Sunday, October 6, 2019

Try Sometime

You can't always get what you want.
But if you try sometimes, you just might find,
You get what you need.
Mick Jagger & Keith Richards, Rolling Stones (1969). 
You Can't Always Get What You Want (long version).


For months, I've been looking forward to this eleven day fall vacation, even though we had nothing big planned. Maybe it was because we had nothing big planned. Possibilities emerged, then dissipated. But one thought repeatedly crept into my mind. The DED Dirt Ride.

Deadwood to Edgemont to Deadwood. Three hundred ten miles traversing much of the North-South length of the Black Hills via the single track Centennial Trail, the rails-to-trails Mickelson Trail, and primarily remote gravel road connectors. Five years ago, I completed it with Rob Sorge and Shaun Arritola, riding by day and self-shuttling at night. DED Dirt Ride 2014. But I have not ridden it as I originally envisioned.

I wanted to bikepack the DED Dirt Ride self-supported.

I didn't.

Sunrise at Sage Creek Campground in Badlands National Park.
Oh, I prepared my Jones Plus LWB and packed all my bags. All my first day riding clothes were laid out. Maps and itinerary at hand. Everything ready. The day approached.

Not just yet. On Day 1 of 11, we enjoyed the annual Buffalo Roundup at Custer State Park. Rangers and ranchers drove the park's herd of some 1400 buffalo over a ridge and down into a valley for their annual census, health checks and auction to manage the population. Seeing that many buffalo running together stirs the imagination with images of millions and millions filling the plains just 150 years ago. Wow.

Around mid-day, the rain started. It looked to stay, and it did. With cold rain forecasted for the next four days solid, I postponed the DED Dirt Ride and we drove to Denver for a long weekend. I figured that I would still have six days left to ride. It was bound to clear by the time we returned.

2019 Buffalo Roundup at Custer State Park.

Well, yes, and no. On Day 5 of 11, we drove home in drizzle to a saturated Black Hills. I waited another day, hoping for some drying while knowing that my time window was closing. The next day brought some sunshine, but not enough drying and reports surfaced of a muddy Centennial Trail. Another day passed.  Eventually, I realized that I would not be bikepacking the DED Dirt Ride this year.

Ugh. Now what?

Riding south on Jensen Road I find ranchers working the fields to get one last cut of hay.

I concluded that I didn't need to ride the DED Dirt Ride again. On the other hand, I could use some longer days in the saddle pushing a fully loaded Jones Plus LWB on some hilly gravel. So, I pulled out a file of different maps and laid out an overnight trip into the rolling hills and winds of the prairie east of the Black Hills. 

Back I rode on the Bad Buffalo, a 110 mile gravel loop south of Wasta, South Dakota into Badlands National Park and through Buffalo Gap National Grasslands. The roads on this hilly, exposed prairie route have been favorite winter training rides over the years. However, I've never ridden them on a loaded bike and I've never even stopped at Sage Creek Campground, a primitive camp site in the remote reaches of Badlands National Park. Time to do both.

The fencing is more stout for buffalo.

It was hilly. It was chilly. It was cloudy. It was windy and grew windier. It was a lot of work over long hours pedaling that loaded bike back to that primitive campground. It was worth it.

I set up camp and ate quickly as the sun set. Then the temperature dropped and it rained much of the night. Later, the winds of the next front rolled in. It turned cold. Near freezing cold.

Under a quick sunrise, the winds accelerated and cleared the skies. But that wind chilled to the bone. The return ride was just as hilly, just as chilly and even more windy than the day before. As the hours wore on, I must have looked like I was struggling, because two different ranchers stopped their trucks to offer me a ride. Eventually, I soft pedaled back to Wasta and plunked down inside the Jeep, finally out of the gale.

Maybe that wasn't the ride I wanted. 

It was just what I needed.

Big views across a big, bad land.


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