Northern Tier 2010

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!

July 26, 2010

The Eight-Hour Workday

Filed under: Montana, Section 03 — Henry Scott @ 8:00 pm

Today was our third day in a row of headwinds, and we decided to buckle down, put in a lot of time on the saddle, and try to make decent progress despite the winds. We started in Nashua and ended up in Culbertson, via Wolf Point, for about 95 miles. Much of today’s riding was in the Fort Peck Indian Reservation. I wouldn’t usually think of that as a long ride, but with the wind holding me to an average speed under 12 mph it took a little over eight hours, and it felt very long… Another grueling day at the office 🙂

I enjoyed the scenery, and the ride, but didn’t do much today other than pedal and eat — I’m looking forward to crossing over into North Dakota tomorrow.We’re camped in the city park for our fifth night in a row of free camping. For now, I’m anxious to get to bed.

July 25, 2010

The Great Grasshopper Menace of 2010

Filed under: Montana, Section 03 — Henry Scott @ 8:00 pm

Seth and I leisurely waited around our campsite this morning for the grocery store across the street to open. It was hard to be eager to get on the road because we were camped so close to the train tracks, and trains came about every thirty minutes. That we could sleep at all speaks to how tired we were.

Anyway, around 8:30 we realized the store wouldn’t open at all on a Sunday, and we went for breakfast at a nearby diner. On the way out, a headline in the local paper caught my eye: Worst Grasshopper Outbreak in Fifteen Years. I didn’t think much of it at the time because I’ve been preoccupied with mosquitos.

Although this is reportedly a mild mosquito year due to so much late, cold rain, the problem is severe enough that local communities have workers drive around in the evenings misting the air with repellent. I don’t want to think about the consequences of sleeping in such a fog, so please don’t ask.

Back to the grasshoppers (well, in a moment): today’s ride was short at 57 miles, but very hard due to another day of headwinds. Additionally, since entering the plains of eastern Montana, there’s not much to describe beyond what a few photos can show: the landscape is pretty, but fairly flat and monotonous. Not even the sky would provide something worth writing about — there literally wasn’t a cloud in the sky this morning. Before long I found myself falling into the trap of just staring at long stretches of Highway 2, noting how slowly the miles were adding up on my speedometer and frankly, for the first time on this trip, not enjoying the ride. That is, until I noticed the grasshoppers.

They’re everywhere! All along the roadside, flying through the air and, frequently, smacking into my legs and occasionally my face while riding. As I rode along the shoulder they would launch out of my way in every direction.

Their presence quickly transitioned from a nuisance to a fascination. I’ve never seen so many, and I’m eager to learn what factors cause so many to emerge, after over a decade, at the same time. Is it temperature? The late rains? A combination of factors, or simply time?

I’m sure today’s grasshoppers won’t be something I’ll remember as a highlight of this trip, but they helped me get through my toughest day, psychologically, so far. I suspect the middle of the continent is the hardest part for many, rather than the mountains. In the mountains one has rapidly changing landscapes and an easily visible challenge in front of him, whereas in the plains the road appears to stretch on forever, with little visual change, and the threat of uncooperative winds.

Tonight we’re in Nashua, MT enjoying another night of free camping (and showers!) in its city park.

July 24, 2010

County Fair Cattle Pricing

Filed under: Montana, Section 03 — Henry Scott @ 9:00 pm

The wind is incredibly fickle, and it was not on our side today. I’m still riding with Seth, and despite riding for almost seven hours, we only made it to Saco, MT — about 77 miles. But, there were no storms today, and we had a good time visiting the Dodson Fair. It was close to lunchtime, so I had funnel cake, fry bread, ribs and a snow cone. That tied me over until we had lunch in Malta, where we met a very friendly family with a daughter about to start school at Bethel.

At the fair we were fascinated by the cattle auction. Young boys and girls would parade their cattle, and the auctioneer would call out progressively higher per-pound prices — typically around $1.35 for these 1,300 pound animals, if I recall correctly.

Seth commented on how big of a deal each additional nickel must be for these kids, so when some locals started talking to us (somehow people can always tell we’re from out of town), we asked what qualities make some animals worth more, per pound, than others. As far as we knew, the only data they have is the total weight and what they can discern from watching the cattle walk in a short loop. I thought perhaps there was something in the gait which could indicate overall health, but I was wrong. The answer, we were told: it depends on whose parents, or grandparents, are buying.

From there we made our way to Saco, with a long, tiring, pass through the Bowdoin National Wildlife Refuge. It mainly provides habit for water fowl, but there were signs prohibiting big-game hunting, so presumably large mammals take refuge there as well.

It was pretty and only took us about a mile out of our way, but it meant about 13 miles of riding on rough gravel and dirt roads. Normally I love such routes, but adding such an extra challenge near the end of long day was a bit much. My legs feel injury-free, but they’re definitely getting fatigued. Anyway, this was an experience that will be a better memory than how it felt at the time.

We’ve been traveling through Native American lands and learning about the Assiniboine, Blackfeet and Gros Ventre tribes; a portion of our ride was in the Fort Belknap reservation. A great aspect of bicycle touring is the ease with which one can read every informational exhibit along the way.

We’re again camping for free in a small city park. The only downside is that it is right by the very active train line I’ve mentioned previously. A bonus, however, is that it is right across the street from several bars that serve food. We were initially saddened to find we reached town after the grocery store closed, but instead we gorged ourselves on a very large and very good pizza.

July 23, 2010


Filed under: Montana, Section 03 — Henry Scott @ 8:00 pm

I went to bed last night thinking that today would be a rest day — my body was starting to complain a bit. But, Seth, the other eastbound rider camped in the Chester city park last night (far left in the photo), and I decided to try riding together. Our initial plan was to go short and easy, but it turned out to be a perfect day for riding: a slight crosswind in the morning gradually picked up speed and became a very strong tailwind. One can’t overemphasize how good it feels to ride with a tailwind after being stuck at 10 mph with a headwind the day before.

We ended up covering 104 miles at an average speed of 16.8 mph (12 is more typical for me on tour). Our only significant stop was in Havre; we wanted to keep moving as much as possible to take advantage of the wind, but get to camp early enough to get a lot of rest.

We also took a brief break at a bar / grocery store in Hingham around 10:00 a.m., where we cashed in, and split, a free beer thanks to a token given to us by the westbound cyclist with whom we camped last night in Chester (Tim, far right in the photo). Unfortunately, we forgot to take a token to hand off to the next westbound tourists we meet, but it is a nice tradition the proprietor has going for bikers.

We made it to Harlem, MT by 4:30 and made camp in the city park. Apparently it is common for western cities along the Northern Tier to provide free camping and bathroom access — it is much appreciated.

In addition to the wind, we had good fortune with today’s storms as well: one proceeded us, so that we just had wet roads, rather than actually getting rained on, and the other didn’t reach us until right after we made camp.

Highway 2 has turned out to be more enjoyable that I expected. The landscape is mainly flat, but pretty. It basically follows an historical, yet still quite active rail line.

See below for some riding statistics thus far:

July 22, 2010

The Mountains Are Gone

Filed under: Geology, Montana, Section 03 — Henry Scott @ 10:00 pm

I can still see an occasional butte, faintly to the north, but otherwise I’ve entered the plains and have many flat miles, predominantly on highway 2, ahead of me. Perhaps surprisingly, I’m enjoying the contrast in landscape. We’ll see how long that lasts.

I had a good morning in Cut Bank. I got up reasonably early, but stayed around the Riverview campground to let my gear dry out. It didn’t get wet in yesterday’s storm, but rather from condensation during the night. To pass the time I went out for breakfast and spoke with the owner of the park. He owns about a mile along the ravine on which the park is located, carved into thinly bedded sandstone, and he told me that a complete T-Rex was found here in the 1920’s and is referred to as the “coulee dinosaur.”

The rest of the day was flat with winds that slowly veered from cross with a slight tailwind to cross with a significant headwind. I stopped in Shelby to get groceries, and stayed for over an hour because a storm rolled in while I was shopping; I watched it while eating lunch under a large overhang. The downtown has a lot of character, and the town itself has a rich history of boom and bust economics, ultimately succeeding due to the discovery of oil deposits.

I was hoping to get 100 miles in today, but I got caught in another small storm — it was after that the wind once again became my adversary. I’ve been told that this region usually does indeed have predominantly westerly winds, except for when storms roll through, and we’ve been getting lots of storms recently.

After the storm, my speed kept dropping until I could barely maintain 10 mph, and at that point I reached Chester. The town allows free camping in a pretty park — complete with a large covered structure, drinking water and a clean bathroom.

I met another eastbound cyclist here named Seth; he is ultimately headed for New Hampshire, but we’ll follow the same route for quite a few miles. Before long a westbound biker came through, a teacher from New York, and a motorcyclist after him. We all quickly became friends and set up camp under the protected structure; this turned out to be a good move because sure enough, yet another storm rolled in last night.

Here’s hoping for a return to the prevailing westerlies tomorrow!

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