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Friday, May 20, 2016

Compelled to Evaluate

A good pilot is compelled to evaluate what's happened, so he can apply what he's learned.  Up there, we gotta push it.  That's our job.  Viper, from Top Gun.

While far from a Navy fighter pilot defending Western civilization, I cannot stop thinking about my run at the Black Hills BackBone shortened by freezing rain.  There are so many variables to weigh when selecting gear to carry for 300+ miles on a bike ride.  I thought I'd struck the right balance.  I was right, and wrong.

All smiles at NoWhere, North Dakota, for the noon start, a nod to the old 24 hour mountain bike races.
The first 100 miles or so of the BackBone starkly expose one to the elements.  With a noon start, this day offered a fabulous start, with mild temperatures (75-85 degrees) and relatively light winds (15-20 mph).  Bison, deer and antelope.  And the skies were not cloudy all day.

For those 8 hours, I wore a basic mid-summer kit of a short sleeve jersey, shorts, wool socks, cyclocross shoes and short fingered gloves, with a wind jacket in a jersey pocket.  That was plenty.   Before the sun and temperatures dropped too much, I stopped to add another layer to core and hands.  Again, that was plenty for the next 30 some miles into Spearfish for a midnight snack.

On the roll, with the Black Hills on the horizon ahead and a hint of Bear Butte between the spokes.
Enjoying some hot food and drink at a convenience store, I emptied my Revelate Designs Terrapin bag.  Just for the core:  arm warmers, a Voler long sleeved thermal undershirt, a Voler thermal winter jacket, and a Showers Pass rain jacket.  For legs:  leg warmers and Showers Pass rain pants.  For the head:  a polypro head band, cap and balaclava.  For the hands:  wool gloves and rain shells.  For the feet:  rain shells.  Everything goes on.  With a forecast of upper 30 degrees, no wind and no rain overnight into the Black Hills, I'm confident I'll stay warm for the 30 mile climb to O'Neil Pass.

Shortly after leaving Spearfish, however, the wind awoke, the temperatures plummeted and the freezing rain attacked.  Not expected, but not a big deal.  I was ready.

About an hour and a half later, I was shivering and on the hunt for any kind of shelter.  What happened?  The freaky freezing rain failed to penetrate the exemplary Showers Pass rain gear, but exposed an unsuspected chink in my gear armor:  the rain shells for my hands and feet.  Both were generic rain shells I have carried for years without a problem, but I rarely used them in the arid West.  I simply did not realize that their useful life had expired.  Hands and feet got wet, then cold, then frozen.  The rest of the body followed.

Time to update and upgrade.  Showers Pass rain covers for the feet and Marmot Mountain Works rain shells for the hands.  With that simple addition to my arsenal, I believe I have the right gear for another run at the Black Hills BackBone later in the summer.  We'll see.

Friday, May 13, 2016

A Sudden Turn

A turn so quick and decisive.  How did that happen?  Just like that, in what seemed like a moment, my run at the Black Hills BackBone was over at 143 miles.

At about 03:00 this morning, while churning up the long climb on Tinton Road en route to O'Neil Pass, an unexpected freezing rain and driving snow, at 28 degrees, enveloped me.  I thought I was prepared.  I thought I could ride it out.  Even after an hour of battling through, I thought I could wait it out a bit in a trail head shelter.  But it didn't stop.  And it was too wet and too cold.  Almost two hours later, with no prospects of let up and shivering beyond my control, I called Shaun for an extraction.

It didn't start out this way.

No limits.
I start at the North Dakota border at noon, a nod to the old 24 hour mountain bike races, after hitching a ride from our NDSU daughter, Chani.  Sunny, 75 degrees, practically no wind for these parts (15-20 mph).  The first 100 miles fly by in about 8 hours, pretty quick for me on a bike loaded for a 300+ mile ride.  I could actually visualize the finish at the Nebraska border.

Bison herd in Harding County.
The next 33 miles to Spearfish takes longer, as I stop a couple of times to adjust layers for the dropping temperatures and rising winds.  The terrain also leaps from horizontal to vertical, with an increasing quantity and quality of steeps.  Whoever designed this course has a mean streak.

Dropping into Spearfish shortly after midnight, I replenish water at a convenience store, enjoy some hot food and drink, reconfigure gear for the long night ahead and assess status.  I am a normal tired, given the roads covered and energy expended, but fully engaged in go-mode.  It is colder than forecast, but not a lot.  The 30 mile climb up O'Neil pass should keep the fires stoked, the sun will rise and another glorious day awaits ahead in the heart of the Hills.  Sounds like a plan.

It is, until it isn't.  Shortly after climbing out of Spearfish and turning onto Tinton Road, the sprinkles start.  Not enough to turn around, when I still could.  Sprinkles turn to flakes, which I actually take as a positive.  But the snow brings a nasty companion.  Freezing rain.  Oh, it starts as a light drizzle, hidden amongst the snow flakes.  But they eventually conspire with the cold to drive me into that shelter.  Once stopped for any length of time, my ride is over.

That was a great ride on the Northern Prairie section of the Black Hills BackBone, maybe the best conditions one could reasonably expect.  Those were hard lessons entering the Black Hills.

The course record remains open.

A scene as bad as this picture ended this run at the Black Hills BackBone.