Cycling in the Dakotas Part 1: Medora cycling community has brought riders from all directions
MEDORA -- This is the first year Eric Boxrud has lived in North Dakota.
So far, he's just trying to soak it all in.
Boxrud is currently a bike mechanic and tour guide for the Dakota Cyclery Mountain Bike Adventures in Medora. While working at the shop, he has met people from all walks of life with whom he has shared experiences and enjoyed rides through the Badlands.
"It's a lot of fun," Boxrud said with a smile. "It's just a fun place to be because everyone is here coming on vacation."
Boxrud came to the area from Moab, Utah, with his girlfriend, Nancy Morlock. During his time in Utah, he gave tours of mountain bike trails going through the Grand Canyon.
Morlock's parents, Jennifer and Loren, own the Medora bike shop that rents and sells bikes to tourists and shuttles travelers for tours of the Maah Daah Hey Trail.
"It's world-class riding," Jennifer said. "People come here from literally all over the world to come and ride it."
Boxrud has enjoyed cycling most of his life. Since his days growing up in Ann Arbor, Mich., he has competed in races across the states as well as recreationally with friends and family.
He hopes he can turn mountain bike riding and outdoor touring from a lifelong passion into a family supporting profession.
"You get the cycling community that comes by and everybody's so friendly," Boxrud said. "It's just a common interest everyone has. It's always an icebreaker when it comes to renting bikes or selling people on a tour. People always have fun doing cycling."
The Dakota Cyclery Mountain Bike Adventures bike shop has had many tourists come in looking for a bike to rent and a place to ride the Maah Daah Hey.
On Tuesday, Jesse Vanderveen from Carman, Manitoba, took a trip across the Canadian border for the National Sunflower Association's annual summer seminar, which is being held this week in Medora. In their spare time, Vanderveen and a friend took a walk over to Dakota Cyclery Mountain Bike Adventures.
Vanderveen had heard positive things about the Maah Daah Hey, which stretches through the widely revered Badlands, so he figured it was worth a shot.
"I haven't really mountain biked much at all," Vanderveen said. "Some friends were kind of pushing me to do it, so this would be a good start on a nice trail that I've heard good things about."
Jennifer and Loren Morlock have been in business in Medora since 1993 and have seen the Maah Daah Hey expand into the 160 miles of dirt track it is today.
"It's pretty cool," Jennifer said. "It takes you through some incredibly beautiful Badlands much like the old trail. It's just fun stuff."
The Maah Daah Hey Trail is a tourist attraction that has been in the national spotlight.
Magazines such as National Geographic Adventure and publications based in European countries have written articles about the mountain bike paths, leading people to come here from across the globe to ride it.
"It's been fun being in the shop," Boxrud said. "People just kind of come in, look around, say hi or rent bikes."
The oil boom has made a substantial impact not only on the Dakota Cyclery Mountain Bike Adventures, but the Maah Daah Hey as well.
On the bright side, business is at an all-time high. Workers who are from the area are looking for recreational activity, Jennifer said, so she has been busy helping the multitude of cycling enthusiasts looking for bikes to rent.
"We've had an increase in sales because we do get people from Sidney, Mont., from the Williston area, (and) Glendive, (Mont.)," Jennifer said. "It's been pretty neat on that respect."
Not only is local business up, but newcomers from all over the United States are flocking to the Maah Daah Hey.
Jennifer said both cycling rookies and veterans have come into Dakota Cyclery Mountain Bike Adventures for a new adventure and many have come back claiming the trail is a gem.
"Now with the oil boom here, we've been getting riders from all over the country," she said. "They've ridden everywhere, and they say this is probably one of the best trails they've ever been on."
Oil travels the Trail too
In spite of the booming business, the Morlocks have also dealt with multiple consequences being located in the Oil Patch.
For starters, some parts of the trail have been virtually cut off from the public because oil trucks are continuously taking up roadways. This makes it difficult for mountain bike riders to access certain parts of the trail.
"Those roads are just pounded," Jennifer said. "Counties try to keep up with maintaining these roads, but when you've got frack trucks going in 24/7 for a couple of weeks at a time, it definitely has been hard on the roads and it's hard to get to some of those campsites."
The heavy traffic gives an added danger to shuttle drivers that give tourists rides to various locations of the Badlands.
Jennifer said that one considerable reason why roads are so dangerous stem from truck drivers that don't follow speed limits.
"For us, as shuttle drivers, that's a little scarier too, because they're going really fast," Jennifer said. "They're not going 35 miles an hour either, they're flying down the roads."
Another blow to the Maah Daah Hey has been the environmental aftermath of the Badlands brought on by oil companies.
Jennifer said there has been a rush by oil companies and local government to get drilling completed as soon as possible. She wishes that action would be taken more methodically to ensure that the natural beauty of the Badlands isn't harmed.
"Why do we have to be in such a hurry?" Jennifer said. "Let's think through this and let's make it a smarter process so that we're not killing the wildlife. There's antelope out there, there's rare species of plants.
"These are all things that the forest service looks at, as far as the impact, and if they're going to try to rush through and get the permit process going through faster than that. It's all about greed and it's not about caring about our backyard anymore."
Jennifer said mountain bikers aren't the only outdoor lovers that have felt the effects of the oil boom. Hikers and hunters alike have seen the negatives that the Oil Patch has brought to southwest North Dakota.
Jennifer said she wishes there was more coordination between the public and oil businesses. She said progress can and should be made to ensure that both sides are happy.
"It's going to be sad if we see nothing but oil wells every half a mile," Jennifer said. "They've just got to be in not such a big hurry to destroy our beautiful Badlands and our recreation."