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Sunday, December 25, 2022

Merry Christmas 2022

Jesus is just alright with me, Jesus is just alright, oh yeah,
Jesus is just alright with me, Jesus is just alright.

I don't care what they may say, I don't care what they may do,
I don't care what they may say, Jesus is just alright, oh yeah.

Jesus, he's my friend, Jesus, he's my friend,
He took me by the hand, Led me far from this land,
Jesus, he's my friend.

Jesus Is Just Alright, Arthur Reid Reynolds (1966).

With all the traditional Christmas carols and tunes filling the air, I'm riding the road less traveled by saying "Merry Christmas" with some classic 70's rock. 

"Jesus Is Just Alright" actually is a 1960's gospel song covered by the Byrds in 1969 and popularized by the Doobie Brothers in 1973.

Ride on, knowing that wherever you go, however remote you wander, you are not alone.

Merry Christmas. Peace and good will to all.

Jesus Is Just Alright
Doobie Brothers (1973).

Sunday, December 18, 2022

2022 Black Hills Bounty (Day 5) - Comfortably Numb

I have become comfortably numb,
I have become comfortably numb.
Comfortably Numb, Roger Waters & David Gilmore (1979).

The only sunlight all day gave us this gift.
(photo by Lane Bergen)

The morning of Day 5 of the 2022 Black Hills Bounty blows in cold, windy, and wet. The big cold front that drove temperatures down all day yesterday delivered gusty winds and laden clouds throughout the night. In less than a day, late summer collapses to early winter. We wake slowly, eat quickly, and bundle up for a challenging day. 

This experienced crew is certainly capable of riding another day of the Black Hills Bounty, regardless of the route or the conditions. But our 5 day bikepacking trip is not defined by a pre-determined route that must be precisely followed to be an Official Finisher. We take the planned route as a solid outline and let the day, the roads, and the riders fill in the details.

Lane's campsite along a Low Standard Road in Hell Canyon.
(photo by Lane Bergen)

As usual, Lane Bergen is the first ready to roll.
That's a lot of layers for September in the Black Hills.
(photo by Jeff Bloom)

Today's planned route starts with over 20 miles of rough Low Standard roads before finishing on another 20 miles of Secondary and Primary dirt/gravel roads. With any more rain at all, many of those miles likely will be a nasty slog through muck and some may well be unrideable. And those heavy clouds do not look good. 

So, we pull out maps and consider several options. Ultimately, we add some Low Standard road miles early, when the forecast is less grim. Then we drop some Low Standard and Secondary road miles later in favor of some pavement, when rain and resulting muck is much more likely. Overall, it looks like a reasonable audible for the final day of our 5 day bikepacking trip.

Craig Groseth and Jon Naaf on Low Standard Road 270.2A.
(photo by Jeff Bloom)

Jeff Bloom works his way along Low Standard Road 270.2A.
(photo by Lane Bergen)

Breaking camp, we amble down Low Standard Road 270.2A, which morphs from bent grass two track along a meadow to full on rock garden down a pitch. The surface is firm for now, but this type of road can quickly turn unruly with rain. No new rain so far. Just cold and wind.

With that little wakeup, we turn onto more developed Low Standard Road 277. Right here, this road actually carries some vehicle traffic, as evidenced by tire tracks leading to a couple of ranch houses. Up ahead I spot a rancher splitting wood and stop to ask about this country. He confirms that our planned route for the day will connect eventually to pavement, but the road gets rougher since not much traffic goes that way. Sounds good.

Low Standard Road 277 snakes along Hell Canyon toward Jewell Cave.

The cold, wind, and threatening skies weigh on our thoughts while the unknown road unfolds before us, but do not dampen our spirits. Light and lively chatter reacts to the changing scenery around every corner. This back road, and these cyclists on it, exemplify the Black Hills Bounty experience.

After some miles, we encounter the only traffic on this road and our first traffic jam since the buffalo in Wind Cave Park on Day 1. A couple of dozen cattle fill the narrow road, driven directly toward us by a husband/wife rancher team. We stop to dismount, but she directs us through the small herd while hustling down a stray.

We continue on this little gem of a Low Standard Road through a small canyon and then switch back up a final pitch to paved U.S. Highway 16. All that's left now is a cold, wet ride directly into a stiff wind all the way back to Custer.

Jeff Bloom, Craig Groseth, Jon Naaf, Lane Bergen.
Celebrating our 5 day ride of the 2022 Black Hills Bounty.
(photo by Jeff Bloom)

The group stretches a bit as we grind through rolling hills directly into that cold, wet headwind. Displaying the advantage of youthful metabolism, Lane pulls ahead to ride into and all across town to Fort WeLikeIt Campground for a hot shower and change of clothes. Jeff and Jon ride well into town to Baker's Bakery to dry off inside with hot soup. Meanwhile, I jump into the first available C-store to appease the shivers with hot chocolate. Man, today got cold.

Back at the campground, we re-group for a few pictures and many smiles. The effort, wind, rain, and even cold matter not. We can't stop talking about returning for more Black Hills Bounty next year.

Comfortably Numb, Pink Floyd (1994, live)

Sunday, December 11, 2022

2022 Black Hills Bounty (Day 4) - Good Day Sunshine

I need to laugh, and when the sun is out,
I've got something I can laugh about,
I feel good, in a special way,
I'm in love and it's a sunny day.
Good Day Sunshine, John Lennon & Paul McCartney (1966). 

Lane's Salsa CutThroat looking back toward Red Canyon.
(photo by Lane Bergen)

With a shortened Day 2 and a modified Day 3, we're ready to get back on the Black Hills Bounty route.

Today is a gravel grinder's delight, with 3 paved miles leading to 34 miles of Primary gravel gently climbing through Red Canyon and surrounding ranch land. Then, just after we re-enter Black Hills National Forest, we'll be treated with a 4 mile Low Standard road to a dispersed campsite with spring water. It's a sunny day and it's good to be back on track.

C-store breakfast in Pringle. Maybe less than nutritious and delicious.
But it's hot and filling. (photo by Jeff Bloom)

First, we need to warmup. A cold front blew in late yesterday and the night turns cold and windy. Steady train traffic certainly doesn't help us sleep well, either. So, we start this glorious day cold, wind-blown, and looking for a hot breakfast inside. We quickly pack and head for the only breakfast options in town.

One of the gas stations in Edgemont actually includes a cafe, but it's closed for remodeling. The other gas station offers nothing but standard C-store breakfast fare, but that's something. Mainly, it's hot and it's inside. I really don't remember much more, other than hoping to warm up before long.

Warmup cruise into a sunny, cool Red Canyon.
(photo by Lane Bergen)

Jon Naaf on Red Canyon Road.
(photo by Lane Bergen)

The bright morning sun sparks hope of a warmer day. We roll up picturesque Red Canyon along a string of small ranches and through a series of flash flood ravines. Solid gravel, little wind, and gentle grades bring smiles and warmer digits. Right from the start, we also feel the recuperative power of yesterday's active recovery ride, hot shower, and cooked meal.

Emerging from Red Canyon, we ride west on Pilger Mountain Road into more open country with bigger ranches. Long inclines stretch out before us and we re-group atop a ridge shortly before the abandoned Robinson School House. It's a long sleeve or light jacket day, and a layer or two may eventually come off. A very good start to the day.

Happy cyclists charge out of Red Canyon.
(photo by Lane Bergen)

On Pilger Mountain Road looking back toward Red Canyon.

Warming up in the mid-day sun.
(photo by Jeff Bloom)

With westerly views into Wyoming, we roll on through wide open ranch land along Red Point Canyon and Schenk Canyon. The steady incline on good county gravel gradually turns northward toward the forested Black Hills in the distance. We pass a final ranch house, spin up a short pitch, and we're back into Black Hills National Forest.

Almost immediately, we leave Primary gravel roads and turn directly onto Low Standard Road 270.1A. This little gem starts as a solid, dirt two track for a rolling a little over 2 miles and then simply dissipates into waist high grass. But we know it connects to another Low Standard road on the other side of the ridge. See, Connecting.

So, we ride on, hacking through the grass to reach a rough, long abandoned two track cut out of the mountainside. We bounce along for a bit, round a corner, and ride straight into a sheer, loose rocky drop. Whoa!

Skid to a stop. Peer over the edge. Nope. That's a walk. A careful walk.

Now we're getting back to the good stuff.

That Low Standard Road starts innocent enough.

Our little connector reveals a dark side.

On a loaded bike, that's a hard no.

The sketchy connector deposits us into Hell Canyon, right at McKenna Spring. Fortunately, fresh spring water is flowing in late September, although it's little more than a trickle. That's OK. We camp nearby and take turns gradually filling water bottles.

Day 4 on the 2022 Black Hills Bounty is a good day in the sunshine. Although temperatures never rise much and clouds rolled in late, we spin through unique Southern Black Hills canyons and ranch land much of the day. Then we ride an abandoned road known to very few that connects to a secluded dispersed campsite near a natural spring. Sharing the evening over dinner caps off a very good day.

That's Black Hills Bounty.

Good Day Sunshine, The Beatles (1966)

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Clifford G. Groseth (June 7, 1934 - November 30, 2022)

Clifford G. Groseth, age 88, of Yankton, South Dakota, went to his Heavenly home on Wednesday, November 20, 2022 at his home in Yankton.

Funeral services are 10:30 AM, on Monday, December 12, 2022 at Trinity Lutheran Church in Yankton with Reverend Jeff Otterman officiating. Burial will be in the Melhus Cemetery in rural Centerville, South Dakota. Visitation is from 2:00 PM to 5:00 PM, on Sunday, December 11 at the Wintz & Ray Funeral Home in Yankton, with a prayer service at 4:00 PM. Visitation continues one hour prior to the funeral at the church.

Pallbearers are CJ Groseth, Jonathan Hersch, Tate Groseth, Robin Plummer, Zachary Tretbar, and Dayton Headlee. Pallbearer Sergeant is Chuck Groseth.

Farmer, business owner, entrepreneur, community leader, husband, father, grandfather, great grandfather. Clifford G. Groseth lived a big, full life every bit of his 88 1/2 years, living his American Dream and relishing his role as community and family patriarch.

Born in 1934 on the family farm, Cliff grew up near Centerville, South Dakota on land originally homesteaded by his great grandfather in the late 1800's. In 1948, he was confirmed in the Lutheran faith at Scandia Lutheran Church in Centerville. With his parents Joe and Mabel, and two older brothers John and Robert, Cliff learned to farm, milk cows, and raise cattle, hogs, and chickens. As the youngest boy, he developed relentless resilience, determined self-reliance, fierce independence, and a strong sense of loyalty to close family and friends. At every opportunity, the adventurous boy roamed the family farm, hunting rabbits and pheasants, and often rode his pony to the country school around the section corner.

Always athletic and competitive, Cliff starred in football, basketball, track and baseball at Centerville High School. After graduating in 1952, he played some semi-pro baseball, played football for South Dakota State, and even made the basketball team at South Dakota State. On August 4, 1956, Cliff married his high school sweet heart, Carol Rist, and moved to Sioux Falls. After graduating from State in 1957, he taught science for two years at Freeman High School, where he also coached the varsity football, basketball, and track teams.

With a growing family, Cliff then entered the business world as a manager with the International Harvester Company. For the next 13 years, he moved up within IH, resulting in a series of family moves every few years in towns across South Dakota, Iowa, and Nebraska. Cliff turned down several promotions to corporate headquarters in Chicago, unwilling to raise his family in an environment so far removed from that of rural South Dakota. Instead, he diligently searched for opportunities, scrapped together enough savings, and ultimately managed to purchase the International Harvester dealership in Yankton in 1972. 

In Yankton, just 45 minutes from Centerville, Cliff returned home. The IH business immediately prospered, his family thrived, and he enjoyed regular gatherings with his parents, brother, in-laws, nieces, nephews, cousins, and many other relatives and friends. Cliff loved sharing holidays, birthdays, graduations, anniversaries, and reunions, and especially loved seeing his children and grandchildren perform in all of their various activities. If there was a family event, he was there and loved being there.

Plunging into community service, Cliff served as Mayor of Yankton and on the Yankton City Council, and was actively involved with Trinity Lutheran Church, Rotary Club, and Quarterback Club. He joined the Hillcrest Golf and Country Club and, over time and as time allowed, developed a passion for golf. Like everything else he did, Cliff soon excelled at golf, hitting a hole-in-one twice, and, into his 70's and early 80's, often shooting scores under his age. 

Always alert to business opportunities, Cliff bought the Cadillac, Chevrolet, Buick and Oldsmobile car dealerships in 1986. He even developed farmland adjacent to the country club into a residential cul-de-sac, where he built his own home overlooking the golf course. Whether tractors, farm equipment, trucks, cars, land, or most anything else, Cliff loved to wheel and deal, enjoying the interaction with others as much as anything.

In addition to all his business, community, and family activities in Yankton, Cliff continued to farm the family farm. For many years, he farmed the land himself, squeezing work into long summer days. Over time, Cliff gradually contracted out more of the farm work, but continued to actively manage the land. He always said farming was his hobby.

Eventually, with sons Cyler and Chris working in the family business, Cliff and Carol enjoyed traveling throughout the country and abroad. Always loving to "Make A Deal," he would bring a suitcase full of hats and shoes on his Caribbean cruises to barter with the locals. A particularly memorable trip was to Trondheim, Norway, a relatively small farming area. Norwegian to the core, Cliff enjoyed meeting relatives there and loved telling stories of his great grandfather's homeland.

For over 88 years, Clifford G. Groseth lived his American Dream. 

Cliff is survived by his wife, Carol Groseth of Yankton; four children: Candace (James) Hersch of Champlin, MN, Craig (Colleen) Groseth of Rapid City, SD, Cyler (Roxanne) Groseth of Surprise, AZ, and Christopher (Lori) Groseth of Sioux Falls, SD; nine grandchildren: Jamie (Matt) Burkhard, Jonathan (Allie) Hersch, Cara Groseth, Chani (Zachary) Tretbar, CJ Groseth, Evie (Robin) Plummer, Kallan, Brooke, and Tate Groseth; eight great grandchildren: Scylee, Avie, Emmy, Trace, Vera, Livia, Brooks, and Cadence; two sisters-in-law: Marion Groseth of Sioux Falls, SD and Donna Torvik of Montevideo, MN; two nieces: Carol Sue Groseth and Heidi Torvik; two nephews: Chuck Groseth and Jim Groseth; and many close friends.

Cliff was preceded in death by his parents, Joseph and Mabel Groseth; and two brothers, John Groseth and Robert Groseth.

For a glimpse of the impact he had on me, go to an article I wrote in 2018 entitled The Best Coach I Ever Had.

Sunday, December 4, 2022

2022 Black Hills Bounty (Day 3) - Active Recovery

Ooh, that's why I'm easy,
I'm easy like Sunday morning,
That's why I'm easy,
I'm easy like Sunday morning.
Easy, Lionel Ritchie (1977).

Life is light and easy on the Mickelson Trail.
(photo by Lane Bergen)

Back on board after yesterday's near mutiny, the crew is clearly looking forward to the promised "active recovery" of Day 3. Just to reach the extended, modest gravel section of the planned Day 3 recovery ride, however, requires climbing the challenging 10 miles that we did not yesterday. Today is not the day for that.

So, after breakfast, we re-group to consider options. With our Pringle campsite just off the Mickelson Trail, Jeff Bloom suggests the obvious solution of simply riding 32 miles to Edgemont on the Mickelson. Nothing could more "active recovery" than an easy, generally downhill spin on a rails-to-trails path to a town with every bikepacking amenity. All quickly hop on board that train.

Starting Day 3 with a fresh start after a tough end to Day 2.
Craig Groseth, Jeff Bloom, Kevin Fox, Jon Naaf, Lane Bergen.

For once, a day on the Black Hills Bounty is as easy as advertised, maybe easier. It's like tubing down a slow moving stream. A little bit of effort greatly increases speed, but what's the point? To sit an extra hour in Edgemont? 

Clear skies, little wind, moderate temperatures, consistently gentle downhill, smooth crushed limestone. This is more "recovery" than "active." But I hear no complaints.

Easy-peasy spinning south out of Pringle on the Mickelson Trail.

After 16 peaceful miles, we stop at the Minnekahta Trailhead. No real reason, other than just to stop. We meet some other cyclists on a day ride and chat for a bit. They are more anxious to keep moving, so we retire to the shelter for a late morning snack.

It doesn't seem possible that our day's ride is half over. I think we're taking recovery ride to the next level.

Approaching Sheep Canyon trestle on the Mickelson Trail.

It's still late morning when we spin into Edgemont and head for the Edgemont City Campground at the south end of town. Passing a couple of motorized campers, we stake out a site with a picnic table under a big shade tree. But all the sites are pretty exposed to the elements and all are just a decent frisbee throw from a serious multitude of heavily trafficked railroad tracks. This is not a picturesque National Park campground nor a remote dispersed campsite. It's the right place for us tonight.

More to the point, this city campground offers a hot shower, our first of the trip, power to recharge devices, abundant fresh water, and a picnic table in the shade. We leisurely set up camp, clean up, and organize gear. Eventually, we amble over to the Victory Bar for burgers and refreshments. But the biggest hit with this crew was a Dollar General store for re-supplies for the remaining two days of the trip. Bikepacker priorities.

Lane checks out Sheep Canyon.
(photo by Jeff Bloom)

I'm not sure our "Active Recovery" was all that active, but the hot shower, cooked meal, and ice cream dessert sure helped us recover from yesterday's draining ride. 

A nice, easy day ends with a nice, relaxing evening. We should be fully charged for tomorrow.

Easy, Commodores (live, 1977)

Sunday, November 27, 2022

2022 Black Hills Bounty (Day 2) - Mutiny On The Bounty

They say the sea turns so dark that,
You know it's time, you see the sign,
They say the point demons guard is,
An ocean grave, for all the brave,
Was it you that said, "How long, how long,
How long to the point of know return?" 
The Point Of Know Return, Steve Walsh, Phil Ehart & Robby Steinhardt (1977). 

Campground host at Elk Mountain Campground in Wind Cave National Park.
(photo by Lane Bergen)

A picture perfect morning opens our Day 2 on the Black Hills Bounty. After a relaxing night at the group campsite at Elk Mountain Campground in Wind Cave National Park, we make coffee, cook breakfast, and eagerly pack up. The forecast looks fabulous, as typical here in mid-September, with perhaps some higher temperatures later. Spirits are high. 

Today's route is essentially four stages of about equal length that increase in difficulty: a winding warmup on pavement, a steady climb on Primary gravel, a rolling ramble on Secondary dirt and rock, and finally a challenging climb on Low Standard loose ruts to disperse camp. Before that final nasty climb, we plan to stop for refreshments and fuel at the Hitch Rail Bar & Restaurant in Pringle. Pretty straightforward plan.

Do not disturb.
(photo by Lane Bergen)

The herd is on the move.
(photo by Kevin Fox)

The sun is out, the wind is not, the pavement is smooth, and the grade trends downward. This is the way to start a day.

We lightly spin onto U.S. Highway 385 to find a large herd of buffalo moving along Gobbler Ridge. If these very wild critters feel threatened by a few cyclists quietly rolling through their pantry, they don't show it. Most calmly watch us pass and go on grazing. But there always seems to be one, a big old bull, usually a bit away from the group, that studies longer and more intently. Be aware of that one.

Climbing on Secondary 682 somewhere west of Wind Cave National Park.
(photo by Kevin Fox)

Winding through Wild Cat Canyon on Secondary 682.
(photo by Kevin Fox)

Before long, we turn away from Wind Cave National Park and onto the fast county gravel of Argyle Road. Well, the surface is relatively fast, anyhow. This Primary Road rolls a bit, but is much more up than down, gaining about 1,100 feet over the next 7 miles. The climbing, and the building heat, start to string us out.

We re-enter Black Hills National Forest, re-group, and almost immediately find USFS Secondary Road 682. This sweet little road will lead us to Wild Cat Canyon and Antelope Canyon, two secluded gems that highlight the day. It starts out sweet, anyhow.

Low Standard 682 sharply turns loose, rocky, and steep. Kevin's device reads a max of 19%.
(photo by Kevin Fox)

Kevin Fox emerges from Antelope Canyon unscathed.

The toll for passage through these canyons is steep, as in steep pitches of loose, chunky rock. Repeatedly. The occasional, all-too-brief, rocky descents don't provide much relief. This first hour or two of pedaling, and pushing, on Road 682 is much tougher than I remember from riding it a few years ago.

That thought is no comfort to this crew. The amount and difficulty of climbing in the building heat of a cloudless day drains energy and water supplies. I share an extra water bottle with Kevin, but the other three are somewhere ahead. I later learn that they are both overcooked and out of water. Eventually, they limp into Pringle to collapse in some shade.

Weathered granite walls taper to open meadows as we approach Pringle.
(photo by Kevin Fox)

The town of Pringle, with the promised oasis of the Hitch Rail Bar & Restaurant, does not come too soon. I soft pedal up to the entrance to find a M*A*S*H triage scene of motionless bodies strewn across picnic tables and benches in the shade. If they see me approach, they aren't looking at me. And they aren't talking. The crew teeters on the edge of mutiny.

I break the silence, to which someone replies tersely, "The bar is closed." What? A note on the door clearly states that the bar is open Tuesday through Sunday. Unfortunately, today is Monday. And, no, this route planner never thought to confirm that this only resupply, this singular oasis after a long, difficult ride in the heat, would actually be open for us.

Fortunately, fresh water at the nearby trailhead for the Mickelson Trail buys a little relief, and some time. With the air still laden with disappointment and fatigue, Kevin rolls up. After briefly checking in, Kevin disappears around the corner to talk with a lady walking near the building. Fortune favors the bold. She's the owner of the Hitch Rail and offers to briefly open the bar for us, at least for cold drinks and snacks.

The group mood lifts dramatically. Over the next hour or so, we cool off, physically and emotionally, but this group is done for the day. There's simply no chance now of tackling that nasty/nice Low Standard climb looming ahead. As we consider options on how to end this day, the bar owner offers to let us camp right in the back yard of her bar. With water and a bathroom nearby, and with a done-for-the-day crew, it's a no-brainer. We'll deal with tomorrow tomorrow.

Re-grouping over dinner in the back yard of the Hitch Rail Bar & Restaurant in Pringle.
(photo by Kevin Fox)

Camping in the back yard of the Hitch Rail Bar & Restaurant in Pringle.

Day 2 became more of a Great Divide type experience than planned. Unexpected heat and rough roads sapped energy and drained water, expected refreshments and re-supplies were not available, and a destination area to disperse camp was not reached. However, we rode through some remote back canyons on memorable roads, met our own Trail Angel, and worked through options to enjoy a quiet evening together. And we gave ourselves a chance to ride again tomorrow.

There certainly is beauty in the uncertainty of bikepacking.

The Point Of Know Return, Kansas (1977)

Sunday, November 20, 2022

2022 Black Hills Bounty (Day 1) - A Big BANG!

Math, science, history,
Unraveling the mysteries,
That all started with the big bang,
The Big Bang Theory Theme Song, Ed Robertson & Tyler Stewart (2010)

Climbing back into the Black Hills from Custer State Park.
(photo by Lane Bergen)

It's Go Time! Day 1 of the 2022 Black Hills Bounty! 

No alarm clocks necessary today. At first light, we're packed and rolling out of the Fort WeLikeIt Campground to hit the 06:30 opening of Baker's Bakery for their famous pastries and burritos. After last year's dressing down by owner Charity Baker for someone blowing by the "Wait To Be Seated" sign, Jeff Bloom repeatedly reminds everyone to patiently wait our turn. It's worth it. Both the food and the stories.

Then it's over to South Dakota Outdoor Shop, the only outdoors store in Custer. Last night, Jon Naaf discovered that his inflatable mattress did not make the move from his house to his truck. Fortunately, that relatively new store opens this morning and stocks such things. In the meantime, we meet a couple of cyclists stopping in Custer on a cross-country paved road tour. With heavy loads and skinny tires, however, they are not interested in riding with us along the Black Hills Bounty. To each their own.

Jon Naaf, Craig Groseth, Kevin Fox, Lane Bergen & Jeff Bloom ready to roll on Day 1.

Enhanced security at Baker's Bakery after last year's Black Hills Bounty.
(photo by the culprit Jeff Bloom).

We roll east out of Custer on a paved bike path for a few miles before turning directly onto USFS Low Standard Road 341.1A. And so it begins. A mile long, rock strewn pitch later, we bump along a ridge with northerly views of the Cathedral Spires and beyond. Now dry, these Low Standard Roads are much more manageable than they were earlier this spring when I slogged up a water filled, pot holed mudfest.

Then it's a fast, smooth descent along a pastoral valley winding to Hazelrodt Picnic Area. Another Low Standard Road passes a string of small cabins and leads to a dead end, at least for motorized vehicles. We maneuver through a hiker gateway to take a cow path short cut over French Creek to Custer State Park. Some of this path is bare dirt, but some is little more than bent grass. Bounty. More Bounty.

Starting the day with a little pitch on USFS Low Standard 341.1A.
(photo by Jeff Bloom)

Looking north along USFS Low Standard 341.
(photo by Jeff Bloom)

Dropping toward Hazelrodt Picnic Area on USFS Low Standard 408.
(photo by Lane Bergen)

Unnamed, unnumbered, unmarked cow path connector.
(photo by Kevin Fox)

After a short break at French Creek Horse Camp, we climb out of that valley to quickly descend Lame Johnny Road, a well maintained, popular road for tourists to view wildlife. No buffalo block the road today, but we remember last year's beastly traffic jam near here and proceed warily. No one wants a viral picture of their cycling shorts dangling from a buffalo's horn.

Kevin Fox abruptly stops to air up a deflating tire. Moments later, just as we're re-gaining cruising speed of over 20 mph, BANG! Kevin's front tire blows completely off the rim. As the tire flops around the wheel, he miraculously holds his line in the loose gravel while braking to a heart-stopping stop. How he keeps upright is beyond me. 

With no serious damage to the tire, Kevin simply inserts a tube, pumps it up, and rolls down the road. The rest of us are flabbergasted. Wow. Did that really just happen?

Just riding along Lame Johnny Road in Custer State Park.
(photo by Jeff Bloom)

A moment later, one miraculous save by Kevin Fox.
(photo by Jeff Bloom)

We eventually roll onto smooth Fisherman Flats Road for a very fast 7 mile drop from forested hills into rolling prairie. As the road levels a bit, we coast into the Wildlife Station Visitor Center right on Wildlife Loop Road for some welcomed shade and water. Time for a short break. Maybe some lunch.

Enjoying relatively comfortable mid-September tourist traffic and mid-day heat, we gaze westward to prepare to climb the shadeless prairie back up into the Black Hills. Suddenly, that long sweet downhill we just rode doesn't seem so sweet. But it's still early, the road is solid, the climb is steady, not steep, and the big views all around are inspiring.

Winding back up into the Black Hills on Oak Draw Road in Custer State Park.
(photo by Kevin Fox)

Looking back at another climb on 4 Mile Draw Road in Custer State Park.
(photo by Lane Bergen)

We climb Oak Draw Road, hop on the pavement of the Wildlife Loop for a switchback climb up a ridge, and crest another ridge on 4 Draw Road before descending to State Highway 87. The gravel climbs are over for the day. Within a couple of miles, we leave Custer State Park and enter Wind Cave National Park. 

So far, we haven't encountered any buffalo up close. That's about to change.

First we roll along heavily forested Rankin Ridge, wind around a pig tail bridge, and cross historic Beaver Creek Bridge before dropping quickly to a more open mix of forest and prairie. A few stopped tourist cars ahead forewarn of possible wildlife nearby. 

Yessiree. The first of many buffalo appear on the adjoining hillside. Rounding the next bend reveals more buffalo in the ditch, and then on the shoulder, and then on the road itself. Some simply lounge on the grass next to the paved road. Just waiting. Go ahead, tourist, make my day.

One more climb up 4 Mile Draw in Custer State Park.
(photo by Lane Bergen)

Afternoon traffic jam in Wind Cave National Park.

Eventually, we work through the buffalo traffic jam and coast into Elk Mountain Campground in Wind Cave National Park, our destination for the night. We occupy a group camp site, which provides plenty of room for all of our tents, a shelter with picnic tables, bath rooms, and water. As the sun sets, we quietly watch a solitary bull buffalo stroll past our tents. Nice.

Air, sealant, tubeless tire,
Blowing out, it sure looked dire,
It all started with a Big Bang. BANG!

The Big Bang Theory Theme Song, Bare Naked Ladies (2010)

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

2022 Black Hills Bounty (Day 0) - Everybody Get Together

Come on, people now,
Smile on your brother,
Everybody get together,
Try to love one another right now.
Get Together, Chet Powers (1964).

This is the way.
(photo by Jeff Bloom)

On a crisp autumn late afternoon, friends from Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado, and South Dakota gather at the tipis in Fort WeLikeIt Campground near Custer for the 2022 Black Hills Bounty. Boisterous banter fills the air, as we reconnect, assemble gear, attend to bikes, review maps, and check weather. All systems go! 

Returning Bounty rider Jeff Bloom of Lincoln, Nebraska leaves his well-traveled fat bike at home this year in favor of a new Salsa CutThroat. Regardless of the bike, however, he will have no trouble setting the pace for this ride, even while recovering from knee surgery. Jeff's calm, friendly presence shrouds many years of fierce competition in endurance racing, both of which empower him to smoothly transition to bikepacking. He's also our designated spokesman for expedited seating at Baker's Bakery.

Tour Divide veteran and another returning Bounty rider Lane Bergen of Fort Collins, Colorado carries a simple, tested gear setup on his Salsa CutThroat, along with youthful energy and quiet confidence. He's a great companion and fits right in, despite most everyone else being his dad's age. Or older. Maybe next year he'll bring his dad along.

Newcomer Jon Naaf of Manhattan, Kansas is another accomplished endurance cyclist jazzed to see what this multi-day bikepacking thing is all about. His fully loaded Salsa Deadwood 29+ bike earns him the nickname "Jed" for Jed Clampett of the Beverly Hillbillies, but we all know he can power that bike right alongside the lighter steeds. And he certainly knows how to keep a conversation going.

Long time Nebraskan, now Rapid City resident Kevin Fox completes our group this year with an ultralight kit. He's experimenting with bike, gear, and body for a potential run at the Trans Am bikepacking race next year. The Bounty will not help with high intensity conditioning, but Kevin should be able sort out many other issues.

We're missing Paul Brasby, Ben Cooper, and Mark Hoffman, all of whom rode the Bounty last year. See, 2021 Black Hills Bounty. Ben just couldn't ride after starting a new job, while Paul and Mark chewed up vacation time this year riding the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route through Colorado and into New Mexico. Hopefully next time, if there is a next time.

Lane Bergen checks weather forecasts for the upcoming week.
(photo by Jeff Bloom)

As the sun sets, Mike Prendergast of Boulder, Colorado wanders into our camp. Several years ago, Mike discovered my Black Hills BackBone route, rode a bunch of it with some friends, and has returned every year since for a week of riding gravel throughout the Black Hills. This happens to be their time here and they plan a series of day rides following some of the stellar 50 mile routes created by Lucas Haan and archived at BlackHillsGravel.comSee also, New Friends On The Backbone (2019). Our next 5 days of riding will be very different, but the camaraderie is real.

The evening ends too soon. Tomorrow we start our search for Black Hills Bounty.

Get Together, The Youngbloods (1967).