Search This Blog

Sunday, July 18, 2021

GDMBR Anticipation

We can never know about the days to come
But we think about them anyway
And I wonder if I'm really with you now
Or just chasin' after some finer day
Is makin' me wait
Is keepin' me waiting

Anticipation, Carly Simon (1971)

My loaded Jones 29+ ready to roll on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route.
I love M-Hill in the heart of Rapid City, but can't wait to explore some new trails and roads.

Oh, the anticipation.

Years in the making. Many months in detailed preparation. It's time.

Over 20 years ago, I learned that the Adventure Cycling Association completed mapping the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route (GDMBR), a 2,500 mile bicycle route on gravel and dirt roads along the Continental Divide across the country from Canada to Mexico. It immediately captured my imagination.

Over the years, I've dreamt of riding the GDMBR someday, while wistfully following the exploits of others. Two years ago, with all the silliness from La-Z-Boy internet warriors arguing arbitrary "racing" rules, I expressed my personal approach to riding it. Bikepacking The GDMBR. Then, last month, I finally announced my own planned start date of July 22, 2021. My GDMBR Date Is Set. As a bonus, cycling buddy Paul Brasby stomped on the pedals by committing to start with me. Hit It! Other friends and family may also join me somewhere along the way. With A Little Help From My Friends. It's time.

I've been up, down, and sideways through my bike, packs, gear, food, water, communications, navigation, and everything else I can think of. My numerous GDMBR posts sprinkled throughout this blog merely hint at what's been happening here. And it's not just armchair planning. This calendar year alone, I've ridden over 1,000 miles on my 70 pound, fully loaded Jones 29+ bike and another 500 miles on that bike unloaded, let alone the miles on my other bikes. It's time.

One final check and I'm bound for the U.S. Border Station at Roosville, Montana. It's time.

Anticipation. It's making me wait.

Anticipation, Carly Simon (1971)

NOTE:  I do not plan to post again on this blog until returning from the GDMBR. If all goes well, that should be some time.

Thursday, July 15, 2021

2021 Black Hills Bounty (Wrap + Map Links) - A Ride With Friends

You've got a friend in me, You've got a friend in me,
When the road looks rough ahead,
And you're miles and miles from your nice warm bed,
You just remember what your old pal said,
Boy, you've got a friend in me,
Yeah, you've got a friend in me.

You've Got A Friend In Me, Randy Newman (1995)

Out for a friendly little ride on the 2021 Black Hills Bounty.
Paul Brasby, Lane Bergen, Craig Groseth, Mark Hoffman, Ben Cooper, Jeff Bloom

The concept of the 2021 Black Hills Bounty formed over many conversations with Paul Brasby during a week of long days pedaling the Cloud Peak 500 bikepacking route last summer. In general, Paul sought a multi-day bikepacking ride on remote, rough roads through the best of the Black Hills of South Dakota. But he also wanted a bucket list ride up iconic Iron Mountain Road to Mount Rushmore, which would be primarily paved and full of tourist traffic. And he wanted to invite cycling friends with various levels of bikepacking experience. Oh, and some of the families might vacation in the Black Hills at the same time.

Over the winter, we bounced around many ideas in the process of developing a plan, which eventually landed on 5 days of riding based out of the centrally located tourist town of Custer. We then decided on a remote start from a dispersed campsite, a Day 1 ride to second dispersed campsite, a Day 2 ride ending in a campground in Custer, a layover Day 3 where our gear stayed in Custer while we rode a Mount Rushmore paved road loop, a Day 4 ride to a third dispersed campsite, and a short Day 5 ride back to Custer. So, basically an Overnighter, a Layover, and a second Overnighter with a short ride home. That plan seemed to fit most everything in. See, Scouting A Route For Friends and Looking For Black Hills Bounty.

The days were hot and dry, despite the occasional ornery cloud.
Day 1 of the 2021 Black Hills Bounty.

Each day we adapted to changing circumstances, but I believe we stayed true to our objectives. We rode every bit of the miles planned for Days 1-4 and experienced all of our anticipated highlights, and then some. Ben, Paul and Lane even added a Day 0 ride to get up to that remote, dispersed campsite. Take a look at the ride reports for each day. Day 0 - Come TogetherDay 1 - Start Of Something GoodDay 2 - Trust, Day 3 - All American, and Day 4 - End Of The Line.

At the end of Day 4, we did cut out the third dispersed campsite, but we enjoyed camping together in Custer that night. We did not ride at all on Day 5, which I had planned to be relatively short anyhow so folks could drive home that night. I'll just squirrel away for another day some of those great back roads planned for Day 5.

Not all the roads were gravel or dirt, but most all were pretty skinny.
Day 3 of the 2021 Black Hills Bounty.

I admit to having some apprehension when Paul invited seemingly all of Nebraska and half of Kansas to this ride. I always envisioned the Black Hills Bounty as an outline for a week of backcountry riding and camping with friends. Not a race, not an event, not a destination, and not even a fixed route over a set number of days. Most of all, I emphatically did not want to manage a large gathering of strangers.

It turned out great, because the guys that rode it were great. Ben Cooper and Paul Brasby of North Platte, Nebraska. Jeff Bloom of Lincoln, Nebraska. Lane Bergen of Fort Collins, Colorado. Mark Hoffman of Marysville, Kansas. They each spent precious personal time and traveled hundreds of miles just to ride together on unknown roads in the Black Hills. Thanks, guys, for coming together for the week.

Strong, experienced cyclists all, they pedaled four hard, hot days on rough roads through remote backcountry with nothing but smiles, good cheer, laughter, enthusiasm, and cooperation. And they trusted me to show them great back roads, as well as the way home, notwithstanding plenty of reason to doubt.

I'll ride with you guys anytime.

Lane Bergen chills while Jeff Bloom, Mark Hoffman & Ben Cooper set up camp.
End of Day 1 of the 2021 Black Hills Bounty.

Here's a link to the collection for our 2021 Black Hills Bounty, as ridden. 2021 Black Hills Bounty Collection. That page links to digital maps for each day.

You've Got A Friend In Me, Toy Story Theme Song, Randy Newman (1995)

Sunday, July 11, 2021

2021 Black Hills Bounty (Day 4) - End Of The Line

Well, it's alright, ridin' around in the breeze
Well, it's alright, if you live the life you please
Well, it's alright, doin' the best that you can
Well, it's alright, as long as you lend a hand

The End Of The Line, Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Jeff Lynn, Ray Orbison, Tom Petty (1988)

Cautiously coasting toward a buffalo herd on Lame Johnny Road in Custer State Park.
Day 4 of the 2021 Black Hills Bounty.

Day 4 of the Black Hills Bounty starts with some roster changes and a resulting big audible. 

Ben Cooper rode every bit and then some of the Black Hills Bounty during the time he had available and now on Day 4 must return to North Platte to honor family commitments. Paul Brasby brought family along for a week's vacation in the Black Hills and has seen them off and on. To honor his family commitments on Day 5, Paul plans to ride the morning of Day 4 but return to Custer rather than remote camp, and then spend Day 5 with family. 

I know that the other 3 guys have commitments at home later in the week and had planned Day 5 to be a pretty short day anyway. So I ask what they'd think of modifying Day 4 to loop back to Custer with Paul and simply save the remote campsite and the roads of short Day 5 for another time. With 3 big days behind us, a full day ahead and each facing a long drive home, we agree to call the 2021 Black Hills Bounty good after Day 4.

Another DEAD END? Really? Are you sure? Yep, that's the way.
Craig Groseth, Jeff Bloom, Paul Brasby, Lane Bergen, Mark Hoffman
Day 4 of the 2021 Black Hills Bounty.

So, with that big audible, we roll out of Custer for a Day 4 grand finale ride of a big 60 mile loop south and east into the buffalo and burro country of Custer State Park and Wind Cave National Park. We'll ride the first 43 miles to Pringle, as originally planned. Then, instead of riding south 17 miles on Secondary and Low Standard Roads to a dispersed campsite, we'll turn north 15 miles on the popular Mickelson Trail back to Custer.

But not before another hearty breakfast at Baker's Bakery in downtown Custer. It's habit forming.

Lane Bergen and Mark Hoffman lead the way toward Custer State Park.
Early on Day 4 of the 2021 Black Hills Bounty.

Fully loaded on burritos and pancakes, we drop south out of Custer on Sidney Park Road (793), climb a little for a couple of miles on Hazelrodt Cutoff Road (343) and then quickly descend to Lower French Creek Road (342) all the way down to the Hazelrodt Picnic Area at about 9 miles. It happens so fast. And ends just as fast at a sign. DEAD END. 

Imagine that. Everyone stops and looks at me. Yes, of course, this is the way. (I think). Yes, this goes through. (I think). Yes, somehow. (I think). Yes, keep going that way. (I think).

That DEAD END sign was accurate, at least for motorized traffic.
We pass through the gate and onto some smooth single track.
Day 4 of the 2021 Black Hills Bounty.

The road turns rough and passes a few cabins, ending at a fence. But there's an opening for non-motorized traffic and a mellow single track beckons from the other side. We squeeze our bikes through and amble down the single track, which starts as smooth dirt and gradually dissipates to little more than bent grass. Dropping toward French Creek, we spot a bridge and bee-line to it. On the other side lies paved Highway 87 near the Blue Bell Picnic Area.

Road closed, schmoad closed. We're through and now into Custer State Park.

Jeff Bloom, Mark Hoffman, Paul Brasby navigate the barely-track.
Early on Day 4 of the 2021 Black Hills Bounty.

We ride less than a mile of pavement to turn onto graveled Lame Johnny Road (CSP 4), which drops into the French Creek Horse Camp. This is a large state campground developed specifically for folks to camp with their horses and ride the surrounding trails. The 111 mile single track Centennial Trail also wanders through this camp on its meandering path through the Black Hills from Bear Butte to Wind Cave National Park. We stop for some cool water and soft pedal through.

Climbing out the French Creek valley, the forest thins a bit and someone asks when we should start looking out for buffalo. Anytime you are in Custer State Park, I respond. They can be anywhere, including in the trees, where you don't expect them. With that said, we round a corner to face a couple hundred of buffalo lounging all over the road.

Our short single track connector ends at a bridge over French Creek.
Day 4 of the 2021 Black Hills Bounty.

There's not much room in this narrow valley to pass so many buffalo and this herd does not look overly interested in moving. Many lie in the tall grass, while others graze. What really stands out amongst the big beasts are the many lighter colored calves. 

This is not a herd of buffalo to underestimate or, worse, to try to order around. The entire herd will aggressively protect every one of those calves milling about. And those mammoth bulls on the outer edges will protect everyone else. We are not about to get very close.

Black Hills traffic jam. Don't mess with buffalo, especially with calves.
Day 4 of the 2021 Black Hills Bounty.

We cautiously coast toward the buffalo and they begin to move down the road. I know that the road forks ahead in a little bit. If the buffalo will move that far, we can just take whatever fork they don't.

That sounds like a good plan, until a group of cars approach from the other way. The buffalo not only stop, but some look to be coming back our way. Now we retreat and look for another option.

We consider crossing a ridge to skirt the scene, but only find more buffalo in that direction. So, we wait on the road. More automobile traffic appears, from both directions. Stalemate.

The entire herd quickly and decisively moves to protect every calf.
Day 4 of the 2021 Black Hills Bounty.

Eventually, the buffalo decide that they've had enough and move more quickly down the road along the adjoining hillside. Some cars start to move in the same direction and we tag along with them. Before long, we all reach the fork. The buffalo go left, up and out of the valley. So, we say "Have A Great Day" and turn right.

The trees all but disappear as we drop heavily into the rolling hills at the prairie's edge. In about 7 miles, we descend over 1,000 feet to breathlessly land at the Custer State Park Wild Life Visitors Center. Now, that was a sudden change of pace and landscape. We take a break at a shelter, which surprisingly offers a pop vending machine, along with cold water. Nice.

Jeff Bloom powers up Red Valley Road (CSP 6) to the ridgeline border with Wind Cave National Park.
Day 4 of the 2021 Black Hills Bounty.

We follow the paved Wildlife Loop for just 2 miles before crunching gravel again on Red Valley Road (CSP 6). Near that intersection, a large number of parked cars draw my attention to scores of people walking out on the prairie. I follow the moving lines to a pack of burros enjoying lunch.

These wild burros originally came to this area as pack animals in the 1800's. Some made their way into the wild and these descendants are managed in the park as wild animals. In any event, the burros are long time favorites of tourists and locals.

We pause on a climb in Wind Cave National Park for another buffalo crossing.
Day 4 of the 2021 Black Hills Bounty.

Riding south on Red Valley Road, we cross the border into Wind Cave National Park and briskly drop down Boland Ridge. Most tourists go to Wind Cave National Park, well, to see the big cave. That leaves almost all of the 28,000+ acres above ground free of tourist traffic, unlike busy Custer State Park. I ride these sweet gravel back roads at least a few times a year and rarely see more than a car or two.

On the other hand, every single time I've ridden Highland Ridge Road (NPS 5) in Wind Cave National Park, I have seen buffalo. And these beasts are not accustomed to vehicle traffic. So, not surprisingly, we pause for a herd slowly moving across the road.

Paul Brasby and Jeff Bloom spin up another pitch along Highland Ridge Road.
Day 4 of the 2021 Black Hills Bounty.

Cresting a final pitch up Highland Ridge, we meet a real Trail Angel, a friendly young man from North Carolina visiting the Black Hills for the first time. Polite and engaging, he graciously offers each of us water and makes sure that we're OK. It's like manna from heaven.

After taking a few pictures from that vantage point, we beat feet over to the first shade in miles. We've ridden almost 30 miles today and most of the remaining 28 miles are uphill. Water and lunch await at Pringle, a one bar settlement about 13 sunny, exposed miles and 1,000 feet uphill from here.

Coasting down to another intersection with the Centennial Trail, we pass alongside yet another herd of buffalo and ride directly through a prairie dog colony. Stay alert. Those are not potholes in the gravel road, but rather holes to prairie dog burrows.

Shade bandits taking a break from the heat and hills in Wind Cave National Park.
Craig Groseth, Jeff Bloom, Mark Hoffman, Paul Brasby
Day 4 of the 2021 Black Hills Bounty.

We finally climb out of Wind Cave National Park back into Black Hills National Forest. Almost immediately, we spot the historic Cold Spring School, a log cabin school built in 1887 and restored in 1965, and the adjacent Cold Spring Cemetery, with grave stones dating back to the 1880's. There's also a functioning outhouse of the same vintage.

Turning onto Beaver Creek Road (391), we wind along a scenic valley, up a serious pitch to paved U.S. Highway 385, and then drop a short spell to Pringle. It's past time for lunch and there's not much at the Hitch Rail Bar. We buy what we can, eat what we have, refill water and turn north on the Mickelson Trail for a gradual 15 mile climb back to Custer.

Cruising along Highland Ridge Road through Wind Cave National Park, heading up into the Hills.
Lane Bergen, Jeff Bloom, Mark Hoffman, Craig Groseth
Day 4 of the 2021 Black Hills Bounty.

Once clear of Pringle by a few miles, the Mickelson Trail meanders through a series of meadows and valleys sprinkled with occasional granite outcroppings and small ranches. This is a pleasant cool down to a hot day riding mostly out on the transitional hills between forest and prairie. 

After several encounters with herds of buffalo, but only one audible, we ride back into Custer at about 58 miles and over 3,700 feet of elevation gain. Our final day on the 2021 Black Hills Bounty.

Bicycle "sculpture" at Pringle.
Day 4 of the 2021 Black Hills Bounty.

Here's a link to the map I created for Day 4 of the 2021 Black Hills Bounty, as ridden by Craig, Jeff, Lane, Mark and Paul. 2021 Black Hills Bounty - Day 4.

For my prior posts on the 2021 Black Hills Bounty, go to Day 0 - Come Together, Day 1 - Start Of Something Good, and Day 2 - Trust, and Day 3 - All American.

End Of The Line, Traveling Wilburys (1988)

Thursday, July 8, 2021

2021 Black Hills Bounty (Day 3) - All American

I'm proud to be an American
Where at least I know I'm free
And I won't forget the men who died
Who gave that right to me
And I'll gladly stand up
Next to you and defend her still today
Cause there aint no doubt I love this land
God bless the USA

God Bless The USA, Lee Greenwood (1984)

Mark Hoffman, Ben Cooper, Lane Bergen, Craig Groseth, Jeff Bloom, Paul Brasby
Mount Rushmore, The Shrine Of Democracy
Day 3 of the 2021 Black Hills Bounty

Layover Day! 

On Day 3 of the 2021 Black Hills Bounty, we drop all our bikepacking gear at our campground in Custer to ride a paved road loop of iconic Iron Mountain Road and Needles Highway, with a memorable stop at Mount Rushmore National Monument. This is a bucket list ride for many cyclists, motorcyclists and motorists, near and far. The Black Hills Bounty posse is stoked, to say the least.

Look uphill through the trees. Paul Brasby spins up a series of switchbacks on Iron Mountain Road.
Day 3 of the 2021 Black Hills Bounty.

This is not a rest day, even though our bikes are much lighter without all that gear and most of our miles are paved. We're still looking at almost 60 miles and 6,300 feet of elevation gain in the heat of June.  

Bring it on. We fuel on big breakfast burritos, omelettes, pancakes and cinnamon rolls at Baker's Bakery in downtown Custer. Spirits are high. This promises to be a ride to remember.

Jeff Bloom, Lane Bergen and Ben Cooper
piggyback on a car through a one lane tunnel.
Day 3 of the 2021 Black Hills Bounty.

We roll east on the paved bike path running parallel to U.S. Highway 16A, the Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway. We soon pass the Gordon Stockade, a restored encampment from the 1874 Custer Expedition that discovered gold in the Black Hills. Bismarck Lake and Legion Lake fly by. Boy, this feels light and fast.

We turn onto the lower stretch of Needles Highway (U.S. Highway 87) for a few miles to access Playhouse Road (753), which rolls up to re-connect with U.S. 16A, also known here as Iron Mountain Road or Pig Tail Highway. Up to now, the ride has been scenic and fun. Now, it turns iconic.

Mark Hoffman rounds a corner on Iron Mountain Road
to see Mount Rushmore framed by the forest itself.
Day 3 of the 2021 Black Hills Bounty.

Almost immediately, the road reaches a ridgeline with big views all around, including an occasional glimpse of Mount Rushmore through the forest. Over the next 3 miles of sweeping curves and steep switchbacks, we climb almost 1,000 feet to reach the Norbeck Overlook atop Iron Mountain. This ride is starting to warm up.

The Overlook is packed with tourists, even on this Wednesday morning, so we ride on. Rounding a bend, we abruptly drop that 1,000 feet over the next 4 miles of twisting, curving, narrow pavement. We lean through 270 degree turns over and then under pig tail bridges and squirt through one lane tunnels. The road even splits a couple of times, so we have a narrow lane all to ourselves to drop even faster.

Ben Cooper, Jeff Bloom, Mark Hoffman, Paul Brasby and Lane Bergen
celebrate another one lane tunnel on Iron Mountain Road.
Day 3 of the 2021 Black Hills Bounty.

Just as abruptly, that sweet downhill ends and we stare up a 2 mile, 800 foot climb to Mount Rushmore, with a pitch exceeding 14%. We each find our own rhythm here and grind up to the steady beat of tourist traffic.

Mount Rushmore National Monument charges $10 per vehicle to park in the multi-level garage, but there is no entry fee per se. As such, bicyclists are greeted by attendants with a smile and a wave-through. Once up to the entrance, you can actually walk your bike directly into the Monument, including right up to the main viewing pavilion.

Riding west of Mount Rushmore reveals a profile of George Washington.
Day 3 of the 2021 Black Hills Bounty.

We filter into the air conditioned cafeteria for lunch and treats. The burgers are good, but the ice cream merits its own area and draws the longest lines. This is quite a change from eating peanut butter/honey tortilla wraps sitting on a rock under a tree along some remote road.

We assemble outside for pictures and a last close-up look around Mount Rushmore. Laughs, smiles and good vibes abound. We've already ridden through a highlight reel of roads and we're not even halfway through the day.

Mark Hoffman, Jeff Bloom and Ben Cooper spin up toward Needles Highway.
Day 3 of the 2021 Black Hills Bounty.

Riding west of Mount Rushmore on 244, we roll down and up large rollers alongside substantial tourist traffic. About 6 miles later, at about 33 miles on the day, we finally hit our first gravel at Palmer Gulch Road (357). This rolling 2-3 miles of gravel restores a bit of the remote road vibe of the Bounty. 

Palmer Gulch Road also starts the day's final substantial climb of about 1,600 feet over the next 8.5 miles. But almost half of that elevation gain shoots up in a 2.5 mile series of steep switchbacks. This is a grind, but our bikes are still unloaded and the surface is still paved. It's not hard, it just takes time.

Jeff Bloom is pleased to clear those climbing switchbacks.
Day 3 of the 2021 Black Hills Bounty.

We re-group again at the intersection of Needles Highway (87) and Sylvan Lake Road (89). The big climbs are behind us and just ahead lie some big final highlights, including Sylvan Lake, Needles Eye, Cathedral Spires and the sweet downhill scream down Needles Highway. But it's also 17 more miles and 1,200 more feet of elevation gain to reach the end of this planned route to Custer. At this time of day, that's not nothing, even for this group.

There is an option to turn south on Sylvan Lake Road for a scenic 6 mile primarily downhill cruise to our campground in Custer. That would still be a memorable 46 mile/5,000+ foot elevation gain day.

Not surprisingly, no one takes the short cut. No one even considers it aloud. In fact, I think they took offense that I even mentioned the possibility. They want the big stuff ahead.

Lane Bergen threads through some spires on Needles Highway.
Day 3 of the 2021 Black Hills Bounty.

After a quick stop at Sylvan Lake, we spin up the last mile or two to Needle's Eye, the signature granite rock formation at the top of this rise. Folks congregate here to scramble on the vertical spires and to soak in the big views. The Cathedral Spires lie to the east, attracting hard core rock climbers from all over. To the south lie the Needles and, eventually, the rolling transition to prairie. 

After a final squeeze through a one lane tunnel, we drop, drop, drop for almost 6 miles down curvy Needles Highway. This is a hoop and holler ride all the way down, and for a long spell afterward. We don't have many pictures on this stretch, I suspect because we're all just hanging on for the ride.

Jeff Bloom snaps a few more pictures before descending Needles Highway.
Day 3 of the 2021 Black Hills Bounty.

All screaming downhills eventually end and all these bikepackers eventually return to gravel. We turn off Needles Highway onto American Center Road (345) for a rolling 6 miles of good gravel back toward Custer. We spin through the forest and pass a few small ranches, as the day winds down.

Day 3 of the 2021 Black Hills Bounty is filled with big memory highlights, all day long. It ends on a quiet gravel road, reminding us of the days behind, and the days ahead.

These mountains are ancient. A 2 billion year old Precambrian core uplifted 70 million years ago.
At the time, the peaks exceeded 15,000 feet, but even granite wears down eventually.
Day 3 of the 2021 Black Hills Bounty.

Riding our bikepacking bikes up iconic Iron Mountain Road and Needles Highway, with a lunch stop at Mount Rushmore and a couple of gravel connectors, we finish Day 3 in Custer after about 57 miles and 6,300 feet of elevation gain. And not one audible.

Here's a link to the map I created for Day 3 of the 2021 Black Hills Bounty, as ridden by Ben, Craig, Jeff, Lane, Mark and Paul. 2021 Black Hills Bounty - Day 3.

For my prior posts on the 2021 Black Hills Bounty, go to Day 0 - Come Together, Day 1 - Start Of Something Good, and Day 2 - Trust.

God Bless The USA, Lee Greenwood, USAF Band, Singing Sergeants & Home Free (2020)

Sunday, July 4, 2021

2021 Black Hills Bounty (Day 2) - Trust

Trust I seek and I find in you
Everyday for us something new
Open mind for a different view
And nothing else matters.

Nothing Else Matters, Lars Ulrich & James Hetfield (1991) 

Say, what?
Ben Cooper, Paul Brasby, Lane Bergen, Jeff Bloom, Mark Hoffman
Day 2 of the 2021 Black Hills Bounty.

"How'd the Mickelson Trail get here?"

Now that's something every out-of-stater wants to hear from the guy creating and leading a five day bicycle ride on rough, remote roads through sparsely populated backcountry with practically no cell coverage. Does he know where he's going? Does he even know where he is?

But these guys heard me say that early on Day 2 of the 2021 Black Hills Bounty. And they still trusted me to show them the way.

It matters.

Paul Brasby and Mark Hoffman cruising down Black Fox Camp Road.
Early on Day 2 of the 2021 Black Hills Bounty.

Day 2 of the 2021 Black Hills Bounty opens clear and warm at our impromptu dispersed campsite a couple of miles off the summit of Flag Mountain. Everyone rises early, eager to ride. Not surprisingly, Jeff Bloom immediately fires up his stove to brew the first cup of coffee of the day. Paul Brasby apparently orders room service and dines in. Ben Cooper and Mark Hoffman cook a quick breakfast and get to packing their bikes. And Tour Divide veteran Lane Bergen efficiently goes about his business and then patiently waits for the rest of us. 

After yesterday's extended ride in the heat, everyone looks forward to today's start. The first 15 miles flow down Black Fox Camp Road (233), one of my favorite dirt roads anywhere, and then picturesque South Rapid Creek Road (231). On several rides in the past, I've seen elk grazing and beaver working along these streams. Today the wildlife lay low, as we joyously rollick along a narrow canyon that opens to a lush valley.

Mark Hoffman, Jeff Bloom, Craig Groseth warming up on South Rapid Creek Road.
Early on Day 2 of the 2021 Black Hills Bounty.

At an intersection with Low Standard Road 191, we re-group. For some reason, Ben's GPS device beeps to turn south on this steep, rough, meandering dirt road that boasts substantial standing water from last night's rain. I've ridden 191 and admittedly included it in an early draft of Day 2. However, I later removed it due to its relatively lower reward/work assessment and the overall length of the rest of the day. It's a fun road to ride, but the standard for inclusion in the Black Hills Bounty is high.

Ben's GPX file for Day 2 must have been one of those early drafts. This does not inspire confidence with the troops in the accuracy of the other GPX maps that I sent out. I really don't know, as I only use hard copy maps. And the hard copy maps clearly do not take 191 here.

No audible here. We continue down South Rapid Creek Road.

Paul Brasby and Ben Cooper flying down Castle Peak Road.
 Day 2 of the 2021 Black Hills Bounty.

After 15 miles of primarily downhill, we grind about 3 miles up South Rochford Road (17) and a short pitch up a rough road. But then, the next 11 miles drop down narrow, winding Castle Peak Road 181, often right beside Castle Creek. This stretch is a Black Hills treasure, especially when mud-soaked and littered with water-filled potholes. 

Not today. Too bad. I had hoped for an immoderate amount of standing water here, just for the group's edification.

Popping out of Castle Peak Road, we coast down Mystic Road (318) the final 2 miles to the Mystic Trailhead of the Mickelson Trail. Here we find cold water, bathrooms, a shelter with picnic tables, and a steady stream of cyclists enjoying the well maintained, rails-to-trails Mickelson Trail. That first 31 miles sure passed quickly.

Lane Bergen busts down Castle Peak Road.
Day 2 of the 2021 Black Hills Bounty.

At the Mystic Trailhead, Jeff, Mark and Paul surprisingly greet a cyclist friend from Kansas, Jackie Hattle-Gregory, who is leading her own group of friends on a multiple day ride of the Mickelson Trail. What a small world. And cycling trails like the Mickelson Trail help make it smaller.

Our loaded bikes draw attention and questions from several others at the Trailhead, but eventually we return to pedaling. Breaking from all the remote back roads, we ourselves turn onto the Mickelson Trail for a steady five mile climb to cross a large trestle and ride through two hard rock tunnels. Although uphill, this gentle grade on a solid surface is downright relaxing.

The only water hole in the entire 11 mile Castle Peak Road. Sigh.
Day 2 of the 2021 Black Hills Bounty.

Once clear of the tunnels, we turn back onto the rough stuff on Horse Creek Road (530) for a short uphill  pitch and a bouncy descent to Slate Creek. Then, for the first time all day, we drop to our lowest gears, and often wish for a lower one, to climb about 3 miles up unnamed Low Standard Road 530.1A. After all these idyllic downhill miles and rail-to-trails miles to start the day, we actually have to work a bit here. How rude.

We also run into a little ATV/UTV traffic here, which provides an occasional break. These vehicles are popular out here, but relatively few venture as remote as we ride. Those folks are generally courteous and one even cheers me on as I grunt up a steep. We're all just out there, enjoying the Black Hills.

Engineer Ben Cooper shows Mark Hoffman how to negotiate a train tunnel.
Day 2 on the 2021 Black Hills Bounty. 

Cresting a final pitch up to a ridgeline, we are rewarded with views of Harney Peak and a short downhill to Low Standard Road 389.1D. Now, we're rocking down rough two track toward the historic Gold Mountain Mine. It's heating up and time for a break.

The Gold Mountain Mine is no longer an operating gold mine, but has been structurally restored as part of this historic site, with interpretive signs along walkways passing by the various structures. We casually stroll about, soaking in the history and moving some muscles in ways different from pedaling.

Main gold processing unit at the historic Gold Mountain Mine.
Day 2 of the 2021 Black Hills Bounty.

From the Gold Mountain Mine, we quickly drop down Burnt Fork Road (389) to intersect with both Deerfield Road (306) and the Mickelson Trail. Looking at the remaining mileage, elevation gain, and time,  as well as the building heat, I call our first audible of the day.

The plan calls for a right turn (northwest) on the Mickelson Trail for 1.5 miles to access Battle Axe Road (386), a USFS Secondary Road that winds about 5 miles south. It's a fun gravel road showcased on several Black Hills Gravel Series routes. However, to shorten this day a bit and to add a few miles on the popular Mickelson Trail for these out-of-state cyclists, we instead turn left (south) on the Mickelson Trail. We'll take it the remaining 20 miles to Custer.

Bikers invade a convenience store in Hill City.
Day 2 of the 2021 Black Hills Bounty.

The 5 downhill miles to Hill City roll quickly and we re-group at a convenience store at the south end of town. This is the first convenience store we've encountered on the entire trip and this gravel savvy crew takes full advantage. Pop, chips, candy bars, chocolate milk, ice cream. All the essential nutrients to fuel the remaining miles on a long, hot day. 

We spin up the final 10 mile climb to Crazy Horse Memorial and coast 5 miles down to Custer. This is a sweet finish to a full day of riding. We check into our rented tipis at the Fort WeLikIt Campground in Custer, clean up bikes and bodies, and look for the biggest burgers in town. Before burgers, however, Lucas Haan, Mr. himself, shows up with smiles, enthusiasm, and microbrews for everyone. He even brings replacements for Paul's cantankerous pedals. A great way to end a great Day 2.

Riding to our accommodations for the night.
Tipis at the Fort WeLikIt Campground in Custer.
End of Day 2 of the 2021 Black Hills Bounty.

After a series of signature Secondary and Low Standard roads, the popular Mickelson Trail, and just one audible, we end Day 2 in Custer after 62 miles and 3,700 feet of elevation gain.

Here's a link to the map I created for Day 2 of the 2021 Black Hills Bounty, as ridden by Ben, Craig, Jeff, Lane, Mark and Paul. 2021 Black Hills Bounty - Day 2.

For my prior posts on the 2021 Black Hills Bounty, go to Day 0 - Come Together and Day 1 - Start Of Something Good.

Nothing Else Matters, Metallica (2007)

Thursday, July 1, 2021

2021 Black Hills Bounty (Day 1) - Start Of Something Good

I know that it's gonna take some time
I've got to admit that the thought has crossed my mind
That this might end up like it should
And I'm gonna say what I need to say
And hope to God that it don't scare you away
I don't want to be misunderstood
But I'm starting to believe
Oh, I'm starting to believe
That this could be the start of something good.

Start Of Something Good, Daughtry (2011)

Paul Brasby, Lane Bergen, Ben Cooper, Jeff Bloom, Craig Groseth, Mark Hoffman.
Day 1 at the start of the 2021 Black Hills Bounty.

Day 1 of the 2021 Black Hills Bounty breaks early and bright. Excited chatter and the smell of fresh brewed coffee fill the morning air at our campsite near the summit of Bear Mountain, the third highest peak in the Black Hills at 7,166 feet. As we finish breakfast, a herd of high altitude cattle waltz into the clearing like they own it. We're stomping to go, anyhow.

By 7:30, we eagerly hop onto the Low Standard Road I discovered as a re-route just two days ago. Charging down the first hill, I scan for a turn onto an even less developed road and miss seeing a rut. My front tire, however, finds it and sends me flying off the bike. In disbelief, I remount and then blow by the turn. Great. In less than a mile, I both crash and miss the first turn. The rest of the crew stands there, wondering what they've gotten into.

We're going where? Really? Are you sure? And we missed a turn already?
Less than 1 mile into Day 1 of the 2021 Black Hills Bounty.
Lane Bergen, Ben Cooper, Jeff Bloom, Paul Brasby, Mark Hoffman.

Dusting off, I head down the right road. Actually, it's about 3 miles of sketchy two track not even classified as a Low Standard road, followed by another 3 miles of an actual Low Standard road. But I rode this stretch when I found it just two days ago and it's sweet. Just stay on it.

Gentle downhill. Mellow two track. Forested, but not closed in. A couple of short pitches to wake up the legs. A corner even reveals a quick view of Crazy Horse Memorial. Nice.

Now, we're on track.

I often tell others to follow me, if you choose, but maybe not my line. 
After my early crash, it looks like these guys took that to heart.
Early on Day 1 of the 2021 Black Hills Bounty.

All too soon, we pop out onto Saginaw Road (285) and then Elliot Road (292) to traverse Limestone Hill and drop down Custer Limestone Road (284). These Primary roads roll fast and we simply blow by another turn. Missed turns and audibles may be the hallmarks of today's ride.

We steadily climb Low Standard Road 284.2F and then 284.2G along a hillside still showing results of the massive 2001 Jasper Fire. Without the typical thick stands of pine trees, we burst into bright sunshine, blue skies, and big views. The Black Hills Bounty reveals a few more gems.

Rolling out on Day 1 in search of Black Hills Bounty.
That's a good representation of a mellow Low Standard Road out here.

These Low Standard Roads can be rough, but so far are comfortably ridden, even on our loaded bikes. I created this route for a rider like Paul Brasby on a bike like his carbon Salsa CutThroat loaded for a multiple day bikepacking ride. That standard will be put to the test on this assortment of roads over the week. For not only is Paul here on a loaded CutThroat, but so are Ben, Lane and Mark. 

In contrast, Jeff powers his trusted fat bike up and over everything. That bike, and that engine, are certainly more than capable of handling the roughest of roads. But somehow Jeff also keeps up with those relatively skinny tired bikes on smooth gravel and even pavement. He's good for whatever the Bounty brings.

Jeff Bloom leads the way up another Low Standard Road
through some area burned during the 2001 Jasper fire.
Morning of Day 1 of the 2021 Black Hills Bounty.

Recognizing the time and energy expended already, and spotting a nice stretch of shade before emerging onto Mud Springs Road (282), Paul suggests a stop for an early lunch. Good call. Breaking out food and drinks, we relax in the quiet coolness of mid-morning. 

Between chomps of bars and swigs of water, we relish the roads ridden and anticipate the roads ahead. I pull out my hard copy map highlighting our planned route, snaking through bewildering spider webs of back roads, near-roads and wanna-B roads all around. This area, in particular, gave me fits trying to decide what to include on the Black Hills Bounty. It's an embarrassment of riches.

Early lunch along Low Standard Road 284.2G before climbing the exposed Antelope Ridge.
Day 1 of the 2021 Black Hills Bounty.

We emerge from the Low Standard Road to roll along Antelope Ridge Road (283), with big views to the west well into Wyoming. Fast and fun, these miles fly by despite regular stops for pictures. The CutThroats school on these Primary Roads, slipping downstream seemingly without effort.

Not so fast. Before long, we turn onto unnamed Low Standard Road 383, a featured part of my Black Hills BackBone route and a few Black Hills Gravel Series Black routes. This soft, occasionally rough two track steadily climbs along a narrow valley for about 5 miles. Speeds drop back to Low Standard Road levels.

Rolling along Antelope Ridge Road (USFS 283) with views stretching into Wyoming.
Day 1 of the 2021 Black Hills Bounty.

We drop into Gillette Canyon for our longest climb so far, about 6 miles up Gillette Canyon Road (296). Temperatures are rising, but winds are relatively calm and aspen groves offer some shade. Our group stretches out a bit, as each finds his own rhythm. Morning spills into afternoon.

Eventually climbing out of Gillette Canyon, we re-group at Ditch Creek Road (291). Now, it's hot, we need a longer break, and, more importantly, we need water. The planned route plods along rough, Low Standard Williams Draw Road (691) to Deerfield Lake, where water awaits at the USFS White Tail Campground almost 10 miles away. Time for another audible.

Crossing the fishing bridge at Deerfield Lake to hop onto the single track 40L trail.
Day 1 of the 2021 Black Hills Bounty.

So, rather than ride Williams Draw Road (691), we stay on Ditch Creek Road (291) for a fast, smooth, 4 mile descent to USFS Ditch Creek Campground. Within a few minutes, we're laying on soft grass in the shade, laughing, and dumping cold water on each other. It's probably the most popular audible so far.

It's amazing what cold water, shade, rest and some food can do. After a fun break, we're back on Ditch Creek Road cruising down toward Deerfield Lake. Spirits and speeds are high. The miles streak by.

The 40L trail, a short single track connector.
Day 1 of the 2021 Black Hills Bounty.

At Deerfield Road, I call another audible. With the group re-energized, I suggest forsaking the planned 3 mile climb on pavement to access the gravel road up Flag Mountain. Instead, let's cross a wooden fishing bridge to ride the single track 40L trail for a mile or so to a Low Standard gravel road that will get to Flag Mountain. Who's up for trading a paved climb for some single track and a rough road?

Not surprisingly, everyone. Oh, the single track demanded a couple of short steeps and the Low Standard road was almost all uphill. But this adventuresome group ate it up. Just ate it up.

Climbing up Flag Mountain Road toward ominous skies.
Day 1 of the 2021 Black Hills Bounty.

Turning on Flag Mountain Road (189) for the short climb up Flag Mountain, we confront an ominous storm cloud sitting directly above the summit. It's big, dark, heavy and simply sitting there. Surely, it will move on by the time we get up there. 

Nope. We summit, scramble up to the ruins of the lookout tower, take pictures, and consider our options. According to plan, Flag Mountain was to be our final destination for the day, but that threatening cloud lingers and occasionally rumbles. We call another audible and drop down the mountain to search for a less exposed campsite at a lower elevation. 

Dispersed campsite below Flag Mountain.
Day 1 of the 2021 Black Hills Bounty.

We descend the mile long, rocky spur back to Flag Mountain Road and roll another mile or so along the planned route for Day 2. Dispersed campsites for a party of 6 require some flat area, but the ground here slopes pretty consistently on both sides of the road. We pedal a bit further than we'd prefer that late in the day, but find a great spot near the intersection with a Low Standard Road. 

Hmmn. Those Low Standard Roads were constructed for logging operations over the years. It makes sense that loggers would create a clearing for equipment where a Low Standard Road connects with a Secondary Road. When looking for a large clearing to disperse camp in the future, I'll certainly keep an eye out for those intersections.

Briefing the troops in advance of Day 2 of the 2021 Black Hills Bounty.

Almost immediately, a campsite for six appears. Tents up. Bikes tweaked. Clothes changed. Dinner prepared. Pictures taken. Stories shared. Even phone calls made from a high point a bit above the tents.

With an early crash, a couple of missed turns, and five audibles, we end Day 1 with over 58 miles and 4,700 feet of elevation gain.

And the storm never materializes. But an awesome sunset does.

Day 1 of the 2021 Black Hills Bounty. This could be the start of something good.

We did not want this day to end.
Day 1 of the 2021 Black Hills Bounty.


Here's a link to the map I created for Day 1 of the 2021 Black Hills Bounty, as ridden by Ben, Craig, Jeff, Lane, Mark and Paul. 2021 Black Hills Bounty - Day 1.

For my prior post on the 2021 Black Hills Bounty, go to Day 0 - Come Together.

Start Of Something Good, Daughtry (2011)