is overheated. Dave is dry heaving. Both manage to keep turning pedals, but stop whenever they find the occasional shade. We decide to maintain in survival mode for a run to Fruitdale, still about six miles off.
|Somehow still turning pedals on Arpan Road over 100 hot miles into the Black Hills BackBone.
Roasted by the heat and beat up by the winds, we collapse at a quaint BnB in Spearfish Canyon to a feast of Texas brisket cooked up by Corinne and Lori. My wife Colleen surprises me by joining us from Rapid City for the evening. It all makes for a relaxing evening with friends. We're tired, hungry and thirsty, but in good spirits, relieved to cover the exposed northern prairie on a hot summer day.
We'll return in the morning for those twenty miles remaining to ride to Spearfish and deal with the repercussions tomorrow. Tonight, we rejoice and recover.
|A first hint of the Black Hills on the hazy horizon of a hot summer day.
We ride most of the day before seeing this.