Once out riding on gravel in winter, I was astonished by the number and length of rides possible, even here in Western South Dakota. See my 2015 post, A Revelation. After several winters of riding primarily prairie gravel, I decided to head back into the Black Hills this year. After all, my Black Mountain Monster Cross with 40 mm tires handles a couple of inches of snow just fine and now I have a Jones 29+ with 3.25 inch tires for heartier stuff.
Then Lucas Haan, the irrepressible force of nature behind Black Hills Gravel, provided the perfect excuse to head for the Hills by announcing the Black Hills Gravel WarmUp Cup, a challenge to ride 4 different Black Hills Gravel Series routes during the 13 weeks of winter. As I understand, the idea is to encourage folks to ride more during the winter, prepare for the spring Black Hills Gravel Series, and nurture our local gravel family by sharing rides and experiences. For WarmUp Cup details, go to Black Hills Gravel WarmUp Cup. To select a route from the growing library at BlackHillsGravel.com, go the Routes and Resources page.
I decided to complete my Black Hills Gravel WarmUp Cup by riding each of the four Black routes based out of Hill City, aka the Heart of the Hills. During my first ride, however, I soon discovered that the depth and inconsistency of the snow on those rough backroads would make any of the Black routes (50+ miles/5,000+ foot elevation gain) a monster outing for me. Looking more to build base than to destroy my body and mind, I opted for the shorter Blue routes (25+ miles/2,500+ foot elevation gain). Those were a'plenty. Here's my summary.
1. 2017 Hill City Blue Route (WarmUp Cup #1 - January 2)
To kickstart the Black Hills Gravel WarmUp Cup, I dove into the Hills to ride the 2017 Hill City Black Route. That was the plan, anyhow. Right from the start, however, I slogged through ice, then packed snow, and eventually untracked snow riding up China Gulch Road (USFS 249) and Horse Creek Road (USFS 530). When finally emerging on Mystic Road, I reassessed time, light, and energy and opted for the shorter Blue Route.
It was a great day on the bike, with big sunshine, moderate temperatures, and little wind. For the most part, the snow was either just 1-2 inches, which I could ride through, or hard packed enough to ride on top. My Black Mountain Monster Cross bike with 40 mm tires worked fine.
With all the snow, however, those 30-some miles still worked me. So, I guess I'll stick with the Black Hills Gravel Series Blue routes for my first WarmUp Cup.
|Horse Creek Road with my track joining those of many animals.
Black Mountain Monster Cross with 40 mm G-Ones handled the 1-2 inches of snow just fine.
|Horse Creek Road showing my track from today and from 11 days ago.
|Harney Peak from the ridgeline view along Newton Fork Road.
|Plowing up a snow-packed Spring Creek Road, softened from the sun and 48 degrees.