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Humbling ride

Press Photo by Royal McGregor In this photo, a trail marker overlooks the Badlands on The Deuce, the sister trail of the Maah Daah Hey Trail. Jessica DeMartin of Joshua Tree, Calif., had a surprising trip biking the entire Maah Daah Hey Trail.

The Maah Daah Hey Trail has more and more visitors from all over the country step foot each year on the 140-mile journey.

Jessica DeMartin, who lives in Joshua Tree, Calif., got more than what she expected traveling down the MDH Trail.

"Before this ride, I was really interested in the social and environmental implications of the oil boom in North Dakota," she said. "Last year, I went out of Wannagan campground and it was real interesting to experience the contrast and the pristine of the public lands which the Maah Daah Hey runs through."

DeMartin grew up in California, but her father, Jerry DeMartin, and stepmother, Tama Smith, are the owners of Prairie Fire Pottery in Beach. This was Jessica's fourth trip to Beach since the Oil Patch kicked into high gear.

Jessica, 34, was told by multiple people not to take the bike ride by herself, but she knew there were kind people in western North Dakota. During the trip down the MDH Trail, she had nothing but positive encounters with Oil Patch workers.

"That was one of the most interesting things that I experienced," Jessica DeMartin said. "As a single woman, all I heard, to be perfectly honest, was don't go up there by yourself. A lot of people are having really negative experiences with some population of the oil boom.

"I've visited my parents enough over the last couple years to know there are some very nice people that are moving in. They are just nice North Dakotans. Everyone I met on the trail worked in the oil boom in some sort of way and they were all really nice people."

Jessica's parents took in the sights and met her at the four major campsites of Bennett, Magpie, Elkhorn and Wannagan in their RV.

"It was totally amazing," Jerry said. "It's a rough trail. She's quite athletic and when she came off the Maah Daah Hey at the end of the day, she was just dragging, because it's an exhausting trail even for a trained athlete."

Preparing for the 140-mile ride, Jessica trained in the Mohave Desert where temperatures rarely fall below 100 degrees during the day. Jerry said he and his wife, Tama, rode parts of the trail and saw beautiful terrain.

"It's a beautiful place, but you have to be in some pretty good shape to take it on," Jerry said with a laugh.

Don Mayer, the president of the MDH Trail Association, said it's always great to hear positive feedback.

"I think for us that are members of the association," Mayer said, "we're as proud of that trail as people in South Dakota are of Mount Rushmore. It's not as well known, but we think it's second to none."

What was the feedback from Jessica?

"I've traveled the world and I've seen a lot of beautiful places," she said. "North Dakota has some of the most pristine wilderness I have ever experienced."

Not only was it exceptional landscape, but Jessica talked about how well the trail was maintained. Mayer said U.S. Forest Service deserves credit for building, engineering, locating and maintaining it.

"I always call it one of the best, if not the best, marked trails in America," he said. "For the U.S. Forest Service, they are taking as much pride in it as the volunteer organization. They deserve a lot of kudos and credit for their efforts."

Now that Jessica is back in California, she is able to reflect on her experiences and how her ideals have changed from when she arrived to when she left.

"It's humbling to realize that you're wrong about some of your opinions as you evolve other opinions about things," she said. "It's also beneficial to have the other side of the story. This human side of the oil boom is interesting."