This is about people riding their bikes from Seattle to St. Louis. They started with nine riders, including me. I dropped out at Quinn’s Hot Springs in Montana, returning to Seattle to celebrate a grandson’s graduation from Seattle U. Two other riders had plans to go to Cody, Wyoming, and then return to home in Cincinnati.
So there are six riding now, three to Omaha and then three on to St. Louis. Carol keeps a blog worth following. Check it out:
Say you were going on a long-distance bike ride with your sister and you had never been able to keep up with her in previous trips. And now she will be on this next ride with her newly purchased electric assisted bike. She will travel halfway around the world while I am putting on my shoes.
I will only be on the trip for one week – she goes on forever. During that one week of my pedaling, there will be one day of gravel riding. I have a road bike, which tend to go over on gravel.
But I also have a mountain bike that has been converted into some Frankenstein monster bike: no knobby tires, no bar ends but now with fenders, two bells, compass and headlights. The fenders, bells and compass could go away to make it at least somewhat presentable on the trail. Ride that bike for a week? After riding my road bike for several years, I feel uncomfortable on the faux mountain bike, like my torso is being bent upward between the handlebars and the seat.
So given these choices below, offered to me by biking friends, what would you do:
Buy a gravel bike: “It’s all I ride anymore,” says a riding friend who also owns a road bike. Clerks at three bike shops tell me it is the bike to have for Seattle: low gears for hills, wider tires for wet streets and the option to start riding non-paved roads and trails. My sister has already suggested two other gravel trips we could in the years ahead. So, dear bike riders, would you buy one of these:
Buy an electric assisted bike: In even suggesting this, I have already been called a wimp by a biking friend. A gravel ebike could go every day on the upcoming trip except that the battery range is up to 50 miles on a trip that has at least one century day. The battery goes dead, and I’m left pedaling a 40-pound bike up hills. My sister would go twice around the world while I’m doing the walk of shame up mountain majesties.
The bike above is not the Marin Four Corners, but it is close enough, and the Four Corners could have electric assist added. That’s part of the problem on this bike and others like it: The electric assist looks like something added later. Mostly because it was added later. One of the problems with buying the Richey above would be if I added electric assist later it would look like something that had been added later.
This is the Hilltopper Discover Electric gravel bike. The battery is in the front tube as if the bike had always been planned to be an electric assisted bike and not cobbled together later in its life. However, it is out of stock. I talked to someone who answered the phone at Hilltopper, who said COVID had done no favors to its supply chain or its ability to bring people together to build bikes. I heard that from other bike reps I talked to: Lots of people want bikes now, perhaps to stay socially distanced and go somewhere, and the ability of the bike builders to keep up with the demand ain’t there. Maybe by summer, as Hilltopper’s website says.
Switch bikes: The first two days of the trip cover 105 miles, including the gravel trail. I could ride the Frankenstein bike for two days and have a SAG person carry my road bike for me to switch to for the rest of the week. Frankie could be left out back of the motel and could be picked up later, depending on how I felt about it after riding it for two days.
What would you do, dear biking friends – or strangers. I’m willing to listen to some sage advice before digging – or not – into my wallet.
We woke up to rain this morning, our first day of it on the whole trip. However, using our weather apps and some luck, the bike riders avoided all of it. The app showed that the rain would end in Lisbon at 7 a.m. and in Fargo – the end point! – at 10 a.m. So it looked like we might be able to sneak in behind it and never catch up with it (as if we ever caught up with any thing).
So we trucked to the route and started biking around 7 or 7:30 at Enderlin, ND. We never had a drop fall on us. Don, in the truck ahead of us, said he had quite a rainfall hit him when he was parked in Kindred, ND.
We also had less wind today although the forecast called for 14 mph winds from the east. Mostly hit us as side winds when heading north and much less than the last couple days.
AND . . . the afore-promised table-top flatness finally showed up – like as flat as good old Northwest Ohio, where I learned to ride a bike and never got used to hills. And trees, too, finally.
Not that anyone was going to stop riding on this day, the last day of the trip.
We got into Fargo on a flat bike trail around 2 p.m. Nice lunch at the Island Park and then rode the last two miles to the motel. Loved the downtown of Fargo, had a nice dinner at the Boiler Room, which is hard to find but worth the trip, and then spent the evening repacking for the next adventure.
Here’s the trip summary:
From Great Falls, MT, to Fargo, ND:
Mary Jo rode 707 miles, John rode 679.5 miles.
Longest day: 86.2 miles
Shortest day: 40 miles.
MJ’s list of 48 Lower States ridden across: 46 of 48.
The sign said the restaurant opened for breakfast at 6 a.m., and we were up at 5:30 to have an early meal and a good start on the day – maybe before the winds came up. But the signs were wrong. and it did not open until 7 a.m.
So we left Don behind to pick up some breakfast at Mabel’s Bakery and started out. Breakfast caught up with us about 10 miles down the road. It was the coolest morning yet, and the first time I rode with my jacket out. Some wind and lots of up and down – still no table tops to guide across two days out of Bismarck.
It still looked like doing all 97 scheduled miles for the day would be a possibility. That was before the wind picked up to 17 mph and blew out of the east and north. Whatever happened to the west wind.
“Secret and malign forces throbbed about us; forces against which we had no armor,” said Sax Rohmer in “The Insidious Dr. Fu Manchu,” speaking of everything that comes out of the East without delving into his racial statements.
As the winds came up, our speed came down. Never got above 13 mph the rest of the day. Thirty-eight miles down the road in Gackle, ND, we met our second and third bike riders, two Ohio students riding to Seattle. Gave them my name and told them to look us up for a place to stay when they get there in August. Hope I remember them. Just say, “Gackle.”
I abandoned the ride at 47 miles, Mary Jo made it to an even 50. Back in the truck, it seemed flatter, the wind less strong. Everything looks flat as you zoom across the landscape in a vehicle, and the wind barely seems to be rustling the leaves in the trees. Out on a bike, the topography and weather undergo drastic changes.
We trucked into Lisbon, a town of about 2,300 people that was having its “Happy Days” celebration. The motel clerk told us about the rib cook-off downtown, and we went off to judge which one was the best. Didn’t get to try all 11 of them, but I did my darned (liked Number 2 from South Dakota). Corn on the cob, too.
So here we are out with all the town’s blue-haired ladies and many kids, having a great time eating and talking to neighbors. I did wonder though about the cooks’ T-shirts at some of the stands: “If I rub your butt, you can pull my pork.” Or maybe this one: “When you get my meat in your mouth, you are going to want to swallow.”
The cook off was sponsored by the LIQ’R PIGZ Motorcycle Club, which may not be the Emily Post of refined language, but most of the cooking teams were the ones wearing the shirts.
Never one to stifle language, of course, but it did make me wonder, “Are we becoming a more crass nation?”
Still some wind today, but much easier than yesterday. It got stronger toward the end of the 72.1-mile ride and winding our way through the ponds outside of Napoleon brought us face up into the wind.
And about those “table tops” we’d be sailing across after we got past Bismarck? No signs of them today.
But we were on the “Lawrence Welk Highway” today, which brought back many memories. Thought of my Grandma Saul, who sat down in front of these TV shows every night, long after they had gone off the air leaving only reruns to go on and on forever. If they aren’t still there and if she were still alive today, she’d be searching for the Lemon Sisters and Jo Ann Castle on Youtube.
We did love Grandma back then, but at the time, we had little good to say about Mr. Welk and his music. Wonder if we’ll be sitting around looking for American Bandstand, Shindig and Soul Train reruns in our older days? Maybe not yet.
Napoleon had a special ring to it for those of us who grew up in Henry County, Ohio, whose county seat was also named Napoleon, the dreaded arch rival back in the day for those who grew up nine miles down the road in Liberty Center, which is not some shopping center that came along much later.
Not so friendly coming out of Bismarck, where the sure-to-show-up on any bike ride is some jackass yelling out the window at they speed by you. Made me wish we were back in friendly Montana.
But in Napoleon, ND, they were getting ready for a parade of old tractors the next morning, and several of them were out cruising the town that night. Every tractor driver I ever met was friendly and always gave a wave. Same here.
June 14, 2018 – Glen Ullin to 15 miles short of Bismarck, ND.
For the second time this trip, I heard Mary Jo say something I never expected to hear from her: “Maybe we should call it a day here.”
“Here” being 15 miles short of Bismarck and only 40 miles of riding? I had steeled myself against this throughout the ride today, hoping I would not be the poltroon who put my bike in the back of the truck and myself in the back seat. But I happily changed course and agreed as going up hills in a 24-mph head wind was a struggle. For me, it meant straggling along at three mph and impossible to get over 10 mph on down hills because of the winds. Still not to Bismarck yet, so no table tops to cruise across.
So the bikes went into the truck, and we drove into Bismarck and had a nice lunch before taking Kathy, the No. 1 SAG person ever, to the airport to fly back to Seattle and head south to California with No. 1 grandson, who finished his first year at Seattle University.
My birthday came earlier this year as Mary Jo and Don bought me a new bicycle pump to replace the one I bought in 1992, when I did my first Seattle to Portland ride. We tried the old pump out while in Medora, and it did not work. Nothing like a worn-out, busted pump on a long bike ride.
North Dakota seems richer than Eastern Montana, and others blamed that on fracking and what that has done for the economy here. But some of these things have been in place much longer than the oil industry arrived here. I’m blaming it on agriculture – more croplands instead of range lands, well-kept buildings instead of whatever holds up over the winter. Just looks that way from over my handlebars – even into the winds.
Breakfast at the Farmhouse and then on our bikes for the pedal across North Dakota – where we thought the winds would come out of the west and blew right up our back and push us across the state. But there was an easterly wind right from the start, and it got stronger as the day went along.
We made a few turns during our route to Glen Ullin, which made me realize that no matter what happens in North Dakota, the wind never stops and it always blows right in your face. It was almost impossible to get going more than 10 mph even on the down hills because of the wind. We still managed to average 9.7 mph. Not sure how we did that. Longest and hardest ride of the trip, but there were better things to come: A woman in the Taylor Nursery shop said that once we got beyond Bismarck, there would be nothing but “table tops” to cruise across.
But for today, we crossed a time-zone change out here in the middle of the state and did not finish our 86.2 miles to Glen Ullin (pop. 800) until late.
Did I hear that right? That’s right, Wet Spot at Mile Marker 69. We had to go there.
Frozen pizza on round cardboard, which was not too bad at all. Great selection of liquors, and the bar maid said she did not think a bunch of milquetoasts like us would be offended by their double-entendre name. She pointed out the mile marker out front was designating 69. Not fake news here.
But we didn’t want to sleep on the wet spot though, and we headed back to the Red Roof.
We’ve already ridden more than 375 miles on our bikes, but now it’s time to stretch our legs in a different way.
We had our breakfast at the Farmhouse Café with the same Macedonian waiter who waited on us for lunch the day before. Like all help around the United States’ national parks, it’s fun to spot the nametags of where all the serving staff, desk clerks, housekeeping and store clerks are from. We had a wonderful spinner of tales from a Southern state at the Ferris Store. We had a very attentive young woman from South Africa for our server that night at the Theodore Restaurant in the Rough Rider Hotel (celebrating Kathy’s birthday).
It’s this hotel and the nearby Ferris Store that got this place up and running. That’s when Harold Schafer – the man who brought us Mr. Bubbles — bought these two places in 1962 and started putting together the village that helps support the national park, bringing the good times out to the Badlands, aways from much else.
Now we are four, with Don flown in from Cincinnati. We drove the truck on the 36-mile loop that goes through the southern portion of park. Saw bison, wild horse and many, many prairie dogs.
We stopped at Jones Creek trail head and had a nice picnic out of the back of the truck before our three-mile hike. We were warned by a trekker coming off the trail to watch out for ticks, which he was shredding from his back. We made it through with no bloodsuckers that needed to be glad to get out of our skins.
We didn’t go to the “rootin, shootin” Medora Western Musical, see an impersonator tell Theodore Roosevelt’s story here or eat at the Pitchfork Steak Fondue restaurant. We didn’t stop at some of the old cabins and other structures that were here when TR made this his way of growing up and then putting it back together after his wife and mother died on the same day.
It’s the kind of remote (where did this landscape come from?) setting that makes a human admit he needs to make it on the land by himself without too much help from the dry, uneven earth around him.
But it is beautiful, and I hope the faux TRs don’t give it away.
“PRESENT opportunities for our guests to be educated and inspired through interpretive programs, museums and attractions that focus on the Old West, our patriotic heritage and the life of Theodore Roosevelt in the Badlands.”
We got up early and both of us – the truck and the two bikes – entered the on-ramp to Interstate 94 next to our hotel. Not with the bikes in the back of the truck, but with both of the riders pedaling along the freeway.
Apparently it’s the only way to make bike contact with North Dakota from Glendive. Mary Jo and I would be un-supported this day, as Kathy was driving 194 miles to Bismarck airport to pick up Don, Mary Jo’s husband, to be our next SAG person.
We rode well coming out of the Yellowstone River valley. The grades angled up not so steep as on the back roads. The surface was smooth not like the rougher chip seal on the other roads. The traffic was light this early in the morning in northeast Montana.
As soon as we exited the freeway, we came across a bunch of cowboys, horses, trucks, cows and calves strung out over a field with a branding going on. What a racket. Men shouting, but mostly cows and calves mooing out their desperation.
Not much farther came the border to North Dakota: Mary Jo only has 45 states left to ride across, and we were started on No. 46 with another return to I-94.
When we arrived at where we were supposed to exit off the freeway, MJ noticed the sign noted Medora, that night’s stopping point, was only 22 miles ahead. The indication on the “Adventure Cycling” maps (highly recommend) said 33 miles to go.
Why shouldn’t bicyclists be allowed on the freeway? The grades are better. There’s a big wide shoulder that makes riding out of traffic easier – especially when there are rumble stripes placed across the highway as they were in North Dakota. A simple stripe along the highway is perfect – you stay over there with the speedy traffic and we stay over here, bicycling along at a slower place. And in a place like Seattle, where the freeways are parking lots most hours of the day, the bicyclers would be the fastest things on the freeway.
The problem would be the exits, since bikers on the shoulder have to ride through the off ramps when they are continuing down the road. That would have to be the bikers’ responsibility to get across the exit without tangling with a car or semi. Hey, we helped pay for some of the best roads in America, why should we use them?
We tour the last 22 miles on the freeway: 62.5 miles in 4 hours and 45 minutes, for an above average of more than 13 mph.
Last night I heard Mary Jo say words I never thought I would hear come out of her mouth: “Maybe we shouldn’t even ride tomorrow.”
This from someone who had ridden across 44 of the Lower 48 states? Was she going soft?
We could have ridden farther yesterday, but both of us decided quitting at Jordan was enough hills and winds for the day. Mary Jo had been checking the forecast on Dark Sky (highly recommended). What she found were winds blowing from the east, directly in to the way we were headed. What happened to the westerly winds so common in this part of the world?
Plus, we were still in the up and down roller country.
So MJ decided we would truck to where the downhill started on the day’s ride and start from there. If that seemed to go OK, we’d keep on going.
I could hardly believe it but happily agreed.
The wind was blowing from the west. So maybe the Principal Rider and Planner, but maybe not the Principal Weather Forecaster?
The downhill to Circle went well. The boogers from my cold are gone (both snot and blood). I said I would bail if I was slowing her down, but on the next 14 miles of uphill part way to Lindsay, I kept up. There were some cross winds, but when we veered right on to Highway 200S, it became a tail wind and then the downhill slide into the Yellowstone River Valley at Glendive. Never below 20 mph for the last 30 miles.
Maybe the best day of riding – 69.6 miles – ever, and we almost didn’t do it.
Life is a journey. We are on yet another one as we zigzag our way across the USA this summer. The plan is to reach Cumberland Gap National Park in the Applachian Mountains before turning around and heading back to the Spokane area. We are traveling in our trusty 26 foot, 2006 Artic Fox travel trailer pulled by a 2010 GMC Sierra truck. Mom, Margaret, is with John and me. Why should she stay home and read the blog when she can be part of the journey? I’ll try to keep it current with travel updates and photos for you to enjoy…or ponder…or laugh at...as the miles roll past us. Cherish the journey!