Search This Blog

Thursday, July 7, 2022

More Than Black & Blue

I wanna run, I wanna hide
I wanna tear down the walls, that hold me inside
I wanna reach out, and touch the flame
Where the streets have no name
Where The Streets Have No Name, Bono & U2 (1987) 

Nothing quite like a summer day riding in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

With some head space finally cleared of the Great Divide, I take to some favorite gravel and dirt road rides out in the Black Hills and surrounding prairie on my new Alchemy Ronin gravel bike. New Bike Day. What fun it is to ride an unloaded, light weight gravel bike!

All right! Nice shakeout rides on familiar roads for the new bike. Now, let's ride some new stuff!

But, where? I start with Lucas Haan's stellar Pringle Black route featured as the May Ride Of The Month for the 2022 Black Hills Gravel Series. Black Hills Gravel ROTM. Although I've not ridden that exact route before, I have ridden all of those roads several times over the years. So, I pull out a map containing the Pringle Black route, subtract a bunch of Primary Road miles and add more than a few miles of Low Standard roads.

There! 22 miles of Primary roads, 20 miles of Low Standard roads, and 0 miles of pavement. (For an explanation of forest road types, see The Good, The Bad & The Ugly). A new route with known and unknown roads. Shorter, but more rugged than the Pringle Black route. Call it the Pringle Black & Blue.

Innocent enough start spinning up Hopkins Flats Road, aka USFS Primary Road 315.

Parking at the Pringle Trailhead for the Mickelson Trail, I'm on gravel from the get go heading west out of town on Hopkins Flats Road. The Alchemy simply flies across these hard packed, barely graveled roads. When I stop at an intersection, a truck pulls up. Local rancher Ned Westphal is out checking on his cattle and stops for this solitary cyclist looking at a paper map in the heat of the day. 

"You lost? You need some water?"

No, thanks, I'm more than good. It's great to be out in the Black Hills on back roads. But Ned is in no hurry, either. He's curious to hear of my rides, just as I'm curious about his ranching life out here. We share stories for 15 minutes or so, maybe longer. As he slowly drives away, I smile remembering similar friendly encounters with locals all along my Great Divide ride. Ned makes my day.

Local rancher Ned Westphal shares a few laughs while out on his rounds.

As big views open on Pleasant Valley Road (USFS 715), I excitedly turn onto Richardson Cut-off Road (USFS 276). This sweet 4 mile Low Standard Road is a long time favorite that I feature at about Mile 387 of my Black Hills DoubleBackBone route. It's a little rough in spots from spring run-off and vehicle traffic due to popular ATV/UTV trails in the area. But it's great fun on a great gravel bike.

Too soon, I pop out onto Pass Creek Road (USFS 273) to climb about 1,000 feet over 5 miles to Hawkwright Trail (USFS 275), a Low Standard road plummeting down rocky S&G Canyon. All hands on deck! Spring weather and motored tires have substantially torn up this road since I last rode it several weeks ago. I navigate a random series of rocks, ruts, pot holes, standing water, and mud, while bouncing down the canyon.

Rolling along Richardson Cut-off, aka USFS Low Standard Road 276.

I emerge smiling and unscathed back on Pleasant Valley Road (USFS 715), which could take me back to Pringle on about 15 miles of hard, fast, smooth Primary gravel roads. Nope. That's not why I'm out here. It's time to ride an Unknown Road With No Name.

So, I cross Pleasant Valley Road to turn onto unnamed USFS 309, which looks like a solid Secondary Road. And it rides like one, at the start, as I pass some ranch buildings and side roads. However, for most of its 5.5 mile length, Road 309 is every bit a Low Standard road while gaining about 1,000 feet of elevation. For this challenging stretch, I'm grateful for the 20 gear inch granny gear on my 2X drivetrain, 45 mm tires, and 18 pound, unloaded gravel bike.

As I top out that climb on a ridge line, the road basically disappears, replaced by a bewildering array of logging equipment tracks and piles of timber. I negotiate the obstacles and navigate along what seems to be a way through, but am not excited about dropping down a sizable hill on little more than a tractor track. If this is the wrong way, I'll have to ride up that thing.

Fortunately, the short hill ends at a fence line with a gate, which appears to be the end of Road 309 and an intersection with Road 308. At least I think so. The only sign simply says No Motorized Vehicles. Yeah, this must be Road 308. 

Dropping down S&G Canyon on Hawkwright Trail, aka USFS Low Standard Road 275.
No pictures of the rocky steeps, where I worked to stay upright.

I cross through the gate and face another decision. About a half mile east lies Carroll Creek Road (USFS 313), a Primary road to take me back to Pringle. Nah. Instead, I turn south on Reservoir Road, which rides like a Primary road for about a half mile downhill to a residence, before it erupts into a full bodied Low Standard road.

Abruptly, I'm navigating on, at best, sketchy dirt dropping downhill fast. Possible roads and paths spin off randomly into the forest. There's very little signage and no evidence of recent vehicle traffic. There's nothing but Low Standard roads, near-roads, and wanna-B roads that are mostly unmarked, at least on site. Some navigation is by map. Some by sun. Some by dead reckoning. I miss the Stem Captain compass installed on my Jones mountain bike.

I won't admit to being lost out there, but I did stop more than a few times to sort out where I think I am on the map. I certainly backtrack some. In the language of Black Hills Bounty veterans, I call a few audibles. And take plenty of time to make decisions, especially before going further down a hill.

In the end, and near the end of my water and food supplies, I find and then drop down Low Standard USFS 314.2H to connect with Carroll Creek Road, pretty much as originally planned. More importantly, I rode a route that turned out to be great fun. I could even ride it again, probably without the backtracks. Probably.

USFS Low Standard Road 309 meets USFS Low Standard Road 308.
Some navigation is required through here.

Back at the Pringle Trailhead, I revel in the simple pleasure of a day well spent exploring back roads on a bicycle. But it's been a long day, my longest day riding since finishing the Great Divide over 9 months ago, and I'm exhausted. I pack for home.

Sounds of a softly strummed guitar drift by. Oh, that's nice.

I walk around the Trailhead shelter to find a young man playing a guitar. I apologize for interrupting, say that I'm shelled from a bike ride beyond my conditioning, and ask if I can just sit at the picnic table and listen. He graciously allows me into his space.

His name is Jacob and he's a college student from Texas working this summer for the U.S. Park Service at Wind Cave National Park. Jacob says that his grandfather recently gave him this guitar, which he plans to learn to play during breaks from training for his collegiate triathlon team. He apologizes for not being very good, but it sounds heavenly to me. We talk college, triathlon, cycling and even some music. Jacob is on a fascinating journey and he's just beginning. How exciting.

This route is deceptively straight forward on the computer.
Know that Miles 27-38 are navigationally challenging on the ground. At least for me.
Also, the "Paved" Surfaces notation above is wrong. This route is 100% gravel, dirt, and rocks.

I planned to ride my bike most all day today on roads that I enjoy. And I did that, to the fullest. Every bit of that long day of riding was exactly what I love to do.

But the highlights of the day are my encounters with Ned, at the beginning of the day, and Jacob, at the end. They remind me of many similar experiences with good people all along my Great Divide ride. Another reminder that it's not just about riding a bike.

I don't need to ride an epic route or destination to have a memorable day on the bike. Or to meet memorable people along the way. Just get out there and ride, with an open heart.

Where The Streets Have No Name, U2 (1987)

No comments:

Post a Comment