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Thursday, August 10, 2017

Three Days of BackBone (part 6) - A Weekend to Remember

Over a hot, windy Fourth of July weekend, a small band of friends gather to ride across the State of South Dakota, from NoWhere, North Dakota to NothingThere, Nebraska, over 300+ miles of remote gravel and dirt roads along the spine of the Black Hills. The Black Hills BackBone. We did it.

Part 1 - An Idea Takes ShapePart 2 - GatheringPart 3 - Crossing the Northern PrairiePart 4 - Up and Into the Black Hills. Part 5 - Focus on the Finish.

Rob Sorge, Shaun Arritola, Dave Litzen and me. Good times on Ditch Creek Road early on Day 3.
On Day 1, we cross 113 miles of hot, wind-swept Northern Prairie to reach the foothills near Spearfish. On hotter and windier Day 2, we endure 82 miles, with a boat load of elevation gain through those foothills, up superheated O'Neil Pass, over the tall shoulders of Flag Mountain and deep into the heart of the Black Hills. On the hottest and windiest Day 3, we survive another 113 miles up and down back roads in the rugged Central Black Hills and then out on the haggard, hard scrabble Southern Prairie.

That's 308 miles across the height of the State of South Dakota up and down rough, remote gravel and dirt roads in mid-summer heat and wind. At the end of each 12+ hour day, we're done. Cooked. Finished. Over.

Until the next morning.

Corinne Sorge and Lori Litzen. Our Super Support Team.

Our remarkable recovery on both nights is due to our Support Team, who managed all the details with the BnB accommodations, meals, drinks and more. Corinne Sorge, Lori Litzen and Jonis Arritola kept the ride alive. My wife Colleen even managed to get away from Rapid City to join us for both evenings. It's so nice just to relax. All we really had to do was ride and recover. We did both, with gusto.

Super Support Jonis Arritola (far right) fit right in with the hard-relaxing riders.
(photo by Corinne Sorge)
In fact, our Support Team was the reason we were able to finish this ride at all. They managed all the shuttles, not only hauling us to the start and from the finish, but allowing us to adjust our daily riding to the circumstances. We slightly shortened Day 1 and Day 2 to ensure some down time at our luxurious BnB's, which lengthened Day 3 and made all three days about the same duration. As a result, however, we then needed a shuttle to the start and from the finish on each day. Whether early morning, during the long day or late night, they made it happen.

Our Support Team also provided ride-saving on-course support of ice, cold drinks, snacks, and meals, among many other things. For example, just sitting on a tailgate for a few minutes was a blessing and sometimes the support truck provided the only sliver of shade for miles. And by the end of Day 3, our Support Team was leap-frogging us with aid stops every 5-10 miles to baby us home. Thank you, Corinne, Lori and Jonis.

Like the sun behind us, we burst through our clouds at the last stop,
just 4 miles from the finish.  (photo by Corinne Sorge)
Also, a word of thanks to Rob, my best friend and roommate from college. Every few years, when I dream up some odd idea of something "fun" to do, Rob not only smiles and nods politely. He arranges his schedule and travels from southern Texas to share it with me. Even though cycling is not (yet) his passion, Rob possesses the physical, mental and spiritual ability to complete these long rides with enthusiasm and good cheer. He is a great companion for any adventure and I'm so grateful that he's willing to join me.

For the BackBone, Rob did not own and had not even ridden any suitable gravel bike until the evening before we left Rapid City. But he immediately took to his new Salsa Vaya and simply crushed 308 miles of gravel and dirt roads over three hot, windy days. Amazing. Rob, I hope you enjoy that bike for many years over many miles of remote roads. And, for our next adventure, start by researching "bike packing."

Rob spinning up Williams Draw Road on his fun, fun, fun, fun, fun Salsa Vaya. 
To share the BackBone with another college friend, Rob asked Dave to ride with us. Like Rob, Dave is an exceptional athlete, who has not yet developed a passion for long distance cycling. That didn't stop him from getting right after this whole endurance gravel thing this spring, starting with the Spearfish race of Lucas Haan's stellar Black Hills Gravel Series. Like cramming for finals, Dave ramped up increasingly longer and more difficult rides in the month leading up to the BackBone.

Even so, Dave's longest ride falls far short of all day. For the BackBone, he somehow knocks off 12+ hour rides in the heat and wind of mid-summer South Dakota. For three consecutive days. That takes more than a new uber-rig, which he has, and more than athleticism, which he also has. It takes a large dose of mental toughness to overcome all the little inconveniences of such long days in the saddle, such as the leg cramps, dry heaves and heat exhaustion he handled, among other things. For Dave to finish any one of those three days is an achievement. To finish all three days, back-to-back-to-back, is remarkable. Thanks for putting yourself out there, Dave, and sharing it with us. You're now on my short list of folks to invite on my next "fun" ride. You can thank me later.

Dave grinding out the miles up Williams Draw Road on his spiffy new Norco Search.
Then, there's my local riding buddy Shaun.  When I first bandied about the idea of a three day BackBone to some folks, Shaun immediately committed to it, of course, without knowing or needing any of the details. He simply asked for the dates, so he could take time off work and volunteer Jonis to drive the shuttle. Just like that, he turned this from just another solo ride into a memorable destination group ride. And, just like that, he took care of one of the more difficult aspects of the BackBone - sorting out the logistics of simply getting to the start and from the finish.

Although time is tight with his current life happenings, Shaun carved out a Saturday in June to dig out from long term storage his trusty Specialized Tri-Cross for the 70 mile Gold Dust Gravel Grinder. How he completed that ride, on zero outside riding for many, many months, is beyond me. With that as his training, Shaun somehow rode three days of the BackBone, getting stronger every day. After witnessing his 113 miles on Day 3, I believe he could have turned around at the finish and ridden back to North Dakota. He's that kind of rider.

I'm just glad to go on a little bike ride with him again and look forward to more ahead. Thanks, Shaun.

Shaun cruising down Flynn Creek Road on his trusty Specialized Tri-Cross.
Although originally conceived as a solo, unsupported, continuous ride, the Black Hills BackBone readily lends itself to a multi-day ride. Making it three days allowed some friends to imagine a ride that stretched their cycling endurance limits. Adding a Support Team then made it all work.  Sharing the experience created a weekend to remember.

I certainly did not expect our BackBone ride to develop this way, but I'm thankful it did. With some passage of time, perhaps Rob and Dave will be receptive to another "fun" adventure. Maybe. In time. For now, I'm just happy for the weekend we shared.

The Finish Line of our 2017 Three Days of BackBone.

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