Ever since running the first section of the Maah Daah Hey trail through the North Dakota Badlands, Emily and I have wanted to spend more time running there. When the second section known as ‘The Duece’ was finished (I believe just last fall) I knew it was time to plan on finishing the rest of the trail and then putting together plans to run the entire ~145 miles in 1 push.
Emily and I decided we would do this during our trip home to visit family over July 4th. July isn’t the best time of the year to head out on a 47-mile run through the treeless, shadeless Badlands, but how bad could it be? The only day we could do this ended up being the hottest day of the year so far with temperatures hitting 85F by 8:30 AM and topping out at 96F in the afternoon. We quickly learned that it could be REALLY bad. The weather put the decision to run The Duece into my ‘Top 5 Bad Decisions Ever’ list (running the Highline Trail alone in bad weather may top this list).
Our morning started out amazing with fog in the low draws and 57F temps. We made great time on the first 13 miles before meeting Emily’s parents at our first ‘aid station’. The trail was amazing. Well marked, in great shape, and perfect for fast running.
By 8AM, an hour into the next section, it was starting to get warm. We slowed our pace to account for the heat and increased our fluid intake (from drinking every 15 minutes to drinking every 10 minutes). The trail and views continued to be amazing. We were seeing cattle, pheasant, pronghorn, rabbits, and luckily only 1 rattlesnake. By mile 24.5 at Bear Creek, our 2nd ‘aid station’, we were really starting to get cooked.
Emily had developed plugged ears from congestion and sweat and decided to sit out the next section of 7 miles to Tom’s Wash. My pace to Tom’s Wash dropped significantly as the temperatures approached 90F. Instead of the 1.25 hours I had planned on this section, it took me over 1.75 hours for this section and I was completely cooked when I got there. I sat down and drank about 2 L and dumped another couple over my head.
Even with 2 coats of sunscreen, I was starting to get burnt so I put on another thick coat and followed it with a healthy dose of DEET to help keep the nasty, persistent horse flies away and then I headed out on the next 8 mile section to Third Creek. This was an amazing section that was almost completely ‘cross country’ just running trail marker to trail marker. I made it about a mile into this section and started to completely melt down. I was suddenly no longer sweating, unable to run at all, and struggling to maintain any type decent of walking pace. After 1.5 hours I was out of water having drank 44 oz and I was still 3 miles from my crew. Emily was going to run out to meet me part way so I was counting on this. I was starting to have trouble following the trail markers and getting clumsy and dizzy from the heat and dehydration. I knew I was walking a fine line. I had to keep moving, but couldn”t push it. I came to Hanley Creek and it thankfully had a couple pools of rusty red and yellow water (or rather a mixture of cow piss and water based on the smell). I slid down the steep sandy bank and sat in the 8” of water soaking my legs up to my waist. I sat for 5 minutes getting my core temperature down and then climbed back out and headed on. I felt like a new person. I was still out of water, but at least felt good enough to maintain a good walking pace for a while. After another 15 or so minutes I met Emily and she had 2 bottles of water. I quickly drank 1 and nursed the other. We hiked the next mile to where the trail crossed a road and were met by Emily’s dad who had driven up looking for us. We bailed with 1 mile left to Third Creek and called it quits. The temps were now in the mid 90’s and there was not a cloud in the sky to offer any reprieve. I wasn’t happy to be quitting before Burning Coal Vein (the end of the trail), but there was not safe way to continue in those temperatures after already getting so dehydrated.
We enjoyed the shade of an old cottonwood tree along the creek (the largest tree I have ever seen in the badlands) while I recovered. I had 3 packets of Recoverite, another few liters of water, some food, and a beer. After about 30 minutes I was feeling good after having cooled down and rehydrated. It was tempting to head out for the next section, but we knew what the results would be so the last 9 miles will be saved for another time.
It was an amazing run and we couldn’t have done it without Emily’s parents being a great crew for us. One of the most amazing things of the run is that we ran for 9 hours and didn’t see another person the entire time. It is so great to be able to have long time of solitude in such a beautiful place. With a detailed GPS track for all but the last 9 miles of the ~145 miles of trail, I am excited to get back and link it all together. An early June attempt would be great as the temps would be cooler and the days long (less than 6 hours of darkness).