I’m back in the saddle again/Out where a friend is a friend/Where the longhorn cattle feed — On the lowly gypsum weed/I’m back in the saddle again. –Old cowboy song by Gene Autry
My brother-in-law John wanted to know when it might be safe to come back to my blog. I really like John: he’s bright, is a talented writer, has a wonderful sense of humor, and is great to travel with, not to mention he has a really neat wife. But we avoid talking politics. So this one’s for you, John. I am back in the saddle again. (grin)
I only needed one hand to count the number of people I met traveling through the US and Canada who were on long distance bike treks. So when I saw a fellow bicyclist loaded down with gear coming out of North Dakota on Highway 2, I flagged him down.
“The state is relatively flat,” he informed me, “and it should have been easy peddling. But I fought a strong head wind the whole way. It was tough.” I couldn’t help smiling. I appreciated his difficulty; I’d certainly dealt with my share of nasty headwinds. A strong headwind for him, however, would mean a strong tailwind for me. I would fly across North Dakota.
“One more thing,” the cyclist had cautioned, “there is a really nasty dog about five miles up the road. Be careful.”
I’d shared my experiences of bicycling through Minnesota and we had chatted for a while longer. We then parted company with him cycling east and me west.
Fifteen minutes later, I discovered the headwind— going in the wrong direction. That’s the thing about headwinds in North Dakota. They are close to legendary among bicyclists. You are always bicycling into the wind; it doesn’t matter which direction you are peddling. I hadn’t traveled for more than 15 minutes when I felt the first puff on my face. It hassled me all the way to the Montana border.
No large, drooling dogs came charging out to eat me, however. So I felt like I had dodged at least one bullet. I was thinking happy thoughts when I felt an irritation on my right heel with each rotation of the pedal. Curious, I glanced back. “What the…” went bouncing around my skull! A large, drooling dog that looked suspiciously like a pit bull was running silently beside me trying to grab my right foot each time it came close to his snapping teeth. I had met the sneakiest dog in America! My reaction was instinctual. I grabbed my bike pump and swung it backwards with a fair amount of force— and was rewarded with a solid thump and a surprised yip! I had caught the miscreant on his nose. Problem solved. The last I saw of him, he was low-tailing it home. Maybe he would think twice before hassling another bicyclist. Or bite harder…
Besides the large dogs and headwinds, two other things struck me about North Dakota. The first was sunflowers, millions of them, all pointing the same direction. I found them beautiful. North Dakota has more of them that anywhere else in the US. When they are young, they practice heliotropism. And no, that isn’t some weird sexual practice. Their necks are flexible and they track the sun. Early in the morning they are looking east. By late afternoon they are facing west.
The second thing I remember was a massive storm that caught up with me in the western part of the state near Williston. I’d been watching the clouds gather all afternoon and they had morphed into towering cumulus clouds that threatened one hell of a downpour and possibly a massive hailstorm. It was nothing I had wanted to be caught out in, and nothing I wanted to face in my tent. The higher the clouds had climbed the faster I had pedaled. I’d whipped into the first motel I had come to on the eastern edge of Williston and begged sanctuary.
“Sorry,” the clerk had told me, “We’re booked up.” Some type of event was going on and all of the motels in town were apparently full. Owners were calling around looking for space. “I just talked to a motel across town with three spaces left. Would you like me to call?” I had quickly answered yes. “You are in luck,” the clerk smiled, hanging up the phone. “You have the last space but you need to hurry.” People in Williston who looked out their windows must have thought that the Tour de France had made a wrong turn.
I pulled up in front of the motel office and opened the door halfway. “We are booked up,” the owner had growled. The pit bull had seemed much friendlier and probably was. “Ah, but I have a reservation,” I had responded, sounding cheerful, giving my name, and explaining about the motel across town. He had sourly looked down at a note he had made.
“You can stay,” he said. “But I don’t like bicyclists.” Whoa, I had thought, welcome to Williston. I wondered if a bicyclist had trashed one of his rooms forever condemning all bicyclists to hell. “You have to leave your bicycle outside. If you take it into your room, I am kicking you out, regardless of the weather.” I saw him staring out the window of the office, watching as I locked up my bike outside. Shortly afterwards the storm hit: drenching rain, high winds and hail. It was a nasty night in a cheap motel that had long since seen its glory days. Around 10 p.m., I went outside and retrieved my bike, carried it inside and put it down on newspapers. I was up and out by six the next morning. The sun was shining.
Some more memories of North Dakota…
NEXT BLOG: It’s off to Montana and Big Sky Country!