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 32: The day we made the papes!

Hey guys! We made the paper!

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Anyway, back to the regularly scheduled program.

Day 32, 7/15, Bismarck, ND to Hazelton, ND: 46.6 miles, 1,861 ft elevation gain, 10.6 mph average speed.

Trip totals: 1,689.8 miles (65 mile daily average), 82,335 ft elevation gain, 11.8 mph overall average.

Four days behind schedule.

Last night over pizza, we decided that getting five to six hours of sleep a night and then riding 100+ miles just wasn’t sustainable. Since we were already paying for a motel room, it made sense to make today an easier day. We slept in, ate a bunch of food at the continental breakfast, and took our time packing up the room. We actually contemplated taking a rest day and then riding 100 miles on Thursday, but the wind forecast was full of intimidating headwinds, so we decided to ride 46 miles to Hazelton, ND.

The day was short, but it was anything but easy. The wind was blowing in from the southeast all day, and Hazelton is, you guessed it, southeast of Bismarck.

  
The first eight or so miles of the ride was on a separated bike path that went south of the city. The ride was lovely, aside from the wind. However, we did discover six miles in that I apparently had a slow leak in my patched tube, so we had to make yet another change. I’ve had the rear wheel off of one of our bikes four times in the last three days. Yeesh.

  
There was a giant hill right outside of town, and we rode through upward rolling hills for much of the day. This, after everyone we spoke with described the terrain east of Bismarck to be as flat as a board. I think people in cars just have a different understanding of the word “flat” than people on bikes.

Today we moved away from the I-94 corridor into real rural North Dakota. The only town we passed between Bismarck and Hazelton was Moffit, a tiny town with no services except for a post office.

  
Our route rolled along through farms and ranchland. Once we made it about 15 miles south of Bismarck, there was barely any traffic until we turned south onto highway 83. We struggled through the wind for 13 miles between Moffit and Hazelton, gazing enviously at the cows who were huddled in the leeward side of hills.

   
 Wind notwithstanding, it’s pretty enjoyable to ride on empty country roads. We can ride next to each other and have an actual conversation. You can see passing traffic with plenty of time to move over, and the few cars that did pass us when we had a small or no shoulder gave us plenty of space.

After four and a half hours of hard riding, we made it to Hazelton, or more precisely, to the convenience store at the junction right before Hazelton.

  
I ended up really liking Hazelton. It leapt up my list of favorite small towns through a series of happy surprises.

1) The water tab on the Coke machine at the convenience store gave us seltzer water, which we love and which has been nearly impossible to find for the past few weeks.

2) The convenience store had an impressive array of food options, but we were immediately drawn to the soup of the day: chili. It was delicious, and a steal at $2.50 a bowl. Two bowls each was enough to sate even our bike tour hunger, and $10 for dinner for two ain’t too shabby.

3) Hazelton has a great city park for camping. It’s not free, but it’s cheap ($12), and the park has pavilions, horseshoe courts, and showers. The shower was amazing. It had great pressure out of a huge waterfall showerhead. Setting aside the fact that it was in a dark corner of a dull grey cinderblock building, it might have been one of the nicer showers I’ve ever experienced.

We showered, played a game of horseshoes, and set up our tent underneath one of the pavilions.

  
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That turned out to be a great decision, but I’ll let Dani tell you all about that in the next post.

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.