Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Maah Daah Hey 150 Race Report Part 2

Climbs are getting steeper and longer the further North I go

There is always a point in the race where the focus becomes more on just turning the pedals over versus enjoying the physicality and admiring the surrounding beauty.  This point hit me from mile 80-95.  This might have coincided with the hoofed up trail sections.  The free range angus cattle were becoming more frequent now and a few times I had to dismount and work my way around them because they would NOT move off the trail.

During one of my SAG stops Bill offered me a can of Starbuck's Double Shot.  Just what I needed:  it went down so smooth and tasted like heaven.  Not sure how much caffeine was in that, but it gave me a little mental boost a while later.  At least I felt faster.  Most of the washes this time of year are dry, but there were two, maybe 3 that had water in them.  I chose not to ride across but dismounted and hopped across.  That water looked toxic, like poop soup!  

I managed to get out of my funk at the second Little Missouri River Crossing around mile 100.  Bill took his bike off the rack (which he had picked up at his house back in Medora, ensuring that I WAS going to finish this race, if I broke my back up bike 😆) and rode down to the crossing with me.  I had changed into my secondary shoes for this walk across the river and would change back into my primary shoes and dry socks at the next SAG stop.  The water here is very silty and the sun was beginning to set.  I wanted warm, dry, and blister-free feet for the remaining 50 miles.

Knee deep in the middle

If you hadn't read into it already, Bill was AMAZING support.  He is Zeke's doppelganger ... Zeke's brother from another mother kind of guy!  He worked as hard as I did to ensure my success.  From soigneur to mechanic to photographer, he was my backbone.

As I made my way towards Magpie, I encountered more cattle.  Tired of giving way to them, I began to act like a maniacal cyclist and played chicken with them.  Fortunately, I acted crazy enough they wanted nothing to do with me and ran off.  I wanted to get in as many more daylight miles as I could and the sun was quickening its approach on the horizon.

I was able to hit Devil's Pass in the daylight.  It is a stunning feature of the MDH, a narrow ridge with 150 foot drop offs on both sides.

Mother Nature must have known I was needing a little boost as the sun began to set.  I was 120 miles and 15 hours into my journey.  She put on THE MOST SPECTACULAR show.  The skies filled with colors as the sun set and the full moon rose.  I swear it was over an hour of just this brilliant reddish orange that filled in the horizon.

Suddenly my legs didn't feel so heavy and the nagging pain between my shoulder blades disappeared.  I was awestruck.  I didn't care that my average mph was decreasing as I was constantly stopping and taking photos of this breathtaking show.  I didn't care that this might "cost" me my goal of finishing in 18 hours.  This was a once in a lifetime experience and I wanted to soak up every bit of it into my memory banks.

I finally made the decision to put my camera away, once I began to feel the chill of dropping temperatures.  But not before I took one final pic of the moonrise.

The moon shone so bright that I didn't have to turn on my lights until 7:45, more than 30 minutes after the sun set.  It was so surreal to be riding through the prairie by moonlight.  As the moon rose higher, I was enveloped in darkness and turned on my light.  Now my field of view was only the circle of light just in front of me.  I wasn't creeped out, even when I began to see ALL the eyes looking at me whenever I would scan ahead.  Some of those eyes were right on the trail, but scampered away as I approached.  The only time I thought I might die was on a climb; I was pedaling slowly, and happened to turn my head slightly to the left.  There, just 5 yards off the trail, was a massive Angus bull.  He stomped his front feet and blew at me.  Having no where or no energy to go fast, I braced for the charge.  But it never came, Thank God!  He probably was thinking exactly the same thing as I, in that moment.

There were times in the darkness as I wound my way up and around buttes that off one side of the trail was complete and utter blackness.  I didn't pay much attention earlier in the day, but got to thinking that there was a lot of exposure on this trail. One wrong move or overshooting the trail on a tight turn and I would be falling into an abyss of darkness.  After thinking of what could happen, I focused solely on the trail in front of me.

As I approached mile 140, I knew I had to diverge off MDH and take some double track and dirt road around the North Unit of Teddy Roosevelt National Park and then hop back on the MDH after a few miles of this "re-route."  Both my GPS units were still alive and so I had the breadcrumb trail to follow, but there were also a few red MDH150 stakes for affirmation.  The 2 miles of dirt road was a nice "breather" and gave me a mental break from the intense focus of riding single track at night.

But then, there was the hike-a-bike from hell.  Nick chose to link the double track farm road to the MDH trail the quickest way possible ...straight the f*$K UP!!  Holy cow Batman.  At mile 143, I began a 300 foot, 1/4 mile climb up loose dirt.  Think 2 steps forward, 1 step sliding back.  I could only laugh aloud at how pitiful I must have looked.  And then I saw cow poop on this.  Well, if a 1200 pound cow can climb up this shit-hill, surely I can pushing a bike.

Finally back on the MDH, I could smell the barn.  7 miles to the finish, and a tailwind!  I cruised along the prairie sections, and then struggled to stay upright on the increasingly technical sections down and up the washes.  I was beginning to have trouble with depth perception and managed to run smack into two big step ups on the exit points of dry creek beds.  

The final 2 miles were some sweet single track heading down off the final butte. Normally this would have been a fun descent, but I was so ready to be done.  It seemed more like 5 miles long, but finally I heard a cowbell and someone screaming my name.  My grimace was replaced with a big ole smile, as I crossed the finish into the CCC campground at 11:19 pm, 151 miles and 19 hours 19 minutes later. As soon as I rolled up to Nick, my headlight died ... perfect timing!

Totally Spent

This was the first year since its inception that a woman has finished this race.  And this year, two of us did.  The other BA was Mandy from North Dakota, who started earlier than I and had finished at sunset.  But I managed to grab the win with the fastest time and therefore the course record.  So the bar has been set ladies!  Not too high, tho, and with good conditions and with the right fitness and mental fortitude, I expect someone to take it from me next year.

Cannot say enough about this man, Bill!

A huge thank you to Bill, who was out there as long as I, ensuring I had the adventure of a lifetime.  For giving up his day to support someone he did not know ... and who passed out (not sleeping, but a full on fainting spell) in his truck on the way back to retrieve mine.  So then he proceeded to take me back to my hotel and then pick me up the following day to take me back to my truck.  If there were only more Bills in this world 💓.

A huge thank you to Nick, who camped out at the finish all week to greet the racers each and every day.  And who allowed me to warm up and change in his RV.  And then surprised me with pizza and a home made salad.  That was the most special finish ever.  One I will never forget.

Nick asked me to describe this race in one word.   MAGICAL


Sunday, October 4, 2020

Maah Daah Hey 150 Race Report Part 1


18,000 feet of climbing

The MDH Buck Fifty is a self supported race in the North Dakota Badlands.  It begins south of Medora at Burning Coal Vein Campground and ends 151 miles later at the CCC Campground just south of Watford City.  I don't know of anywhere else in the United States where there is 150 miles of point to point continuous single track.

The race is put on by Nick Ybarra, who single-handedly saved this trail from extinction in 2010.  Since then, his organization #SavetheMDH has grown into a small army that tirelessly works on trail and hosts several races to continue to fund his efforts in ensuring that the MDH lives up to its name (meaning grandfather, long-lasting, from the Mandan Hidatsa Indian language).

No hiding from sustained 15-17 mph winds

I had raced the 100 mile version back in 2015, and absolutely fell in love with the trail, despite temps soaring above 100 degrees that year.  Although the MDH100 had been around since 2012, the Buck Fifty did not start until 2016. For 5 years, I have been patiently waiting for the cards to fall in place.  2020 was the year, with many races, including the Marji Gesick, which usually falls on the same weekend, cancelled.

It almost did NOT happen, when my support person had to back out.  But, Nick came through for me, messaging me that his right-hand man, Bill Pierce, was up for the task.  There was a 6-day window to start/finish the single day effort.  While it officially started anytime after 12 am on September 26, I opted to start at 4 am on Monday, September 28.  For two reasons: one, Bill was supporting Tinker on Saturday and two, the winds would be at their least intensity on Monday.  

Monday morning came early with a 2 am wake up call.  I had given Bill all my shit the day before, so after my Christopher Bean Coffee was ready, I rolled out of my hotel room and met Bill in Belfield.  We left my truck there and headed to the trailhead.  Boy, was I a bundle of nerves!  The enormity of the task that lie ahead was daunting.  But, I was prepared and ready to enjoy this journey through a land that, for the most part, lie untouched by man.

Official Start: 4:01 am

The starting temperature was 38 degrees and winds were out of the northwest at 7-10 mph.  I rolled through the gate and was enveloped in darkness.  As I crested the first climb and began to build up speed as I rolled through the opening miles of prairie, my primal instincts kicked in and I began to howl and yip and bark at the moon.

Around mile 2, I noticed a black round object moving along just up the trail.  As I approached, I had to slow down, as this creature was not intimidated by me and kept ambling down the trail.  I couldn't figure out what the hell it was ... until I got within 10 feet of it.  It was a dang porcupine! It finally decided to exit the trail, on its own accord.

I was rolling along a smooth section of trail at a fairly good clip when all of a sudden I heard a loud "POP" and "PING."  I got off my bike and while looking at it, watched my rear tire deflate.  I whipped out my tire plugger, but could not find the hole.  Then I noticed a spoke dangling from the rim. It had snapped off at the hub. My heart sank!  How the hell did that happen? I was only 3.7 miles in, with a major mechanical.  I felt the frustration rise, but then I decided right then and there that this was only a hiccup. I made the decision to run it to the first check point at mile 6.7.  While throwing a tube in it might be quicker, it would not save enough time to justify attempting this in darkness and the cold. After a mile of running, I started riding it on the descents and flats because the trail was smooth and I felt comfortable in knowing that the rim would stand up to this.

At the road crossing, Bill was there.  He was relieved I was ok as he was just about to start moving backwards along the trail to find me.  He immediately got my Niner RKT RDO off his truck, we moved the necessary gear onto it and I continued on. I figured this cost me about 40 minutes.

It took a while to find my mojo again.  It is always after a mechanical that the thought, "What if something else goes wrong again?" occurs and sits there replaying in my brain.  As the sun began to rise, the thought of another mechanical slowly evaporated as the sights of this beautiful landscape filled my mind.

Sunrise Smiles

These first 50 miles are the easiest.  The trail is fairly smooth and the climbing is mostly rollers with a few sustained hills at a decent grade. Even in the dark, the trail was well marked by posts with reflective signs.  There were a couple of spots, either where the trail mingled with cattle trails or where the trail almost turned back onto itself, that I had a brief moment of confusion. But I could almost always spot the next trail marker from the location of the one I just passed, if I just looked around a bit.

About every 7-10 miles, Bill would be at a dirt road crossing, tail gate down, and supplies out, ready for me to roll in and grab what I needed.  He was always giving words of encouragement, taking photos, and making sure I was eating and drinking.  This was quite the reassurance, as this trail is very remote. It reminded me of the scenery in "Dances With Wolves."  No signs or sounds (vehicles, planes, trains) of civilization, save for the 66 cattle gates I had to lift!

These got heavier as the day wore on.

Plumely Draw was a beautiful fast rolling section of trail.  With a slight tailwind, I felt like a Jedi Knight aboard a speeder bike!  I could hear the hum of my tires on the hard packed dirt as I sped through the prairie.

Smooth Sailing!

The section leading to Sully Creek State Park was stunning!  Atop the butte, with a view of the Little Missouri down below, it was pretty darn close to heaven.  And that descent!  Delicious!

Eye Candy

After a 75 second pee at the state park restroom (the only downside of a 30 ounce cup of CBC coffee), I stopped at Bill's truck to take a layer off, refill my nutrition, and then head out for the middle 1/3 of the course.  I had made up some time with my earlier mishap and had finished 48 miles in 5 hours 51 minutes.  I was still hopeful for an 18 hour finish, but the winds were whipping up, and I was now entering the "meat and potatoes" of the course. 

The first crossing of the Little Missouri River was rideable, if you knew the line.  Having pre-ridden this on Saturday, I zig-zag'd my way across it and avoided the deep areas.

Mile 48

A few sections were through private lands.

Around the 50 mile mark, I exited the Maah Daah Hey Trail and began the 22 mile Buffalo Gap Trail.  This trail was established so that cyclists could skirt around the Teddy Roosevelt National Park (South Unit), which the MDH trail went through.  Other than the tortoise placards changing to buffalo skulls, the character of the trail remained unchanged.

It was in this first 11 miles of the Buffalo Gap Trail that the winds were the fiercest.  I purposely rode the day before when the winds were at their worst:  sustained 25-27 mph.  I wanted to feel just how awful that was, so that now, today, when the winds were 15-17 mph, the battle would be mentally easier.  Fortunately, there were some sections going down into the washes, or around the buttes, that I got a brief respite.

The second half of the Buffalo Gap Trail was smokin' fast!  The course had turned such that now I had a tailwind.  Woo hoo! As I approached Wannagon campground, at mile 72, Bill met me at an intersection just before, and reminded me that I had to deviate off the trail, ride down to the campground, touch the gate, and then ride back up, and continue on. Now, mind you, that little detour was only about 0.1 mile down and then back up, but now, I was beginning to feel every steeper pitch of the trail.  I told Bill as I touched the gate that this was just "cruel and unusual."

Climbing out of the campground involved a series of switchbacks that approached 25% in a few spots.  This was the first time I had to get off and push (aside from the broken spoke/flat incident). Once on top, it rolled for a while and I was able to take in the views and remind myself of just how blessed I was to be able to participate in such a beautifully grueling event.  That need to be plugged into nature in order to maintain resiliency and balance with her is a drug that I constantly crave.  And boy, was I getting an overdose today!

The stunning beauty of the Badlands

I soon hit mile 75, the halfway point.  I looked down at my Garmin and I was 9 hours 2 minutes into this adventure.  Still on target, but could I maintain this pace for another 75?

To be continued ...