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Maah Daah Hey 100

Written by: Dan Spengler

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The Maah Daah Hey trail is that kind of new and untested condition. A hundred miles of single track that skirts Theodore Roosevelt National Park in the Badlands of North Dakota, the MDH has been our dream destination. The trail is a point-to-point ride in mostly desert-like conditions with no available support. Riding it requires planning. Tales of a little rain turning the trail into an unridable swamp made the fat bike the “obvious” choice. When a race appeared on the  radar this August, we knew there’d be the support, transportation and and available water that’s needed to check this one off the list. 100 miles of Maah Daah Hey in a day. A stellar accomplishment on any bike. Yet to be executed on a Fat Bike.

image_00022I’m used to the looks I get when I bring the fatty to races. The frowny faces of ultralight racers encourage me. The helpless smiles of spectators delight me. When this race started from the CCC campground on the Little Missouri, it was dark. 5am. By 15 or 20 miles into the race, the sun began to shine. Each checkpoint brought the usual fatty comments – “Whoa, are those tires hard to push?,” “Is that bike heavy?” You know. You’ve heard ’em. Except this time each comment carried weight. Like, actual weight. I started to have doubts about my choice of bike.
The trail itself is unlike any other I’ve ridden. It’s vast. Real vast. It weaves in and out of red rock canyons, over grasslands, through rivers, cow herds and even a fertile forest. It’s breathtaking. It’s “The West.” During a race like this, you can’t stop and appreciate the majesty for more than a glimpse, but it’s there. It feels real. Like old-school mountain biking, it has the formula for adventure, something raw and new.
The fatty loves adventure. It’s durable and doesn’t care if your shoulders are up to taking the rocky decent it’s plowing. It doesn’t care about creatively inventing a pretty line through some questionable terrain. It just does. And it expects you to push it uphill once in a while for it’s efforts. Everyone has to push their bike at some point on this trail. It’s inevitable. The river crossings have incredibly steep banks. Some of the climbs are in the same trenches that give the Badlands it’s moon-scaped look. I kept thinking that besides Andy, I may have the heaviest bike in the race. I probably did.
The heat on this trail can be oppressive. 110 degrees F. on some riders GPS. On one seemingly endless climb, I knew my 100 miles was possibly out of reach. I was out of water and couldn’t down another power-waffle-cube-gel. But, I had passed mile 50 and I was dying to see what was around the next corner. The fatty was dusty, creaky and had a fresh tube in the front tire. The Surly Larry’s were a great choice for this trail. Fast rolling, especially over the grass that makes up about 25 percent of the trails surface. I put in some light Q tubes before the race, but the friction between the tube and tire proved too much in the heat and the tube split 3 inches along it’s seam. I was carrying a heavyweight Surly fat bike tube. I put it in with confidence. Pumped the PSI up to 12, just to be safe. I tried a couple of different chain lubes on the trail. The best of the bunch was TriFlow. Seemed to last the longest and gave the most assuring sound – which makes a huge mental difference out here. Any creak, any grind you hear, any thump of something loose is amplified ten-fold in the middle of nowhere.

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I made 62 miles of trail, fixing 2 headset related mechanicals, a flat tire, and losing a crown on my tooth (during an especially rocky descent) before getting pulled at checkpoint “Evergreen.” My friends Dan and Pat made it 82 miles on their “normal bikes” before getting the hook. Andy got smart and reached the 50 mile checkpoint and piled into an air conditioned van looking for other riders who’s day had ended. At this checkpoint, it was myself and two of the many caring and curious volunteers that made this race so unique. They had more than they could have bargained for during this event. They had to convince some riders not to go on while said riders laid on the desert floor cramping and delirious. They thought we were nuts. At the time, we were.

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After a 20 minute “nap” in one of the volunteers support vehicle, I drove with them looking for other riders. You can’t make a racer quit a race, but you could see the ones that needed some coaxing, which at this point was everyone. I want to restate how well these volunteers did their job on this race. Markings on the trail weren’t perfect. “Detours” took valuable time. The stations seemed too far apart for belief sometimes and emergency water seemed to vanish. But the volunteers made this race, and at the risk of sounding unmanly, I got emotional toward the end seeing a green volunteer shirt knowing I was seeing safety.

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Finally, with all the riders accounted for, we packed up the bikes and took the support shuttle to the finish line in Medora for our 3 dollar campground shower. If you are thinking of doing this race, invest in the 3 dollar shower. Seriously. I was offered beer, pizza, water and hugs at the finish line, but made a bee-line to the 3 dollar shower. I kept thinking of John Travolta in Pulp Fiction gushing over his 5 dollar milkshake. 3 dollar shower. I’m telling you.

We left feeling a little defeated, but with brains working overtime on how to beat this trail with a fat bike next year. Can’t come soon enough. Tips? Bring water, lots. Bring tubes, more than 1. Bring real food, make it salty. Swim in all river crossings. All of them. And last but not least, you can’t go wrong by bringing the fatty.

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18 Responses to Maah Daah Hey 100

  1. Jared September 5, 2013 at 10:38 am #

    Fantastic report. Thanks.

    • johnnyd158 September 5, 2013 at 11:07 am #

      I’m from North Dakota. I’ve backpacked much of the Maah Daad Hey, but never took the opportunity to get my bike out there… Now living in Oregon I dream of making it a point one summer to get out there for the MDH 100 (I just need a fat bike first!!). Nice work!

      • Dan September 6, 2013 at 12:39 am #

        Biking in Oregon sounds like perfect fat bike territory. I bet Jeff Jones would take you for a spin…

  2. Dan Funke September 5, 2013 at 8:17 pm #

    Nice recap Dan. Pat and I can’t wait to get back and join you and Andy on next years MDH. You might even talk me into riding fat. I hate seeing you suffer alone. Misery loves company.

  3. Paul Hansbarger September 5, 2013 at 11:58 pm #

    Awesome trip report and photos. The MDH is on my bucket list and I’m eager to ride it in the future. Maybe on my Pugsley??

  4. Aaron September 6, 2013 at 12:04 am #

    I bailed at the 2nd checkpoint on my orange Mukluk- hopefully I’ll see you guys out there next year! I rolled the dice and didn’t bring an extra tube, but used the standard Surly tubes with no punctures. Nates were overkill for the trail- I think Huskers would be just about perfect. 70z camelbak + 3 water bottles wasn’t enough given the temperatures. A checkpoint saved my butt at the crest of a gravel road before the descent and climb back to checkpoint 2.

    • Dan September 6, 2013 at 12:44 am #

      Andy wanted me to tell you thanks for the extra water :). Agree on Nates being overkill, but standard Surly tubes next year for sure. Some weight savings comes at a price.

      • Andy September 6, 2013 at 9:37 am #

        Great write-up Dan, and Aaron I remember a small group of us were briefly lost trying to find a trail marker on the other side of a stream (which turned out to be on the same side!) But it was fun looking for the trail marker while riding the fatties up and down the stream.

        Gotta give proper credit to fellow fatbiker Steve Sloat who was riding a blue Mukluk — he graciously donated some extra Gatorade and water which was a life-saver out there in the heat. Next year — 100 oz. camelback plus at least two bottles!

  5. Olov Stenlund September 6, 2013 at 7:34 am #

    “When in doubt, bring the fat bike” Love it! =)

  6. Steven Sloat September 6, 2013 at 1:11 pm #

    I was there too with my fatty! I had a ball. I took the Option F (for FUN!). I pedaled at my own and the bike’s capability. I made it 50 Miles, and I was done. And, yes, totally agree on the $3 shower. I had no hot water whatsoever, and the freezing cold water was the clincher of the day! Well worth it! I will do it again with the fatty. It was made for adventure.

  7. Steven Slaot September 6, 2013 at 1:14 pm #

    Geez! Just saw I was mentioned in Andy’s post! Thanks for the mention! It was what any one of us would have done out there on the trail. We need to look after each other out there. I made the [mistake] of carrying too much water, and I paid for it…but it paid off in the end! It was my pleasure to help out. Andy, my e-mail is . Send me an e-mail any time! Take care.

  8. Sean September 6, 2013 at 2:20 pm #

    Well done guys. Wow.JUST.Wow

    Have you toyed with ghetto tubeless yet? I’m thinking I’ll give it a go with my Larry tires

    • Andy September 11, 2013 at 11:01 pm #

      I will definitely be looking into ways to lighten my ride next year! Tubeless included.

      With over 11,000 feet of climbing, the extra weight of a fatbike becomes its biggest disadvantage. At some creek crossings, it was really tough to carry/push up super steep and loose sandy banks.

      On the flats and downhills, it was fantastic!

  9. Steven Sloat September 6, 2013 at 5:07 pm #

    Seems my e-mail didn’t make it up on the last post…Andy, it’s ironbirdexplorer@hotmail.com

  10. Nick September 8, 2013 at 9:10 am #

    Thanks for the great trip report. The MDH trail looks like a great fatty ride but probably won’t make it out there anytime soon. Concerning tubeless – I have converted my two wheel sets (Huskers & Nates) using the ghetto method several months ago and have had no issues. I highly recommend going tubless. For our local point to point 40 mile race “The Blackfly” in the southern Adirondacks I ride my Fatback with Huskers. Several of of my riding group also ride fattys in this skinny mtb dominated race.

  11. Bill Bigelow September 11, 2013 at 7:10 am #

    Hi, my name is Bill. I just wanted to say how much I enjoyed seeing the pictures. I live in Chicago, but I have been by Teddy Roosevelt Park on the way out to Glendive Montana to visit a friend of mine. My friend is deceased now but seeing those photos of the badlands reminded me of him. Did you see any bison when you were on the trail? I happen to own a Moonlander myself and enjoy riding it around the forest preserves in Palos Park Illinois on the bridal paths. Keep up the FATTITUDE.

    • Dan September 11, 2013 at 11:12 pm #

      You know, there were nothing but black cows. No bison. But lots of black cows. To be honest, I was kinda hoping I wouldn’t run into any. Some of the trail was pretty beaten up by cows using it.

  12. Andy September 11, 2013 at 10:56 pm #

    Bill, I came across a few herds of cattle along the way, and the trail required frequent dodging of cow pies! One section, about 15 miles in, was so rough from cattle-trampled “post-holes” it was like riding on a washboard for 5 miles or so.

    I saw some bison from the highway while we were driving to Watford City but none on the MDH trail itself…