July 16-31

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Wednesday, July 16, 2003

The first 15 minutes set the tone for the day. I awoke to hellacious wind and rain that managed to slowly pick apart my tent and loosen tent stakes. I exited my tent, touched my bicycle to move it out of the rain and "ping" another spoke on my rear tire popped. Though the morning was off to a weak start, I did stumble upon "The Donut Shop" on my way out of town. A classic shop with some of the best donuts I've ever had. I binged knowing the next food stop would be hours away. Miraculously, the weather cleared and the high heat hit. For the next 40 or 50 miles we rode through a surrealistic setting as you could see the heat rising out of the dry wheat fields and roads. A couple of fires along the way produced some towers of black smoke in the distant adding to the apocalyptic scene. To match my third broken spoken I added my third bee sting while cycling. We arrived at mile marker 70, dehydrated, slightly sun burnt and drained only to find that the road was under construction and the detour would add another 10 miles. We opted to wait until the construction crew quit, and then trudge on over the washboard road. It was 12 miles of pounding on the posterior and hands that my body will not soon forget. If my hands weren't so calloused up, I'm sure they'd bleed. Arrived in the wonderful town of Akaska, SD (pop. 52) to a hot shower, a big cheeseburger and a cold beer. Though the day was far from easy, don't misinterpret my bemoaning; I loved every minute of it.

Thursday, July 17, 2003

Lots of tough wind today coupled with only a single town in the 70 miles we traveled. For the first time in a long time, I had to abide by a schedule. A general delivery package that needed to be picked up before post office closing time. Today's trail took us through some truly beautiful hills void of anything living save the prairie grass. The wind was so fierce at places I literally had to lean to the side to stay upright or fear being blown into the other lane. On two separate occasions I frightened herds of horses that sent them into a run and provided me company for a mile or so. To entertain myself, I sang show tunes as loud as I could comfortable that there was nobody around that I could offend. Arrived in Pollock, SD (pop. 339) in time for the package.

Friday, July 18, 2003

We had a very late start today. Steph and I made the mistake of going into Bert's bar last night for some dinner. We then met the “bar” who kindly refused to let us buy a single beer and continued to order them well after we were saturated. I won't go into details on how much we drank out of fear Betty Ford might hunt me down. I made every effort to politely refuse their generosity, but I quickly realized that this was not acceptable and soon found that the only to avoid a forced rest day the following day was to leave the bar. I thanked Arlo, Barry, Tom, Danny & Velvet and crept back to my tent. Pollock, South Dakota - thank you for a memorable day. The ride itself took us across yet another state line - North Dakota. Ideal temperature, beautiful views of the Missouri River and the continuing scene of desolation. We didn't pass through a single town today but should be in Bismarck by tomorrow for our shot of civilization.

Saturday, July 19, 2003

The mosquitoes were unbelievable last night. I am not exaggerating - I could hear them outside my tent. Not a single mosquito buzzing by, but a low hum caused from having hundreds of them under my tent’s rain fly alone. My morning coffee was interesting as I had to make it half about the coffee and half about mild calisthenics to keep the darn (not the derogatory word I really want to use) things away from me. I was on the road early to get to Bismarck and a bicycle shop. Eight miles from Bismarck and "ping" - spoke number 4 and worse yet - another spoke pulled through the rim. I trued the wheel so that I could survive the trip into the city and rode the remainder of the way on an oval shaped tire. I imagine it must have been an entertaining sight as I bobbed up and down on my warped wheel. As luck would have it, the bike shop was next door to a premium coffee shop. After a day of replacing the wheel and other bicycle maintenance, I opted to stay in Bismarck and take in the pleasantness of the city

Sunday, July 20, 2003

Broke camp late today and picked our way through the residential streets of Bismarck to the outskirts of town and our trail. Lots of headwind, hills and river valleys filled with deciduous trees. Though it has been a gradual transformation, I only realized today that the Missouri River is getting both narrower and shallower often with vast sandbars. For a twenty mile stretch, the route had a shoulder as wide as a lane and almost as smooth. I claimed it as my own. It was nice to not have to worry about keeping a constant vigilance on the approaching traffic. Our route passed by a nice Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center which I visited. Overall, it was a good though an exhausting day.

Monday, July 21, 2003

Cruising the local park seems to be a common form of entertainment in most of the small towns we've been. Since we often camp in these parks, I've become quite proficient at telling how much there is to do in a town by means of the "cruising" traffic. Based on my scale, Stanton must be one of the most boring towns we've yet encountered. Entire families and elderly folks did the loop several times during the afternoon. It was almost disturbing. This morning was cooler than most which made the ride even more enjoyable. After crossing over the Garrison Dam we passed through some remote Dakota countryside complete with missile silos and the blooming purple flowers of the flax plant. It was quite a contrast. All day the sky was filled with cumulous clouds which always provided me something with which to occupy myself. The conditions were so ideal we ended up bicycling 110 miles. It was a very long day but a very rewarding one.


Tuesday, July 22, 2003

Steph and I spent the morning in an incredible rock museum in Parshall, ND. Not the sort of town you'd expect to find a world class anything, but one wealthy rancher was able to amass an incredible collection. Our ride started on Highway 23 and had an good deal of traffic by North Dakota standards. I caught up with two cyclist (of a group of 30) who are bicycling across the States for Habitat for Humanity. This meeting point appeared to be the one place our paths would intersect in the entire cross-country trek. We hopped off Highway 23 and traveled on route 1804. It was one of the most memorable stretches of road I've traveled in the past 3000 miles. Almost immediately it became noticeably more arid and signs of the badlands appeared. All this happened with the Missouri River still in sight. Finally, by the end of the day we ended our two week trek north-northwest and turned due west for the first time in 1100 miles. For the most part, this will be the direction I head for the next 1500 miles till I hit salt water. We are now only 60 miles from Canada. The symbolic achievements of the day merited a piece of juneberry pie.

Wednesday, July 23, 2003

The distance I've traveled north is clearly evident in the crops. In Kansas the wheat was brown and in the process of being harvested. This far north, the wheat is still green and apparently several days away from harvest. In addition to the crops, oil has come into the picture with pumps scattered here and there as we ride across the Williston Basin. I crossed into Montana and my adrenalin was fueled by nostalgia of previous summers spent in the state. In addition, Montana is a Rocky Mountain state which is obviously closer to the Pacific Ocean than the Plains states. The arid conditions are evident on my skin and my nose. My nasal membranes have dried giving the interior of my nose a feel akin to sandpaper. Steph and I passed by Leo's house, a kind individual I had meet earlier and he took us for a tour of Culbertson and the surrounding area/river valley. Absolutely beautiful.

Thursday, July 24, 2003

A great start to the day at The Wild West Diner with a cowboy style breakfast containing all the artery clogging goodies. As a bonus, my waitress was an aggressive coffee pourer which added a little zip to my normal cadence. As much as I tend to brag about my present appetite, I couldn't handle the proportions and had to send one of my basket ball sized pancakes back. The first two hours were along some of the emptiest roads I've encountered. We arrived in the small town of Brockton were I had my "second" breakfast. Yes, we eat like hobbits and my first breakfast had already settled. We entered the Fort Peck Indian Reservation and noticed a stark contrast. Everything was a little more surly than it had been. Though we had ambitious goals for the day (110 miles), when the thermometer hit 103 and was still climbing and the headwinds reached 20-25 m.p.h., we called it quits in Wolf Point, MT. Way too many people drinking malt liquor during working hours, but it was the only option for the next 40 miles.

Friday, July 25, 2003

The morning started with some sprinkles and news that fires were ravaging parts of Montana I had planned to pass through in the next few days. It's been almost four weeks since I've had a "zero" day, and my body aches. Fort Peck seemed like a logical stop, all the services and the last stop before a long dead zone. I left the reservation and lunched at Bernie's Cafe in Nashua, MT. The place prided itself on its homemade ice cream, and with good right. It was some stellar stuff. The last 15 miles of the day were pretty tough, a nasty headwind picked up and I cautiously eyed storms in the distant. The mapmakers were also misinformed - with the exception of a hotel and a post office, Fort Peck is empty. Not an ideal place for a day off, but it assures me of getting plenty of rest.

Saturday, July 26, 2003

I had hoped to capitalize on my free day by sleeping in, no such luck. My biological clock woke me up at 6 and I was unable to return to sleep. Though unsuccessful on the sleep front, I did manage to celebrate my free day by making a second cup of coffee and subsequently overhauling my bicycle. I ventured down to the dam and took a tour of the facility and some of the fossils the workers had unearthed during construction of the dam. My campsite neighbors invited me over for some grilling that night and I spent the evening enjoying their company and a feast of meat. I must thank Felix, Ashley, Willie, Gene and Barbara for their kind hospitality.

Sunday, July 27, 2003

Steph was unable to motivate this morning so I departed solo in order to hopefully beat the heat and wind. The sun had just crested the nearby hill and its proximity to the horizon cast a long shadow of me and my bicycle which I used for entertainment. I ascended the dam and found myself surrounded by deer on all sides for the next 5-10 miles. The terrain was quite rugged with little vegetation save some twisted juniper tress and sage brush. I realized the day was likely to be remote when the only mileage worthy of noting on an informative sign indicated a junction of two roads in 52 miles. It was truly remote without a single town and only a half dozen houses in 95 miles. Water might have been an issue if Bill & Marlis Dasinger hadn't offered me a gallon of their water en route to my destination. I arrived in Jordan, MT mid-afternoon and bedded up in the city park for the night.

Monday, July 28, 2003

Today, I temporarily gave up initiating waves. The efforts did not merit the rewards since most vehicles (especially RVs) tend to offer nothing in return but an incredulous look as though I was bicycling naked or riding a pogo stick or some combination of the two. Montana has some of the strangest definitions on what constitutes a "town". Passed through Edwards today, it is on the map but nothing more than three abandoned buildings that have been unoccupied for at least 20 years judging by the rot. At the other end of the spectrum, towns of less than 50 will often have all the services of a town 20 times it's size by rest-of-the-world standards. Today's ride passed through more sage brush with buttes scattered about. A few pockets of pines brought to my attention the rapidly approaching Rocky Mountains (which I have yet to view). Arrived in Winnett, MT (pop. 186) in the peak of the heat (100+ degrees). My head had started throbbing a few miles before town and I took that as an early sign of possible heat stroke. Much to Steph's chagrin, I am now determined to break camp even earlier. On a side note, I left the local grocery store and saw some dude trot up to a bar on his horse. Gotta love Montana.

Tuesday, July 29, 2003

On the road before six today which allowed me to watch a fiery-red sunrise. Also observed lots of pronghorns. I met another cyclist heading west, Jay, and made pace with him for an hour in order to chat. By 8:30 I was famished and broke out lunch (no second breakfasts available) before undertaking the climb over the Judith Mountains. After the Appalachians, the grades were heaven sent and though they were long, they were very tolerable. Arrived in Lewistown, MT for another lunch, some bicycle work and some Internet time. The town itself was wonderfully preserved and had some well preserved buildings in addition to some incredible views of the surrounding mountains. Ate dinner at "The Mint" and met Jay and Steph at the fairgrounds for camping.

Wednesday, July 30, 2003

I made one of my toughest decisions of the trip this morning. Eliminate the morning ritual of brewing coffee. The time involved to prepare and the strong urge to take advantage of the cool morning weather sparked the decision and I am pleased to say that as of right now, I appear to have faired well (i.e. no withdrawal symtoms evident). Also, as a diuretic, coffee does not bode well with the need to maintain oneself properly hydrated. I was on the road early again and privileged to another incredible sunrise, this one over the Judith Mountains and surrounding lakes. The road got lonely and I encountered little save the endless hay bales and buttes as far as the eye could see. The effects of the hard weather are evident on the barns/buildings with their heavily weathered wood. The road had minimal traffic and whenever I stopped moving, it became blissfully silent. Present location - Geraldine, MT (pop. 284). Tomorrow it's our first city of size (Great Falls) since North Dakota.

Thursday, July 31, 2003

Up early and without my normal coffee kick-start. Jay made it to Geraldine last night and we departed together passing through more desert-like terrain. We startled several pronghorns which then demonstrated why they are the second fastest land animal. The terrain continued to be arid and judging from the dried lakebeds, drought conditions may exist. Two hours into the ride I hit the Missouri River valley for a steep descent into the town of Fort Benton. A delightful town on the riverbanks nestled among the cottonwoods. In addition to the nice setting, the town had a restaurant with a bottomless cup of coffee. Leaving town required a climb out of the river valley; but all the effort was compensated with a beautiful view of the green valley and the starkly contrasted brown of the surrounding hills and the distant mountains. I benefited from a tailwind and made Great Falls for a late lunch.