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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