Day 46: Gackle, North Dakota to Little Yellowstone Park, North Dakota.

Today was a strange day. I started out very late, almost noon time. It was so nice at the Honey Hut, I just couldn’t get going. Coner and Aidan left about an hour before I. On the way out, I noticed the local Tastee Freez was open so I opted for brunch. The only thing that resembled a lunch, other than the usual burgers, was fish and chips. What could go wrong with that? It would transport me back through time to all those wonderful times in London.

The order came with two things, the fish, that resembled fried mozzarella sticks and the fried potatoes were somewhere between potato chips and french fries. Everything was swimming in grease. Needless to say, I wasn’t transported very far, certainly not to my next destination, Enderlin, ND. I stopped at the Coop on the way out and picked up Gatorade. I’m starting to have blood levels measured in Gatorade percentages.

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It was another sunny, hot day and I immediately removed all my warm clothing. The road today would prove long, flat and boring. This section to Fargo is truly flat, almost like the ocean. There are a few places that drop to rivers, but that’s it.

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You can see the rumble strip on the forever flat road. In this photo, there is a semi tractor-trailer coming from the other direction. I’m guessing it was traveling about 70 MPH and took close to five minutes to reach me, that is over four miles away.

There is a choice of riding on the shoulder of the road, but it is narrow, is loaded with debris and one had to avoid getting on the ever-present rumble strip. With so little traffic I would just ride on the road and watch my mirror. That worked out well.

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I spent most of the day racing a thunderstorm. It was off to my left, way behind me. Gradually, it was gaining on me, but I was doing a good job of staying ahead of it. It was also going to cross the road at a point that I could almost predict accurately. If I kept my pace, I would be ahead of it and it would cross behind me.

Feeling smug and in control of my situation I spent a good part of the afternoon racing the storm. Today, I passed 2000 miles (3300 km) on my total trip miles.

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2001 miles.

Then, without warning, the back of my bicycle felt like it was riding on marshmallows. At 2005 miles, I had my first flat tire. With the storm gaining on me, I moved the bike off the road to a spot next to a vacant construction site. I figured the metal building would be a good lightning rod and I could hide in the Porta-potty. Not the best plan, but at least I would be dry.

With a loaded touring bike, it is difficult to work on a flat without removing everything. Once everything was off the bicycle, I flipped the bike upside-down to easily remove the wheel. I had to put the tent under the handlebars to prevent damage to odometer and bell.

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A flat tire fix in process.

The rear tire is wearing much quicker than the front tire and I was planning on replacing both in Fargo, I was only a few miles off on my estimate. Often, when cars blow a tire at high speed, they shred the steel belted wire into a million pieces. My bicycle tire had ingested a shard of this stainless steel wire.

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The biggest difficulty one faces repairing a bicycle flat in the field is determining exactly what caused the flat. Without finding the cause, putting a new tube will most like result in another flat in a few miles. Fortunately, I found this wire easily.

I’m carrying three spare tubes. I quickly put in a new tube and put everything back together. I could have patched the tube, but that is just a band-aide fix and they don’t always take well.

I still had to deal with the approaching thunderstorm. It had really gained on me and the race was on. I had about 28 miles to reach Enderlin and it wasn’t looking hopeful. I was certain the storm would now cross the road ahead of me. If it did, I would just stop and wait for it to pass. In my original plan, this was fine, but I had lost considerable time repairing the tire, I now faced running out of time before nightfall. I raced forward.

It looked as if the storm would cross about two miles ahead of me, I wasn’t going to beat it. I flew down a hill at the Sheyenne river. I took note of the Little Yellowstone Park campground on my right. If I didn’t beat the storm I could come back and camp there for the night. I climbed the hill up from the river and as I reached the top I could see a huge downpour and lightning up ahead.

I contemplated waiting until it had passed but then that might have me riding on dark roads with just my bicycle lights and 80 MPH traffic. My bicycle lights are actually quite good, but I just didn’t want to take the chance.

It only took two minutes to roll back down the 1.5-mile- (2-km-) hill I had just climbed. In the park, I asked a man about where to pay for a campsite and he wasn’t certain. I also asked if there was a chance of a convenience store, knowing that probably wouldn’t be the case.

He said, “No, no camp store.” He introduced himself as Mike and invited me to his family’s yearly gathering. I readily accepted. All I had was a half of a roast beef sandwich that was soggy and some trail mix.

After putting up the tent, I put on some hiking clothes to look half decent and then went up to their party. There was a spread that I’m certain left me bug-eyed. Roast pork, tomatoes, cucumbers, macaroni, baked beans and so on. I was in heaven. These folks were so generous and made me, once again, appreciate the country I live in. Thanks, gang.

I returned to my tent and passed out for the night. It had been an interesting day.

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 44: Bismark, North Dakota to Hazelton, North Dakota

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With nothing to see for miles and miles, the mind wanders.

“Housekeeping!” Bang! Bang! Bang! “Housekeeping!!

My dreamy state was very confused. Why would I be hearing people yelling “Housekeeping,” in my tent? Then, gradually my mind kicked into gear and I realized I was in a bed, in a motel. After that 105-mile ride yesterday, I was dead to the world. It was 09:00 AM and housekeeping was already going around knocking on doors. Most places don’t do that until ten, but I suppose they were busy. Add to that the timezone change (my body thought it was 08:00 AM) and it all came together.

I packed up and headed out the door. It was cold outside, very cold. I put on all my long sleeve gear and heavy gloves that Jane had just shipped to me. It was time for breakfast and I couldn’t face another Egg/ham/bacon/home fries/gravy breakfast.

Riding around the neighborhood I spotted a bagel shop, a chain that we have near where we live. They shall go un-named but they have the same name as the guy who came up with the theory of Relativity, and it doesn’t take an Einstein to figure that one out. I love their poppy seed bagels. I tied up the bike and rushed in.

The server was cheery and asked me what I would like. I ordered a poppy seed bagel, toasted with cream cheese. The I ordered a cup of hot tea, preferably a black tea, such as English Breakfast. (if you’ve been following along on this blog, you already knew this). Then came that puzzled look that I have come to know so well on this ride. He said, “Wait a minute, I’ll check.” He scurried off and a few moments later returned and told me they don’t have that tea, but I should check out what they do have and pointed up to a menu board.

The choices were things such as Pomegranate, Mint something-or-other, Rose Hip (I’m guessing here) and a few others that don’t go with a bagel at breakfast.

I was waiting for my server and his bubbly attitude to inform me that they have a new tea I should try. It would be named something like, “Proboscis surprise.” He would tell me, “The tea is made from dried, endangered species monkey gonads from Borneo. For every cup we sell, we have a tree planted in Borneo so the species has a place to survive.” Of course, I’m thinking, “Without their gonads, I don’t see them surviving anyway.”

This is what happens to your mind when you have copious amounts of time to think about nothing in particular as you ride across the open prairie.

Disappointed I couldn’t get a real tea, I ordered an orange juice and returned to my table, defeated. I peered out the store window and there directly across the street was the solution: Starbucks! Leaving my helmet, sunglasses, bagel and orange juice on the table, I made it appear I had gone to the restroom and disappeared out the door.

I scrambled across the street and marched past dozens of cars in the drive-thru lane and into Starbucks. It was busy outside, but not too bad inside. There was one couple in line and a woman behind them. This was going to be quick and easy.

The couple quickly moved to the pickup counter. The woman then ordered several things. I heard the server mention they didn’t have one item. The woman turned and called out, “Sarin, Sarin, come here.” A young boy of about four bounced over. Who calls their kid “Sarin?” I thought she was yelling about the Sarin poisonous gas, I was ready to run.

She looked down at Sarin and told him that they were out of cinnamon buns. Sarin responded by taking a yoga position on the floor and then going into a full-fledged tantrum. After a minute or two of this, I was convinced that all this could have been prevented if a few years before somebody had used a condom.

Finally, Sarin came back to earth and chose a blueberry muffin. Mom tells Sarin that he doesn’t like blueberries or muffins. Still, Sarin insists. Finally, after what seems like fifteen minutes or so, I might get my turn to order.

The server came over to ring up my order. I put a ten dollar bill on the counter since I didn’t have any change. She looked at it and rang up my bill, $7.46 for my cup of tea. My Pavlovian response was to go for the penny (see previous rants about pennies in Day 39). Then I actually looked at the amount and started to ask about the price. “Hey, that is an awful lot of money for…” and the server noticed her error. It was a modern cash register that shows the change, she had already seen the ten and entered the amount. I took my penny back.

While all of this is going on, there were more customers coming in the door. The line was now out the door and, I assumed, went all the way over to the bagel shop. I figured they must all be customers coming to get a tea to go with their bagels.

Finally! I have my hot tea and I stride back to the bagel shop, victorious. I smuggle the tea in, sit with my bagel and thoroughly enjoy my breakfast. It wasn’t easy, but it was worth it.

Things don’t happen like this in our routine lives because we are in comfortable surroundings. A trip like this allows me to stand back and see my world from another perspective, and riding along all day gives me an opportunity to think about such things and then share them with you. Sorry.

I only rode about 49 miles today (79 km), but that is because I slept in. The ride wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. I did have one dog chase me, it looked like Winston Churchill’s head stuck on a chihuahua body. It came out of a yard across the highway, charged after me for at least a quarter mile and finally gave up. I couldn’t believe that little bugger could run as fast as I was going for such a distance.

I didn’t see Coner or Aidan from yesterday’s ride, I can only assume that have gone on, way ahead of me.

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The park at Hazelton, ND. Hot showers and soft grass.

Arriving at the Hazelton, ND campground and set up camp. I went to the Road Hawg Grill and had yet another burger. Out here on the road, it can be a challenge to find anything but burgers. I’ll be glad to get back to real food.

 

Day 43: Dickinson, North Dakota to Bismark, North Dakota.

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105.38 miles for today’s ride.

Today I rode 105.38 miles (170 km) for a trip total of 1850 total trip miles. I believe this is the furthest I have ever ridden in a single day with a fully loaded touring bike. It was exhilarating.

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Total trip miles thus far, 1850.

There were three reasons it was possible:

  1. The weather was cool, I never removed my long sleeved jacket.
  2. It was mostly cloudy, or partially sunny, take your pick.
  3. There was an intense tailwind that never let up all day.

I cannot stress how much the wind affected today’s ride. At about 64 miles, I met two other riders at a stop at a supermarket. The riders, Coner and Aidan, are doing a coast-to-coast ride from Seattle, Washington to Portland, Maine. They had started at Medora, ND and at days end they had nearly 140 miles (225 km) for their ride! Ah youth, they were younger and probably could have gone further. I, on the other hand, was spent and it was time to call it a day. I can honestly say that I wasn’t as spent as some other days on this ride, but it was a long day.

Today was a good day, for the most part. I wasn’t attacked by any animals, and things went pretty smoothly. I did have another penny incident, see previous entries concerning that topic.

There was one section where the Adventure Cycle maps gave me a choice: I could ride on the I-94 interstate highway (legal here) or I could take an 11.5-mile gravel road. Riding on the interstate meant having to ride for 12 miles with a shoulder-wide rumble strip that would rattle my bones. I opted for the gravel.

Prior to the gravel, I stopped in Glen Ullin, ND for food. It was just a gas station with some of those pre-packaged meals that are kept under heating lights. I had a pizza that was unequivocally the worst pizza I have ever had. I think instead of flour, they used salt. I didn’t realize how bad it was until I was a few miles down the gravel road. My stomach started protesting and I thought I was going to lose the pizza; I didn’t. I wished I did, it was awful.

After the gravel section, the road changed to pavement and eventually I arrived at the New Salem supermarket where I met the other two gents. There, I had a banana and chocolate milk and immediately felt better. We chatted for a while and decided to try for Bismark, even though it was almost another 30 miles (48 km) and it was late in the day.

The wind was still up and we flew to Bismark. I left a bit before the other two but they caught up as we arrived at the outskirts of Bismark. That wind was remarkable. I just appreciate that I wasn’t trying to ride west-bound, it would have been impossible.

Coner, Aidan and I went out to the local pub to celebrate today’s ride. We were all pretty pumped. What a difference a little wind can make. I hope it keeps up, we could be in Minnesota in a few more days, we’re almost half-way across North Dakota!

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 40: Glendive, Montana to Beach, North Dakota

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Montana is a very long state. A sign at the border crossing into North Dakota explained that riding the length of the state was the same as driving from New York City to Chicago, Illinois. No wonder it took me so long!

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No wonder they’re all driving at 80 mph around here!

I didn’t realize it yesterday, when I crossed the Yellowstone River in Glendive, MT, that they’re having a big “fish kill,” in the river. Nobody is quite certain as to how it got started, but I suspect it might have a drastic impact on the outdoor community around here. Our local paper in Sarasota, Florida, even had an article about it: Fish kill.

On my Day 39 post, I had some fun with making change. Today, in another restaurant, I enjoyed another scenario. The order came to something like $8.57. I gave the server a $10.00 bill and seven cents (a nickel and two pennies, there are those damn pennies again!). She too had that stunned look. “What to do with that change?” Alas, she was armed with better technology. With a sigh, she typed in the amount I gave her, confirming she could count, and lo and behold, the cash register told her to give me back $1.50. The relief on her face was indescribable. Sister Mary Hang-em-high would be so proud.

As soon as I crossed the border into North Dakota, the roads improved. They didn’t look that much differently, but the surfaces were smoother, there was far less loose gravel and those annoying joints in the road were filled. I figured the cracks or joints are caused by expansion/contraction and probably can’t be helped, but at least in ND they fill them level with the surface of the road. No more, “Bang, Bang, Bang,” every 30-50 feet.

The “roller-coaster” roads are improving as well. They still roll up-and-down, but the climbs are not as big and the grades are longer and more gradual.

As for the weather, no change there: hot, dry and a persistent  hot sun. I know in a few weeks I’ll be complaining about sunless skies, but I could do with less heat.

Fried, I rolled into Beach, North Dakota in the late afternoon. There was a motel right next to the highway exit, but I saw a sign that said there was also one in town, the Badlands Gateway Motel. It had a certain ring to it that I couldn’t resist. Visions of Jesse James and the Hole-in-the-Wall gang came to mind.

When I arrived there were a few folks sitting on the porch and they greeted me with friendly hello’s and banter. Shelby, the owner, immediately fired up the air conditioning in one of the rooms and I was in for the night. I did go out later for food, but I was spent. The local diner was closed, but there was a Subway restaurant back down by the highway.

The room was comfortable and traveling bicyclists will feel very at home, for a reasonable price. The shower was hot and the WiFi worked well.

I slept like the dead.

Day 39: Circle, Montana to Glendive, Montana

 

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Standard restaurant fare for breakfast is eggs, ham or bacon, and hashbrowns. I’ve found that many gas stations have what I really crave for breakfast.

After packing up at the town park, I stopped at the local gas station/convenience store for some breakfast. I found some Cheerios and milk and was very happy. I picked up a blueberry muffin for later.

On the maps, the day didn’t look too challenging and it wasn’t too bad. The weather cooperated and I arrived in Glendive in mid-afternoon. The ride from Circle was one of the better rides of the trip. After an initial climb out of town, it was an, almost, thirty-mile downhill run into Glendive. That was a refreshing change.

I had made arrangements for a WarmShowers.org stay. The host couldn’t have me stay at her home because she had family staying for the weekend, but she was fixing up another home in another part of town and I could stay there.

A fellow I had met that morning, Marcus, from Switzerland, was also staying there and was ahead of me. The accommodations were Spartan. There was no furniture in the house at all, but the floor was carpeted and we had lots of room to set up camp and keep our bikes indoors.

The following story needs to be prefaced by an incident that happened a few days previously. At a gas station/convenience store, the school bus went by and dropped off a few students for pickup. They came into the store and all three students went and picked out an ice cream bar. The fellow at the counter said,”Okay guys, let’s see, that’s a dollar thirty, a dollar thirty and a dollar thirty. Sooooo, how much is that guys?”

The kids ranged from about 10 to 14 years old. There were stunned faces, all contorted, trying to do the math (arithmetic?). The youngest guessed, “Two dollars, ten cents.” The next oldest yelled, “No dummy, its Three-ten.” Finally, after an interminable amount of time the oldest guessed, “it might be Three ninety.” It might be, he wasn’t positive

I went down to a small, Glendive, restaurant. The place wasn’t too busy and I figured I’d get a quick lunch. The server seemed a bit distant, but I placed my order. The price came up to$9.18. This may seem trivial, but most hikers/bikers don’t like to carry pocket change. Coins are heavy, so we’re always taking every opportunity to get rid of change.

I gave my server a ten dollar bill and three pennies. I figured I could avoid picking up more pennies by getting a dime, a nickle and three quarters–instead of two pennies, a nickel and three quarters. Plus, dimes weigh less than pennies.

The look on the server’s face was priceless. I could see the shock all over her expression. Her mind was racing. It was obvious she had no clue how to deal with making this change. This moment took her back to all those years she spent in the third grade.

This problem took the server back to those days with Sister Mary Hang-em-high. The nun would throw problems out like this and challenge this poor girl constantly. She never got the answer correct. Questions, such as: “If a train leaves town at 10:23 in the morning, and arrives in Duluth at 14:52, now long did it take?” were just daunting. Our poor server would always answer, “Duh! We don’t have a train to Duluth.” The sister would just shake her head.

Now, here was this old bicyclist bringing back all these bad memories. All those years spent in the third grade, dreaming of one day working at WalMart until she got too big for those third-grade chairs. It never happened because Sister Mary Hang-em-High was always asking silly questions about how many pennies it would take to do something. Who cares? Who invented pennies anyway?

Now she was faced with a dilemma. What to do? She could take her best guess at this, but that might not be good enough. She was new to the job and didn’t want the manager to know she never had the correct answer to the penny question, so she had to think quickly.

As I stood there I could see the gears whirring, maybe “whirring” is too strong, how about “meshing?” Then, she hit upon the solution: “I’ll just give the guy enough money so he won’t complain he was short changed.” A complaining customer would be bad.

She reached into the cash drawer and whipped out a dollar bill, four pennies (might as well get rid of them!), two nickles and three dimes.

She handed all of this to me and I’m guessing the puzzled look on my face mortified her. I could tell she was wondering if it was enough. She looked ready to dump all the money in the drawer into my hands. She was thinking, “Will that be enough? Should I hit the ATM?”

Calmly, I started to explain to her how to deal with this. First, I had her put all the cash back. Then, I started, “Let’s pretend that I’m starting to pay for the order by just paying for part of it, just the three pennies. Take away the three pennies and now the bill is $9.15.” I got the same look that the nun, no doubt, received years before, a blank stare. I could see her thinking, “Yeah, Sister Mary Hang-em-High was always trying to trick me with those pennies too, and now I get this fruitcake.”

I finally gave up and just told her to give me eight-five cents and it will all be fine. I’m sure that one day she will finally land that dream job at WalMart and they will have the cash registers that tell the server how much change to give back, but it won’t tell her how long the train took to get to Duluth.

Day 38: Jordan, Montana to Circle, Montana

After packing up, I stopped at the local gas station/convenience store for breakfast. I picked up a turkey sandwich and blueberry muffin for later. The women at the cash register warned me that I had road construction coming up.

Sure enough, ten miles of construction.

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When traveling by bicycle that are two approaches to take under these circumstances. First, if it doesn’t look too tough, ride into it and hope for the best. Unfortunately, the first mile or two can be decent and then deteriorate into a living hell of mud and sand or rocks.

Secondly, if it looks bad from the start, one can avoid getting into it at all and just put out your thumb and hope to hitch a ride with some kind person with a pickup truck or car with a bike rack.

The road looked challenging, but not too bad, so I charged in. It was tiring, riding on soft dirt takes the fight out of a bicyclist, but I made it. I was just happy it wasn’t too wet or muddy.

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There is absolutely nothing between Jordan and Circle, Montana. It is wide open spaces in all directions. There is a state road rest stop at about 35 miles (56 km). I stopped, I needed to rest a bit. While I munched on a snack, my blueberry muffin, a couple pulled in on a big Indian motorcycle, much like the one I had seen at the border entering Montana. They were traveling all over the western states and seemed to be having a great time.

I warned them to be careful, just two days before and about a 100 miles (161 km) west of the rest stop, two people from Illinois died when they collided with a deer while riding their motorcycle. There seem to be a rather large number of vehicle/animal collisions in Montana. Everybody seems to be traveling at 80/90 mph (130/145 km/hr) so there isn’t much room for error.

After I left the couple, I rode along for a few miles and then the Indian couple flew by and waved. I find that even though I am on a bicycle there is a certain camaraderie among those that travel by two wheels. We all face the same dangers and vulnerabilities: animals, slippery oil, pot holes, very little protection in a crash, weather and so on. Most of the motorcyclists that pass wave.

After about ten more miles, my bottom was getting tired and it was time for lunch. I spied a tree with shade, near a bridge. It was hot and I needed a well-deserved break. I leaned the bicycle against the barrier on the bridge and went down by the tree, took out my turkey sandwich I had purchased that morning and had a fine picnic lunch. I had to carry something because for that 67-mile (108-km) stretch there are no stores of any sort.

After eating, I laid on my yellow foam sleeping mat and took a nap. I was rudely awakened about twenty minutes later by a drenching rain. It came up so quickly it caught me off guard. The sun was still shining. I grabbed my glasses, mat, helmet, gloves and trash and ran up the embankment and rolled the bike down the embankment and under the bridge. This bridge, unlike most, didn’t have any barbed wire fence in the way. Many have a fence to keep cattle from go under the bridge.

I leaned the bike against an abutment and took stock of my situation. I was soaked to the skin, even though I had only been in the storm for maybe a minute or two. The water was frigid and I was shivering, hypothermia was not out of the question.

I quickly put up the tent and crawled into it. The wind was getting fierce and I could hear cattle for miles around complaining about the storm with their bellows. I covered myself with my dry rain jacket that had been folded up on the bike and went to sleep for a while. I warmed and dried quickly. The sun came out again and I had placed the tent so it would capture the sun when it returned.

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My tent under the bridge to hide from the storm. The sun came out and the storm blew away as quickly as it arrived.

After about an hour, there was no sign of the storm. Cattle were grazing, I was dry and warm and the world was right again. How quickly things can change on the prairie.

I looked around under the bridge as I was putting the tent away. There were strange animal droppings, it wasn’t from cattle or deer. Upon close inspection, I realized it was very large cat droppings. Then, I looked around on a sandy shelf that was above where the tent was and it was covered in tracks, cat tracks, big cat tracks! I couldn’t get out of there quickly enough. I imagined the “cat” coming in to get out of the storm. There would have been a disagreement over turf. It would have been interesting.

When I arrived in Circle I was really hungry. The family diner was open, so I had a hamburger steak and a ton of lemonade. I asked about accommodations and was told the motel was down the road. I was ready to go indoors after my day. It wasn’t to be. There was a county fair going on and everything was taken.

I drifted around town looking at campgrounds and none looked inviting. While I was stopped in front of the VFW Hall a woman came out and I asked her where the town park was. She pointed down the hill and told me I could camp there, even though there was a sign that said “No overnight camping.” She said, “You’re a veteran, you go camp there, nobody will bother you.” That was good to know.

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My Circle, Montana campsite, the next morning.

There was no need to put up a tent, there were covered picnic areas and they even had power outlets. After a few minutes of setup, I was out. As I drifted off to sleep, there was a beautiful moon rise.

Day 37: Winnett, Montana to Jordan, Montana

77 Miles (124 km) for the day, for 1498 (2411 km) total trip miles. I like the metric system, it sounds more impressive.

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Montana is one of the premier locations for finding all sorts of fossils. Here is a sign, at a rest stop, describing some of the local finds.

The morning started with a fierce thunderstorm about 06:00 am. I rolled over and went back to sleep. I don’t ride in lightning. Period.

Finally, the storm blew away and then I stopped at the diner for a light breakfast and headed east. There were two choices for destinations for the day, Sand Springs, or Jordan, Montana. I figured, with the late start at 10:00 am, I would certainly end up at Sand Springs, 44 miles (71 km), Jordan in 77 miles.

I’m noticing an improvement in the terrain. I’m still struggling with roller-coaster plains, but the climbs are getting more gentle. I’m downshifting less and using higher gears to climb. I’m also getting some tailwinds, once in a while.

The day was cool and mostly cloudy. I could see a rain storm following me about 30 miles (50 km) behind. When I reached Sand Springs it was little more than a gas station with a few food items. I quickly grabbed a frozen cheeseburger and cooked it in the microwave and downed a Pepsi and hit the road. I really didn’t want to spend the night at a gas station with no real food to be had. I will say, the folks working there were really nice and I enjoyed my short stay with them.

I had about three and a half hours until sunset and had 32 miles (53 km) to cover. I hustled. I rode into Jordan about a half-hour before sunset. Not too shabby a performance for a 69-year-old codger with an 85-pound bike.

The cafe coming into town was the first place I stopped, I was starved. I had a fish sandwich and salad and tried to connect to the WiFi there, but nobody knew the password. Of course, there was no T-Mobile service, so I had no way to let Jane know I had made it. The gal waiting on me offered her phone (AT&T of course) so I called Jane on it. I helped her out with a technical issue she was solving and then returned the phone to its owner.

The world's longest plunger handle?
The world’s longest plunger handle?

Next, I headed down the hill, grabbed a motel room and called it a night.

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.