Search This Blog

Friday, December 27, 2019

Riding to Ride

Back in 2012, I converted my first mountain bike, a 1991 Specialized RockHopper, from a fixed gear commuter to a 3x9 geared bike intended for bikepacking. I dug out old backpacking gear and maps, looking for ideas for multi-day trips into the Black Hills and beyond. The Great Divide Mountain Bike Route and the Trans America Route were long term dreams.

Riding that geared, rigid mountain bike on unknown trails triggered a flood of memories from my early days of riding primitive single track in Colorado. Riding to explore. To see what's out there. To experience some unknown physical or mental place. To share a day with friends.

Just a day on the Colorado Trail. Sometime in the mid-90's.

Here, we started at Copper Mountain on the Colorado Trail, took a left onto a goat path and ended in Breckenridge.

More Colorado Trail rides in the mid-90's..

As the spring of 2013 approached, I eagerly anticipated a planned series of short bikepacking trips into the Black Hills. Before my first overnighter, however, I stumbled into the endurance gravel scene. Just like that, my cycling focus swerved.

The grass roots, small event, remote road, endurance gravel scene grabbed a hold of me and pushed aside my bikepacking dreams. I discovered that I could enjoy a remote road ride in an hour or two, occasionally more, and still honor family and work commitments. Every so often, I could join the gravel community at a loosely organized event for a weekend of fellowship, which created enduring memories and friendships. And I could ride remote roads year around, even in the wilds of Western South Dakota. It's been a great ride for 7 years. A Journey To Gravel - part 1part 2part 3part 4part 5part 6.

I love this gravel community. But there's a special allure to self-navigating a day-long remote ride through unknown country, recovering in the evening at a campsite created by gear you've carried, and waking to ride again as the sun rises. Yes, I'm back to dreaming of longer bikepacking rides.

This year, after the C.O.G. 100, Black Hills Gravel Series, and Mother Lode gravel events wrapped up in June, I enjoyed 8 overnighters and 1 two-nighter in and around the Black Hills. I found new-to-me roads and near-roads. I dispersed camped atop peaks and along ridges. I tested and analyzed my bike, components, gear, clothing, nutrition, hydration, navigation and mindset for longer trips. Those tasty appetizers worked. I'm hungry for more. 

In 2020, I'll ride local gravel, but also plan to continue those overnight rides and add the 500 mile Cloud Peak 500 in the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming. Cloud Peak 500. Maybe I'll add another longer ride, as the only limitations are imagination and commitment. If all goes well, I'd love to be able to consider a ride on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route in 2021. Bikepacking The GDMBR.

Whatever the distance of the day, or length of the trip, I'll be riding.

2020, here I come. 

Hope to see you out there.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Stoke The Fire

End of year reminiscing triggers dreams of remote rides to come. Stunning pictures, inspiring videos, and captivating stories of epic rides through exotic lands fill the internet. It's easy to get swept away.

Although destination adventures fire the imagination, regular local rides stoke the fire. Like many places, the Black Hills of South Dakota offer so many opportunities, so many choices, of local back roads to ride. I can ride local remote roads right here, right now.

Where to go? Favorite and familiar are fun. Rides cooked up by others can intrigue and challenge presumptions. Most often, however, I just look to a new spot on the map, piece together a general idea of a route, and head out there. And the most memorable rides are when I see something interesting and ride off the planned route. Sometimes, I ride right off the map itself.

It's always worth it.

The destination rides will come. Or not. Regular local rides rule.

Somewhere south and west of Custer in Black Hills National Forest.
This secondary road is actually on the USFS map, but not on the truncated copy I carried that day.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Cloud Peak 500 - Navigation

Nothing like a long, wintry weekend to scour maps, research reports and dream up rides. After hours and hours of riding remote roads through my mind, I eventually wind back to the Cloud Peak 500, an increasingly real ride for me in 2020. I pull out maps and notes for a closer look at the planned roads, distances, elevation gains, water sources, food re-supplies, and camping options. Soon, I realize that I need a better map.

Oh, the Cloud Peak 500 blog post announcing the route (Cloud Peak 500) includes a nice gpx file of the entire route (Cloud Peak 500 gpx). In fact, I use that digital map to create a set of cue sheets. For a hard copy map, I start with a venerable USFS map of Bighorn National Forest. However, the Cloud Peak 500 swings pretty far south of the Bighorn National Forest through public lands managed primarily by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and then ventures east through privately owned prairie. Overall, more miles of the Cloud Peak 500 lay outside the boundaries of Bighorn National Forest than inside.

Time for a trip to Roam'n Around, a local outdoors outfitter offering a wide selection of maps and guide books. Sure enough, they stock a DeLorme Atlas and Gazetteer of Wyoming. Perfect. With all the detail and color codes, I decide to cut out the appropriate pages and just mark them up. Here they are, so far.

6 sheets of maps + 1 set of cue sheets + 1 compass + attentive analysis = my Cloud Peak 500 navigation system.

That's my way.

Pages 1, 11 (miles 0-85, 165-175; 480-485).  Back side page 10 (miles 435-480).
Starts west from Sheridan along the Bozeman Trail, then the big climb up Red Grade Road.
Also, page 11 for the final few miles into Sheridan from the Eastern prairie.
On the back side, page 10 is 45 miles of gravel through cowboy country.

Page 2 (miles 85-165). Drops to Shell and on to the Dinosaur Tracks.
The detour to Medicine Wheel starts at about Mile 108.

Pages 3, 8 (miles 175-200, 205-285; 365-410). Back side pages 7, 9 (miles 355-365, 410-435).
Lots going on here, including the back road to Medicine Lodge Archaeological Site
and then down to Ten Sleep and its NoWoodStock Music Festival.
Also, page 8 for the climb up Slip Road and the descent into Crazy Woman Canyon.
On the back side, page 7 climbs up Slip Road from Kaycee.
Also, on the back side, page 9 emerges from Crazy Woman Canyon near Buffalo.

Page 4 (miles 200-205). Just a short jaunt onto this sheet to visit Hyattville.

Page 5 (miles 285-320). Many river and drainage crossings, including the Middle Fork Powder River,
which features a BLM primitive campground. Closing in on The Hole In The Wall.

Page 6 (miles 320-355). A back road access to The Hole In The Wall and up to Kaycee.

Pages 7, 9 (miles 355-365, 410-435). Back side pages 3, 8 (miles 175-200, 205-285; 365-410).
Page 7 starts the last big climb up Slip Road out of Kaycee.
Also, page 9 pops out of Crazy Woman Canyon near Buffalo and heads out into the prairie.
On the back side, page 3 enters the Medicine Lodge Archaeological Site
and then drops to Ten Sleep and its NoWoodStock Music Festival.
Also, on the back side, page 8 climbs up Slip Road for the descent into Crazy Woman Canyon.

Page 10 (miles 435-480). Back side pages 1, 11 (miles 0-85, 165-175; 480-485).
45 miles of prairie gravel through cowboy country.
On the back side, page 1 starts west from Sheridan along the Bozeman Trail,
then the big climb up Red Grade Road.
Also, on the back side, page 11 for the final few miles into Sheridan.

Here's a big picture look at the Cloud Peak 500, from cloudpeak500,

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Cloud Peak 500 - First Draft Of My Itinerary

Oh, the Cloud Peak 500 has been on my mind.

Big Horn Mountains. (photo from

The Cloud Peak 500 immediately intrigued me. Cloud Peak 500.

Digging into it, the Cloud Peak 500 then challenged me. Cloud Peak 500 - THAT'S The Plan.

Digging deeper, the Cloud Peak 500 inspired me to pay attention. Cloud Peak 500 - History and Legend.

Oh, the Cloud Peak 500 has been on my mind.

Georgia On My Mind, performed by Ray Charles
(video from

The Cloud Peak 500 route is a full blown tour of the Wild, Wild West. This is the country of the real life Chief Red Cloud, Chief Crazy Horse, the U.S. Army Cavalry in the Box Wagon Fight, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, the Hole-In-The-Wall Gang, the cattle barons, hired guns and homesteaders of the Johnson County War, and even the Crazy Woman in Crazy Woman Canyon. It's going to take some time to experience.

So, here's a first draft of what my ride could look like. I don't know if this draft itinerary is reasonable, or even possible, for me, but I prepared it to kickstart my planning. Here's what I'm thinking today.

DISCLAIMER:  I did not create the route of the Cloud Peak 500. Someone else did. My friend Lucas Haan alerted me to it, thinking I might be interested. He was right, as usual. I plan to ride this route, probably solo or maybe with a few friends. This draft itinerary shows my current thoughts of what my ride could look like. I am NOT organizing anything other than my personal ride and I'm certainly not organizing a race, event, group ride, "Grand Depart" or anything else.

Day 1:  Drive 4 hours from Rapid City. Ride from Sheridan, re-supply water at Big Horn (mile 33). Ride into Big Horn National Forest to disperse camp (mile 50-60). Total Day 1 = 50-60 miles.

Day 2:  Ride up Red Grade Road, re-supply water at Burgess Junction (mile 81) after about 7,000 feet of elevation gain. Ride to disperse camp (mile 105-135) in Big Horn National Forest. Total Day 2 = 55-85 miles, depending on how I handle the long, steep climb starting the day.

Day 3:  Ride to Medicine Lodge Archealogical Site (mile 200) to camp. Total Day 3 = 65-95 miles.

Day 4:  After enjoying the petroglyphs and pictographs in the morning, ride to Ten Sleep to camp (mile 249). This short day should leave some time to hang out at the NoWoodStock music festival. Total Day 4 = 49 miles.

Day 5:  Ride to Middle Fork Powder River BLM Campground (mile 295). This short day should leave some time to hike back into the nearby Hole-In-The-Wall outlaw hideout. Total Day 5 = 46 miles.

Day 6:  Ride, re-supply water at Kaycee (mile 353), to disperse camp along yet another climb into Big Horn National Forest (mile 365-375). Total Day 6 = 70-80 miles.

Day 7:  Ride to Buffalo (mile 430). Total Day 7 = 55-65 miles.

Day 8:  Ride to Sheridan (mile 500). Total Day 8 = 70 miles.

All subject to change. I could see this easily contracting a day or two, or expanding a day or two. But I have to start somewhere.

Now, it's time to let this simmer for awhile.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Cloud Peak 500 - History & Legend

Digging into the Cloud Peak 500 bikepacking route a bit, I find stunning images of this country. Towering peaks, rugged valleys, narrow canyons, endless prairie and fast flowing rivers paint a living landscape of a vast, wide open American West. This is the stuff of which dreams are made.

Digging deeper, I learn that this route immerses one into the fabric of western civilization. For example, a gravel road winds through a canyon continuously occupied by humans for over 10,000 years, as evidenced by a 750 foot long canyon wall decorated with prehistoric petroglyphs. Up the route a bit on a high mountain plateau lies an ancient 80 foot diameter stone medicine wheel. And running right along the Bighorns is an old Native American trail that opened the Wild West with cattle drives and wagon trains. This country exudes history and legend. Cloud Peak 500.

Bighorn Mountains, Wyoming
(image from

Here's twelve highlights of what I've learned so far. This ride may take longer than expected. Cloud Peak 500 - THAT'S The Plan.

1. The Bozeman Trail.  Right from the start, the Cloud Peak 500 embarks on a tour of the Old West by leaving the town of Sheridan on the Bozeman Trail. Better known at the time as the "Trail to Montana," the Bozeman Trail cut short travel from the Oregon Trail to the Montana gold mines by passing through the Powder River Basin. It followed established Native American trails used for centuries that skirted much of the surrounding mountains and deserts. Over the years, various native tribes vied for access to and control of the corridor.

In 1863, with native tribes threatening to kill anyone passing through, entrepreneur John Bozeman defied U.S. Army orders, slipped out of a protected town under cover of night, and led a group of nine men on the trail. For 21 days, they rode at night and hid during the day, eventually making it to Montana without incident. The next year, a train of 150 wagons plowed through with just one skirmish that left dead 3 newcomers and 13 natives. Thereafter, hostilities essentially ended for awhile. Bozeman Trail History.

Bozeman Trail, showing Fort Phil Kearney along the Bighorn Mountains.
(image from

2. Little Goose Creek.  Turning off the Bozeman Trail, the Cloud Peak 500 winds along Little Goose Creek, where great chiefs Red Cloud and Crazy Horse frequently encamped. Eventually, settlers formed the nearby town of Big Horn, whose early inhabitants included English nobility with a taste for polo. Those Wyoming polo horses earned a reputation for exceptional strength and stamina, especially among European militaries in the late 1800's. Wyoming War Horses.
Moncreiffe Ranch near Big Horn, circa 1910, a center for selling Wyoming horses to European militaries.
(image from

3. Red Grade Road.  Now, we're climbing. This rough gravel road gains about 5,000 feet over the first 25 miles and then another 2,000 feet over the next 20 miles, with grades occasionally reaching 19%. As seen in the video below, the climb rewards with big views of the prairie below and 13,000 foot peaks above. That 45 mile climb knocks off some of the 40,000 feet of total elevation gain for the Cloud Peak 500 route, but there's still much more ahead. The video shown below is from, which calls Red Grade Road "one of the most treacherous roads in the State of Wyoming." Red Grade Road.

4. Medicine Wheel.  At about 105 miles of the Cloud Peak 500, one can take a 7 mile detour to visit Medicine Wheel, a circular arrangement of limestone boulders, about 80 feet in diameter, with 28 rock spokes radiating from a central cairn. Natives lived in this area for about 7,000 years and believed that this high clearing at almost 10,000 feet harbored powerful spiritual forces. The alignment of the spokes with several significant celestial bodies suggest that the Medicine Wheel may have been used as an ancient astronomical observatory and calendar. Medicine Wheel.

Medicine Wheel in Big Horn National Forest.
(image from

5. Red Gulch Dinosaur Tracks.  Are you ready to see hundreds of three-toed foot prints of meat-eating dinosaurs from the Jurassic Period? The Cloud Peak 500 rolls right past the Red Gulch Dinosaur Track Site in BLM land south of Shell at about mile 150. These top-of-the-food-chain prints are preserved in solid rock all over the 40 acre sight. So, it's not just human history we're riding through. geowyo.comBLM - Red Gulch Tracks.

One of hundreds of dinosaur tracks at the Red Gulch Dinosaur Track Site.
(image from

6. Medicine Lodge Archaeological Site.  At about mile 175, the Cloud Peak 500 rolls past the Medicine Lodge Archeological Site, a serene meadow along a creek that has been continuously occupied by people for over 10,000 years. A 750 foot long sandstone bluff showcases some of this ancient history with over 100 petroglyphs (carvings) and pictographs (paintings). This is a protected and developed historical site, with interpretive signs and a campground. I would love to spend an evening there. Medicine Lodge.  Wyoming State Parks Medicine Lodge.

Petroglyphs at Medicine Lodge Archeological Site.
(image from

7. Ten Sleep.  The story behind the name of this small village is told in the picture below. With that history, Ten Sleep would be a natural destination for a quiet evening on a long journey, such as the Cloud Peak 500. Sealing the deal for me is a local music festival of folk, bluegrass, swing, jazz and rock called NoWoodStock held on the second weekend of August. I'd love to arrive in Ten Sleep on the Saturday night of that festival. NoWoodStock.

There it is.
(image from

NoWoodStock Music Festival in Ten Sleep during the second weekend of August.
(image from

8. Butch Cassidy and the Hole-In-The-Wall.  At about mile 293, the Cloud Peak 500 crosses the Middle Fork Powder River by a remote BLM campground. A little after this, a turn off leads back to the "Hole In The Wall," a legendary outlaw hideout from the Wild West accessible only by climbing a steep, loose, rocky wall. Within this natural hideout, many infamous outlaws and gangs co-existed from time to time, including Kid Curry, Black Jack Ketchum, Jesse James, Harry Longabaugh (aka the Sundance Kid), and Butch Cassidy's Wild Bunch Gang. In the winter of 1883, Butch Cassidy hunkered down in a log cabin and later developed a local reputation as a Robin Hood type outlaw. Hole In The Wall.

Access to the outlaw hideout "Hole In The Wall."
(BLM image from 

9. Johnson County War.  Here's more stuff of Wild Western lore, which occurred near the town of Kaycee at about mile 330 of the Cloud Peak 500. Starting in about 1889, large landholders grazing cattle on the open range resisted the growing presence of small homesteaders fencing land for their homes, crops, and small herds of cattle. The cattle barons eventually brought in 50 hired guns, resulting in numerous assaults, lawless killings, political intrigue all the way to the White House, and long term repercussions throughout Wyoming. The movies "Shane" and "Heaven's Gate" were based on this 4 year clash, which also inspired story lines for an entire genre of books and movies. Johnson County Cattle War.

The hired guns fighting for the large landholders pose for a picture before the "invasion."
(image from

10. Crazy Woman Canyon Road.  This gravel road at about mile 404 is crazy cool, following a creek through a narrow, twisting canyon. Several legends offer explanations for the name of this canyon, but the story recounted here is common. Crazy Woman Canyon. In any event, I'll probably ride through this in the middle of the day.

Crazy Woman Canyon Road winding down Crazy Woman Canyon.
(image from

11. Wagon Box Fight. In the summer of 1867, Chief Red Cloud vowed to kill every white person found on what he considered to be Native American land and carried out virtually continuous attacks along the Powder River Basin. With a force of over 1,000 warriors, he attacked a small group of 26 soldiers and 6 civilians cutting wood for nearby Fort Kearney. The soldiers used a small corral of 14 wagon boxes for cover and fired new, rapid-firing, breech-loaded rifles capable of 15-20 rounds per minute. For 6 hours, the fight waged without conclusion, until reinforcements arrived from the fort. The Native Americans' primary tactic of closing fast by horseback for close combat failed against that enhanced fire power from cover, which no attacker breached. The Wagon Box Fight forever changed tactics of both sides. Wagon Box Fight 1867.

The Wagon Box Fight 1867.
(image from

12. The Cattle Drive.  An iconic image of the Old West is the resourceful, hardy cowboy driving a herd of Longhorns across the open prairie. Perhaps the most audacious cattle drive was in 1866 from Texas to the Montana Territory, which passed through the Powder River Basin along the Bozeman Trail. The Cloud Peak 500 rolls past the town of Story, Wyoming, named after Nelson Story, the man who spearheaded that historic cattle drive. That also sounds more than a little bit like the cattle drive in the Pulitzer Prize winning fictional novel "Lonesome Dove" by Larry McMurtry.

(image from

Many, many other stories, legends and myths emanate from this country. This is going to be fun.

It may also take a bit longer to ride than expected, as I will not be riding with my nose to the stem.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Cloud Peak 500 - THAT's The Plan

As a shake-out for a possible ride of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route ("GDMBR") in 2021, I'm making the Cloud Peak 500 a priority ride for me in 2020. Cloud Peak 500. If you're searching for a destination multi-day bikepacking trip, take a look at this one.

Shout out to the irrepressible Lucas Haan for alerting me to this route.

Cloud Peak Wilderness Area, Bighorn Mountains, Wyoming.

The Cloud Peak 500 is a 500 mile gravel/dirt road loop through and around the Big Horn Mountains of north central Wyoming. It covers about 20% of the distance (500 miles vs. 2,500 miles) and climbs about 20% of the elevation gain (40,000 feet vs. 200,000 feet) of the GDMBR, with seemingly similar types of roads, distances between towns and re-supplies, and relative remoteness. It looks tailor made for a GDMBR dreamer.

The Cloud Peak 500 route begins and ends in the small town of Sheridan, which is less than a four hour drive from Rapid City. It follows roads I don't know through country I don't know. It looks like a great experience standing alone, as well as an ideal shake-out for a possible GDMBR ride the next year. As such, I'd ride the Cloud Peak 500 in the manner described in my GDMBR post. Bikepacking the GDMBR.

Alternatively, the Cloud Peak 500 route could be ridden a number of other ways. One could ride it like our small group rode the Black Hills BackBone, with a support vehicle attending to daily needs and shuttling to nightly accommodations. Three Days of BackBone 2017. One also could ride it like we rode the DED Dirt Ride, carrying a day's worth of supplies and self-shuttling between campsites. DED Dirt Ride 2014. One may be able to ride it as a credit card tour by staying in motels along the way, although I have not analyzed the route in detail to confirm that. I suspect somebody out there might even try to continuously ride those 500 miles. In any event, options abound.

Rough map of the Cloud Peak 500. Links to details, including GPX files at Cloud Peak 500.

Elevation profile of the Cloud Peak 500, from

There's one option for me - a GDMBR shake-out. I plan to bikepack the Cloud Peak 500 route self-supported, ride most all day and maybe some at night, disperse camp, and re-supply at small towns along the way. If I ride solo, Colleen would drop me off in Sheridan at the start and plan to come back 6-7 days later to pick me up. If I carpool or caravan to Sheridan with others from the Black Hills or beyond, I would still bikepack it self-supported, regardless of what everyone else did.

The Cloud Peak 500 post announcing the 2019 ride publicized a "group start" on September 19, 2019. I don't know if that happened and I don't know if they are planning such a "group start" for 2020. In any event, I will be riding the route on my own timetable and will not be part of any race, event or "group start."

So, I've penciled in the Cloud Peak 500 ride on my calendar for August 2020.

Shaun (incredulous):  "That's the plan?"
Craig (emphatic):  "THAT'S the plan!"
Shaun (skeptical):  "How are you going to do it?"
Craig (less emphatic):  "I have NO idea."

(apologies to "A Few Good Men")

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Gear - Sea To Summit Reactor Extreme Liner

Overnight bikepack trips throughout the Black Hills this summer tested a variety of new and old gear. The newer stuff worked great. I love my blistering fast stove, Jet Boil MiniMo Stove, innovative tent, Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL1 Tent, and sweet summer sleeping bag, Brooks Range Mountaineering Alpini 30 Bag. With the bigger ticket items resolved, I move on to the smaller things.

Sea To Summit Reactor Extreme Sleeping Bag Liner adds 25 degrees and 14 ounces for the size of a red solo cup.

Not so fast. As autumn evenings grow cooler, that Mithril-light summer sleeping bag feels thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread, as Bilbo Baggins would say. I learn that its 30 degree temperature rating is directed to survival, not comfort. That is, most individuals will survive a 30 degree night nestled inside the sleeping bag. but not necessarily sleep well. I might want a little more margin of error for the higher elevations of the Rocky Mountains, even in summer.

Here in the Black Hills of South Dakota, I find that my 30 degree bag is comfortable sleeping at about 50 degrees, when wearing a single base layer. Ten degrees warmer drives me out of the sleeping bag. Ten degrees cooler adds a down hoodie and booties. So, all is good at about 40 degrees and up, with my standard kit. For a typical Black Hills summer, that's plenty of sleeping bag for me.

Helmet, Sea To Summit Reactor Extreme Liner in a non-compressed stuff sack, Brooks Range Alpini 30 sleeping bag.

But what about nights when the temperatures drop into the 30's, or even the 20's? That's certainly possible over a 2,500 mile ride along the Continental Divide, even in August. And I'd like to have the option of bikepacking more during the spring and fall here. I search for options.

I start with 850+ fill down sleeping bags rated in the 5-10 degree range, thinking that would create a comfort range somewhere in the 20's. I like the specifications and reviews for the Kuiu Super Down 15, the Feathered Friends Lark 10 YF, and the Western Mountaineering Versalite 10. If my current bag needed replacing, I would consider one of those. But it seems silly to add a whole new bag, especially at about $600.

So, I move to light down over-bags and quilts with enough loft that, when added to my sleeping bag, match the 6 inch plus loft provided by the 5-10 degree bags listed above. There are many options, with the higher quality ones weighing nearly a pound and running about $300. Again, the added volume, weight, and cost seems high for the benefit.

Sea To Summit ThermoLite Reactor Extreme sleeping bag liner, usable alone as a sleeping bag above about 60 degrees.
There has to be other options. One day at work, I mention my quandary to a trusted colleague, a retired Army Airborne Jump Master.  He describes the Army layered sleeping system, which includes a removable, thin inner layer called a sleeping bag liner. He suggests I look there.

It doesn't take long. Many sleeping bag liners are designed for comfort, such as those made of silk or cotton. Others are designed more to protect the sleeping bag, such as those made of a woven synthetic. If those types of liners add any warmth to the sleeping bag, it's not noted in the marketing or reviews beyond about 5-10 degrees. That won't do.

Then I find the Sea To Summit line of "cold weather" sleeping bag liners that use a thin layer of fabric with hollow threads designed to add warmth to your sleeping bag. They offer four levels of liners, purportedly adding from 14 to 32 degrees. Even after reading glowing reviews, I am skeptical, given the relatively low weight, packed size, and price of these liners. So, I go old school shopping at a brick and mortar store.

The orange liner stylishly tucks into my blue sleeping bag.

After spending enough time in the store to send Colleen to the nearest Starbucks, I finally decide to try the Sea To Summit Reactor Extreme Liner, which purports to add 25 degrees of warmth, weighs 14 ounces, packs to the size of a red solo cup, and retails at about $70. But it just seems so thin, so light, so small, and so inexpensive. Is it too good to be true?

Nope. This is the real deal. I'm comfortable sleeping in the low 30's with this liner inside my Alpini 30 sleeping bag, while wearing a single base layer. Without the liner at those temperatures, I am cold. I'm confident that this liner will extend my comfort zone into the low 20's, and then even lower when I add a down hoodie and down booties. It's a low cost insurance policy against unexpected cold weather and a season-extender, while adding less than a pound and fitting into my current sleep kit bag on my Jones Plus LWB.

Nice add.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Try Sometime

You can't always get what you want.
But if you try sometimes, you just might find,
You get what you need.
Mick Jagger & Keith Richards, Rolling Stones (1969). 
You Can't Always Get What You Want (long version).

For months, I've been looking forward to this eleven day fall vacation, even though we had nothing big planned. Maybe it was because we had nothing big planned. Possibilities emerged, then dissipated. But one thought repeatedly crept into my mind. The DED Dirt Ride.

Deadwood to Edgemont to Deadwood. Three hundred ten miles traversing much of the North-South length of the Black Hills via the single track Centennial Trail, the rails-to-trails Mickelson Trail, and primarily remote gravel road connectors. Five years ago, I completed it with Rob Sorge and Shaun Arritola, riding by day and self-shuttling at night. DED Dirt Ride 2014. But I have not ridden it as I originally envisioned.

I wanted to bikepack the DED Dirt Ride self-supported.

I didn't.

Sunrise at Sage Creek Campground in Badlands National Park.
Oh, I prepared my Jones Plus LWB and packed all my bags. All my first day riding clothes were laid out. Maps and itinerary at hand. Everything ready. The day approached.

Not just yet. On Day 1 of 11, we enjoyed the annual Buffalo Roundup at Custer State Park. Rangers and ranchers drove the park's herd of some 1400 buffalo over a ridge and down into a valley for their annual census, health checks and auction to manage the population. Seeing that many buffalo running together stirs the imagination with images of millions and millions filling the plains just 150 years ago. Wow.

Around mid-day, the rain started. It looked to stay, and it did. With cold rain forecasted for the next four days solid, I postponed the DED Dirt Ride and we drove to Denver for a long weekend. I figured that I would still have six days left to ride. It was bound to clear by the time we returned.

2019 Buffalo Roundup at Custer State Park.

Well, yes, and no. On Day 5 of 11, we drove home in drizzle to a saturated Black Hills. I waited another day, hoping for some drying while knowing that my time window was closing. The next day brought some sunshine, but not enough drying and reports surfaced of a muddy Centennial Trail. Another day passed.  Eventually, I realized that I would not be bikepacking the DED Dirt Ride this year.

Ugh. Now what?

Riding south on Jensen Road I find ranchers working the fields to get one last cut of hay.

I concluded that I didn't need to ride the DED Dirt Ride again. On the other hand, I could use some longer days in the saddle pushing a fully loaded Jones Plus LWB on some hilly gravel. So, I pulled out a file of different maps and laid out an overnight trip into the rolling hills and winds of the prairie east of the Black Hills. 

Back I rode on the Bad Buffalo, a 110 mile gravel loop south of Wasta, South Dakota into Badlands National Park and through Buffalo Gap National Grasslands. The roads on this hilly, exposed prairie route have been favorite winter training rides over the years. However, I've never ridden them on a loaded bike and I've never even stopped at Sage Creek Campground, a primitive camp site in the remote reaches of Badlands National Park. Time to do both.

The fencing is more stout for buffalo.

It was hilly. It was chilly. It was cloudy. It was windy and grew windier. It was a lot of work over long hours pedaling that loaded bike back to that primitive campground. It was worth it.

I set up camp and ate quickly as the sun set. Then the temperature dropped and it rained much of the night. Later, the winds of the next front rolled in. It turned cold. Near freezing cold.

Under a quick sunrise, the winds accelerated and cleared the skies. But that wind chilled to the bone. The return ride was just as hilly, just as chilly and even more windy than the day before. As the hours wore on, I must have looked like I was struggling, because two different ranchers stopped their trucks to offer me a ride. Eventually, I soft pedaled back to Wasta and plunked down inside the Jeep, finally out of the gale.

Maybe that wasn't the ride I wanted. 

It was just what I needed.

Big views across a big, bad land.

You Can't Always Get What You Want, The Rolling Stones (1969)

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Gear - Navigation

I'm putting the final touches onto my Jones Plus LWB to prepare for longer, more remote bikepacking trips. Here's the latest addition to my navigation system - a Stem Captain compass.

No batteries required.

Jones Plus LWB ready to ride with Revelate Designs bags packed for the Centennial Trail.
Navigation system of cue sheet clip, odometer and Stem Captain compass.

Stem Captain compass shows the way.

It's your journey. 

Find it. Nurture it. Ride it.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Gear - Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL1 Bikepack Tent

When starting to visualize longer bikepacking trips a few years ago, I dug out some ancient backpacking gear to see what had survived the decades. Not surprisingly, not much. Overnight and long weekend bikepack rides in the Black Hills of South Dakota confirmed that my gear needed serious updating. Early in the process, I found a sweet summer sleeping bag (Brooks Range Mountaineering Alpini Bag) and a blistering fast stove (JetBoil MiniMo Stove). Other gear took more time.

Like tents. About six years ago, I bought a Marmot Pulsar two person backpacking tent for car camping at races and events. I popped up that tent at gravel races all over the northern plains, such as Odin's Revenge, Gravel Worlds, Almanzo Royal, and Mother Lode, and continue to do so. It works great for that purpose. I also have taken it bikepacking on short trips, but it is a bulky 4 pound load to carry on a bicycle. Works OK. Not optimal.

After just a few bikepacks with the Marmot Pulsar, I jumped to the extreme with an 18 ounce Outdoor Research Helium bivy bag. It's basically a weather resistant bag to cover my sleeping bag. I like it for good weather, overnight bikepacks and maybe would take it for a good weather, two-night trip. Maybe. While certainly small and light, it's too cramped for me for anything longer.

Sunrise atop Bear Mountain in the Black Hills of South Dakota.
Little space required to disperse camp with the Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL1 Bikepack.

For several years, I alternated between the Marmot Pulsar tent and the Outdoor Research Helium bivy bag, while researching other options. Nothing captured my imagination. 

I kept searching. Recognizing that I wanted plenty of room inside to sit up, change clothes and weather some weather, but likely would be bikepacking solo, I looked for relatively roomy, one person tents. I further narrowed my search to free-standing tents, primarily because they easily set up almost anywhere, including on a skillet hard desert floor, a solid rock alpine landing or even a concrete pad in a city park. Also, I prefer the wider access of a side entry design and the versatility of a good-sized vestibule. Designing the tent to be ultralight and relatively compact further reduced the options, but still left some contenders. With nothing compelling, I plugged along for several years with what worked OK.

Side entry with a good sized vestibule for a one person tent.

Then Big Agnes introduced the Copper Spur HV UL1 Bikepack earlier this year. Now, that's the ticket.

Big Agnes is a small Colorado company that designs innovative outdoor gear, including a series of popular ultralight backpacking tents. Recognizing a demand, Big Agnes adapted a couple of those tents specifically for bikepacking. For the Copper Spur HV UL1 Bikepack, that started with an existing one person, free-standing, ultralight tent with a side entry and extended vestibule. That's a great start for me. Big Agnes then shortened its pole sections to less than 12 inches, added a variety of creative storage straps and pockets inside and out, and included a tough, weatherproof compression stuff sack with daisy chain webbing and straps to attach directly to most any bike. Uffda.

This is a sweet package of thoughtful features that weighs all of 2 pounds, 5 ounces and packs almost as small as the Outdoor Research Helium bivy bag. This is a tent that I could live in for awhile.

Free standing design allows one to camp on solid rock,
here the floor of an abandoned lookout atop Flag Mountain in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

The side entry with sizable vestibule allows easy, clean access and some protected storage. I often sit inside the tent with my feet on the footprint in the vestibule to remove my muddy shoes, which stay right there overnight. I also keep a bottle of water in the vestibule, for access during the night without risk of spilling inside. Under the fly, one elastic strap holds a helmet and other straps can secure a number of things, including clothes to air out. There's a lot going on with this tent.

A variety of storage pockets are positioned all around the inside of the tent for small items, like glasses, camera, maps, light, journal, phone, etc., etc., etc. There's even a large mesh pocket to hold shorts, jerseys and gloves to dry. With so many pockets, I have left items inside only to find them when packing the tent. I imagine those with more electronic gadgets would enjoy those pockets even more.

Although smaller than the Marmot Pulsar, the inside is much roomier than I expected for an ultralight one person tent. It's definitely roomy enough for me to comfortably change clothes and store some gear inside. And I have spent several evenings lounging inside studying maps, reading and writing. It works well for me.

This tent packs small.
4 lb two person tent.  2 lb 5 oz one person tent.  1 lb 2 oz bivy bag.

The modifications directed to bikepacking, however, are why I bought this tent. Shrinking the pole sections to less than 12 inches dramatically reduces the packed length of the tent. It actually fits between the brake lever hoods of my 44 cm Salsa Cowbell handlebars on my Black Mountain Cycles Monster Cross bike. And the weight penalty is a couple of ounces. No-brainer.

The tough, weather-proof compression stuff sack with daisy-chain webbing can be strapped directly to a bike. I'll experiment with that on the right trip. The tent, fly, poles and footprint all easily fit into the bag and the compression straps cinch it tight. No wrestling stuff into this stuff sack. It's a versatile, well-designed bag that far surpasses the typical tent stuff sack.

Although the option of independent, direct attachment is a big plus, I like sliding the entire package into the center of my Salty Roll bag that attaches to my Revelate Designs Harness. It occupies less than half the bag, leaving more than a quarter of the bag on each side to add items that I want to be easily accessible. In that application, the tough stuff sack is overkill and I may switch it out for long trips. However, I like its versatility and love the creativity behind it.

Before the bikepack modifications, the baseline Copper Spur HV UL1 was high on my list for a one person tent, but did not jump off the chart. After the bikepack modifications, the Copper Spur HV UL1 Bikepack shot straight to the top. Every time I use it, I find something more to like about it. My primary long term concern is durability, but that would be so for anything designed ultralight.

It's the right tent for me now.

Copper Spur HV UL1 Bikepack Tent, including poles, fly, fly stakes and footprint, easily fits
between the 44 cm Salsa Cowbell handlebars on my Black Mountain.

The Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL1 Bikepack occupies about half of that bag resting under those Jones handlebars.