I’ve been riding bikes since (almost) the time I could balance. In the years before a car would become my ticket to teenage freedom, my bike carried me out in to the world. Granted, the next block over isn’t quite the same as the next state, but it was always full of new people and unexplored corners. Much like my cameras provide a path out of my introversion today, the bikes of my childhood became the means of interacting with the people and places around me.
From exploring my childhood neighborhoods to racing and working as a shop mechanic in college, bikes have always occupied a space in my life. I’m no longer concerned with race times or placing (who am I kidding, I never was) and mountain biking has now become my meditative practice. So when a college friend asked if I’d join him for a 50-mile badlands bike race on the Maah Daah Hey trail, it felt like an opportunity both to push myself and to take a sort of pilgrimage. The week I’d spend driving to and from North Dakota (that’s my truck at our campsite the night before the race) was only a piece of that journey. I felt pulled by the distant hills and solitude, and set about the bike maintenance and training preparations.
The phrase “maah daah hey,” from the Mandan Indian language, means “grandfather” or “long lasting” and the trail icon of a turtle comes from the Lakota Indian’s symbol of long life and patience. The 144 miles of continuous single-track trail winds through the grasslands and badlands of western North Dakota, a place that Theodore Roosevelt described as “a land of vast silent spaces, a place of grim beauty.” When the pack of racers split up, or in my case left me in their dust, it felt like being the only person in the world. Some of my favorite moments on the trail were simply being alone in the wilderness, soaking up the subtle quiet, and feeling my heart fill up from taking it all in.