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Sunday, February 25, 2024

24 Hours In The Old Pueblo - Back At It

The 24 Hours In The Old Pueblo ("Two Four HOP") is an iconic 24 hour long mountain bike race heralded for its fun, fast course, thorough organization, enthusiastic volunteers, unique expo, rambunctious riders, and rowdy fans. For 24 years now, about 4,000 people have gathered each year over Presidents Day weekend in an expanse of open Arizona desert to race, ride, and simply celebrate a shared passion of mountain biking. It's a big party.

Most of the 2,000-some riders race as a member of a relay team, where one team member rides the 16.7 mile lap while the other teammates hang out at the team camp or at the race venue. The other team members then take turns riding laps for up to 24 hours. There is no minimum number of laps, but to be an Official Finisher, a team's final lap must be completed AFTER 12:00 noon on Sunday. Many do not make that finish line.

This year, 165 riders lined up to race solo, that is, a team of one. Like the team relays, the solo rider races laps from noon Saturday until after noon on Sunday, taking breaks as necessary or desired. However, the solo rider does not pass the baton to a teammate. It's all on the individual rider to race those laps.

Desert forest at the 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo.
Lean carefully through those turns.

In 2003, I raced Two Four HOP with friend Dan Cook as a Duo Team, finishing 13 laps to place 18th out of 45 teams. We both believed we left several laps out on the course and promised to return to race it better. But racing Duo Team meant that we saw each other only in the transition tent, so we decided to return as solo racers to have the option of riding together.

Years passed. Dan moved to Northern California and spent his limited spare time sailing competitively. I continued to ride, but drifted away from mountain bike racing. Now, 21 years later, I finally returned to Two Four HOP for my first 24 hour solo race.

It wasn't fast. It wasn't pretty. No lap was easy. That last lap was brutal. But I found a way to keep pedaling when I could have stopped short. 

Official Finisher. 7 laps (117 miles). 25 hours, 36 minutes. 55th out of 113 male solo starters (no age groups).

That's the same number of laps that I rode all those years ago on that Duo Team. 

I'm not done yet.

Full race report, people stories, venue/course details, and images ahead, after I get home and recover. For more event information, go to the 24 Hours In The Old Pueblo website and the 2024 Results.

Monday, February 19, 2024

Bikepacking the DED Dirt Ride

Tucked within the thickly forested, rugged remoteness of the Black Hills of South Dakota lies a treasure trove of seldom traveled single track trails, dirt paths, logging roads, gravel roads, and pavement. A walloping number of public roads and acres of public land create practically unlimited opportunities to explore. 

Among all those possibilities, two iconic off-road trails span much of the North-South length of the Black Hills. The oldest is the 111 mile single track Centennial Trail (Trail 89), built by the Boy Scouts as a hiking trail in 1989 to commemorate 100 years of South Dakota statehood. Running roughly parallel to the West is the Mickelson Trail, a 109 mile crushed limestone path on a 19th Century railroad bed. A person traversing these two trails would experience a large dose of the best of the Black Hills. 

The DED Dirt Ride. Deadwood to Edgemont to Deadwood, 
via the Centennial Trail, the Mickelson Trail, and primarily gravel connectors.
330 miles of iconic Black Hills trails.

Somewhere in the midst of a long bike ride over 10 years ago, I formed the concept of riding the length of the Centennial Trail and the length of the Mickelson Trail, connected by primarily gravel roads, in one continuous loop. I shared the idea with a handful of family and friends, who didn't seem to react to this any differently than others I toss into the air. In fact, one regular cycling partner, Shaun Arritola, seemed downright excited to start riding it as soon as possible. Several other locals enthusiastically asked of details and options to ride for a day here or there. When I invited some old friends, my college roommate Rob Sorge committed to fly in from Houston for the occasion. Before I knew it, I had a ride for 2014.

Over the course of that winter, the details changed, but the concept endured. Eventually, I called it the DED Dirt Ride to reflect the overall route from Deadwood to Edgemont to Deadwood, mostly on dirt.

Although originally envisioned as a continuous, self-supported bikepacking ride, we did not have suitable bikes, gear, or experience for such an endeavor in 2014. So, we caught a ride to Deadwood from my wife Colleen, a ride from the finish from Shaun's sister Dachia, and self-shuttled overnight gear and supplies every day with Shaun's vehicles. That is, we rode the route on a series of consecutive day rides. 

But we rode it. 5 days. 330 miles. Pretty evenly split between single track, rail-to-trail, and gravel. 2014 DED Dirt Ride (Epilogue).

Shaun Arritola, Craig Groseth & Rob Sorge at the finish of our 2014 DED Dirt Ride.
(image by Dachia Arritola)

Now, 10 years and many bikepacking miles later, it's time for me to ride the DED Dirt Ride as originally envisioned. Self-supported bikepacking. 

Summer of 2024. 

DED Dirt Ride in 4 files.
Deadwood to Bear Butte, Centennial Trail, Centennial Trail to Edgemont, Mickelson Trail.

Sunday, February 11, 2024

BackBone Grande - Yes, Point-to-Point

Almost immediately after I published my 400 mile BackBone Grande bikepacking route last year, several people asked for a return route. Recently, the issue arose again. Really?

The short answer is no. A better answer is not yet. A more complete answer is that the BackBone Grande results from of years of riding remote gravel/dirt roads throughout the Black Hills, creating many routes for a variety of ride experiences, and receiving valuable feedback from seasoned cyclists. That process took some time. A return route, if any, deserves the same.

So, point-to-point it is, even with the logistical challenge of getting to the start and from the finish.

The Southern terminus of the BackBone Grande.
County gravel begins in just two miles at the practically abandoned town of Ardmore.

I designed the BackBone Grande to create an experience akin to the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, which is a point-to-point route across the entire country. Most through-riders of the Great Divide somehow find a way to shuttle to the relatively remote start and from the even more remote finish. If that works for the 2,500 mile Great Divide, then it should work for the 400 mile BackBone Grande.

Also, nothing prohibits one from pedaling to the start from anywhere. In fact, many Great Divide through-riders start their ride from a more accessible location than the start of the route, like a relatively close town with public transportation. Same with returning home from the finish. I've read of riders taking Amtrak to Glacier National Park and then riding a couple of days to Roosville. From the finish, many simply ride to El Paso for public transportation home. On my 2021 Great Divide ride, I even met a couple riding north bound who started from their home in San Diego, rode to Antelope Wells, north to Roosville, and then back home to San Diego. Again, such logistics are much more simple on the much shorter BackBone Grande. 

The northern terminus of the BackBone Grande.
A multi-purposed sign sits at the unmarked border of North Dakota.

An occasional Great Divide through-rider will even turn around at the finish and ride back to the start. The vast range of weather conditions over those 2,500 miles, times two, limit start/finish options for such an endeavor. However, at 50 miles or so per day, a touring cyclist could successfully complete such a yo-yo ride by riding northbound during June and July and then southbound during August and September. So, it's possible.

The much shorter BackBone Grande offers a wider weather window and many more options for start/finish locations and times. Indeed, the start/finish need not even be at one of the state borders. For example, one could start at the very accessible town of Hill City in the heart of the Black Hills, ride the BackBone Grande route to one end, turn around to ride the entire route to the other end, and then ride back to Hill City. 

That actually sounds fun.

Perhaps a return route worthy of the BackBone Grande may be in the future. For now, enjoy that beautiful point-to-point.

Sunday, February 4, 2024

Cloud Peak 500 Page - 2024 Bump

The Cloud Peak 500. A unique ride through the Old West. And a great shake out ride for the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route.

In late 2019, compadre Lucas Haan alerted me to the Cloud Peak 500 bikepacking route in the Big Horn Mountains of Central Wyoming. I immediately recognized its potential as a primo shake out ride as part of my long running preparations to ride the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. The Cloud Peak 500 offered about 20 percent of the distance and elevation gain of the Great Divide on a seemingly similar variety of remote roads and terrain, with occasional small towns for re-supply. As a bonus, the Big Horns are but a few hours from Rapid City. I marked it as a priority ride for 2020. 

Meanwhile, cycling friend Paul Brasby of North Platte, Nebraska caught wind of my Cloud Peak 500 plans. As a lifetime, successful road racer, Paul is an enthusiastic gravel racer and bikepacker with both eyes fixed on riding the Great Divide. He also concluded that the Cloud Peak 500 looks to be an ideal ride to prepare for that, as well as a great ride on its own. We decided to start together and see how it goes. 

Dropping off Dude's Downhill on the Cloud Peak 500.
(image by Paul Brasby)

Over seven long, hot days in August, we rode the Cloud Peak 500 route, which was my longest, hardest, and overall biggest ride of 2020. Although I stopped short of 500 miles, Paul rode on, through a gauntlet of challenges, to become the first, and still only, official finisher of the Cloud Peak 500 bikepacking race.

I then wrote a series of blog posts about our experience, primarily as a scrapbook for me and any friends that might enjoy it, but also as a resource for others who may be intrigued. Those Daily Ride reports describe our experience and the Logistics reports reveal much to help plan such a ride. 

Eventually, I compiled all those blog posts onto a single Page called Cloud Peak 500 Page (2020) that appears within a column of Pages on the right side of the Black Hills BackBone blog. If you're looking for a shake out ride to prepare for the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, or just looking for a unique 500 mile bikepacking adventure in Central Wyoming, take a look at the Cloud Peak 500.