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Monday, June 24, 2019

Time to Ride

It's been such a long time, I think I should be goin', yeah.
And time doesn't wait for me, it keeps on rollin'.
Donald T. Scholz, Boston, Long Time (1976).

A relentless winter grudgingly surrenders to a dank, dreary spring, sequestering for months all but the most enthusiastic cyclist. Piling on, cynics smirk that the summer solstice marks the beginning of shorter days, as if the best of summer has already passed.

Don't buy it. Brighter days lie ahead.

Now is the time to ride. With a friend. In a group. With family. Solo. Before work. After work. On a day off. At an event. At a race. Just ride. It's fun and will stoke the fire for the next one.

The gatherings add up to relationships. The experiences add up to a lifestyle. It's always worth it.

Brad Kurtz and grandson Ayden Kurtz enjoying the day riding the 2019 Black Hills Gravel Series #1 - Spearfish.

Now is also the best time to help others discover the magic of riding remote gravel and dirt roads, away from the distracted drivers on pavement. Invite someone new to your next ride. It usually doesn't take much of a ride for a newcomer to start asking for other good places to ride.

Outside major urban centers, lightly traveled back roads exist most everywhere. Here in Western South Dakota, the Black Hills National Forest offers a treasure trove of remote gravel and dirt roads for the adventurous cyclist. With an embarrassment of riches, choosing where to ride can be confusing. Where does one start?

The best source of ride information is the gravel family itself, a friendly and welcoming lot. Ask around. Search social media. Enthusiasts love to share their enthusiasm and many document their rides digitally. In Spearfish, Rushmore Bikes has posted social media notices of its Wednesday night gravel rides for some time. Cyclists regularly post rides and events in FaceBook groups like Black Hills Drop Bar Dirt, Gravel & Cyclocross Riders. Even national websites like post local events on their calendars.

Out here, another great ride resource that continues to build is the Black Hills Gravel Series, which are great routes almost anytime of year. I've ridden some of the Spearfish and Sturgis routes in the dead of winter. Since 2017, Lucas Haan has published gpx files and/or cue sheets for something like 8 different routes of about 10 miles, 14 different routes of about 25 miles and 13 different routes of about 50 miles. As far as I know, those routes are still out there.

Of course, part of the allure of riding remote roads is experiencing new country that interests you. What better way to explore than to create your own route? Better yet, brainstorm routes with a riding buddy over a coffee or brew.

Well, how do you do that? Most start digitally. Not surprisingly, I almost always start analog. That is, I pull out a hard copy U.S. Forest Service map of the Black Hills National Forest or the voluminous South Dakota State Atlas published by the South Dakota State Department of Transportation, which shows all public roads by county. I follow roads and near-roads, looking for interesting ridge lines, creeks, drainages, peaks, areas of former wildfires, small towns, abandoned towns, historical sites, or just anything different. Maybe I'll look for a spot on the map where I haven't ridden, just to find a way to get there. Maybe I'll look for an obscure connector between two better known roads. Maybe I'll just look. Then, when it comes time to ride, I simply piece together some of those roads to make a route of the desired distance and difficulty. Of course, I'll make a hard copy and bring it along.

Whether a route is digital, analog or by the seat of your shorts, it's all just pedaling a bicycle.

Time to ride.

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