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Sunday, January 27, 2019

Hidden in Plain Sight

The Black Hills DoubleBackBone is 640.6 miles. Adding additional miles may be a tough sell, but this is special. And it's right there alongside the route, hidden in plain sight.

The Northern Prairie Loop follows public roads crossing primarily private land. Although the gravel and dirt roads enter isolated, winding threads of trees and water when crossing an occasional draw, it's almost all wide open prairie. In the midst of this ocean of grass, just 14 miles from the start/finish at the North Dakota border, lies a little known treasure. The North Cave Hills Unit of Custer Gallatin National Forest is a collection of small hills that erupt from the surrounding prairie, creating an oasis of trees and rock. Once up and back into these hills, it looks and feels like you're in the middle of the Black Hills.

North Cave Hills Unit of the Custer Gallatin National Forest, en route to the Picnic Spring Campground.
Atop one of these forested plateaus lies Picnic Spring Campground, a primitive U.S. Forest Service camp ground. No reservations. No fees. No water. No services at all. Just a dirt road leading to eight secluded campsites each offering a picnic table, a fire grate and an outhouse down the way. It's one sweet spot to camp.

A great start to the Black Hills BackBone is to camp at Picnic Spring and then ride or shuttle the 14 miles of dirt and gravel roads to the start. On our 2017 Black Hills BackBone ride, we car camped at Picnic Spring for a memorable night beside the fire and under the stars, before shuttling to the North Dakota border early the next morning. If I ride the BackBone again, I'd love to do the same.

Chillin' at Picnic Spring Campground on the eve of our 2017 Black Hllls BackBone.
Dave Litzen, Craig Groseth, Rob Sorge & Shaun Arritola. (photo by Corinne Sorge).
Picnic Spring also would be a great place to start a DoubleBackBone, as long as one is committed to arranging the 3 hour shuttle back to Rapid City after the finish. A DoubleBackBone ride with less shuttle time starts in Spearfish with a clockwise loop through Camp Crook up to the North Dakota border, before returning to Spearfish. At almost 300 miles, this Northern Prairie loop could be ridden continuously or with stealth napping along the route. Alternatively, for a delightful evening in a forested oasis, one could invest in the short spur to this little known, little used camp ground. If I were to bike pack the DoubleBackBone solo or in a small group, I'm thinking that I'd start it that way, before heading south for that big Southern Loop.

No matter the journey, an evening at Picnic Spring is worth the trip.

Monday, January 21, 2019

No Dead Miles

I don't believe in "dead" miles. I feel alive on every mile I ride.

This time of year triggers an avalanche of quick fix training programs guaranteed IN JUST 10 DAYS! to GAIN SPEED!, LOSE WEIGHT! and SLAY DRAGONS! A prominent admonition this year seems to focus on the concept of avoiding "dead" miles, i.e., pedaling miles that are too easy for aerobic or strength training, but too hard for base building or recovery. In general, this concept advocates a high percentage of miles be very easy and a low percentage of miles be off-the-charts hard. Everything in between has no beneficial training effect and are "dead" miles to be avoided at all cost.

Maybe this resonates with those having the goal of optimizing every riding moment for optimal training effect. If your paycheck or your ego depends on your relative placing in races, then perhaps you should ride only boringly slow or lung-burstingly fast. If there's no margin for error, maybe every riding moment must contribute to a specific training benefit. I don't know. I'll leave that to the professionals.

Just riding along on some favorite M-Hill trails in the heart of Rapid City.
(photo by Chani Groseth,
I'm just not buying it for me. Not any more. Those in-between miles are fun. And more fun leads to more riding and better conditioning, even if it's not optimal. I don't care if I'm not as fast or as strong as I theoretically could be through optimal training. I ride a lot because I have a lot of fun riding. My weekends often are filled pedaling through remote country on those fun, in between miles. None feel "dead" to me.

I understand that a structured plan with high intensity workouts produces results. By following a variety of such plans over the years, I have experienced the speed and endurance gains from high intensity training. However, these days I choose not to rigorously structure my riding to specific training. I just ride.

That does not mean my week is without structure. For base building and recovery, I commute every day by bike, year around, which is about 25-30 minutes each way or almost 5 hours a week. That quietly adds up to about 2,500 miles a year. I don't feel compelled to add more base building/recovery rides during the limited ride times on nights and weekends.

For high intensity training, I now run. In late 2017, I started running again after a very long hiatus. For the past 68 weeks, I have run three times a week, with increasingly harder and longer efforts. By now, I'm at Tuesday early morning short intervals (4x3min, 3 miles total), Thursday early morning threshold (1x20min, 3 miles total) and Sunday morning trails (1 hour up and around M-Hill). The key for me is consistent effort over time. I am gradually getting lighter and faster, both running and riding, as a direct result of incorporating these short runs into my week. They also free up the rest of my nights and weekends to find someplace fun to ride.

So, I bike commute for base building/recovery, run for training and ride nights/weekends for fun.

No "dead" miles for me.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Sometimes, More is More

The Black Hills BackBone. Go big. Go remote. Go for it.

More? The Black Hills DoubleBackBone.

Really? An even longer route? What prompted that? The DoubleBackBone is simply the result of my way of problem solving. 

Spanning the height of the State of South Dakota on 310 miles of back country gravel and dirt roads, the Black Hills BackBone showcases the remote ruggedness of Western South Dakota. It also creates a host of challenges for the adventurous cyclist. One not to overlook is just getting to the start at NoWhere, North Dakota and from the finish at NothingThere, Nebraska. From Rapid City, it's a three hour drive one way to the start and two hours one way from the finish.

How to eliminate those long shuttle drives? Make the route into a loop and start where convenient.

Imagine, if you will, riding along the original Black Hills BackBone route to the stop sign finish at the Nebraska border. Celebrate the moment, but then head west onto Dakota Line Road to access the Wild, Wild Western reaches of the Black Hills. A serpentine network of barely used gravel and dirt roads wind generally north for a return up O'Neil Pass, before dropping onto the Northern Prairie to the North Dakota border.

Now, that's one big, bad ride. Over 640 miles, all told.

The Black Hills DoubleBackBone. Go bigger. Go more remote. Go for more.

Out there. Somewhere. On the Black Hills DoubleBackBone.
Sometimes, more is more. More rolling prairie patrolled by herds of cattle, buffalo, pronghorn and elk. More obscure canyons scoured by flash floods. More twisty ridge lines climbing to soaring views. More hills stuffed with pine and aspen. More dirt near-roads connecting with secondary Forest Service gravel. And even more remote than the easterly side of the loop, which is a bit hard to believe until you're out there. Get you some of that!

The Black Hills DoubleBackBone, like the original BackBone, is just a route that I think is fun and challenging, however one chooses to experience it. Solo or group. One continuous ride, a series of days or in sections over time. Self-supported, shuttled or fully supported. Maybe some combination or even all of the above.

For cue sheets for the entire Black Hills DoubleBackBone route, follow this link. DoubleBackBone Cue Sheets. For some ideas on how to approach the 640 mile route, go to this post. DoubleBackBone Daydreams. For pictures and other details along the route, go the posts in early 2018, including NothingThere, NE to EdgemontEdgemont to Jewell CaveJewell Cave to O'Neil PassO'Neil Pass to Camp Crook Road (part 1)O'Neil Pass to Camp Crook Road (part 2)Camp Crook Road to NoWhere, ND.

The Black Hills DoubleBackBone. Go bigger. Go more remote. Go for more.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

No. We'll Ride the C.O.G. 100.

To prepare for this scene in the movie "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," Paul Newman reportedly tried to convince a friend to enter a single speed only gravel race in Iowa in March on an 111 mile course devised by the dastardly mind of Guitar Ted. Sometimes, you just have to go for it.

Here's to those who willingly jumped into the C.O.G. 100 Iowa Gravel Single Speed Championship!

See you in March!

Now 50 years old, the movie "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" is probably a bit obscure to many. Here's a link to this cliff jumping scene. Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid - Jump. This movie is worth watching just for the bicycle scene (yes, in a western!).

Here's also a link to my earlier post about the C.O.G. 100 Iowa Gravel Single Speed Championship. Keeping It Real - The C.O.G. 100.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Black Hills BackBone Overview & Links

The Black Hills BackBone emerged from a whimsical daydream into a 310 mile gravel and dirt road route spanning the height of the State of South Dakota along the spine of the Black Hills. From the Dakota Marker start at NoWhere, North Dakota to the Stop Sign finish at NothingThere, Nebraska, the Black Hills BackBone showcases the remote ruggedness of western South Dakota.

This route is out there. The first 220+ miles pass through but two towns, one of which offers little more than a bar/convenience store. There very well may be more miles without cell phone coverage than with. And in this back country, people are outnumbered by cows and probably by deer and elk, too.

Conceived as an unsupported, solo ride, the Black Hills BackBone readily lends itself to a multi-day bikepacking ride or even a multi-day supported tour. In 2017, a small group of friends rode the entire route over three days in the heat and winds of a Fourth of July weekend. For a six part report on that ride, go to these posts. An Idea Takes Shape; Gathering; Crossing the Northern Prairie; Up and Into the Black Hills; Focus on the Finish; A Weekend to Remember.

The tall, broad shoulders of Flag Mountain reveal the granite peaks of Mount Rushmore and Harney Peak.
To my knowledge, the entire Black Hills BackBone has not been ridden on a bicycle as a continuous, unsupported solo ride. That is not from lack of preparation or effort on my part. In my first attempt in 2015, I stumbled into ferocious prairie winds with horizontal rain that eventually spit me out in Spearfish 135 miles later, barely able to stand.  A Rancher's Kindness.  In my second attempt in 2016, I flew across the 135 miles of Northern Prairie in ideal conditions before plowing into a freak ice blizzard climbing O'Neil Pass, dropping me into a trail head outhouse shaking like a frozen leaf.  A Sudden Turn.  My third attempt remains undocumented, as I still cannot wrap my mind around that ride.

So, the first to complete an unsupported, continuous Black Hills BackBone will hold the course record. Whether anyone else gives it a go, or not, I'll be back out there again.

Lots of details and pictures of the Black Hills BackBone route are posted throughout this blog, if you're looking for a nice, long, remote ride. To save a trip through the blog archives, here are links to prior blog posts for the route. Introduction; Overview; Final CutNew Cue Sheets & TweaksBackBone Photo Essay