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Sunday, March 19, 2023

Putting It Together

Creating remote road routes is a fun challenge that I'm surprised more cyclists do not undertake. Admittedly, it's a lot easier with experience on a large number of a wide variety of roads. But I didn't start that way. I started by wondering what's out there, opening a map, and pedaling with eyes open.

Out here, I typically start with a general route in mind that includes some roads I haven't ridden. While riding, if I see an interesting road not on the planned route, I may take it. Or I may just make a mental note to research it at home with more detailed U.S. Forest Service maps and the satellite images. But I'm always looking. My data base of back roads is always growing.

Up Antelope Ridge, over to Bear Spring, down Lightening Creek, up Hell Canyon. 

Over the last two weeks, I posted my Five Favorite Black Hills "Gravel" Roads and Five Favorite Black Hills "Low Standard" Roads. Writing those two posts reminded me of several favorite roads that I haven't ridden in awhile, including Antelope Ridge with its panoramic views. I wondered whether a climb up Antelope Ridge could start a nice 40-ish mile loop for a short day ride or overnighter. Let's see.

I pull out a USFS hard copy map of Black Hills National Forest and climb up to Antelope Ridge (USFS Secondary 282/283) from U.S. Highway 16 west of Jewell Cave National Monument. At about 8 miles, it T-bones into Custer Limestone Road (USFS Primary 284). Turning either left or right could make a fun return loop, with a smorgasbord of Secondary and Low Standard roads from which to select. I decide to turn right, primarily because to the east lies a favorite Low Standard road to Bear Spring. So, I figuratively drop south to Bear Spring (USFS 284.2A) and loop back north on another Low Standard road on the adjacent hillside (USFS 284.2B/C). Climbing east on Custer Limestone Road reveals an overlook with a view of Crazy Horse Memorial and a fun, fast descent on Lightening Creek Road (USFS Secondary 288) to U.S. Highway 16. 

From there, it's only about 6 paved miles west on U.S. Highway 16 to bail out and get back to the start. That would make about 36 miles for the loop. So far, I could ride this on my Alchemy or Black Mountain gravel bike, although the swing down to Bear Spring might be a bit slow on those skinny tires.

USFS 681 approaching the canyon to Bear Spring.

But many cool Low Standard roads await to the south, including a favorite USFS 277 through Hell Canyon. So, I drop south on USFS 278.1A for a few miles past Lithograph Canyon and then west on USFS 274 to intersect with USFS 277. That little 12 mile swing to the south on Low Standard roads emerges on U.S. Highway 16 just half a paved mile from the start. Sweet.

The loop now totals about 42 miles, with 17 Low Standard miles, 14 Secondary miles, 8 Primary miles, and 3 Paved miles. It also includes about 4 miles of Low Standard Road 274 that I haven't ridden and many other Low Standard roads to take a look at along the way. On balance, I'd probably take my Jones 29+ mountain bike to keep open the option of exploring some of those other Low Standard roads.

That's a nice day ride, or even an overnighter camping at Bear Spring. And it took less than 10 minutes to create on

Take a look at a map. You may start finding roads and creating routes of your own.

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