Back From 'Maah Daah Hey' Trail

The blisters on my hands are still raw. My wife yesterday went to work with a tweezers to pick cactus quills out of my arm. Gear from the trip is a dusty mess, a pile in my garage needing to be cleaned. Thus are the after effects of the Maah Daah Hey Trail, a 97-mile horse track that snakes through North Dakota’s remote western Badlands area.

maah daah hey trail bike trip.jpg

Endless remote expanse: North Dakota’s western Badlands; photo by T.C. Worley

This week a crew of seven GearJunkie people converged on Medora, N.D., to grab a shuttle ride to the north end of the trail. We began at mile 97 and at the CCC Camp, and we pedaled south, the miles ticking down, for two days with little rest.

We’d come to the Maah Daah Hey to film. As the third episode in our new “Off The Map” series, we were in search of an off the beaten path adventure setting, and the Maah Daah Hey did not disappoint. Over two long days of riding we saw not another soul on the trail. We carried food and a filter from Platypus, cleaning our water from rare streams that nudge through the arid land.

maah daah hey trail devils pass.jpg

Devils Pass feature on the Maah Daah Hey; photo by T.C. Worley

We slept in the dirt, no sleeping pads or tents. Bikes broke down. We crashed, bodies flying over handlebars to land in grass or cactus bush. It was late April in North Dakota, but the sun beat and beat as intense as an August day.

maah daah hey shade.jpg

Quick break in patch of rare shade on the trail; photo by T.C. Worley

In the end, six of the seven in our group made it through. A bike breakdown forced one man out, hitchhiking back on the lonely oil field roads. The remaining six of us — myself, cameraman T.C. Worley, Andrei Karpov, Parker Roenfanz, and Chelsey and Jason Magness of the YogaSlackers — pedaled wearily to the south end of the trail, the seasonal ghost town of Medora offering a quiet finish line as the sun set on our second day.

maah daah hey trail hill.jpg

Biker’s eye view: Endless uphills on the trail; photo by T.C. Worley

Stay tuned for more on the Maah Daah Hey. The route through the Badlands is a bonafide adventure, a physical, mental, and navigational feat to finish with its endless desert hills, its wash-outs, and a rutted track that persists, often vaguely, through terrain few people will ever see. There are lizards and petrified logs here, and the buffalos still roam. We got it all on film, the human drama and trail hardship, too. Watch for our “Off The Map” video on the Maah Daah Hey, coming in June.

—Stephen Regenold is editor of GearJunkie. See “Off The Map” episode No. 1, “The Lost Coast,” on our new micro-site.

maah daah hey bike at sunset.jpg

Riding into the sunset on the Maah Daah Hey; photo by T.C. Worley

Posted by Chad Brackelsberg - 04/26/2012 07:51 AM

Glad to see people writing about their experiences on the MDH. I grew up in ND and now live in UT. I went back last August to run the MDH in a single push last year. It was definitely every bit as hard as you made it sound above. I hope to see the trail continue to grow in popularity as a destination bike and running location.

Posted by jason - 04/26/2012 09:59 AM

Yeah – we heard about you in the bike shop. Great job. Much of the time we certainly wished we were running. Even on the bikes riding, we often were lucky to be doing 5 mph…..but the beauty never ceases out there…

The trail from 27 to 17 was SO nice……so fast…and so much obvious TLC there. Wonder if that is what the whole thing will be like eventually. I kinda hope so, and at the same time hope not….

Posted by Kelly sorge - 04/26/2012 02:52 PM

Way to go! Jen from the bike shop in Medora was telling us all about you guys at the ND tourism conference! She won an award for industry leader !! She rocks!! Cant wait to see the film! Thanks for coming to ND. And reminding us what a great place we live in! I have a little place called Indian Hills Resort
And have 6 miles of mountain bike trails! Nothing like MDH but we love it!! Again congrats on concurring the 97 miles !!

Posted by Jennifer Morlock - 04/27/2012 12:03 PM

Hi Stephen & crew! Glad everyone made it back safe & sound! Sorry we weren’t there to welcome you back! Trail maintenance begins Early June so those deep ruts will hopefully disappear. It will be mowed too! A 4 day ride is what we recommend for the “average” rider (22 miles/day between camps-with water!) and of course our shuttle service to haul all your gear to each campsite!! You guys & gal-are truly amazing! Congratulations and can’t wait to see the video! Cheers-Dakota Cyclery Mt. Bike Adv.

Posted by Jared - 04/27/2012 12:06 PM

I noticed you’re all wearing backpacks opposed some sort of bike rack mounting system. I see you have full suspension as well which makes the rack mounting a bit tricky. Any reviews or recommendations on good long distance cycling packs for similar trips? I have a full suspension stumpjumper and am planning a long distace ride and need to carry my gear comfortabely.

Posted by T.C. Worley - 04/27/2012 02:00 PM

Jared, some of us did use frame packs & seat bags in addition to backpacks. Look for a review of those soon.

Posted by Lomax - 04/27/2012 03:19 PM

YO- Avid gear geek here. If you guys come back next year I would be happy to host you at my secret gambler’s cabin, right off the trail.

Posted by Don Mayer - 05/03/2012 10:12 AM

Congratulation on your trek. As president of the MDHTA I would appreciate a chance to visit with you. I believe you are the first group to travel the entire trail in 2012. This would give us a rare opportunity to find out where the trail needs immediate attention.

Posted by Lynn - 05/22/2012 02:15 PM

Got busted by the Rangers for riding through the park and having my dog too. Hope they let me have my back bike as I did pay my tickets. Trust me folks it is a long walk back to your vehicle and a long ride home after something like that. Please research the routes around and avoid riding the two wilderness units of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. You might not be contacted but if you are it sucks.

Posted by Mark Sevenoff - 06/01/2012 10:52 AM

WOW! Is all I can say. Truly impressive ride. Our tour company does this route over 5 days, and while it’s still a good challenge for average riders, it’s nice having cold beer and fresh food at camp each night. We’ve got a trip with room leaving Labor Day (9/3/12) if you have the time. There’s no better reason to go visit ND!!/trips/maah-daah-hey/

Add Comment

  1. Add link by using "LinkText":