Maah Daah Hey and more: N.D. offers variety to mountain bikers
MEDORA, N.D.--For adventure-seeking mountain bikers, North Dakota's Maah Daah Hey Trail has become a big draw. "We've had people from all over the world," said Jennifer Morlock, owner of Dakota Cyclery in Medora. The trail, which, including spur ...
MEDORA, N.D.-For adventure-seeking mountain bikers, North Dakota's Maah Daah Hey Trail has become a big draw.
"We've had people from all over the world," said Jennifer Morlock, owner of Dakota Cyclery in Medora.
The trail, which, including spur trails, covers more than 160 miles in the Badlands, is on the International Mountain Bicycling Association's list of "epics." It's been mentioned in National Geographic's special edition, "Adventures of a lifetime: 50 amazing experiences around the world."
"I think it's the best trail in the world. There are very few places where there is over 100 miles of point-to-point single track," said Nick Ybarra, organizer of the Maah Daah Hey 100 and the founder of a nonprofit that maintains the trail.
Mountain biking has grown in North Dakota, and it's more than just the Maah Daah Hey. Trails to challenge various skill levels have been developed in communities across the state, and more riders seem to be taking advantage of what the state has to offer.
"There's mountain biking all over the state," said Mike Jensen, outdoor promotions manager for North Dakota Tourism. "It's not just in the Badlands."
Experiencing the outdoors is the top reason people visit North Dakota, Jensen said. It's hard to put a number on how many people do any outdoor activity, but, anecdotally, mountain biking seems to be on the upswing.
The fifth Maah Daah Hey 100 will be held in August. Ybarra said 60 "guinea pigs" participated the first year. This year, almost 400 have signed up. Most participants are coming from North Dakota and Minnesota, but Ybarra said the race also has attracted riders from both coasts, Texas and Canada. Ybarra said he sees racing growing as people introduce friends to the sport.
The organizers of the Otter Creek 55 Mountain Bike Race and Festival had 56 riders in its inaugural race last year. This year's race, held last weekend, had 90 participants for the 16-, 29- or 55-mile races around Harmon Lake.
Race director Nathan Kupfer said the race organizers used to put on the Race to Sunset around Sleepy Hollow in Bismarck, where riders would see how many times they could circle the park. They moved to Harmon Lake to try to grow the event.
Kupfer can see the potential for the race to grow to 150 or 200 riders in the coming years, fueled in part by the popularity of biking in the area. Many of the people signed up for the two shorter rides at the Otter Creek 55 were names he did not recognize from previous area races.
"I think that's positive," he said.
Morlock and her husband have run Dakota Cyclery since 1980, originally in Bismarck and in Medora since 2004. Wet years from 2011 to 2014 made the Maah Daah Hey pretty rough to ride. But since 2014, she's seen a renewed interest, fueled by national marketing campaigns, word of mouth and increased press attention. Morlock said the popularity of the trail can, in part, be attributed to the Maah Daah Hey races and Ybarra's work to maintain the trail.
Jensen said he receives a lot of requests for information on the Maah Daah Hey in particular.
"It's on a lot of people's bucket lists," he said.
The elevation changes, switchbacks and sweeping views of the Badlands pull people in. But Jensen and others also try to remind people that there are other trails in the state.
"We do try and be more than just the Maah Daah Hey Trail," he said.
There are trails around Lake Sakakawea. The Jamestown area has trails around Pipestem Dam. Minot, Fargo and Grand Forks have trails. Kupfer lists Sleepy Hollow, Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park, Pioneer Park, the cross-country skiing trail in Mandan and Harmon Lake as courses that riders of varying levels can take advantage of in the Bismarck area.
"Bismarck has lots of opportunities for trail riding," he said.
The Otter Creek 55 has tried to take advantage of the varying levels of riders by offering shorter rides in addition to its 55-mile race. The event also featured a free kids ride to give children an introduction to mountain biking.
"There's a do-able distance for everybody," Kupfer said.
Morlock agreed mountain biking can be for anybody - not just people who can finish the Maah Daah Hey 100.
"It's just a great activity," she said. "You don't have to be a hard-core rider."
Ybarra's first mountain bike was a $150 Schwinn from Walmart. While that got him started on the trails around Bismarck, he said it didn't last him long. Morlock said an economy bike is OK for the pavement, but she suggests going to a bike shop to hit the trails.
A bike with quality brakes and quality gears likely will cost more than $700, she said.
Morlock advises starting with easier trails or shorter rides. Take on sections of the Maah Daah Hey before trying the whole thing.
"Always remember, there's no shame in walking," she said.
"Don't bite off more than you can chew," Ybarra said. "Keep it fun."
Morlock guides rides on the Maah Daah Hey, and she enjoys watching people find out how much they can do.
"It's empowering. You don't know you can do it until you get out and try," she said. "For adults, it's like being a kid again. It keeps you young."