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Saturday, September 17, 2022

2022 Pony Express 120 Bikepack

And it makes me wanna take a back road,
Makes me wanna take the long way home.
Put a little gravel in my travel,
Unwind, unravel all night long.
Take A Back Road, Rhett Akins & Luke Laird (2011).

Sunset at the Pony Express Bikepacking Adventure.
(photo by Paul Brasby)

The Pony Express 120 Gravel Dash is a fixture on the Kansas and Nebraska gravel scene for its signature 120 mile race over rough gravel and dirt roads, shorter 30 and 75 mile routes, and relay races. Race Directors Renee and Mark Hoffman of Backroads Bicycles pull together a committed team and a legion of volunteers to create an energetic, festive event for everyone. Their gravel family continues to grow and this event is a big reason why.

Although the marque attraction is the main event on Saturday, I'm here in Marysville, Kansas for the 2 Day Bikepacking Adventure, which I rode two years ago. Pony Express 120 Bikepacking Adventure. This unique event starts on Friday with cyclists carrying their chosen sleep gear and riding a chunk of the 120 mile route to a campsite for an evening of fellowship. In the morning, riders complete the 120 mile route to finish as part of the main event. You can even race in on Saturday, if that's your flavor.

New this year is a Bikepacking Swap Meet on Thursday night, followed by Q&A sessions by veteran bikepackers Peggy Waite Bradley (Cannonball 550), Aaron Apel (Great Plains Route), and Paul Brasby and me (Great Divide Mountain Bike Route). Lively interactions between passionate bikepackers extend past sunset and into the evening. It all ends far too soon.

Bikepacking Swap Meet on Thursday evening.
(photo by Paul Brasby)

Rolling out of Backroads Bicycles at 7:00 am on Friday, the bikepackers stream west on pavement to clear town and soon turn south onto rough gravel and dirt roads for which the Pony Express is known. Rough roads of mostly dirt wind through sprawling fields of ripening corn, soy beans, and sorghum. Although a few fields show some activity of the upcoming harvest, the back roads are still relatively clear of large farm equipment. It's the primo season to be riding out here.

The first 21 miles bump along toward the small town of Barnes for the first checkpoint. Boisterous volunteers Peggy and Tiffany, both of whom will race on Saturday, re-supply riders with water, snacks, and encouragement. The day heats up and the dirt roads get rougher. By the time I reach the second checkpoint at mile 43, I'm ready for a break. I plop down in the air conditioned Palmer Cafe for a cheeseburger, fries, and coke. No, that's not racing food. That's bikepacking food. I lounge there for more than an hour, and likely would have stayed longer, but the cafe closes after lunch.

Now, it's decision time. Do I continue on the 120 mile route for another 46 overheated, hilly, rough miles? Or do I ride an alternative route 16 miles straight to camp? Until the very recent past, that question would not have entered my mind. I would have simply continued the 120 mile route without a second thought. No longer. Today I decide to spin the short cut to enjoy several more hours hanging out with everyone at camp. That still means a 59 mile day on a loaded gravel bike on a whole lot of rough roads. 

Bikepackers Desiree, Gabriel, and Ben ready their gear at the Friday morning start.
Around the corner, I'm talking with somebody about something. I'll be along.
(photo by Pony Express 120 Gravel Dash)

The short cut blasts 14 miles straight east on moderately thick county gravel right through a relentless progression of rolling hills in the shadeless 95 degree heat. It's reminiscent of Gravel Worlds with its never-ending waves of hills across a vast sea of gravel. The main route starts to sound better.

At long last, I turn off for the final two miles to camp. The developed gravel road drops behind, replaced with steep pitches of loose dirt, rocks, and ruts. It's not over until it's over.

As the road finally crests a particularly nasty rocky pitch, a lone camper squats in an empty pasture overlooking a small pond. Our host Jon Naaf marks our campsite with a cozy oasis of chairs and coolers wedged into the camper's sliver of shade. He enthusiastically hails riders as they trickle in, first from the short cut and then from the main route. All are hot, tired, and grateful for relief. In addition to a hearty greeting, Jon offers cold drinks and snacks, cooks gourmet burgers, and gathers all to share a peaceful evening.

Many miles of dirt roads like this on Day 1.

With the backdrop of a fiery sunset, we gather around the camper over burgers, snacks, and drinks. New friends connect. Old friends re-connect. All share experiences of the day, of days past, and of days to come. It's a bikepacker rendezvous.

This unique event attracts both bikepacking veterans and new comers. The old timers may have more stories, but not necessarily better ones. For example, Jamie and Richard ride with their Boy Scout sons Noah and Charles, all experienced hikers and campers, but first time bikepackers. Their excited, joyful tales of their day long ride to camp bring smiles and laughter all around.

Competitive triathlete Jeff shifted to bikepacking to ride with his teenage son Carter, again both first time backpackers. Carter looks absolutely shelled when arriving at camp, slumps over in a chair, and moves not a muscle for maybe an hour. Eventually, he revives. By morning, he's a colt busting out of the corral. Carter ultimately finishes second in the race home and is a living example of the recuperative powers of youthful exuberance. And sleep.

Nineteen bikepackers gather at camp, all told, and elevated chatter fills the air well into the evening. As the skies darken, a blast from a fast moving cold front scatters the group to their individual shelters. The oppressive heat of Friday is over, but so is our gathering for the night.

Paul Brasby and Ben Cooper find a solitary tree a bit off the main campsite.
(photo by Paul Brasby)

At the first hint of daylight, the camp stirs to life under threatening skies and a steady northerly wind. With
heavy rain forecast, Race Director Mark Hoffman sends us on the "wet" route, an alternative route home that replaces miles of dirt roads with good gravel and pavement. Sure enough, at 7:00 am with our first pedal stroke from camp, the first rain drops fall.

With only 28 miles to ride back to Marysville, the 50-some degree rain is not a big deal, but the rain does not stop all morning. Nor does the wind. It is a wet, windy, cool, muddy ride all the way home. Thanks to the re-route to gravel and pavement, it's actually a ride home, rather than a slug through the mud.

My only picture from a rainy Saturday is at the finish after a hot shower.

Notwithstanding the conditions, I see nothing but smiles and hear nothing but good cheer from all the bikepackers at the finish. A hot shower certainly helps, along with homemade pie and ice cream, other food and drinks, a Finisher's towel (appropriate), and my door prize (concentrated bike cleaner, again appropriate). Many talk of returning with more friends.

For beginners, the Pony Express is a low risk introduction to bikepacking. For veterans, it's a celebration and gathering of kindred spirits. Renee and Mark Hoffman, along with their team and all the volunteers, really put together an event for everyone.

Take A Back Road, Rodney Atkins (2011).

Thursday, September 8, 2022

Bikepack Testing the Ronin

The F-18 NATOPS contains everything they want you to know about your aircraft.
I'm assuming you know the book, inside and out. 
(tosses book into trash). So does your enemy. 
But what the enemy doesn't know, is your limits.
I intend to find them. Test them. Push beyond.
Captain Pete "Maverick" Mitchell, Top Gun Maverick (2022).

Fully loaded for an overnighter, the Ronin flies on Primary roads.

All summer I've been riding my new Alchemy Ronin gravel bike on an mix of pavement, prairie county gravel, Black Hills dirt, and even single track. It's light, fast, and agile. And a whole lot of fun.

Even with a big technology update over my older bikes (see New Bike Day), I find that my biggest adjustment is its weight. At 18 pounds, the Ronin handles so differently from my much heavier steel bikes, especially when navigating around and over obstacles. Not necessarily better or worse, just different.

One afternoon, while bouncing over rough Forest Service roads exploring my limits of fun on a feather weight drop bar bike with 45 mm semi-slick tires, I realize that summer is quickly fading. Flying up the schedule is the Pony Express 120 Bikepacking Adventure, a two day event that I rode two years ago on my Black Mountain Monster Cross. 2020 Pony Express Bikepack. I wonder if the Ronin is up for an overnight load.

Onto a Low Standard road, the loaded Ronin just handles it.

So, I assemble bags and gear for a 120 mile warm weather overnighter on north-central Kansas county gravel roads. Compared to a multi-day or multi-week self-supported bikepacking ride, my sleep kit, cold and rain clothes, tool and repair kit, food, and kitchen are significantly scaled back. I'd call it appropriately minimal for the Pony Express ride. 

All my gear fits into three Revelate Designs bags:  the Salty Roll and Egress Pocket on the handle bars and a 14L Terrapin on the saddle. A small Gas Tank on the top tube holds on-the-go food. With judicious loading, the Ronin feels pretty well balanced, fore and aft. This may work. 

Topped off with 2 liters of water, the loaded bike weighs in right at 37 pounds, about one-half the weight of my loaded Jones 29+ at the start of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route last summer. That's good, as I'm currently probably at one-half the strength and conditioning as then.

A view of the south side of Buzzard's Roost, a popular single track trail system.

Starting out on a USFS Primary road, I certainly feel the extra weight, but it's all relative. At 37 pounds, the loaded Ronin weighs about what my Jones 29+ weighs with a couple of water bottles and a few M&M's. Other than taking a little more work to get up an incline, the extra weight matters not. The Ronin rides straight and smooth, undisturbed by the light gravel and uneven surface.

More specifically, the Ronin handles solidly on the Primary roads, perhaps even a bit more stable loaded. It does not wander through loose gravel and is not skittish over washboard. Onto a series of USFS Low Standard dirt roads, I work more of the road to ride a suitable line and the Ronin just handles it.

The loaded front end feels different from my Black Mountain Monster Cross, which features a relatively stiff aluminum stem and handle bar coupled with a gently sloping steel fork that visibly moves to absorb vibrations. The Ronin carbon fork feels much stiffer, but the carbon stem and carbon handle bar feel much more active, which I had not noticed so much unloaded. That's a pretty long head tube, so the titanium frame probably contributes, too. I don't know.

Overall, the ride seems to be comparably comfortable to the famously comfortable Black Mountain. More time in the saddle will test this initial conclusion, but so far, so great. And, yes, the Ronin is headed to Marysville, Kansas for the Pony Express 120 Bikepacking Adventure.

Pilot Training Scene, Top Gun Maverick (2022)

Thursday, September 1, 2022

One Of A Kind - Jones Bikes 20th Anniversary

One of a kind love affair, 
Is the kind of love that you read about in a fairy tale.
Like the sun that shines on a rainy day,
It's a cloud of love.
One Of A Kind, Joseph B. Jefferson (1973).

Jeff Jones recently announced a 20th Anniversary celebration of Jones Bikes. Jones 20th Anniversary. That's quite an achievement for an eccentric tinkerer who fortunately focused his creative energy on bicycle frames and forks. That's also my cue to mark the occasion by linking my various blog posts over the years about the amazing Jones 29+ that I bought in the spring of 2018. To be fair, every blog post on bikepacking the Cloud Peak 500, Black Hills Bounty, and Great Divide Mountain Bike Route involves my Jones 29+. I love this bike.
Not from a catalogue. Jeff Jones sent me this image of my bike before shipping it in 2018.
That fork! That chain stay! That wheel base! Those angles! That upright position!
Even with those 3.25" knobby tires, that clearance, both front and rear!
What in the world?

In early 2015, I started researching mountain bikes for riding single track and rough roads, especially loaded for multi-day bikepacking. I sought to take my overnight rides on my Black Mountain Monster Cross to the next level of rough stuff and distance, maybe even something way out there like the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. Eventually, I stumbled across, where Jeff explained the inspiration, experimentation, and evolving designs of his frames and forks in a series of detailed articles and videos over some years. I loved his innovative thoughts, iterative process, and hands-on trials, but so many individual pieces seemed so far off conventional thought. How does all that come together?

With no Jones bike to borrow or demo and with virtually no used Jones bike market (that says something), I ultimately took a leap of faith and bought a new, custom built Jones 29+ LWB in the spring of 2018. Jeff spent over two hours on the phone with me going through, in great detail, the selection of every single  component for my build. Every. Single. Component. It was unforgettable. A Mountain Bike By Jeff Jones (decision thought process); Jones 29+ The Build (initial build); Jones 29+ What It Is (first month of riding). After 4 1/2 years of riding, I could not be more pleased.

New bike joy on M-Hill.
(photo by Chani Groseth)

For me, the Jones 29+ is a perfect bike for single track and rough back road riding, loaded or unloaded. It has flawlessly carried me over many miles and days, including my 2021 ride of the entire 2,500+ mile length of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. The Jones 29+ performs with exceptional comfort, control, and capacity riding rough stuff all day, day after day after day, fully loaded for touring.

Here's a link to my posts of the Jones 29+ as I prepared for my 7 day ride of the Cloud Peak 500 route in the Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming in August 2020. Gearing Up For Cloud Peak. After Cloud Peak, I reviewed the Jones 29+ to prepare for riding the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route in the summer of 2021. Cloud Peak 500 - Jones 29+ Next Time. Then I analyzed its performance on the Great Divide for future rides, including a possible return. The Great Divide - Jones 29+ No Change. It's worked out great.

My Jones 29+ about 1,000 miles into the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route in 2021.

So, Happy 20th Anniversary to Jeff Jones and Jones Bikes! Thank you for your unique contributions to the bicycling community. I love my Jones 29+ and hope to still be riding it for your 40 year anniversary.

One Of A Kind, The Spinners (1973).

Thursday, August 25, 2022

Aint Worried 'Bout It Right Now

I don't know what you've been told,
But time is running out, no need to take it slow.
I'm stepping to you toe to toe,
I should be scared, honey, maybe so.

But I aint worried 'bout it right now, (right now)
Keeping dreams alive, 1999 heroes.
I aint worried 'bout it right now, (right now)
Swimming in the floods, dancing on the clouds below.

I aint worried 'bout it.

I Aint Worried, Ryan Tedder, Brent Kutzle, Tyler Spry, John Eriksson, Peter Moren & Bjorn Yttling (2022).

Just another Low Standard Road on the Black Hills Bounty.

The second annual Black Hills Bounty draws nigh. That's a 5 day, off-pavement bikepacking tour of the Black Hills of South Dakota that I created at the request of some out-of-state friends.

Last year, the Black Hills Bounty averaged almost 60 miles and 5,000 feet of elevation gain a day on a smattering of my favorite Forest Service roads in the Central Black Hills. It all came together, despite a seemingly steady stream of audibles that modified each day's ride. It worked out great, mainly because the guys who rode it were great. 2021 Black Hills Bounty Wrap.

Creating the route for this year, I scaled back the distance and elevation gain of each day by about a third to allow more time for navigation, water sourcing, re-supply, camp site selection, optional evening exploratory rides, and, mostly, hanging out at camp. Call it Bikepacking 202. With little more than a digital map and general description from me, each rider will be self-supported, self-navigated, and overall self-sufficient, at least within the context of a small group bikepacking ride. 

These friends are experienced endurance cyclists, so I suppose I should not be surprised at the very few questions from the group about this ride, even at this late date. Maybe I shortened the route so much it looks easy. Maybe the digital maps show all they need to know about the route and terrain. Maybe they've thoroughly prepared and tested bodies, bikes, and gear. Maybe they've researched weather. Maybe they're just flat out ready to ride.

Or maybe this group is like the Top Gun pilots playing Dog Fight Football before their improbable mission. Aint worried 'bout it, right now.

I Aint Worried, OneRepublic (2022).

Thursday, August 18, 2022

The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

The way back to town is only 70 miles. If you save your breath, I feel a man like you can manage it.
Blondie encouraging Tuco, The Good, The Bad & The Ugly (1966).

The United States Forest Service (USFS) categorizes the roads within its boundaries as "Primary Routes," "Secondary Routes," or "Low Standard Routes." That's it. Just three categories for the staggering variety of roads in our national forests.

Well, it's a start. Here's a USFS graphic introducing each category of Forest Service roads.

As an introduction to understanding these categories of roads in the Black Hills National Forest, here are some of my general observations, with representative photographs. Whatever the USFS calls them and however I describe them, every road in the Black Hills will deliver a variety of riding conditions and challenges that change over time. Your eyes on the road and tires on the ground are the best way to know these roads.

Note that the USFS manages extensive logging operations in selected parts of the Black Hills. In large part, that's why most of these roads exist. Yield to all traffic out there, but especially the big logging trucks. And be thankful to be able to ride on the seemingly unlimited roads resulting from their work.

The Good (USFS Primary Route)

The most developed non-paved road in the USFS system is the Primary road, which is designed, built, and maintained for year around, regular travel by standard passenger cars. In the Black Hills, the surface of these roads typically is moderately graveled, hard packed local dirt and limestone that drains water well, and generally does not instantly clog, at least not like Iowa top soil, Nebraska talc, or Oklahoma clay. Some roads are treated with Magnesium Chloride, which hardens and stabilizes the surface.

Primary roads generally are wide enough for opposing motorized traffic to pass easily. If enough gravel exists to form tracks, there would be three or even four. Often a small shoulder will accumulate a bit more gravel that has been pushed off to the side. Relatively high speed vehicle traffic may create washboards and pockets of loose gravel in spots, especially around curves and corners.

My ride of choice for Primary roads is my Alchemy Ronin Titanium gravel bike or my Black Mountain Cycles Monster Cross bike, set up with 40 mm Schwalbe G-One tires. Even when loaded for multi-day bikepacking, these gravel bikes provide plenty of support and control to comfortably ride all day. Relatively speaking, Primary roads are fast.

On USFS maps and signage, a Primary road is designated by brown sign with a number enclosed in a rounded corner, isosceles trapezoid having the longer parallel side on top, as shown below for Boles Canyon Road (117).

The following photographs are representative of USFS Primary roads in the Black Hills.

The Bad (USFS Secondary Route)

The next level of developed, non-paved roads in the USFS system is the Secondary road, which is maintained for high clearance vehicles. In the Black Hills, USFS Secondary roads typically are similar in composition to Primary roads, that is, hard packed dirt and limestone that handles water well and does not overly clog. However, the surface may be even less graveled, or just occasionally graveled, or not graveled at all. Almost certainly, it will not be treated with Magnesium Chloride. Foremost, that means Secondary roads are more susceptible to mud when wet and ruts when dry.

Due to less maintenance, Secondary roads also sport occasional loose dirt, exposed surface rock, pot holes, standing water, and fallen timber, while presenting sharper turns, steeper gradients, and shorter sight lines. Also, Secondary roads typically are two tracks wide, often with little to no shoulder. If a motorized vehicle approaches, I typically pull off the road to allow it to pass. For logging trucks, I definitely leave the road.

All that being said, many Secondary roads in the Black Hills are passable in dry conditions in passenger cars, if attentive to occasional obstacles and clearance issues. For example, I confirmed my cue sheets for the entire Black Hills BackBone route driving my 2006 Chevrolet HHR, hardly a high clearance vehicle. Over the 310 mile route, with many miles of Secondary roads, I maneuvered around a few high-center issues and only had to skirt one fallen tree blocking the road. These roads can be fast, but stay alert.

My ride of choice for most Black Hills Secondary roads is still one of my gravel bikes with 40 mm tires. These roads may be rougher and mountain bike type gearing may be helpful in spots, but most of these roads are developed enough for me on a gravel bike. On the other hand, if loaded for a multi-day ride with significant miles of Secondary roads, I may well opt for my Jones 29+ mountain bike with bigger tires.

On USFS maps and signage, a Secondary road is designated by a three or four digit number enclosed in a brown, rounded corner rectangular sign, as shown below for Williams Draw Road (691).

The following photographs show three USFS Secondary roads in the Black Hills.

The Ugly (USFS Low Standard Route)

The third level of developed, non-paved road in the USFS system is the Low Standard road, which is unimproved and not maintained for automobiles. The Forest Service recommends travel by vehicles with both high clearance and four wheel drive. I would add driver prudence and experience.

Design, construction, and maintenance of Low Standard roads are all over the map, even along a single numbered road. Some sections may be soft dirt, while others are rock gardens. If wet, standing water and mud can be a real issue, leaving deep ruts when dry. Maybe a load of chunky rock was dumped to stabilize a low spot, or maybe not and there's a stream to ford. They are rough, sometimes little more than a bull dozed logging trail. For me, this is mountain bike territory, for tires and gears, even unloaded, for anything more than a short connector.

Many, many, many Low Standard roads are dead-end spurs that were built to get to a spot for logging. Maybe some spurs later connect to something else and haven't made it on a map, or maybe not. I often refer to the USFS Motorized Vehicle Use Maps, which are updated every year and prove to be pretty accurate. However you navigate, count on no cell coverage and no passing traffic of any kind. You are on your own.

If you like this kind of riding, the Black Hills offer a lifetime of miles to explore.

On USFS signage, a Low Standard road is designated with a three-digit number vertically imprinted on short, 4 inch wide, brown carbonite post. On USFS maps, it's just a plain three-digit number. The designation of any road emanating from that Low Standard road adds a decimal and another number. For example, in the Black Hills, USFS 278.1 runs off of USFS 278. Then, any roads running off of USFS 278.1 get letters, the first being USFS 278.1A, then 278.1B, and so on. It can be confusing in the field and USFS map navigation is an entirely separate subject. Just know that any carbonite USFS road sign with a three-digit number, or with decimal numbers, or with letters, identifies a Low Standard Road.

Shown below is a sign for Low Standard road 242, and then one for Low Standard road 325.1D.

The following photographs show a sampling of USFS Low Standard roads in the Black Hills. I captured all of these images while out riding, with the sole exception of the last photograph, which Lucas Haan provided as an example of a deposit of chunky gravel. I included more photographs of Low Standard roads because of their great variety.

To wrap this up, here's a fun rendition of Ennio Morricone's 1966 composition of music for the movie "The Good, The Bad And The Ugly," performed by the Danish National Symphony Orchestra in 2018.

The Good, The Bad And The Ugly, Danish National Symphony Orchestra (2018)

Thursday, August 11, 2022


Different strokes for different folks,
And so on, and so on, and scooby dooby doo-bee,
Ooh, sha sha,
We got to live together.
Everyday People, Sly Stone (1968).

Like "boots on the ground" for the Army, there's nothing like "tires on the trail" for scouting back roads. And, in a recurring theme from me, once you're out there, you never know what you'll find.

This little gem is not on my USFS maps.

While creating a five day bikepacking route for some out-of-state friends, I run into a snag. I really want to include roads through two certain areas that are separated by a significant ridge. But no map shows any way to make that connection, absent a relatively large mileage loop around. Even the satellite images on RideWithGPS do not show a clear way through.

One Low Standard Road comes close, abruptly stopping maybe a mile short of another Low Standard Road on the other side. Spurs like that are common in the Black Hills, with primitive roads built just to access areas to log. But this spur does not have that look. I wonder why that road just stops.

The other side of the ridge offers a greater number and variety of roads, with practically no spurs. A couple of maps even show a "spring" in a valley not far over that ridge. If I can cross that ridge somehow and make that connection, I may be able to access both desired areas and a water re-supply.

Time to get out there.

Pretty tame start to this Low Standard Road.

Although I've ridden throughout this area, I have not been on these particular Low Standard Roads. So, I slowly pull off a graveled Primary Road to look for signs. This looks like the right spot, but I'm not alone. In the shade by a small truck, a big pickup, and a trailer, a family of five saddles up horses. They don't look like they're just out for a ride. Not way out here.

As I step out of my Jeep, an older lady strides directly up to me. She's Susan, a rancher who lives nearby and leases USFS land here. Her daughter and family are mounting their horses to move a herd of cattle to a different pasture. She'll haul the trailer down the road to pick them up.

After a brief description of why I'm out there, I ask Susan if I can ask a few questions about the roads and water in this area. She readily agrees, I think mostly out of her general willingness to help and maybe a little out of curiosity.

Spreading out a USFS map on the hood of my Jeep, I ask her whether 1) this area is USFS land, not private; 2) this Low Standard Road goes through to this marked spring, even though the map says it doesn't; and 3) this spring has fresh water. Yes, Susan replies, to all of it. She says they run cattle through there, but stopped using that old road over the years as it deteriorated and instead access the spring from the other side. But she thinks I can get still get through on a mountain bike. She adds that her family installed a pipe to directly access that spring and that fresh spring water flows continuously all year.

Well, alright! How's that for local intel! Thanks, Susan!

Another part of the "not-on-a-map" connector.

Of course, I hop on my bike to check it out. The Low Standard Road flows smoothly along a mellow meadow for the first 2-3 miles, before dissipating into solid knee-high grass. Looking at the land and my maps, I reckon the "road" must generally go this way, if it's going through. So, I hack my way through the grass for a bit before spotting the makings of a road ahead.

This must be the way, but now it's rough. Rocky. Loose. Sometimes steep. But it's definitely an old road and it's heading in the right direction. And it's rideable, at least on my unloaded mountain bike.

Sure enough, after about a mile of that rough stuff up and over a ridge, I emerge onto an actual Low Standard Road and drop into another meadow. There it is. A large water tank fed by a pipe with steadily flowing water. Cool beans.

Although the water in the tank looks a bit saucy, there's a pipe feeding fresh spring water into it.

What a day! I find a really nifty, unmapped connector that very few people likely know about, let alone ride, and that pops out to a reliable source of fresh spring water. There's even ample space to disperse camp along the meadow, if desired. This connector solves some big routing issues for me and will be a nice add to the trip.

I lightly spin back to my Jeep to find Susan and her family picking up their shuttle truck. She introduces me to everyone and asks what I think about the road and water. And they all want to hear more about the bikepacking trip. They live right out here and are excited to see others enjoying this special place.

I just want to hear what it's like to be a grade schooler herding cattle by horseback through the forest. That sounds like a grand adventure to me. Susan's grandson shrugs. All in a day's work.

As usual, the best connection made today is with the people met along the way.

Everyday People, Sly & The Family Stone (1968).