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Thursday, July 27, 2017

Three Days of BackBone (part 4) - Up and Into the Black Hills

Battling heat and winds over a long summer day, our intrepid little band struggles to cross the sun baked Northern Prairie to reach the foothills near Spearfish on the first day of our three day Black Hills BackBone.  But, cross it we do.  After a relaxing evening at a luxurious BnB with our Support Team, we awake to the challenge of Day 2 - the hot, dusty, relentless climb up Tinton Road to 6,683 foot O'Neil Pass, followed by miles of up and down on Forest Service back roads deep into the heart of the Black Hills.  Looks to be another big day on the BackBone.

Part 1 - An Idea Takes ShapePart 2 - GatheringPart 3 - Crossing the Northern Prairie.

Just a tad past warming up on Tinton Road, ultimately destined for O'Neil Pass.
But first, we return to Fruitdale, some twenty miles back up the BackBone route, to pick up where we stopped short of Spearfish last night.  Breaking brightly, the day looks to be similar to yesterday.  Calm and 50 degrees early, with winds building well into the 20's and temperatures rising well into the 90's.  Lots of sun.  Little shade.  And today, lots of up.  The sooner we get on, and off, that 30 miles of Tinton Road the better.

Back at Fruitdale, refreshed and renewed for Day 2.
(photo by Corinne Sorge)
Legs feel better than expected this morning and spirits are high.  The recuperative effects of a relaxing evening are remarkable, especially with a Support Team catering to everything.  We ride like the start of yesterday's ride, not the end.  By today's end, we'd love to pedal into Custer, but more realistically we aim for Deerfield Lake, still sitting 82 miles and a boat load of elevation gain away. 

Recognizing his current level of conditioning, Shaun decides to maximize his ride today by riding with us the 20 miles to Spearfish, shuttling the 30 miles to the top of O'Neil Pass and rejoining us for the following 32 miles to Deerfield Lake.  That works out to a solid 5 hours and 52 rough road miles for him, after yesterday's grueling 79 prairie miles.  Sounds like a rational plan.

Well, no, actually.  The BackBone goes left.  No surprise.
(photo concept by Rob Sorge)
Turning south onto Crooked Oaks Road, we spin up the first hills of the day.  Now we enter the foothills of the Black Hills, with winding roads carving up and around oak covered hills.  Relative to yesterday's Northern Prairie, here the grades are substantially steeper, the gravel thicker, the turns tighter and the sight lines shorter.  These more punchy, more technical roads offer a fun beginning to what promises to be another big day.

We drop down a ridge to turn left, contrary to an insistent road sign, onto a rutted, two track dirt road marked with an ominous "Impassable When Wet" sign.  It's Sale Barn Road, a 2 mile shortcut for local ranchers hauling cattle to the St. Onge stock market.  The BackBone route meanders east around the Belle Fouche Reservoir for several miles primarily to pick up this short stretch of rough road.  It's my tribute to Mark Stevenson, aka Guitar Ted, and his TransIowa, the grand daddy of modern gravel events.  Know that, when wet, this dirt road is a real bear.  Fortunately, today it's mid-summer dry and only occasionally and moderately rutted.  Still, I smile just thinking of all those TransIowa stories over the years.  Here's to you, Mark, O Keeper of the Gravel Flame.

Not much of a challenge in today's mid-summer heat, but Sale Barn Road is a different road when wet.
We emerge at the St. Onge stock market and roll over to Lookout Mountain Road, another non-maintained dirt road en route to Spearfish.  This one stares straight up a rutted wall, reminiscent of the crazy, steep, gouged dirt roads prevalent at the legendary Odin's Revenge.  Even though it's really just one steep pitch and it's dry today, this is my BackBone tribute to that remarkable event, Chad Quigley (the dastardly mastermind behind it), and his crew Team DSG.  Odin's Revenge remains my all-time favorite gravel event.  Odin's Revenge - One Rider's Retrospective.

Like Sale Barn Road, Lookout Mountain Road is not much of a challenge today.
But that wall ahead is nearly unwalkable when wet.  Not unlike any number of dirt roads at Odin's Revenge.
Coasting down from Lookout Mountain Road into Spearfish, we ride across town and run into McGuigan Road, the paved precursor to the graveled Tinton Road.  Shade disappears.  Climbing commences.  With altogether too few and too short exceptions, we face a hot, shadeless, dusty, relentless climb for the next 30 miles.

It certainly does not help matters that we start this climb after 10:00 am.  It's already hot and the holiday weekend vehicle traffic, both up and down, kicks up dust and detracts from the serenity of what, up to now, has been a quiet, remote road ride.  We settle in for a long, tough one.

Shortly after we reach gravel, Lori and Corinne help Rob find something, anything, to help get up this relentless climb.
Just as this climb is getting a little annoying, a late model luxury car traveling downhill slows to a crawl as it approaches me.  A perfected coiffed, impeccably dressed middle-aged woman powers down her window, musters all the disgust and disdain within her considerable reserve, and haughtily barks, "You DO know there is a BIKE trail right over THERE!"  Knowing that she is referring to the renowned single track Tinton Trail off a bit into the woods, I smile broadly and answer politely, "Yes, Ma'am!  Thank you!"  She shakes her head in utter disbelief and accelerates away.

That's a sure sign we're on the wrong road at the wrong time.  I never, not ever, receive that kind of treatment on truly remote roads.  Here For Each Other.  I commit right then to reconsider this part of the route.  For now, we soldier on, stopping occasionally if we find a patch of shade.  Mostly, we just grind up a long climb on a hot, dusty, relatively busy gravel road.  As the old Tour de France line goes, "Kilometers passing like kidney stones."

Early lunch at Old Baldy Trailhead.  We're ready for a change.  Of anything.  Of everything.
We eventually grind up past Big Hill and then Old Baldy, where we stop for an extended lunch break.  That helps, but it's hard to start up again in this heat.  We do.  And then, after we stop for a spell, we do again.  And then, again.  And, again.  We grind.  We growl.  We snort.  We endure.  When we finally turn onto U.S. Highway 85, the TransAm Highway, we know that we took all that Tinton Road threw at us today and came out on top.

Dave and Rob find their smiles today after turning off Tinton Road.
It's likely that Tinton Road will be cursed over beers for many years to come.  Maybe the guy who took them there, too.
Shaun joins us at O'Neil Pass Road for the rollicking descent on South Rapid Creek Road.  After that beat down inflicted by Tinton Road, it sure is good to see his big smile and hear his hearty encouragement.  It's also nice to see double digit speeds for a change.  We're cruising again.

Shaun and Dave stoked for Black Fox Camp Road.
(photo by Rob Sorge)
In seemingly no time, we turn west to ride right through Black Fox Campground, the site of the fun, creative Bikepack Extravaganza 17 earlier this year.  Bikepack Extravaganza 17.  Then it's a gradual incline on a rough road along a beaver dammed mountain stream framed by towering cliffs.  Yeah, this is Black Fox Camp Road, five of my favorite remote road miles anywhere.  For me, this alone is worth the climb up O'Neil Pass.

Cruising toward the top of Flag Mountain, we can finally start thinking of the final descent to Deerfield Lake.
Too soon, we leave that valley to climb over the tall shoulders of 6,939 foot Flag Mountain.  Legs are tired, but grades are gradual, with a couple of substantial drops along the way.  Maybe more importantly, temperatures relax with some gathering clouds.  Our spirits rise along with the elevation, for we know Deerfield Lake lies but a few miles away and well below us.  Rob and Dave freewheel out of sight, while I slow to gaze through the towering pines.  Thoughts wander.

There it is.  The big view of Gillette Prairie far below and the granite summit of Harney Peak on the horizon.  This is the signature shot for the Black Hills BackBone, as initially revealed almost three years ago.  Introducing the Black Hills BackBone.  I've been over this tall, broad shoulder many times, but this is the first time as part of a multi-day ride of the entire route.  I pause a bit to soak it in.  A quiet smile lingers.

High atop the shoulders of Flag Mountain, the remote road view that captures the heart of the Black Hills BackBone.
We plummet to Deerfield Lake, first on primo gravel and later on some pavement.  A few drops of rain fall as we pull in at White Tail Loop (USFS 421), really done for the day.  Earlier, we had decided to end today's ride there, so "Fresh Legs" Shaun rode ahead and connected with Jonis to retrieve the trucks for our shuttle to Custer.  However, through my communication snafu, they drive to a different spot.  With no cell phone coverage, we simply must wait for Shaun to work through possible alternatives to find us.  But he does and we load up without getting too wet.

Deep in the heart of the Black Hills, it's easy to forget that we started this day over 12 hours ago back in the foothills near Fruitdale, 20 miles short of Spearfish.  That's a lot of Black Hills behind us.  We cherish another relaxing night at a BnB, this time in Custer, where our Support Team awaits.  We eat, drink, shower and put our feet up in an old house, whose decor earns the nickname "Animal House."  But no Toga Party tonight.  We're cooked.  We're done.

No one talks much about riding tomorrow.  That's for tomorrow.

It's been a long time coming to reach this spot.  Worth a short pause.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Three Days of BackBone (part 3) - Crossing the Northern Prairie

A three year old daydream takes shape as a small group of friends gather at the Picnic Spring Campground for an early morning launch of a three day 300+ mile bike ride of the Black Hills BackBone.  All systems are go, but we know that everything must come together to successfully cross the starkly exposed northern prairie from NoWhere, North Dakota to the foothills of the Black Hills near Spearfish, about 133 miles away.  That's a lot of open country to cross in the middle of the summer.  Part 1 - An Idea Takes Shape.  Part 2 - Gathering.

Shaun Arritola, me, Dave Litzen and Rob Sorge at a Dakota Marker near the start of the Black Hills BackBone.
Our future's so bright.  (photo by Corinne Sorge) 
We awake before first light, with countless stars still filling the night sky.  No need for alarm clocks.  We're stoked to start this adventure.  We purposefully putz around with bikes, clothing, gear, food and water, while Corinne brews fresh coffee.  Now, there's a good start to the day.

Super Support Corinne Sorge fires up the stove to brew fresh coffee.
Before long, we load the shuttle trucks and pile in for the twenty mile drive to the border, beginning with a sparsely graveled near-road winding down a forested hidden valley.  As the morning sky lightens, we see that this is where the deer and antelope wake up to go play.  Rounding a corner, we drop into the vastness of this prairie, where we will spend the rest of a long day.

Always amiable shuttle driver Jonis Arritola patiently waits for us to unload bikes.
With Shaun in the background is North Dakota, not that it looks differently to the South.
We bee-line to the border, marked merely by a wind-shredded 45 mph speed limit sign sporting a "0" mile tag.  To the wind up here, that's not a limit, just a suggestion.  Fortunately, both winds and temperatures are mild this morning, as the sun breaks the horizon.  The forecast looks about as favorable as one could reasonably expect, but it's early July, so we know eventually it will be some degree of hot and windy.

More than ready to roll at the start of the Black Hills BackBone.
Notice the nearly vertical grass, showing practically no wind.  (photo by Corinne Sorge)
From the start line, we scan the prairie to spot a Dakota Marker, one of a series of quartzite columns embedded every one half mile along the entire length of the North Dakota - South Dakota border.  In addition to that historical significance, a replica Dakota Marker is the traveling trophy for the rivalry football game each year between the North Dakota State University Bison and South Dakota State University JackRabbits.  Now, that's a start line with personal meaning, since we have a daughter who is a varsity cheerleader for NDSU and another daughter who was a varsity cheerleader for SDSU.  Dakota Marker Start Line.

Here it is!  Out here!  We found it!  A Dakota Marker!
Time to ride.  It's about 50 degrees, there's a mild breeze from the NorthWest, and nothing but blue sky as we turn pedals shortly after 6:00 am on Table Mountain Road at the North Dakota border.  Our final destination lies over 300 remote road miles to the south at the Nebraska border.  But not today.  Today, we hope to reach Spearfish at about 133 miles, but we'll see what the day brings.

We spin easily over the early miles of gently rolling prairie with exceptionally long sight lines.  The swiftly rising sun reveals a cloudless sky filled with promise.  The only traffic out here is the prolific pronghorn antelope, who gracefully prance away as we sail through their territory.  The light wind always seems to be a bit of a cross wind, no matter our direction.  But it's still cool and the hard packed, lightly graveled roads feel fast and lively.

No limits.  Rolling through the vastness of Harding County on the Black Hills BackBone.
After a brisk paced four hours or so, we turn into the remnants of the town of Harding at about mile 47.  It's late morning, with rapidly rising temperatures and growing winds.  We're getting hot, dry and hungry.  Good time for a break.

Right on cue, there's Corinne and the Support Truck, with ice, cold drinks, food and everything else we need at the ready.  We replenish and restock, grateful for the support.

As we sprawl across the road shoulder, a rancher pulls up towing a trailer full of critters, wondering what's going on.  She lives "just down the road" and is a "next door neighbor" with Gayle Penn, the Harding rancher who saved my day on the first solo attempt of the BackBone in 2015.  A Rancher's Kindness.   Moments later, as we're about to pedal off, here comes Gayle hustling down her driveway, flagging us down.  Called by her neighbor, Gayle rushes out to meet everyone and to hear how we're doing.  Of course, she invites everyone inside, "out of this heat," for cold drinks and snacks.  But with temperatures rising and miles remaining, we reluctantly bid farewell after a delightful chat.  Corinne lingers a bit longer to fill all our water reservoirs with fresh, cool water from Gayle's deep well.  Thanks, Gayle!

Harding rancher Gayle Penn meets and greets the crazy cyclists pedaling through her town.
Gayle is an angel with a heart as big as the land she calls home.  Great to see you again, Gayle!  (photo by Corinne Sorge)
We roll generally south on primo prairie gravel, as the mid-day temperatures rise well into the 90's and the winds build well into the 20's.  Notwithstanding the great roads and gentle grades, we spin every bit of four more hours to cover the next 42 miles to the "true" Geographic Center of the United States at about mile 79.  Now, we're hot, tired and due for a long break, for which Corinne delivers made-to-order Subway sandwiches, chips and ice cold drinks.  Man, it's hot.

That last hot, windy stretch takes its toll on all of us, but especially on Shaun, who has already ridden more miles outside today than he has in total all year.  He plops down in a small patch of shade, assessing his day.  Shaun wants to keep riding, and I know he could ride into the evening and well into the night.  He would make Spearfish, but it would be late.  By this point, Shaun has ridden all the roads unknown to him, knows well the roads ahead and wants to ride as much as he can on Day 2 and on Day 3.  He reluctantly calls it a day.

Shaun is not alone.  Everyone is beat.  We try to refuel and rehydrate, but mostly just want to lay down and cool off.  There's little respite in this treeless expanse.  We sit about eight miles from U.S. Highway 85, where Corinne turns right toward Spearfish and the BackBone route turns left toward Brooker Road.  We ask Corinne to wait for us there.  That would be about 87 miles, which may well be the end of everyone's day.

Geographic Center of the United States about 79 miles into the Black Hills BackBone.
(photo by Corinne Sorge)
Those eight miles drag.  But when arrive at the highway, Rob is feeling better, Dave is feeling OK and we convince ourselves that temperatures will drop soon.  So, Rob and Dave ride off toward Brooker Road.  I stay awhile to talk with Shaun, who is upbeat and positive, despite the disappointment of ending his ride for the day.  Without hesitation, he offers to assume the Support Truck duties to allow Corinne to head to Spearfish to check into the BnB and prepare dinner.  What a awesome teammate.

Rob and Dave by now are well onto Brooker Road, which offers seven and a half miles of chunky gravel over a steady series of small rollers.  Welcome to gravel grinding, boys.  But, for the first time that I've been on that road, we find two tracks to ride in and feel a stout tailwind.  What has always been a real slog transforms into a seven and a half mile cruise.  That was nice.

I finally catch Rob and Dave on Arpan Road, which eventually turns to a short stretch of pavement near Orman Dam.  They're running on fumes.  Rob is overheated.  Dave is dry heaving.  Both manage to keep turning pedals, but stop whenever they find the occasional shade.  We decide to maintain in survival mode for a run to Fruitdale, still about six miles off.

Somehow still turning pedals on Arpan Road over 100 hot miles into the Black Hills BackBone.
Soft pedaling into Fruitdale, we regroup.  I believe that we probably could ride the remaining 20 miles to Spearfish, but it would take several hours on the increasingly hilly and technical roads.  We then would arrive so late that we would miss the evening at the BnB with our Support Team and may even jeopardize the day tomorrow.  So, we call it a day at 113 miles and about 12 hours, including all the pit stops, and call Shaun for a shuttle.

Roasted by the heat and beat up by the winds, we collapse at a quaint BnB in Spearfish Canyon to a feast of Texas brisket cooked up by Corinne and Lori.  My wife Colleen surprises me by joining us from Rapid City for the evening.  It all makes for a relaxing evening with friends.  We're tired, hungry and thirsty, but in good spirits, relieved to cover the exposed northern prairie on a hot summer day.

We'll return in the morning for those twenty miles remaining to ride to Spearfish and deal with the repercussions tomorrow.  Tonight, we rejoice and recover.

A first hint of the Black Hills on the hazy horizon of a hot summer day.
We ride most of the day before seeing this.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Three Days of BackBone (part 2) - Gathering

The Black Hills BackBone.  A cross state bike route on 300+ miles of remote gravel and dirt roads spanning the height of the State of South Dakota along the spine of the Black Hills.  Conceived as a continuous ride, the BackBone readily lends itself to a more manageable multi-day tour.  So, I invite some friends for a three day ride over the Fourth of July weekend.  A few actually bite.  Part 1 - An Idea Takes Shape.

Dave Litzen, me, Rob Sorge and Shaun Arritola at Picnic Spring Campground near the North Dakota border.
Yep, this is how we prepare for the Black Hills BackBone.  (photo by Corinne Sorge)
Several months ago, riding buddy Shaun Arritola was the first to join this little group ride.  He's an experienced endurance athlete and gravel grinder, with finishes at Dirty Kanza, Almanzo Royal and Odin's Revenge and many scouting rides part of forming the BackBone route.  But, with recent life happenings, for many months Shaun hasn't ridden longer than a regular 30 minute spin on a stationary bike.  Nonetheless, he longed for a shot at a three day BackBone, so he dusted off his trusty Specialized Tri-Cross a few weeks ago for a quick spin at the Gold Dust 70 mile gravel grinder.  OK, good to go.  Lounging comfortably around the campfire at Picnic Spring Campground on the eve of the ride, Shaun confidently relaxes knowing that he's not overtrained.  Not by a wee bit.

Shaun sweeping away the cobwebs at the Gold Dust.  (photo by Les Heiserman)
School of Mines roommate Rob Sorge drives in from Texas on Thursday afternoon, full-on Tigger bouncy-trouncy-flouncy-pouncy to check out his new bike, a fun-fun-fun-fun-fun Salsa Vaya adventure road bike.  I stumbled across this bike locally for him several weeks ago and thought it just right for the BackBone.  Without hesitation, Rob blurts out, "Just buy it!"  Now that he's finally in Rapid City, it's New Bike Day.  All giddy goodness.  Rob promptly installs his own saddle, seat post, pedals, water bottle cages and bags and makes a few adjustments.  A 100 meter spin and a big grin later, he pronounces it good.  Time for a pre-ride beer.  Love it.

Rob's wife Corinne volunteers as shuttle driver and support crew, but she's so much more than that.  She becomes the Team Mom, taking care of everyone and all the details of making this work.  Always positive and encouraging, Corinne is a tremendous add to the team.

Rob cranking up the Centennial Trail on Day 1 of our 310 mile DED Dirt Ride in 2014.
The length of the Centennial Trail and the length of the Mickelson Trail, with gravel connectors.
Compared to that ride, the three day Black Hills BackBone will be a breeze, so I tell him.
Rob and Corinne head across town to catch up with Dave and Lori Litzen, two more School of Mines classmates.  Rob cajoled Dave into riding along on the BackBone.  Easy-peasy, he said.  Being a chemical process engineer, Dave dives right into the deep end, researching bikes, equipment, clothing, nutrition, and training.  He eventually picks up a new all carbon gravel uber-rig, a Norco Search, and knocks out a series of increasingly difficult weekend rides, including a sprint up to Mount Rushmore.  Already fit, Dave drops 15 pounds from the heartier cardio workouts.  He's ready.

Dave's wife Lori also joins as shuttle driver and support crew.  She's not so keen on our plan to camp Friday night near the North Dakota border, so she'll meet everyone in Spearfish on Saturday night.  We're just glad to have her spunk and irreverence along.  This party is getting ready to roll.

Dave cruising at the Black Hills Gravel Series finale out of Spearfish.
He's as fast as his bike.  (photo by Lucas Haan)
Early Friday afternoon Shaun's son, Jonis, picks me up in a topless Jeep Renegade for a breezy bop up to Spearfish to meet Shaun.  We transfer gear into Shaun's 3/4 ton toy hauler for the trek to Picnic Spring Campground, a primitive site in Custer Gallatin National Forest near the North Dakota border.  Jonis tags along as our second shuttle driver and, as a current School of Mines student, fits right in with this HardRocker crowd.  Rob, Corinne and Dave pull in shortly thereafter and we set up camp at this little forested oasis surrounded by more than a few million acres of open prairie.

We share a quiet evening around a campfire, talking of all things related to the ride ahead and talking of nothing at all.  Rob zeroes in on tomorrow's ride, refusing to allow any thought of riding anything other than the roads ahead on the exposed northern prairie gravel toward the Black Hills.  That's not a bad approach.  It brings a degree of clarity to our mental preparation.

The weather looks favorable, the roads fast, the bikes ready, the clothes laid out, the maps and cue sheets handy, the food parceled out.  Even breakfast and coffee are ready to go.

Our path lies before us.  We await the dawn.

Super Support Corinne firing up the stove, while Dave and I hover hoping for coffee.
Even if the stove isn't primed, we are.  (photo by Rob Sorge)

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Three Days of BackBone (part 1) - An Idea Takes Shape

The Black Hills BackBone.  A cross state bike route on 300+ miles of remote gravel and dirt roads spanning the height of the State of South Dakota along the spine of the Black Hills.  From the where-are-we start of NoWhere, North Dakota, the Black Hills BackBone plunges into 130+ miles of exposed northern prairie, climbs 120+ miles deep into the heart of the Black Hills, and reluctantly drops into a final 60+ miles of hard scrabble southern prairie to the STOP sign finish at NothingThere, Nebraska.  (The Big Picture)

Out there.  Somewhere on the Black Hills BackBone.
This route is remote.  The first 220+ miles pass through but two towns, one of which offers little more than a convenience store.  There very well may be more miles without cell coverage than with.  Maintained gravel and non-maintained county roads cross the expansive prairie miles, while Forest Service gravel and dirt roads wind through the forested miles within the Black Hills.  This route is out there.

Out there.  Somewhere on the Black Hills BackBone.
I created the BackBone with the intent of riding it as a continuous ride, taking perhaps 30-40 hours to finish.  But it hasn't happened so far.  After running into crazy winds on the first solo attempt, (2015 - A Rancher's Kindness) and a freak ice storm on the second (2016 - A Sudden Turn), I know that it will take more than a little conditioning, preparation, experience and good fortune to successfully cover those 300+ miles as a continuous ride.  I will try again, but just don't know when.

Out there.  Somewhere on the Black Hills BackBone.
So, I take a mental step sideways and consider what the BackBone would look like as a multiple day ride.  Say, Day 1 to Spearfish, about 133 miles from the start, as there is little but prairie until then.  If that's doable, then Day 2 to Custer, about 93 miles with significant elevation gain, sounds about right.  After that two day warm-up, Day 3 to the finish would be a 82 mile victory lap through the buffalo herds.  A three day BackBone, with reasonable daily distances and many options for meals and accommodations at each day's end.  A 3 Day BackBone?  Well, OK.  Maybe.  It sounds more like a tour than a ride, but it could be fun.  OK.  Maybe.  On the back burner.

Out there.  Somewhere on the Black Hills BackBone.
Then last winter, I decide to back off all the long solo rides and reconnect a bit.  I contact some old friends and snare some interest for a run at a three day tour of the Black Hills BackBone route.  OK.  Maybe.  Let's see what shakes out.

Spring rolls along.  A spirited local rider creates a six race gravel series in towns scattered all over the Black Hills, bringing together local riders for a weekly Saturday morning 50 mile joy ride.  A Six Course Feast.  With that warmup, I drive a few hours south for the 75 mile Robidoux Quick & Dirty, a lively second year event through the Wild Cat Hills of the Nebraska panhandle.  Robidoux Quick & Dirty.  Then, I forsake the 110 mile and the 210 mile courses at the Gold Rush Gravel Grinder, opting instead the 70 mile Gold Rush.  A Friendly Little Ride.  All relatively short rides, leaving time and energy afterward.  Seeing old friends and meeting new ones.  It's good.

A three day BackBone is sounding better all the time.  What's it looking like by now?

Out there.  Somewhere on the Black Hills BackBone.
Riding buddy Shaun Arritola is the first to toss his helmet into the ring.  To my long-winded invitation, filled with questions and options, Shaun simply replies, "I'm in!"  Gotta love it.

College roommate Rob Sorge chips in with his typical enthusiasm, but also with his typical trepidation about distances, technical difficulty, elevation gain, weather, bike, gear, etc., etc., etc.  I address his concerns, but know that he is a world class sandbagger.  Rob is an exceptional all-around athlete who completed the 310 mile DED Dirt Ride with Shaun and me three years ago and sports a long list of cycling and non-cycling endurance experiences.  He just needs a suitable bike and he will crush it.

Rob cajoles another college classmate, Dave Litzen, to join the peloton.  Dave is another exceptional all-around athlete who played football at School of Mines and looks like he still could, now 40 years later.  Dave dives right in, researching and purchasing a new gravel uber-rig that he breaks in at the Black Hills Gravel Series.  He'll be ready.

Out there.  Somewhere on the Black Hills BackBone.
As this group forms, it's apparent we won't be bike packing the BackBone.  Instead, the ride morphs into a fully supported tour, with overnights in town on featherbeds.  To haul all our stuff and provide on course support, we even enlist Shaun's son Jonis, Rob's wife Corinne and Dave's wife Lori as shuttle drivers and support crew.

It's all good.  I just want to ride with friends.

So, we do.

Not messing around.  We're doing this.