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Thursday, February 8, 2018

O'Neil Pass to Camp Crook Road (part 1)

In creating the Black Hills DoubleBackBone route, it's all been great fun so far. But as that famous philosopher Mike Tyson observed, "Evr'budy got a plan, til ya get punched in tha face."

With an abundance of rugged, remote roads in the Wild, Wild Western Black Hills, the hard call so far has been between better and best. But now, sitting triumphantly atop O'Neil Pass, to continue as a loop toward that Dakota Marker on the border, the choices are poor and marginal.

I want a loop. One big, bad loop. But not at any cost. So, what's the plan, now?


The original Black Hills BackBone enters the Black Hills from Spearfish over O'Neil Pass for several reasons, not the least of which is climbing over this 6,683 foot pass on remote roads in South Dakota. Route Tweaks & Cue Sheets. The DoubleBackBone deserves the same.

So, the DoubleBackBone does not skirt O'Neil Pass, but scales it from the South en route to NoWhere, North Dakota. The back country roads in the Western Black Hills are a sight to see and a joy to ride. Now, atop O'Neil Pass, the DoubleBackBone must find its way to Camp Crook Road, some 11 miles north of the cow town of Belle Fouche, while retaining its rugged, remote road character.

Of course, the easy path is paved. Just coast down Spearfish Canyon Scenic Highway 14A into Spearfish, hack your way through the middle of town and survive the oil field traffic on U.S. Highway 85 to Belle Fouche, plus 11 miles beyond.  Yeah, well, that's not happening.

Options of descending O'Neil Pass to the West are appropriately remote for the DoubleBackBone and fun to ride, including the ambitiously named "Grand Canyon of the Black Hills." However, the public roads wander into Wyoming for many miles and do not connect north up to Camp Crook Road without significant pavement and higher traffic. There is much to explore out there, but it doesn't fit the DoubleBackBone.

To the East lie many possibilities, some stretches of which are a lot of fun to ride. Lucas Haan certainly struck gold with Cracker Jack Road and Avalanche Road just north of Sturgis in the first race of last year's Black Hills Gravel Series. But those stretches, and others like them, are relatively short and isolated. Connecting such roads to the DoubleBackBone extracts a high cost with long bouts of pavement, commercial and residential development, and traffic. Again, that overall vibe is not consistent with the rest of this remote road route.

Back to the drawing board.

As a start, I love the Black Hills BackBone route. I've ridden every mile of it. Many of those miles I've ridden many times. It goes where it goes for reasons. It's a keeper.

The DoubleBackBone began with the idea of riding from the finish of the BackBone at the Nebraska border back to North Dakota through the amazingly rough, rugged and remote roads of the western Black Hills up to O'Neil Pass. So far, so great. I also knew that Camp Crook Road north of Belle Fouche to the outpost of Camp Crook starts a nice loop on the Northern Prairie that extends almost to the North Dakota border. That will be great, too.

The path between O'Neil Pass and Camp Crook Road is the issue. Now, what.

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