An absolute thrill ride - that's how Bemidji High School teacher Dan Bryant describes an Adventure Club bicycle trip to North Dakota.
Bryant, along with BHS teacher Andy Olson, led nine students on a bike trip from June 21-27.
A mountain biking trip had been on Bryant's mind since he returned from last year's trip backpacking with the Adventure Club in the mountains of Colorado.
Although Bryant is an avid biker himself, he questioned whether his own experience as a trip leader would be enough to keep the students' bikes in good working condition.
Bryant asked Olson, an experienced cyclist and bike mechanic, to be his co-leader. Together the pair planned a challenging weeklong bike trip with one mission in mind: to come back alive.
By the time spring arrived nine students had signed up for the trip. Time was of the essence as students needed to begin training. Mountain biking requires great physical strength. Additionally, each student had to have a bike suitable for climbing steep hills and maneuvering over harsh terrains.
Some students had to borrow bikes, while other students like Alex Schoneberger, had to bring their bikes in for a much-needed tune-up.
"At first I thought my bike wasn't the best to use - it was really old and rusty," said Schoneberger, a junior at BHS. "I brought my bike in for a tune-up and then it worked fine."
On Monday, June 21, the Adventure Club made an eight-hour trip by van to Medora, N.D., a small tourist town with a western feel near Teddy Roosevelt National Park.
Off-road biking is not allowed within the boundaries of TRNP, but bikers are allowed to ride on designated paved or dirt roads. To find off-road trails, the Adventure Club had to drive to trails outside the park.
After setting up camp at the Medora Campgrounds, the group drove an hour east to explore a nationally-recognized trail system called the Maah Daah Hey Trail. The trail's 96 miles of single track runs through the Badlands, the Little Missouri National Grassland, and between the TRNP's northern and southern units.
Not long after their start on the Maah Daah Hey Trail, everything flat turned into everything hilly. To make matters more interesting, prior to their arrival, the area had received a torrential down-pour.
"The heavy clay soil had turned into a slick gumbo that really made the trails difficult to ride on the first day," said Bryant.
Fortunately for the group, hot summer winds dried out the trails by the second day and, with the help of a local bike shop in town, the group was shown the way on a map to their next destination of Magpie Campground, a remote camp site and trail head.
Along the way the bikers encountered a surprising visitor - a rattlesnake sat still long enough for the students to notice.
"Everyone got really scared when they saw the snake, but I thought it didn't bother me," said Schoneberger.
Throughout the week the students were faced with challenges such as crossing streams, peddling through valleys and climbing up narrow hill passes. Flat tires, brake and derail adjustments kept Olson plenty busy in the evenings.
"Nothing was like what I originally thought I'd see in North Dakota," said Laura Rogers, a student who graduated from BHS last spring. "Everything was hilly and rugged. There were a lot of ruts and holes. Some hills were so steep we had to walk up them."
North of Medora, the group peddled an arduous trip to the Devils Pass Oil Field. The ride took them past rock formations called ice caves, which were narrow caves cold enough to store ice.
The bikers had to avoid sharp corners, rocks, ruts, tree roots and cow pies during high speed rides on down slopes.
"The entire ride to the oil fields required you to hold on tight and be ready to hit the breaks in a moment's notice of panic," wrote Bryant. "You had to concentrate just to stay up-right on the four-mile trek back to camp."
Each morning the students woke up early to beat the intense heat of the sun. The students packed their lunches, checked their bikes for any last-minute repairs and filled their water bottles and pouches with water. According to Bryant, water was a limiting factor on the trip.
"At one point our ride took longer than we expected and our water supply didn't allow for any more riding that day," said Bryant. "With no water we had no choice but to head back to the camp."
One of the highlights of the trip was an off-road trip beyond the oil fields to Devils Pass, a narrow trail with steep sides that meanders through thunderous rock formations.
"It was one of the best parts of the trip," said Rogers. "There were cliffs that dropped off both sides of the trail. If you looked down you would see big drop-offs."
On their last day in Medora, the Club biked 36 miles of paved trails around the park and encountered herds of buffalo, wild mustangs and elk. The elk regularly grazed near the campground.
"Our turn-around spot for our trek in TRNP was at the top of a steep hill," said Rogers. "When we rode down the hill some of the buffalo decided to run across the road. The kids in the front had to dodge them."
The group also saw a group of about 20 wild horses. Some of the horses appeared at ease with the group of bikers watching them; some were even reluctant to move off the roads.
On their last day, the Club drove back into Medora. The riders had covered 130 miles of intense terrain and only one Band-Aid was issued.
"We were blessed with a great time, fun memories and a nice collection of pictures," wrote Bryant. "We completed another successful trip."
The mission of the BHS Outdoor Adventure Club is to provide students the opportunity to stay healthy through exploring the great outdoors.
In following the mission statement, the Club plans one adventure trip a year. Students who choose to go on the trip pay for it out of their own pockets.
Many stories have been shared by the students since their return from North Dakota, but no student came back without learning something new.
"I learned a lot about mountain biking and the mechanics of bikes in general," said Schoneberger. "But I am also really glad to sleep in a bed and not in a sleeping bag.