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Sunday, October 8, 2017

Enjoy the Show

Out riding around the western reaches of the Black Hills on a gorgeous autumn afternoon, I wander over remote roads through golden forests of aspen, ripened meadows of grass, and bellicose herds of cattle. Oh, some of these roads may or may not find their way onto a return loop for the Black Hills BackBone or another gravel ride. I check maps and take notes, but I'm out there mainly to ride. To just enjoy the show.

This did not happen by chance.

Cherishing an autumn afternoon riding in the Black Hills.
This past week, with baseball in the air, I watched for the first time the movie "MoneyBall."  This is the story of Billy Beane, an actual major league baseball player, scout and executive, who is consumed by a fear of failure that overwhelms everything else in his life. His drive to challenge conventional thinking, and his eventual success, changes the game of baseball. However, he cannot see his own success.

As much as I enjoyed the movie, the father-daughter scenes hit the hardest. In the movie's final scene, Billy plays a CD recording his young daughter made for him, as he considers a $12.5 million job offer from the Boston Red Sox that requires a cross-country move away from her. She plays guitar and sings a popular song, modified slightly for her dad. Here's a few lines:

"I'm just a little girl lost in the moment,
I'm so scared, but I don't show it.
I can't figure it out, it's bringing me down
I know, I've got to let it go,
and just enjoy the show."

Sometimes, we strive so hard to achieve, we don't recognize success, let alone appreciate the journey.

Just enjoy the show.

Daughter Casey Beane playing for her dad Billy.

Here's a link to a video of the MoneyBall final scenes.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Clearing Cobwebs

Nothing clears the cobwebs quite like roaming around back roads.

With some time off and no commitments, I turn to the Black Hills and surrounding prairie to just get out there.  Plenty of amazing roads and near-roads all over, but I focused on the Western Black Hills around Jewel Cave National Monument and the Southern Prairie south of Edgemont.

On bike, on foot, behind the wheel. Several hundred miles, one way or another, over a few days.

Got out there. Got lost. Got stuck. Got tired. Got thirsty. Got back.

Cobwebs cleared.

Out exploring secondary USFS roads north of Jewel Cave National Monument.

Stretching the definition of both "gravel" and "road."

Some fall foliage hanging on in the lower elevations of the Southern Black Hills.

Cool and wet earlier in the week.

Emerging from a Southern Hills Canyon.

Southern Hills meadows.

Red Canyon Road, Fall River County Road 15.

Boys Club.

Old schoolhouse out in the Southern Prairie near the Nebraska border.

New paint scheme - Back Roads Fade with Splatter option.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

A BackBone Photo Essay

Sometimes the words get in the way.

Here's a collection of photographs showcasing the Black Hills BackBone. Maybe this will better convey the unique beauty of this remote road ride.


A forested island surrounded by the expansive prairie. Picnic Springs USFS campground near the North Dakota border.


A Dakota Marker stands as a lone sentry on the North Dakota - South Dakota border.

Road sign at the North Dakota border, looking like a tough old tree above timberline.


Ere the sun rises! Breathe deep the freedom of the wide open Northern Prairie.



More so than individuals, herds of buffalo inspire wonder, knowing that their ancestors filled the northern plains.



Harding, South Dakota. A stop on the Medora-Deadwood Stage Coach Line. A few years back.


Harding County gravel stretches toward the horizon, revealing the first promise of the distant Black Hills.



Geographic Center of the United States, marked by a sincere tribute to the curious curiosity.


Seemingly no end to the Northern Prairie gravel.


The gravel thickens, as the road turns through deciduous trees, up and into the foothills on Crooked Oaks Road.


 A couple of miles of non-maintained dirt on Sale Barn Road behave in the dry heat of mid-summer. Try this road wet.


Typical two track Black Hills gravel on USFS secondary roads. Maybe 100 miles of stuff like this.


Black Fox Camp Road. Simply the best.


Signature shot of the Black Hills BackBone, cresting the shoulders of Flag Mountain.


Rolling over White Tail Loop for the sights, sounds and smells of Deerfield Lake, as well as a primitive water stop.


Early morning start on Williams Draw Road. I don't see any mountain lions. Well, at least not here.



Harney Peak and Crazy Horse Memorial from Custer Limestone Road. Worth the extra climb for that ridge line view.


Gravel through classic Central Hills granite. Now we're cruising.


More classic Central Black Hills granite. Uphill this time.


Flying down Flynn Creek Road, the valley opens.



Cold Springs School House, Church and Cemetery. 1887 structures fully restored back in 1965.


Prairie Dog suburbs extend into the gravel roads in Wind Cave National Park.


Local fast guys. You know who they are.


Local boss.  In his territory.


Rankin Ridge Road in Wind Cave National Park, en route to Buffalo Gap and the Southern Prairie.


At the Buffalo Gap Trading Post, Shaun exalts, "These are my people!"


Nasty steep out of Oral, en route to steep rollers on Ash Road.


The billowing ribbon of snow-lined gravel fades to dirt as the BackBone reaches for the Nebraska border.


A solar powered light for the American flag, off Black Banks Road, 4 miles from the border.


Sunset at the Nebraska border.


Finish line.


















































Thursday, August 17, 2017

Route Tweaks + New Cue Sheets = Road Trip

Riding the Black Hills BackBone over the Fourth of July weekend, I resolve to re-route as much of Tinton Road as possible. Although climbing a boat load of elevation out of the Spearfish foothills is just part of getting into the Black Hills, the heavy, fast, unfriendly traffic on the lower parts of Tinton Road does not fit the design concept of this remote road ride. Back to the drawing board.

The most appealing gravel road up O'Neil Pass is Grand Canyon Road, which Kristi and Perry Jewett take for each of the 70, 110 and 210 mile courses of the Gold Rush Gravel Grinder. Unfortunately, Grand Canyon Road wanders into Wyoming for quite a while. That's a deal killer here. For better or worse, the BackBone is a ride across South Dakota, from the North Dakota border to the Nebraska border, without a zig or even a zag into Wyoming.

One could enter the Black Hills by riding gravel on lower elevations to the east, but I want to avoid the pavement and development around Lead, and the BackBone needs to go over the high point of O'Neil Pass, not around it. That limits options, no doubt. There's Higgins Gulch, a more narrow, less traveled gravel road that climbs gradually and merges eventually with Tinton Road just past the Big Hill Trailhead. Eliminating McGuigan Road and the lower part of Tinton Road is a big positive, even though the turn onto Higgins Gulch from Hills View Road is easy to miss, especially in the dark. I'll go with that, even though about 17 miles of Tinton Road remain to climb.

As long as you don't fly past the turn, Higgins Gulch Road is a definite improvement over the lower part of Tinton Road.
Since I'm changing part of the BackBone route, I decide to take a hard look at all of it. The Black Hills offer so many possibilities, but I've spent significant effort over time creating this cross state gravel route. Not surprisingly, many miles I like a lot and some miles are needed to connect those.

After several hours of pouring over maps and pictures of our Fourth of July ride, I decide on but one additional change. South of Custer, the BackBone climbs on paved Sydney Park Road for about 4 miles before turning onto graveled Flynn Creek Road, a definite keeper. A slightly longer route to Flynn Creek Road turns off Sydney Park Road, after just a mile or so, onto Hazel Root Cut-Off Road and then onto Glen Erin Road, which eventually merges with Flynn Creek Road shortly before the Cicero Peak spur. Lucas Haan took folks through here as part of the Custer race at the stellar Black Hills Gravel Series. A Six Course Feast. Less pave, less traffic, more remote, more rocks. Perfect.

Glen Erin Road adds a little distance, but a lot of style.
With those two modifications to the route, I need to update the cue sheets. I could simply measure those changes and graft them into the existing cue sheets. But that just doesn't seem right. I need to drive the entire BackBone, in one continuous drive, to create a new set of accurate cue sheets and to confirm the fun factor of those new roads. 

Well alrighty then. Road trip. With a full thermos of coffee, a cooler of Gatoraid, a box of snacks, a camera, a pile of maps, and a clip board holding a blank cue sheet form, I drive out of Rapid City before 3:00 am on a Saturday, destined for the North Dakota border. About three hours later, I stop at the familiar Dakota Marker, set the Trip Odometer to 0.0, and start south. At every turn, I double check road signs and distances. This is going to take awhile.

No end in sight. Harding County gravel.
Memories stir as the miles pass. I drive by Gayle Penn's house in Harding, but don't knock on her door since it's not yet 7:00 am. So, I leave a note with a package from Essence of Coffee. I once warned her that if anyone else ever rides the BackBone, they will probably be looking for some water. But I know she'd offer coffee, too.

Before long, I cross the primo gravel of the Northern Prairie and carefully negotiate Sale Barn Road and Lookout Mountain Road, two non-maintained dirt roads in the foothills. I then stop in Spearfish for a late breakfast and head out for Higgins Gulch. The directions are simple enough, but if you miss the turn, you're riding into Wyoming. The road itself is much more pleasant than the early miles of Tinton Road. This is a definite improvement.

Cruising down South Rapid Creek Road, I round a corner to find this rushing toward my windshield.
Fortunately, I squeeze between the main trunk and that aspen tree, and then bounce over the top of the downed tree.
An abrupt reminder of surprise obstacles on back roads with short sight lines.
Over O'Neil Pass, the roads are much less developed and much slower to drive. But I'm having fun, taking it all in from the driver's seat of an air conditioned car. Nice change of perspective. Some hours later, I take a lunch break in Custer before scouting the re-route on Glen Erin Road. In addition to eliminating about three miles of pavement, this re-route more quickly moves one from the touristy bustle of Custer to a quiet, barely graveled, narrow remote road. Sweet.

View of Harney Peak and Crazy Horse from Custer Limestone Road.


























Once out of the Black Hills, the roads get faster again on primo prairie gravel crossing the Southern Prairie. Before long, I'm at the Nebraska border. The actual measured total distance of the BackBone now is 310.5 miles. That's a bike ride, regardless of how long it takes.

But I'm not done for the day. I sit at the end of a dead-end road at NothingThere, Nebraska, more than a couple of hours from Rapid City. By the time I get home, it's 7:00 pm. Yeah, a 16 hour day on the road, just for a couple of re-routes for something that nobody else will probably ever ride. Shuffling into the house, I tell my wife, "Do NOT let me do that again." She just laughs at me.

End of the line.  Now, we can go home.



Turn
Direction
Road
Miles
Total
-
S
Table Mountain Road (733)
0.0
0.0
R
W
Table Mountain Road (733)
1.6
1.6
R
W
Ladner Road
7.2
8.8
L
S
continue on Ladner Road
4.2
13.0
-
S
straight on Bullock Road
2.0
15.0
R
W
Bullock Road
7.7
 22.7 
L
S
Bullock Road
2.8
25.5
R
W
U.S. Highway 20 - pave
8.0
33.5
L
S
Harding Road
0.6
34.1
-
S
HARDING - STOP WATER
13.0
47.1
R
W
Old Highway 85
17.3
64.4
-
S
GEOGRAPHIC CENTER OF THE U.S.
14.4
78.8
L
E
U.S. Highway 85 - pave
7.8
86.6
R
E
Brooker Road
0.5
87.1
R
S
Arpan Road
7.3
94.4
-
S
Arpan Road - pave
9.3
103.7
R
W
U.S. Highway 212 - pave
3.6
107.3
L
S
Fruitdale Road - pave
1.7
109.0
-
S
Fruitdale Road
1.7
110.7
L
E
Snowma Road
1.1
111.8
R
S
Crooked Oaks Road
0.7
112.5
L
E
Sale Barn Road
5.6
118.1
R
S
Sale Barn Road
2.2
120.3
-
-
Sale Barn Road - pave
0.2
120.5
R
N
U.S. Highway 34 - pave
0.5
121.0
L
W
St. Onge Cutoff Road (196th Street)
1.9
122.9
L
S
Lookout Mountain Road
4.0
126.9
R
W
Kerwin Lane
2.8
129.7
L
S
U.S. Highway 85 - pave
1.9
131.6
R
W
Hills View Road - pave
1.7
133.3
-
-
SPEARFISH - WATER
-
133.3
-
W
Hills View Road - pave
-
133.3
    L
S
Higgins Gulch Road (214)
2.5
135.8
  R
S
Tinton Road (134)
12.1
147.9
R
W
U.S. Highway 85 - pave
16.9
164.8
L
S
O'Neil Pass Road (391)
1.7
166.5
L
S
South Rapid Creek Road (231)
0.8
167.3
R
W
Black Fox Camp Road (233)
11.4
178.7
L
E
Flag Mountain Road (189)
5.4
184.1
R
S
South Rochford Road
7.0
191.1
-
S
South Rochford Road - pave
0.6
191.7
L
E 
Deerfield Lake Road - pave
1.0
192.7
L
N
White Tail Loop (USFS 421)
1.7
194.4
-
E
WHITE TAIL CAMPGROUND (USFS) - WATER
1.0
195.4
R
W
Deerfield Lake Road - pave
0.9
196.3
L
S
Williams Draw Road
0.3
196.6
R
W
Six Mile Draw Road
8.0
204.6
L
S
Ditch Creek Road (291)
0.2
204.8
L
E
Custer Limestone Road (284)
9.5
214.3
R
S
Upper French Creek Road (286)
5.7
220.0
L
E
U.S. Highway 16 - pave
5.9
225.9
R
S
6th Street - pave (1 block) HARBACH CITY PARK - WATER
1.8
227.7
-
N
1 block back to U.S. Highway 16
0.1
227.8
R
E
U.S. Highway 16 - pave
0.1
227.9
R
S
Sidney Park Road (793) - pave
1.6
229.5
L
E
Hazelroot Cut-Off Road (343)
1.3
230.8
R
S
Glen Erin Road (337)
2.6
233.4
L
E
Flynn Creek Road (336)
4.7
238.1
L
E
Beaver Creek Road (391)
8.6
246.7
L
N
U.S. Highway 87 - pave
1.1
247.8
R
E
Rankin Ridge Road (NPS 5)
2.0
249.8
L
E
7-11 Road (101)
10.3
260.1
S
R
In Buffalo Gap - 4th Street
5.0
265.1
R
L
Elm Street
S
R
2nd Street
-
-
BUFFALO GAP TRADING POST - WATER
0.1
265.2
-
S
Buffalo Gap Road
-
265.2
L
E
Fall River County 2 - pave
7.1
272.3
R
S
Ash Road
1.5
273.8
L
E
Hay Canyon Road
3.0
276.8
R
S
Sand Creek Road (Fall River County Road 2)
1.0
277.8
L
E
Smithwick Road
4.1
281.9
R
S
North Butte Road (Fall River County Road 2)
0.4
282.3
R
W
Milligan Road
9.1
291.4
L
S
Old Highway 79
1.1
292.5
R
W
Antelope Lane
1.0
293.5
L
S
Hard Scrabble Road
4.0
297.5
R
W
Black Bank Road
2.0
299.5
L
S
continue on Black Bank Road
2.0
301.5
-
S
Dakota Line Road - STOP SIGN FINISH
9.0
310.5