I'm always amazed at the random good luck that can be encountered when you open your mind to ALL the possibilities available to you at any given time. Of course, this is a pastime best experimented with NOT on your way to work the day you're supposed to make a life changing presentation, NOT when your wife is about to give birth, and NOT when you're about to run out of gas in a foreign country full of locals armed with AK47s with less than stellar respect for "western" folk. Barring some of these situations, take a breath, step forward and follow your intuition...
Every summer we try to get out of the city with a bunch of friends on a mountain biking trip into the US. Something about crossing the border (despite it being 40km from our home town) takes us out of our usual routines and makes us feel like we're in a foreign place. A foreign place filled with amazing biking, great microbrews, and creative food - three things I love together, usually in that order. Though the second item usually comes in spades and dulls the last.
This summer, after a few weeks of awe-inspiring riding in Central Oregon, we headed east for a bit of work in North Dakota, USA. Having had preconceived notions of the state being flat and boring from our friends there that worked in the oilfield, I settled in for what I thought would be a miserable week. Well, I was mostly right, that is, they were mostly right. But a shining star appeared on a billboard of all places - like in the days of old when the gold rush was in full swing, there was a sign on the side of the highway that said "Visit Magical Medora in the Badlands - a land of opportunity". Maybe I was bored and desperate for stimulation, but it seemed their marketing had scratched an itch and off we went with elevated hopes.
Now, I pride myself in knowing most places to mountain bike in this part of the world. In fact, I'm sort of a fanatic. So it was much to my surprise to find quite possible one of the most beautiful 100 miles of mountian biking singletrack I've ever ridden in North America. Now given my track record, that's saying something. Never would I have thought that in the middle of that ridiculously flat state was there to be a stunning landscape of hoodoos, mesas, and buttes covered with a golden blanket of grass and one epic singletrack weaving through endless vistas and wildlife.
The Maah Daah Hey Trail runs roughly North South on the outskirts of the Theadore Roosevelt National Park - an area recongized as being the birthplace of national parks in North America since it inspired "Teddy" to establish the National Park Service in the USA and set aside such park lands when he became president. The trail itself is generally ridden in 25 mile increments with great wilderness campgrounds dotting the trail. For those that don't want to haul their gear the whole way, there is a great service at the local bike shop that will shuttle your camping gear from section to section via chase vehicle. The trail is amazingly built and easy to ride thanks to the hard clay-like ground in the area, making for enjoyable pedals that let you focus on the scenery as much as the great riding.
At the end of the ride, we treated ourselves to a phenonmenal steak dinner and plenty of beer while realizing that what truly made this trail so amazing was the shocking peace and quiet found along its entire length. We saw four people in total the whole time, and coexisted with a list of wildlife that would make the nature channel jealous. That never happens when something is as good this experience was. And all thanks to a billboard I wouldn't have even noticed back home...
Go out on a limb this weekend see where life can lead you should you just be open and willing enough to see the way.
> Ride this area in September - the weather is perfect and warm> Come prepared for a significant wilderness experience, but pack light if you don't intend on using the shuttle> Contact the bike shop in Medora for guided tours, shuttles, or gear drops - they are knowledgeable and freindly> Make sure to take in the Medora Musical and PitchFork Fondue (Awesome!) - thank you billboard again> Bring lots of tubes for your bike - there are lots of cactii in the area