Monday, July 29, 2019

Bikepacking the GDMBR

One of these next few years, I'd love to bikepack the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route ("GDMBR"), a cross-country bicycle ride on remote rough roads and trails along the Continental Divide. Created by the Adventure Cycling Association over twenty years ago, the GDMBR connected previously existing roads and trails to create one grand tour of the American Mountain West, crossing five states over 2,500 miles with 200,000 feet of elevation gain. GDMBR Info.

For me, bikepacking is backpacking on a bike. That is, I would pack my bike with gear, ride most of the day, camp at night and resupply as prudent, all while being pretty much on my own. I'd create a general outline for the trip and let each day fill in the details, in the manner of my backpacking trips back in the 1970's and 1980's.

Speaking of backpacking, the benchmark of long, continuous hikes is the 2,200 mile Appalachian Trail. From the folks I know who have done it, through-hiking the AT is an unforgettable experience, a lifestyle, a community, or even a culture, but definitely not a race. Although someone will occasionally attempt to set a speed record with support crew, film crew, sponsors and the like, that is not the norm and that is not the aspirational standard. In other words, through-hiking the AT is not defined by racing anyone or anything.

Experimenting with bike and gear on an overnight bikepack trip in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

With that perspective, I envision riding the GDMBR as follows:
  • I would love to bikepack it, but not race it.
  • I would likely start alone or with a few friends late in the summer, but would not start with 200 others in a "grand depart" facing arbitrary cutoffs to be considered a "racer."
  • I might carry a private GPS tracker for my wife, but would not carry one to move a dot on a hyperspace "leaderboard."
  • I would use paper maps, but would not carry a digital device for navigation.
  • I would carry a flip phone for emergencies, but would not carry a smart phone.
  • I would take pictures and notes for later, but would not post updates online.  
  • I would carry a light for emergencies, but would not install a generator hub.
  • I would ride most all of the day, but not into the night, unless the conditions were magical.
  • I would ride with others, for all or part of the route, but would not seek sponsors or support. 
  • I would take a day off the bike every week or so, as the layover days on backpacking trips were always memorable.
  • I would welcome visits from family and friends along the way. No ifs, ands or buts.
  • I would write something about the experience, but it would essentially be a personal journal or scrapbook for myself and any family or friends that may enjoy it. Like this blog.
For me, that would be bikepacking the GDMBR. But that's just me. I'm not about to try to impose those elements of my vision as rules, written or otherwise, on anyone else. And I'm also not about to follow divisive rules of sanctimonious, pseudo-sanctioning groupthink for inclusion on some list. From the get-go, my GDMBR experience will be mine.

Similarly, I encourage you to not restrict your dreams to limits set by others. We each have our own journey. Your GDMBR vision is yours. Find it. Nurture it. Ride it.

And for all those "racing" from the "grand depart" in June, if that's your way, go for it. Have a great time riding it your way.

I applaud everyone out there GDMBR dreaming and doing.


Monday, July 22, 2019

Just A Ride On The Mickelson Trail

Meet George Voorhees of Austin, Texas. Last weekend, I was fortunate to ride several miles with him on the Mickelson Trail. He is a living example of living life.

Visiting relatives in the Black Hills, George had never been on the Mickelson Trail, so he thought he'd take a look. With some water, a little food and a map, he rode north out of Hill City with the idea of turning around when he thought he should. Together, we crossed some bridges, cleared some tunnels and covered some miles. It was a wonderful start to my planned 100+ mile solo ride.

George said that the previous day he hiked to Little Devil's Tower and then decided to continue to the top of Harney Peak. He spoke glowingly of the experience, as well as the people he met. Everything was positive about the day.

Turns out that six months ago, George was fighting to survive quadruple bypass heart surgery. This trip is the first time he's been able to enjoy returning to the outdoors to do the things he loves. He's not wasting his time, opportunity or ability.

George Voorhees is living life.

George Voorhees and Craig Groseth on the Mickelson Trail. July 20, 2019.

Monday, July 15, 2019

New Friends On The BackBone

A group of avid cyclists recently took on the Black Hills BackBone. Here's a bit of their story, at least the small parts that I know.

Mike Prendergast is a Colorado cyclist who discovered the Black Hills BackBone through this blog a couple of years ago. Intrigued by the idea of a cross-state gravel ride, Mike created his own west/east gravel route across the northern part of Colorado and rode it with some friends over several days. Some time later, he contacted me with questions about riding the BackBone itself, including some of the logistics. Eventually, in late May this year, Mike led a party of eight on a journey to South Dakota to ride the Black Hills BackBone over four days.

The Colorado group gathers at the USFS Picnic Spring Campground near the North Dakota border,
on the eve of their four day Black Hills BackBone journey. (photo by Mike Puccio)

The Colorado group arrived in the Black Hills on Thursday May 23rd, the afternoon after a spring storm left over a foot of fresh snow in Spearfish and more on the higher elevations. Further north, the snow dissipated, but it was a cold, damp night camping at USFS Picnic Spring Campground near the North Dakota border. The prospect of riding the BackBone over the next four days looked bleak.

The Colorado group drives through Spearfish en route to USFS Picnic Spring Campground,
with at least the paved roads now clear of yesterday's foot of snow.
The higher elevations received even more snow. (photo by Matt Puccio)

On Day 1, the Colorado group rode from the border and almost immediately plowed into soggy mud. After a long morning without respite from the wheel-sucking slog, they turned east onto paved State Highway 20 to rendezvous with their support crew at the town of Buffalo. Cold, tired, dirty and discouraged, they were done with the BackBone route and were looking for something else, anything else, to ride.

Hearing that news, I called out on social media for road reports around Spearfish. Thanks to a quick and positive response from Christopher Grady, the Colorado group received surprisingly good news that the gravel roads on the prairie were dry and hard. I then forwarded to them the Spearfish routes of Lucas Haan's Black Hills Gravel Series for alternatives to their planned Day 2 ride up O'Neil Pass. They sounded skeptical, but grateful, and said they would take a look at the roads in the morning.

Starting from the North Dakota border on Day 1, the Colorado group plows through sloppy roads more mud than gravel.
(photo by Mike Prendergast)
Day 2 brought sunny, clear skies and moderate winds, drying the roads even more. Encouraged, they rode the 50+ mile "Scenic" route of the 2019 Black Hills Gravel Series out of Spearfish. From all reports, they loved the route and the ride. Around the campsite that evening, they considered how to spend their remaining two days in the Black Hills.

While the Colorado group rode around Spearfish on Day 2, I checked out the BackBone route in the Central Hills by riding up Black Fox Camp Road, over Flag Mountain, and down Williams Gulch Road. With the exception of a couple of short stretches going up Flag Mountain, the roads were clear and relatively dry. Upon hearing this report, Mike Prendergast thought they might ride Day 3 of the BackBone as they originally had planned, i.e., O'Neil Pass to Custer. Yeah. Maybe they could get back on it.

On Day 2, the Colorado group rode the 50 mile "Scenic" route of the 2019 Black Hills Gravel Series - Spearfish,
which included stretches of the Black Hills BackBone, like Crooked Oaks Road here. (photo by Mike Prendergast)

On Day 3, they went for it. Shuttling up O'Neil Pass, the Colorado group rode the BackBone route all the way to Custer on hero gravel and dirt roads. Catching up with them at their Custer campsite, I heard excited chatter about the route, the scenery, the roads and even the weather. One said it was his best day on gravel ever. They all enjoyed sharing a day of pedaling bicycles on sweet remote roads through some of the best of the Black Hills.

On Day 3, the group found more sunshine on the Black Hills BackBone route from O'Neil Pass,
along Black Fox Camp Road, over Flag Mountain, through Williams Gulch and down to Custer. (photo by David Struck)

After a day of Black Hills BackBone gravelly goodness that began at O'Neil Pass,
the group enjoys the evening together in the Prendergast camper in Custer. (photo by Kelly Prendergast)
Day 4 awoke to cold fog and a forecast of more rain. Undaunted, the Colorado group spun out of Custer on the BackBone route through the mist and back onto messy roads. Eventually, they popped out of the forested, rock infused hills onto the prairie's edge at Wind Cave National Park and down into the village of Buffalo Gap to complete their journey.


On Day 4, the group braved more cold, wet mud on the Black Hills BackBone,
riding from Custer through Wind Cave National Park toward Buffalo Gap. (photo by Mike Prendergast)

For those four cold, wet days around Memorial Day of 2019, the Colorado group rode about as much of the Black Hills BackBone as one reasonably could. When faced with weather challenges, they rode through the day, re-assessed plans for the next day over the campsite, and rode out again in the morning. This was a fun-loving, resilient, hardy group of cyclists who loved the gravel roads of the Black Hills and vowed to return.

When they do, I hope to ride some miles with them.


Monday, July 1, 2019

Outfitting the Jones Plus LWB - BikePacking Bags

After a solid season of riding the Jones Plus LWB on my favorite Black Hills trails, I'm starting to get a decent feel for its top shelf performance capabilities. But I won't find its limits. The Jones is far more bike than I am rider.

This summer I'm loading it up for bikepacking, starting with a string of one night trips over a mix of gravel, dirt and trail. As time allows, I'd love to ride multi-days trips, such as the Southern Loop of the Double BackBone (3 days), the Double BackBone itself (likely 5-6 days), the DED Dirt Ride (5-6 days), or maybe even the Black Hills Expedition (although that would put me in the crazy camp). Eventually, maybe longer, but I'll start with some fun, low-key sub-24's.

Here's my lineup of bags for bikepacking, all by Revelate Designs, which I have accumulated gradually over the past four years: a pair of Truss Fork bags (fork), Harness + Salty Roll (handle bar), Loop Hole H-Bar (between the loops of the handlebar), Mag-Tank 2000 (top tube), Jerry Can (seat post/top tube), Terrapin (seat post), and fitted Frame bag (main triangle). Not pictured are a pair of Mountain Feedbags (handlebar) and an Egress Pocket (atop the Salty Roll).

Now, that's a lot of capacity, much more than needed for a one or two night trip. However, I'll use this setup to learn for longer trips, where I may use every bag. This bike can certainly handle it.


Early morning start on Pilger Mountain in the Southern Black Hills of South Dakota.

So, here's a quick run-down of the bags and how I'm currently using them.

Truss Fork Bags. In addition to being light and strong, the Jones truss fork provides a built-in structure to support a pair of bags. Jeff Jones saw this potential and created these bags with Revelate Designs. Jeff Jones Reveals Truss Fork Packs. With each bag offering almost the capacity of a seat post bag, one bag holds a sleeping bag and sleepwear, while the other holds a down jacket, sleeping pad and extra clothing. They can hold more.

Harness + Salty Roll (handle bar bag):  Currently, I pack a tent and extra clothes in the Salty Roll bag. The pictures here show the Salty Roll bag with a Marmot two person tent and some clothes inside. Again, it can hold more. And if I take my Big Agnes one person tent or my Outdoor Research Helium bivy bag, that bag compresses much smaller. I also have an Egress Pocket bag (not pictured) that is designed to fit on the top and front of the Salty Roll for more capacity.

Loop Hole H-Bar: This bag is barely visible, because it's tucked into the space between the lateral tubes of the Jones handle bar. It is bigger than you might think, is a great use of space and is on the bike full time. For bikepacking, it currently holds a pump, extra light, glove liners, skull cap, headband, wallet and medicinals.

Mag-Tank 2000 (top tube bag): This handy bag holds on-the-fly food and is large enough for my Olympus Tough camera, if that's not in my jersey pocket. The magnetic closure works flawlessly.

Jerry Can (top tube/seat post bag): This sweet, little, out-of-the-way bag holds my entire tool kit, including a spare tube, patch kit, tire plugs, extra sealant, mini-tool, LeatherMan and such. This bag also is a full time resident on the bike.

Terrapin (seat post bag): This modular setup comprises a harness that attaches to the bike and a 14L dry bag that is easily removable from the harness. I like this bag for food, so I can readily remove it for overnight storage away from my sleeping area. Eventually, I may ride through grizzly country.

Frame Bag: Revelate Designs created this frame bag specifically for the Jones Plus LWB and it fits precisely. I use the right side of the top compartment for a 100 ounce CamelBack water bladder and it can hold more. The slimmer left side of the top compartment carries paper maps, compass, mud shank and my emergency flip phone. Again, it can hold more. The bottom compartment currently carries a water filter, stove and fuel. In these pictures it looks full because I also stuffed a light rain jacket in there.

Down Tube Bottle: I currently use the down tube bottle for HEED, but I know others store a tool kit there. Right now, the Jerry Can bag works great for the tool kit, is out of my way and stays out of the muck. Besides, if the HEED bottle gets too dirty, I can always toss the HEED.

That's a quick run-down of my bags for bikepacking. Or at least, my start of experimenting with bags on local sub-24's and the beginning aspirations of a bigger plan.

Pulling into camp atop Coad Hill, for a room with a view of Harney Peak.

For my 2018 posts about the Jone Plus LWB bike itself, with links to Jeff Jones blogs and videos, go to Jones Plus LWB - What It Is and Jones Plus LWB - The Build. For earlier 2018 posts about my decision to buy the Jones Plus LWB, go to A Mountain Bike Companion and A Mountain Bike By Jones.