Officially I learned to mountain bike in one of the least "mountain bike towns" in the world - Grand Forks, North Dakota. It was flat, with only a few trails and nothing that I would call inspiring. In fact, eastern North Dakota (where I lived) is one of those places that adventure goes to hide, or die, or hibernate forever. It's there - to be certain - but it takes some dedication to find it.
I'd heard whispers of a trail far out west in the Badlands - so epic and difficult that almost no one rode it. It was called the Maah Daah Hey. I first rode it in pieces in 2000, and was blown away by how rugged and remote it was. I returned a few years later to do an unsupported solo ride - completing one of (if not the first) rides in less than 24 hours. And so my love affair began.
Over the years, the trail grew up. Maps got more details, trail markers made it harder to get lost, and I'd occasionally see another rider. But it was still a wild and unforgiving place - muddy, hot, full of cacti and devoid of water. On more than one occasion I found myself drinking from a fetid cow trough or stagnant green pond scum. In 2010, a local named Nick Ybarra started hinting on the internet about finally hosting a race along the entirety of the trail. He and his crew spent countless hours improving sections and routing new trail around the two units of Teddy Roosevelt National Park - where previously you had to walk or carry your bike due to federal rules.
In 2013, I convinced Chelsey to make the trip from the mountain bike Mecca of our home and attempt the race. It would be her first 100 mile ride/race. Her performance was nothing less than foreshadowing. Less than 10 years later she'd be a world champion. Fun to see how both the trail and her riding have both grown over the years.