This past weekend was the Maah Daah Hey 100. A 105 mile bike ride in the middle of the Badlands of North Dakota. Earlier this year, Hoigaard’s Outdoor Race Team decided this would be one of the events we would focus on. For those who don’t know, the team focuses on racing anything outdoors. We don’t commit to a single sport or type of training, because we just plain love to be outdoors. We also love adventure and pushing ourselves to the limit.
Now, to the main event. The Maah Daah Hey 100. And to top it off I was going to ride a singlespeed bike, with no suspension. I had made all these decisions in the spring when I was still going to ride a lot, and before my second child. Things happen as they do, and the training was lacking, 2 long rides and my daily commute by bike of 16 miles was all I had for biking. I had some canoeing and running to round out the training, but I debated bringing my geared bike with suspension. Unfortunately, earlier this year I had decided to leave it up North as I’d be riding only singlespeed to prepare.
With one week to go, I finally began digging into the specifics a little more. My original look at elevation was actually in meters, I had thought it was feet, whoops. The reviews of the trail pointed out all the rough cow tracks and I had removed my suspension, whoops. The one singlespeed posting I found was a 32 x 18, I had just changed to a 35 x 18, whoops. I decided to leave things as is and give it a whirl.
The preparations began, there was a great detailed list sent out by the race organizer Nick to prepare. I packed the extras in bags that would be hauled every 25 miles and left at aid stations. I went over my bike and with almost a brand new chain, chainring, and gear it was looking good. However, I couldn’t find my spare 8 speed chain links. I still had left over 9 speed chain links and with the new parts I figured the chance of breakage was slim enough I could just throw that in. I had done several unsupported 100 mile mountain bike rides, and I knew a lot of times something happens to a bike. I was set to go, ready to take my time and enjoy the day on the trail!
We drove out the 600ish miles on Friday to make it to the pre-race meeting. Leaving around 8 am we were able to arrive just before the meeting to enjoy some spaghetti and the final details. Things looked good for weather and the trail, and we dropped our bags and took off to find a campsite. We pulled into the starting campground (CCC camp) and got the last open campsite. Things were looking good!
Sleep is tough before a big event with a lot of unknowns, and this was no different. I woke up early and excited, ready for an adventure! With cold biscuits and gravy (I forgot my fuel can) in my belly, I tied a pink bandanna to my stem to remind me of my girls back home (2 daughters and a wife) and it was time to go. The temperature around 70 it was a beautiful morning.
The plan was to ride with my buddy Wil from the team (who wisely had suspension and gears), and together it’d be a lot easier. Nick warned everybody to take it easy as it was tight for 3 miles, then there was the never-ending switchbacks, but after that some double track for passing. One thing to make you nervous as a singlespeed rider is a big climb early in a race. You tend to climb at different speeds than geared riders and find your own rhythm. The start was great, the land was beautiful, and before long I was on the never-ending switchbacks. With only a couple stops to get out the way for geared bikers or coming to the back of them I was on top. The climb was not so never-ending, maybe this wouldn’t be such a bad ride.
The day quickly heated up, I had only short sleeves and shorts, however Wil had started out with arm warmers. He decided to stop and take them off, I told him I’d keep going as I was sure he’d catch me shortly. Keeping my pace and staying ahead of groups I didn’t see Wil. I passed a few groups that were moving uphill pretty slowly, I figured he had gotten behind those and I’d just wait for him at the first rest stop.
The ride was going very well. I felt great, was riding easy, there were some long climbs, but you got nice breaks on the grassland tops and a slight breeze it was perfect. Descending was marvelous as you’d come around switchbacks with long drops. The bottoms did have a lot of hard cow tracks, but I just pretended my rigid bike was a magic fingers vibrating bike and went with it. Before I knew it I was at the first aid stop 25 miles into the race.
The volunteers were amazing and grabbed camelbacks and bottles to fill and anything you needed. It truly was first class. I met with a friendly gentleman who was supported a friend riding singlespeed. He said he was a mechanic and anything I needed let him know. He also informed me I was in 3rd place for the singlespeed category. Immediately visions of standing on a podium flashed across my head and I changed into race mindset. Before Wil arrived, there was 2 other singlespeeds, dropping me back to 5th place, and making me hurry Wil. You should never hurry someone in an endurance event like the MDH 100, but there was a chance for a podium, so I made him go.
We took off, and had a great pace going. The system of whoever was leading would hold up the cow gate and let the following rider just ride through was perfect. We passed one of the singlespeed riders putting me back into 4th and it was just starting to heat up. I felt great still, and things were perfect. We were 31 miles in and way ahead of any time cut that would pull us, then it happened.
A ting ting PING and my chain with less than 100 miles on it had busted. In an instant the visions of podium get dashed and your mind changes to am I even going to finish? Wil pulled aside with me, I informed him it was time to learn if an 8 speed chain is compatible with 9 speed links (which luckily it is). We were stuck in the middle of a valley with no wind or shade. I hurried, thinking with a quick change we’d still be in the hunt for the podium. I thought I had only put one link on, but with my chain together it was too loose. Really, had I just made that mistake? I was mad, I took the chain apart and took a link out. Still too big, seriously? Was something else wrong? I tried to ride, it slipped. I pulled another link out. Finally, it was set. I was mad, it had been at least 1/2 an hour. I hadn’t paid attention and didn’t drink or eat in the heat the whole time I was working on my bike.
We got back riding, but I knew with taking my chain apart 3 times and already a break, it was not going to make it all day. I knew my only chance was probably finding the gentleman supporting the other singlespeed rider and seeing if he had a chain. I quit enjoying the surrounding, I pushed, but I was still losing Wil. My brake was definitely rubbing. I was hopping off early on the uphills to walk, trying to keep tension low on the chain, and I was getting blisters. I straightened my wheel and was following Wil, when again came the PING.
I told Wil to keep on going, I was probably done and I’d make it in to 50 miles (we were at about 40), but Wil said he’d wait to see if we could get another chain at 50. I was smoother about adding the link back this time and it was only a slight delay of about 10 minutes. My hand was hurting from my mini chain tool, and my attitude was bad. We got going again, and I started clipping ruts. My brake was rubbing, but it kept the tension off my chain. I figured slow bike was better than no bike. I quit noticing how beautiful the land was, and just wanted to get to 50. I had it in my head that my day was probably over after that. Again, I didn’t pay attention to eating or drinking and it was becoming hotter (mid 80s).
Some more trail and the Little Missouri River Crossing and we were almost at aid station #2. I could tell I was overheating and the river felt great. I debated taking a dunk, but wanted to get to the aid station to see if anybody had a chain. We passed quickly and climbed to aid station #2. My blisters had burst through from walking and I was thirsty. I realized I had hardly touched my camelback or water bottles, but I was also thinking my day was done.
Just as we arrived, the singlespeed mechanic was almost going to take off to support his rider. I flagged him down, and luckily he had a chain on him and was nice enough to put it on for me. I ate and drank some as he put the new chain on, but I was starting to realize from all the bouncing and the heat, I wasn’t feeling the best. Food didn’t go down too easily, but I managed some and part of a coke. We were still 2 hours ahead of the cut time, but guessing slow and steady was going to be the way we decided to take off. I hadn’t fully cooled, but if I rode easy I was hoping to cool off while riding and gain an appetite back. It was, however the toughest leg and the hottest part of the day.
It wasn’t long and we were descending. My arms were tired, and bouncing no longer felt good for my stomach. I was going slow, but steady. I wasn’t cooling down, and I wasn’t feeling better. I knew my chances of finishing were dwindling. The course would descend, then climb, and almost immediately descend again. Gone were the beautiful hilltops with the breeze. It was ride down slow, and walk up the next hill in the heat with no wind (upper 80s) even slower.
I talked Wil into sitting in what little shade there was for a little bit. We were 58 miles in and in one of the most remote parts of the race. After a little bit the shade I felt no better so I figured to keep on moving, it was the only way out.
Things began to fall apart quickly, I couldn’t eat, I was taking many small drinks only to realize I drank all my camelback. My throat was swelling. Luckily Wil had some water in a bottle he let me use. A little bit on the head felt great. Any in my stomach and I felt sick. Our pace slowed, I was barely walking up hills. My blistered feet hurt, but I heated up too much to try and ride my bike uphill. We were covering about 2 miles an hour. I told Wil I remembered hearing stories of American Indians going into the wilderness to find their spirit animal, and I felt like I wasn’t far from seeing mine. It wasn’t long after and I saw it.
There next to the trail was a deer, absolutely torn apart by coyotes or a mountain lion. It was exactly how I felt (and smelled). I took it as a sign and I looked down at my pink bandanna. What I had tied of to give me inspiration reminded me of what I had at home and it was time to be sensible and call it a day. I told Wil I was done at the next crossing.
It was a couple of the hardest miles I’ve ever done. Wil stuck with me and helped me get through it, for which I’m very thankful. I’m pretty sure as I was muttering out loud and pleading for a crossing so he was concerned. We made it to a crossing and there were no cars. I almost laid down right there. I later told my wife I was ready to make my last call to her there, but I didn’t have cell service so I had to keep going.
It wasn’t more than a long descent and little up and we came to another crossing. This time there were cars supporting other riders. I hid in the shade of one of the cars and finally did get a little sick. The people supporting other riders were a lifesaver though, dumping some water on us and letting us ride with them. We hooked up with a race shuttle and eventually made our way to the finish. Our friends who gave us a ride pointed out we had done over 62 miles (about a metric 100) so we should be proud.
It is a beautiful trail. It is also a dangerous trail, that with one mistake will change your day. With my lack of training and bike choice, I really needed everything to go 100% perfect, and the odds of that riding 100 miles over rough terrain are slim. It really was a great path to follow and well run event. I would also encourage anybody going that direction to ride some trail, there are plenty of spots to get on and it’s some of the best views you’ll ever get mountain biking.
Will I ever try it again? Possibly. I can say for sure I would use at least a front shock and most likely gears. I would have a support team for all the crossings, and I’d take longer breaks during the heat of the day making sure I cooled down. I would also hope for more training, but we know how that goes…. Speaking of which, we do public training/fun rides as a team. Just keep your eyes posted by visiting Hoigaard’s, or on the website.