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Thursday, June 20, 2024

Black Hills BIkepacking 101 - A Brief Report

I can see clearly now, the rain is gone.
I can see all obstacles in my way.
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind.
It's gonna be a bright (bright), bright (bright)
Sun-shiny day.
I Can See Clearly Now, Johnny Nash (1972). 

Earlier this week, the Black Hills Bike Hub hosted "Bikepacking 101," a gathering of local cyclists looking to learn more about bikepacking, remove barriers for newcomers to start, and build our bikepacking community. Lost Cabin Beer Company graciously provided space, Black Hills Bicycles and Acme Bicycles kicked in, and Hermit Crafts Bag Company (successor to Dirt Bags) added to the festive atmosphere. A moderated panel of kindred spirits shared thoughts and experiences, along with visions of future rides, with an enthusiastic, engaged audience. A palpable buzz filled the air.

Not my bikepacking setup. Nor that of anyone else.
Just a fun picture. (unknown origin)

Black Hills Bike Hub Directors Weston Neiffer and Evan Walterman hosted the event, moderating a lively discussion amongst the panel comprised of seasoned bikepackers Heather Heynen, Perry Jewett, Michelle Stampe, Jason Thorman, and me. The energetic crowd then peppered the panel with questions and media wizard Eric Clayborn recorded the event for an anticipated future video presentation. 

After an hour or so, the panel dispersed into the audience and bikepacking discussions continued well into the evening. Not surprisingly, the loaded bikes brought for a "Show & Tell" generated much interest and many additional questions. A few people even pedaled around the parking lot on my 65 pound Jones 29+, fully loaded for a multi-week ride. 

The crowd filters into Black Hills Bike Hub's "Bikepacking 101" gathering.

The true measure of the value of "Bikepacking 101" will emerge over the next few months, as the Black Hills Bike Hub will be hosting a series of group bikepacking rides. The first is Saturday June 29 - Sunday June 30, with three different routes all starting from Sturgis Brewing Company, ending at a group camp site at Alkali Creek Campground, and returning to Sturgis. Something for everyone. BHBH Bikepacking Overnighter Series - Round 1

If you're anywhere near the Black Hills on that last weekend of June and would like to join, go to the Black Hills Bike Hub website or FaceBook page for more information. 

Kudos to the Black Hills Bike Hub for their efforts to break down barriers to entry, mentor newcomers, and build our bikepacking community. Hope to see you out there.

Perry Jewett, Heather Heynen, Craig Groseth, Michelle Stampe, Jason Thorman.
2024 BHBH Bikepacking 101 panelists.
(image by Weston Neiffer)

Here is some of Eric Clayborn's work to help make Bikepacking 101 happen.

And finally, a little Johnny Nash to brighten the day.

I Can See Clearly Now, Johnny Nash (1972).

Saturday, June 15, 2024

Disappointment Turns to Gratitude

All my words fall short
I got nothing new
How could I express
All my gratitude?
Gratitude, Brandon Lake (2021)

Kicking around ideas for the emerging BackBone Double Grande route and possible future Black Hills Bounty rides, I mentally wandered out to northeastern Wyoming to seek an interesting route to Devil's Tower National Monument from the north, west, or even south. 

Maps and satellite imagery looked promising, with a handful of county gravel roads connected by dirt and two track roads of all kinds. Over the winter I sketched out a few routes to investigate and ventured out for a long day of scouting. After more time and study, I recently returned for another look.

Promising public road west of Devil's Tower.
Unfortunately, it dead ends at private property about 1.5 miles later.

What a disappointment. I spent two days searching in vain for USFS Low Standard, or even Secondary, Roads. They do not exist out there. Some good county gravel roads wind through the hills and valleys, but I found no rough little connectors. That is, all those promising dirt and two track roads were ranch roads on private land.

Although Devil's Tower itself is a public National Monument, the land beyond for many miles is practically all private. Pockets of public land managed by the Bureau of Land Management pop up like dandelions all over on the right maps, but they are small and mostly unmarked on site. There simply is no contiguous tract of public land out there large enough to connect one county road to another. 

(For a stark contrast, see the large section of Buffalo Gap National Grassland where the BackBone Grande route travels on rough two track for about 12 miles. BackBone Grande - Right Vibe Right Away).

My sorry map after two days of scouting

Ultimately, I stopped at Devil's Tower to assess all the new data over lunch. OK, "lunch" was a double dip huckleberry ice cream waffle cone. It was a frustrating day.

I first ruled out a route circling Devil's Tower to enter from the south due to 11 miles of relatively busy traffic on pavement at the end. Also, much of that route skirted the forested hills on the adjoining prairie. I prefer to be up in it. 

That left three unpaved alternatives to climb into the hills. Each worked on paper, but when viewed from the ground, they clearly divided into good, better, and best. Following that "best" road, I then stumbled onto a 5 mile connecting public road marked "Impassable When Wet." How did that happen? This route was now making itself.

At the end of the day, I put together a fun county gravel road route, with a smattering of dirt, from Alzada, Montana to Devil's Tower. This will become an appropriate section of the BackBone Double Grande.

On the drive home, my initial disappointment with this area turned to gratitude for what I have in the Black Hills. From Devil's Tower, I'll be routing through the Bear Lodge Mountains to Sundance, Wyoming and then southeast to enter 12 million acres of Black Hills National Forest. With all that National Forest land ahead of me, I have access to practically unlimited miles of public back roads and near-roads of all kinds. 

All that in my back yard. Sweet.

Gratitude, Brandon Lake (2022)

Monday, June 10, 2024

Black Hills Bikepacking 101 Social

Bikepacking can be a daunting prospect, even to an experienced cyclist. The list of unknowns quickly piles up:  what bike, what gear, how to carry all that gear, food, water, shelter, where to go, etc. It is very easy to simply let all that prevent one from starting.

In short, just pack up a bike and go. Ride a bike you have, use camping stuff you have, pick a fun spot to camp, and ride. The distance can be very short. First trips are about learning from the experience.

For inspiration, here's a post I wrote in 2021 about a mom, her young daughter, and her daughter's friend on a three day, self-supported bikepacking ride of the Mickelson Trail. Talk about just packing up and going for it. Gumption and Grit.

To help the curious and to build our local bikepacking community, Black Hills Bike Hub (formerly known as the Black Hills Mountain Bike Association) is hosting "Bike Packing 101," a social gathering for everyone interested in bike packing. They assembled a panel of local bikepackers, who will bring their loaded bikes for a "Show & Tell" and answer questions from moderators and the audience. Feedback will chart the course for potential group bikepacking overnighters this summer and fall.

This panel brings a deep and wide variety of bikepacking experience to the table. Pavement, gravel, dirt, snow, single track, no track. Overnighters, week long, months long. Racing, touring, scouting, wandering. Events, large groups, small groups, solo. Something for everyone.

June 18, 2024. 6p-8p. Lost Cabin Beer Company. Looking forward to seeing you there.

Here's the Bikepacking 101 Social announcement from Black Hills Bike Hub:

"Join us at Lost Cabin to learn about bikepacking from some of the local legends of the sport! Bikepacking is both an extremely rewarding and humbling way to adventure by bike. You can expect to hear some great insights on what draws people to this type of riding, how to approach packing, what to bring with you, and many other tools to break down the barrier to entry into the world of adventure riding!  Even if you are an experienced rider who has many trips under your belt, join us! This will be a great opportunity to build a community amongst your bikepacking peers!

Schedule of Events

6:00 PM - 6:30:  Show & Tell - Loaded bikes set up around the patio so people can chat with panelists and get ideas for questions.

6:30 - 7:30:  Panel Discussion - Informal moderated panel discussion and open Q&A.

7:30 - 8:00:  Social/Continued Show & Tell - Give the audience a chance to catch up with panelists they want to hear more from on their own.

After the event  BHBH will send a survey out to the event sign-in list and through social media.

Evan Waterman
Weston Neiffer

Craig Groseth
Perry Jewett
Jason Thorman
Heather Heynen
Emily Brown

We will also have a handful of local riders bring their loaded bikes to give attendees the opportunity to see different setups. Feel free to bring your own loaded bike to show off! If you are new to bikepacking, feel free to bring your bike and get gear/load out recommendations!

Sunday, May 26, 2024

Memorial Day 2024

If tomorrow all the things were gone, I'd worked for all my life
And I had to start again, with just my children and my wife
I'd thank my luck stars, to be living here today
Cause the flag still stands for freedom, and they can't take that away.

And I'm proud to be an American, where at least I know I'm free
And I won't forget the men who died, who gave that right to me
And I'd gladly stand up next to you, and defend her still today
Cause there aint no doubt I love this land, God bless the USA
God Bless the USA, Lee Greenwood (1984)

God Bless The U.S.A. featuring Lee Greenwood, Home Free,
and the Singing Sergeants (2021).

Memorial Day is a time to take stock of the present, reflect on the past, and renew our commitment to the future of America.

Today, as in the past, there are problems that must be solved and challenges that must be met. We can tackle them with our full strength and creativity only because we are free to work them out in our own way. We owe this freedom of choice and action to those men and women in uniform who have served this nation and its interests in time of need. In particular, we are forever indebted to those who have given their lives that we might be free.

I don't have to tell you how fragile this precious gift of freedom is. Every time we hear, watch, or read the news, we are reminded that liberty is a rare commodity in this world.

This Memorial Day of 1983, we honor those brave Americans who died in the service of their country. I think an ancient scholar put it well when he wrote:  "Let us now praise famous men . .  All these were honored in their generation, and were the glory of their times. Their bodies are buried in peace; but their name liveth for evermore." As a tribute to their sacrifice, let us renew our resolve to remain strong enough to deter aggression, wise enough to preserve and protect our freedom, and thoughtful enough to promote lasting peace throughout the world.

President Ronald W. Reagan, May 26, 1983.

Sunday, May 19, 2024

GDMBR - Ride With Reinhart

A fair number of the folks who ask about my ride of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route ("GDMBR") are considering their own. To start their preparation, I point to the maps and book by the Adventure Cycling Association, the creators of the route, and then to readily accessible journals and articles available on-line, including my 50+ blog posts. GDMBR Page. Also, a growing number of cyclists now document their experience by video.

In my relentless research before riding the GDMBR, I watched just about every YouTube video I could find. I even watched the 2010 movie "Ride The Divide" showcasing the Tour Divide, which is an informally organized "race" that piggybacks along most of ACA's GDMBR route. Some videos were professionally staged, edited, and produced, some were little more than a collection of phone videos, and many fell somewhere in between. I enjoyed them all and learned much.

Now three years removed from that ride preparation, I still enjoy watching new GDMBR videos as they come out. Not surprisingly, I learn something every time. Plus it's just fun to experience it anew, this time through the heart of a kindred spirit.

Of all the videos I've watched, a recent series stands out as the one to watch to prepare for a ride of the GDMBR. Ride With Reinhart - YouTube Channel

Reinhart toured the route over 53 days and posted a 10-20 minute long video for each day. So, the episode for any given day is not a long watch, but the series does take some time to work through. I watched 2-3 episodes at a sitting, occasionally going back for another look.

I found Reinhart to be engaging, informative, and entertaining. A guy I'd probably like to ride with. He includes a short summary of the previous day's ride, a description of the campsite or accommodations, and a look ahead. As one would expect, Reinhart carefully attends to weather, water, food, and shelter, but does not let logistics dominate. Each day, he includes significant video footage of the roads, scenery, and encounters with others, with at-the-time commentary. 

Each video looks like it presents an honest, unvarnished glimpse of that particular day on the route. Strung together, the series paints a comprehensive picture of the overall experience.

For someone preparing to ride the GDMBR, or for someone who wants to dive deeply into the day-to-day experience of riding the GDMBR, I recommend the Ride With Reinhart video series. I know that I'll watch it again. 

Ride With Reinhart - 2023 GDMBR Wrap Up

Sunday, May 12, 2024

Outside The Norm

While I enjoyed a quiet cup of freshly brewed coffee in a city park one overcast morning, a great disturbance in the force snapped my attention to the nearby bike path. A solitary Canadian Goose angrily stomped about the base of a large cottonwood tree, squawking and generally creating a ruckus. 

Thinking that perhaps a perceived predator wandered too close to a hidden nest, I scanned to find something, anything, to cause such a scene. Nothing on the ground. Not even another goose. Maybe in the sky above. 

Then I saw it.

No way. Another Canadian Goose stands on a large limb of the cottonwood tree, a solid 40 feet off the ground.

What series of circumstances and decisions put that relatively large, heavy, web-footed water fowl up there? Maybe it had something to do with the other goose aggressively patrolling below. I don't know. Somehow, that Goose landed in dramatically unfamiliar territory, far outside its norm.

Maybe it's time to do the same.

Addendum. After a little research, I learned that Canadian Geese have been known to nest in trees, although rarely. I certainly have never before seen one high in a tree. A lesson in creatively adapting to circumstances, despite limitations and obstacles.

Wednesday, May 8, 2024

Long Live Long Rides

My post last week entitled "Better Coffee For Bikepacking" elicited a variety of responses and a number of suggestions. Thanks to all. I will try some new options, while continuing to tinker with what I have. If I find something that works better for me than the CoffeeBrewer or the AeroPress GO, I certainly will write about it.

In the meantime, today I arose to some kind of wonderful morning for enjoying coffee outside. 40 degrees. Little wind. Overcast. Drizzle. Like riding through a cloud. Almost heaven. South Dakota. With my Jones 29+ already set up with packs and loaded for breakfast, I only need to dress appropriately before pedaling.

After about an hour of lightly spinning around town, I stop near the base of M-Hill at Founders Park. The City of Rapid City, or a couple of kind citizens, finally moved two picnic tables under the shelter there. Great timing. It will be nice to be under a roof today, even though I wouldn't get very wet out in the open.

Looking for that next long ride, somewhere out in the prairie beyond the Black Hills.
Not from today, but not long ago.

Onto the task at hand. Within a few minutes, I savor a sip of fresh hot coffee made in my AeroPress GO with beans roasted by local cyclist Christopher Grady of Sawyer Coffee Lab. Oh. That is good. That is very good. 

Soon, I am ready for a second cup. For some reason, I decide to conduct a direct comparison with Starbucks Via, the instant coffee that I used on my 2021 ride of the GDMBR. More accurately, I carried it until I simply could not stand drinking it. Today, the Via instant tastes okay, although well short of that from the AeroPress GO. Little wonder that it failed after a few weeks on the trail.

I realize that this goes beyond coffee. Something that works well enough for an hour, may not work over a day. And something that works for a day, may not work over a week. If for a week, will it over a month? Some things must be lived out.

Long rides reveal much, particularly with all the trials that emerge with the passage of time. Much is revealed over time - about coffee, food, gear, components, bikes, and especially the person pedaling. What awaits discovery during your next long ride?

Long live long rides.

Long Hard Ride, The Marshall Tucker Band (1976).