|6 am start (Mountain Time)|
"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat." - Theodore Roosevelt
Nick, the founder of LAND and the Maah Daah Hey 100, said these insirational words just before the start. If Teddy had been alive today, I am sure he would have been toeing the line alongside the 129 racers (168 signed up).
The race was 106.3 miles long, 99 of which was pure single track. Just two days before, Nick had ridden the entire route to get a GPX track and do some last minute trail maintainence. He also made mention of the many cattle paths that crisscrossed the single track. He reminded us that cows don't mow their trails; over the past 3-4 weeks, volunteers had mowed THE ENTIRE COURSE. That means that 200+ miles was mown; up one side of the trail and back down the other.
The starting temperature was a cool 58 degrees. My plan was to ride a steady strong pace, trying to get in as many miles as I could before the sweltering sun beat down upon my back. I'll be honest, the previous 24 hours, the butterflies were swirling. 17 ladies had signed up, I knew none of them, but I did not fear them. What I feared was my body's ability to make it through without becoming a heat casualty. The forecasted high was 96 degrees and with no tree cover, it was going to be an inferno.
Start to Aid Station #1 (mile 0-26, 2700 feet elevation gain)
Fortunately it was not a crazy stupid start. 200 yards through the campground and we hit the single track. I was in the top 25 or so. The first 4-5 miles were gentle climbing. Everyone was content to settle in line and wait for the top to pass. Even though I was not thirsty, the tube was in my mouth, and I sipped from my CamelBak. We had both helicopter and drone coverage, which was super cool!
Once at the top, attacks were made and groups began to split up. The trail opened up as we hit prairie and passing was easy. There tended to be one good line, with a second track that was fairly smooth as well. I watched my HR like a hawk, keeping it out of zone 5 and above. I knew that for each 1 beat less I could keep my heart at, would be 1 beat more I would desperately need towards the end of the race. As I was passed again and again in the opening miles, I would say silently, "See you this afternoon."
After the climb, the course rolled through prairie. My legs felt good, my spirits were high, and the flow was spectacular. Two miles of the trail lie in the northern unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. So we we rerouted onto a mix of single track, double track, and gravel for about 6 miles before reconnecting with the Maah Daah Hey.
Somewhere in the first 25, while I was in my own little bubble, I strayed off course. Following a steep descent down into a dry creekbed, I missed a sharp right turn out of it, and wandered a bit on a cattle trail. There was no grass in this creekbed, so I did not know I was off course until I saw a group of racers back tracking. Fortunately for me, I only lost a few minutes.
And then I found myself sammiched between two fat bikes. Tyler Keuning was piloting one of those massive beasts like it was a sub-20 pound XC machine. I thoroughly enjoyed riding with him and the other fat biker, both who had great skills and a nice tempo. It definitely amplflied the fun factor.
|Home, home on the range ... (credit: Tyler Keuning)|
I rolled into the first aid station in 2:18. The volunteers were awesome! I had someone help refill my CamelBak with Skratch, and I was outta there NASCAR fast.
Aid Station #1 to Aid Station #2 (mile 26-51, 2200 feet elevation gain)
|I was glad I spent the two days prior taking in the spectacular views.|
Tyler and I rode this stretch together. At times we managed to hook up with others. There were fast sections of prairie sprinkled with chunks of eroded buttes. The climbs in the praires tended to be about 1/4 - 1/2 mile at a gentle grade. The climbs in the buttes were short and grunty with several hike-a-bikes (HAB) through dry creek beds. By this time, I had found a rhythm in the trench portions of the single track. Most of the time the trench was smoother and faster.
|170mm cranks definitely was a plus.|
Somewhere along this section I encountered my first Badlands mudhole at a cattle gate. Fortunately I was able to tippie toe around it while carrying my bike. Then about 20 yards down the trail, another mudhole appeared. It was about 3 feet across and I saw tracks where others had ridden through. So I opted to follow the deepest and cleanest track through it. There was no standing water, so I thought that it would be a fairly clean ride through. Boy, was I wrong! When I hit it with my front tire, I had the most vile spray of clay mud/manure mix cover my bike and I. Granted, it was not a full on rooster tail spray, but enough to cover my down tube, rims, drive train, and shoes. Right then and there I made a mental note to avoid any future ones at all costs.
There must have been 25+ cattle gates to go through on the entire course. Although heavy, they had a leverage system that made it easy to get off your bike, grab the gate with one hand, tip it up, squeeze through, and then let it fall down behind you. And, I was lucky enough half the time to be riding with gentlemen who did all the work for me.
|Way better than the old loop of barbed wire around a post.|
Closing in on the final miles of this section, the helicopter came upon the small group I was in. For the next 5 minutes, it buzzed us close enough to where I could feel the wind off its blades. We popped out onto a short stretch of dirt road with a fast descent. The helicopter was right on us the whole way. That was badass! Then we hit some more descending on single track. The helicopter stuck with us, until we began the next climb, and then peeled off.
Devil's Pass, around mile 43 (mm 53 of the MDH Trail), was intimidating. It was a fairly steep descent and a mistake could send you plummeting off either side ... for a long way.
|Devil's Pass - by far the most spectacular feature on the MDH.|
I was closing in on the final miles of this section and eager to get to the second aid station as I was just about out of fluids. Rolling along the flats leading to the river crossing was when the first heat of the day hit me. I felt the intensity of the sun's rays on my arms and the tops of my feet. At least the wind still felt somewhat cool. I was looking forward to the river crossing.
The Little Missouri River was about 40-50 yards across and mid-thigh deep on me. The reason the race is run this time of year is because this is when the river is at its lowest. As I entered the water, I was greeted with a sandy/fine gravel bottom into which my shoes sunk. The water was not that cold but still offered some refreshment. I knew now why I was told to put socks in my drop bag at the second aid station. I could feel the sand and tiny rocks work their way into my shoes with each step. However, since I was wearing Swiftwick socks, those little bastards could not get between my skin and the socks. So all I had to do at the next aid station was take off my shoes, knock the rocks and sand out, and carry on. That helped to save several minutes of changing socks.
The climb up to the second aid station was long and brutally steep. It was here that I had my first extended HAB session. While walking up, I made my first assessment. Legs: good. HR: good. Nutrition: good. Core temp: hot, not good. (later when looking at my Garmin, this was when the temperature hit the 90 degree mark). Knowing that the upcoming section was going to be the hardest, I told myself that I just needed to take it down a notch, drink more, and stay positive and focused.
I rolled into the aid station at 4:44. It was a pretty happen' place, so I was left to my own devices. I refilled my CamelBak with more Skratch, swapped gel flasks, put more sunscreen on, and was outta there in 3 minutes.
Looking at my Garmin and seeing a sub-5 hour for the first 51 miles, I felt that I was going to have close to an 11 hour finish. Little did I know, the final 5 hours were going to be a test of my fitness, resolve, and perseverance ...
|Maah Daah Hey -- Mandan Indian meaning "grandfather, long-lasting."|