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Sunday, November 20, 2022

2022 Black Hills Bounty (Day 1) - A Big BANG!

Math, science, history,
Unraveling the mysteries,
That all started with the big bang,
The Big Bang Theory Theme Song, Ed Robertson & Tyler Stewart (2010)

Climbing back into the Black Hills from Custer State Park.
(photo by Lane Bergen)

It's Go Time! Day 1 of the 2022 Black Hills Bounty! 

No alarm clocks necessary today. At first light, we're packed and rolling out of the Fort WeLikeIt Campground to hit the 06:30 opening of Baker's Bakery for their famous pastries and burritos. After last year's dressing down by owner Charity Baker for someone blowing by the "Wait To Be Seated" sign, Jeff Bloom repeatedly reminds everyone to patiently wait our turn. It's worth it. Both the food and the stories.

Then it's over to South Dakota Outdoor Shop, the only outdoors store in Custer. Last night, Jon Naaf discovered that his inflatable mattress did not make the move from his house to his truck. Fortunately, that relatively new store opens this morning and stocks such things. In the meantime, we meet a couple of cyclists stopping in Custer on a cross-country paved road tour. With heavy loads and skinny tires, however, they are not interested in riding with us along the Black Hills Bounty. To each their own.

Jon Naaf, Craig Groseth, Kevin Fox, Lane Bergen & Jeff Bloom ready to roll on Day 1.

Enhanced security at Baker's Bakery after last year's Black Hills Bounty.
(photo by the culprit Jeff Bloom).

We roll east out of Custer on a paved bike path for a few miles before turning directly onto USFS Low Standard Road 341.1A. And so it begins. A mile long, rock strewn pitch later, we bump along a ridge with northerly views of the Cathedral Spires and beyond. Now dry, these Low Standard Roads are much more manageable than they were earlier this spring when I slogged up a water filled, pot holed mudfest.

Then it's a fast, smooth descent along a pastoral valley winding to Hazelrodt Picnic Area. Another Low Standard Road passes a string of small cabins and leads to a dead end, at least for motorized vehicles. We maneuver through a hiker gateway to take a cow path short cut over French Creek to Custer State Park. Some of this path is bare dirt, but some is little more than bent grass. Bounty. More Bounty.

Starting the day with a little pitch on USFS Low Standard 341.1A.
(photo by Jeff Bloom)

Looking north along USFS Low Standard 341.
(photo by Jeff Bloom)

Dropping toward Hazelrodt Picnic Area on USFS Low Standard 408.
(photo by Lane Bergen)

Unnamed, unnumbered, unmarked cow path connector.
(photo by Kevin Fox)

After a short break at French Creek Horse Camp, we climb out of that valley to quickly descend Lame Johnny Road, a well maintained, popular road for tourists to view wildlife. No buffalo block the road today, but we remember last year's beastly traffic jam near here and proceed warily. No one wants a viral picture of their cycling shorts dangling from a buffalo's horn.

Kevin Fox abruptly stops to air up a deflating tire. Moments later, just as we're re-gaining cruising speed of over 20 mph, BANG! Kevin's front tire blows completely off the rim. As the tire flops around the wheel, he miraculously holds his line in the loose gravel while braking to a heart-stopping stop. How he keeps upright is beyond me. 

With no serious damage to the tire, Kevin simply inserts a tube, pumps it up, and rolls down the road. The rest of us are flabbergasted. Wow. Did that really just happen?

Just riding along Lame Johnny Road in Custer State Park.
(photo by Jeff Bloom)

A moment later, one miraculous save by Kevin Fox.
(photo by Jeff Bloom)

We eventually roll onto smooth Fisherman Flats Road for a very fast 7 mile drop from forested hills into rolling prairie. As the road levels a bit, we coast into the Wildlife Station Visitor Center right on Wildlife Loop Road for some welcomed shade and water. Time for a short break. Maybe some lunch.

Enjoying relatively comfortable mid-September tourist traffic and mid-day heat, we gaze westward to prepare to climb the shadeless prairie back up into the Black Hills. Suddenly, that long sweet downhill we just rode doesn't seem so sweet. But it's still early, the road is solid, the climb is steady, not steep, and the big views all around are inspiring.

Winding back up into the Black Hills on Oak Draw Road in Custer State Park.
(photo by Kevin Fox)

Looking back at another climb on 4 Mile Draw Road in Custer State Park.
(photo by Lane Bergen)

We climb Oak Draw Road, hop on the pavement of the Wildlife Loop for a switchback climb up a ridge, and crest another ridge on 4 Draw Road before descending to State Highway 87. The gravel climbs are over for the day. Within a couple of miles, we leave Custer State Park and enter Wind Cave National Park. 

So far, we haven't encountered any buffalo up close. That's about to change.

First we roll along heavily forested Rankin Ridge, wind around a pig tail bridge, and cross historic Beaver Creek Bridge before dropping quickly to a more open mix of forest and prairie. A few stopped tourist cars ahead forewarn of possible wildlife nearby. 

Yessiree. The first of many buffalo appear on the adjoining hillside. Rounding the next bend reveals more buffalo in the ditch, and then on the shoulder, and then on the road itself. Some simply lounge on the grass next to the paved road. Just waiting. Go ahead, tourist, make my day.

One more climb up 4 Mile Draw in Custer State Park.
(photo by Lane Bergen)

Afternoon traffic jam in Wind Cave National Park.

Eventually, we work through the buffalo traffic jam and coast into Elk Mountain Campground in Wind Cave National Park, our destination for the night. We occupy a group camp site, which provides plenty of room for all of our tents, a shelter with picnic tables, bath rooms, and water. As the sun sets, we quietly watch a solitary bull buffalo stroll past our tents. Nice.

Air, sealant, tubeless tire,
Blowing out, it sure looked dire,
It all started with a Big Bang. BANG!

The Big Bang Theory Theme Song, Bare Naked Ladies (2010)

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