Tag Archives: Great Plains

Post Maah Daah Hey 2016

Yesterday I helped a friend with the supply and gear during his 107-mile jaunt through the badlands of western North Dakota, on the increasingly famous Maah Daah Hey trail. It’s adventure recreational tourism, or even extreme adventure recreation. Bicyclists convene at the northern portion of the Maah Daah Hey trail head on a Thursday and Friday (taking up lodging at the Roosevelt Inn or campsites at the CCC or the north unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park), and prepare for an early Saturday morning rise to begin the ride.

I started situating this whole activity in the context of the world, and came to the agreement with the friend I was helping that this indeed is a 1st world activity. By that we meant that adventurers who partake in this extreme recreation have the resources to pay the admission fee and train and then take vacation to expend calories — a lot — to complete a 100+ mile mountain bike jaunt through rugged terrain during one of the hottest times of the northern Plains year. Compare that with, say, a country where inhabitants could live, perhaps, an entire year from the cost of admission. Or, when inhabitants of this other country expend calories, it’s toward agriculture, or raising and growing commodities — stuff that will continue to sustain life.

We then started recognizing this, and affirming the goodness of the race, since it was indeed that, and noting that it provided healthy outlets for hundreds of athletes to explore and push their bodies and minds to different stages of exhaustion. This is one of those common and collective experiences. We agreed that the Maah Daah Hey was a good idea. The views during this entire race were extraordinary. And it was fun in the morning to hear the Theodore Roosevelt re-inactor address the bicyclists. The TR actor recited the famous Man in the Arena, and told the bicyclists to continue to do good deeds and think good thoughts. This is simple yet powerful medicine. I enjoyed it.


Maah Daah Hey 100: Supply and Gear

A couple weeks ago a friend, Tayo, texted and asked if I would be his supply line for the Maah Daah Hey 100+ this coming Saturday, August 6, 2016. His original text read, “Do you have any interest in spending a night in the badlands and being my support vehicle for the Maah Daah Hey 100 bike race the first weekend in August?” I asked about exact dates. And then checked with the calendar. And then quickly talked myself into doing this after chatting a bit about it with my wife (she was enthusiastic too).

The trail name, Maah Daah Hey, is from a local language, the Mandan people. The trail name translates into something along the lines of an area that has been or will be around for a long time. I know this because I Google’d it. But there is likely a ton more nuance to the phrase than is captured by this one, Google’d definition.

So what does one need before doing the entire supply and gear (SAG for short) for a comrade and friend? It first requires time to think about what to bring and how to prepare. The Maah Daah Hey association has built up an impressive road map and guide for both riders and the SAG support vehicles. While the rider zips through an impossible and marked course in the rugged badlands of western North Dakota, the SAG vehicles zip around on the scoria/klinker covered roads to meet their riders at the next check point. I was reading that just a bit ago and decided to blog these thoughts.

Before all this, though, Tayo and I spent the last week hypothesizing how we might locate or bum an appropriate SAG vehicle. Even a modest weekend outing in western North Dakota requires a bit of gear. And something that requires gear requires the proper vehicle to haul that gear. The last time I did something recreational like this was with Adventure Science, the 100 Miles of Wild: North Dakota Badlands Transect. In this 2013 outing, I helped the team with supply and gear. It was during the late winter or early spring. With the snow thawing, it turned the badlands silt into super slick mud during the day and afternoons. Then, at night, it would refreeze. And the process would repeat itself. It’s been doing this for a long time. Which, when thinking about it, makes the Mandan description applied to this place all the more fitting. It’s the first week of August, though, so we don’t need to concern ourselves with the thaw and slick mud. I checked the weather forecast, and it said no rain too.

I touched base with a friend who has a huge pick up truck (but small by Bakken Oilfield standards). He said go ahead and use it over the weekend. So this evening my wife and I picked it up and drove it over to Tayo’s to load most of his gear. It’s now parked. And I’m taking this blogging break from laying out my own gear. I still have to toss a couple changes of cloths into a backpack.

I want to continue narrating this and uploading it eventually to this blog. I won’t be hooked up to internet. So I’ll type out updates on Microsoft Word and later upload them. That’s the ambition. It’ll provide Tayo and I with a bit of future history and memory. Tayo will be way too focused on the ride. So again, this little log will be quite a bit of fun.


Northern Great Plains Cowboy Poetry: Shadd Piehl

Shadd PiehlWestern Americana persists and thrives on the northern Great Plains. A photo of a poem from cowboy poet Shadd Piehl, this commissioned by the Hotel Donaldson, Fargo. Shadd is a good friend.

The Bohemian pulse runs thick in the Piehl DNA (see here for detail). Some days I know we’re living out a long extension of a Willa Cather My Ántonia novel here in the 21st century. We’re sitting in the saddle of the 49th parallel on the northern Great Plains, North America.


Threshing and Historical Fuel Sources

As of late, or at least since 2012, or even earlier, I have been thinking about the history of industrialization on the northern Great Plains. I have been encouraged this evening by reading Bill’s comments here, and also just by thinking about how steamboats were the first vestiges of 19th century industrialization, both locally, as noted in serious scholarship on the upper Missouri River, and globally, as expounded on by Maya Jasanoff at Harvard. Humanity has always needed and searched for energy sources. This has taken the form of wood and coal, which powered the early steam engines. This was all before petroleum was embraced and really took hold as thee major fuel source.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo when I look at, say, the September 8, 2014 front page issue of The New Rockford Transcript, and I see the “Central North Dakota Steam Threshers Reunion – September 19-21” 2014, I think of the transition by which humanity went from wood to coal. And how we used that coal to increase agricultural efficiency. And also how events like the central North Dakota Steam Threshers Reunion, or the Crosby Threshing Show, or the Braddock Threshing Bee, is and continues to remain central to our history and heritage. The New Rockford Transcript continues to be delivered to the house of my parents, a subscription my late grandmother Barth always enjoyed receiving (between this and the Emmons County Record). Here is that front page, at least the graphic. And if you want to order your own hard copy of The New Rockford Transcript or The Emmons County Record, just click on the previous two links to be directed to the specific contact.


The Welk Homestead

Miller Welk Painting 1930A couple weeks ago Molly and I, along with my parents, took a Sunday trip to the homestead of Lawrence Welk. To be more specific, this was the homestead of Welk’s parents in rural Emmons County, south-central North Dakota. The homestead is just south of Braddock, North Dakota, the place where my great grandpa Barth established his homestead and family. The Barth’s were Ohio-Germans imbedded within this larger German-Russian migration group.

Earlier this afternoon I stopped by North Dakota State University’s German-Russian Heritage Collection to pick up a Gary P. Miller reproduction print from 1930. It is what today we might call a mash-up: Miller painted Welk and his Hollywood roadster into the Emmons County homestead setting. In an effort to unfurl this print, I placed four of books at the edges. It seemed fitting to deliberately use Plains Folk: North Dakota’s Ethnic History;  Prairie Mosaic: An Ethnic Atlas of Rural North DakotaPrairie Peddlers: The Syrian-Lebanese in North Dakota; and The Quartzite Border: Surveying and Marking the North Dakota-South Dakota Boundary, 1891-1892.

The Welk homestead today is undergoing continued rehabilitation. One can get a guided tour of the original sod homestead, and a couple outbuildings and the summer kitchen. This latter building, the summer kitchen, still speaks to the utilitarian sensibilities often inherent in North Dakotans: the summer kitchen kept the heat out of the otherwise cool sod home in the June, July and August months. It was straight-forward practicality that German-Russians brought with them when they migrated to North America from Odessa, Russia. Within Miller’s 1930 print, the summer kitchen is center-right in the reproduction, and the sod house is just to the left.


Crosby Threshing Show

On July 20, 2014, Molly and I went to the Crosby Threshing Bee in Crosby, Divide County, northwestern North Dakota. Years before my Grandpa Barth passed away, he had always asked me to attend the threshing bee in Braddock, Emmons County, south-central North Dakota. For whatever reason, I never made it to the Braddock threshing bee (and I wish I had). I did go to my Grandpa’s farm with him on numerous occasions, though, sometimes stopping at the small-town local bank in Hazelton, and always stopping for lunch at the local deli/cafe.

So yesterday, while walking around the threshing bee in Crosby, I was continuously reminded of my grandpa. And of the advent of industrial agricultural practices, at least as it looked at the turn of the 19th century. I also thought of the novel history, Big Wheat by Richard Thompson. A year or more ago, Larry Schwartz, librarian at Minnesota State University Moorhead, recommended me this book. It’s good, and it gives the reader an idea of what it was like to be a migratory laborer employed by one of these outfits. In North Dakota, large bonanza farming took place in Cass County at the Dalrymple bonanza farm, and the Chaffee bonanza farm, amongst others. I was catching my historical bearings and thinking of all this while wandering through the Crosby threshing bee with Molly.

Below is a short clip of the tractors, complete with coal-burning stoves, whirring gears, and popping pistons.


The World is a Classroom: Stone Circles and Cairns

I’ve been asked (and privileged) to give a brief, short talk tomorrow in northwestern North Dakota on how to identify stone circles (often called tipi rings) and stone cairns. I will open by chatting about what meaning stone circles and cairns have to my friends, and I’ll probably mention a great friend Dakota Goodhouse, and one of his great-great uncles, Rain-in-the-Face (this is a magnificent attention getter by the way). Unsolicited universal observation: one doesn’t have to be within the halls of the academy or in a college or university to learn and teach. I kind of think of the world as a conversational classroom and lectern. It is only formalized when we’re in said classroom. Okay. That’s all. Carry on.