Leaping off a crowded 2021 spring racing schedule is the Buffalo Bill Rough Rider Gravel Grinder, a much anticipated 120 mile gravel race that dives deep into the steep ravines of the Loess Canyons in South Central Nebraska. Months ago, I marked this race on the calendar in pen and wrote a post about these remote roads through this wonderfully unique country. See, Knock, Knock, Knockin' On Odin's Door.
Endurance athletes Jeff and Shea Caldwell, owners of the local White Tail CycleSport bike shop, spearhead this event and enlisted Paul Brasby to design the 120 mile course through rugged cow country. As a long time local racer and bike packer, Paul intimately knows all these back roads and set out to create a course to showcase the very best. I could not wait to ride it.
|Jeff Bloom steams up a rough road cut deep into the hills on the Buffalo Bill Rough Rider course.
Then, several weeks ago, Paul asked me to confirm road conditions and cue sheets by riding the planned course in advance of the race with a group of friends. However, rather than ride it in a single day, he suggested a 2 day bikepacking ride with an overnight stay at a primitive campsite. More specifically, he planned to ride about 70 miles of the course on the first day to camp at the renowned Potter's Pasture and then the remaining 50 miles on the second day back to North Platte. I jumped at the chance.
|Jeff Bloom, Ben Cooper, Jon Naaf, Craig Groseth, Luke Entz, Paul Brasby
Ready to roll from the start of the Buffalo Bill Rough Rider Gravel Grinder route.
|Cruising out of North Platte on smooth gravel along a canal. Rougher stuff lies ahead.
Moving again, we roll through town along a nice bike path and stop for pictures at Fort Cody, a trading post that will be the official start/finish of the Buffalo Bill Rough Rider Gravel Grinder in June. This will be a fun, lively venue for everyone at the event, whether riding or not. We're all smiles and ready to hit the course.
Almost immediately, we ride off pavement, climbing out of the Platte River valley into the hills and ravines to the south. Thanks to permission from a local landowner, the Buffalo Bill Rough Rider course crosses a stretch of private land otherwise closed to the public. As the route creator checking the route, Paul obtains a personal escort through this area for us on today's ride. Soon we're onto the back roads deep into cow country.
|A glimpse of a Buffalo Bill Rough Rider road early on the course.
Unlike a typical ride report, I'm not writing or showing many details about the course in advance of the actual event. But, if you're riding the Buffalo Bill Rough Rider, bring your entire tool box of cycling skills and sagacity. You will need everything. And if the weather adds anything at all, you're in for a real challenge.
|Bike packer's paradise at Potter's Pasture primitive campground.
|Craig Groseth, Luke Entz, Paul Brasby, Ben Cooper
Rolling along the Buffalo Bill Rough Rider course.
Babying that questionable tire down a steep, gullied descent, I check the pressure at the bottom. It seems to be holding enough, but I add some air anyhow. For the next couple of hours, I stop every 20 minutes or so to check that air pressure. Most every time, I add some air to keep rolling.
|No hill is too steep or too loosey-goosey for bike packer Paul Brasby.
Potter's Pasture is abuzz with activity and upbeat banter, as our merry band of bikepackers set up tents, tend to bikes, and fix dinner. Someone starts a fire in the campground fire pit, which draws everyone for warmth and conversation. Jeff Caldwell drives in from North Platte, bringing cold beer and pop, amping up the energy. Stories fly like sparks from the fire, burning brightly and drifting into the night, leaving lasting memories. The evening passes much too quickly.
The moderate May weather eventually cools and our crew hits the sleeping bags for rest and recovery. We awaken early to a cool, damp morning with a blanket of dew on everything left uncovered. Soon, however, bodies and spirits warm with hot breakfast and coffee over another roaring fire. We're ready for today's 50 mile ride back to North Platte.
|Pausing to soak in the view along the Buffalo Bill Rough Rider course.
Climbing out of Potter's Pasture, we string out a bit and then re-group at a cattle guard along a ridge line showcasing a view down the renowned Government Pocket Road. The day is young. The temperatures mild. The winds not yet awake. We're just cruising home.
We wind along ridge lines and through cedar lined valleys, eventually dropping back into the Platte River Valley. Now late morning, the wind picks up, the temperature rises, and thoughts turn to home. Just when it looks like a quiet spin into town, we turn south and west, into that growing wind and back up to another ridge line. This pitch hurts more than it should.
|Even Big Foot is checking out the Buffalo Bill Rough Rider course.
But that last hill is relatively short and the final miles smoothly drop to a relatively flat finish. It's still early afternoon when I soft pedal back into the Fort Cody parking lot. And there's Paul patiently waiting for me in the shade.
|History abounds along the Buffalo Bill Rough Rider course.