Day 23: Glendive, MT to Dickinson, SD

last views of Montana


Woohoo! Entering North Dakota!

After a breakfast of leftover Tex-Mex food and a bit of weak coffee from the hotel, we started our 100-mile day with enthusiasm. Early in the day, we crossed the state line out of Montana and into North Dakota.

North Dakota farm land


ND badlands

The winds were supposed to be fighting us, but they really weren’t so bad. It was fairly hilly, but in the fun way — not in the slow, agonizing, imperceptible way that the climbs felt in eastern Montana. The landscape was beautiful — red and beige hills and mesas, covered with buffalo grass, reminded us of a grassy New Mexico. The grasses were so tall that when we passed deer, we could just barely make out their ears.

red rock roads in southwestern North Dakota


We powered along until we reached Medora, a town between the Theodore Roosevelt National Park and the Painted Canyon park. While we didn’t have time to get into either of those parks, we saw quite a bit of the beautiful scenery from the road. Medora apparently has some real history involving Roosevelt, but now it’s a bit of a tourist trap designed to look like an old western town.

 

Medora, ND


Despite this, we were happy to see multiple restaurants in one place, and we went out for pizza, followed by ice cream. Today was the most we’ve eaten restaurant food since we were in Seattle! Nick found a new set of cleats he needed at the bike shop in town, and we ran into a cyclist heading west, as well as our common sighting of Scott, Vince, and Ardi.

around Painted Canyon, ND


When we left Medora, we passed the gorgeous Painted Canyon, and headed back out into the plains, where we no longer had a wind block from the hills. We fought a head wind, a strong sun, and high temperatures for another 40 miles, reaching a campground on a lake near Dickinson, ND just before a severe thunderstorm was about to hit. We quickly set up our tent, ate a quick dinner of peanut butter sandwiches, took quick showers, and jumped in the tent just in time. The winds were frighteningly strong. About 20 minutes after we got in the tent, the campground manager came by to tell us that if there were a tornado, we should go to the showers building, which is about a 20 minute walk from our tent and disgusting. We asked him if he could give us a ride over, as the lightning already seemed quite close, but he would not. The weather apps on our phones did not warn us of tornadoes, but they did say that golf-ball-sized hail was on its way, along with 60-mile-per-hour winds. We made a run for the showers building, where we are now sitting on a bench, writing this blog post. Hopefully the severe part of the storm will pass soon so we can head back to our (hopefully not destroyed) tent for some sleep!

Stats:
today’s distance: 101.3 miles
time in saddle: 8 hrs, 35 min
total distance: 1,556 miles
 

 

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Day 22: Circle, MT to Glendive, MT

plains into badlands in eastern Montana


We happily left the campground/trailer park in Circle, and headed to the gas station/convenience store to use a clean bathroom. The cashiers were super friendly, letting us check their computer for the thunderstorms as we had no cell service. We figured we could make it to Glendive and then check the weather for more details, as we hoped to reach Beach, North Dakota. The cashier in Circle told us the name and location of a friend of her daughter’s in a town on the way in case the weather turned for the worse. So we biked southeast, with storms in the distance and a headwind in our faces.

plains into badlands in eastern Montana


The scenery started to change into a sort of grassy badlands landscape, which we were happy to see. When we finally reached Glendive, we had had enough riding for the day. Yesterday’s long ride, plus the strong winds, had exhausted us. Given that we had spent the last three nights without proper showers, and the very last night in a very uncomfortable place, we decided to give in to our desire for a hotel room. We found a cheap one in town that seemed clean and nice enough, and took the afternoon off for Rachel to get some work done, to go out to dinner for reasonably good Tex-Mex food, and to sleep in a bed. 

yay! some changes in the landscape! nick celebrates by studying his podcast playlist.


 

Stats:
today’s distance: 49.5 miles
today’s time in saddle: ~5 hrs
total distance: 1,454.7 miles 

Day 21: Glasgow, MT to Circle, MT

wind-blown grassy plains of eastern Montana

We got a bit of a late start this morning, but the tail-wind was so great that we got through the first 50 miles of today’s ride in just three hours! We stopped in Wolf Point to pick up groceries, not knowing what would be available in any of the following towns, and ate lunch in a park. The winds were really starting to pick up, but at that point, we had to head south, rather that east. This directional change is due to the effects of fracking in northern North Dakota, where apparently, bad traffic and a real “wild west mentality” have taken over as young men flock to the region for the lucrative jobs. So American Cycling Association’s maps take us a bit south to avoid that. While we are happy to take another route, today’s directional change turned that lovely tail-wind into a scary cross-wind, threatening to push us out into traffic with each gust, and often pushing against our intended direction. The last 53 miles took us over 5 hours, and we were thrilled to finally reach Circle, Montana. 

Unfortunately, the only place to stay there is a trailer park where the owner — let’s call him J — lets people camp next to his propane tank for $10. J showed us to the “shower,” a hose suspended over the sump pump in the basement of the laundromat, where we could clean up. This was tolerable though (we didn’t have showers at the churches, so we were happy to clean up any way we could) — it was his politics and social skills that were unfortunate. When he saw us, J exclaimed “I like your kind!” We thought he meant he liked to welcome cyclists. It quickly became clear that he was happy to see that we were a man and woman that were together. J talked at length about two women that he thought were lesbians that had stayed there before us, and about how unnatural he thinks it is. We made it as clear as we could that he was making us uncomfortable, but given that he seemed a bit off, and had had quite a few beers, we didn’t feel comfortable arguing with him. No matter how we tried to change the subject, he kept going on, saying that “thinking of S-E-X for them makes me feel dirty, you know?” We came up with as polite of statement of disagreement as we could, and finally managed to get out of the conversation. He eventually moved on to misogynistic jokes. If leaving that campsite didn’t mean another 50 miles of cycling in the evening, we would have left. There was just no where else to go. The experience made us intensely uncomfortable, but it also reinforced the privilege that we have as we pursue our goal of crossing the country by bike. In this case, the owner was happy to host us because he perceived us as a straight couple. Presumably, some of the good will we have received on this trip has been easier to come by because we are perceived as white, straight, cis-gendered, middle-class, able-bodied, and so on. This trip is obviously physically challenging due to the miles on the bike. It is psychologically challenging also due to the miles on the bike, and miles of monotony in certain stretches of the country, the mosquitoes, the wet tent from camping repeatedly in the rain, etc — but no matter what, we want to keep in mind that we are incredibly fortunate to have the time and ability to do this trip, and to be aware of our privilege in how we are perceived across the country.

Stats:

today’s ride: 102.9 miles

time in the saddle: 8 hrs and 10 min

total distance: 1405 miles

Day 20: Malta, MT to Glasgow, MT

Here in eastern Montana, we are experiencing the violent summer weather of the Northern Plains. About 20 miles into our ride, the 30% chance of thunderstorms that had been predicted became a reality, with scary clouds colliding above our heads. At first, we thought we could make it to the next town, 9 miles away, but instead we seemed to be riding right into the storm. Before we knew it, there was lightning right over us. Being the tallest objects in miles, we got off of our bikes, braving the snake, tick, and mosquito-infested grass to lay down on the ground until the storm passed. All we wanted to do after this frightening experience was to hug each other, but of course, as soon as the rain stopped, we each had about 30 mosquitoes on us. We needed to keep moving to keep the bugs off, so we jumped on our bikes and raced west (the wrong direction), as moving east would put us back under the storm. 

After about 5 miles in the opposite direction, we felt comfortable turning around to keep going to Glasgow. We stopped in Saco for a great piece of peach pie, and then again in Hinsdale to make sandwiches in the convenience store (the cashier was nice to let us make our lunch indoors, away from the mosquitoes). 

Glasgow, MT: where dinosaurs chase rams

We eventually reached Glasgow, where we found a neat bike shop (you have to call the guy to come over, and he just has the basic supplies, but he’s refurbishing all these cool old bikes) and a coffee shop where Rachel could get some work done until Leo and Tom arrived. Just like the night before, they got us into a Catholic Church for the night, where we slept in the school. We each took a separate room — Leo slept in the gym, Tom in the lounge, and we slept in the nursery. It was nice and cool in there, and it was great to have access to a real kitchen to make our dinner.

sleeping in the Glasgow church’s nursery


Stats:

Today’s ride: 76.2 miles

Time in the saddle: 6 hours, 36 min

Total distance: 1302 miles

Day 19: Havre, MT to Malta, MT

sunrise out of Havre, MT

Today’s ride started out at 5:45, with the flattest riding we’ve had so far, a gorgeous sunrise, and a few short rainstorms to cool the weather off a little. We learned that we are in an area known as “Mosquito Flats.” That describes it pretty well. We had an energetic day of riding despite the short night’s sleep last night. We kept up a pretty fast pace, and did intervals of higher speeds to break the monotony of Route 2. In addition to the speed work, we also listened to our iPhones through just one earphone (the side away from the road, for safety), and we are both enjoying podcasts such as the New Yorker Nonfiction podcast, Mike and Tom Eat Snacks, Radio Lab, and This American Life. We highly recommend interspersing the podcasts with music with a strong beat to keep the pace up.

every town on the Hi-Line (Route 2) has this basic set-up of a large set of grain silos next to the train tracks on one side, and various sized towns on the other side

 

When we arrived in Malta, we waited for Tom and Leo at the only place open on the 4th of July, the bar, where we shared a pizza and juices while Rachel worked on a project. Leo is a teacher at a Catholic school, and he had his principal write up a letter of recommendation that he shows to priests in towns with Catholic Churches, and they’ll let him stay at the church overnight for free — so tonight, we’re sleeping in the old convent of the church in Malta, MT. It’s nice to be away from the city park given the fireworks this evening.

Stats:

today’s ride: 86.4 miles

total distance: 1226 miles

time in the saddle: 7 hours, 35 minutes

Day 18: Chester, MT to Havre, MT

5:45AM pre-cycling photo with Leo and Tom

In addition the the generous offer to share their hotel room with us, Leo and Tom also helped us out by getting us out of bed at our goal wake-up time of 4:30AM. This is getting to be particularly important now that temperatures are climbing to the upper 90’s. We were on the road by 5:45, increasing our speed over the day as the lovely tailwinds picked up. The mosquitos were as aggressive as the last few days, so the winds were helpful in reducing their bites as well. While the mosquitos were at their worst, we took turns riding behind one another, calling out “right calf!” or “left shoulderblade!” to warn the person in front of where a mosquito had landed. Those tailwinds propelled us along, easily reaching Havre by 11AM. We saw about 10 antelopes on the way, some of them quite close! We don’t have any pictures of them though, owing to their speed and the mosquitoes attacking us at every stop. The ride was mostly flat until we reached Havre, which is surprisingly hilly. We wanted to go further, but in that heat, it didn’t seem safe to continue. We wandered around the 9,000 person town, trying to find Northern MTU, where they’ve set up a cyclist-only lodging in one of the dorms. Unfortunately they’ve just increased the price from $10/person to $17/person, and given the lack of A/C or wifi or sheets on the single beds, we were not exactly thrilled with the price. But it was away from the mosquitoes, and slightly cooler than camping, so we did it. 

most of the towns along the “Hi-Line” of Route 2 have signs like this

 

In Havre, Nick got to the bike store to get new rim tape for Rachel’s rear tire and some new tubes while Rachel drank a frozen coffee drink at the university library, working on a couple of research projects. Back at the dorm, we met back up with Leo and Tom, the father and son we met the day before, as well as Cassie and Joey, a pair that just graduated from college in MN and are biking to Seattle.

Pro Pizza in Havre with Leo, Tom, Cassie, and Joey

We spent some time warning each other about the rides in our respective directions, and then we went out for pizza and beer at Pro Pizza, which was ‘t half bad. They had local dark beers too! When we got back, the custodian had gotten us ice cream bars, so we enjoyed our dessert with our fellow cyclists (well, sort of – Rachel kept working on a research proposal). We went to bed far too late, given the next day’s wake-up of 4:25AM.

Stats:

today’s ride: 61 miles (approx)

time in saddle: 5 hours, 15 minutes (approx)

total distance: 1,134 miles

Day 17: Cut Bank, MT to Chester, MT

We happily left Cut Bank at 6AM, knowing that the high temperature for the day would be 97 degrees. Yikes! We had hoped to start going 80-95 miles per day now that the land is pretty flat, but given the temperatures, we settled for a smaller goal. The ride was entirely on highway 2, entirely on a shoulder that often was completely made up of a rumble strip that felt like it was giving us concussions when we accidentally rode over it. There was also a lot of glass on the shoulder. So the ride today involved staring at the shoulder, trying not to hit glass or the rumble strip. We didn’t even notice that we had passed a town at one point. When we stare this long at the ground in front of the bike, it made our eyes play tricks on us such that anything in the distance would look like it was moving toward us. To add to today’s experience, every time we stopped for even a second, swarms of mosquitos would attack us, biting right away. So we only stopped for two very quick snacks, skipping lunch until we arrived in Chester. Here, a cute restaurant called Spud’s was a perfect, air-conditioned respite. We planned to stay in the city park, as many towns in Montana and North Dakota lack real campgrounds, but will allow cyclists to camp in the park. First, however, we wanted to pay to take showers at the motel. We were in the process of paying for this service when we met Leo and Tom, a father and son who are biking across the country, who offered us the other bed in their room. So we’re writing this blog post from a comfy bed in an air-conditioned room. 

Note that there are no pictures today due to the mosquitos and the lack of photographic subjects. It was flat. Very very flat. Imagine flat land around a two-lane highway. 

Today’s stats:

today’s ride: 69 miles
total distance: 1071 miles
time in the saddle: 6 hrs and 33 min