Dinosaurs on the Prairie
Marion to Gackle, North Dakota: (68kms)
We walked the bikes up to the Marion Community Cafe for breakfast. There was only another couple of local guys in there, mumbling into their coffees. The waitress was really nice and told us about the dust bowl the farmers had created by knocking down their wind-breaks to gain extra room for crops. That same deed now saw us pushing against nasty winds with no trees to block it.
Whoever said North Dakota was flat needs to get out there on a bicycle. Today was all up and down right from the start. It was hot too. We had to ride on the road as they’d place a rumble strip on the shoulder that left us only about 6 inches to ride, fortunately, there was little traffic.
Highway 46 continued on its rollercoaster way, but always remained gun-barrel straight. It had begun to become annoying! The last 15kms into Gackle proved a bit of a test as we both began to tire and become frustrated with all the hills.
We finally made it to Gackle and rode down the unremarkable Main Street till we found the Tastee Freez, a small cafe. Two older women were working inside and completely ignored us, even though we were standing at the servery window. This really annoyed us more, we were tired and irritated as well as dehydrated. They were clearly not interested in serving us. As nothing else was open though, we had to swallow our pride and ask for a soft drink. We paid and sat outside in the shade. This was really odd for us, we’d been so warmly received everywhere else, yet we were clearly not welcome here, we just finished our drinks and left to find the Cyclists Accommodation a few blocks away.
The children of the couple who ran the place said they weren’t home but directed us around the back of the house to the spare room they had set up for cyclists. It consisted of a double and single bed and a shower and toilet, all of which looked pretty comfortable. The first thing we wanted to do was shower and have a lay down before dinner, we were shattered and today’s hills and heat had taken a lot out of us.
Later on, we headed up to the only pub for dinner. The only thing on order for dinner was frozen pizzas. Up to our eyes in pizza, this was not what we wanted to hear, but once again, we had to suck it up – we were starving! None of the locals seemed the least bit interested in us and as much as we tried to strike up a conversation, we were pretty much ignored. I was starting to get the feeling that cyclists in the past had caused some kind of trouble and now they weren’t welcome.
Back at the house, another cyclist had pulled in, coming from the other direction. He was a young fellow and was travelling quite light for a tourer. We chatted for a while, but he was a bit weird and obviously not too chatty. It was way too awkward for us, so we just got changed and went to bed.
We won’t have any fond memories of Gackle, North Dakota, it’s just not a very friendly town!
Gackle to Napoleon, North Dakota: (63kms)
We finally came to the long-awaited end of the gun-barrel straight highway 46. At the top of a rise, about 12kms west of Gackle, the road turned directly south and we had the wind over our shoulder for the first time in a while.
The new highway 30 was like a rollercoaster as well, climbing and dipping through some pretty vast grasslands. It was a sunny day and the wind at our backs kept us feeling cool. This wouldn’t last for long though as we had to turn back west on highway 34 after about 15kms, but you learn to savour the little things on a touring bicycle!
We passed by lots of low-lying, shallow lakes as the land flattened out. On a hill about 10kms out of Napoleon, we came across “The Dinosaurs of the Prairie”, a long row of old farm threshers that had been collected over the years by local farmer John “Custer” Grenz, and now stood testament to the people who worked them. We had been told about them by Frank, Becky’s dad back in Cormorant. He had visited them and told us that the owner was featured in National Geographic. I could just imagine how proud the locals were of them.
It was from some distance that we could see the now familiar grain silos and water tower that each of these small towns have. Napoleon’s town centre is situated just south of the highway, and after quite a nice ride today, one last short climb took us to the front of the Broken Bell Cabins where we’d be spending the night.
The cabin was small but quaint, and big enough for us to get our bikes in. Shazz, pretty hungry by now, headed straight down into town to the White Maid diner to get some takeaway.
We had decided to see what else we could jettison from our panniers, so this meant having another rest day and posting some things on to Bellingham to lighten our load for the long haul to come.
As we could only stay one night at the cabin, we lined up a room across the road at the Mozy Inn motel with the friendly owner. The next morning after breakfast at Rueben’s Cafe and Bar, we moved over to the much more spacious motel room. We had gotten our gear together and sorted out what we wouldn’t need. As we’d already done this a couple of times, you can imagine that we were being pretty mercenary now! I took 6.5kgs down to the Post Office!
Happy we’d be now a fair bit lighter, we rode down to Rueben’s again for a few beers and parked our bikes out the front. Apart from a number of friendly locals we were surprised to meet the son of “The Dinosaurs of the Prairie.” creator. Harley was an older guy but pretty vibrant. He was clearly in his element when we asked about the installation on what is now called “Custer’s Ridge,” and delighted in telling us the story. He was also keen to tell us about the plight of the local area and how big business had decimated the ranks of the small landholders around here. It’s a story we’ve heard repeated on a number of occasions and easy to believe from our time spent on the road.
Napoleon to Hazelton, North Dakota: (44kms)
After breakfast again at Rueben’s and saying goodbye to the good folk of Napoleon, we ran into a New Zealand couple on our way out of town, they were on their loaded touring bicycles as well. Actually, Roger is from NZ, but Laura is from the States. They had made their way from Gackle this morning and were headed to Hazelton, the same as us. They were obviously a bit stronger than us though! They had decided to call into Napoleon for lunch, so we told them about the local stores and cafes and said we’d meet them in Hazelton – if they didn’t catch us up before then!
With our panniers a bit lighter, I had decided to try out a new set up. I moved the tent to the rear, in the rackpack, and tied my sleeping bag and Crocs onto the front rack lengthways. This, I hoped, would make me more aerodynamic and make riding into the wind a bit easier. As the wind today was again in our favour, I guess I’d have to wait to see if it actually worked.
Once again we pushed on through the flat, featureless prairie. The 34 was pretty narrow and shoulderless, but there was hardly any traffic to speak of. We could still see the occasional cornfield but they were becoming few and far between now. We had pretty much left the grain belt behind us, and we were now out in Big Sky country, it obviously begins well before Montana!
Cropping increases as you get near to a township and wheat is now on the agenda. Approaching Hazelton, we passed the usual farm machinery outlets and headed straight for the water tower, which is usually in the middle of town out here. It was pretty hot now and we were looking for a cold drink to quench our thirst.
We rode through town and found the modern-looking, local general store. As it was still early, we got ourselves a drink and sat in the shade of the front verandah. There was almost nobody about. The small cafe next door was closed as well, and the bar across the road wasn’t open till 3 pm. The lady in the store told us she was on the board of the local community park and assured us it was in tip-top condition and that the toilet block had been recently painted. She was sure eager to please!
As we sat and relaxed in the shade, a little boy named Leeland approached us with two, one-litre bottles of cold water and presented them to us. We were more than a little surprised, after all, who paid for them – him? It all soon became clear when his mum and older sister came around the corner. Mum figured that a cold drink wasn’t out of order (and she was right). Leeland stood proudly in his cowboy boots and shirt and figured that he had a few brownie points come Christmas this year. We chatted with the young mother briefly, then they piled in her beat-up old car and hit the road.
Not done with random acts of kindness, Hazelton then produced Arlene, the older lady from the cafe next door. She apologised profusely for it not being open and insisted we wait here a short while until she got back. She quickly returned with ice creams for both of us. It was as if the whole town was under orders to treat touring cyclists kindly, although we’ve become accustomed to the generosity of the locals here in the mid-west and nothing surprises us anymore.
Not long after finishing our ice creams, Roger and Laura rode in. They found us still on the bench in front of the general store. Not to be left out, some other little kid presented them with water as well. Unfortunately, they were too late for ice cream, as Arlene had gone home. By the time they had relaxed and rehydrated, the local bar was beginning to open up.
Nicholson’s Tavern was a small, basic place and a bit dimly lit – as is the style of these small town bars. The four of us sat ourselves front and centre at the bar and ordered some beers. In came a couple of locals and the chatter began. We traded stories with the locals while we finished a few beers, but we knew we had a big day again tomorrow and headed off to find the local park.
We pitched our tents close by each other and, as promised, the park was very well maintained. Roger and Laura got out their cooking gear and Sharyn and I headed over to the Road Hawg cafe for dinner. The highway diner was pumping, but we got a table inside under a ceiling fan. There were lots of guys in cowboy hats and boots and the diner was decorated with all sorts of signs and memorabilia from the highway. Full, we headed back to the park. Roger and Laura were already asleep, they’d ridden over 100kms today.