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Thursday, August 18, 2022

The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

The way back to town is only 70 miles. If you save your breath, I feel a man like you can manage it.
Blondie encouraging Tuco, The Good, The Bad & The Ugly (1966).




The United States Forest Service (USFS) categorizes the roads within its boundaries as "Primary Routes," "Secondary Routes," or "Low Standard Routes." That's it. Just three categories for the staggering variety of roads in our national forests.

Well, it's a start. Here's a USFS graphic introducing each category of Forest Service roads.


As an introduction to understanding these categories of roads in the Black Hills National Forest, here are some of my general observations, with representative photographs. Whatever the USFS calls them and however I describe them, every road in the Black Hills will deliver a variety of riding conditions and challenges that change over time. Your eyes on the road and tires on the ground are the best way to know these roads.

Note that the USFS manages extensive logging operations in selected parts of the Black Hills. In large part, that's why most of these roads exist. Yield to all traffic out there, but especially the big logging trucks. And be thankful to be able to ride on the seemingly unlimited roads resulting from their work.


The Good (USFS Primary Route)

The most developed non-paved road in the USFS system is the Primary road, which is designed, built, and maintained for year around, regular travel by standard passenger cars. In the Black Hills, the surface of these roads typically is moderately graveled, hard packed local dirt and limestone that drains water well, and generally does not instantly clog, at least not like Iowa top soil, Nebraska talc, or Oklahoma clay. Some roads are treated with Magnesium Chloride, which hardens and stabilizes the surface.

Primary roads generally are wide enough for opposing motorized traffic to pass easily. If enough gravel exists to form tracks, there would be three or even four. Often a small shoulder will accumulate a bit more gravel that has been pushed off to the side. Relatively high speed vehicle traffic may create washboards and pockets of loose gravel in spots, especially around curves and corners.

My ride of choice for Primary roads is my Alchemy Ronin Titanium gravel bike or my Black Mountain Cycles Monster Cross bike, set up with 40 mm Schwalbe G-One tires. Even when loaded for multi-day bikepacking, these gravel bikes provide plenty of support and control to comfortably ride all day. Relatively speaking, Primary roads are fast.

On USFS maps and signage, a Primary road is designated by brown sign with a number enclosed in a rounded corner, isosceles trapezoid having the longer parallel side on top, as shown below for Boles Canyon Road (117).



The following photographs are representative of USFS Primary roads in the Black Hills.





The Bad (USFS Secondary Route)

The next level of developed, non-paved roads in the USFS system is the Secondary road, which is maintained for high clearance vehicles. In the Black Hills, USFS Secondary roads typically are similar in composition to Primary roads, that is, hard packed dirt and limestone that handles water well and does not overly clog. However, the surface may be even less graveled, or just occasionally graveled, or not graveled at all. Almost certainly, it will not be treated with Magnesium Chloride. Foremost, that means Secondary roads are more susceptible to mud when wet and ruts when dry.

Due to less maintenance, Secondary roads also sport occasional loose dirt, exposed surface rock, pot holes, standing water, and fallen timber, while presenting sharper turns, steeper gradients, and shorter sight lines. Also, Secondary roads typically are two tracks wide, often with little to no shoulder. If a motorized vehicle approaches, I typically pull off the road to allow it to pass. For logging trucks, I definitely leave the road.

All that being said, many Secondary roads in the Black Hills are passable in dry conditions in passenger cars, if attentive to occasional obstacles and clearance issues. For example, I confirmed my cue sheets for the entire Black Hills BackBone route driving my 2006 Chevrolet HHR, hardly a high clearance vehicle. Over the 310 mile route, with many miles of Secondary roads, I maneuvered around a few high-center issues and only had to skirt one fallen tree blocking the road. These roads can be fast, but stay alert.

My ride of choice for most Black Hills Secondary roads is still one of my gravel bikes with 40 mm tires. These roads may be rougher and mountain bike type gearing may be helpful in spots, but most of these roads are developed enough for me on a gravel bike. On the other hand, if loaded for a multi-day ride with significant miles of Secondary roads, I may well opt for my Jones 29+ mountain bike with bigger tires.

On USFS maps and signage, a Secondary road is designated by a three or four digit number enclosed in a brown, rounded corner rectangular sign, as shown below for Williams Draw Road (691).



The following photographs show three USFS Secondary roads in the Black Hills.





The Ugly (USFS Low Standard Route)

The third level of developed, non-paved road in the USFS system is the Low Standard road, which is unimproved and not maintained for automobiles. The Forest Service recommends travel by vehicles with both high clearance and four wheel drive. I would add driver prudence and experience.

Design, construction, and maintenance of Low Standard roads are all over the map, even along a single numbered road. Some sections may be soft dirt, while others are rock gardens. If wet, standing water and mud can be a real issue, leaving deep ruts when dry. Maybe a load of chunky rock was dumped to stabilize a low spot, or maybe not and there's a stream to ford. They are rough, sometimes little more than a bull dozed logging trail. For me, this is mountain bike territory, for tires and gears, even unloaded, for anything more than a short connector.

Many, many, many Low Standard roads are dead-end spurs that were built to get to a spot for logging. Maybe some spurs later connect to something else and haven't made it on a map, or maybe not. I often refer to the USFS Motorized Vehicle Use Maps, which are updated every year and prove to be pretty accurate. However you navigate, count on no cell coverage and no passing traffic of any kind. You are on your own.

If you like this kind of riding, the Black Hills offer a lifetime of miles to explore.

On USFS signage, a Low Standard road is designated with a three-digit number vertically imprinted on short, 4 inch wide, brown carbonite post. On USFS maps, it's just a plain three-digit number. The designation of any road emanating from that Low Standard road adds a decimal and another number. For example, in the Black Hills, USFS 278.1 runs off of USFS 278. Then, any roads running off of USFS 278.1 get letters, the first being USFS 278.1A, then 278.1B, and so on. It can be confusing in the field and USFS map navigation is an entirely separate subject. Just know that any carbonite USFS road sign with a three-digit number, or with decimal numbers, or with letters, identifies a Low Standard Road.

Shown below is a sign for Low Standard road 242, and then one for Low Standard road 325.1D.


The following photographs show a sampling of USFS Low Standard roads in the Black Hills. I captured all of these images while out riding, with the sole exception of the last photograph, which Lucas Haan provided as an example of a deposit of chunky gravel. I included more photographs of Low Standard roads because of their great variety.


























To wrap this up, here's a fun rendition of Ennio Morricone's 1966 composition of music for the movie "The Good, The Bad And The Ugly," performed by the Danish National Symphony Orchestra in 2018.

The Good, The Bad And The Ugly, Danish National Symphony Orchestra (2018)




Thursday, August 11, 2022

Connecting

Different strokes for different folks,
And so on, and so on, and scooby dooby doo-bee,
Ooh, sha sha,
We got to live together.
Everyday People, Sly Stone (1968).

Like "boots on the ground" for the Army, there's nothing like "tires on the trail" for scouting back roads. And, in a recurring theme from me, once you're out there, you never know what you'll find.

This little gem is not on my USFS maps.

While creating a five day bikepacking route for some out-of-state friends, I run into a snag. I really want to include roads through two certain areas that are separated by a significant ridge. But no map shows any way to make that connection, absent a relatively large mileage loop around. Even the satellite images on RideWithGPS do not show a clear way through.

One Low Standard Road comes close, abruptly stopping maybe a mile short of another Low Standard Road on the other side. Spurs like that are common in the Black Hills, with primitive roads built just to access areas to log. But this spur does not have that look. I wonder why that road just stops.

The other side of the ridge offers a greater number and variety of roads, with practically no spurs. A couple of maps even show a "spring" in a valley not far over that ridge. If I can cross that ridge somehow and make that connection, I may be able to access both desired areas and a water re-supply.

Time to get out there.

Pretty tame start to this Low Standard Road.

Although I've ridden throughout this area, I have not been on these particular Low Standard Roads. So, I slowly pull off a graveled Primary Road to look for signs. This looks like the right spot, but I'm not alone. In the shade by a small truck, a big pickup, and a trailer, a family of five saddles up horses. They don't look like they're just out for a ride. Not way out here.

As I step out of my Jeep, an older lady strides directly up to me. She's Susan, a rancher who lives nearby and leases USFS land here. Her daughter and family are mounting their horses to move a herd of cattle to a different pasture. She'll haul the trailer down the road to pick them up.

After a brief description of why I'm out there, I ask Susan if I can ask a few questions about the roads and water in this area. She readily agrees, I think mostly out of her general willingness to help and maybe a little out of curiosity.

Spreading out a USFS map on the hood of my Jeep, I ask her whether 1) this area is USFS land, not private; 2) this Low Standard Road goes through to this marked spring, even though the map says it doesn't; and 3) this spring has fresh water. Yes, Susan replies, to all of it. She says they run cattle through there, but stopped using that old road over the years as it deteriorated and instead access the spring from the other side. But she thinks I can get still get through on a mountain bike. She adds that her family installed a pipe to directly access that spring and that fresh spring water flows continuously all year.

Well, alright! How's that for local intel! Thanks, Susan!

Another part of the "not-on-a-map" connector.

Of course, I hop on my bike to check it out. The Low Standard Road flows smoothly along a mellow meadow for the first 2-3 miles, before dissipating into solid knee-high grass. Looking at the land and my maps, I reckon the "road" must generally go this way, if it's going through. So, I hack my way through the grass for a bit before spotting the makings of a road ahead.

This must be the way, but now it's rough. Rocky. Loose. Sometimes steep. But it's definitely an old road and it's heading in the right direction. And it's rideable, at least on my unloaded mountain bike.

Sure enough, after about a mile of that rough stuff up and over a ridge, I emerge onto an actual Low Standard Road and drop into another meadow. There it is. A large water tank fed by a pipe with steadily flowing water. Cool beans.

Although the water in the tank looks a bit saucy, there's a pipe feeding fresh spring water into it.

What a day! I find a really nifty, unmapped connector that very few people likely know about, let alone ride, and that pops out to a reliable source of fresh spring water. There's even ample space to disperse camp along the meadow, if desired. This connector solves some big routing issues for me and will be a nice add to the trip.

I lightly spin back to my Jeep to find Susan and her family picking up their shuttle truck. She introduces me to everyone and asks what I think about the road and water. And they all want to hear more about the bikepacking trip. They live right out here and are excited to see others enjoying this special place.

I just want to hear what it's like to be a grade schooler herding cattle by horseback through the forest. That sounds like a grand adventure to me. Susan's grandson shrugs. All in a day's work.

As usual, the best connection made today is with the people met along the way.



Everyday People, Sly & The Family Stone (1968).

Thursday, August 4, 2022

A Simple Cup Of Coffee

I will follow him,
Follow him wherever he may go,
And near him I always will be,
For nothing can keep me away,
He is my destiny.
I Will Follow Him, Frank Pourcel, Paul Mauriat, Arthur Altman & Norman Gimbel (1962).

Sitting at a picnic table by the Berlin Wall Memorial on a gorgeous Saturday morning, I fire up the stove to brew my first cup of coffee. The city is slowly awakening, as walkers, runners, and cyclists occasionally pass by. This is a peaceful little spot away from the main bike path, so most probably don't notice me sitting there in the shade.

But one guy did. He was walking directly from Rapid Creek across the grass some distance from me toward the Civic Center parking lot. Carrying a gas station coffee cup and a small towel over his shoulder, he smiles and waves. I acknowledge and yell, "Would you like a cup of hot coffee? I'll make it right here!"

No hesitation. He strides right over to me and changes my day.

John preparing to leave for his next calling.

As he approaches, I see a face that simply glows with peace and joy. He thanks me for the invitation and wants to know all about me and what I'm doing. I tell him this is simply an early start to this month's #CoffeeOutside - Rapid City, an informal, outdoor gathering of the local cycling community over coffee. I'd be happy to brew a fresh cup for him. And here's some relatively healthy treats to go with it.

He says it all looks awesome. His name is John, but he really wants to hear more about Coffee Outside and how I brew coffee right there on a picnic table. So, I talk of our little community and go through my process with a JetBoil stove, freshly ground coffee, and AeroPress filtering system. With his first sip, he closes his eyes and sighs deeply, "Ahh. That's good coffee." Then, he slowly starts to talk.

CoffeeOutside groups in the United States.
(image from pathlesspedaled.com)

John is a man currently living out of a truck, but he's not broke and he's not homeless. Far from it. He's a man on a mission.

Not long ago, John worked a steady construction job in Chicago, lived in a good part of town, and thought he had the world by the tail. When a girlfriend started dabbling in meth, John joined that scene and quickly spiraled out of control. Darkness and hopelessness enveloped his world, threatening his very life. 

Somehow, at those depths, John saw a light. He saw Jesus. He gave his life to Jesus and instantly changed.

John sold or gave away most everything, packed up a few things in his truck, and asked God where to go to serve. Right then, as he was leaving Chicago on I-90 near O'Hare Airport, the music in his truck abruptly stopped and an electronic billboard overhead flashed "Nebraska, The Good Life."

So, John headed to Nebraska and, along the way, learned of the store in White Clay that sells millions of cans of beer annually to residents of Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. That's it. He drove directly to Pine Ridge, knowing nobody there and nothing of the culture.

Initially facing opposition and even hostility, John says that he simply made himself available to others, served as able, and eventually was accepted by the community. About a month later, John heard a new calling to go to Rapid City. So, he reluctantly left Pine Ridge.

In Rapid City, he immediately landed a construction job and continued to serve. He had been here for about a month before hearing his next calling to go to Polson, Montana. Again, John reluctantly decided to leave because he believed that's where God called him to go.

Before John left Rapid City, however, a local minister agreed to baptize him. That's why John carried a small towel. He had just been baptized in Rapid Creek moments before stopping by for coffee. Wow.

That explains his sparkling eyes, undeniable joy, and inner peace. John is a new man with a servant's heart. And he's out there listening to God's voice and following it.

What a blessing to share this time with him. All starting with a simple cup of coffee.

Go, in peace, John. Praise God.

I Will Follow Him, Peggy March (1963)

I Will Follow Him, Sister Act (1992).


Friday, July 29, 2022

Jessica's Great Divide

I just want to celebrate another day of livin'
I just want to celebrate another day of life.

I Just Want To Celebrate, Dino Fekaris & Nick Fesses (1971)


Even though I'm back in the Black Hills excited to be scouting roads for a new adventure, the Great Divide occasionally pops into my world. And it's great fun.

Last summer, Jessica Shadduck of Omaha, Nebraska rode the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route starting at the Canadian border with a friend, who stopped in Northern Colorado. Undeterred, Jessica soldiered on, riding solo for weeks to cross the rest of Colorado and all of New Mexico, finishing in Antelope Wells. In a recently published article, she candidly expresses her battles to overcome a host of physical and mental challenges. It's quite a story. Jessica's Great Divide.

For me, this is not just another Great Divide travelogue. I met Jessica on the Great Divide, leap frogging a few times across New Mexico. That girl has grit. And she knows how to celebrate.

Jessica packing up for the climb up Polvadera Mesa.
The Resort At The River, Abiqui, New Mexico.
I didn't realize she was in this picture until reviewing my Abiqui pictures for this post.


I met Jessica at the Gold Pan Cafe in Platoro, Colorado, a popular rest stop for Great Divide riders after the big climb over 11,910' Indiana Pass. I had arrived a couple of hours earlier, rented the Great Divide Cyclist Only cabin, cleaned and dried everything from a rainy day, and started a big burger meal when she dragged in sometime after 6 pm. 

Although looking every bit the trail weary traveler at the end of a long day in the midst of a very long journey, Jessica was in good spirits. She chatted a bit, but was on a mission to re-fuel, re-supply, and return to the route. In no time, she was back on the bike to pedal off a few more miles that day and maybe into the night.

At her pace, I never expected to see her again. But a few days later and 150 miles down the trail, there she was in Abiqui at the Resort At The River. I caught up only because she crashed and absolutely smashed her rim, rendering the bike unrideable. Take a look at that rim in her article. With no bike shop within carrier pigeon range, she didn't panic and she didn't call it quits. She somehow managed, with enough time and persistence, to straighten that rim enough to hold a tire under pressure on a bike under load. Trailside. Wow. That's self-supported bikepacking.

Jessica was still sorting through some minor mechanical issues the next day when I started the climb to Polvadera Mesa, which I consider the toughest climb of the entire route. See The Toughest Climb. Hours later, as I pushed my bike up a steep, rocky, loose pitch in the heat of the day, Jessica lightly spun by and cheered me on. Thanks, Jessica, go get that hill! She soon disappeared over a ridge and I certainly did not expect to see her after that.

Seven days and about 500 miles later, I'm on the home stretch to the Mexican border. As that reality gradually took shape, a crazy number and variety of thoughts and emotions bombarded my senses. But not one of them involved sharing the moment with another Great Divide cyclist. After all, I have not seen another cyclist in over a week and only 3 others since Platoro almost two weeks ago.

What happened next made my day and even landed on a short list of my Top 10 Moments on the Great Divide. I'll simply copy here what I wrote in the prior post Top 10

8. Jessica's Joy
As I'm riding the last few miles into Hachita, New Mexico, maybe 50 empty miles from the Mexican border, I see a dusty four door clunker approaching me from the south. The sketchy car slows, so I slow almost to a stop well ahead of it, peer into it, mind the doors and windows, and instinctively ready my bear spray. The car abruptly stops. The front passenger door flies open. 

"CRRAAAAIIG!!!!!" screams a woman, as she runs toward me, arms flung to the sky. HEY! It's Jessica, another south bound Great Divide rider whom I met 13 days ago in Platoro, Colorado. She rode to Antelope Wells today and was in a shuttle on her way home. Jessica is just bursting with energy. So excited. So happy. So enthusiastic. For finishing her big ride. For me about to finish mine. For everyone else out there. For life. She is pure, unrestrained, unadulterated JOY! I believe she would have hopped back on her bike to ride back to Antelope Wells with me, if her driver hadn't nudged her back into the car. Jessica, you are a gem.


Jessica's Great Divide article is compelling, because of her and her journey. And it's more than that to me. Thank you, Jessica, for sharing your experience and bringing yet more smiles.



I Just Want To Celebrate, Rare Earth live on The Midnight Special (1973).


Friday, July 15, 2022

Bikepack Solo & Change Your Life

Well, I know what's right, 
I got just one life,
In a world that keeps on pushing me around,
But I'll stand my ground, 
And I won't back down.

I Won't Back Down, Tom Petty & Jeff Lynne (1989)

Somewhere in the Black Hills on Day 1.
(photo by Heather Heynen)

I recently read about a cyclist completing a 3 day solo, self-navigated bikepacking trip on a self-created route from home that covered 193 miles and 16,000 feet of elevation gain on every kind of surface. Depending on the cyclist and the nature of the route, those statistics could represent anything from a leisurely weekend to a hard earned best. Yeah, so what?

Look beyond the numbers. A self-created route. From home. Self-navigated. Bikepacking. Solo. Not so common, any more. This was not a pre-packaged, all-inclusive guided tour, not a celebrated race with "Grand Depart" hoopla and widespread social media coverage, and not even an event with a trophy t-shirt. Just a committed, self-sufficient cyclist out pursuing a passion.

Dispersed campsite somewhere in the Black Hills.
(photo by Heather Heynen)

On top of all that, what's really special about this ride is the story of this particular cyclist facing and overcoming her fears just to start, and then to keep at it. Along the way, she discovers that bikepacking solo repeatedly draws you into the present, pushing aside worries of past or future. Learning to truly live in the moment is life changing. Thankfully, she eloquently expresses her thoughts in a heartfelt blog post that deserves a wide audience. How Going Solo Will Change Your Life, by Heather Heynen

In today's insta-squawk world of video sound bites, her blog post may look long. Do not be deceived. Reading her message is well worth the time.

But be warned. You may be inspired to face your own fears.


I Won't Back Down, Tom Petty (1989) 
Backed by George Harrison, Ringo Starr & Jeff Lynne


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)