Day 51, Alexandria, Minnesota to Bowlus, Minnesota.

Today I rode 67.09 miles (108 km) for a grand total of 2309 miles (3716 km). I can almost smell the Atlantic Ocean from here. Hmmm, maybe that’s just Lake Michigan?

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When the work crew spotted me, they started waving me away. At least they have a sense of humor.

As I proceeded north from the expensive Super 8 motel, I encountered the same work crew I had seen the night before. There were working on a different side of the highway from where I ruined their work. When they spotted me, after I took the photo, they started waving me away and laughing.

Today was more rail trail riding, all the way to Bowlus. It was mostly level and there was a bit of wind, but nothing I couldn’t live with. I’ve been wondering if Conor and Aidan have finally outpaced me and left me behind. I didn’t see any sign of them when I arrived in Bowlus. The town has a very nice park and we can camp there, but they charge $10 and there is no shower. There is a washroom and restroom. Why do they call it a “restroom?” I don’t know of anyone that actually goes there to rest.

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Jordie’s Cafe, Bowlus, Minnesota

The Adventure Cycle Map says to contact Jordie for camping information. Jordie has a cafe directly across the street so I went to find the details. The staff there was very warm and friendly and I immediately felt at home. Jordie was meeting with a vendor but a server explained that I could camp in the park for $10, or if I wished, camp at Jordie’s Cafe for free. Neither had showers and both had nice green grass. This was a no-brainer, even for me.

Another couple of riders showed up, Kate and Graylon. We started chatting and I found out Graylon is also a radio amateur, AA7GV, from Seattle, Washington. Of course, this meant that Kate wouldn’t have anyone to talk with for the rest of the evening. Graylon’s doing a ride from Newfoundland to Seattle. I’m wondering how much “winter” he will hit in the Cascades?

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We set up camp right in the outside dining platform.

Everything in Jordie’s place has a bicycle theme to it. They are very supportive of the long distance riders and knew our needs. Jordie invited us to put our bikes up on their outdoor covered dining area once the day ended and even invited us to put our tents up there so they wouldn’t get dew on them during the night. We all did. “Cowboy” camping (sleeping without a tent) wasn’t an option, the mosquitoes were hungry.

Jordie’s was having a special on burgers tonight, half-off the price. I couldn’t resist and gave in and had a burger. The previous night, at the Depot Express Cafe they were giving veterans half-off on any meal. Two nights in a row with a price break, life is good.

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The lake made famous by Garrison Keller on his radio show, “The Prairie Home Companion.” The Lake Wobegon Trail.

I set up the radio and made a bunch of ham radio contacts, the furthest being a guy in Pinellas county, in Florida. He didn’t mention the hurricane, and I didn’t ask.

It was a nice cool night and I looked forward to a restful sleep.

Day 48: Moorhead, Minnesota, near Fargo ND

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I tried to get a photo of my bike with the Fargo police car in the background but just as I clicked the shutter, the silver car pulled in and blocked the view. I thought it would a nice reminder of the movie, FARGO.

Actually, I arrived here yesterday on the invite of a WarmShowers.org host. They were really nice to me, especially since they had a really busy weekend and I arrived with very little notice.

They have three dogs and 5 (?) cats. I made friends with most of the dogs immediately. Two of the dogs, “Kazu,” and “Finnegan,” live for their tennis balls. As for the cats, well, they’re cats, some yes, some no.

I took a zero day so I could get caught up on a few things. Laundry and bike repairs were high on the list. The wonderful folks I stayed with did my laundry and I hung it out to dry.

It was time to replace the tires on the bike. A visit to Great Northern Bicycle Company in Fargo took care of all my needs. They reside in a converted railroad station in the downtown area and have an impressive array of anything a traveling biker might need. I picked up two 700C-38 mm tires and a handlebar mount for my smart phone. That should help when I get into cities and need to find my way around with the GPS. I’ve used it a few times carrying it in my back pocket and I just can’t hear it over traffic. Now I should be able to see and hear it.

The tires still had lots of miles on them but I would have had to replace them before making it to Newburyport, Massachusetts, so this was a good place to do it. My hosts said they get people passing through that will put them to good use, so they didn’t get disposed of. The handlebar needed the tape to be re-wrapped so I did that as well. The brakes needed adjusting and the pads are still in good shape, so I didn’t replace them. I really thought I would have to after all those mountain passes. So far this Cannondale bicycle has needed minimum maintenance.

This afternoon I pursued my other avocation: ham radio. I went across the street from my host’s home and set up at a picnic table in the park and had a very pleasant time on the 20 meter shortwave band using a digital radio mode. I communicated with stations in Michigan, North Carolina, Canada, Montana, Missouri and others.

Tonight my hosts made a spaghetti dinner. I have been lusting after spaghetti and ate until I could hardly move. Thank you Sam!

I’m off to who-knows-where tomorrow, but probably another seventy or so miles. It certainly felt good to rest.

Day 45: Hazelton, North Dakota to Gackle, North Dakota

Other riders had told me that there is a hostel for bicycle riders in Gackle. This would make it worthwhile pushing for 68 miles (109 km) to make it there.

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Jane is so fortunate that I don’t have something like this as a hobby.

The day started very cold and overcast. I could see some blue sky off in the east and I tried to catch it all day. It stayed just ahead of me. There was a stiff wind from my right side. It made things colder.

I skipped breakfast. It was just too early to eat and I was still feeling full from the burger from the night before. Napoleon, ND, was 26 miles away, I’d have breakfast there.

Napoleon turned out to be a longer ride than I thought; the wind and cold slowed me. It was lunch time when I arrived. I went into the White Maid diner and had a BLT. I asked my server about a local park and she indicated one was just down the street. I went there, and in all my long clothing, laid on the sleeping mat and dozed for about forty minutes. I was glad I had all the rain gear on, it didn’t rain, but it kept me warm.

Refreshed, I headed off for Gackle, ND. When I arrived in Gackle, I looked at my map information and it showed a phone number for the Honey Hub of Gackle, a respite for bicyclists. I called and it just had a busy signal. Starving, I found a bar that was open. I’ve noticed that in North Dakota most places don’t make a great effort to indicate if they’re open.

I peeked in the door and it appeared to be a stockroom. As my eyes adjusted, it had tables and a bar. I went in and found a bunch of men off in a corner getting ready for a Fantasy Football get-together. I have no interest in football but was terribly interested in their food. There was no menu, they just had a buffet of things to make tacos. For $9.00 I could eat all the tacos I wanted. I was in.

Eventually, I did get through on the phone and an automated message told me how to get to the Honey Hub. Some kind folks set aside a room in their basement for traveling bicyclists. There are two beds, a couch and floor space. When I arrived I saw two bicycles that I had seen before, Coner’s and Aidan’s. I figured they would be closer to Maine by now, but there they were. It was wonderful to see them again and we caught up on old times, being friends for about 48 hours. That is how it is on these adventures.

As night fell, I went out into the back yard and set up my ham radio for a bit. Aidan had expressed an interest in seeing it and the yard made it easy for me to throw up an antenna. In no time, I was on the air and making contacts with stations in Mississippi, Illinois, Michigan, and Venezuela, among others.

The mosquitoes were everywhere so I didn’t stay out too long. The other two fellows had already put out the lights, so I put my headlamp on the red light, so as not to wake them, and went in for a quick shower and was off to bed.

Day 41-42: Beach, North Dakota to Dickinson, North Dakota

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The Badlands Westgate Motel, North Dakota. I had the room on the right end.

Leaving the Badlands Westgate motel in Beach, ND, I rode back to the highway to pick up some Gatorade. I didn’t want to be out there on the prairie with just water. The heat here has been extreme and the body needs more than just water.

The day proved too hot and there was a big climb out of Medora, North Dakota. Much of today’s ride is on Interstate highway. There are areas where this is no way to get from point A to point B without using the interstates, so they allow it. Most of the time it is from one exit to another, but sometimes one has to cross exits and caution is the rule. It all works well as long as one pays close attention to traffic.

I planned on stopping in Medora for lunch. If the previous day had not been so hot, I would have been there, instead of Beach. I’m glad I stayed at Beach, Medora was more of a tourist town and everything was priced accordingly. My lunch was a potato skin appetizer and lemonade and it came to $16.00. Sticker shock!

The climb out of Medora was long and hot. By mid-afternoon, the temperature was 103° F (39.4° C) and I was fading. About two miles out from Belfield, ND, I was riding along, lost in misery, when I heard a loud screech and then something blasted by my head, only inches away. I can honestly admit to being very shaken, it came out of nowhere. It was a hawk or falcon and it was angry, very angry.

Maybe some of my birding friends can identify the bird?

It swooped up into the sky, screaming all the way, and then, at about a thousand feet, it turned for another attack. I stopped. Watching, and not believing my eyes this bird came in at full force and speed, maybe 100 MPH (160 kmh) and hit my helmet as it blasted through again, screaming all the way. It took a chunk out of my helmet and knocked my headlamp to the side. This was too much, this bird was in full attack mode.

Birds of prey have intensely sharp talons. Their handlers that work with them wear protective clothing for just that reason. I didn’t want to get hit in the neck or elsewhere with this crazed bird. I grabbed my full water bottle and camera figuring on the third attack I would knock this bird silly. As if sensing I now had a defense, it stayed a little further away, but kept screaming and circling.

For the next mile or so, stopping when I thought there may be another attack, I kept an eye on the sky and eventually escaped my attacker. In Belfield, ND, I stopped and asked the women working in the convenience store if there had been reports of bird attacks. She said no, and I showed her the video on the phone, stunned, she couldn’t figure it out either. I also noticed lots of  these birds dead along the road, probably hit by vehicles they were attacking. Weird. Alfred Hitchcock would have been pleased, I’m sure.

When I had entered Belfield, the thermometer at the gas station showed 103°. I drank several quarts of cold drinks. Leaving, the wind had picked up and it was now much cooler, only 100° F. Wanting to reach Dickinson before dark, I charged on.

After about three miles I just knew I had to take a break, the heat was getting to me. I spotted the only shade for miles, a lonely hay bale roll. I leaned the bike against it, took out my sleeping pad and laid in the only shade I could find. I immediately fell asleep, for about 40 minutes.

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The only shade for miles around!

After drinking a whole bottle of Gatorade and the nap, I was ready for the last 15 miles or so.

I arrived in Dickinson just before sunset. I scrambled around, looking for a motel that I could stay in for two nights. The first place I checked was full, the next I couldn’t find anyone that was working the office, so I left and finally, at the Motel 6, I found a room. For a Motel 6, the room was really nice. I have a king sized bed and a big, soft, easy chair recliner. Life is good.

Day two in Dickinson, ND:

I had a very much needed restful night. I awoke, went for a waffle breakfast across the street and then returned and slept for three more hours.

Jane had shipped me a new sleeping bag via Amazon.com. On the way into town last night I received a call from Fed-Ex. They couldn’t deliver the package to the Post Office and wanted to know if they should return it, or if they could hold it and I could pick it up? I told them to hold it, of course. This morning I discovered that their depot was right across the street from the motel, so I walked over and picked up my new sleeping bag. It is a bit larger than my current one, but that is because most of the down filling is now gone out of the old one.

The new bag is a mummy bag that can zip together with another bag of like design and will help keep Jane warm when we hike the Francigena Camino in Italy. I will need the warmth as I near the east coast later in this ride.

Speaking of the ride, I often get asked: “Which is more difficult, hiking or biking?” It would seem biking would be easier, it is not. There is a lot more weight to pull up the hills and headwinds can really add huge amounts of work to the travel. I may have addressed this in another posting. I’m so glad to be getting out of the mountains and, hopefully, the travel will be easier. Now I have to watch for the prairie headwinds, I hope they’re tailwinds. With a good tailwind, this could be easier than hiking.

This second day involves eating. I went to the Country Kitchen restaurant up the street and had a fantastic chicken penne (pasta) dish. After hitting a million diners where burgers are the main meal, this was a welcomed change. It was very good and I even followed up with a small sundae and hot tea. I almost felt human again. The server was very nice and attentive and made me feel like the only customer in there (I practically was).

After going back to the room and updating this blog, it was time to go to the Jaycees Park in town and see how my ham radio would work out. So, just before sunset, I arrived at the park and started setting up. The procedure is simple. First, I connect a partially filled water bottle to the antenna string and toss it up into a tree. This, in turn, is used to pull up the antenna wire.

Next, I hook up the cables, the Chromebook computer, and the battery power and I’m ready to go. Tonight was a good night and conditions worked well. I talked with folks in Illinois, West Virginia, Virginia, Indiana, and Montana. The Montana contact was a bit difficult because I’m actually too close for the short waves. The station was AG7KZ, Brian, the fellow that helped me out with electronic repairs when I was in Missoula, Montana. His antenna, like mine, isn’t very impressive so it was fun to make contact.

I tore everything down around 10 pm and rode back to the motel having finished a good day. The only place I could find an evening meal was MacDonalds, so got something to go and ended my day.

With luck, I will make it to either Glen Ullin, MT (50 miles) or New Salem, MT (about 65 miles) tomorrow. If the weather holds, I should be in Minnesota by next Monday or at least close. With 42 days I haven’t had to ride in the rain yet.

 

Day 36: Lewistown, Montana to Winnett, Montana

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Those items on the left are snowplows that mount on the front of locomotives. They’re about 12 feet (4 m) tall. I can’t imagine how much snow it takes for a plow like that.

I wimped out again today, only 57 miles(92 km), for a trip total of 1420 miles (2285 km). I left my Warmshowers.org host, “Brian,” at an early hour, around 07:00 to a sunshine filled morning. I rode down the hill into town and stopped at a coffee shop. The shop had a bunch of fans running in the door, trying to cool the dining room down as much as possible…their air-conditioning was on the blink and wouldn’t be repaired soon.

I had a fine cup of hot tea and a raisin bagel. I’ve found that I’d rather go light on breakfast, the “hearty” breakfast of eggs, bacon, homefries, and all the other things that they throw in, really kill any desire to get out and pedal. I just want to take a nap.

Further down the road, I stopped at a convenience store to pick up my daily ration of Gatorade; I’m using about two quarts a day. The owner was outside having a smoke and we talked for a while. He was complaining about the government, a popular theme in this area of the world. His complaint was that he was going to have to pay $300,000 in capital gains taxes this year. A few weeks back, in Lolo, MT, I talked with a casino owner and he was complaining about the government and how he had to pay $500,000 this year. I didn’t say anything to burst their bubble, but they should be thankful that they live in a country that they have to pay that much tax. Imagine how much money they are making! Poor people don’t pay those sorts of taxes, I wish I had to pay taxes like that. Then again, maybe I would just be a whiner too.

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For over 1400 miles now the cattle have been keeping a wary eye on me.They look ready to stampede at any second.

After an initial 9 mile (14 km) climb out of Lewistown, there was a glorious 20 mile (32 km) downhill ride. I was making really good time and then the sun came out in full force. I wilted and my forward progress became a struggle.

By the time I came to the road that turns off to Winnett, Montana, I was done. I went and looked at the George Ore Memorial Park, as shown on Google Maps and it was very uninviting. It was just an empty field. I opted for the only motel in town, it was just too hot to set up a tent in that open field. I found out later that the Google Map tool is incorrect, the park is at the other end of town (which is only about a third of a mile away).

It was so hot that I was thrilled to have a room and air conditioning. Later, I went to the Kozy Korner Cafe for lemonade and food. It was a simple menu, but the food was good and the lemonade exceptional. The owner’s daughter, Shelby, (12 years old?) waited on me and did a fine job. It was only mid-afternoon, so I went back to the room and took a rare nap.

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The Winnett courthouse suffered severe damage in the June 2016 hailstorm.

In early June of this year, a huge hailstorm tore through Montana. Winnett suffered lots of crop damage and building damage. They’re still putting things back together. I stopped and took a photo of the new courthouse and police station. The windows on the second floor are boarded over and the first floor still has broken glass. They had winds of 99 mph (159 km/h).

 

Later, after having cooled off, I returned to the cafe for a proper meal and met some local folks. We talked for far too long, so long that I didn’t go back to the room and put up a wire and operate my ham radio. My ham friends will be in revolt if I don’t show up on the air again soon. Besides, carrying all that equipment is difficult, I need to justify carrying it.

As usual, I drifted off to sleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.

Day 35: Denton, Montana to Lewistown, Montana

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It is hard to beat the scenery here in Montana. Square Butte followed me for miles.

At every turn, I’m seeing things that, well, I’ll never see in Florida. Real eye candy.

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Hay, or alfalfa, rolled up and ready to go. This keeps reminding me that winter is coming and I need to beat it to New England.

Today’s ride is about 45 miles and there is just one major climb. As usual, I’m optimistic that I should make it to town (Lewistown) in plenty of time and, for a change, I do. I enjoy the scenery along the way and snap lots of photos.

I’m disappointed in the camera in the phone I’m using. For reasons unexplained, it will store the photo upside down, or mirror image. Had I known this before the trip, I would have gotten something else. It is an LG LK7 and leaves me frustrated with photos that I cannot load up to the blog, for some other reason, they just won’t load. This means that you folks are missing out on some interesting photos that I just can’t post.

Even though the ride was short today, it was hot. I arrived in Lewistown with just a few drops of water left and all of my Gatorade consumed. Even for this Floridian of fourteen years, it is hot.

I arranged with a WarmShowers.org member to stay at their place, but that wouldn’t be in until late in the day; some people have jobs, a concept I have pretty much forgotten about. I needed to do a few things while in town, so after filling up on cold drinks, I went looking for things. First on the list was another soldering iron, I needed to fix my ham radio antenna tuner again. The local True Value store had one for $20, so I decided to wait and see if my WarmShowers.org host might have one. We’ll call my host “Brian.”

I then hunted around for a bike shop. My shifting was getting bad and I don’t have the tools I have at home, so I figured, let the experts do it. More importantly, I discovered this morning, in my daily inspection of the bike, that I was missing a very important bolt that holds the handlebars to the front wheel. There are two, and if loose, the wheel could turn in any direction on its own. I imagined flying down a hill at speed and hitting a small rock and the wheel turning!

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This bolt in the center of the photo had gone missing.

I found High Plains Bike and Ski on 10th Street. (406)538-2902 He is only open a few hours a day, and on specific days. I was lucky, he was going to open at 4 pm, so I parked in front of his place, laid on some shady grass and went to sleep. A vehicle pulled up 20 minutes later and Mark, the owner, invited me in. He did some quick adjustments, replaced the bolt and did it all so quickly I didn’t realize he was already done. For a few bucks, I was ready to go.

The best part is Mark really knows his machines. He looked at the paint on my top tube of the bike, the one that runs from the seat to the handlebars and warned me to keep an eye on it. The machine has about 54000 miles on it and all that sweating over the years has etched off the paint and is causing corrosion on the tube. He instructed me to get a razor blade and peel off the paint and take a closer look to be certain the tube isn’t forming cracks. I will. For the moment, it does seem okay.

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Corrosion on the top tube.

One more thing to think about as I ride along.

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Mark isn’t looking for more business, he seems to have enough customers, but if you’re in town and in trouble, look for his shop.

I left Mark’s shop and met with my WarmShowers.org host, “Brian.” Brian had been working on a car that he just got a good deal on. A few days ago, a friend collided with a deer. The hood was damaged, and the deer flew over the top of the car and crashed through the rear window and into the back seat. The owner considered the car totaled and sold it to “Brian” for a very reasonable price. “Brian,” and a friend replaced the rear window with an opaque material and duct tape and he is hunting for a good hood. Otherwise, the car is in great shape, the deer, not so much.

“Brian,” and I met at the local Chinese restaurant and ate to our heart’s content. We then went to his father-in-law’s and borrowed a soldering iron. My day was coming together.

We went to “Brian’s” place and he showed me to a couch in the basement which would be my “room” for the night. He introduced me to “Cricket,” a young cat that he has. I told him I like cats and he didn’t have to keep her upstairs, she would be fine in the basement overnight.

I settled in, had a hot shower and soldered my antenna tuner. The WiFi connection in the basement was hopeless, so I hit the hay. The couch is in a bicycle storage area so there are bikes everywhere, including a few hanging directly over the couch. When standing I had to avoid hitting my head.

When I went to sleep, “Cricket,” decided to go to sleep at my feet. All was well. I was warm, dry, comfortable, and had a cat sleeping at my feet.

At about 03:05 am I recall that the cat had moved up and was now sleeping on my butt. She isn’t fully grown and wasn’t very heavy. All that Chinese food was having a reaction and suddenly my butt felt like Mt. St. Helens. In the pitch dark, there was a mighty blast of hot air. Cats can be very reactionary and this one was no exception. The sudden loud noise scared the living daylights out of her and she launched…straight up. With a terrified scream, she crashed into the bikes hanging overhead. I then heard her clattering around and scrambling to escape. I was laughing so hard I thought I peed myself.

I got up, came back to bed and went back to sleep, the cat was nowhere to be seen. In the pitch dark, about a half-hour later, she quietly returned and went to sleep by my feet. She is a quick study.

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Cricket

In the morning I packed up, said goodbye to Cricket and “Brian,” and headed off out of town. I was still chuckling about the cat. “Brian” is one of those folks that likes to be prepared should anarchy ensue and the world as we know it ends. He stockpiles water, rice and beans, lots of dried beans. Should the world devolve into anarchy I might warn Cricket that with all those beans, she might want to carefully consider where she sleeps.

Day 32: Zero day in Great Falls, Montana

Day 2 in Great Falls:

I awoke to another morning of sunshine. I did get up during the night to take a look at the Perseid meteor shower, but it seemed about average, so I went right back to sleep. My body demanded rest.

After going out for breakfast, it was time to go look for a new sleeping bag. My current one has a lot of use and the stuffing, down, is getting pretty flimsy. Jane suggested that I replace it with something that we can share body heat with when we hike together. She likes things warm and I like them cool, so I should share my heat. Makes sense to me.

I went to the local outfitters in Great Falls but was sadly disappointed. They didn’t even have sleeping bags or much for camping at that. They had every conceivable type of ammunition and weapon that you could imagine, but no real “outfitter” equipment. I have fallen into this trap before. There are two views of what an outfitter is:

  1. An outfitter for outdoor life, such as camping, cooking, and in general, living with what you can carry on your back or bicycle.
  2. An outfitter for hunting, which means weapons, ammunition, knives, scents to attract game and maybe fishing gear. Most of this equipment is hauled around in a big pickup truck, all much too heavy to carry around, even for Lewis and Clark. Some of the stoves weigh more than my bike and gear.

It would be really helpful if they had two different names to describe the business model. How about “Gearfitter,” vs. “Outfitter.” Or maybe “Huntfitter?”

Failing to solve that problem, I suggested to Jane that she go to our local outfitter for hiking gear in Sarasota and find what she likes and then purchase the one that will fit me and send it to me. We’re planning a hike in Italy at some point and that should solve that problem as well.

Next, I loaded up my ham radio equipment and went down the road to the local park. I found an empty plastic water bottle, partially filled it and tossed my antenna wire almost fifty feet (fifteen meters) up into a tree. It managed to get partially tangled and I figured I might have trouble getting it down, but I’d worry about that later.

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Radio station on a park concrete picnic table. The pink device is a roller I keep the antenna wire and string on. The white thing on the left is headphones. The black thing in the box is a Yaesu FT-817ND ham radio. The computer is a Samsung Chromebook, running Linux. The yellow box on the right is a heavy duty carrying case for delicate things.

With everything hooked up and ready to go, I tried to tune the antenna system to the band I wanted to operate on, twenty meters. The antenna wouldn’t tune. Back in Missoula, I had help making a cable that I had lost and the new cable appeared to not work. It turns out the cable was fine, but the jack that it plugs into was slightly damaged when I Jerry-rigged something to make it work. The new cable wouldn’t contact the old jack, it was as if the antenna wasn’t attached.

I took the tuner apart and with an alligator clip, I bypassed the connector and made things work.

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The tuner all apart with an alligator clip to connect the antenna. Life in the field.

After wasting all that time I finally communicated with stations in Indiana, California, Michigan and Illinois. I like to chat once I connect with someone and I had some fine chats. I was using a digital mode that is much like a chat room on the Internet, but instead of over cables, the communications is point-to-point, via the computer and radio. Thanks to radio stations W9SMR/9, NO8R, N6YFM, K9DEB and KC9UR for bearing with me.

After about four hours it was time to put it away and go eat. I tugged on the antenna wire to get it down from the tree. It was firmly caught. Tugging on it attracted a squirrel and it came over to see what was going on. I waited until it was really close and then gave a strong tug. I thought the squirrel was going to jump out of its skin. It did a perfect ten-point back-flip and then landed on the limb and scampered away. I couldn’t help laughing. Amazingly, the bottle pulled free and dropped to the ground. Usually, I lose a piece of wire and some string in these circumstances.

I brought everything back to the motel, put the batteries on charge, and went out for pizza. Now it is time to pre-pack for morning and head east once again. I’m hoping to ride to either Fort Benton or Geraldine, Montana, tomorrow. In about a week or less, I hope to be in North Dakota. Here’s hoping.

 

Day 31: Augusta, Montana to Great Falls, Montana

After a bagel at Mel’s Diner, I was ready to head for Great Falls. I really try to avoid a heavy breakfast, it leaves me wanting to just take a nap after a few miles. I stopped at the general store and picked up a package of doughnuts and a large container of Gatorade.

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The countryside is looking desolate and forbidding.

Everything is looking brown and dry. The mountains had streams flowing everywhere and lots of green forests. I have a feeling that from here on it will be much different. I’m leaving the Rockies behind.

Numerous deer ran out in front of me on the road leading out of Augusta. Here is why so many of them get killed in traffic (I’ll shorten this video a bit, once I have access to video tools, it is 1:19 min):

I made it to Simms and was ready for a snack. Simms was where I would have ended up had I taken the shortcut I considered yesterday. The folks at the gas station also wondered why the maps took me to Augusta. They said the SR200 was better road and wider and would have saved 25 miles (42 km) of riding. The station didn’t have much for food, so I just had an orange juice and continued on.

The road from Simms to Great Falls is a straight shot and was reasonably flat. The map showed several very small towns along the way that had food opportunities, but when I arrived in them, the cafes were shut down and out of business.

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More and more I was seeing places out of business and closed. Potential ghost towns?

Hungry, I continued on. Finally, near Vaughn, MT, I found a deli and had some lunch.

I had been trying, via email, to find some of the radio amateurs in Great Falls, but hadn’t been having much luck. I was hopeful I could find someone to let me use their antenna for my little station to give it some extra “umpf,” since my little wire in a tree isn’t that great. I was also hoping that one of them would do like a Warmshowers.org host and give me some bedroll space, but it wasn’t to be.

As I rolled into Great Falls, storm clouds were gathering in the west. I decided to find something quickly. I stopped at the first motel I spotted and for $40 got a very nice room. The motel is the Alberta, in Great Falls, Montana, and I highly recommend it for bicycle travelers. The room is nice, the staff is very friendly (as are their dogs) and the motel is well situated on the main drag.

A few minutes after arriving, I had a Skype call scheduled with some friends at my Toastmasters Club in Sarasota, FL, Positively Speaking Toastmasters. They asked me to participate remotely in our weekly meeting. The connection wasn’t great, but we did manage to meet and have a few laughs and I updated them on my progress.

I rode to downtown and stopped at Bert and Ernie’s Tavern and Grill and Grill and had a BLT. The server/bartender is a young man that is going off to the Marines in a few weeks. We had a nice chat and I wished him well.

I returned to the room and intended to update this blog, but laid my head on the pillow for a few minutes, just to rest, and before I knew it, I was asleep.

Day 27: Missoula, Montana. Decisions, Decisions.

Missoula is a really bicycle-friendly town with lots of bike lanes, bike shops, and courteous drivers. I decided on a second night in the motel, so I’m still in the same place.

Today I had several chores that needed doing. First, I needed a haircut and beard trim. I was starting to scare little children and dogs were barking at me…it was time.

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Finally, a haircut and beard trim.

Next on the agenda was a stop to Adventure Cycle Headquarters. The folks there put together amazing maps of various bike routes around the country. I talked to Beth there and she was very knowledgeable and helped me chose the best route to Newburyport, Massachusetts, my destination. Did I mention they offer free ice cream to long distance bikers? They won an instant friend.

I met briefly with Greg. Greg does their magazine photo work and promised I would return tomorrow with the bike loaded up for a photo.

Last on my list, but not least, was doing my laundry. I packed up everything I have, including my sleeping bag, and headed to the laundromat. Once there, I removed my shirt and put on my raincoat, I was already wearing my swimsuit. Everything I have for clothing and sleeping went into the washing machine. I looked like a pervert standing there in my swimsuit and raincoat. Oddly, I don’t think anyone noticed. Either they are accustomed to perverts, or long distance bikers…I hope the later.

While waiting, I received a phone call from a fellow named Brian. Earlier I had gone to QRZ.com, a ham radio database. I put Missoula in the search and it gave me a list of ham radio operators in the area. I started searching through and found Brian, call letter AG7KZ, had an email address. I sent him an email asking if he knew where I could find some parts I needed to replace a cable that I had lost, probably back in Baker City, Oregon, when the police officer chased me out of the park. Brian called to tell me he had some cables and parts I needed to do the repair.

He invited me to meet with him across from the hotel, next to the Kentucky Fried Chicken place. When I returned to my room I changed into more acceptable clothing, I figured showing up in a swimsuit and raincoat might be a bit much for a first encounter. I thought he said he’d meet me in the parking lot, but I couldn’t find his vehicle anywhere. I called him back and he explained that he wasn’t in his vehicle, he actually lived on the other side of the restaurant. Of all the few hundred ham radio operators in the region, I managed to coincidentally pick the one that was across the street from my motel room. What are the odds? Yesterday nothing went right, my luck had changed.

Brian invited me in, handed me the needed cable and parts and, over a Moose Drool, I proceeded to put together the cable. Brian was a joy to talk with. Then his wife arrived. Maggie is originally from Costa Rica. She introduced me to their huge cat, Max. Maggie said Max doesn’t see many strangers but he let me pet him and invade his turf.

Brian and Maggie took me off to dinner at the Iron Horse Bar & Grill and we had a wonderful time discussing all things Costa Rica, hiking, and biking.  Costa Rica is now officially added to my bucket list. A thunderstorm blew through while we ate. It was the first real rain I have seen since starting this journey; I hope it isn’t a harbinger of things to come. As I am writing this, I can hear another storm approaching.

I can’t wait to see what tomorrow holds. Then again, that is what is so wonderful about these long adventure bike/hike trips, you never now what you will be facing, and that makes it exciting.

Day 26: Lolo, Montana to Missoula, Montana

Only 13 miles (21 km) today. I’ve ridden a grand total of 968 miles since Lincoln City, Oregon.

I awoke to a very cold morning. It wasn’t freezing, but I wore everything I had. I tried to operate the ham radio for a while, but my hands were getting so cold it was difficult. I sat there at the picnic table with the radio and me all wrapped up in my sleeping bag to keep warm. It was not pleasant.

The night before I had spent some time on the ham radio and communicated with several stations in California, Missouri and one in Ashburnham, Massachusetts, Jack, W1PFZ. I have talked with Jack previously and it was nice to hear him again. He lives just down the road from a lifelong friend of mine. His signal was very weak, but I was surrounded by Montana mountains and we were both running very low power, he, about 20 watts and I about 2.5 watts.

For most of this journey I haven’t been able to use my cell phone anywhere, it was comforting to know that, should I need it, I can reach somebody, somewhere.

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These guys said goodbye to me as I left Lolo, Montana..

While stopped for a quick bite to eat in Lolo, I met a few local bicyclists and asked them where one might stay in Missoula. The described a few places I might try. Oddly, as big a town as Missoula is, I had not yet been able to arrange a WarmShowers.org stay. There are something like 90 hosts in town. The problem I’m running into is most of the members are doing as I am, they’re off having a good time like I am. Either that, or I’m finding their data is not up to date and I never make contact with them.

The ride into Missoula is almost entirely a new bike path that parallels the highway. It is gentle rolling hills and scenic. As I rode along I passed two women pulled over on mountain bikes, they seemed engrossed in conversation.

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Buffalo, just outside of Missoula, Mountana.

Later I stopped to photograph a field full of buffalo and the two women caught up and said hello. Forgive me, I should write names down, I believe it was Ellenia and Terry. (if you’re reading this, do let me know the correct spelling!). I explained my plight with WarmShowers.org and the first name Terry mentioned was one of the many people that I had already contacted. That particular contact already had a house-full. They were very nice and tried to be helpful, but it was obvious I would just have see what I could find in town.

Next, the cyclists I met back in Lolo caught up to me and we rode along and chatted for a bit. They were interested in the Camino in Spain so I gave them the very quick low-down on it, as much as one can pushing up and down rolling hills with a seventy pound bike. They were on fast bikes and I knew I was holding them up, so told them to go on. We were starting to meet lots of bike traffic coming from the other direction.

I rolled into Missoula and was at a loss as to what to do for accommodations. I had several messages and phone calls that were still unanswered, so I figured I’d just find somewhere with WiFi and wait it out. I went to a McDonalds (they have great WiFi here in Montana) and got something to drink.

It was a nice day and I spent the next four hours hanging around there with my drink and laying under a tree on their lawn. I wasn’t alone, there were other people doing the same, so I didn’t feel out of place. After all that time, the skies started to darken, so I figured it was time to do something.

Across the intersection behind the McDonald’s I spotted an amateur radio antenna on a home. Like I am so often wont to do, I rode over there to see if anyone was home. Maybe they would have some ideas. I knocked on the door and rang the doorbell…again, no luck. Nobody home.

Lightning was starting to crack. It was time to find a home for the night so I quickly rode over to a motel up the road and got a room. I don’t like being out in lighting, especially when hiking or biking. Your head is the highest point around and a likely target.

After settling into the room it was time for a meal. I hadn’t really eaten much all day. I was up for Italian food, specifically: spaghetti. Some of the WarmShowers.org hosts I had been trying to contact had noted they were vegetarians and all day I had fancied myself hooking up with one of them and going out, buying local produce and sharing an evening meal of fantastic pasta and great veggies. That’s the nice thing about such an organization, meeting local people and having experiences.

The hotel had a list of local restaurants and one showed “Italian food.” A place called Noodles & Company was listed. I had never heard of them, and they were right around the corner. I walked down and found it at a mall. I went in and the decor was disappointing, it was Papa Ginos, with less class. It was a big, wide open space, and looked like a military mess hall with fancy lights.

I was hungry and determined to get my spaghetti. I ordered from the chart on the wall. Beer? There was no local beer. I had my heart set on a local brew to go with the spaghetti. All they had were soft drinks. I was sinking to a new low, spaghetti and cola.

Deflated I seated myself with my drink and number card so they could bring the meal. The spaghetti arrived in a bowl, a big bowl. The bowl wasn’t too full and swimming in the bottom of it was noodles, a weak looking tomato sauce and a few meatball. It wasn’t the meal I dreamed of. When you’re married to one of the world’s best spaghetti dinner makers, that dish is a big letdown.

I left, disappointed. I had failed at everything that day, nothing went as planned. I stopped at a microbrewery next to the motel, surely they would have a brew. At last, success, they had something called Smoke Chaser Porter, and it was excellent. The brewery was having some sort of talent show, so I watched as I had my brew. After the third act I realized it was comedy night, but the humor was mostly falling flat. It sounded more like an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.

Anyway, the brew was good and it was off to bed. Hopefully tomorrow will be more successful.