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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).

Sunday, November 13, 2022

2022 Black Hills Bounty - Southern Hills, Take Five

We'll Take Five days,
For the Bounty, no sweat,
So no lyrics today,
It's the Dave Brubeck Quartet.
Listen at the end to Take Five, Dave Brubeck Quartet, Live in Belgium (1964)

Scouting a rolling Low Standard Road for the 2022 Black Hills Bounty.

In 2021, at the request of my friend Paul Brasby, I created a 5 day bikepacking ride in the Central Black Hills of South Dakota for him and some out-of-state friends. I called it the "Black Hills Bounty" due to the treasure trove of remote, rough back roads through one-of-a-kind scenery. That route hit what I believe are some of the very best bikepacking roads in the Black Hills. We rode it in June of 2021, calling a few audibles and taking a few detours along the way. It turned out great because the guys riding it were great. 2021 Black Hills Bounty.

So, when they emphatically ask to return in 2022 for more, I'm not quite sure how to put together a sequel. Eventually, I decide to approach the ride as a glimpse of what it's like to ride the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. Think of it as Bikepacking 202 directed toward the experienced cyclist, but moderately experienced bikepacker. I'll create a remote, rough road route that requires a variety of bikepacking skills, including finding and filtering water, preparing most meals, choosing dispersed and developed campsites, re-supplying from the occasional C-store, navigating poorly marked and unmarked roads, and re-charging devices. With very spotty cell coverage out there, I'll use a Spot Tracker to track our ride and communicate with my wife. Maybe we can take self-supported mindsets to a higher level.

To allow time and energy for all this, I significantly decrease mileage and elevation gain to about 40 miles and 3,000 feet of gain per day. Of course, I'll look for a Bounty mix of fast, medium and slow gravel, fast, medium and slow dirt, limited pavement, and probably some simple single track. For those wanting to explore more after setting up camp, I'll have maps and ideas for additional miles.

We're off to scout the Bounty. Just follow the snowy white road.

With that approach, I set out to create the 2022 Black Hills Bounty. Over time, after scouring many maps and scouting many miles, I decide to again start in Custer, but ride south and west into the Southern Black Hills that transition from forest to prairie. Few cyclists venture down there into the labyrinth of Forest Service Low Standard roads that don't always follow the federally documented maps. For example, some that map as spurs connect and some that connect do not. Tread on the trail is how to sort it out.

It's not a simple task. A host of Low Standard roads randomly shoot up and down hillsides and creep along canyons. Many are unmarked and, even if marked, simply dissipate into the forest after a spell. It's a spider web of tantalizing trails. Which to take? What combination? How to piece them together?

Further to the south, the number and variety of public roads diminish rapidly as private ranch land replaces National Forest. Well before reaching the town of Edgemont, the USFS Low Standard and Secondary roads are gone and only a handful of county gravel roads remain. But those roads are scenic and fun to ride. So, I keep at it. With some careful scouting, good fortune, and intel from a friendly rancher, I finally make it work by finding an abandoned Low Standard road that crosses a ridge to close a challenging gap between marked roads. See, Connecting.

The Black Hills are rich with a variety of USFS Low Standard Roads.

So, I had a plan for the 2022 Black Hills Bounty. It all added up to 5 days covering 202 miles and 15,447 feet of elevation gain, which averages about 40 miles and 3,100 feet of gain per day. With a bonus day six.

So, here's a breakdown of the daily plan. But it was just a plan. The riders will make or break the ride.

Day 1 (42 miles/3,073 feet gain)/7 miles Low Standard/3 Secondary/15 Primary/17 paved.
Mixed bag right from the start. Paved to access Low Standard climb, to Primary to access single track,
more Primary to access another rough, barely Low Standard, then rolling Primary and paved finish
to Wind Cave National Park. Water at mile 23 and at camp. No re-supply.

Day 2 (41 miles/3,948 feet gain)/10 miles Low Standard/11 Secondary/10 Primary/10 paved.
Twisty 10 mile paved start in Wind Cave National Park, middle 21 mile mix of Primary & Secondary,
with a rough climb on a 10 mile Low Standard to dry disperse camp.
Water & limited re-supply at Pringle (mile 29).
(photo by Kevin Fox)

Day 3 (38 miles/1,666 feet gain)/3 miles Low Standard/7 Secondary/26 Primary/2 paved.
Active recovery day. Initial Low Standard from dispersed dry camp, then hard, fast Primary
to Edgemont to camp at city campground. Water, power, showers, 2 C-stores, bar/grill.

Day 4 (40 miles/2,859 feet gain)/3 miles Low Standard/0 Secondary/34 Primary/3 paved.
Steady climbing on hard, fast (if dry) Primary roads, ending with rough Low Standard road.
Spring water near dispersed campsite. No re-supply.
(photo by Lane Bergen)

Day 5 (41 miles/3,901 feet gain)/20 miles Low Standard/0 Secondary/17 Primary/4 paved.
Finish with a flourish. 20 miles of primo Low Standard right from camp, then a short Primary climb
with Crazy Horse views and downhill Primary to Custer. Surface water at mile 16.

Bonus Day 6 (46 miles/5,347 feet gain)/2 miles Low Standard/4 Secondary/3 Primary/37 paved.
Unloaded optional day, mostly paved with some twists from 2021 (also 10 miles/1,000 feet gain less).
Climb Sylvan Lake Road, descend Needles Highway, Iron Creek single track connector
to climb Iron Mountain Road, lunch at Mt. Rushmore, Palmer Creek gravel to climb Sylvan Lake Road
and then drop to Custer. This day's ride is worth the trip, all by itself.
(photo by Paul Brasby)

Take Five, Dave Brubeck Quartet (1964)

Tuesday, November 8, 2022

2022 Coffeeneuring Challenge - Feeling Groovy

Slow down, you move too fast,
You've got to make the morning last,
Just kicking down the cobblestones,
Looking for fun and feeling groovy.
The 59th Street Bridge Song, Paul Simon (1966)

After a year hiatus, I'm back with the Coffeeneuring Challenge. And, unlike our #CoffeeOutside - Rapid City gatherings, this doesn't require setting a specific time and place and it doesn't mean sitting outside early mornings, unless, of course, that's what you want to do.

From her website, endurance athlete Mary Gersema describes the concept:  "The Coffeeneuring Challenge is a time to mellow out, slow down the pedal strokes, and make the most of a delicious time of year by lingering over a cup of your favorite fall beverage. This challenge offers an opportunity to connect virtually or in-person with others, and can also be a time to carve out space for solitary contemplation over a beverage. Let's coffeeneur our way through the changing seasons."

"The Challenge is essentially as follows:
  • between October 7 through November 20, 2022
  • ride your bike to 7 different places
  • at least 2 miles round trip each time
  • drink 7 cups of coffee (or another fall-type beverage) and
  • document your coffeeneuring (either photos, Strava tracks, journal entries, control card, etc.)"
More information at Coffeeneuring Challenge 2022.

I don't need much of an excuse to ride a bike or drink coffee, but it's a fun twist. This challenge took me all around Rapid City, with nice, long stops at places I normally ride by, such as the Memorial Park Band Shell, Rushmore Lions Nature Park, Wilderness Park, Jackson Park Disc Golf Course shelter, the Nehemiah Memorial Slack Line & Balance Park, Founders Park, School of Mines Campus Quadrangle, and Kiwanis-Mary Hall Park. I even stopped for coffee on an unnamed U.S. Forest Service Road while scouting Black Hills Bounty routes.

To submit the requested documentation to complete the 2022 Coffeeneuring Challenge, I am Craig Groseth of Rapid City, South Dakota, USA. Below are my completed control cards and pictures of my rides, all of which are in the "Coffee Without Walls" category. I also completed the digital form linked on your website. Thank you, Mary, for creating and nurturing this community of Coffeeneurs.

#1. Memorial Park Band Shell, 10/8/22

#2. Rushmore Lions Nature Park, 10/10/22.

#3. Wilderness Park, 10/20/22.

#4. Jackson Park Disc Golf Course Shelter, 10/22/22.

#5. U.S. Forest Service Low Standard Road 172.1M,  Black Hills National Forest, 10/28/22.

#6. Nehemiah Memorial Slack Line & Balance Park, 10/30/22.

#7. Founders Park Shelter, with Lucas Haan and Lori Litzen, 11/5/22.

#8 (bonus). School of Mines Campus Quadrangle, 11/7/22.

#9 (bonus). Kiwanis-Mary Hall Park, 11/8/22.

Completed 2022 Coffeeneuring Challenge Card.

The 59th Street Bridge Song, Simon & Garfunkel, 
Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour (1967).