The pre-spring trail, painted with muted earth tones, stretches like a canvas over the prairie landscape.
A March breeze carries a penetrating chill across the Sheyenne National Grassland, where still bare trees and the rolling hills offer little buffer in the just-above-freezing air. Here, runners are gathered, to embrace one of North Dakota’s hidden natural gems, just a 45-minute drive southwest of Fargo.
By the time we gathered, the 100K and 50K harriers already had several hours on foot. Our group opted for the 25K version of Extreme North Dakota Racing’s Sandhill Ultra with unbridled enthusiasm and energy. My friend, Tim, explained the trail route and markings.
To start, runners headed off for a 4-mile loop, winding our way through the trees and over prairie openings and alongside gentle rolling hills. Along the way, we sidestepped cow pies, hopped over horse droppings and found sure footing on the still-compacted trail of gravel and sand.
As we passed race headquarters, we headed back out for the second phase of the trail — an out-and-back stretch through wide expanses of prairie grazing lands and a wooden bridge. At times, the breeze offered a gentle push while other times stung bare skin. With winter in the rearview mirror, but the promise of spring still on reserve, it is here on the trail — beneath shades of gray, blue and white — where runners find equilibrium.
A place where the senses come alive. An outdoor resort offering solitude and a sense of being.
After the race, we gathered around a fire, sharing stories while eating brats, black bean burgers, chips and cookies. We washed it down with chocolate milk until we couldn’t handle the cold anymore. And then we left, filled with the contentment of a great afternoon on the prairie, pursuing our love for running, making new friends — and determined to return again to fill our senses with the beauty of North Dakota’s great outdoors.