Leg­endary bik­ing on North Dakota's Maah Daah Hey trail

'The greater is the at­trac­tion of its lonely free­dom'

Kuwait Times - - LIFESTYLE - By Carey J Wil­liams

For moun­tain bik­ers, North Dakota's Maah Daah Hey Trail is such a trea­sure that peo­ple come from all over to ex­pe­ri­ence it. I drove with friends more than 1,000 miles (1,600 km) to ride 100-plus miles (160 km) of the sin­gle-track trail, which is no wider than a bike. And we weren't the only non-Dakotans trav­el­ing long dis­tances to do it. We met folks from Philadel­phia, Min­neapo­lis, Den­ver, Mon­tana and Wy­oming. The MDH is lo­cated where the Great Plains meet the Bad­lands. To use North Dakota's state slo­gan, it's leg­endary. It con­nects the north­ern and south­ern units of Theodore Roo­sevelt Na­tional Park in the western part of the state.

With el­e­va­tion changes of over 10,000 feet (3,000 me­ters), only the fiercest of ath­letes com­plete the trail in one day, usu­ally for the an­nual MDH 100 race (this year, Aug 5). We opted for a multi-day, self-sup­ported trip. That's the essence of bikepack­ing - or back­pack­ing by bike.

Within the first hour of leav­ing the north­ern trail­head, we knew we'd be tested by the rugged land­scape. The un­re­lent­ing climbs, sheer cliffs along the ex­posed lay­ers of the Bad­lands, switch­back de­scents and grassy plateaus with panoramic views were go­ing to be our re­peat­ing scenery for three days. After a two-hour open­ing night ride due to a late start, it took us three full days of 10 to 12 hours on the bikes to com­plete the trail. A fourth day would have made it a more re­lax­ing ex­pe­ri­ence with var­i­ous side trips to the China Wall, Ice Caves and Roo­sevelt's Elkhorn Ranch.

Bikepack­ers carry the same gear as back­pack­ers with the ad­di­tion of tools and spare bi­cy­cle parts. Ide­ally, the gear (in­clud­ing a multi-tool, chain breaker, spare tubes, tire levers, patch kit, chain lube and pump) should be dis­trib­uted equally around the bike be­cause rid­ing sin­gle-track trails de­mands your at­ten­tion and bal­ance. When the nar­row track zigzags, the bike needs to fol­low as rid­ers be­come one with the trail. The ideal bike would be a hard­tail (with or with­out sus­pen­sion) moun­tain bike with 27.5 or 29-inch wheels and bags for the frame, fork, han­dle­bar and seat post.

But we're proof you don't need top-of-the-line gear to com­plete the trail. Two of our three rid­ers used pan­niers, meaning sad­dle­bags on racks over rear tires, though they did face more me­chan­i­cal is­sues on 15-year-old bikes than the gear­head of the group. Plus the width of the bikes with pan­niers tended to dis­rupt the tall western wheat­grass and dense brush along the trail, lead­ing to stops for tick checks and bro­ken bike parts. Rest­ing points were key to a suc­cess­ful trip, es­pe­cially be­tween the hottest times of day, 2 pm to 4 pm. The cooler, north-fac­ing slopes and pock­ets of wooded draws were natural pit stops - usu­ally in a grove of leafy cot­ton­wood trees.

Sag wag­ons

The drier, south-fac­ing buttes lent them­selves to pur­ple cone­flow­ers, prairie roses, bright yel­low bloom­ing prickly pear cac­tus and the eas­ily-rec­og­niz­able yucca plant with its tall stalks. The wild­flow­ers pro­vided a con­trast to the browns and greens dom­i­nat­ing the land­scape. One note of cau­tion for this sea­son: The area is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a drought. A wild­fire re­cently closed part of the MDH trail along with two camp­grounds, but at the end of July, all sec­tions were open.

We each car­ried a to­tal of 4 to 6 liters of water in day­packs, frame cages and lug­gage bags. Each camp­site (CCC, Ben­nett, Mag­pie, Elkhorn, Wan­na­gan, Buf­falo Gap, Sully Creek), lo­cated at least 18 miles (29 km) apart, had hand-pumped drink­ing water. There are also water-cache sites that can be stocked be­fore the trip by driv­ing on dirt roads. The camp­sites can be ac­cessed on those roads, mak­ing it pos­si­ble for ex­hausted rid­ers to catch a ride back to town or for sag wag­ons - sup­port ve­hi­cles - to greet pam­pered rid­ers at the end of the day with a cold bev­er­age.

Find­ing the camp­sites was a breeze with wooden fence posts placed on the trail within sight of each one. Roo­sevelt first came to the area to hunt buf­falo but later re­turned to work as a rancher while work­ing through grief for his late mother and wife, who died the same day in 1884. "The far­ther one gets into the wilder­ness," he said, "the greater is the at­trac­tion of its lonely free­dom."—AP

Photo shows Drew Red­man and Ryan John­son rid­ing on the riverbed of the Lit­tle Mis­souri River in western North Dakota.

Photo shows clay stick­ing to a bike tire after a rain­storm on the Maah Daah Hey Trail near Me­dora, North Dakota as Ryan John­son is re­turn­ing to his rid­ing group to give a trail-con­di­tions up­date.

Photo shows Drew Red­man pump­ing water for Ryan John­son's var­i­ous con­tain­ers.

Photo shows Drew Red­man tak­ing a break along the Maah Daah Hey Trail.

Photo shows Ryan John­son lead­ing Drew Red­man on the sin­gle-track trail that makes the Maah Daah Hey Trail, in western North Dakota, a pop­u­lar des­ti­na­tion for moun­tain bik­ers.

Photo shows Drew Red­man at­tempt­ing an unas­sisted cross­ing of a deeper-than-it-looks creek with Ryan John­son su­per­vis­ing. — AP pho­tos

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