A quick check with the diary in the week or so before arriving in Moorhead/Fargo showed that I was two to three weeks behind where I thought I should be at that stage of my tour. Not that I was struggling with the workload, suffering unexpected mechanical issues or anything else untoward for that matter, it was quite simply that I was enjoying the ride and spending time taking in the environment and chatting with people I met as I passed along the way.
If I was to reach the Oregon coast and cycle down the Pacific coastline to Santa Cruz before the end of September I would have to dramatically speed up the ride and cover significantly more mileage each day and week and/or cut out large sections of the planned route. I must confess that I seriously considered bypassing both North Dakota and Montana altogether, perhaps taking the Amtrak train to somewhere near the Oregon border and continuing from there. Maybe a few beers at the Junkyard Brewery and the persuasion of two drinking companions, Dan who was travelling the US by car and James, an expat Londoner living in Moorhead for the last 25 years, was just what I needed to set me back on the right track.
I departed my Warmshowers hosts on Saturday morning and crossed the Red River (and border) into North Dakota, promptly turning south in the direction of route 46. Almost as soon as I hit the road and turned west my mobile phone signal disappeared, and it stayed that way until I was able to change service provider three weeks later in Billings, Montana some 650 miles away. Access to reliable WiFi along the route was also sketchy, to say the least. I had become accustomed to a reliance on both for route planning and making arrangements with Warmshowers hosts – poor advice led to a bad choice of service provider. Camping became the norm as Warmshowers hosts barely existed along the route, with just one exception, the Honey Hub at Gackle, and I had a return to using old fashioned paper maps.
The first day of cycling on Highway 46 was long, straight and seemingly flat. Oh, and the longest section of roadworks I’d yet encountered:
What I hadn’t noticed was that although it appeared flat the road in fact had a gradual, barely noticeable ascent and before too long the elevation settled at around 2,000 to 2,500 feet. The roadsides were mainly huge fields of corn or soya with occasional county roads shooting off north or south into the far distance. None of these roads was suitable for a diversion because the surface was nothing more than rough gravel, very dry and dusty and, with it being harvest time, made unsafe by the regular traffic of huge trucks and tractors carrying the harvested produce away from the fields:
Day one was a fairly lengthy ride and ended at a very pretty campground in a deep valley called Little Yellowstone, perhaps one of the most tranquil locations I had yet encountered on the ride. I entered the campground quite late in the day and the sun was already beginning to set, casting golden rays of light over hills on the north eastern side of the valley. I did my best with the iPhone camera to capture what I could see and sense with the naked eye but I don’t think this picture does it justice:
I peered out of my tent early the next morning to find the entire valley shrouded in a dense fog:
When I announced my plans to cycle east coast to west coast across the USA it was pointed out to me that most touring cyclists head west to east as that is the direction of the prevailing winds.
Hammering home the point, I met the largest number of touring cyclists of the entire tour to-date in just one hour, all headed east:
It hadn’t been an issue so far on this tour and I was beginning to feel quite relaxed about my ability to cope with the varying winds. Well, I had also been warned that in North Dakota the wind direction plays a significant part and it hit me head on just as I was settling into a steady rhythm and comfortably managing a regular 60/70 miles per day. I had planned to ride from Gackle to Hazleton, a distance of 65 miles, but the wind grew stronger as the day wore on and I conceded defeat after 39 miles, camping in the city park of Napoleon for the night.
The wind forecast for the next day was even worse! And so it proved with an unceasingly steady headwind around 40mph, plenty of sunshine, no shelter of any kind and no civilisation until Hazleton some 29 miles away. Added to this the terrain began to change from pretty much flat to rather more undulating, not as hilly as one would find in Devon, but long, long rolling inclines and descents (but peddling hard just to keep moving downhill!).
Exhausted after over 5 hours of this at little more than walking pace I pulled into Hazleton and headed straight to the city park, pitched my tent and sought out food and a cold beer. I found the Road Hawg Grill to be a welcoming establishment and it was there that I struck up a friendship with another bicycle tourist named Joel and from there onwards my tour took on a completely different complexion, and so too did Joel’s as he was soon to find out.
Before closing this edition of the blog I’d like to share some more of the many fine views I witnessed in the first half of my ride through North Dakota: