140 miles - Total: 1735 miles
Tired, cold, wet, mud-covered, famished, blistered skin, numbness in my fingers and toes, sore knees, happy soul. Fargo is the largest town from here all the way to Vancouver so my plan was to take a day off to recharge my batteries before taking on the Great Plains of North Dakota. Last night I checked the weather report which forecasted sunny skies in the morning, wind from south south/west and 40% chance of rain in the afternoon. The wind part I liked because it means that I can ride with a crosswind or maybe even a tailwind at times. The forecast for Sunday was not so good however, as it expected winds from North/North West, which basically translates into a full-on headwind for me. So I decide to postpone my rest day, ride West tomorrow with that crosswind and take my chances on the expected afternoon rain.
The worst night of my ride. I don't sleep well at all. In the hotel there are families with dozens of babies in every room or so it seems. How many babies and children are there in America? Are they all here? It was non-stop loud crying, screaming and door banging all night long. So much for a Holiday Inn! I open my eyes at 7am in a sleepy daze and in my prolonged lie-in I ponder what the hell I should do. I finally make up my mind, get dressed, apply as much sunscreen as I can to my exposed limbs, neck and nose and in a flash I am on the road leaving behind this undeserving hotel. The wind is fierce and I feel the full brunt of it when I ride South, then I finally come to junction with H46, the main road which will take me West for the whole day and I can settle into my ride adjusting to a crosswind which later becomes a cross head wind. Past Fargo, it takes about 20 miles for all the signs of civilization to fade and I finally find myself cycling in the green open prairies of North Dakota. The wind does take much out of my enjoyment though as I constantly try to keep the bike on a straight line as close to the white line of this shoulderless, two-lane road as I can. In the morning I stop only once for food, which later turns out to be a mistake, I devour two sandwiches and I drink plenty as the next convenience store is 70 miles out West.
Despite the constant wind and a lifeless scenery which offers all but flat prairies I ride well for the first 100 miles, traffic is non-existent and I have the road all for myself. I come to a junction and I must decide whether to go North to Jamestown, a fairly big town of 15000 people, only 18 miles away or do another 50 miles to reach the village of Napoleon where 700 souls live and surprisingly there are 3 hotels. It is about 3pm by this time, I am getting hungry and am feeling a little rusty on the bike, my knees are sore and my thighs are heavy. Also, to add drama to the day, it has started to drizzle, just a gentle spit but the sky in the West does not bode well, it looks dark as hell. Jamestown is the safest bet but what I don't like about it is that the only way West from there would be to ride back the 18 miles to this very junction tomorrow and continue on the road I have ahead of me. Rationality does not win this one and I go for the 50 mile ride into certain rain to this nowhere town with little water and no food. If the wind doesn't turn I should be there by 8pm. After about 5 miles the sky opens and rain coems down in buckets. In an instant I am totally soaked and I need to apply more pressure on the bike to avoid skidding or falling. I look around and there is absolutely nothing that meets any definition of a shelter. I put on the rain proof jacket and reluctantly press on into the heavy rain. I pass the hamlet of Gackle where the only convenience store is closed. I cannot stop there to wait for the rain to ease off, time is ticking and it looks like it's going to be a long downpour, what the hell would I here tonight? With one water bottle half full and the other empty I still have 40 miles to go in the persistent rain and into a wind that by now has become a headwind. The temperature drops to 60F and with my clothes totally wet I am getting cold. It looks pretty bad and the bike begins to slide on the wet road, I drift into the lane unable to tell if vehicles are approaching. Visibility is greatly diminished, I better stick to the white line if I don' want zipping vehicles to run through me like a dry leave. I never fall but it takes all my focus to stay on top of things. Cresting the short hills that present themselves proves a difficult battle. I am soaked to my soul with the shoes heavy with water and when I think that things cannot get any worse they do. Ahead there is a stretch of road of about 1/2 mile which is not paved and it is completely submerged in mud and water. I cannot walk around it as there are ponds and swamps everywhere I look. I can make it if I walk the bike but I seriously hope that the mud does not turn into quick sand or something like that. I begin to drag my bike and the mud gives way too easily and I drop deep to my ankles. A heavy paste of mud, sand and rocks gets in my shoes and finds its way between the wheels and the break pads. The wheels won't turn. The only way now is lift the bike and carry it on my shoulders. I look around almost incredulous, all I see are the heavy drops of rain, flocks of killdeers that fly over my head and the green hilly prairie of North Dakota getting pelted by the rain. I resort to all my strength and lift the bike and carry it for as much as I can. I finally make it to the other side but my shoes are two loaves of mud and the wheels are covered in it and won't move. Needless to say, no car has driven by in the meantime. Why should it? I have only seen three vehicles in the last 30 miles. As I emerge from the mud, trying to repress my burning desire to yell and kick the bike and leave it in this God forsaken prairie I make the decision to wipe the mud off the wheels and shoes to get them both working before night comes. I use a wood stick to remove the mud from the spokes and the brake pads but I need my bare hands and nails to do a thorough job. I finally dig out the mud from my shoes but my hands look like hands of a Chilean miner. The rain keeps on pelting down and I wonder whether my wallet, my cell and my computer are still dry. This could be bad. I stay calm and with my muddy hands I roll all my valuables in a plastic bag and place it at the bottom of my backpack. I finally disjoin as much mud as possible so that my shoes will clip on the pedals and the wheels will turn. But I don't feel like cycling anymore, I just want to be dry and warm. Suddenly two gorgeous Western Meadowlarks appear from nowhere and fly next to me for about a mile. It is a boost of energy but by now I am shivering and am weakened by all that has befallen, the ride, the rain, the cold, the mud, the impromptu weightlifting, the lack of food, the apprehension of getting stuck in the middle of nowhere, the fear of getting a fever - which is the only objective threat to my lowered body defences as a leukemia patient. I breathe deeply and think about a warm bed and a warm meal. I get back on the bike but I don't think I can make it to the town before night time. It's 7pm now and I am still 20 miles to the whistlestop town of Napoleon. After 135 miles of a long ride and at least 30 miles of pure agony through the rain and the wind, just when I am beginning to consider shacking it up in one of those abandoned barns that sprinkle the immense nothingness of North Dakota I hear the sound of a vehicle. It is a pick-up truck. Donald from Napoleon will give me a ride. I throw the bike in the truck and I slump on the passenger seat apologizing for the mud. He drives me the remaining 15 miles and drops me off on Main st by one of the hotels. The first two are fully booked, the only option now is the rooms above the tavern, which go for 30 bucks. All I ask is a clean towel and a hot shower. Not only do I get that but I also buy a nice, warm, tasty dinner in the bar where close to 30 people, all locals of course, are noisily drinking, eating and watching baseball on TV. While I eat I get the sensation back into my toes I look around and I see how the locals spend a Saturday night in Napoleon, ND. There are no young people, not even one, all the patrons must be in their fifties. The ladies have large body frames and wear excessive make up and ridiculously tight outfits; the men heavily sip beer out of ice cold bottles and make loud jokes. They smile at me, this sport gear attired stranger from another planet, they ask me the usual questions and they are very kind. I enquire about life out here and they all confirm that they are happy, being farmers and being part of a close-knit community. Winters are brutal they say but life is good, they love nature and they live healthy. There are so many abandoned farms and barns because their kids don't want to stay and nobody is left to look after the homestead and others simply move North where the oil development is bringing good money.
At 9.30 I crawl into bed. Needless to say that there is no internet connection and my cell does not pick up a signal. I really am in the middle of nowhere. Save for the last 15 miles, I have ridden 140 miles from Fargo and despite all the difficulties and the physical strain, I am happy. The grotty room is as large as the bed plus a little room to squeeze through to the bathroom. Outside it is freezing, 56F and I am told that it is the first day of rain in 6 weeks. This piece of news makes me feel so good and special! like the rain was waiting for me to show up to unleash all of its might.
The closest town is Bismark, 80 miles West. If the rain and cold don't bother me I will go for it tomorrow. Today I found out how unforgiving ND weather can be. And how easily it can take you apart.
The day starts well
All the sunflowers looking at me while I cycle past
The fields of the open prairie
I am following H46
The treetops are hit strong by the wind
Cattle is abundant
The tiny town of Enderlin
Prairie potholes are everywhere in this part of North Dakota
A ND barn
More abandoned farms
Here comes the rain and with nowhere to go but West I am screwed
The prairie heavy with rain
The slippery road
Just me and the road
My room at the tavern in Napoleon, ND