Father of GearJunkie, Age 63, Treks 96 miles Thru Badlands

This week, Chuck Regenold, age 63 and the father of GearJunkie editor Stephen Regenold, hiked the 96-mile Maah Daah Hey Trail in western North Dakota’s Badlands. The remote track, which a GearJunkie group mountain-biked last month (see the trip report “Back From ‘Maah Daah Hey’ Trail”), winds through desert and grasslands, climbing and descending constantly for its whole length. Chuck hiked the trail solo and carried all food, filtering water from streams and at least one “cow pond.” (He noted he could “still taste the cow” even after purification!) On the trek, Chuck battled blisters, vague trail spurs that took him off route, and wild, free-range steer not happy to see him in their grazing grounds along the way. Here son Stephen Regenold interviews his dad on the Maah Daah Hey experience.

GearJunkie (Stephen Regenold): Congrats, dad! Quite a hike. How did it go?
Chuck Regenold: It was a great adventure. I hiked from sunup ‘til sundown all four days. What a place! Very remote. I hardly saw anyone, no one in fact two of the days. Overall, though, the hike went well. Physically it was not as hard as I thought it would be at first, but the trail got exhausting. I had big blisters on the first day on account of wearing too-small trail runners! They fit at home and for average hikes, but for the long days on this trail they were too small.

Map of Maah Daah Hey and Chuck Regenold

Any other gear issues?
I grabbed the wrong backpack. My pack, an old JanSport that I modified, just did not fit right. The hip belt kept subtly loosening as I hiked, slowly putting more and more weight on my shoulders until they ached.

How many miles a day did you make it?
The route was 96 miles, and I think I did 22 miles the first day, 27 the second, 22 miles, and then 25 the last day. That’s about only a 2mph average, I know, but this trail is tough!

Hardest part of the trip?
The first 25 miles. Just getting going. There were also wash-outs up there at the north end of the trail [he hiked from the north to the south, starting at the CCC Camp trailhead], and I once made a wrong turn up there and accidently circled back on the route. Classic dumb mistake.

Views of the trail

How much food did you bring and what type of food?
I started with about 7 pounds of food, ended with none. I ate like I would on an endurance race, including lots of little “meals” of about 200 calories each. Lots of M&Ms and beef sticks, energy-gel packs, nuts, granola, a few dehydrated meals. I got really sick of the M&Ms. Never thought getting sick of M&Ms was possible before this! I had to force myself to eat at times. I would run low on energy and not feel like eating at all. But I made myself. This is key. You can feel it right away when you eat, and then you can get moving again.

Was water an issue? This trail is notoriously dry.
At the start I had 2 gallons in my pack! Lot of weight. But 64 ounces of that water was “do not touch” — I was saving that amount for an emergency in case I could not find water down the trail. But after a while I realized that did not make sense. I would drink this reserve once I was getting close to a source. I had a gravity filter from Platypus — what a great product! It made filtering water easy. I drank from muddy streams, the Little Missouri River, an animal trough, and once a “cow pond,” which was a muddy hole with hoof prints around it. Even after filtering that water I could still taste the cow! I did run out of water near the end, maybe the last five miles. Man, it’s hard to go without water! Glad I was at the end.

What was your sleeping gear?
No tent, just a bivy sack, pad and sleeping bag. I brought a lightweight fleece blanket. Grabbed it at the last minute. Was that warm! I felt like it added 20 degrees. I used a large poncho as my tarp. It’s a sil-nylon poncho that converts to a tarp if needed.

Full map of the Maah Daah Hey

Your gear was not too ultra-light overall, right?
Well, you know I brought my hatchet. I don’t go without it! Think if a storm came up and I had to pound [tarp] stakes into that hard Badlands ground. I think I started with 22 pounds gear in all. Sleeping bag, pad, SPOT device, phone, whistle, knife, and a few more things. The water filter weighed 10 ounces. It all adds up.

What gear was essential?
The Leki trekking poles. I pushed off them a lot. They really helped get me down the trail. The Platypus Gravity Filter. That is an excellent product. That fleece blanket I mentioned. I loved that.

Any recommendations for someone looking to hike the Maah Daah Hey like you did it?
Bring the right shoes and pack! That was my big gear mistake. What worked on shorter training hikes failed on the long trek.

The Maah Daah Hey is a remote stretch. How many people did you see out there in all?
No one on the first day or third days. All alone. The second day I saw two bikers. They were doing 35 miles that day. Then on the final day, when going through Theodore Roosevelt National Park, there were a few people. One guy was solo thru-hiking. He was from Bismarck, N.D., and he had a light daypack on only. He’d drove through the Badlands the day prior and made “stashes” of food and water and gear to grab along his trek. There was a woman and her two sons hiking. They looked like they just stepped out of an LL Bean catalog. They looked really slick.

Badlands view: Trail cuts through grasslands and rugged desert terrain

You had a run-in with a free-range steer? What happened?
One night, deep in a draw, I thought I saw this bull or steer crouched there and waiting for me. I did not want to go down there in the dark, so I stopped hiking. I camped there. But in the morning the “steer” was actually just a log! Later in the trek, though, I did get close to a real free-range steer. He was giving me a weird look. He didn’t like me there at all and was making strange signals and moving strange. I thought ‘I have no where to run!’ There is no where to hide, no trees to climb out there. So I just put my head down. I hiked quickly past that steer and he left me alone as I got out of his way.

—GearJunkie founder Stephen Regenold credits his father for instilling a lifelong passion for adventure in him as a kid. He canoed the Minnesota River with his father at age 3, camped and hiked growing up. As a teenager, the father and son set a year-long goal to learn to rock climb and then ascend Wyoming’s Devils Tower. They stood on the summit together in May of 1995, a few days before Stephen graduated from high school at age 17.

Stephen Regenold

Stephen Regenold is Founder of GearJunkie, which he launched as a nationally-syndicated newspaper column in 2002. As a journalist and writer, Regenold has covered the outdoors industry for two decades, including as a correspondent for the New York Times. A father of five, Regenold and his wife live in Minneapolis.