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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.

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