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Thursday, February 25, 2021

Knock, Knock, Knockin' On Odin's Door (2021 edition)

The Buffalo Bill Rough Rider Gravel Grinder is back on the calendar for Saturday, June 5, 2021 after the planned inaugural race in 2020 was cancelled due to governmental permit issues related to virus concerns. Last year, I wrote a post titled "Knock, Knock, Knockin' On Odin's Door" about this new event. With the inaugural race re-set for 2021, I am reproducing that post.

Shae and Jeff Caldwell, owners of local bike shop White Tail Cycle Sport, spearhead this community event, which is just one of many ways they are involved with their community. This is grass roots gravel. This is where the gravel family lives and thrives.

I'll be there and I hope to see some of you there, too.

2021 Buffalo Bill Rough Rider Gravel Grinder
(photo by course designer Paul Brasby)

Knock, Knock, Knockin' On Odin's Door (first published 2/5/20)

Here's a new event with a classic grass roots gravel vibe. The Buffalo Bill Rough Rider Gravel Grinder. North Platte, Nebraska. June 5, 2021. Registration at

Everyone from dusty old timers to the gravel curious will enjoy this event, with routes of 25 miles, 60 miles, and 120 miles. Shae and Jeff Caldwell, hometown owners of WhiteTail Cycle Sport, are the driving forces behind the festivities, with additional help from local cyclists Lane Bergen, Paul Brasby, Ben Cooper, Luke Meduna and Randall Smith. Without knowing anything more, I know that these fine folks will put together a great event, with something for everyone, on and off the bike.

Climbing on some powdered roads on the Buffalo Bill Rough Rider Gravel Grinder course.

Starting from the railroad town of North Platte, Nebraska, the Buffalo Bill Rough Rider Gravel Grinder plunges into the remote valleys and deep draws of barely-populated South Central Nebraska. One can ride for hours on these winding, rough, remote roads without seeing an occupied building, let alone a convenience store or a town. I can't wait to see where these routes go.

Although the 120 mile route remains a secret, a few leaked photographs reveal that it enters the legendary realm of Odin's Revenge. Think long, hot, steep climbs up rutted roads, panoramic ridge line cowpaths pocketed with hoof prints, and jarring, bumpy descents bottoming out on pooled, powdered dirt. I suspect there will be long stretches of hero gravel, but there's also a hint of swinging through a section of single track in the renowned Potter's Pasture. Something for everyone.

A peak into the legendary realm of Odin's Revenge.

As a four time finisher of the legendary Odin's Revenge, I recognize these roads. Of course, the Buffalo Bill Rough Rider starts in North Platte, not Gothenburg, and will offer a unique experience. Nonetheless, race reports and photographs from Odin's Revenge offer some insight into the country and roads this new event will enter. To see some of what's out there, here are links to my posts with reports, photographs, and results from each of the five years of Odin's Revenge. The End Of Odin's Revenge2012 Odin's Revenge - Seeking2013 Odin's Revenge - Eureka2014 Odin's Revenge - Mud Year2015 Odin's Revenge - Gettin' After It2016 Odin's Revenge - Back In The SaddleOdin's Revenge - Team DSG.

So, there you go. Unknown course. Unknown elevation gain. Unknown road surfaces. Unknown resupply. Unknown human presence. Unknown unknowns.

Here's one known. A ride through this country, on a route created by these folks, will be memorable.

YEE-HAW! Topping another hill on the Buffalo Bill Rough Rider Gravel Grinder route.

Even the Start/Finish is unique at the Buffalo Bill Rough Rider Gravel Grinder.

Now, for you folks still singing Bob Dylan's "Knockin' On Heaven's Door," here's a link to the original. Knockin' On Heaven's Door.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Calm Energy

I can see clearly now, the rain is gone
I can see all obstacles in my way
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind
It's gonna be a bright, bright, sun shiny day
It's gonna be a bright, bright, sun shiny day

I Can See Clearly Now, Johnny Nash (1972)

From the first hard pedal stroke, I knew. 

This was not my day. Nothing felt right on the bike. No strength. No power. No acceleration.

OK. I shift down a couple of gears and consider my planned ride for the day. I'm looking at almost 30 miles with 2,200+ feet of elevation gain on remote gravel roads and ATV trails in the heart of the Black Hills of South Dakota in February. With unknown snow and surface conditions, I really don't know how long or difficult this ride will be. At least 3 hours. Maybe as long as 6. And probably pretty hard.

I do know that I don't feel strong. I just don't feel up for it physically, which happens every so often, regardless of my relative level of conditioning. However, I know that feeling is a sure sign that I really need to ride today. So, I call it a "Low Energy" day and ride anyhow. I just know it won't be pretty.

As I plug along, the road and trail surfaces are very soft, whether covered in snow or not. When I occasionally struggle, I pull back a bit. After all, it's a "Low Energy" day.

After a couple of hours of hard pedaling uphill through snow and mud, I eventually realize that I was not "Low Energy" today after all. I had plenty of energy, just not unlimited bursts of it to power through every soft stretch or sprint up every steep pitch. In other words, I had plenty of energy to ride my bike on this route, in these conditions, at a steady pace, all day long. I simply had to manage that energy properly. And manage my thoughts properly.

That's when I realized that calling such a day "Low Energy" was not only false, but self-defeating. By doing so, I gave authority to thoughts that conspired to shorten my ride, scale back my effort, and dampen my confidence. Just like that, I decided that today was no longer a "Low Energy" day.

So, if not "Low Energy," what then?

Calm Energy. I have energy. Calmly apply it.

Those thoughts carried me through the rest of the ride, which turned out to be about 4 hours of challenging pedaling through softened snowpack and wheel grabbing mud. I stopped more than a few times to physically recover from the effort. But I did not struggle mentally or emotionally, once I resolved to focus on channeling my Calm Energy.  

From now on, I'll call such a day a "Calm Energy" day. When feeling slow, or sluggish, or just not my best, I will then call upon my "Calm Energy" to turn the pedals. And I'll see what the day brings.

I Can See Clearly Now, Johnny Nash, (1972).

Thursday, February 11, 2021

2021 Black Hills Gravel WarmUp Cup

And I do believe I'm feelin' stronger every day.
Feelin' Stronger Every Day, Peter Cetera & James Pankow (1973).

Once out riding on gravel in winter, I was astonished by the number and length of rides possible, even here in Western South Dakota. See my 2015 post, A Revelation. After several winters of riding primarily prairie gravel, I decided to head back into the Black Hills this year. After all, my Black Mountain Monster Cross with 40 mm tires handles a couple of inches of snow just fine and now I have a Jones 29+ with 3.25 inch tires for heartier stuff.

Then Lucas Haan, the irrepressible force of nature behind Black Hills Gravel, provided the perfect excuse to head for the Hills by announcing the Black Hills Gravel WarmUp Cup, a challenge to ride 4 different Black Hills Gravel Series routes during the 13 weeks of winter. As I understand, the idea is to encourage folks to ride more during the winter, prepare for the spring Black Hills Gravel Series, and nurture our local gravel family by sharing rides and experiences. For WarmUp Cup details, go to Black Hills Gravel WarmUp Cup. To select a route from the growing library at, go the Routes and Resources page.

I decided to complete my Black Hills Gravel WarmUp Cup by riding each of the four Black routes based out of Hill City, aka the Heart of the Hills. During my first ride, however, I soon discovered that the depth and inconsistency of the snow on those rough backroads would make any of the Black routes (50+ miles/5,000+ foot elevation gain) a monster outing for me. Looking more to build base than to destroy my body and mind, I opted for the shorter Blue routes (25+ miles/2,500+ foot elevation gain). Those were a'plenty. Here's my summary.

1. 2017 Hill City Blue Route (WarmUp Cup #1 - January 2)

To kickstart the Black Hills Gravel WarmUp Cup, I dove into the Hills to ride the 2017 Hill City Black Route. That was the plan, anyhow. Right from the start, however, I slogged through ice, then packed snow, and eventually untracked snow riding up China Gulch Road (USFS 249) and Horse Creek Road (USFS 530). When finally emerging on Mystic Road, I reassessed time, light, and energy and opted for the shorter Blue Route. 

It was a great day on the bike, with big sunshine, moderate temperatures, and little wind. For the most part, the snow was either just 1-2 inches, which I could ride through, or hard packed enough to ride on top. My Black Mountain Monster Cross bike with 40 mm tires worked fine.

With all the snow, however, those 30-some miles still worked me. So, I guess I'll stick with the Black Hills Gravel Series Blue routes for my first WarmUp Cup.

Horse Creek Road with my track joining those of many animals.
Black Mountain Monster Cross with 40 mm G-Ones handled the 1-2 inches of snow just fine.

2. 2018 Hill City Blue Route (WarmUp Cup #2 - January 13)

The WarmUP Cup encourages folks to ride throughout the winter by spacing four rides at least 10 days apart from each other. So, 11 days after riding the 2017 Hill City Blue route for my WarmUp Cup #1, I ventured back to Hill City to take on the 2018 Hill City Blue route.

Once through the pavement of Hill City, the 16 miles or so up China Gulch Road (USFS 249), Horse Creek Road (USFS 530), and Mystic Road are the same as the start of the 2017 Hill City Blue route. Although no new snow appeared to have fallen over the past 11 days, this stretch was full of winter. China Gulch started icy and turned to packed snow. Then Horse Creek started filled with untracked snow and eventually offered a couple of tracks packed by a vehicle or two. Mystic Road was just icy. Overall, it was at least as much work as 11 days ago, as the snow didn't melt away, it just became more dense.

Although overcast and cool all day, the wind didn't really pick up until I turned south on Mystic Road and then Battle Axe Road (USFS 386). That meant a sweet tailwind for about 10 miles and then 2 miles down Reno Gulch Road (USFS 303) into Hill City. Overall, it was a good day to get into the Hills before more snow falls.

Horse Creek Road showing my track from today and from 11 days ago.

3. 2019 Hill City Blue Route (WarmUp Cup #3 - January 24)

Just 11 days after riding the 2018 Hill City Blue route for my WarmUp Cup #2, I returned to Hill City to take on the 2019 Hill City Blue route. During that week and a half, however, snow accumulated a few times throughout the Black Hills. So, I decided to take my Jones 29+ bike to have the best chance of riding those 30 miles.

After a short section of Mickelson Trail, most of this route followed USFS Secondary roads stuffed with 2-4 inches of snow. All were rideable on the packed tracks left by a few vehicles, although it was slow and arduous. Twice I stopped to drop the pressure in those big 3.25 inch tires to stay atop the snow. I doubt I could have ridden that route on that day on anything less.

The day started mostly sunny, cool at 24 degrees, and breezy and didn't change much. The gradual climb up Spring Creek Road (USFS 305) and Reno Gulch Road (USFS 303) had just enough traffic since the last snowfall to pack a couple of rideable tracks. Onto Newton Fork Road (USFS 304), the number of vehicle tracks dropped significantly, making for tougher sledding. Fortunately, well over half of that 6 miles is downhill, which I rode mostly on untracked snow. Then Battle Axe Road (USFS 386) was much like Spring Creek and Reno Gulch. Overall, the Blue route in those conditions was every bit as difficult as the Black route in summer.

Harney Peak from the ridgeline view along Newton Fork Road.

4. 2020 Hill City Blue Route (WarmUp Cup #4 - February 3)

For my fourth and final ride of the 2021 Black Hills Gravel Challenge Cup, I returned to Hill City to ride the 2020 Hill City Blue route. I briefly considered riding my Black Mountain Monster Cross bike, but fortunately returned to reality and loaded up the Jones 29+.

Once out of the pavement of Hill City, the first 12 miles or so up the Mickelson Trail and Spring Creek Road (USFS 305) are the same as the 2019 Hill City Blue route. But those miles did not ride the same this week. Bright sunshine and 48 degrees softened the Mickelson Trail, even where it was clear of snow. Then Spring Creek Road was mostly packed from some traffic, but also was very soft. Those first 12 miles, almost all uphill, demanded hard, consistent pedaling with attention to staying atop the snow. I needed every bit of the width of those plus-sized tires on the Jones 29+.

After topping out another climb to a ridge line on Reno Gulch Road (USFS 303), the route inexplicably turned onto ATV trails for over 3 miles, the first mile of which offered 4-6 inches of untracked snow. I stopped twice to drop tire pressure, until it was down into single digits. Then the next 2 miles were a delightful mix of snow, ice and mud, as I careened downhill. A Lucas Haan designed route is never over 'till it's over.

All in all, this was an appropriate ride to complete my Black Hills Gravel WarmUp Cup! Thanks, Lucas!

Plowing up a snow-packed Spring Creek Road, softened from the sun and 48 degrees.

Nothing like a little Chicago, the rock band with brass, to show how to feel stronger every day.

Feelin' Stronger Every Day, Chicago (1973)

And here's a solid cover by Leonid and Friends, a Russian band, 45 years later.

Feelin' Stronger Every Day, Leonid & Friends (2018)

Thursday, February 4, 2021

Why Do You Ride?

Five students rode their bicycles from the market to the monastery. Upon their arrival, their teacher asked them, "Why do you ride your bicycle?"

The first student replied, "The bicycle is carrying this sack of potatoes. I am glad I do not have to carry them on my back!" The teacher praised the first student, "You are smart! When you grow old, you will not walk hunched over."

The second student replied, "I love to watch the trees and fields pass by, as I roll down the path!" The teacher commended the second student, "Your eyes are open! You see the world."

The third student replied, "When I ride my bicycle, I am content to chant nam myoho renge kyo." The teacher praised the third student, "Your mind rolls with the ease of a newly trued wheel."

The fourth student replied, "By riding my bicycle, I live in harmony with all sentient beings." The teacher was pleased, "You ride on the golden path of non-harming."

The fifth student replied, "I ride my bicycle to ride my bicycle." The teacher sat at the feet of the fifth student and said, "I am your student."

Zen proverb