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