75 miles - Total: 1595 miles
I know what comes to mind when you read the word 'Fargo'. But the place seems a lot different from the austere, dark, funny and clumsy world brilliantly depicted by the Coen brothers. Or is it? Apart from the great cinematic appeal that this place has, as far as I can tell people from around here seem calm, easy-going, talkative and friendly. Would an absurd criminal caper destabilize their matter-of-fact, ordinary and simple way of life? How much time do I need to fully understand the true life of the Midwest and Central US? What would it take for the screws to come off? Would a bike ride through the low lands and prairies of North Dakota be enough? Probably not.
Yesterday was the toughest day of the ride and today was the easiest one.
Today for the first time in my cycling life I had a tailwind. And it happened to be the shortest day of the journey. I would have loved to have a tailwind on a 130-mile slugfest! But I will take it. I loved the easy ride and I flew like I was competing in the Tour De France. I averaged 21 mph and still had time to savor the scenery. I was so absorbed in the ride that at one point I missed my turn and I had to backtrack 5 miles. I guess it would not be my ride if I did not ride into a headwind every single day! The terrain is as flat as a french crepe and the scenery is wide open, calm, green and appears to be in transition from the hills, the green forests and the creeks and lakes of Minnesota to the arid Great Plains of North Dakota. The ground is not arid yet but it begins to show some barren patches here and there and vegetation and crops aren't as plentiful and lush. Within a few miles I pass from a landscape rich in pines, forests, swamps, lakes and creeks to a low-land, flat prairie devoid of trees and ponds rich in the business of cattle ranching and an even richer number of oil-related businesses.
I am up late as I know I only have about 70 miles to ride today. I leave at 9.30 and I rejoice at the good news of the wind. I push on the bike as free as a bird on the old highway 52 which has a rough surface but no traffic at all. There is an intermittent shoulder but the little existing traffic allows me to ride freely in the lane. I pass through the town of Barnesville which, as many towns around here, has a typical frontier-town feel with a broad main street and a few intersecting unpaved streets. Main st. is often empty of people, a few old cars lined along the street and some dogs loiter around. The town manages to hold on to its post office, public library, deli, gas station. I stop, the only stop today, to munch on a whole box of fig biscuits and as I leave the area I look at the cloudless sky and the empty road ahead and I hold on to my trusted bike like it's my life and feel absolutely fine in this Minnesota hamlet.
The sun beats strong but I don't feel it much because the air is chilly and hits my skin with ease. I coudl wear the long sleeves but I decide not to. I can finally fully enjoy my freedom on the bike in the open air without having to grind out miles and swearing loud at the wind. This is touring at its best. As I leave town the road takes a gradual long turn to the West and the wind just begins to blow from the side but not an enough side angle to bother my ride. I quickly ride into the urban area of Moorhead, the last town on the Minnesota side and then I cross the Red River to enter North Dakota, right into Fargo.
I long for Fargo. Since the beginning of my bike ride I considered Fargo the "point of no return" in the sense that West of here I can only go West. From here on it is wilderness, it is long stretches of road with few small towns and widely-spaced services along the way. The next bike store is in Bismark and after that I suspect Northern Montana might have nothing to offer in the way of repairing a bicycle. So I am looking forward to reach Fargo and declare myself arrived at the midpoint of this bike ride. I get to my hotel early, which gives me plenty of time to relax, and most importantly, do the laundry. I also pay a quick visit to the local bike repair shop where they do a quick tune-up.
I enter Fargo through the Red River Valley when I cross the bridge over the river which is located between the towns of Moorhead and Fargo. This valley has an interesting history as the first native American tribes to settle here were the Cheyenne. Some were decimated others moved farther West to escape certain death and the area was used by the fur traders from the North and from the Hudson Bay. I imagine these to be ruthless people who discouraged anyone who tried to get in the way of their trade becoming profitable. They became entrenched in this area as they found it a convenient 'passage' to the North. With the arrival of the railroad in 1870s settlements began to spread and single-crop farming took hold. Wheat was the king crop but it was also a risky business as the crop was vulnerable to storms and price fluctuations. People here have done well, they seem hard working and the farms grow wheat, sunflowers, sugar beet and corn. I would have never known that there is a sizable Somali and Kurdish community in Fargo. Many were granted visas in exchange of help during the war in Iraq and others are part of the Midwest social experiment: to create a community of pro-Americans who are willing to work hard and eventually become naturalized in a frozen prairie. This is yet another, complex, dimension of the American dream. Those who were in the States migrated from Minneapolis where work was scarce or did not pay well enough. History does not change much. Many people are on the move, they leave home, some for good, others just for a while, all in search of a better life, all looking for happiness.
As uncertain as it is, my search goes on.
Tomorrow I will take on the Great Plains of North Dakota.
Lake Mary, outside Fergus Falls
The scenery changes dramatically, trees disappear and the land flattens and grows brown
Flat and windless means a fast and enjoyable ride
Nothing's wrong with me, just frowning for the camera
Flat and empty
The railroad tracks in the tiny town of Baker, Mn
A store along highway 52
The first (and only) North Dakota sign I see. This is in downtown Fargo