Day 20 – Glen Ullin, ND to Bismarck, ND

Av – 13.9 mph
Dis – 58.15 miles
TM – 4:11:44
Asc – 1463 ft

It was Day 20. I had been riding almost three weeks at this point, and the day broke bleak and grey. There was a heavy mist in the air and a wind so cold it felt like it was blowing right off the Arctic ice caps. At least it was out of the northwest. That meant only about four miles of headwind as we climbed to Interstate 94 and a welcome turn east with a relative tailwind.

The plan was to maintain our easterly bearing on I-94, attempting to mitigate the rolling hills of Hwy 10, and turn south to Hwy 10 at the Judson exit and on to Dad’s place. He had a pick-up bed style camper with tow racks Dale and I intended to use that night, about fifty miles away. It afforded me the chance to visit as well as give us a relaxing, blessedly short sixteen mile day on Day 21 the rest of the way to Dale’s house.

It wasn’t really raining yet. We bundled up in a few layers with long sleeves and cycling tights, said our goodbyes, and rolled through town on our way to I-94. We stayed single file, dealing with the headwind, and our own personal demons in our own ways, as the gap between us grew and shrank a hundred times over. The turn east brought welcome relief from the headwind. We road side by side then. This particular stretch of of interstate was relatively new and had wide, comfortable shoulders. We started talking about the ride the day prior, Dale’s aches and pains, another two days on the road, and that’s when Dale confessed his sins.

He had been plotting with Jodi the whole time they were sitting on the couch at my aunt’s house. He went on to explain the deal was he would call her in the morning with how he felt and, if need be, she would come and snatch him home, far from his misery of cycle touring. He also told me of his intentions for that night, having Jodi take him home to sleep in his own bed and later join me the morning of Day 21 to finish the tour.

I couldn’t believe my ears. I had ridden over 1400 miles over nineteen days, and my best friend was going to abandon me after barely fifty miles. I went from disappointment to shock to anger in a flash.

“The only way you’re sleeping in your own bed tonight,” I said, “is if you pedal your ass there.” I hadn’t been so mad at Dale since he stole my English homework in 12th grade. He admitted he was feeling much better that morning than he did the evening before, but still produced a dozen reasons why he needed to sleep in his own bed. I refused to hear any of it.

My Mood was worsening with the weather. I was on the verge of stealing Dale’s cell phone and dragging him, bound and gagged, the rest of the way whether he liked it or not. Luckily, the weather intervened.

First, only a few icy drops of rain were falling. Then a few more. And a few more. The wind was driving the droplets right through my clothes and I was soaked through to my skin, and mostly numb, on my entire left side. We were barely a mile from a rest area, almost twelve miles from Glen Ullin, and I pulled quickly away from Dale to escape the divulge!

We rolled our bikes through the double doors and into the spacious rest area lobby. It was dry and plenty warm, two things we were thankful for. We immediately began changing into dry, warmer gear for the next push to Dad’s once the rain stopped, and had wet clothes hanging limply across every available heating vent in the place.

Rained out west of New Salem, ND

I was busying myself at the internet kiosk when a man marched into the lobby, went straight to the supply closet, and busted out a large assortment of cleaning supplies. He didn’t cast up so much as a sideways glance as he busied himself with a mop and bucket in both bathrooms. In a matter of minutes, he was in the lobby, swabbing up the water trail from the double doors and directly to our feet.

“You can’t have your bikes in here,” he said without looking up or missing a beat. “Take them outside.” I half expected some Podunk, red neck accent but got none. I was, after all, a bit too far north for that.

“We were just trying to dry off and warm up.” I replied. “It didn’t make sense to pull dry clothes out in the rain.”

“Well, those bikes can’t be here. Get them out.” I always found it interesting how people of authority, even the rest area mop guy, made rules up to better suit their thirst for power.

I was almost home and really didn’t want a stroke of a rest area mop guy on hands, so I gave Dale the nod and we rolled our bikes out the back door and under an awning. Damn it was cold. I fished my wet weather shell out of my panniers and walked back inside.

The man continued to mop up the puddles that had accumulated around our bike tires while I stewed on several very witty remarks of sarcasm in my mind.

It didn’t take long before his curiosity got the best of him and he asked the details of our trip. Without hesitation, I spilled the story in less than a hundred words, detailing my trip from the ocean over the Rockies, across Montana, into Glen Ullin, and finally here. When he heard Dale and I were Glen Ullin natives and realized he knew our families, his demeanor immediately changed.

“Stay as long as you like!” he exclaimed like we were old friends after a war. “Take your time, use what you need, and dry off. The weather’s terrible today!” as if I needed permission to loiter at a rest area. He made it sound like there was tea and strumpets being served by Hooter’s girls. I graciously “accepted” his undying hospitality and waved farewell as he left, apparently with more shitters to mop on his morning agenda.

We stayed there awhile longer, doing the best to chase the chill from our bones and crunching numbers for the day. We were due into Dad’s place by 1630, leaving us over three hours of day light to cover the remaining sixteen miles to Dale’s if we so choose. We decided to play it by ear based on how Dale felt when we got to Dad’s, but I still had no intentions of letting him sleep in his own bed without first pedaling there.

With reluctance, we zipped up tight and rolled back on the interstate to the icy winds. We stopped again in New Salem, grabbing some hot chow to warm our guts and discuss taking Hwy 10 sooner rather than later. It was Dale’s idea.

“Old 10 is better sheltered from this wind,” Dale said around a mouthful of pizza. He was right, of course, but the wind wasn’t my concern.

“You want to trade the wind for the hills? Can you hack it?” I had my doubts.

“Sure, yeah. I’m feeling pretty god right now. Better than I thought I would and a lot better than last night.”

“Well then, let’s do it.”

And that was that. Hwy 10 was a much better option given the situation and Dale was hanging in there pretty well. We made great time once removed from the buffeting NW wind and made it to Dad’s earlier than expected. Dale did some sole searching.

“I really don’t want to stay here,” he chimed. “Me neither.” I agreed, “but you know, you have one option now: ride home. You’re not getting picked up.” I felt a hint of anger deep inside me.

“I know. I know,” he said. I want to make it back tonight. I can do it.”

“Well, all right!” I exclaimed. “Let’s roll!” Dale produced his cell phone, informed Jodi of his change of schedule, and were on our last leg of the journey. I felt good and was glad we didn’t stop too long.

Maybe it was the knowledge of being so close to completion that was improving my mood, but the day seemed warmer and brighter than ever. We stuck closer this time, chatting lightly back and forth through the hill sides paralleling I-94.

The miles passed easily when over a hill, I spotted a familiar sight: Dale’s GMC Sierra. I scowled at Dale.

“What the hell is this?”

“I don’t know!” he stammered. “Jodi knows I’m riding home.”

She rolled to a stop next to us, rolled down the window, and stuck her head out.

“Hi boys! I’ve got some knoephla soup here for you.” The thought of hot soup on such an ugly day was heavenly, but Dale and I weren’t on the home stretch yet and I didn’t need bloated bellies slowing us down. We declined and Dale began swapping gear from within the GMC. Jodi handed him a new hooded sweater and he handed her back a couple of things, back and forth and back and forth. He was lightening his already paltry load. I couldn’t take it anymore.

“You know what Dale? Just throw all your gear in the back. You won’t be needing it anymore.” I was done fighting with him. He threw me a cautious glance.

“You sure? You could throw your stuff in here too you know.” He was already unloading as he spoke.

“It wouldn’t be right. I’ve come this far with everything I packed. I can finish this.” He continued stripping gear off his bike. “One thing though,” I said.

“What’s that?” He looked up.

“Now we ride at my pace.” I clipped in and pedaled away, leaving Dale to hastily throw the rest of his gear in the pick up and try to catch up. I didn’t see him again until Mandan. I stopped at the city limits and looked back down the road. I could see a small speck moving in my direction with agonizing slowness. I knew I had burned Dale down. I had almost three weeks of hard conditioning under my belt and Dale’s sporadic town rides were no match for my abilities. He was dying.

But to my surprise, he simply caught up to me, grabbed a few mouthfuls of water from his sports bottle, and pushed ahead of me into Mandan. I followed, letting him set the pace. Midway through Mandan, we stopped on the sidewalk so I could take a picture of the Lewis and Clark hotel sign. It was then that Dale confessed his agony. I threw him a Snickers to pump some sugar into his blood and offered up some encouraging words.

“We hit the bike path a few blocks away, crossed the Missouri River into Bismarck, and we’re home free from there. I’ve got just over an 11 mph average right now and I don’t want to blow it. You think you can manage that?” I searched his face for signs of collapse.

“Sure. Sure. No problem.” Dale’s face was pale and his eyes were distant. He was sucking convulsively on his water bottle and staring blankly down the road.

“Great.” I said, resisting the urge to snap my fingers in front of his face. “We’ll roll when you’re ready.” I feared that time might never come.

With obvious effort and shear determination, Dale carefully stowed his candy bar wrapped, clipped in a pedal, and rode away. He was a man on a mission now. I knew these 100 miles he rode with me would be the benchmark for effort and discomfort possibly the rest of his life. I understood his suffering now would make him appreciate everyday living, but somehow I doubted he realized it yet. His mind was pedaling an inch at a time.

I lost Dale once more on the Mandan side of the bike trail, stopping for almost fifteen minutes, and thinking he had deviated from the route in favor of a shorter path. But, true to form, Dale eventually rounded a turn and pulled up next to me with an exhausted look.

“I’m dead. I’ve just got nothing left. I had to stop back there.” He sounded a bit incoherent.

“Yeah, I thought you took the strip. I was looking for you.” I tossed him another candy bar. “Eat up. We got one last push and we’re done.” He didn’t look too excited about the news.

Fitness level aside, Dale faced two real problems on this tour: he had pushed himself too hard too soon early on in the season and his knees were shot, and he hadn’t figured out how to truly pace himself. He would race down the hills pushing the biggest ring he could grab in hopes of making it as far up the side of the next hill as possible. I knew all too well it was a recipe for disaster, as I myself did that very same thing my first couple of days on the tour. Once Dale’s knees began hurting, his cycling took a back seat to his at-home physical therapy, and his fitness level suffered even through the summer months. I finally understood Dale’s earlier apprehension, horror rather in joining me on the tour. He was in for the challenge of his life.

I forgoed my 11 mph average, kept to Dale’s pace along his side, a tried idle small talk to keep his mind off his predicament. His demeanor improved considerably. We crossed the Missouri River over the Expressway bridge side by side. I could see the Bismarck welcome sign like a flashing beacon in the night. It was the unofficial end to an almost 1,500 mile bike ride.

Home at last!

Day 19 – Dickinson, ND to Glen Ullin, ND

Av – 13.8 mph
Dis – 50.2 miles
TM – 03:38:27
Asc – 1035 ft

It was breakfast time at the lakeside cabin. Dale’s brother, Kurt, was cooking up the most wonderful smelling, yet strangely looking concoction I’d seen so far on my tour. I was writing in my journal with one hand and eating with the other when the strangest thing happened. Dale decided to ride with me.

I’d be lying if I tried to write the exact conversation, but it started somehow with Dale mentioning going back to Bismarck to grab his bike. It was as if he were thinking out loud actually and his intent really didn’t sink in until he began asking about what to bring on the last two days.

I pulled out of my temporarily shocked state and rattled off some bare bones items before Dale had a chance to change his mind. It actually sounded like he was going to go through with it! I was still a bit leery though, haven been so disappointed only two days earlier in Circle, MT when he said he wasn’t joining me. But instead of flinging scathing remarks his way for the sudden change of heart, I shifted gears and downplayed the difficulty of the remaining 100 miles of the route. Hopefully he wouldn’t scare off before I had him spinning the pedals east on Interstate 94.

About an hour later, we were in Bismarck loading a portion of Dale’s touring gear into his pick-up and once again, on our way to his sister’s house where I had stashed my bike. I could see a look of grim acceptance settling on Dale’s face as the drive drew nearer to completion. He was beginning to realize exactly what it was he was getting himself into! Admittedly out of shape by his own mouth, and with problematic knees, I too was concerned for his ability to keep pace over the last two days. I had to wait and see.

We arrived at his sister’s place, took turns changing into appropriate cycling clothes, and readied our trusty steeds on the side walk next to the house. I was still making minor adjustments to my MP3 player when Dale unexpectedly pedaled away. We stared after him and I figured he was checking his shifting and would circle back soon. No such luck. He pushed on, first one block away, then two. I promised his sister I’d look after him and followed in trace down the lonely residential street. I caught up easily.

Dale led the way through the winding Dickinson grid at a surprisingly brisk pace. I was impressed. He remained out front even to the interstate, often putting a mile between us as I chugged evenly along. He being so far ahead at any given time was a good thing. It meant we could maintain the 15 mph average we’d need to make it to Glen Ullin, and the warm confines of my Aunt’s house, in our remaining three hours of daylight.

Dale joins the tour

Richardton was 1/3 of the way into our trip. We were on schedule so we agreed we’d stop for a short break and a stretch before continuing. That, I’m sure of, is when Dale died inside. Maybe it was the almost thirty minute stop. Maybe it was the half pound beef and bean burrito. Whatever it was, Dale had spent whatever he had to get this far this fast and had little to nothing left. I took the lead.

I kept a watchful eye on Dale as we progressed eastward into darkness, looking over my shoulder at the gap between us ever fluctuating. It was during one of those glances when my rear wheel struck a chunk of asphalt, rolled violently to one side over the obstacle, and tore my tube.

My tire puked out pressurized air and green slime, the kind that prevents punctures but not tears, and I shuttered to a stop along the road. When Dale caught up to me only a few moments later, I had already pulled my panniers off my racks, flipped the bike upside down and began repairs. I thought it extremely inconvenient to have my first flat tire only 75 miles from completion, but hurried my efforts to combat the encroaching darkness.

First flat tire

Our time line was blown. The flat tire, added to Dale’s reduction of speed, had put us an hour behind schedule and well into nightfall. The sun had set as we finally pulled off the interstate to the last 6 mile stretch of rough road into Glen Ullin. Lightening and a menacingly black horizon loomed in the south, precisely our new direction of travel.

I regretted not bringing gear enough to ride at night, namely lights or reflectors of any kind, but thankfully Dale had two flashing tail lights available. I fashioned my mini-mag flashlight to my handlebar bag in a manner where it shed a dim, conical glow on the road in front of me. I hoped it would have been more but knew it was better than nothing.

The storm system in the south looked to be moving our direction fast. Very fast. We pulled our rain gear from the depths of our panniers and staged them accordingly. At the first drops of rain, we agreed, we’d stop and put our wet weather gear on. Only minutes down the road, our measures proved wise.

Before the rain started to fall, the lightening was horrendous. It moved with the storm front, seemingly right in front of us, striking the ground again and again. Dale recommended we ditch the bikes, literally, and hide out in a shallow and wait for the lightening to pass. I toughened up, knowing full well a twenty-five pound metal bicycle made a hell of a good lightening rod in the middle of the prairie, but refused to show it. I knew if we were to stop riding now, we could very well be in the storm overnight! Not just minutes or even hours. I gambled the steel railroad tracks to our left or power lines to our right would attract the lightening bolts over our bicycles. I gambled with our lives and won.

As soon as the sky opened up and began dumping buckets over our heads, the lightening pulled up from around us and back into the sky. It was reduced to muted flashes of light behind miles of thick clouds so full they seemed like sky scrapers. I was incredibly relieved.

The rain was thankfully warm. Dale and I were having a great time, already soaked to the bone but bullshitting down the middle of the road as the lights of Glen Ullin grew brighter in the distance.

A vehicle approached slowly from the front. It stopped just short of us, the window rolled down and out popped Jodi’s head. Seeing the weather radar and not getting word of our safe arrival before nightfall, she had become alarmed and drove out to meet us. And rightly so. The Doppler was covered in red, signaling the worst of the entire system was directly over our course to Glen Ullin. But to our happy ignorance, Dale and I had pushed through it and popped out the back and no worse for the wear.

Knowing we were okay, Jodi swung back around and headed back into town to meet us at the Cenex, where hopefully, a pizza would be waiting on order. We weren’t so lucky. With the pizzeria closing only minutes before, we pushed the last few blocks to my Aunt’s house with Jodi following in trace.

For me, it was a short, easy, day, but I could tell it had taken its toll on Dale. While I sat and visited with my Aunt, Dale spoke in hushed tomes in Jodi’s ear, casting me nervous glances from time to time. I suspected nothing, and fell into a deep sleep moments after my heads hit the pillow.

Day 18 – Beach, ND to Dickinson, ND

Av – 10.3 mph
Dis – 58.41 miles
TM – 5:41:52
Asc – 3188 ft

This is another entry written after the fact, in the comfort of a covered deck on the shores of Lake Tschida. The big difference is that I’m not nursing a hangover like in Missouri. I just had too many things going on, with this ride, the rendezvous, the Fall Festival, and the 0200 rack time, to write.

But now that everyone is still half asleep this morning and Dale’s brother, Kurt, is frying up breakfast, I figured I’d better recount yesterday’s events before they got lost in a haze. Considering how yesterday went, I don’t think I could ever forget.

0600 came awfully early after a night of too much music videos and Reality TV. I staggered north, the couple of blocks to the restaurant, for some real home cooking: i.e. everything is cooked in butter.

By 0700, the sun was barely peeking over the horizon in a clear sky. It promised to be a clear day, but there was trouble afoot. On the return trip back to the hotel, I noticed the flags at the neighboring rest area blowing south with an occasional flutter northwest. That spelled horrible news for me. Prairie winds out of the southeast were precisely what I didn’t need. The only consolation was its 5-10 mph wind speed, but years of life in the ND outdoors told me it would only pick up speed as the day progressed. Unfortunately, I was right.

I reached my original destination of Medora, ND in under two hours with the wind being thankfully sated over the last twenty odd miles it took to get there. I detoured through town and stopped at the first C-store I came to. I browsed the store a minute and plopped a Rice Krispy bar, Three Musketeers, Milky Way Dark, and a Snickers on the counter.

“Can you tell me where the nearest pay phone is?” I asked the keep. She pulled a city map from the stack and circled our location. I knew I was in for the tourist speech.

“Unfortunately, Medora has only one pay phone. It’s at this campground here.”

I cut her off. “One pay phone? In the whole town?”

“Uh, yes,” she continued. “And we’re here.” I glanced at her directions. It seemed like a million miles to that pay phone. I decided then and there that Dale’s phone call on my status would have to wait.

When I climbed the six hundred feet out of Medora to I-94, I could immediately tell my delay would cost me dearly. The wind was full speed by then. It swirled through the Badlands and raced up the coulees to bludgeon me in the face and threatened to push me into traffic. I fought and I crawled and fought some more until I was at last out of the Badlands and safely on the plains at the Painted Canyon Rest Area.

Maybe the word “safely” isn’t the one I should be using. Pedaling north on the interstate overpass was a wondrous experience for all of the quarter mile to the rest area. I was driven with incredible force over the interstate, across the grated cattle guard, and right up to the front door by southeast winds gusting over 40 mph. The euphoric feeling of effortless transportation was overshadowed by the ugly truth that, eventually, I’d have to get back in that wind and continue east.

I leaned my bike against a wooden signpost holding a road map of ND and walked into the rest area gift shop and air conditioned comfort. I paid for an ice cold Coca Cola in a can using spare change from my handlebar bag, sucked a few grateful, sugary sweet gulps down my parched throat and browsed through the items on sale.

The true, original route of Lewis and Clark was over eighty miles north of me on the Missouri river, but a few scattered books detailing the Corps of Discovery’s exhibition could still be found on the shelves. Mainly, though, were books on local Indian lore and cultures and the assorted badlands fauna genre. I browsed casually as I finished my Coke and made my way to the pay phone.

It was dead. No dial tone. No familiar beep of the buttons. Nothing. I looked for the out of order sign that I must have missed but found none. I marched back into the gift shop, straight to the cutest woman in a park ranger outfit, and looked her in the eye.

“I can’t get the pay phone to work. Is there something special I have to do to make a call?”

“Oh no, ” she answered. “It’s out of order.”

“But there’s no sign,” I stammered. “Where’s the sign?”

“We keep calling to get it fixed but they haven’t come out yet. I guess that’s not as important to them.”

“Calling? On what phone? The magic phone with no sign?”

“Oh no,” she said again, this time with a giggle. “We have an office phone we use.”

“Can I use that? I’m riding from the Pacific Ocean and need to make a very important phone call.”

“I’m sorry, you can’t. Employees only.”

“So what do you propose I do? Do one of those books teach anything on smoke signals?” I swept my hand broadly across the room.

“Heavens no!” She laughed again, completely missing my sarcasm. “There’s a phone in Belfield?” She raised an eyebrow as if asking if I approved of her suggestion. “It’s just down the road.”

“To you, yes.” I said, my brows furrowed in annoyance. “But I’m not exactly riding a horseless carriage in this wind if you know what I mean.”

“Good luck.” She exclaimed, like I was walking away, but I stood firm. She turned to another employee and started chatting away, oblivious of my plight.

I hung there a few more seconds, shoulders slumped for impact, then turned and scuffed back into the wind. My bike had toppled over in a spastic heap while I was inside, looking forlorn and crippled as it ever had the entire tour. I wrestled it upright, pedaled heroically heading into the wind, and continued east.

The headwind on a bicycle tour is one of the most demoralizing things a man can experience, next to wearing your own tongue as a necktie, and I was facing a doozy. The harder I pedaled, the harder I was resisted, often barley maintaining 8 mph on the flats and a measly 10-12 mph on the downhill. How I missed the protective clay butter of the Badlands!

I contacted Dale in Belfield to let him know my progress. The winds had put me behind schedule so we agreed to travel towards each other, at whatever pace I could muster, and hopefully meet in Dickinson for my shower and a ride to the Glen Ullin Fall Festival that evening. The talent show started at 1900 and I was quickly running out of time.

I pushed on. And pushed. And pushed some more. I dropped my head, stared at the white fog line from the corner of my eye, and pedaled blindly forward into my familiar foe, the wind.

North Dakota prairie winds

I lost myself in the memories of the past eighteen days. In the heat in the cold of the miles already covered. In the good things too, like the blazon sunsets and crystalline snow of impossibly high mountain passes. I lost myself in hopes and fears, dreams and realities, and bird song and horns. Horns?

The horn was not my imagination. I looked up, past my odometer and a surprisingly large amount of miles since I last checked, and saw a brilliant white GMC Sierra approaching from the opposite direction. It’s blinker was on, signaling a turn where Johnny Law says no one is supposed to go and the strangest thought entered my mind.

So this is what’s it’s like to die. Sure, it’s no pale horse or grim reaper, but it’s peaceful.

The westerly sun reflected brightly off the chromed trim and hurt my eyes. I squinted in the glare as the pick up made it’s turn and rolled up behind me. There staring from a UV protected windshield with a wide grin was Dale.

Salvation! Rescue and rapture! My legs suddenly gave in and I rolled to a stop only inches later. I managed a weary smile as Dale approached me out of the afternoon sun like Clint Eastwood, Jodi close behind.

The conversation was brief. I lacked the energy to be witty. I shuffled aimlessly around the vehicle as Dale and Jodi collected up my bike and gear and deposited them in the truck bed. I, in turn, retreated to the cushioned bliss that was the back seat and enjoyed a climate controlled ride, at a blistering 70 mph, the rest of the way to Dale’s sister’s house to shower up.

It was heavenly. I was showered and changed and rocketing my way to Glen Ullin in no time. I tried to pick up the conversation a bit more but found myself to worn out from the day’s hard eastward push. I sat in relative silence and watched the stubble fields blur outside the window. I was a beaten man.

Despite my initial lack of energy, the Fall Festival morphed into a hell of a good time. Following a rousing two hour talent show at the high school gymnasium, Dale, Jodi, and I made our way downtown to the street dance and met two more high school buddies of mine, Andrew and AJ. We rolled into Scooters Bar for a few cold beers where I found the time to practice my wheelchair skills before the alcohol hit me.

After tipping over backwards too many times from botches wheelies, I grabbed my beer and made for the food stands. There I met up with my Dad who had made a special trip in to see how my trip was going. A couple of my uncles made appearances too, both drunk as hell, and Dad and I rolled out eyes at each other in disgust. It was a sad sight.

Meanwhile, Dale had been plotting against me. The DJs mixing the street dance just happened to be the same guys who worked Dale’s wedding reception a month earlier. Everyone was so impressed by my performance as a the chicken during the chicken dance, my name was once again thrown in the mix and I was called forth to perform. This time, though, I opted for the rubber chicken feet, sans sandals, and only danced one song. It was enough to shake my weary legs and give my lungs a workout trying to breath through a rubber beak.

It was a success by most standards. Success being measured by being surrounded by dozens of elementary school kids cheering for an encore and giving me high fives. I would have much rather had the approval of the Swedish Bikini team feeding me peeled grapes, but that’s besides the point.

When the DJ’s last song played at midnight, Dale, Jodi, and I loaded back into his GMC and headed seventeen miles south to Lake Tschida and Dale’s brother’s cabin.

I slept the sleep of a man exhausted.

Day 17 – [23mWo] Circle, MT to Beach, ND

Av – 13.5 mph
Dis – 109.94 miles
Tm – 08:08:40 hrs
Asc – 2137 ft.

It was beautiful, clear sunrise. The warmest morning yet, in fact. I woke up a bit earlier than usual at 0730, and the sun was already warming the east side of my tent. But the night is one I’ll remember.

I woke up with a bladder two quarts too full and peeked out my tent. There was no wind. The air was cool but not chilly. A few stars glimmered between the horizon and the crack in my vestibule, so I slipped on my flip flops and crawled out into the night.

There was no moon, just millions upon billions of stars bright enough to cast my shadow. I focused on the ground for a second to ensure I wasn’t peeing on anything important and stared skyward again with my head cocked back.

I closed my eyes and listened. No coin operated slot machines. No combines puling in the last of the year’s wheat. No obnoxious bitching from the family next to me in the café. I could hear crickets all around me like being center stage at a concert. To my right, maybe a half mile away, was the occasional bleating of sheep, probably agitated by a local coyote. And much further in the distance, I couldn’t tell how far, were cows mooing softly. Cattle are restless as it is, so I’m sure they had nothing better to do at the time.

I took it all in and opened my eyes again at the sky. There I stood for maybe five minutes longer than I really needed to and tried to save the snapshot. Had I been traveling with someone, I would’ve kicked them awake to share the moment. But I wasn’t, so I reluctantly retired to my sleeping bag once again. I laid there for another ten minutes with the vestibule open and the stars twinkling down on me and fell asleep.

It’s hard to remember the time of bone numbing cold on days like this. You want the good things and the good times to consume your thoughts. But what is really good when there is no bad to compare it to? It comes down to perspective and comparison. Don’t get caught in the rest of the “good life.”

One more disturbing thing about the morning was the wind. It whispered out of the southwest and I knew it would spell trouble when I turned southeast of Circle, MT. Until then, it was smooth sailing with the speedometer often hovering at 22 mph as the wind picked up.

I stopped at the Circle Exxon and called Dale one last time before I headed to Glendive. As expected, his home machine picked up. I immediately dialed his cell phone.

“Hello?” he answered in two rings.

“It’s about damn time.” I hollered into the phone. “Where have you been hiding? Are you avoiding me?”

“Hey, I’ve been missing your calls by literally a few minutes. I’m downtown buying a new truck now. You’ll have something to drive when you get back.”

“What about the ride man? Are you gonna meet me in Glendive?” I braced for the worst.

“I don’t think so man. I’ve got too much shit going on this weekend with wedding stuff and things.”

Wedding stuff!” I baulked. “That was almost a month ago! And what other “stuff” can you possibly have going on? You’re on vacation.”

“There’s the festival this weekend too.”

“Huh?” I had no idea what he was talking about.

“Besides, I went on a 30 mile ride the other day and my knees were killing me.”

“What festival?” I was fuming. Dale had sold me out.

“The Fall Festival in Glen Ullin, ” he said, with an air of I should have known. “There’s a dance and stuff and it starts Saturday night. Are you going?” He was obviously trying to appeal to the Footloose dancer in me.

I thought about it long and hard, letting the silence of the phone cover my disappointment.

“200 miles in two days! I’m only scheduled to be in Medora tomorrow night.” It sounded impossible.

“If you really want to go, I can pick you up from there.” Dale was obviously trying to butter me up after the Big Let Down! I thought some more.

“I’ll tell you what, ” I said still contemplating the distance and time commitment I was getting myself into. “I’m going to push past Glendive as far as I can today, and cover as much ground as I can tomorrow. What time do things kick off?”

“I think there’s a talent show at the school at 7.”

“1900. Alright. I’ll keep you informed as I head east and call you from town to town. Worst case scenario, I call you and ride east while you drive west. I can get another hour in that way.”

Dale agreed and we discussed logistics once I arrived in Glen Ullin. Clothes, showering, things like that. The plan was to snatch me off the road, bike and all, zip back to Glen Ullin to shower and clean up, party it up, pas out somewhere in Glen Ullin, and return to the same spot the next day to continue my ride. It was a good plan.

I hung up the phone, finished my Gatorade and cherry fruit pie, and analyzed my time line. It was about 1100. I had approximately 19 hours of useable riding time according to even the nest estimate, and I had just under 20 miles to cover!

200 miles in 2 full days was doable, but now I had to make up time for an early evening pickup from Dale tomorrow and a late start this morning. I was looking at 200 mile days at the least, assuming I could make the MT/ND border tonight and hope the weather holds for tomorrow.

I stopped rapping myself around the details and prepped for departure from Circle. MP3 player: check. GPS satellite lock: check. Candy bars: check. Full water bottles and empty bladder: check check. I was on my way southeast, pushing against a stiff headwind to Glendive and enjoying the relative flat once I cleared the Big Sheep Mountains 16 mile east of Circle.

It was hot, blessedly hot after all the rain and cold I’d experienced in the west, but by the time I got to Glendive, my butt was sandpaper and my feet were screaming. I made a quick ____ change at Conoco, powdered up and relaxed for 30 minutes, and pushed into new territory on I-94 east.

I had hit the wall in Glendive, but it was nothing a few candy bars and a sugar rush couldn’t temporarily fix. I chugged (??) onto Wibaux, MT and stopped at a rest area long enough to wash off my head and legs with some ice cold water. I felt more rejuvenated than ever, but I had nine more miles to go to Beach (????) ND, a border town, and the sun was setting.

Beach was my goal, even if I had to ride the last nine miles with my butt hanging in the breeze in total darkness. I could see the state border approaching on my GPS screen but there was nothing on the already dark eastern horizon.

I squinted and wrinkled my nose, trying to see anything down the road, when the headlights of a passing truck reflected off the ND sign. A last!

I pulled over mere feet away from the border and shot a keepsake video.

North Dakota border

I could see the lights of Beach another mile further, glimmering along the dark highway.

I was looking forward to a hot shower, a fresh haircut, and a big plate of pasta at the Flying J Travel Plaza. Well, two out of the three isn’t bad.

I’m sitting here at Thad’s restaurant eating a full pound ham steak with baked beans and garlic bread.
I’m drinking Minute Maid orange pop instead of orange juice like I asked for because the waitress is certifiably retarded. When I asked for the Cajun Chicken pasta, she stared at me blankly and informed me they had no more noodles. No noodles in a restaurant? How does a travesty of this magnitude happen? Oh well, maybe ham steak is the new best kept carb source secret.

Tomorrow I plan on grabbing a good breakfast here and getting an early start. I’ve got a lot of ground to cover.

Day 16 – Sand Springs, MT to [23mWo] Circle, MT

Av – 13.8 mph
Dis – 76.43 miles
Tm – 05:57:12 hrs
Asc – 2754 ft

I guess three 100 mile+ days was wishful thinking, because I ended up splitting the 150 miles from Sand Springs to Glendale shearly out of self preservation.

I rest now, facing eastward with my back against a bale warmed by the sun. My tent is pitched and my gear is stowed, and I find comfort in the prairie so far from home.

The light from a September sunset dies quickly in Montana. I’ll write what I can while I’m here and move to the seclusion of my tent and pale glow of my flashlight at the last possible moment. Evenings like these are too good to pass up being inside anything.

This morning treated me well. It was a clear sky with clouds low on the eastern horizon that only blocked the sun minutes more than normal. I warmed up in record time despite the 45 degree air. I seem to soak up the sun like a sponge.

Whatever storm passed overhead last night barely got me. I awoke with the wind and rain battering the northwest side of my rain fly, but suddenly all was silent and still once again. The ground wasn’t even damp in the morning.

I made good time the thirty-two miles to Jordan, MT, about 15.4 mph average, and pulled into the Hilltop Café to grab an early lunch and give Dale another call. Hot beef sandwich with mashed potatoes, gravy, chicken noodle soup, and a fruit bowl was the special for $5.99. I took it. With one hand, I spooned soup into my face and with the other, I jotted down notes in my journal about the day. Details are often lost across 1100 miles and sixteen days and I made sure to cover the good stuff.

I called Dale at home again, and again, was greeted by his answering machine. If I was a girl and I was dating, I’d swear he was trying to break up with me.

I rambled on about my new course and told him the basic plan: Glendive to Medora, Medora to
Glen Ullin, and Glen Ullin to Bismarck. As I explained that he needed to meet me at Glendive tomorrow night, the machine cut me off. That was extremely odd because I had only been talking a minute or so and have often left messages from duty stations overseas five times that length.

Confused and slightly miffed, I dialed his cell phone and got voice mail. Dammit! The man was a ghost these past few days. Rather than regurgitate everything I said on his home machine, I referenced my material and continued with my message. I really only have one more opportunity to contact him from Circle, and from there, it’s straight to Glendive.

If Dale wants to be a part of this, which he has expressed as such, he’s running out of time. Besides, I could use the company on the road. It’s tough being the only one struggling up the insane. If I could just talk to him and get a feel for things, I’d be more relaxed. It’s the not knowing that sucks.

Another let down was Mack’s last minute cancellation. It wasn’t his fault. My trip had been delayed by two months. By the time my travel window had presented itself, he had training.

But what if he hadn’t? How would another body on the tour be? There is plenty of room under my rain fly for two people, minus any gear, and I’m sure the smell of unwashed bodies would be something we’d get used to soon enough.

Mack and I put a lot of miles on in Brazil together. The great thing about riding with Mack is skill level. We ride at relatively the same pace. When he feels crappy, I pull him along and vice versa.

He only problem is, and Mack admits this himself, is his weakness on the hills. I’m not sure if that would’ve been much of a factor though. Hell, even I was barely pulling five miles per hour in the mountains. I believe that his concerns would have been short lived as he eventually worked his way into it.

My greatest fear in a riding partner would be a bad day. A day where one person is feeling so crappy, so off, that the other has no choice but to ride to the next rendezvous point and wait. God knows I’d rather do that than chug along at a snails pace with a dying man. Yes, it sounds cruel, but a man would have to come with me knowing it might happen.

I think the most important aspect of a riding partner on a trip is company. I have seen things on this tour that pictures or words can’t possibly describe.

I’ll stop and stare, trying to get that perfect image in my mind and look around to see if someone else, anyone else, is watching too. But no one is. I am alone as I have been and as I will be. I am alone so I write what I can about my life on this tour, and I hope it can do a fraction of justice to the experience I’ve had.

Sometimes, hope is all there is.

Day 15 – Lewistown, MT to Sand Springs, MT

Av – 14.9 mph
Dis – 100.28 miles
Tm – 06:44:04 hrs
Asc – 2777 ft

Some twisted fiend put some really big ass hills in eastern MT, and I don’t like it one bit. In fact, I’m drafting a petition to the governor to get them removed. These same hills are directly responsible for reducing my proud 17.7 mph average over fifty-five miles to a paultry 14.9 mph when I finally stopped for the at just over 100 miles. Immediate action is required and I’m going to be the man to do it!

I woke up this morning with plenty of time to reheat the rest of my pizza and pack up my gear. I was on the road by 1100 and knee deep in the Judith Mountains twenty minutes later.

The Judith Mountains, and the Judith River for that matter, were named by Meriwether Lewis after a woman he left behind before her journey. That actually got me thinking about how many rivers and mountain ranges I could name using the names of women I’ve left behind. Well, I’m twenty-eight and single, so take a wild guess. I could probably at least make it to Missouri.

The Judith Mountains peaked at about 4700 feet and a mere eight miles, and I swear it was downhill for forty-seven more. My west tailwind kicked in like clockwork and my legs pumped like Lance in Tour #6. I was a machine, my legs it’s pistons.

Everything was butter smooth until I hit Winnett, MT at mile fifty-five. I pulled into a grocery store for the fresh fruit, ate my chow on the sidewalk, and relaxed for about thirty minutes. I even called Dale in Bismarck to check in and ask about his timeline to meet up with me on the ride, but there was no answer at home or on his cell. I think he’s avoiding me.

When I left Winnett, I knew I had eaten too much jerky. I burped it up on every hill for ten more miles. It wasn’t pretty.

From Winnett east it was a barren, roller coaster landscape up and down where the road kill far outnumbered the living. But the wind was still in my favor and I pushed on.

The day was the nicest I’ve had in Montana. Sunny and cool with a tailwind, but the trucks on a local construction project in Mosby were killing me. Every one that passed going the other direction created a brief headwind of enormous gusts. All day long and back and forth and back again, they hauled load after load.

With the construction going on at Mosby Montana, my intended Day 15 destination wasn’t the most interesting thing. It was Mosby itself.

My GPS had Mosby tagged as a small city. Okay, I thought. I was looking for a park or equivalent to set up camp and a small café to get some homemade chow. Mosby should be perfect. But when my position indicator rolled right over Mosby on my GPS, the only thing around me was road construction, rocks, and scraggly trees. Then there were no signs, no turnoffs, no nothing to indicate the small city of Mosby.

I was immensely disappointed but continued riding. I had just topped eighty miles, it was getting dark, so I started looking for a place to set up camp. I referenced my map and GPS again to learn that I was only thirteen miles from Sand Springs, another small city. I shoveled as much chocolate and sugar down my throat and pushed east.

Sand Springs, MT was worse than nothing at all. It consisted of three beat up old buildings, a church, a school, a general store, and a post office. I couldn’t believe my eyes and pedaled another mile over the next hill in hopes that the real Sand Springs was there. It wasn’t.

I instead camped here for the night, behind a radio communication relay tower, on tall prairie grass and plenty of cow patties. The first raindrops of night are falling on my tent and the wind has picked up considerably. Outside, a big one is brewing.

Let’s hope I’m still here in the morning.

Day 14 – Great Falls, MT to Lewistown, MT

Av – 12.8 mph
Dis – 100.33 miles
Tm – 07:51:26 hrs
Asc – 3081 ft

Lon dropped me off at the east end of Great Falls this morning, asking if I’d make Lewistown today.

“How far is it?” I asked because I really didn’t know.

“Ninety miles.”

“No problem” I said more out of pride than actual faith and ability. I wasn’t going to look like a pansy.

We said our goodbyes, Lon continued on his way, and I made a beeline across the road to a Casino for an emergency bathroom break. Burritos containing jalapenos and extra hot salsa are not wise items to be eating on a cross country bicycle trip.

Breakfast was a better choice, I may add. I indulged in a huge bowl of granola and milk with fresh huckleberries from Barb’s coveted stash to round it off a bagel with blackberry jam and a couple of glasses of grapefruit juice. I know this was a great breakfast because I wasn’t burping it up ten miles down the road.

With my new, warmer waterproof gear I was fearless. I swapped out brown for amber lenses in my Smith Buzzsaw Sunglasses and kept a close eye on the sky. It was overhead with very high clouds, but none seemed to be teaming up on me so I breathed a bit easier.

Despite the forty-seven degree start at 0900, the forecast promised one of the warmest days since eastern WA. The high was predicted to be in the low 60’s with a 40% chance of rain. Those were good odds, but whenever there was 60% no rain, I was getting the other forty.

For almost six hours, I rolled along in a southeastern direction, taking full advantage of a light tailwind and semi-warm weather. The hills were big, bigger than home but nothing like the Rockies I just went through days earlier.

The pedals turned easily. A MT state patrolman clocked me at over eighteen miles per hour uphill, and took the time to mention it when he caught up with me twenty miles down the road at a gas station.

He was impressed, he said so, and told me a five mile ride he did over the summer almost gave him a heart attack. It’s a shame when I hear things like that. On a trip like this I hear it far too often. Sure, 1,000+ miles is a long damn ways, but most people I run into have this all-or-nothing attitude about cycling. To them, a ride to the corner store, to work once a week, around the park, just isn’t a feasible option. They don’t view a bicycle as a tool, but rather just another form of recreation to add to their boats and campers and four wheelers.

And that’s where they fall short. I’ve been in their shoes where I don’t get a ride in for weeks, months even, and then go through streaks where I’m riding hundreds of miles in a few weeks.

Bicycling has a snowball effect. If you find one thing to do with a bike, suddenly you’ll find another. Then one day as you’re sitting in your car waiting for it to warm up, you’ll realize what a hassle it is to be a slave to your automobile. You’ll turn off the engine, put on a heavier jacket, and ride to wherever you were going.

How do I know? Because I’ve done it. I have been the only moving thing in a city entirely shut down by snow. When the thermometer dipped to -49 degrees and the wind howled at 55 mph, I merely buttoned up a bit tighter and grabbed another gear on a ride across town.

I have broken the 1,000 mile mark on this trip and spent a whopping $20 on bicycle related items. I don’t worry about fluid levels or gas prices. They take care of themselves.

But to get back on track, I had been riding almost six hours with a storm system building in front of and behind me. I was racing to stay in between them and with the sun, but I wasn’t fast enough.

The sun went under, the air temperature plummeted, and I pulled up to a stop sign to throw on my waterproof booties.

The angry clouds glared down on me like a scolding parent. I got one booty on and was struggling with the other when I felt a rain drop and then another. And another. Faster and faster.

I frantically pulled my new rain gear from my panniers and threw them on. I began pulling my other booty on as the rain fell harder and harder until…

Tink! Tink! Tink! Tink! Tink! It was hailing! I grabbed my umbrella from my gear and stood on the side road as the sky emptied onto my head.

Hailstorm near Moccasin, MT

Vehicles continued to roar past along Hwy 200 paying just enough attention to me to keep from drifting off the road. There I stood, grinning like a kid, watching traffic drive back and forth.

From the east, in a blur of road spray and hail, a blue Chevy truck appeared with it’s headlights on in my direction. I paid it no mind as it coasted to a stop right next to me. The window rolled down.

“Did you need a ride?” I heard her voice before I looked up and couldn’t believe my luck. A new Chevy, a beautiful woman, and an offer for a ride. I paused for a moment, thinking about how we’d drive to her place, she’d make me a hot meal, and give me a full body massage, and then seduce me.

“I normally don’t pick people up,” she continued, “but I felt so sorry for you when I saw you under that umbrella.” I put on my innocent face. “It only gets worse east of here.” She patiently waited for me to answer.

“Thanks for the offer, but I can’t possibly accept it. I’m riding the Lewis and Clark Trail.”

What!! What did I say?

“Well okay, but it’s not going to get any better.” She put the truck in reverse.

“I’m just gonna hang out for a bit and see if it blows over.” I finished and she smiled sadly and drove away. Dammit! Where was my head? Be gone demons, be gone!

I couldn’t believe my complete lack of situational capitalization. I ruined what could have been a key opportunity to say I got laid on my Lewis and Clark ride. How cool would that be? But I also have an overactive imagination, and I’m sure she would’ve driven my sweaty, stinky body only as far as absolutely necessary and booted me back on the road.

In fact, I don’t think I’m going to mention this again in order to avoid the ridicule I’m sure to receive. Enough said.

The last seventeen miles to Lewistown was tough. I made a quick stop to re-lube my drain and scarf enough candy bars and twinkies for a third grade birthday party, and made the final push in front of another shower system.

When I rolled into town at 1930, and barely 45 degrees again, I felt a reward was in order. A stay at Super 8 motel. After a twenty minute scalding shower to get feeling back in my extremities, I settled down to eat my large Pizza Hut stuffed crust pizza with pepperoni, black olives, and mushrooms.

Newlyweds, with Jessica Simpson and Nick something-or-another, is on MTV. She’s hot and he’s funny. The magic picture box proves, once again, how stupefying it can be.

Eastward ho!

Day 13 – [9mWo] Simms, MT to Great Falls, MT

Av – 14.0 mph
Dis – 44.00 miles
Tm – 03:08:16 hrs
Asc – 640 ft

Yeah, I called Lon in Great Falls. That’s why I’m in a comfy bed with red sheets, a reading light beside me, and a full stomach.

I pulled into Great Falls right in front of a storm. The sun blacked out and suddenly there were sheets of rain falling. Luckily I was at the Knickerbiker bike shop on 11th and Central getting my drive train cleaned and inspected. The downside of Kinickerbiker is they didn’t have the gear I needed: namely waterproof booties and a breathable, waterproof top and bottom shell.

My ride across town to Scheels Sporting Goods was in the pouring rain, and proved fruitless. Luckily the guy helping me out made a phone call across town to someone who did have the gear I needed. As an added bonus they were going to stay open late just for me. By the time I walked out of the store I was $234 lighter in the bank account and a hell of a lot warmer.

I pulled into a gas station at 1815 and called Lon. He picked me up within the hour, carted me over to Taco Del Mar where I ordered some enormous burrito weighing just under two pounds, and went back to his place. He told me Barb had instructed him not to ask too many questions because she wanted to hear “my story” too and didn’t want me to have to repeat myself.

My story? I wasn’t aware I had one. It’s been more than a few years since I dealt with civilians on a personal level. I guess to them, I had a story. And I guess anyone who knows me also knows I have stories, as in plural, but that’s a different story.

Barb brought me some fresh peaches, milk, and actual silverware to use as I played question and answer in between bites of burrito and mouthfuls of root beer. It was a nice change of pace from the usual where-are-you-coming-from-and-where-are-going that I had been getting the previous two weeks.

By the time my plate was empty, I really had told my story, more or less, and I felt the veil of mystery over my head had been somewhat lifted.

Barb lead me to the laundry room and gave me a brief period of instruction on how to operate the equipment while Lon looked very confused. Apparently the laundry wasn’t he forte.

When he got his chance, Lon showed me the room downstairs I was going to stay in and the neighboring bathroom. I had a nice area picked out on the floor next to the couches when Lon kindly pointed out the bed in the room was mine to use and I could even sleep in it. I was thrilled.

Less than an hour later I’m as clean as a whistle with a fresh haircut, my laundry is in the dryer, and I’m ready to pass out and dream about another day in the saddle.

The beard is coming along nicely, but instead of my predicted look of Grizzly Adams or at least my dad, I resemble a more poorly groomed Backstreet Boy. I won’t give up yet!

Tomorrow… who knows?