MAY DAY PARADE - MULTI-SPORT ADVENTURE IN THE BADLANDS OF WESTERN NORTH DAKOTA

September 22, 2017

 

“The very basic core of a person’s living spirit is the passion for ADVENTURE”                                      - Chris McCandless

 

 

The May Day Parade:  

 

26.50 miles over 10.50 hours

 

-12.00 miles hiking (no established trails)

 

-7.50 miles paddling (Little Missouri River)

 

-6.50 miles gravel road biking

 

-0.50 miles wicked kayak portage

 

Parade Route: Kayak > Hike > Kayak > Portage > Bike

 

The main objective of our expedition was a visit to the legendary Rock House, a 100 year old house/cabin, which sits in a sunken valley a few hundred feet below the summit of Bullion Butte, located in the rugged badlands of western North Dakota. Ordinarily, an ATV will transport you up to the Rock House quite easily, only needing to negotiate a few washed-out, rutted-out trails/roads. In an effort to complete our quest to the worn out, yet majestic house; Brent Brannan, Matt Ehrman, Toby Marman, and myself looked for a far less ordinary route, a route that required hiking, biking, kayaking, a self-supported route, a looped route commencing and concluding at the same point, a route that very likely had never been taken before, a route that very likely will never be taken again, a route that would become known as the May Day Parade.

 

 

I’ve heard it said, “true adventure doesn’t begin until something goes wrong.” Driving down East River Road early that morning, enjoying the countryside and preparing to embark on our journey, it was already apparent we had true adventure on our hands. The plan was to make a stop along the gravel road and stage our bikes, eventually making our way back to them at the end of the day.… after what was to be a long, but mellow (in terms of gradient) boat portage (1.50 miles in length). However, due to extremely soggy conditions along the low-lying jeep trail, which we intended to use as a portage alley, it was evident we would have to make adjustments to our plan, moving both the portage and bike drop to higher, more suitable terrain. As a result, the point at which we exited the river bottom, beginning the portage, would have to be adjusted as well. When dealing with a place as wild as the badlands, this revision to the plan changed everything…. our mellow portage would now become an intense, nearly vertical bushwhack.

Already knowing we would be ending the day differently than expected, for good measure it seemed, Mother Nature threw us an additional curveball, ensuring we would not begin our day as expected either. The soggy conditions, once again, had the group picking apart our map(s), looking for a new/more inviting starting point, a location at which we would be able to launch the kayaks and begin the excursion. We found what we were looking for a mile up river, just off of a gravel road…. surprisingly and luckily, this launch point turned out to be much more accessible than the original location we had plotted out. And now, finally, with the anticipation of the day gnawing at us, as the western meadowlark sang its unmistakable, childhood-memory inducing song (heard far less often than it should be), we geared up and set out; paddling our way down the Little Missouri River; it looking much more like rich, creamy, chocolate milk than the oddly north flowing waterway it is…. we certainly made every effort to breathe in and enjoy the cool, crisp morning air.

- The Little Missouri River - locally known as, the Little Muddy… Brent Brannan, Matt Ehrman, Toby Marman, and Parker Scott pictured

 

The badlands are a special place; every time you are lucky enough to make a visit to them, they quickly remind you of all they have to offer…. the gnarly bluffs and rock outcroppings, the abundance of wildlife, the sereneness, the solitude, the beauty; it is all right there, and we found ourselves right in the middle of it, taking it all in with not a care in the world. Right on cue, quickly reminding the group of the day ahead, letting us know this adventure would not be a walk in the park, the seemingly always-present North Dakota wind picked up and let its presence be known. As stated before, the Little Missouri River flows north; that, combined with the prevailing northwest wind you find in North Dakota, turned the nearly effortless, tranquil paddle into somewhat of a strenuous chore (it was nothing we couldn’t handle, but enough to grab our attention). We completed the 6.00 mile initial paddle portion of the parade and made our exit onto the muddy banks of the river…. we were a little behind our loosely calculated schedule, this because of the wind and a few hang ups on the lurking rocks/sandbars found throughout the river. Getting to the first “check point” felt good, morale was high and we were ready to start