North Dakota – Fargo to Bismarck

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:


Who’s the TV star???

I left off at St Paul heading towards Moorhead/Fargo and in anticipation of the journey through North Dakota.

My host in St Paul, Mary Sullivan, directed me towards the Gateway State Trail, an 18.3 mile scenic and (thankfully) paved bicycle trail which took me as far as Pine Point Regional Park. There I encountered several groups of road cyclists and numerous people out for a leisurely ride. We chatted, they gawped at the journey I was on, and then we all went our separate ways.

I soon found myself in the quiet little town of Marine St Croix and specifically Marine Cafe, clearly a cycling friendly refuelling point:

Good use of old wheels

A local resident exited the cafe while I was gathering my thoughts and introduced himself as Thomas E Warth, originally from Cambridgeshire UK. He’d just celebrated his 80th birthday which I must admit took me by surprise as I didn’t think he looked much beyond 60/65! Maybe the local waters have done him some good. Anyway, we had a great chat about my tour and other trivial matters before Tom disappeared off home.

Tom is something of a literary guru and the founder of a well reknown charity called Books for Africa. If anyone who reads my blog is able to offer support or assistance for this charity I’m sure Tom would greatly appreciate it.

Here’s one of Tom at a recent charity event:

Tom is 3rd from left


Cycling in Minnesota is definitely a pleasure and great trails abound. They even have fully equipped bike repair stations at many of the rest stops. What a great idea for the Tarka Trail…..

Bike stand, tools and floor pump

The longest trail section awaited me at the pretty town of Bowlus. I had cycled there from the Adventure Cyclist bunkhouse at Dalbo with a great guy called Tony Rucinski

Tony , ready to roll after another camp

Tony was on his way home to northern Montana having cycled in the opposite direction earlier in the summer to visit friends and relatives in Michigan. Bowlus offered up a great breakfast at Jordies  Trailside Cafe where we chatted away with the locals, almost forgetting we needed to hit the trail itself and move on to the next stage.

Tony and I said our goodbyes. Though we were riding much the same route our daily plans were somewhat varied and overnights sought in different locations (Tony was camping in the main; I sought out Warmshowers hosts wherever possible). Look out for Tony in a later blog.

I hit the trails – 107 miles off road and all paved. First the Soo Line Trail linking Bowlus to the lake Wobegon Trail at Albany. Then it’s north all the way, flat and straight with a fine tailwind, to Osakis whereupon it becomes the Central Lakes Trail, ending in Fergus Falls.



The day I set off for Fergus Falls began with a severe thunderstorm warning. I had departed from my Warmshowers overnight stop in warm sunshine and cycled through some beautiful lakeland scenery before the clouds started to build, the promised heavy rain began to fall, lightning flashed and thunder rumbled – my pedals turned like they never had before! Twenty miles later, soaked to the bone and feeling rather sorry for myself I arrive in Fergus Falls and headed straight to the nicest looking cafe I could find for some caffeine and donut indulgence.

My phone flashes up a message from Anne at the See Hear Centre to say a TV station in Fargo would like to meet up for an interview and it is arranged that this will be in Barnesville, a small town 30 miles north and on my route for the next overnight in Moorhead.

An hour later, dried out and fortified I set of for this meeting, excited at the prospect of being on the telly but nervous at the whole idea of being interviewed. I needn’t have worried, Nick the interviewer and Patrick the cameraman made me feel at ease and the whole experience was actually quite good fun. For his sins, Patrick revealed himself to be a Liverpool FC fan, never the best move in the presence of a supporter the Almighty Chelsea:

Patrick Conteh – KVRR TV cameraman and fan of a once upon a time succesful English football team




Nick Broadway – KVRR TV news anchorman

Watch the TV Interview in Barnesville

I finally reach my Warmshowers destination for the next two nights in Moorhead, a city in Minnesota that is separated from Fargo, North Dakota by the Red River.

Saturday morning arrives and, feeling suitably refreshed, I set off from Moorhead for my next stop, somewhere, as yet not fully decided, along highway 46 in North Dakota. The whole nature of the ride changed quite dramatically the moment I left Fargo. Tune in for the next edition to find out more.

I must apologise for rattling the collecting tin once more but I do feel a timely reminder is due that my journey is not just a personal quest. It is already well known that I am fundraising for the See Hear Centre in Barnstaple so please click on this link to go to the donation page and learn more about the valuable resources and services available to people with a sight and hearing impairment: Mark’s donation page

Thank you for reading.

Welcome to Minnesota and the Red Wing Brewery

No sooner had I crossed the Mississippi River into Red Wing, Minnesota than I found myself in the company of a vibrant group of young cyclists enthusiastically sampling the delights of the Red Wing Brewery’s craft beers – Team Jackhammer is their collective name and they had recently completed the annual RAGBRAI tour through the state of Iowa. It sounds like jolly good fun and a great social event as well as a bike ride.

At Red Wing brewery with Team Jackhammer

What a great bunch of people they were too, passing on tips and advice on the best breweries, bars and cycle route for my next day’s ride. I even gained a valuable contact and an amazing connection to someone I met nearly 2 weeks and several hundred miles away in Moorhead/Fargo; I’ll reveal that in a later blog.

Onwards to Cannon Falls and my first foray on the many wonderful bike trails of Minnesota. These became a feature of the next week of cycling – the picturesque Cannon Falls trail, long flat lake Wobegon trail and Central Lakes trails and the Gateway State trail out of St Paul, not forgetting the superb city bike lanes in St Paul and Minneapolis themselves, twin cities and both full of history, sights and fine breweries 🍻😉

On the Cannons Falls Trail
Echinacea in flower (Cannon Falls Trail)
Entrance to the Lake Wobegon Trail
Town on Central Lakes Trail
Central Lakes Trail – 1st view the Great Plains

My host in St Paul, Mary Margaret Sullivan,   excelled herself, despite my late arrival and the almost immediate onset of a tremendous electrical storm and flash flooding. Our dinner option involved wading through 6″ waters to the nearest restaurant.

The following day, Friday, was an expensive one! The bike went in to the locally recommended bike repair shop, Grand Performance, and came out with new front chain rings, rear cassette, chain and bottom bracket. Oh, and front brake pads. Plus a tune up. The result was a smoother-running bike and happy rider 😊

Later, Mary took me on a car tour of the twin cities and along the way we spent some time in the St Paul Cathedral:

St Pauls Cathedral in St Paul
Howdy partner?

I saw an American eagle!

Early Monday morning, fed a generous breakfast and a packed lunch provided by my hosts, I set off from Mishicot in thick fog! What was that – did you just say, fog?

 Ok, so which way do I go from here? Oh, that’s easy, just head across this road and keep going, the road’s long and straight….Yep, so it is. The fog soon lifted thankfully and normal sunny weather resumed.

My destination that day was Appleton, a mere 50 something mile ride but, as so often on this tour I never made to Appleton. In fact, and purely by chance and using my keen nose over lunch by Fox River

 I diverted and ended up at a State Park on Lake Winnebago that I later discovered is one the favourites of many. High Cliff is its name and the entire area is truly stunningly beautiful.
Before I reached the park I pulled into a town called Sherwood (yes, there is a forest nearby and guess what it’s called…..yup, Sherwood Forest and I did spot at least one reference to the famous Robin Hood). Feeling the need for something cooling I stopped at the nearest ice cream parlour and indulged in the most delightful banana split I have ever seen in my lifetime. Alright, I was hot and in desperate need, and I’m sure you’ll understand that in the ‘heat’ of the moment it worked wonders for me:

Banana split US style
The ride to High Cliff was a reminder of the effect of the high summer temperatures on some of the newly laid road surfaces and I once again found myself riding on soft tar. Thankfully, no loose chippings this time.
The campsite, for the first night at least, was quiet, peaceful and relatively private and set amidst dense woodland, the only sounds that of occasional birdsong. In the morning I decided to stay two extra nights; it was that good a camp I thought. With time off from touring I rode a much lightened bike down the lake shoreline and visited some very picturesque lakeside locations. At one of these I felt able to put the bike aside, sit down on the edge of a jetty and simply lose myself in the peace and calm of the still waters of Lake Winnebago. I think these pictures say it all:

Further along the shoreline I stumbled upon another stunning camping spot, on a county park practically adjacent to High Cliff and, in my opinion, an even more peaceful and picturesque location. See what I mean:

I return to camp only to find that I’m now sharing the site with 7 (6 girls & 1 boy) high spirited youngsters celebrating college graduation. Campfire lit, food cooked, plenty of noisy chatter, and the end of my peace and solitude! No matter, it made quite a pleasing change actually seeing how they were enjoying their recent successes and, no doubt, the chance of a few days away from the families. They made it up to me in the morning with a bowl of hot oatmeal and fruit and warm buttered bagels.

This park has a fairly decent beach and swimming area with stunning views across Lake Winnebago:

…’s no surprise really that it’s such a popular location.

Off we go again, cycling through more wonderful Wisconson countryside. A few days later I arrive at the home of my next Warmshower hosts John and Kathy Kulig in Pigeon Falls, a truly beautiful area of Wisconsin set amidst green rolling valleys. John came out and rode with me towards his home and showed me the way when I left two days later. This little collection showcases the best of the area:

The famous American Eagle

Blueberry fields
John ringing the starter bell
Adorable pets
Inside its a games centre
Outside its a traditional barn
A fine head of antlers
City park with its own lake

Two into one does go, or does it?

Before I begin I’ll ask the Wisconson and Minnesota residents to forgive me for including them both in the same blog post. Its not that I don’t think each deserves a separate story but rather their stories blend nicely together, in my opinion at least.

I left off, a few blogs back, having disembarked the SS Badger at Manitowoc. Coffee and food not far from the ferry port set me up well for the remainder of the day. And it was a day well worth remembering for a number of reasons.

So, I’ll showcase the best photos from that day and move on: 

Manitowoc as viewed from SS Badger
SS Badger building up a head of (coal fired) steam for the return sailing
No, I wasnt playing Pokemon but the coffee and donut were reallly good 😊
Manitowoc shoreline
Is this really lake Michigan?
Yep, it really is lake Michigan
Holiday paradise
A novel way to mark the location of your house

My Warmshowers host that night had himself only recently returned from cycling the ACA Northern Tier route. Bob Moczynski and his nephew had a 3 week window to ride from the start point on the Oregon West coast to his home at Mishicot, outside of Two Rivers near Manitowoc. They did it by following the maps to the letter and riding 100-150 miles daily! Not like my tour which includes numerous photo stops, coffee breaks, chats with the locals and other time consuming activities, such as taking wrong turns or generally lazing around and enjoying myself. I admired their commitment and also picked up plenty of useful tips, but I couldn’t ride like that day after day to save my life.

Bob was a great host. His wife Mary cooked up some wonderful food for evening meal with the two daughters and boyfriends and set me up well in the morning for my next day on the road. A foggy one too:

Where does this road go?

Oh dear! That one day in Wisconsin served up a few surprises and enough for one blog. I think we’ll move on to another post don’t you?

There is good in this world…..

From the moment I set foot in the USA this summer I’ve been overwhelmed by the kindness and sincerity of nearly all the American people I’ve met as my journey has progressed. I say nearly all because there was one incident which helped make up my mind about travelling through Chicago and one of its neighbors, a place called Garry. Let’s just say it cost me $10 and I’m still here to tell the tale, and it’s the reason I chose to cycle up the eastern shore of Lake Michigan, meet more wonderful American people and I don’t regret that one little bit.

Today I finally arrived at the famous Adventure Cyclist bunkhouse in Dalbo, Minnesota. I’d first read about it on the Adventure Cycling Association website whilst researching routes etc. for this trip and I made absolutely sure that my routes brought me here. I’m not disappointed; in fact I am truly in awe of what the owner of the property, Donn Olson, has done for the benefit of touring cyclists. I’m sure there are many other equally generous people around the world but when you are the recipient of this generosity yourself you cannot help that awesome feeling  towards the giver.

I’ll not say any more. What I will do is leave you with my photos and direct you towards an Adventure Cycling webpage featuring the bunkhouse:

and a YouTube interview: “Bicycle Bunkhouse Dalbo”   What a lovely guy.