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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)

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