Day 7 – Dickenson to Medora, ND

Friday, June 19, 2015 – 36.1 miles

Because of the long ride yesterday I’m back on my original schedule with a short ride of only 35 miles scheduled for today to make it to Mendora. I took my time getting up a breaking camp. No rush. Once on the road, my legs let me know they were looking forward to the rest day. Today’s ride to my back on the freeway. I stopped at the Painted Canyon Visitor’s Center. The view was amazing but the visitors center was a disappointment. Except for a couple information signs is was mostly a National Parks store.

I rode on into Medora. It’s a cute little town but definitely a tourist trap kind of town where everything is overpriced. I looked at the weather, which promised thunderstorms in the afternoon and evening and found a motel room for the night. I’ll camp again tomorrow night.

After showing and changing I walked through the little town. Their town theater was having a presentation by a Theodore Roosevelt “repriser.” I went in to listen. It was clear this gentleman was not someone who was paid to memorize a monolog. It was detailed and well-rehearsed.  After he finished his presentation he took questions – still in character. He answered them all with details. If you ever get a chance it’s worth the time.

When I left the show it was dark and cloudy outside. I found a place to eat and sit out the rain – which came down in torrents. Why does it follow me? Then headed back to my room for some much needed rest.

Day 6 – Mandan to Dickenson, ND

Thursday, June 18, 2015 – 91.6 miles

With plans for a shorter day, I woke up later than planned and hit the road about 8:30, shopping for breakfast at Ohm’s Cafe. I couldn’t resist charging my meal. After breakfast I headed out of town. At the last stoplight I shifted down before stopping so I could start again – but something didn’t feel right. I look down to see that my shifter cable housing had come apart, leaving my without the ability of shift my critical gears at the back. This is not a good thing! I was, however, very grateful it happened only about 7-8 miles from a bike shop – something you don’t find too often in this part of the country.

So I pulled into a little motel and called a cab. It took me over three hours to get the new cable housing, return to the motel where my bike was parked, replace both right and left shifter cable housings, and get the bike adjusted again. In finally hit the road about 12:30, grateful that I was able to get it fixed that easily and that I had planned a shorter day of under 50 miles.

It felt good to be riding again and I had a tailwind that help push me along.

Part of the route included a 12.5 mile stretch on I-94 as there were not good roads parallel to the freeway. I wasn’t looking forward to this, but quickly changed my mind once on the freeway. I had a wide, smooth shoulder with a rumble strip separating me from the traffic. It was like my own bike lane. Most of the roads I had traveled didn’t have a shoulder so cars had to go around me. I actually felt safer on the freeway than on the regular roads. In addition, the freeway is designed for truck traffic so has very gentle grades. After the extreme ups and downs of following the Missouri River valley, this was a welcome relief.

I came to a rest area and stopped. While there I double checked my route and found I had make an error calculating and the town I was planning on stopping in was actually closer than I expected. So I decided to go a bit farther to the next town.

After I started rolling, I saw ahead of me another cyclist and worked to catch up with him. This turned out to be easy as he was going very slowly. We stopped and chatted a bit. He was on an old mountain bike and had ridden to eastern North Dakota and was not returning to the west coast using a standard highway map and camping alongside the road. He told me he thought there was a closed rest area about 8 miles ahead that he was going to camp at.

After we parted I got to thinking about his traveling all the way on the freeway. In most places, riding a bike on the freeway is prohibited, except in a few places where there is no other way. But was that the case here? If I stayed on the freeway a couple more exits, I would save about 6 miles on my planned route for the day and avoid the rollers of the county roads. When I approached my exit I looked for signs saying that bicycles must exit or signs on the on ramp prohibiting bicycles. I saw none so kept riding.

With a strong tailwind I was able to make good time. I got to the exit and pulled over to look at my map. I choose a town further down to stop at instead and kept riding on the freeway. And kept riding. I realized that Dickenson wasn’t that much farther so kept going. I stopped in town to grab a Subway sandwich do I wouldn’t have to cook supper and headed for the campground just out of town. I got there and setup camp, feeling better than I had on previous shorter mileage days. The tailwinds and freeway made a big difference.

As I setup camp, I realize one downside to the campground. While very nice and located on a beautiful lake it was also next to some railroad track. I woke up several times in the night the sound freight trains speeding by, but then quickly went back to sleep.

Day 5 – Beaver Creek to Mandan, ND

Wednesday, June 17, 2015 – 60.9 milesLast Part

I woke up to stillness and the sound of a chorus of birds will everyone how excited they were to be alive! It was still overcast but the winds were calm and there was not rain. I made breakfast, broke camp and headed out on the road towards Bismarck. My Accuweather app told me it was partly sunny. I’m sure was – somewhere above the clouds. Time to look for new weather app. I now use Weather Underground. As I rode on through the day the sun did break through the clouds to a beautiful day. There were also fewer big climbs today but still plenty of rollers. The calm winds made the day more pleasant.

All along the sides of the roads are tall grass. These make excellent wind socks to let me know exactly what direction the wind is blowing. They also make great hiding places for pheasant and grouse. They are used to the cars and trucks whizzing by, but don’t know what to make of a bicycle. So when I am beside them and no more than 10 feet away – peacefully cycling through the serene countryside – suddenly there a big fluttering and squawking and a pheasant  or grouse leaps into the air and flies away! It is quite a startling experience and happens multiple times a day.

Rolling into Bismarck, I found a Taco Bell on my round and stopped for a late lunch, then crossed over the Missouri river for the first time to the city of Mandan. There weren’t any campgrounds nearby so I chose a motel near a grocery store. The owner of the motel was really nice and let me wash my cycling clothes in his washer/dryer. This would mean clean and dry clothes for the next day!

I went to the grocery store for food for the next couple days and for a second supper.

One of the things I was realizing was that I couldn’t keep up the current pace. I decided to drop by days down to 50 miles a day. I had planned a rest day in Mandan, but planned instead to rest in Dickenson, breaking the trip to Mandora from 2 days to 3 days. This would likely mean taking a shorter route to Missoula, but would make for a more relaxed trip.

Day 4 – Mobridge SD to Beaver Creek Campground, ND

Tuesday, June 16, 2015 – 71.2 miles

When I left the motel room, the skies were gray. The radar showed a gap in the storms that I would be riding into.  I stopped to get some breakfast at a local diner and before heading out of town. I started the day with my helmet cover and rain jacket. This is enough in light situations and I had ridden this way out of Pierre. Before getting out of town, I realized this would not be enough and I stopped the shelter of someone’s garage and added a pair of socks with my waterproof socks overtop. On these summer trips, I ride in open sandals with cleats so that I can still clip in, but my feet don’t stay sweaty all day and start growing things I don’t want.

Today there were brisk winds out of the east south east. To head north out of town there were quite a few miles that I had to travel east before I could go north. As I continue to travel the gap in the storm closed up and the rain became stronger. I quickly added my rain pants to my outfit. Traveling east into the wind and rain was difficult. I had to stop a number of times in the shelter of trees or farm buildings to rest. When I finally turned north, I began travel slightly to the west, which put the wind more to my back. This was a big relief.

As I approached Pollock, South Dakota, it began to rain harder. It was time to get inside. I found a bar and grill open and parked by bike under the shelter of its storefront and went inside. I always enjoy these small town places just for listening to the locals talk about their lives. One of many things I learned was that the year had started off as the “Big Drought of 2015.” They had received very little snow that winter and were expecting a bad year for crops. That all ended on May 10 and it had been raining so much they had pretty much caught up with their annual average rainfall for this time of the year. That’s was good news for them at least, but not so exciting for a cyclist.

I waited out the worst of the storm and listened to the locals. After about 3 hours of watching the radar it seemed the worst of the storm was over and I put back on my wet and chilly clothes and started riding again. It continued to rain but not as hard. The winds were now very strong and directly out of the east. There were about 8 miles that I had to travel west after leaving Pollock. These were great miles! But then turned and traveled directly north, crossing the line into North Dakota. It felt more like the Oregon coast in winter. I stopped only briefly. As long as I was riding, my body was generating heat and I could stay just chilly. If I stopped for very long without any shelter from the wind I would get cold quickly.

The rain stopped, as predicted, about 7pm just about the time I got to the campsite at Beaver Creek. I was grateful that the campground was sheltered from the winds which had not let up. I worked quickly to setup the tent. I ate more trail mix as I didn’t want to take the time to setup the stove and cook. Getting warm and dry was a priority. I went to the restroom/bathhouse to change into dry clothes, only to find it closed because of a water main break. In fact there didn’t seem to be any water that I was able to find. They did have a pit toilet that was, gratefully, clean so I changed in there and went back and crawled into my sleeping bag – happy for shelter and warmth. I fell asleep utterly exhausted.

Day 3 – Forest City to Mobridge, SD

Monday, June 15, 2015 – 64.7 miles

It took a bit longer to get out of camp than I expected. But that’s how the day would shape up. As I headed out I felt good and thought I would have a chance of making good progress. That idea lasted only a little while until I hit the headwinds. I had headwinds most of the day. It started out the first 10 miles with winds coming across the road toward me – almost a crosswind. When a truck would pass me going my direction I would benefit from the draft as they would pull me along a bit. But trucks coming the other direction! They would give me a blast of air filled with sand and grit. Then I turned north and had steady headwinds for the next 22 miles. The challenge with headwinds is that you don’t get a break. Without them you can coast – even on slight downhill slopes – with them you have to pedal the whole time.

I turn west to the little town of Akaska which gave me a brief tailwind. As I rode into town I looked around for a place to buy some food. The map indicated groceries were available. I didn’t see anything obvious, so I stopped and asked a gentleman if there was a store in town. “What do you want to buy?”  Well, food, of course. “Go down here three blocks and make a right. Then go on down to the end of the street. There’s a bait shop there that serves food, as well as you can buy junk food kind of stuff.” So to the bait shop I went for lunch! Before I go on, I need to take you back to the night before. When I was at the C-Store looking for food, I was counting calories but not in the usual dieting way. I was looking for how much calories I could get. You burn a lot of calories on the bike and don’t want to get into too much of a deficit. So here I am ordering a grilled cheese sandwich with fries and they ask me what I want to drink, and without thinking I ask for a diet Coke. As I’m sitting down at the table eating I had a good laugh at myself.

After my lunch at the bait shop I headed north out of town. The road turned to gravel for about 13 miles. This wasn’t too bad as I have fat tires on the bike for this very reason and on can usually find a hard packed area to ride on, away from the loose gravel. I noticed how much water was standing in places – sometimes coming half way up the fence posts. They clearly have received a lot of rain. I stopped at a farm house to get some water out of a spigot and was greeted by a shy but friendly German Sheppard size dog. I would have spent more time making her acquaintance except for another result of the recent rains – mosquitos.

The final 15 miles into Mobridge included three really brutal climbs with the ever present headwinds doing their best to deny you the summit. It took 8 hours to go the 64 miles.

I’m exhausted and staying in a motel tonight as it will be raining in the morning. Across the street from the motel was a Supper Club. I’ve seen one of these before. Basically, it’s a small restaurant that is only open for supper and usually serves steak and fish. I had their soup and salad bar – all you can eat – with a side of potato. It was a simple salad bar but contained beans and a spaghetti dish – carbs and protein – that were just what I needed. The soup was a delicious tomato rice soup.

Sometimes goals are fun. Sometimes they are hard work but it feels good to have made it.