August 6, 2016

ND: Maah Daah Hey 100

It's dubbed 'The Raddest Race in the Baddest Place'. Riding the Maah Daah Hey 100 in a day caught my attention a few years ago in a magazine ad. Registration opened on January 1st, I was IN. I presented K with the idea of a two week+ roadtrip to North Dakota of all places, hitting National Parks along the way. I'd also mix in a bunch of shorter bucket list types of rides too.
We'd travel through 9 states outside of AZ, North Dakota completing my personal 50 state run.
We arrived in Medora, ND near sundown with plenty of time for me to grab my race packet, check out the wild west town and head farther north to the start of the race the following morning. Originally, we were going to camp out at the start in the CCC Campground, but it was going to be dark & late by the time we arrived, plus the campground was first-come, first-serve. We weren't sure any spots would be left. Once again we opted for a hotel stay in nearby Watford City. What we found there was pure genius. We made the reservation via smartphone 15 minutes before arriving. The office was closed, but a note told us who to call and they promptly came right over to check us in. The Telluride Lodge was absolutely perfect, built mostly for the oil workers in the area, it provided a full kitchen for us to spread out. I took care of all my bike needs and prep for the big day, then crashed out. We had to be extra careful with our alarm clocks as we were now in Central Time, but the race, only 10 miles away, was still in the Mountain Time Zone.

The next morning we arrived to a bustling CCC Campground 25 minutes prior to start. The racers were already lining up on the dirt road only a few feet behind my car. I needed to track down the registrar & check-in!! Food & drink loaded, fresh air in the tires and I was set to go! Now, where should I place myself in this 121 person field of entrants? I was feeling good, confident and ready to ride fast for a change. For me, that meant get in the middle. I figured I'd start mid-pack and see how things unfolded.
Giving the AES jersey some love!! Look, no framebag!!
Slotted in the middle.
The time drew near as Teddy Roosevelt gave some final words of encouragement, then Nick, race facilitator and mastermind behind it all, began ticking off the final seconds. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1...Go!! We rolled through cheering family & friends, I spotted K as I rode by, down a short dirt road picking up singletrack in the campground. The pace was good, fast, but not over taxing the system early on. I stuck to the wheel of the guy in front of me for a few miles until he tagged the side of a hill and came to a stop. It was the last time I saw him. I looked back and didn't see any other riders. Huh. That's odd, I must be cranking pretty good I thought.
Fast prairie riding 'on top' of the Badlands.
It was a cool morning to get things going.
One of the few dirt road portions, only a few miles of the total 106 weren't singletrack
My only goal for the day was to finish before the midnight cutoff. If for some reason that was out of reach, I'd finish anyway and accept my DNF. No way under any circumstance was I pulling out of this ride, I'd come too far to do that nonsense. I needed to maintain a 5.8 mph average for the entire course, stops included. I tend to fall right around that average on these long rides, mostly because I end up with too much stopped time, you know, picnic breaks, photos, BS'ing with friends, etc. Today I vowed to go against my own grain. Pedal, keep pedaling, limit the pics and keep the stops short and for a purpose.
My stopped photo op. Theme for the day, ride up in the prairie, drop into a valley, climb out, repeat.
Two hours in I think I took one pic while stopped and a bunch while still mashing the pedals. I had averaged 9.1 mph over those two hours and I was stoked!! I felt great and a few racers noted that we had already knocked out one of the tougher climbs on the day. Really?? If it's going to be like that, then I should be fine. I started to adjust my expectations on the fly. I had mentioned to K, who was going to meet me at aid station #2 just across the Little Missouri River crossing around mile 50, that I'd be extremely happy if I arrived around the 7 hour mark. A little after 2 1/2 hours in I was already at aid station #1, 25 miles down.
There were more 'flat-ish' miles than the profile would lead you to believe.
The grassy shoulder of singletrack, freshly mowed by a bevy of volunteers.
This isn't a stereotypical image of North Dakota.
I was in contact with riders all day & night, only a few miles here & there I truly felt solo.
These spring hinged gates were nice...until the end when they just wouldn't stop. Comparable to the amount on the AZT, I'd say at least 40 of them along the way.
It was like riding through the Painted Desert of Arizona, but with more greenery. Awesome.
I was in landscape awe most of the day.
This wasn't in the brochure!!
The turtle symbol is used on sign posts to help guide the way.
There were a few oil rigs in operation along the way.
Beautiful singletrack and easily driven dirt roads for the ample support vehicles.
I cruised through a checkpoint, barely stopping to chug a Coke. My average had dipped a little but I was still moving well. I knew I wasn't too far away from the river crossing and reaching aid station #2. So far all morning long I had been playing leapfrog with a bunch of riders. The temps were starting to warm up a bit, but a nice breeze was flowing and it was rather comfortable. I heard a couple riders note that the year prior they were both overheating by this point in the ride. I was really glad it wasn't sweltering.
Devil's Pass.
Freshly mowed ridgeline riding.
This section reminded me of the Lime Kiln descent into Cottonwood.
Mid-calf crossing of the Little Missouri River, almost the halfway point.
The river valley was super fast & lush.
There's K armed with the camera catching one of my few HAB moments!!
Coming into aide #2.
I rolled into aide #2 at 6:45 on the race clock and I couldn't have been more pleased with how the first half went. I knew I wouldn't maintain that pace over the final 50+ miles, but I also figured I wouldn't drop way off pace either. I really thought I could make it to Medora by sunset or at least before needing to switch on lights. I had a good resupply break and left K at 1:07p. She was now going to meet me along the route at a few upcoming checkpoints. This was really cool as she could be more involved in the day, plus I could get any food/drink I needed from her before reaching aid #3.
A few racers with course knowledge had mentioned that these next 25 miles were the toughest of the route. We'll see...
More prairie riding.
Some fast open meadows too.
Then things got hilly, legs began to feel heavy as the HAB started to pile up.
I was feeling it by the time I reached the checkpoint some 7 miles after aide #2. Took a little over an hour on this stretch.
Chain was in dire need of a lube job.
Best crew chief around!!
I got back after it and the trail soon began to angle upwards once again. The riding wasn't steep, but the temps had risen to warm levels and I could tell I was losing power in my legs. Just keep moving. This section was tough on me. The slow climbing and added HAB was really slowing me down. I was taking in fluids and calories, but wasn't able to regain the pep I had earlier in the day. It was somewhere around here when I started to do the math. I simply had to average 5 mph over the rest of the route to officially finish. I had been over 7 mph for most of the day, but the last two hours I was stuck near 5.
As I was climbing, I spotted K in my car heading to the next checkpoint.
Trail & access road just beyond the previous checkpoint.
The terrain was mesmerizing.
While I had a loaded route file on my GPS, the turns were well marked with bright arrows.
This section was particularly taxing on me, legs still not responding.
Another reminder of the oil activity in the area.
At times the trail reminded me of alpine riding in Colorado...with oxygen!
Fast downhill approach into the next checkpoint.
Straight to the cooler!! I was firmly in mid-pack as one of the volunteers said I was the 61st rider to go through out of 121.
There were a few checkpoints barely 4 miles apart. This was a good thing as I was now clearly dragging. I was taking almost an hour to get to each of them. I still needed to hold a 5 mph average over the final 40 miles.
Wash, rinse, repeat. Back out once again.
I rode/HAB'd with Renee, here on the right, for a bunch of miles during the middle of the race.
Refueled and renewed spirits!
I also leapfrogged with Eric during the day. Both he & Renee were in from Missouri to race.
Certain sections simply stopped me dead in my tracks. Wow!!
Others looked more foreboding.
There really wasn't a boring section all day.
Rolling into another checkpoint. I was eager to reach aide #3.
I was dirty, gassed and ready for a nap!!
Taking off towards aide #3. Shadows getting long.
Cool overview of aide #3.
I was coming in hot on the downhill, I could hear the volunteers whoopin' & hollerin' about a SHARP RIGHT!! They said I was one of the faster riders to corner that turn!!
That downhill was just the adrenaline shot I needed.
Aide #3 was by far the most rowdy. It was a lively gathering as everyone there cheered each rider as they rode the downhill. There was a mechanics tent as well and they offered to lube my chain, 'go for it', I said. I was trying to rally the troops for the final push, 5, 10, 15 minutes seemed to go by when the mechanic came over. 'Uh, you know that Voodoo has some things going on with it?' 50 miles back I began losing gears, probably due to the new cabling & derailleur I picked up in Grand Targhee. He gave me a grand tour of the Voodoo and what he thought he could do. All I needed were the few low gears, let's get this done! Eric, Renee and another fella I rode with from Fargo, Peder, all came and went. It was my turn to get rolling.

It was sometime around 7pm, so K opted to skip the final couple of checkpoints so she could be at the finish area in Medora by sundown. I still had about 28 miles to go and knew my daylight finish wasn't going to happen. Just get in before midnight!!
A short out-n-back to the saddle had me back on route after aide #3.
Barely a couple miles from aide #3, the wheels officially came off. I started to get cramps in both quads. I couldn't pedal on flat ground. I resorted to HAB mode.
I'd walk for a few minutes, then try to ride. I'd pedal for a short bit, then the cramps resumed. Often taking turns between legs. The only saving grace was I could still walk without discomfort. Unfortunately, that was only 3.0 mph!! An hour later I was still suffering with leg issues and time was rapidly slipping away. A couple of riders passed by, but there wasn't much traffic out there. Just keep moving!!

Up until this point all the water crossings had been easy to navigate by hopping over or using stepping stones. I didn't feel like taking my shoes/socks off again like the Little Missouri crossing, so I splashed through what I thought would be my final creek of the ride giving my feet plenty of time to dry out.
It's as flat as it looks and I had to walk most of it. Grrr.
I flipped my lights on at mile 89 and reached the second to last checkpoint 2 miles later. It was a little after 9p and I had 15 miles to go. My legs were still giving me fits no matter what I did. I really began to think I was going to miss the time cut. How could this happen after I rode so well over the front half of the course? I'm sure my ride on the Bangtail Divide in Bozeman the day before didn't help, but I wasn't going to miss it!! I just hoped the trail would ease up a bit so I could coast and snag some 'free' miles on my legs.
Sunset over the Badlands, around mile 87.
The trail did relent and I picked up some much needed ground on my way to the final checkpoint. I caught up to a rider and tried to stick with him into the last checkpoint, but I kept getting dropped on any incline in the trail. We could see a train of 4-5 sets of lights behind us and all of us were getting our final fuel stop together.  There were only a couple of short hills remaining and I was finally liking my chances to finish, even if I walked them all.

As I left the final checkpoint a lady asked me if I was still going to finish. She thought I was someone else, but who would bail here? Only 6-7 miles to go!! Darn right I'm going to finish!!
I thought this would be the last gate, nope, a few more.
I picked my way up to the top of the final climb just as those 4 sets of lights from earlier caught up to me. Turns out it was four brothers all riding together in from all parts of the country. Pretty cool. I gathered myself up for the final 3 downhill miles to the finish. It was a little after 11pm.

I think I had less than a mile of trail to go when I came to another couple of water crossings. My shoes had almost dried completely from the last crossing a few hours earlier. However, these crossings were no more than thick gooey cattle stomped mud-pools. I made an attempt to ride across, but that wasn't happening. My feet sunk in the goop and I thought my shoes would get sucked off my feet!! Wet again and now ankle deep in cattle gooey mud I was ready to see the finish line.
Exiting the Maah Daah Hey trail for a paved final mile.
I spun out the last mile+ on the pavement and started to hear the commotion at the finish line. There were a few people furiously waving lights in my direction, somehow I didn't notice the paved bikepath on the opposite side of the road where the actual finish line was located. K was one of the group yelling my name as I crossed the finish line just before 11:30p. As stoked as I was to finish before the cutoff time at midnight, I was utterly destroyed. I soon found out I was the last official finisher, 59th place out of 121 starters. Not too bad if you ask me. I was only a few minutes behind the four brothers who passed me on the final hill. Somehow the trailsweeper for the event didn't account for me at the last checkpoint. Thankfully, K set the record straight while I cranked out the final miles showing the event staff my location via SPOT tracker.
Finish line shot before I got horizontal on the grass.
I needed to sit down, lie down to be exact. I found a nice grassy area next to the finish line while the event staff started dismantling the area. A few volunteers came up to me, including someone from the medical staff, to ask if I was ok. I must've looked completely shelled. Well, I was, but felt fine otherwise. A few minutes later another staff volunteer came over and handed K a rather large burrito to give to me. I asked her if everyone received a burrito for finishing. No. Only a wrecked Burrito Brother gets one of those!! I had to save it for lunch the next day, but damn that thing was delicious!!

K was awesome enough to secure a motel right in Medora when she arrived at the finish area. I'm so glad she did as our original plan was to drive to the next town over for the night, some 30 interstate miles away. Medora is a cool old western town, check it out if you're ever in the area.
Finisher's spoils!!
Unfortunately, they sold out of XL t-shirts for the event. I waited until after the race to buy one since I only wanted one if I made the cutoff. Oh well, I guess I may have to do this one again.

Again, a special thank you to Nick for organizing this well run event and to all the volunteers who helped make it possible. I can't say enough how much of a thrill it was to ride in such a magical place. It was great to meet riders from all over the country as well, I may have made a few long-term friends in the process.

Maah Daah Hey 100 in a day: Check.

Here's my elevation cue sheet profile, complete with time cutoffs, all decked out. It's now available as a poster, stickers or even on a mug!! Great motivator prior to the race or a great accomplishment afterwards.
MDH100 on Redbubble - Ups & Downs
Screensavers of the same image are located on my Payhip page. These are high resolution images.

Full photo album here.

Ride stats via Strava:


  1. Great post! I was part of the Renee/Eric SAG crew, my friend and I were cheering you on throughout the race!

  2. That's great!! Thanks for the support out there, we all needed it by the end.

  3. Great post John. I thoroughly enjoyed it. You inspire me to try this!

    1. Thank you!! Go for it! I wish I could make the trek north this year. I want to do it again and hopefully not battle cramps in both legs.