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Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Black Hills BackBone - What It Is + Links

The Black Hills BackBone is simply a bicycle route that I created to ride myself. 

There is no Black Hills BackBone race, or publicly organized event, or "Grand Depart," or anything like that. It's just a route I created to ride myself. Then I created this blog to document my journey, in part as a digital scrapbook and in part to share my experience with others. That's it.

The tall, broad shoulders of Flag Mountain reveal the granite peaks of Mount Rushmore and Harney Peak.

But, oh, what a route.

Inspired by the cross-country routes of the TransAmerican Trail and the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route of the Adventure Cycling Association, I wondered whether I could piece together a remote road ride on primarily gravel and dirt roads that spanned the height of the State of South Dakota along the spine of our beloved Black Hills. That whimsical daydream led to many hours of scouring maps, scouting back roads and pedaling all over Western South Dakota. There seemed to be no end of options.

I struggled with this route, primarily because the Black Hills National Forest offers a staggering number of amazing roads to ride. Scouting a promising road invariably led to more. At some point, I simply had to stop, prioritize, and choose. The Black Hills BackBone is the resultBlack Hill BackBone - Cue Sheets & Other Links.

Conceived as an unsupported, solo ride, the Black Hills BackBone readily lends itself to a multi-day bikepacking ride or even a multi-day supported tour. In 2017, a small group of friends rode the entire route over three days in the heat and winds of a Fourth of July weekend. For my multi-post  report on that ride, go to these posts. An Idea Takes ShapeGatheringCrossing The Northern PrairieUp And Into The Black HillsFocus On The FinishA Weekend To RememberFriends.

Earlier this year, over a cold, rainy Memorial Day weekend, an intrepid group of eight cycling enthusiasts from Colorado made a run at the Black Hills BackBone. On that particular weekend of difficult conditions, they rode about as much of the route as one reasonably could. They said they had a great time, particularly Day 3 from O'Neil Pass to Custer, and vowed to return to the Black Hills. New Friends On The BackBone.

To my knowledge, the entire Black Hills BackBone has not been ridden on a bicycle as a continuous, unsupported, solo ride. In my first attempt in 2015, I stumbled into ferocious prairie winds with horizontal rain that eventually spit me out in Spearfish 135 miles later, barely able to stand.  A Rancher's Kindness.  In my second attempt in 2016, I flew across the 135 miles of Northern Prairie in ideal conditions before plowing into a freak ice blizzard climbing O'Neil Pass, dropping me into a trail head outhouse shaking like a frozen leaf.  A Sudden Turn.  My third attempt remains undocumented, as I still cannot wrap my mind around that ride.

Throughout this blog you will find details and pictures of the Black Hills BackBone route. To save a trip through the archives, here are links to some posts for the route. IntroductionOverviewFinal CutNew Cue Sheets & TweaksBackBone Photo Essay.

But wait, there's more.

Miles and miles of remote back roads on the Black Hills DoubleBackBone. Self-sufficiency required.

Imagine riding along the Black Hills BackBone to the stop sign finish at the Nebraska border. Celebrate for a moment, but then head west onto Dakota Line Road to access the Wild, Wild Western reaches of the Black Hills. A serpentine network of barely used gravel and dirt roads wind generally north for a return trip back to the North Dakota border.

Now, that's one big, bad loop. Well over 600 miles, all told. 

It's the Black Hills DoubleBackBone. Black Hills DoubleBackBone Cue Sheets.

Sometimes, more is more. More rolling prairie patrolled by herds of cattle, buffalo, pronghorn and elk. More obscure canyons scoured by flash floods. More twisty ridge lines climbing to soaring views. More hills stuffed with pine and aspen. More dirt near-roads connecting with secondary Forest Service gravel. And even more remote than the easterly side of the loop, which is a bit hard to believe until you're out there.

The Black Hills DoubleBackBone, like the original BackBone, is just a route that I think is fun and challenging, however one chooses to experience it. Solo or group. One continuous ride, a series of days or in sections over time. Self-supported, shuttled or fully supported. Maybe some combination or even all of the above.

The Black Hills BackBone. Go big.

The Black Hills DoubleBackBone. Go bigger.
The Black Hills. Just go.

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