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Sunday, August 4, 2019

Three Days Deep Into The Black Hills

After several sub-24 overnight bikepacking rides, this week I rode 3 days on and around the Black Hills BackBone and DoubleBackBone routes. Such a remote ride is fun and rewarding on its own, but it's also part of my process of building the gear, experience and mindset to consider longer ones. This ride pummeled me with hard lessons.

Diving into the deep end of the Black Hills.

Starting Day 1 at Buffalo Gap, I ride backwards up the BackBone route through Custer to Bear Mountain Lookout. On Day 2, I bee-line west to pick up the DoubleBackBone route down to Edgemont. On Day 3, I ride backroads back to Buffalo Gap. Over those three days, I ride almost 200 miles on primarily rough roads on my Jones 29+, loaded like for the Great Divide. But those are facts, not lessons.

Parking the Jeep at the Buffao Gap Post Office for a few days.
On Day 1, a late start, soft roads, off and on rain, a fully loaded big bike, a too-heavy rider, and a mostly uphill day conspire to try to break me. After hours of struggling physically and mentally, I am done when finally soft pedaling into Custer. If not for the rain, I may have pitched my tent right then and fallen asleep.

Lesson #1. Pedaling a fully loaded bike uphill for hours on soft, rough roads is hard and slow. Adjust your expectations of average speed and daily distance.

Winding up and into the Black Hills on the Black Hills BackBone route.

At Custer, I think I am done for the day and maybe for the trip. But I come alive after a long break spent eating an enormous amount of food at a Subway (footlong sandwich, multiple chips, multiple cookies and multiple Cokes). I can't believe I talk myself into getting back on the bike.

Lesson #2. Relax. Take a break. Eat. Drink. You will feel better.

Nothing like a 360 degree view atop Bear Mountain Lookout.

For the next three hours, I plow uphill for 20-some miles, but then just stop. Exhausted again, I pull out maps. It's past 6 pm and 30+ mostly uphill miles remain to my original destination of Flag Mountain. At current pace, I may make it by 10 pm, but probably later. Now, what?

Without hesitation, my race/event mindset declares, "Go for it." I think, "OK, let's go." But then my emerging Great Divide mindset interjects, "What would you do if this decision was on the Great Divide?" I realize that I would look for an interesting place to camp here, enjoy the rest of the evening, and adjust my plans for tomorrow. 

After considerable internal debate, I stick to my vision of a Great Divide ride. I turn off the BackBone route, ride a 3 mile spur up to the Bear Mountain Lookout, and disperse camp nearby. The hot dinner is delicious. The evening rain falls on my tent and not on me. The sunrise is spectacular.

Lesson #3. Decide how you want to ride and commit to it. Enjoy your ride your way.

Sunrise at my dispersed campsite, just off the top of Bear Mountain.

Day 2 features nearly as much downhill as Day 1 had uphill. But the sun burns hot and the air steams muggy. Stopping in the shade for a sip of water, even if just a minute or two, keeps me fresh. However, I learn discernment.

Lesson #4. If a cloud drifts to temporarily block a blistering sun, keep pedaling up that hill.

Richardson Cutoff Road (USFS 276) on the DoubleBackBone route.

The super comfy positioning of the Jones 29+ greatly reduces pressure on hands, wrists, shoulder and neck. That shifts more weight to the saddle, so I'm glad that my WTB Speed saddle fits well. On Day 2 and 3, I realize that the upright positioning also affects my long-accustomed pedaling motion, resulting in muscular and joint aches in new-for-me places.

Lesson #5. Ride long the bike you plan to ride long.

Pilger Mountain Road (USFS 317) drops toward Red Canyon Road (FRC 15) on the DoubleBackBone route.
So far, I love the gear that I have been acquiring over the past several years and will write separately after further field testing. But so far, so great. For starters, here's a recent blog post on the Revelate Designs bags adorning my bike. Outfitting the Jones 29+.

Lesson #6. Take care in selecting the right gear for you. Quality pays dividends.

Buffalo Gap Trading Post, a picker's paradise or maybe just a lot of junk.

For three days, the mileage on my cyclocomputer did not jive with my cue sheets, maps, signage, or common sense. Reviewing the available data back home, I am astonished to conclude that the cyclocomputer measured distance, and therefore speed, almost 15 percent short of that from the other sources. Those puffy 3.25 inch Vee BullDozer tires must have thrown off my calibration. In any event, all those slow miles now don't feel quite as slow.

Lesson #7. Although you'll never be as fast as you'd like to be, you aren't as slow as you think you are. Just ride.

A three day ride reveals much, much more than 3 one day rides. Next up is carving out time this fall for a week or so to push this out further. Maybe as far as the GDMBR. See Bikepacking The GDMBR.

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