Northern Tier 2010

August 3, 2010


Filed under: Gear, Minnesota, North Dakota, Section 04, Section 05 — Henry Scott @ 2:00 pm

To Fargo’s credit (and my very slight disappointment), I didn’t see a single reference to the Cohen brothers film today. It is still one of my favorite movies, but Fargo has a resurgent downtown, and there was lots going on without living in the movie’s shadow.

Our ride to Fargo was quite different than our entrance to Minot, the last major town we visited. The winds were at our backs, we didn’t have any mechanical problems, and we covered the 32 miles in excellent time. It was a beautiful day in Fargo. We started with a big breakfast, and I avoided the all-you-can-eat pancakes — another significant departure from our layover in Minot.

After breakfast we went to the fantastic Great Northern Bicycle Co. bicycle shop. The staff were amazing, and they went to great lengths to make us feel welcome, including storing our belongings while we walked around, giving thoughtful advice and directions to do the things we needed to do, and providing expedited service on Seth’s wheel.

The shop itself is in an old train depot, complete with an excellent coffee shop. One of the employees, Judith, remembered meeting Tom, the westbound cyclist we encountered a few days ago in Minnewaulkan, when he came through Fargo. They’ve kept in touch, and Tom had told her we may stop in. She realized who we were from Tom’s description, and we had a great time chatting.

Unfortunately, however, I was a bit preoccupied today, and I spent much of my time in Fargo dealing with an ailing camera. I packed up my Canon S90 and sent it in for warranty service — it cannot get satisfactory focus on distant objects any longer. It has been heavily used since I got it last Christmas, but I’m still disappointed to be having such problems already. Hopefully Canon will repair it under warranty.

Even if they do, however, that leaves me without a camera for at least for a couple of weeks, so I ended up buying a replacement (the Canon 1300IS). It is amazing how long simple tasks such as printing a letter, preparing a shipment, and just getting around take when one has few resources at his disposal. I was glad to be doing something relatively fun rather than, say, looking for a job.

From Fargo we pressed on into Minnesota and are camped for the night in Hitterdal. Tomorrow we may reach the headwaters of the Mississippi, something I’ve been excited to see since my colleague Andy recognized my route would bring me near.


August 2, 2010


Filed under: North Dakota, Section 04 — Henry Scott @ 8:00 pm

Today was hot and humid, but the winds were gentle (and even helpful at times), the roads were good, yesterday’s rest allowed for a lot of recovery, and we had an excellent day of riding to Arthur, ND — about 30 miles shy of Fargo.

Along the way we noticed a sign near Cooperstown pointing west to a Cold War museum four miles off of our route (we were headed south). During what was intended to be a brief breakfast stop, I asked a man on the street about the museum, and he quickly warmed up to us and recommended the museum very highly. It turned out that the man grew up in Cooperstown, but he now lives in Boston. He served in the Navy and was in Cuba during the missile crisis, so his connection to the Cold War and its local relevance is very strong.

Several days ago Seth noticed what he thought was an active missile silo on our way to Minot. We’re now sure that’s what it was (and that it is active), and that there are many more in this region — literally hundreds, which is way down from a peak near 1,000 prior to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) signed by the U.S. and Soviet Union in 1991.

The museum near Coopertown is from the “Oscar-Zero” launch facility which was decommissioned in 1997 due to START, and recently turned into a museum. There were many other such facilities, but the majority were destroyed. The building doesn’t look like much from outside — the impressive stuff is deep underground.

The elaborate infrastructure alone was impressive, let alone the incredible power of destruction at the ready. The tour we took primarily focused on how the crew lived while operating the facility, but we did get to go down 60 feet in an elevator to see the actual launch control room. Hollywood has done a surprisingly good job recreating the, appropriately so, Byzantine process for initiating a launch.

It was sobering, to say the least, to get such a striking, authentic visual of how prepared we have been (and still are, for that matter) to cause unprecedented destruction.

After the Oscar Zero experience it felt incredibly luxurious to be on such an indulgent bike ride. We took a long lunch break in Hope and had such a good experience that had it been a little later we would have made camp for sure. But, it was still early so we pushed on to Arthur for a total of 90 miles. That’s more than I had intended, but today was one of those great riding days for which the miles just seem to roll by, especially compared to living under the threat of widespread thermonuclear war.

If interested, see below to see what I ate today:

August 1, 2010

Slowing Down a Bit

Filed under: North Dakota, Section 04 — Henry Scott @ 6:00 pm

After yesterday’s unplanned century, we decided to stop early today to allow more recovery time — 25 days straight in the saddle is taking a bit of a toll on me, and Maine is still far away. So, today we only covered the 50 miles from our camp near Tokio to Binford. I was napping by 2:30! It felt great to reach our destination and actually rest; on our other rest days we’ve ended up doing lots of around-town biking, fiddling with the bikes, etc..

The population of Binford is only 200, and nothing was open today. I was a bit disappointed at first, but that ultimately made it easier to follow through with getting more down time. I intend to advocate the same routine for the next two days because in addition to more recovery, it will put us in Fargo fairly early in the day on Tuesday, and I’d like some time to check it out. I wonder if I can get some Tru-Coat for my bike?

July 31, 2010

Devils Lake

Filed under: North Dakota, Section 04 — Henry Scott @ 8:00 pm

As planned, the new tire was waiting for us at the tourist bureau in Rugby early this morning, and we were up and running in no time. Unfortunately, the winds shifted again, so we did indeed miss the tailwind we would have had yesterday to the next town on our route, Esmomd.

Instead, we had a hot and humid headwind on a foggy morning, but we made it tp Esmond without any trouble. We took a brief break before continuing on for a longer stop in Minnewaukan on Devils Lake, were we met Tom, an entertaining and incredibly friendly westbound cyclist from Ohio. He has been altering the Northern Tier route to hit organic food co-ops, and he carries large quantities of produce to keep himself going on high-quality fresh vegetables before he resupplies. We swapped stories about where to camp while eating and learning about Devils Lake from the locals.

Notably, the lake level is rising rapidly, threatening roads and towns. Minnewaukan is in danger in the immediate future, and FEMA is already buying up particularly vulnerable homes. From what I understand, the key issue is that Devils Lake doesn’t have any outlets. I don’t yet understand what has changed to cause the rising lake levels.

Despite readily available camping in Minnewaukan, we decided to continue to where our map said we could camp a little northeast of Fort Totten, but we were crushed to find that tent camping has been discontinued as of this July 1st. The “campground” is actually a casino / resort on the Spirit Lake Indian Reservation. I suspect tent-camping cyclists don’t spend enough in the casino to justify maintaining outdoor restroom facilities. Although we were both physically and mentally ready to stop for the day (the humidity had taken a toll), we pushed on.

As a pleasant surprise, some locals pointed us to an RV park near Tokio not listed on our map. Getting there, however, was a convoluted process because the main road continuing along our route has been closed due to the rising waters, and the road surface is currently being raised. I ended up riding the entire closed section (it has already been raised, just not paved), and it was fascinating to see the obvious signs of ongoing flooding such as tree stands surrounded by water.

We arrived at the South End R&R RV Park near sunset exhausted and parched, but we were greeted with tremendous hospitality: no charge for pitching a tent, free cold beer and funny stories. Definitely a nice end to a long day!

July 30, 2010

Stuck in the Middle

Filed under: North Dakota, Section 04 — Henry Scott @ 8:00 pm

I applied my brakes hard enough, in a panic, to lock my rear wheel in a skid for the first time this morning. Not to avoid a collision with a motorist, but because what I thought was a prairie dog crossing the road from a distance turned out to be a skunk. Seth and I were sailing along with our first tailwind in days, and this could have made our day go very badly! Fortunately, we both stopped in time and escaped unsprayed. The day still went kinda badly, but for different reasons.

After that encounter we made excellent time to Rugby (60 miles from Berthold) before lunch and figured we’d easily cover a total of 90 miles yet still make camp early, thanks to accommodating winds. We’re both feeling good, but we decided to try to break our cycle of alternating long and short days and shoot for several says of medium distances. Our average is about 72 miles per day, but we tend to ride more like 90 to 105 or 40 to 60.

But, that wasn’t to be: instead we’ve hit some mechanical problems. Seth is using a road bike equipped with skinny, lightweight, low spoke-count wheels, coupled with a trailer. Frankly, the wheels are inadequate for what he’s doing, but he’s determined to make it work. To his credit, he’s very fast at making repairs (he is fixing a flat in the background of the flower shot), and since he tends to ride faster than me, his spoke and flat repairs have been a good equalizer.

However, today he had several flats before realizing that his rear tire needs to be replaced — the wire bead is pulling through, and even though a boot got him to Rugby, it is clear that’s all the further the tire will take him. We searched the town for a new tire, but were unsuccessful. In the process, I got my second flat in two days!

Remarkably, the folks at the tourism bureau went way above and beyond to help him out. One of the employees has a relative in Minot (the closest town with a full-service bike shop), and he made arrangements for the relative to pick up a tire and deliver it to us in Rugby later tonight. Amazing!

So, we’re camped in Rugby’s city park (with a shower), and we’ll get an early start tomorrow. Notably, Rugby is the geographic center of North America, so it’s an interesting place to be stuck for the night.

Ultimately, I think the additional rest will be of more benefit than making an extra 30 miles would have been. It is a bit painful to let today’s good winds go to waste, but if everything on this trip went as planned, it wouldn’t be much of an adventure, now would it? 🙂

July 29, 2010

Might Not in Minot

Filed under: North Dakota, Section 03, Section 04 — Henry Scott @ 9:00 pm

Today didn’t go as planned, but it provided some additional, and welcome rest. We left Berthold fairly early to have breakfast in Minot (pronounced “my-knot”), get some work done on Seth’s bike and check out the ND state fair. The 24-mile ride, however, did not go smoothly: Seth had a spoke break early on, and I had my first flat tire (after 2,343 miles since building the bike). Neither of these were a big deal, but the winds were strong and against us, and the ride started to feel like it would never end. On the bright side, the scenery was excellent.

We took a long break at a truck stop for showers, laundry and all-you-can-eat pancakes. The day was starting to look up! But, I think I had one too many pancake refills, and my stomach hurt for the rest of the day. Let it be known that I stopped at 11, whereas Seth consumed 15, with no I’ll effects (he’s 11 years younger).

From there we went to the bike shop, hoping they’d prioritize a quick re-tensioning of Seth’s wheel, but we were told it would be several hours, and Seth decided to wait for the next town. At that point we were ready to check out the fair, but I was still recovering from the pancakes so we took a break in the public library.

The cool environment of the library felt so good that we decided to pass on the fair altogether and see a movie — such a distraction from the road had been on our minds for several days. We saw, and enjoyed, Inception, but didn’t get out of the theater until close to 7:00 p.m.

With not much daylight left we only covered an additional 9 miles to Surrey, but we find ourselves in another pleasant city park (with a shower, which is more rare). Finally, it is storming while I write this, but our tents were pitched well in advance and under the cover of a picnic shelter — perfect sleeping conditions!

July 28, 2010

ND Texas Tea

Filed under: Geology, North Dakota, Section 03 — Henry Scott @ 9:00 pm

Oil wasn’t discovered in North Dakota until 1953, and there have been several subsequent cycles of boom and bust. Today Seth and I continued east through northwestern ND, and we saw firsthand the latest rush to increase production in the state.

We rode through expansive parcels of cropland littered with derricks, active pumps and huge dancing flames from off-gassing (it isn’t clear to me why these gases aren’t used for anything productive); the roads were frequented by large trucks carrying pipes, machinery, and portable office units. Locals told us that the last flurry of activity was back in the 1980’s, and the most recent wave started just a year or so ago.

Despite the high volume of truck traffic, today was a great ride, and my legs felt strong. I think the main reason is due to yesterday’s half day of rest, but the winds were weak as well (from the south, but that is much better than the easterlies we’ve been getting!).

After leaving Culbertson we rode 26 miles to Lake Sakakawea before stopping to cook breakfast. We split half a canister of “old fashioned” oatmeal, half a jar of peanut butter and a pint of blueberries. I was so full I couldn’t imagine eating another bite, but massive quantities of oatmeal seem to work well while biking. We didn’t stop again until Stanley 50 miles later where we took a long break and made pasta — in addition to the company, a great benefit of riding with someone is that it makes cooking large meals much easier.

We didn’t make the side trip to Theodore Roosevelt NP that I mentioned yesterday, but we did get some views of ND’s badlands:

From Stanley we continued to Berthold, where we’re camped for the night in a city park, for a total of 108 miles. We went to a bar where we feasted on not-very-good (or healthy), but high calorie items.

Tomorrow morning we’ll start with a 30 mile ride to Minot, the first large town we’ve been in for quite a while, and we’ll then relax and take care of some errands before adding a few more easy miles.

July 27, 2010

Rocky Racoon

Filed under: Montana, North Dakota, Section 03 — Henry Scott @ 2:00 pm

Seth and I decided to make today a partial rest day, and we just rode from Culbertson, MT to Williston, ND. It was a fairly easy 45 miles despite strong northerly winds, but I’m glad we didn’t plan to go any further. I don’t sense any injuries building up, but I haven’t taken a day off yet, and I’m sure my body will appreciate the recharge time.

After a bit of a grind across the plains of eastern Montana, it felt good to enter North Dakota. (It may well be that we’re facing a grind for the next few weeks, especially if the winds don’t turn in our favor!) The photo of us by the North Dakota sign was taken by Jane and Paul of New Jersey: two grandparents crossing the country together by tandem. Our plan is to just relax in town for the rest of today — we may even go to a movie.

I’m also trying to decide whether or not to deviate from the “official” Northern Tier route and head south to Theodore Roosevelt National Park. My colleague Andy recommends it highly, but I’m currently leaning against because it would add about 150 miles to the trip. The mileage isn’t a huge deal, but it may be better to simply save it for another time and go with Jennifer. There’s so much to see, but it is hard to pass anything up!

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