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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)

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