Sometimes when Nick Ybarra is out clearing the Maah Daah Hey Trail, he only wants to drop his shovel and walk away.
At 144 miles, the Maah Daah Hey in North Dakota is one of the longest single-track roads in America, and it runs through incredible, undulating, wholly unspoiled terrain. It also covers much of Theodore Roosevelt National park, which is home to the famously beautiful Painted Canyon.
However, despite its unique grandeur, the road was in danger of disappearing eternally — because no one actually knew about it. Ybarra was determined to change that .
The manual labor involved in doing that, though, often proves unbelievably challenging.
“There have been so many days where I’ve virtually discontinue and given up on trying to save this trail, ” says Ybarra.
It’s understandable why he might want to considering the conditions he works under. It can hover past 100 degrees for days at a time in the North Dakota Badlands. Pair that with running out of water, being miles away from your truck, and being the only one out there, and the frustration is palpable.
Sometimes the work pushes him so far past his limit he just breaks down crying.
However, despite those moments, he maintains at it because he fervently believes trails like these need to live on.
His mission seems more than apropos deeming Maah Daah Hey literally entails “a place that will be around a long time.”
An avid adventurer himself, Ybarra was inspired to save the trail on his first bike ride through it.
He started at dawn and where reference is make Devil’s Pass, an uncommonly beautiful part of the Badlands, he was overcome by its majesty.
“Standing there, it simply cast a spell on me. This was the outdoor experience I yearned for. That ride changed my life, ” recalls Ybarra.
From that moment on, he was hooked. He knew “hes to” do all he could to make sure others were able to have the same experience.
While Ybarra initially cleared much of the road on his own, the yearly upkeep could not be done without the help of volunteers.
The first group was made up of fellow bikers Ybarra knew who appreciated the trail. More came around where reference is started Legendary Adventures New Discoveries( L.A.N.D .) — an organization dedicated to helping people experience the Badlands.
And, today, Nick’s dedication has inspired people to give over 4,000 hours of their time to maintaining the Maah Daah Hey. Without their tireless endeavors, it’s likely the road would’ve vanished altogether.
In the first year of literal trailblazing, Nick and three friends mowed 200 miles of trail — aka the road forward and backward. When rains washed their work away, they came out and cleared it again.
Their aim was to get the road established enough to host a 100 -mile race, which Ybarra thought was their best shot maintaining it around.
“More people need to experience[ Maah Daah Hey ], so that’s why I decided to host a race, ” says Ybarra.
In its first year, the Maah Daah Hey 100 was a free event 40 people participated in. Now it’s in its sixth year, and over 430 people signed up to ride. All the funds for the event go right back into the efforts to preserve it the trail.
They’ve even been able to expand the race to include shorter distance trails so people of all ride levels can participate. There are also challenging options for the most experienced riders.
Ybarra’s endeavors have reinvigorated the trail in an astonishing style and helped people rediscover just how astonishing the outdoors can be.
Not only has he helped bring visitors from all over the world to what was once a virtually unknown road, he’s reintroduced locals to the wonders of the Badlands.
Ybarra hopes this labor of love will continue to inspire new adventurers who might’ve forgotten about the healing power of nature.
“When I drive into the Badlands, I feel my blood pressure drop-off. I feel my stress vanish. I feel my worries just vanish. I think that’s so important for people today. To just get out and find peace out on a trail somewhere.”
Watch Ybarra’s whole journey here :