Day 50: The day we made a wise, if expensive, decision

Day 50, 8/2, Sunrise Lake State Forest Campground, LeRoy, MI to Bay City, MI: 88.9 miles, 1,420 ft elevation gain, 13.3 mph average speed.
Trip totals: 3,111.8 miles (72.4 mile daily average), 127,106 ft elevation gain, 12.5 mph overall average speed.

One day behind schedule.
We woke up a little before Richard and left camp before he was fully packed. The day started out with about 20 miles of rolling hills before we got to an intersection with a cafe called Four Corners or something to that effect. We looked back and Richard had caught up to us. Now, the man is traveling very light and he is on a road bike and he did have a long and successful career in the military, but he’s in his upper 60s! Granted, it takes us some time to warm up in the morning, but this was a little embarrassing. 

   
 We sat down to breakfast with Richard and he regaled us with more stories of the incredible life he’s led, but he speaks without a hint of pretense, a surprising quality for a guy who has accomplished and experienced so much. Richard is an impressive person in a number of ways, but the most impressive thing about him is his humility.

During breakfast we decided to leave the route to save eight miles. The road we chose was busier than ACA’s route, but also flatter, so I think it was a good decision. Nothing remarkable on this section of road. 

We then turned off of the highway and onto the Pere Marquette Rail Trail, a paved bike path that brought us all the way to Midland – 35 miles of car-free riding! The trail was well-maintained and well-used on a Sunday. We met a couple of men who appeared to be in their late 60s, native Michiganders doing a bike tour around Michigan who were very concerned about how their state was treating us. We whined about the poor roads (a complaint about which they agreed), but said that it’s been great otherwise. 

   
     We planned to stop in Midland for lunch, but we came across an ice cream shop before town with a beautiful yard that had outdoor seating that seemed to cater to people riding on the trail. We stopped and decided to eat our typical lunch (Triscuits with tuna and cheddar cheese plus whatever fruits and junk food we had on hand) then get ice cream. After we finished eating, we noticed Richard and Maarten riding together down the trail. Apparently Richard had caught up with Maarten on the trail, so we’re not the only young bucks getting our butts kicked by Richard. They turned back around to say hi, we chatted for a bit, and they left.

  
We decided to look into the campground in our planned final destination, Frankenmuth, and found out that the campground in question was the Jellystone Park RV Resort, which charged $49 for a tent site, after a cyclist’s discount! I guess they have a pool and a bunch of games or something? I don’t know, but we were not going to find out. Camping in Michigan has been pricey, but $49 is outrageous. We’ve paid less than that for a nice motel!

Commence desperate search for other campgrounds and cheap motels. Turns out Frankenmuth is a tourist town so there were no cheap anythings and the next campground was 15 miles past Framkenmuth, which would have made for a 140-mile day, which we decided was beyond our threshold. 

We debated going to Frankenmuth and chatting with folks at the brewery to see if they’d be willing to let us camp in their yards, but neither of us is very outgoing with strangers and we both really hate asking people for things. So we decided to, yet again, stop short of our goal in Bay City, which was just 20 miles up the road. This is the third day of not meeting our goal, which, besides the fact that it’s not fun to fail to meet goals, means we will not be able to make up that last day we lost in Glacier before meeting Ted’s family in Niagra-on-the-Lake. 

   
 We stopped at Ray’s Bike Shop in Midland to pick up a new tube for Ted’s bike and chain lube. When we walked in, the guy working there was super excited about our tour and said that we could have priority in the shop of we needed work done, that we could fill all of our water bottles with cold spring water, and that they’d love to do whatever they can to help us. The mechanic then gave Ted three nice tubes for free, so we decided that we’d like to support such a wonderful shop by each buying some much needed bike gloves! 

  
Oh my gosh, these bike gloves have made such a difference already. Our old gloves were missing padding at the spots we needed it most, but we were just being cheap and living with it. We became so used to the discomfort that we both went on and on about how angry we were at ourselves for not buying new gloves earlier. I don’t think we realized that it was possible not to have constant pain and numbness in our hands on this trip! So if you plan to do a bike tour, definitely spend a little money on nice bike gloves. 

We rode the final 15 miles to Bay City and bought things for dinner at a giant grocery store. We noticed some ominous looking clouds on our way to the campsite, so Ted checked the weather. Severe storm warning and a 90 percent chance of rain all night. The rain doesn’t bother us, but there were flash flood warnings, lightning warnings, high wind warnings, and hail warnings. After those scary nights in Glasgow and Hazelton, we decided it might be wise to be indoors during such a storm. We called a few hotels and Ted negotiated a sweet deal with Fairfield Inn. 

We bought perishable food for dinner so immediately after checking into the hotel, we headed outside to the picnic table in the parking lot. We definitely got a few “why are these hobos cooking on a camp stove at our nice Fairfield Inn” looks, but we’re getting used to being the dirty, weird people that ruin the aesthetic of nice places.

We nearly beat the storm, but as we were finishing up cooking, a short, but powerful wind storm blew over / away our whole operation. Luckily we were holding onto the pot at the time so our food survived, but everything else went tumbling. Our flimsy plastic pot lid went flying through the air like a frisbee, then rolled all the way across the gigantic hotel parking lot. After retrieving everything, we headed inside to eat, feeling justified about our decision to pay for a hotel.

I have a somewhat embarrassing confession to make: my favorite part about staying in a hotel, on this trip and in real life, is watching HGTV. I know it’s all staged and that each episode of every show follows the same formula, but I enjoy it anyway. We don’t have cable, so hotels are my only opportunity to watch HGTV, therefore I may or may not uncontrollably binge. Not today, though. A big storm means cable doesn’t work, so I was forced to do more productive things like blog and read. 

Unfortunately, despite not having TV to distract us, we still managed to stay up much later than we should and we have a 118-mile day ahead of us tomorrow. I have a feeling coffee will be part of our day tomorrow. 

Day 48: The day of much work and much reward

Day 48, 7/31, Petoskey State Park, MI to Traverse City, MI: 93.2 miles, 4,379 ft elevation gain, 11.1mph average speed.
Trip totals: 2,932.2 miles (71.5 mile daily average), 122,310 ft elevation gain, 12.5 mph overall average speed.


One day behind schedule.

These two pictures sum up much of the biking part of the day:


   

Except change Breezeway to Wind Tunnel and Steep Hill to Series of Steep Rolling Hills Lasting for 40 Miles. 

The day started out nicely with a dedicated bike path taking us five miles into the town of Petoskey. Petoskey is another touristy town with cute shops, cafes, etc. There was a coffee shop that looked like it came straight out of Brooklyn (Dripworks) that we would have stopped at, except we were hoping to make it to Interlochen, 100 miles away, and wanted to leave enough time to explore Traverse City. I’d like to come back to the northeastern coast of Lake Michigan eventually, though, without such a strict schedule. Had we not used up all of those rest days in Glacier, I would have liked to spend a few days exploring this area because it’s absolutely gorgeous and the water is the perfect temperature for swimming. Why have I never heard about this area before? I think the people who regularly vacation here want to keep it a secret. It’s just perfect here. 

   
 We climbed a large hill out of Petoskey onto a gravelly paved road leading to Wallon Lake, another tourist town on a turquoise lake. We were setting a slow pace this morning. It was hilly and the hills were quite steep, but I think we also saw how nice it could be to ride bikes slowly when we visited Mackinac Island and sort of subconsciously adopted that slow pace. We decided that we’d probably only make it to Traverse City tonight, 20 miles short of our goal, but the annual film festival was happening this weekend, so campsites and hotels were pretty well booked. We contacted three warm showers hosts in hopes that one of them would accept a last-minute request. 

We carried on to Boyne City, guided by some handy arrows for a local biking event that perfectly matched the circuitous ACA route, to eat breakfast. As an aside, ACA’s route through this region is wacky and it seems inefficient. The maps say this is because they’re trying to keep us on paved roads, but I have to believe there’s a better way. It seems like they’re aiming for the hilliest bits of the state, too!

   
      We got some local chocolate milk and snacks at the food coop in Boyne City, then sat in a lovely park by the water to eat. This chocolate milk was not quite as good as Crystal Farms or Dairigold, but better than any others we’ve tried. 

   
    We pushed on, slowly, toward Torch Lake. The hills got worse and so did the headwind. This was some of the tougher riding we’ve done recently and I was more tempted than ever to hitchhike. Enough complaining, though. It was hard work, but we made it through. 

Between each of these tourist towns are a bunch of farms and economically depressed farm towns, much like what we saw further west. It’s strange to see such different lifestyles in such close proximity. From multimillion dollar second homes with multimillion dollar yachts docked out front in Harbor Springs to corn fields and abandoned, crumbling buildings in East Jordan. I suppose this isn’t an uncommon phenomenon,  but it’s interesting to experience it on a bike. 

   
    Torch Lake is a long, narrow, turquoise lake, and it was spectacular. We got some nice views for the first half mile that we traced the lake, then we stopped at a little baked goods stand called Sami’s Sweets in front of a beautiful lakefront home being run by a pre-teen girl named Sami. Sami is quite the entrepreneur: she had rocky road cookies, chocolate chip cookies, and cupcakes for sale and was even selling a small cookbook that she had professionally printed and bound. All of her goods had stickers with a custom, professionally printed logo, and she had an army of younger kids helping her work the stand (who were quick to tell me that they were not being paid for their labor).  I wish I had that initiative at her age! And the business sense to not pay her employees – genius! We bought one of each thing and the kids’ moms offered to refill out water bottles, a service we are always grateful to receive. 

Another man stopped to buy a cupcake and asked us why we chose the route we chose instead of the more direct route to Traverse City on the other side of the lake. We told him we were following the ACA maps and that we expected this side to be more scenic. He shrugged and said, “yeah, well, you’ve got Alden coming up and that’s one of the more picturesque places you’ll see.” We assumed he was just inured to the beauty and that the rest of the road would still be pretty nice, so we decided not to backtrack toward the shortcut. 

That man was right. Nineteen miles of trees and people’s driveways to their lakefront homes. No water views. Alden was beautiful, though, and we ate at a restaurant called Mama’s Country Kitchen because they were having a Friday fish fry! We’ve heard about Friday fish fries since Fargo, but have never been in the right place at the right time to experience one. We each ate seven large pieces of cod, fries, and Ted ate coleslaw. We were stuffed and reluctant to start the second half of our day. After leaving, we stopped to take one last sit by Torch Lake before pushing on. 

   
 We made our way to state route 72, which was a pretty busy road. Michigan’s larger state routes are actually pretty nice and have nice shoulders for the most part. But Michigan does this annoying thing with the shoulders on its large state routes, at least the ones we’ve ridden: they create passing lanes by sacrificing the shoulder. And cars don’t react by getting into the left lane to pass with care, even when there’s plenty of room to do so. Of course the first time everyone is obedient to the “keep right except to pass” sign is when I’m riding a bike on a two-foot shoulder. 

Our time on 72 was short, though, and we were rewarded with a dedicated bike path that, aside from a short detour, led us all the way into Traverse City, but first to a Culver’s where we loaded up on Concretes, mine much larger than Ted’s. 

   

   We stopped at a bike shop to pick up a spare tube because Ted’s back tire has been getting a little splashy after a few days, which he thinks might be the result of a poor patch job. The shop had closed over an hour before, but they accidentally left their “Open” sign on and left the door unlocked. We surprised the guys working there when we walked in, but they still rung us up (they had also forgotten to close out the register – these things happen when you start drinking immediately after closing up the shop) and gave us a handy tip about using a dollar bill as a tire boot. 

Then we headed to a wonderful food coop called Oryana that puts the Park Slope food coop to shame. This place was huge and beautiful, and they had an incredible selection of bulk goods and produce, etc. from local farms. We picked up a few things, got a discount for riding our bikes there, and talked to some friendly folks outside. We mainly talked to Marlene and Isaiah Smith, a couple that recently moved from DC to Traverse City after retiring. They were lovely people and they made us want to move to Traverse City!

  
We then headed to a bar called The Little Fleet, which is a bar with garage doors that open up into an outdoor eating area and a parking lot with a fleet of food trucks. So cool! Our warm showers host for the night works there, so we went to say hi and grab a beer and maybe something to eat before heading to his house to sleep because we were both exhausted. We both got a beer and tacos (blackened whitefish for me, Korean beef for Ted) and hung out on the patio listening to live music. Ted ran into another bike tourist while getting another round of drinks so we chatted with him for a while. Maarten is from Belgium (Hoegaarden, in fact!) and is traveling from Vancouver to Montreal by way of…the Grand Canyon. This wasn’t his original plan, but he and his traveling partner decided to take a 2,000 mile detour to visit the Grand Canyon and the American Rockies. He’s meeting his Dad in Montreal, and they’re going to explore Quebec together. 

   
       While we were chatting, Pauly, our host, came over to tell us that his friend offered to finish his shift, so he was free to show us around town. He brought us another round of beers, a mix of Bell’s Two-hearted IPA and a Grapefruit IPA. It’s a Little Fleet special, called the “Jason Allen,” named after the bartender who invented it. 

We ended up sitting and chatting with him for a while. He is an instructor pilot when he isn’t bartending, and he’s getting ready for a bicycle trip from Vancouver to Tijuana in the fall. After a while, we headed to another bar with an extensive taplist, where we had our first sour beers of the trip (aside from those New Glarus bombers, one of which Ted is still carrying).

Pauly kept introducing us to friends of his, and next thing we knew the lights were coming on and the bar was closing. This was not the plan, but it was fun. We made it back to Pauly’s apartment, jumped through the shower, and crashed on his futon around 1:30a. 

I don’t think we’re starting at 6:00a tomorrow. 

Day 46: The day of spontaneous decisions

Day 46, 7/29, Indian Lake, MI to St. Ignace, MI: 96.8 miles, 1,852 ft elevation gain, 13.6 mph average speed.
Trip totals: 2,775.6 miles (71.2 daily average), 115,931 ft elevation gain, 12.5 mph overall average speed.

One day behind schedule.

There is an epidemic here in Michigan. We’re in the land of the inappropriate quotation mark. For example: 

Please close the toilet seat lid. “Thank you!”

We hope you have a “wonderful” day!

“Free” WiFi. 

All real signs we’ve seen in the U.P. But Big Boy Restaurant, a restaurant chain with multiple signs throughout the U.P., crosses the line from just being grammatically incorrect to changing the meaning of a statement in an unambiguously bad way:

Big Boy Restaurant. The “fresh” choice. 

Can someone tell me why this is so common up here? Is it an alternative to using bold or italics for emphasis? It’s driving me “crazy!”

  
On to more interesting and important things, like the sunrise Michigan gifted us this morning. 

   
    Probably the best sunrise I’ve seen in my life, but definitely the best of the trip. Did I mention that this was the view from our tent? Needless to say, we woke up feeling very lucky today. Especially because we got a sunset from our campsite last night; how often do you get a sunrise and a sunset from the same campsite? Or either from any campsite?

As usual, Ted had to wake me up to watch the sunrise in the midst of doing all of the packing work. He even removed the rainfly for me so I could watch the sunrise while I packed up my sleeping pad in the tent! I don’t know how he puts up with how slow and grumpy I am in the morning, but he does it every day with a smile on his face. 

We started off around 6:30a (not bad, not great) and it was the perfect temperature for riding. After about 6 miles on quiet state roads, we entered Manistique, a tourist town that seemingly required all of the businesses to have 50s-era signs. Then we got on US 2, where we would spend the rest of the day. 

US 2 follows the northern coast of Lake Michigan and we were promised miles upon miles of lake views. We technically had miles of lake views, less than 10 miles, but the other 80+ miles were boring, high-traffic highway riding. The good thing about boring riding, though, is that it usually equals flat riding, and today was no exception. Just a couple small hills the whole day, mostly toward the end. And the good thing about highway riding is that there’s often a giant shoulder, so it’s fairly low-stress despite the traffic. 

The road was lined with motels and resorts for much of the day, many of which were closed or for sale, few of which had many cars parked in their lots. It seems tourism in the UP is past its heyday. 

Every once in a while we could see turquoise water peeking out between pine trees in less-dense portions of the forest that separated us from the lake, so we were excited for those miles upon miles of lakeshore riding everyone told us about. 

We hit a grocery store about 20 miles in and decided it was time for breakfast. The store had a pretty limited selection, so we decided to feed an ongoing craving we’ve both been battling: Cocoa Pebbles. 

Have you ever seen two people devour a box of cereal and nearly a half gallon of whole milk in under 5 minutes? It’s probably not a pretty sight, but we both enjoyed every pebble. 

  
We rode for 30 more unremarkable miles before stopping for smoothies and free WiFi. The shop also sold pasties, the UP’s version of a meat pie, so we got one of those because everyone we met told us we had to try one. We also got a cinnamon roll, for good measure. The pasty tasted like a samosa that was missing all of the spices that make samosas taste good. It came with a side of ketchup that was, I’m not kidding, a quarter of a cup large. I guess that’s the alternative to spicing the filling? Everything else was good, and we sat for a little too long, as we do, fighting with the slow WiFi. 

We rode for many more boring miles punctuated by small tourist towns until we finally encountered those views! Lake Michigan is gorgeous–the first non-brown water we’ve seen since Glacier–and the crosswind we had all day created waves that made the lake look like an ocean. The first pictures below are from the gloomy (read: pleasantly cool) morning, and the last pictures are from the sunny afternoon. 

   
         We noticed that lots of people parked their cars on the shoulder (annoying, because it’s our lane) to swim in the lake, so we made our first spontaneous decision: lake swimming! We swam for a bit, and Ted bodysurfed with surprising success (his first ever successful body surfing in a lake), before eating some cheese curds and beef sticks on triscuits by the lake. It was a lovely way to spend an hour.

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We headed down the road for the final 15 miles before we hit St. Ignace, the last town in the UP. The options for getting to the mitt of Michigan include taking transport over a massive bridge on which bikes are prohibited or taking a ferry to Mackinac Island, a tourist island that is 80% state park and only allows bike and horse traffic, then taking another ferry to the mitt. The plan was to take the bridge transport because even though the island is supposed to be incredible, we’re running short on time and have an aggressive schedule for the next week to get to Niagara-on-the-Lake to visit Ted’s family. As soon as we got to St. Ignace, though, we decided that since we will probably never visit this corner of the world again, we should go to the island. Spontaneous decision number 2. 

  
This was great news to me because it cut 11 miles off of an already long day, and those miles would have been directly into a headwind. 

We found a state campground in town and settled in for the night. We then took a quick ride to the beach for a failed attempt at watching another sunset (blocked by a hill), then, spontaneous decision number 3, we rode our bikes to the grocery store to buy peanut butter Oreos and a small bottle of milk for dessert. 

  
A man who bike toured extensively in the 70s came to our campsite to chat for a bit. He made me very grateful for all of the progress bikes and camping gear have made in the past 40 years. 

We will wake up early to take the earliest ferry to Makinac Island tomorrow!

Day 43: The day of surprise bike trails

Day 43, 7/26, Manitowish Waters, WI to five miles east of Gaastra, MI: 83.5 miles, 3,879 ft elevation gain, 13.2 mph average speed.
Trip totals: 2,532.1 miles (70.3 mile daily average), 110,212 ft elevation gain, 12.4 overall average speed.


Two days behind schedule.

Ted woke up before me, yet again, and readied our things while I slept. What a guy.

I wanted to explore the Discovery Center’s interpretive nature trail and bog Boardwalk, so we took a quick jaunt down the path while eating s’mores poptarts for breakfast. We learned about lichen, bog temperatures, and other such things, then got nervous about getting such a late start and rushed back.


    We headed out around 8:30a (so late!) and were surprised to discover a beautiful bike path right next to the road on which we were meant to ride. We figured it was just a local bike path connecting the various resorts to town (Manitowish Waters is the schmanciest resort town we’ve encountered), so we tried not to get our hopes up that it would last. The path went through a few different ecosystems, from old-growth forest to bog to grassland, and it seemed like its designers made it curvier and hillier than necessary to make it more interesting. The hills were fun, though. They were short enough that the momentum gained from going downhill carried us uphill with very little effort. It almost felt like a roller coaster.


    We started to see a few more serious looking cyclists on the trail, so we got a little more optimistic about the length of the path. Then we saw a map and noticed that the trail went all the way to two miles outside of the next town, which meant we’d have 13 miles of unexpected car-free riding this morning!

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We enjoyed this nice surprise for the remaining miles, then when we reached the end, we found that the path actually did continue into the next town. We also did a little research last night and found a fancy coffee shop (Northern Lattes – haha) in the next town, so we were excited for our mid-morning break, too. We got off to a good start today!


I got a dirty chai, Teddy got a large coffee, and we both got fancy pastries, then we relaxed in perfect weather on the porch. With the high-mileage days we’ve been pulling, it’s nice to slow down and do normal human things every once in a while.

Turns out we weren’t the only ones out for a Sunday bike ride; the shop’s bike rack quickly filled up with bikes. Pretty much everyone who rode up on a bike gave our bikes a funny look, and a few groups asked us if we were on an overnight camping trip. That’s an understatement, but basically correct. Everyone was shocked when we told them we were going across the country and had a million questions about what we were carrying and how we were surviving with so few things. Because we’re now off the main cross-country route, there are many fewer bike tourists and I guess a lot of people don’t understand that riding a bike across the country is a) possible, and b) something anyone would choose to do.  We have had to do a lot more explaining during the last few days.


We sat on the porch for two full hours before motivating ourselves to leave, and by the time we left, it was pretty hot. Luckily, we had miles of tree-lined country roads ahead of us. The roads were gorgeous and not very busy, and the hills were small enough for the first 20 miles or so that we could use momentum to help us get uphill.


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     We got to Phelps in time for lunch and found an ice cream / candy shop right at the beginning of town. We planned to eat PB&J on crackers for lunch and hoped that if we bought a couple drinks and promised to buy ice cream after lunch, they’d let us sit in their air conditioned seating area to eat lunch because it was unpleasantly hot out. They did! I got fresh-squeezed lemonade and Ted got nostalgic soda (cherry cola), and we talked to some folks about our bike tour. These folks’ family has lived in Phelps for decades and they shared a little Phelps history. Apparently Al Capone and John Dillinger used to hide out in Phelps, among other places in this region. Then we both got ice cream. They had my favorite flavor (chocolate peanut butter swirl) and Ted’s favorite way to eat ice cream (sandwiched between two chocolate chip cookies) so we were both pretty pleased.


We headed out into the heat for the final 48.5 miles of the day at 3p. In other words, if we didn’t take breaks and the hills weren’t too bad, we would get to camp at 7p. Not great.

We rode for a bit and found that there were tons of hills and it was still hot, so we took many breaks. We considered stopping 32.5 miles short of our goal at Santa’s Backwoods Motel in Nelma because we were so hot and tired (and because the name is hilarious and I was curious about the decore in the rooms), but the town was a creepy ghost town and we would be setting ourselves up for a few miserably long days if we stopped, so we pushed on.


After crossing the Michigan border, the roads got really bad. They had recently oiled and repainted lines on the road from the state line to about 10 miles into the state, which, from my perspective, serves only to make the roads look nice and mask their poor condition. The road was still crumbling despite the shiny surface.

 Riding on crumbling roads is frustrating mainly because of the stress it puts on your hands and butt. The bumps are so painful, especially toward the end of the day. To make matters worse, the grades of the hills steepened. It was also still humid and hot. After riding in these conditions for about 14 miles, we got cold drinks from a convenience store and Ted called a motel down the road and negotiated a reasonable rate because the next campground was another 20 miles away and I was very done for the day. By the way, don’t be fooled by the smoothness of the road pictured below. They had repaved exactly one of the twenty miles we rode in Michigan today, just so things looked nice at the beginning of the small town we were approaching.


We rode the final 6 miles to the motel and immediately changed into swimsuits and rode our bikes down to a beach the hotel manager recommended, about a half mile down the road. Turns out the beach was also a campground that was hidden in the corner of our next map section! Somehow we missed it and ended up spending three times as much for a hotel room than we would have spent to camp on a beach. We felt pretty dumb at this point. We hate making mistakes, especially when they cost money.

We didn’t let it ruin our time, though. We always wish for a lake at the end of a hot day and we finally got our wish! We swam out to a floating platform with a diving board and dove in a couple times, then swam to some smooth, anchored logs to sit for a while. I learned that swimming is hard after riding a bike all day. Go figure.


We headed back to our motel where we browsed the motel’s extensive VHS collection, settling on My Cousin Vinny and Notting Hill. We ordered a meal that consisted of a 1.5-pound burger sandwiched between two grilled cheese sandwiches, with cheese, bacon, and salami as toppings, and a pound of fries. The meal was meant for one person, but it was filling enough, even for two hungry cyclists, to share.

We enjoyed watching movies (though Notting Hill was disappointing; I should never trust my taste in movies as a 14-year-old) and sleeping in another comfy bed, but are excited to camp again. We’re getting soft!

Day 41: The day of farmland and flowage

Day 41, 7/24, Cumberland, WI to 16 miles east of Hayward, WI: 72.8 miles, 3,454 ft elevation gain, 13 mph average speed.
Trip totals: 2,360.9 miles (69.4 daily average), 102,381 ft elevation gain, 12.4 mph overall average speed.


Two days behind schedule.

The alarm went off at 7:00a, but it was raining, so we went back to sleep for a bit. I’m fine with getting rained on, but I struggle to get up, especially out of a comfortable bed, when it’s raining. We didn’t sleep for long, though, because we had a warm showers stay in the evening and our host was planning to meet us on the road to bike with us to his house. 

Jeannie prepared us a wonderful breakfast, which included a hash brown egg bake, zucchini bread, scones, orange juice, and coffee. We said goodbye and rolled out around 9:40a. The morning began with more farmland and rolling hills on pleasant, low-traffic roads. 

   
        We quickly made it to Haugen, a tiny town that has an opera house, but does not have a full grocery store, and stopped in the convenience store. The owner of the store greeted us at the door because he is very interested in bike tourists and wanted to make sure we stopped in. We bought some mediocre chocolate milk and signed his guest book before heading out. It’s fun to meet people who think what we’re doing is cool, rather than a masochistic waste of time. The latter opinion is becoming more prevalent the deeper we get into the Midwest. 

   
 Soon after leaving Haugen, we hit my least favorite type of terrain to ride: short, steep rolling hills. I’m not kidding when I say I’d prefer a mountain pass to this terrain. You are just constantly shifting from your absolute lowest to absolute highest gear, which is frustrating and exhausting. You can never really get into a groove, and every time you crest a hill, you can see two or three more hills ahead of you, just taunting you. At least with a mountain pass I can drop down to my lowest gear, get into a groove, get all of the climbing done at once, know exactly how long I’ll be climbing, and get to go downhill for miles at the end. Ted disagrees with me on this one. 

We entered a touristy area with a lot of resorts on lakes. It seems that fishing, boating, and hunting are the main recreational options at these resorts, all things we’re not interested in doing, so there was no temptation to call it a day and hang out at a resort. It also meant that a whole lot of the vehicles passing us were large pickup trucks towing fishing boats. Luckily, Wisconsin drivers have passed exceedingly carefully, slowing down and driving behind us until they were sure it was safe to pass, which sometimes required a lot of patience on these meandering country roads. 

   

Lunchtime. We purchased drinks at a convenience store in a tiny town called Edgewater and noticed two bike tourists eating lunch in the town park. We chatted with them for a bit. They are a 20-something couple on a tandem riding from Bar Harbor to Portland. They were sort of reticent and did not seem pleased with their trip. They came out of the UP and took the Erie Connector, which is exactly what we plan to do, so their melancholy made us nervous about what’s to come. They also warned us that Ontarian drivers passed them at very close distances, which was interesting because I made the same observation about British Columbian and Albertan drivers back when we were in Washington and Montana. This also made me nervous. 

After lunch, we set out to meet our warm showers host, Gerry, about 10 miles away. He was wearing an American flag jersey, so he was hard to miss. He told us that he figures people will give him a wide berth if he wears an American flag and uses a bright flashing light. Unfortunately, that tactic won’t work in Canada, where it seems like we’ll need it the most. 

Gerry is a retired businessman and former bike racer. He spends his time organizing charity bike rides, Nordic ski races, etc. We chatted for the 30 miles back to his house, and it was nice to have someone new around to help the miles tick by a bit faster. He also took us on the scenic route through the Chippewa Flowage, which was a gorgeous area that we would have missed had we stayed on route. 

              

We arrived around 5:30p to Gerry’s beautiful 5-acre compound, which has a white picket fence out front with a flag on each post for each country and state in which they’ve raced bikes. When coming out to meet us, Gerry met another bike tourist named Meng, so he invited Meng to spend the night at his house, too. Meng was there when we arrived, and is a mechanical engineering grad student from China, studying at the University of Minnesota who is spending a month biking around Lake Michigan. 

Mary, Gerry’s wife who also raced bikes (and canoes!), got home from work while we sat on the porch to rehydrate. 

Gerry has an incredible garage / horse stable / shed in which he has an amazing workout room and an “Italian-style bike shop.” This place was like a toy shop for bike enthusiasts.  Ted quickly took advantage of Gerry’s bike stand to make repairs while I chatted with Mary and Gerry. 

We all showered and then ate a Mexican feast with corn on the cob, beef and chicken fajitas, beef tacos, and enchiladas. So much food! Everything was delicious. 
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We watched a little of the Tour de France and got a little sad about how slowly we ride / a little motivated by how intense those guys are. Gerry couldn’t bear the fact that all three of us were riding bikes wearing t-shirts, so he brought a bunch of his old jerseys out for us to take! I now look like I’m sponsored by the U.S. Postal Service, but Ted chose a more understated, ventilated jersey. 

  

Tomorrow we’ll bike to a nature reserve on a lake, which we’re very excited about!

Days 38 and 39: The days we spent with family

Day 38, 7/21, Dalbo, MN to Minnetonka, MN: 58.5 miles, 2,132 ft elevation gain, 12.8 mph average speed.
Trip Totals: 2,175.8 miles (68 mile daily average), 94,486 ft elevation gain, 12.3 mph overall average speed.

Three days behind schedule.

We woke up this morning to the smell of a big pot of oatmeal, prepared by chef Tom. Tom had dried fruit, nuts, and granola to top the oatmeal and it was delicious. We said goodbye to Steph and Tom (they’re heading south to Madison and skipping the UP, so we won’t see them again on this trip) and left the bicycle bunkhouse around 8:30a.

The first 20 or so miles were fast, relatively flat, and pleasant. We got to St. Francis, a town big enough to have a McDonald’s, and as has become our tradition if we see a McDonald’s before 10:30a, we stopped in to get breakfast sandwiches and orange juice.

The next 38 miles of riding were decidedly unpleasant, mainly because we were approaching the biggest city we’ll see on our trip (excluding NYC, of course) – Minneapolis. Minneapolis has a lot of suburbs that expand out for miles in all directions and the majority of our trek from the northeast suburbs to the southwest suburbs was high-stress. We encountered many four- to six-lane highways with no shoulder and only sidewalks to ride on. We rode on a nice trail for a couple of miles, though, which was a refreshing change of pace.

 Minnesota is the most bike-friendly state we’ve ridden in so far. We learned that there are over 1,500 miles of trails in the state and they’re continuing to build more. However, it’s interesting how a generally bike-friendly culture reacts to people riding bikes in places that are not conducive to or designed for bike riding. Lots of anger directed our way. But there was no way around it unless we rode into the city and back out (like taking the two short sides of a triangle rather than the hypotenuse), so we suffered through.
Our first stop was the REI in Maple Grove. We’ve been pretty excited for this trip to REI because my sleeping pad recently broke in an unfixable way and the lock we bought there is horrible and impractical. We returned these things, then I spent almost 30 minutes trying out different sleeping pads only to give the REI Flash a third try. It packs small and light, it’s comfortable, and all comparable sleeping pads sell for $50 to $100 more, an expense I can’t justify. Here’s hoping it doesn’t break a third time, at least not before the end of our trip!

We were starving so we got some quick chicken sandwiches from Chick-Fil-A, then headed to Minnetonka to visit my family. We were greeted by this beautiful sign at the door, created by my amazing, talented, beautiful, bright cousins, Sydney (9) and Jonah (6).

I’d like to draw your attention to Ted looking panicked after his bike got away from him, while I’m just cruising along (pretty quickly, by the looks of it). Good work, cousins! Sydney did most of the heavy lifting on this sign, but Jonah drew some “screech aliens” and a “snowman arm wrestling a cloud-looking thing,” and he “put the ‘E’ in jail.”

Sydney and Jonah were home, so unfortunately for them, they had to deal with our sweaty, stinky hugs. Soon after we arrived, Sydney and Jonah were off to basketball camp, so we showered and relaxed for a bit before heading out with my uncle Pat to pick them up. We caught the end of Sydney’s practice, so we got to see her dominate the co-ed scrimmage. She made two out of the three or four baskets that were made during the scrimmage and displayed some impressive speed and defensive skills. She stole the ball a couple times, and Coach Jarvis stopped the scrimmage to make one of her steals a learning moment about how to dribble against a good defensive player. So proud!

We headed back to their house, where my uncle Pat and aunt Michele prepared a delicious meal of buffalo blue cheese chicken burgers, salad, and fries that we ate in their beautiful screened-in porch.  They also picked out a couple of bombers of delicious local microbrews. Before we ate, though, Ted and I got our butts kicked in a little 2v2 basketball game against Sydney and Jonah. Jonah makes almost every shot he takes and Sydney, as I explained, is a beast. But still. We probably shouldn’t have struggled to keep up with a six- and a nine-year-old.

At one point during dinner, Jonah pulled Ted away to show him his room and Ted came back looking like this:

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The next day we woke up to an enormous breakfast prepared by Pat, including eggs, hash browns, bacon, sausage, and english muffins with homemade jelly. Pat took the day off, so we headed to the Como Zoo in St. Paul. We checked out some of the animals first, then headed to the attached amusement park.

We rode lots of rides, including a zip-line, a roller coaster, and a pirate ship. It’s been years since I last rode on an amusement park ride and I forgot how well they do at turning your stomach.

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The hit of the day, though, was this water ballon slingshot game in which one person slings a water ballon through the air, aiming at a platform above their competitor to drench them. My cousins, yet again, showed us their superior hand-eye coordination by soaking Ted more than he soaked them.

  

Sydney went to dance practice after we got home while Ted and I hung out with Jonah. Jonah is a focused, talented, and energetic dude. He ran around shooting baskets until he reached 101 (because he wanted to make more than 100 baskets), and he made almost all of the shots he took. Then, because he still wasn’t tired, he rode his bike for over an hour without stopping while talking to me about dogs.

While Jonah dazzled me with his basketball skills, Ted spent a few hours cleaning and adjusting the bikes. My bike hasn’t been shifting properly, and he spent a good amount of time adjusting it and then getting frustrated by its absolute refusal to stay adjusted. He ended up riding it to a bike shop a mile away, where he learned that my rear shifting cable was sticking and needed to be replaced. The bike shop folks were super friendly and excited about our trip, and while they replaced the cable and housing (for free!), they also let Ted test ride a fat bike, which he loved and now wants, even though I keep reminding him that we live in 319 square feet.

When Sydney and Michele got home from dance practice, Sydney showed me her tap routine (which was impressive, of course), while Pat and Michele prepared yet another spectacular meal. We had salad, sweet potato chips, grilled chicken with two different marinades (northwoods and applewood smoked) and Kalbi marinated pork. It was all yummy, but the Kalbi pork in particular was wonderful! We are getting so spoiled! I don’t know what we’re going to do when we have to cook for ourselves in our little camp pot again.

After dinner, Sydney directed a movie starring all of us. Ted played a “creepy janitor” who moonlights (daylights?) as the school librarian and who stole Michele’s hat, only to be caught by Pat, who excelled in the detective role.

After shooting the movie, it was time for us to go to bed. We have to bike again tomorrow, after all. We couldn’t have asked for a better rest day. We enjoyed every moment we spent with the Minnetonka Cummings clan and are sad to have to leave so soon.

Day 36: The day we spent on a bike trail

Day 36, 7/19, Fergus Falls, MN to Albany, MN: 89.5 miles, 2,809 ft elevation gain, 13.9 mph average speed.

Trip totals: 2,038.2 miles (67.9 daily average), 90,559 ft elevation gain, 12.2 overall average speed.

Three days behind schedule.

Ted sort of foreshadowed this last night, but our drunken camping neighbors made for by far the worst camping experience of the trip. There were two groups of four to six drunk people (one group of 40- and 50-year-olds and one group of teenagers) and they were up until 4a blasting country music, singing, fighting (within and between groups), and howling at the moon. One guy howled at the moon for 10-20 seconds every 3-5 minutes.  And their conversations were vile. I’m not easily offended, but these conversations were disgusting and sad.

As we were getting into our tent, one of the men slurred to us, “where are you sleeping tonight?” We told him we were sleeping in the tent we were entering (duh) and he said, “okay, you should be safe in there.” There were so many signs that we should have moved, that sentence included, but we were too lazy to pack up. We regretted it later. We were safe, but we did not get much sleep.

My favorite part of the evening was when, in the older group, one of the men started reciting the Gettysburg address while one man sang “Long-Haired Country Boy,” one man continued to howl at the moon, and one woman decided that she regretted bringing two cases of Natural Light to the party and yelled over and over that “it would be nice if I could take at least a 12-pack home,” while slapping the guy sitting on the cooler (the guy howling at the moon who was unphased by her slapping) so she could access the beer. All at once. A symphony of idiots. It was a disaster.

Anyway, we woke up after getting just a couple hours of sleep and hit the trail. Literally the trail; we spent the entire day on a protected bike trail! Minnesota converted parts of the defunct Great Northern Railroad into a beautifully paved, shaded bike path. It was lovely riding that required much less focus than road riding, which was great given our lack of sleep. We still felt like zombies this morning, though, so we stopped after only 8 miles to get coffee and chocolate muffins.

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The coffee didn’t work; we remained zombies. Shortly thereafter we stopped at a convenience store for cold drinks and stumbled upon something as Midwestern as hotdish: dessert bars! We got a peanut butter chocolate dessert bar and hung out for a longer-than-usual break because we were feeling lethargic and unmotivated.

We pedaled to Alexandria and ate at another converted train station. We got the unlimited soup and salad bar. The beef stew had so much potential, but they threw way too much salt in. It was great to eat fresh veggies, though. We also got Bloody Marys at a DIY Bloody Mary bar and both decided that putting beef sticks and cheese curds in a drink was a great idea.

As we were eating, we saw our friends Steph and Tom (who we met in Eureka on day 13) ride by on the path! As a reminder, Steph and Tom are riding to Maine from Oregon on a tandem bike, are from the Bay Area, and retired two years ago, mostly to take this trip. This trip is also Steph’s 60th birthday present to herself. I hope to be able to give myself a similar gift when I turn 60!

We caught them on the trail later when they stopped to eat lunch. We learned that they had a warm showers host tonight in a town 13 miles past where we were planning to camp. Steph is a mama bear and immediately contacted her warm showers host to see if we could pitch a tent in their yard, and they said yes! We rode with Steph and Tom for the second half of the day and got caught up on each other’s last couple of weeks. They’re doing great and riding strong; we struggled to keep up with them for much of the afternoon. Riding with them did much better than the coffee at pulling us out of the slump we were in this morning.

        
We got to Melrose, the place we intended to camp, and noticed that the town put exercise encouragement on the mileposts on the trail. All of these towns along the trail have also set up nice picnic tables under pavilions. This trail is nicely done.

    

We arrived to Albany pretty quickly thanks to a crosswind that was mostly at our backs and found a bicycle statue at the exit for the town, which we took as a good omen. Our warm showers host lives just a few blocks off the trail in a beautiful 110-year-old dairy house. They’ve done an incredible job of updating the home while still maintaining the original character. More impressive than the home, though, was the family living there! Frank, Angela, and their daughter, Anna, were warm and engaging hosts. We enjoyed chatting with them all night over good food and Arnold Palmers. We also did our best to persuade Anna to join the Peace Corps after college. It was a lovely evening and was just the experience we needed after last night’s fiasco.

  

We will ride with Steph and Tom to a bunkhouse in a barn specifically designed for traveling cyclists tomorrow.

Day 34: The day we rode too far(go)

Day 34, 7/17, Gackle, ND to Fargo, ND: 129.2 miles, 1,891 ft elevation gain, 14.3 mph average speed
Trip totals: 1,885 miles, 86,453 ft elevation gain, 12.1 mph overall average speed


Three days behind schedule.

    

We rode really far today. Just shy of 130 miles, all the way to Fargo! 

We got a pretty early start this morning, leaving the Honey Hub around 6:20a. This wasn’t as early as Ted wanted given our ambitious plans for the day, but such is life. 

We rode through mostly downhill rollers the whole morning. There were some steepish rollers in the very beginning, but then the grades became very gentle and we began to feel like we were actually in the Midwest. The scenery was more farmland. If we’re learning one thing on this trip, it’s that America is a giant farm. I’ve driven across the country before, but I never fully understood just how much of the thing is farmland before I spent the better part of 2000 miles riding through farms. 

We were excited for the day because our 125 miles were broken up into nice 25-mile-til-a-cold-drink segments after the first 50 miles. We rode for 25 miles, then stretched and ate breakfast, then rode another 25 miles to a convenience store that served a nice breakfast, according to a flyer we saw at the Honey Hub. Come to find out the place was closed, seemingly permanently because there was a for sale sign, and apparently recently because an EMT showed up from the next town over for his regular morning coffee and was surprised to see it closed. This was a bummer, mostly because of our expectation of cold drinks and hot breakfast. We can live without these things, but when you’re dreaming of something for 25 miles, it’s disappointing when it’s not there. 

We ate a Snickers bar (is 10a too early for candy?) to tide ourselves over, then pushed on to Enderlin for lunch. 

Enderlin is another railroad town. We ate at the Traxside Cafe, which served enormous portions of comfort food for low prices – the perfect fit for us. I got pork cutlets with mashed potatoes and gravy and dressing and Ted got a chicken noodle hotdish. Apparently hotdish is a Midwestern casserole of sorts, but we didn’t know that. When I asked the waitress what it was, she looked at me quizzically and said, “um, it’s a hotdish with chicken and noodles,” like I should obviously know what a hotdish is. I asked her to be more specific and she said she didn’t know what was in it exactly, but it’s just a regular type of hotdish. I asked her to define the term “hotdish” and she said, very slowly in case English comprehension was my problem, “you know, a dish with noodles and chicken and vegetables.” Then I asked if hotdish was like casserole and, growing increasingly frustrated with my dumb questions, she said, “yeah, it’s like a hotdish.” 

    

After eating that delicious, enormous meal, we ordered delicious, enormous dessert: chocolate cake for me and peach cobbler for Ted, both a la mode.  

  

A man named John came up to our table while we were eating and told us to be careful on highway 46 because a cyclist was killed there last Friday, hit from behind by a semi. He told us that the mentality out here is that bikes do not belong on the road and that many people in the community are placing the blame for the crash on the cyclist because he had the audacity to ride on the road. This belief is obviously not supported by the law; cyclists have the right to ride on the road if the shoulder is not safe or does not exist. But it doesn’t matter if the law supports you if you’re dead, so we’ve been very careful and very grateful for our rearview mirrors. Most drivers have been courteous, but we’ve had to bail off the shoulder a couple times. 

The shoulders have varied from not existing at all to being beautiful shoulders that seem to be made with cyclists in mind, as seen in the first picture below. Sometimes there are shoulders that are just rumble strips, which is the worst thing to ride over, and sometimes, as in the third picture below, there’s a gravel path beside the road that some folks decide to ride on. It’s slow going on gravel, though, so we tend to stay on the road as much as possible. The middle picture below is of this annoying type of shoulder that could have been great, but the right portion is a steep slope toward the ditch, which is hard to ride on for a long spell. And the surface is pretty poor so it’s just not fun all around. You become very familiar with all of the different types of shoulders on highways on your bike. 

      

The section of road from Enderlin to Kindred was dangerous no-shoulder land, and with a headwind for about 30 miles, it was not fun riding. Hot, too, and lots of traffic. We reached Kindred and were greeted by a beautiful bike path and this friendly sign. 

  

After we drank two liters of Gatorade at the gas station, we took on the last 20 or so miles to Fargo. We were both feeling surprisingly great after 105 miles and were like, “20 miles? That’s nothing!”

Turns out 20 miles is not nothing, especially because the headwind picked up significantly during our short break. We made it to the strip mall district past West Fargo and made a quick stop at Verizon and an outdoor store, then made the final push to our warm showers stay near downtown Fargo. All told, it was a 129.2 mile day, further than I ever would have thought possible!

  
Our warm showers host is amazing. Lindsey is  24 years old, already has a master’s degree, and works as a wetlands biologist for the USDA. Very far along in her career for being so young! Super smart, friendly, and a great cook! She made us sausage sandwiches, coleslaw, and country-fried potatoes. Perfect meal after a long ride. She also read us a very informative Wikipedia page about hotdish and told us that it’s one of the main things we should know about as we travel through the region. That explained the waitress’s confusion. I may as well have been asking her to explain bread to me. 

  

Early to bed tonight to hang out in Fargo tomorrow morning. 

Day 33: The day a complete stranger gave us $100

Day 33, 7/16, Hazelton, ND to Gackle, ND: 65.7 miles, 2,207 ft elevation gain, 14.2 mph average speed.

Trip totals: 1,755.5 miles (65 mile daily average), 84,562 ft elevation gain, 11.9 mph overall average.


Four days behind schedule.

Our day started at 3:00a today because of this:

  
I normally sleep through everything, but this storm even woke me up. We set up our tent under a pavilion because someone at the convenience store last night told us about a severe storm warning that forecasted hail, pouring rain, and “damaging winds.” We didn’t fully grasp the extent of her warning, but when the wind came, we got it. 

The rain didn’t care about the pavilion; it was raining sideways and there was a river of water flowing under our tent. The wind didn’t care, either. Our tent was picking up at the side with us in it, bending at an impossible angle, and flapping around like a windsock. We are really putting this new tent to the test and it’s succeeding! The pavilion did help us feel protected from the lightning, though. The wind got so bad that the power went out in the town with a huge, scary electrical buzz and snap. A lot of things have scared me on this trip (mainly vehicles passing too close), but this storm ranks highly among the scary experiences. I tried to take a video to capture the wind pummeling our tent, but you can’t see anything. Maybe you can hear it. 

 I couldn’t fall back asleep until 4:30a, but we made it through! Come to find out that the lady at the convenience store left out that tornadoes were in the forecast, too. 

The alarm went off at 5:30a, but it was still pouring, so we ignored it. The rain cleared up around 8:15a, so we packed up and got on the road at 8:45a. We started out on some gentle rollers, but the terrain, overall, was significantly flatter today. This was great news because we were racing a storm and needed to book it!

   
 
As much as I didn’t want to get rained on, the rain clouds surrounding us today were spectacular and they really made the green fields pop. Scenery-wise, this was my favorite day since Glacier. We even got to run with horses for a bit, which was magical. Please ignore my nerdy narration in the video below and try to focus on the horses.

   

We got to a small town called Napoleon about 26 miles in and decided to eat an early lunch at White Maid Drive-In. Ted got the Three Little Pigs, a sandwich with BBQ pulled pork, ham, bacon, and a pile of coleslaw on top. I got a grilled ham and cheese sandwich, and we shared chili cheese tots. Healthy choices all around. Everything was delicious, of course, and the bill was unbelievably low. 

   
  
As we were getting ready to jump back on our bikes, two men (one in his 50s and one in his 60s) who live in the area came up to us to ask about our tour.  Ted gave the usual spiel, during which he mentioned that he loves coming through these small towns to get a nice hot meal because it’s a welcome reprieve from our usual food in our panniers. While Ted was answering one man’s questions, the man in his 60s took out a wad of cash, counted off $100, then came up to me and said, “Here’s a hundred bucks. Go get yourselves some warm meals. You guys are really doing something here.” I was shocked, of course, and told him multiple times that we couldn’t accept his kind and generous gift, but he wouldn’t budge! We thanked him profusely, and he ran into the restaurant quickly, perhaps so we wouldn’t try to give the money back? I’m not sure, but that was such a shocking display of kindness that I just sort of stood there speechless. He didn’t even tell us his name. We chatted with him for under 5 minutes. This guy was a complete stranger and he just gave us $100 out of his pocket. 

We had read enough blogs to know that the people you meet along the way are the highlight of the trip, but this man, the friends we made in Glasgow, all of our warm showers and couch surfing hosts, etc. have really restored my (fairly broken) faith in humanity. That sounds cheesy, but it’s true.

   
          We started riding pretty quickly after lunch because there were storms rolling in from multiple directions. We’re not afraid of getting wet, but I’ve always been pretty terrified of getting struck by lightning, and being on a bike in the middle of a prairie is just asking for  it. It was beautiful, at least, and we still managed to get a lot of pictures. There were many lakes and a “Dinosaurs of the Prairie” threshing machine collection.  

         After a quick and beautiful 39 miles, we arrived in Gackle, ND a tiny town that happens to have a bike retreat called the Honey Hub. The Honey Hub was started by a beekeeping family who spends summers in Gackle and winters in Northern California. They noticed a bunch of bikers coming through Gackle one summer, invited one to stay in their basement, and then decided to open up their basement with its bathroom, two beds, a couch, laundry, and wifi to traveling cyclists 365 days a year. For free! The owners, Ginny and Jason, are yet another example of the kindness we’ve encountered on this tour. Also, Jason’s father was a beekeeper and he partnered with some guys to start Honey Stinger, a line of honey-based energy products for endurance athletes. He’s selling these products out of the hostel for much less than market price, so we’ll stock up!

  
  

We ate fried chicken at the Tastee Freez tonight, and got to listen to a group of five men over the age of 60 talk about the good old days. 

  
Back to long rides tomorrow. We’re shooting for Kindred, ND, which is 100 miles away, but we’ve got a 70-mile bail-out point and we could reach Fargo if we muster up superhuman strength for a 125-mile day. 

Day 31: The day Bismark seemed like a big city

Day 31, 7/14, Dickinson, ND to Bismarck, ND: 112.7 miles, 3,672 ft. elevation gain, 14 mph average speed.
Trip totals: 1,643.2 miles (65.7 daily average), 80,494 ft. elevation gain, 11.9 mph overall average

We rode 100+ miles twice in two days! We’re exhausted, but we know we’ve done 3-4 days’ worth of hard, hilly riding in 2 days, which is helpful because we’re still trying to make up time. And today’s century was unassisted – there was little to no wind, good or bad. 

We got an early start again. Yet again, Ted pulled the bulk of the breaking-down-camp weight while I reluctantly rolled out of the tent. I got off to a grumpy start. I knew we needed to get to Bismark today because we needed to visit the Verizon store, so I had that weight on my shoulders. And at the beginning of the day, the miles tick by so slowly that it feels like we’re never going to make it. Also, for the first time since Whitefish, I had to use my four-year-old bike shorts, well-worn and insufficiently cushioned, because my new squishy ones were not dry from last night’s washing. Immediate pain. So frustrating. 

  
We rode on Old Highway 10 for the first 51 miles of the day, and it brought us through beautiful rolling farmland and a couple two-horse towns. We stopped for breakfast at picnic benches in Richardton, a town dominated by a Benedictine monastery and a grain elevator, of course. We saw a grain elevator pouring grain into a train car the other day and finally realized why all of the grain elevators are on railroad tracks. Add this to the list of things we city kids are learning about rural America. 

We crossed into central time, then stopped a bit later in Glen Ullin and bought two liters of orange juice and a cinnamon roll to supplement our PB & J / tuna and cheese on triscuits for lunch. I forgot to mention that the second we entered North Dakota, the majority of locals’ accents shifted to the stereotypical North Dakota accent. I wouldn’t think a state border would make such a difference in regional accents. The lady checking us out at the supermarket made lots of exaggerated vowel sounds. It was adorable. 

  
We continued onto I-94 after lunch. Every bike tourist we meet seems to hate interstate riding, but I enjoy how efficient it is on these longer days and the shoulder is enormous, so I feel pretty safe, or at least safer than I did on those busier highways with 70 mph speed limits and no shoulder in Montana. I think it’s the combination of gentler grades and subconsciously feeling I have to ride faster when speed limits are higher and traffic is faster, but we always increase our speed significantly on the highway. We also rarely stop because few things are less pleasant than being passed within six feet of vehicles driving 85 mph. 

The miles ticked by really quickly, but highway riding is scary, despite the huge shoulder. Trucks barrel past and there are debris everywhere from previous tire failures, crashes, etc. that get your mind going about all of the bad things that could potentially happen. Luckily, they had the left lane blocked off for road work for a bit, so we rode over there for 10 miles or so. 

  
Another thing about interstate riding: you end up with above average amounts of tiny bugs and road grime all over you. The thing that happens to your windshield happens to your body when you’re on a bike. We’ve been extra grateful for showers on days like these. 

We stayed on the interstate past when we were supposed to because the actual route added several miles that we assumed were hillier with steeper grades, which is generally a safe assumption. We got off at route 25, drank cold drinks and shared a footling sub at a gas station, then proceeded to town. 

   
  

Bismark is the largest town we’ve seen since Seattle (population: 60,000) and still no T-Mobile coverage! We decided a week ago that we’d switch to Verizon when we heard they were running a promotion to give $300 to each person who switches back to Verizon after having switched away at some point. I think they’re calling it the “switchers remorse” promotion, so we’re perfect candidates. I’ve been fed up with T-Mobile since, during a phone interview a week after switching from Verizon to T-Mobile, my phone dropped the call 5 times and when I was connected, the interviewer could barely hear me. Where was I, you ask? Some peewilly town in the middle of nowhere? No. I was in Greenwich Village. If T-Mobile works anywhere on the planet, it should work in Manhattan.  

We rolled up to the Verizon store sweaty and smelly (and with bugs and filth all over us) so I’m sure they weren’t too excited to see us. They were very friendly, though, and even let us refill our water bottles in the employee lounge! We quickly got our phones and headed to treat ourselves to a motel stay as a reward for a very difficult week. 731 miles in 8 days, an average of 91.4 miles a day!

Bismark seemed like a nice town. We rode past what appeared to be a small town Main Street with lots of cute shops and restaurants, and a brewery we wanted to try, but were too hot, exhausted, and grimy to stop. There were beautiful parks and bungalows in the area around the governor’s mansion. There’s also a massive dedicated bike path going all the way from the suburb of Mandan through town, with a couple spurs. I think it was called the Millenium trail. 

We showered the bugs off, ate pizza for dinner at one of the world’s few remaining sit-down Pizza Huts, and then returned to the hotel with a half gallon of chocolate milk to set up our new phones and bask in the luxury of air conditioning, TV, and a comfy bed. 

Side note: We’re getting some pretty great tans on this trip. Here’s a picture of Ted’s bike shorts tan. I’m pretty sure he’ll have it for a couple years. Below that is a picture of our more conspicuous, more embarrassing glove tans. If you look closely you can see the Pearl Izumi logo emblazoned on the center of my hand.