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Sunday, January 27, 2019

Hidden in Plain Sight

The Black Hills DoubleBackBone is 640.6 miles. Adding additional miles may be a tough sell, but this is special. And it's right there alongside the route, hidden in plain sight.

The Northern Prairie Loop follows public roads crossing primarily private land. Although the gravel and dirt roads enter isolated, winding threads of trees and water when crossing an occasional draw, it's almost all wide open prairie. In the midst of this ocean of grass, just 14 miles from the start/finish at the North Dakota border, lies a little known treasure. The North Cave Hills Unit of Custer Gallatin National Forest is a collection of small hills that erupt from the surrounding prairie, creating an oasis of trees and rock. Once up and back into these hills, it looks and feels like you're in the middle of the Black Hills.

North Cave Hills Unit of the Custer Gallatin National Forest, en route to the Picnic Spring Campground.
Atop one of these forested plateaus lies Picnic Spring Campground, a primitive U.S. Forest Service camp ground. No reservations. No fees. No water. No services at all. Just a dirt road leading to eight secluded campsites each offering a picnic table, a fire grate and an outhouse down the way. It's one sweet spot to camp.

A great start to the Black Hills BackBone is to camp at Picnic Spring and then ride or shuttle the 14 miles of dirt and gravel roads to the start. On our 2017 Black Hills BackBone ride, we car camped at Picnic Spring for a memorable night beside the fire and under the stars, before shuttling to the North Dakota border early the next morning. If I ride the BackBone again, I'd love to do the same.

Chillin' at Picnic Spring Campground on the eve of our 2017 Black Hllls BackBone.
Dave Litzen, Craig Groseth, Rob Sorge & Shaun Arritola. (photo by Corinne Sorge).
Picnic Spring also would be a great place to start a DoubleBackBone, as long as one is committed to arranging the 3 hour shuttle back to Rapid City after the finish. A DoubleBackBone ride with less shuttle time starts in Spearfish with a clockwise loop through Camp Crook up to the North Dakota border, before returning to Spearfish. At almost 300 miles, this Northern Prairie loop could be ridden continuously or with stealth napping along the route. Alternatively, for a delightful evening in a forested oasis, one could invest in the short spur to this little known, little used camp ground. If I were to bike pack the DoubleBackBone solo or in a small group, I'm thinking that I'd start it that way, before heading south for that big Southern Loop.

No matter the journey, an evening at Picnic Spring is worth the trip.

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