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Monday, July 20, 2020

Cloud Peak 500 - Gearing Up

Trying hard now, it's so hard now, trying hard now.
Getting strong now, won't be long now, getting strong now.
Gonna fly now, flying high now, gonna fly, fly, fly.

Gonna Fly Now, Bill Conti, Soundtrack to Rocky (1976).

With my Cloud Peak 500 ride approaching (Cloud Peak 500 - That's The Plan), I hit the month of July with renewed focus and some free time from my recent retirement (Ready To Play). Let's start with riding a fully loaded bike on a variety of single track, rough logging roads and good gravel.

First, spin up M-Hill on my Jones 29+ fully loaded for the Cloud Peak 500.

To start, I load up my Jones 29+ to climb my favorite in-town single track on M-Hill. Spinning up the gentle Far West trail, I stop at the "M" for a quick picture. The loaded bike demands a lower gear and more time to climb, but otherwise handles essentially the same as unloaded. It just takes some extra work to get rolling, but then it really rolls. That is an unexpected and pleasant surprise.

After a short break at the top, I ride down the more technical Sun Climb. Again, once up to appropriate speed downhill, the loaded bike handles essentially the same as unloaded. Maybe the 3.25 inch Vee BullDozer tires, the wide, swept back Jones handlebars, and the absolutely centered, upright body positioning combine for that handling. All I know for sure is that, as long as I maintain some speed, I am able to comfortably ride the loaded bike down everything that I ride unloaded. That's another really nice surprise.

Down Sun Climb, I spin some rolling loops on Far East and Founder's Valley before dropping back to the bike path. The loaded bike basically rides single track like it rode unloaded when I weighed 25+ pounds more. Overall, I am really pleased with the performance of the loaded Jones on the moderate M-Hill single track, at least on this relatively short ride of about 2 hours.

Next, a sub-24 rolling up Castle Creek Road (secondary USFS 181).

The following week, I pull out a Black Hills National Forest map to chart an overnight ride on a variety of rough remote roads. I start mid-afternoon at the Mystic trailhead for the Mickelson Trail and turn onto Castle Creek Road (USFS 181) for 11 miles of rough uphill on a fully loaded bike. Here we go.

Although a secondary USFS road, Castle Creek Road is less technical and less steep than I remember. Although the road is occasionally rutted and pocketed with water-filled pot holes, the loaded bike simply rides through or around everything. It's a nice rhythm spin along Castle Creek. Slow, but steady. Too easy.

Emerging from Castle Creek, I turn west on primary gravel road C306 (Deerfield Road) for a 1.5 mile climb on good gravel and then onto barely marked secondary USFS 190. Over the next 5 miles, the road gets rougher, the grades steeper, and the navigation more challenging. This is much tougher. The loaded bike handles it all with ease, but the added weight catches up with me. Walking some lumpy steeps in the heat, I realize that this bike will ride anything I can pedal. Eventually, I top out on White Tail Peak (elevation 6962') to disperse camp for the night.

In the morning, I quickly drop down to Black Fox Camp Road (USFS 233) and South Rapid Creek Road (USFS 231) to the Rochford Trail Head of the Mickelson Trail. After yesterday's 20+ miles of mostly uphill rough roads, these gentle downhill miles fly by. A final 9 mile spin down the Mickelson Trail returns me to the waiting Jeep. Through all those varying conditions, the loaded Jones just handles it.

Then another sub-24, starting with a nearly 20 mile climb up to Warren's Peak.

Time to ride gravel. Not our typical Black Hills Forest Service gravel sprinkles. Honest to goodness ball-bearing gravel.

It's time to hit the Bear Lodge Mountains, the northern-most reach of the Black Hills just north of Sundance, Wyoming. For some reason, the U.S. Forest Service actually spreads substantial gravel on the main roads up there. In addition, those roads offer long, fast descents on twisty, occasionally washboarded roads. It promises to be a good test for the loaded Jones.

I start at the USFS Bear Lodge campground and ride south on Warren Peak Road. Up. Up. Up. Basically, it's 6 miles up, a few rollers, and then another 6 miles up. And that's still not the top of Warren Peak. The loaded bike climbs OK, but it's heavy and those 3.25" mountain bike tires don't help. Uphill is a slugfest.

Turning downhill, however, tells a different tale. Once up to speed rolling downhill, the loaded bike absolutely cruises through thick gravel, over washboards, and around twisty turns. Bring one, bring all. It matters not. I regularly hit 25-30 mph, sometimes more, with confidence and comfort. The loaded Jones is one stable, comfortable, fast descender, even in those conditions. More to the point, especially in those conditions.

Ecstatic with the downhill performance but concerned about the uphill, I recover by campsite and plot the morning's ride. I conclude that today's 40 miles and 4,000+ feet of elevation gain provided sufficient gravel testing. With so much good gravel and so many rough ATV connectors up there, I decide to scout as much as I can the next day, by both bike and Jeep. I even drive by Devil's Tower National Monument on a short swing to the west. There's just so much to ride out here.

Wyoming gravel road (County 196) from the Bear Lodge Mountains to Devil's Tower National Monument.

Whether single track, rough logging roads or good gravel, the Jones 29+ can easily handle a bike packing load, as long as you provide the additional horsepower. In the end, I may limit the bike, but this bike will not limit me. Gearing up to fly.

"You'll able to spit nails, kid. You're gonna eat lightening and you're gonna crap thunder."
Gonna Fly Now, Bill Conti, soundtrack to Rocky (1976).


  1. I love Whitetail Peak, one of my favorites.

  2. I was so tired that I slept through that night atop WhiteTail Peak, while a tornado blasted through Tinton just to the north. I found out about the tornado after I returned to Rapid. I guess that's one advantage of taking it to the limit.

  3. Hi, just found your blog and am psyched you are doing this route! It looks like you know all about the route, but if you have any questions about logistics or anything, please let me know. Aaron 307 seven five one 4965.

  4. Thanks, Aaron, for creating this route! It looks to be an adventure. I'm getting ready to go in a few weeks, but I'd love to talk with you about any and all of it. My e-mail address is