Maah Daah, whaa?...

Photo from the Maah Daah Hey Trail Association

Photo from the Maah Daah Hey Trail Association

As long as the Maah Daah Hey trail —all 150 miles of it— stretches across the horizon a year off in the future, all is good. I make fun of its name, and imagine that the distant contours of the Badland buttes in the photos resemble the backs of household cats basking in the afternoon sun.

But secretly, I zoom in on those photos, trying to discern what pitfalls await me there, because I decided that a year from now my ass will be bouncing on a skinny bike seat across that countryside riddled with roots and boulders, scarred with crevices and dried up cattle hoof prints, and I’m scared I won’t be up to it.

There are other bikapacking routes in the Midwest. This one seemed particularly appealing: nicely challenging, but doable, gentle terrain, with plenty of opportunities to stop for a beer and a burger, and even an optional canoeing interlude! The problem is that I feel perfectly capable of doing that trip now, with the only preparation required being gear and logistics.

No, my goal had to be scary. Not no-way-nohow scary, but doable scary, as in: if I push myself, if I prepare, if I train, then maybe —just maybe— I can. It turns out that the Maah Daah Hey trail teeters just this side of no-way-nohow, and so, of course, I had to choose it. I was almost dissuaded by this article, which featured the following admonition: "Everywhere were wonderful reminders of our mortality: sheer 300-foot drops into saw-toothed river bottoms; eroding hillside ledges that slid away in our wake; Yugo-size cows with a knack for materializing around blind turns; and at road crossings, careening oil trucks."

No matter. Once the idea sprouted in my head, there was no way to uproot it. Everything else —short of cycling solo across the Continental Divide— seemed like child’s play.

So here I am, at 54, not yet a grandmother, but certainly old enough to be one, planning a foray into the singletrack bikepacking unknown. For some, I’m sure this would be an unthinkable challenge. For others, perhaps not a challenge at all — simply a scenic and highly aerobic adventure to be knocked out in a long weekend. For me, it promises to be just right: hard enough that I have to earn it, but doable enough that I’m willing to give it a shot.

This seems like a good place to point out that we each have our own path to tread, and my audacious hope that you will follow me along on this journey in no way implies that I think this is a journey you too should undertake. But if —like me— you are wondering what else might be waiting for you out there, don’t stop at wondering. Go and seek it out.

Will I make it across the Maah Daah Hey? I’m setting out to, and I hope I will. In any case, this journey, undertaken with conviction, will likely take me places I didn’t expect. And I’d rather be flexible about the destination, but clear about my direction.