29 April, 2014

Hills, Headwinds, and a How-d’ye-do

Hills, headwinds, and hearing “Howdy” everywhere you go aren’t the first things that come to mind when thinking about North Dakota. As part of the Great Plains, we expected pancake flat roads, mostly tailwinds — we were headed East — and lots of not-so-friendly truckers in town for the recent oil boom. Boy were we (and the people who warned us) wrong on all accounts.

During our planning, we figured that after we left the Pacific Northwest and the Cascades, and crossed the Continental Divide, that we would be rolling along doing 80 to 90 miles a day cruising flat roads with a tailwind. We never anticipated having a 64 mile day with 3000 feet of climbing, nor did we imagine racking up between 1000-2000 feet of climbing nearly every other day. Now, we weren’t grinding up any mountains like in the Pacific Northwest; however, we were pedaling up and over hill after hill after hill. Some were small enough to literally roll over before rolling down the other side, while others required some small-ring pedaling, but nothing like those mountain passes behind us. Let me assure you that all those rollers add up over the miles.

We rode our steel horses across the badlands of western North Dakota.

We rode our steel horses across the badlands of western North Dakota.

We knew there would be wind in the Great Plains, but we didn’t expect it to be changing directions so frequently nor the strength. It seemed that the wind was nearly always blowing, which regardless of tailwind or headwind will gradually cause a non-native to go insane. When camping or taking a break, we needed to make sure we didn’t leave anything light enough to blow away (gloves, hats, napkins, plates, bags, etc.) unweighted. Fortunately, we didn’t lose anything, but had to chase a few plates and plastic bags. When we were cycling, a tailwind allowed us to go 20 mph with no effort but the headwind nearly brought us to a halt. Standing and grinding into gusts of wind on a flat road at 4 mph is demoralizing. We had to cut two days short due to intense headwinds because the next town was unreachable. We had one day that took four hours to go 28 miles and another over eight hours to go 55 miles. As comparison, a tailwind a few days earlier allowed us to pedal for just over three and a half hours and go 50 miles. What a difference!

Two days of camping with the bison at Theodore Roosevelt National Park wasn't enough to dull the excitement of seeing the giant beasts.

Two days of camping with the bison at Theodore Roosevelt National Park wasn’t enough to dull the excitement of seeing the giant beasts.

The little girl of our hosts in Richardton challenged us to a game of Candyland.

The little girl of our hosts in Richardton challenged us to a game of Candyland.

Throughout our travels leading up to North Dakota, we were warned about all the oil worker transplants and told to be wary of the rude truck drivers and their huge trucks that would be on the roads. We rode on everything from small country roads to two lane highways to Interstate 94 for a few miles and ran into nothing but the most courteous and friendly drivers. Everyone who drove past us waved and most people moved all the way left to the next lane to give us tons of space (which freaked Doug out, as they would even do this when cresting a blind hill). We also spent a few evenings in bars and with Warm Showers hosts. Everyone was very friendly and welcoming. It is particularly interesting to hear residents’ thoughts on the recent oil boom in the area as well as learning about local lifestyle. I know a lot more about raising, branding, and selling cattle now than I ever did before. Watch out! We are learning about things in a way that many do not have the opportunity to. Another surprise was seeing the gorgeous Assumption Abbey rise up from the plains as we approached the little town of Richardton. One of the Benedictine monks gave us a tour of the church the next morning after breakfast with our Warm Showers hosts.

Eastern ND has a surprising number of ponds and lakes. There were areas that looked a lot like the southeast coast or even Cape May county, NJ.

Eastern ND has a surprising number of ponds and lakes. There were areas that looked a lot like the southeast coast or even Cape May county, NJ.

We battled a 40mph headwind for 56 miles (it took over 8 hours) and then took refuge from approaching storms under a picnic shelter  in a county park.

We battled a 40mph headwind for 56 miles (it took over 8 hours) and then took refuge from approaching storms under a picnic shelter in a county park.

So, North Dakota has surprised us in many ways; some pleasantly and others not so much (some of the cafes would do well to invest in spices). We’ll miss the wonderful hospitality but will gladly say goodbye to those winds as we reenter the woods in northern Minnesota and begin our northeasterly trek towards Canada.

We headed straight to the Wurst Bier Hall in Fargo for dinner and drinks after completing our trek across the Great Plains.

We headed straight to the Wurst Bier Hall in Fargo for dinner and drinks after completing our trek across the Great Plains. Kristin ordered the Midwest is Best flight while Doug had the Hop Head flight.

Special Thanks: In addition to our friendly Warm Showers hosts, we want to give a special thanks to Erik and Stephanie Alston for introducing us to their hospitable friends Doug and Kristina and Kelly and Dale; we also want to thank our college friend Bob Iasillo for using his hotel loyalty points to put us up for the night in Fargo; and also want to thank Tyler, the beer-guzzling, laugh-out-loud funny “Brian Donahue of Fargo” for picking up our tab at the Wurst Bier Hall. You totally didn’t need to do that, but we appreciate it.