The Best Laid Plans …
Hazelton to Bismark, North Dakota: (76kms)
Roger and Laura were already packed up and gone by the time I stuck my head out of the tent this morning. We looked at each other in amazement, how the hell did they do that without us hearing them?!
On the edge of Hazelton we turned north onto state highway 83, it had a decent shoulder with a rumble strip and rolled gently over the small hills to the town of Moffit, not much more than a crossroads with a few houses. We had been passed by a number of young road cyclists along the way and, as we turned west onto Moffit Road to head towards Bismark, we found them all with their support van in a lay-by on the side of the road just after the intersection. They greeted us warmly and told us they were on a charity ride helping to build houses for the poor, much like the group we had met on the other side of Minneapolis.
The boys in particular, were very interested in our bikes and how much gear we carried. We invited them to try and pick them up (a kind of party trick of ours now) and watched the expressions on their faces when they heaved them off the ground. One guy showed us his carbon fibre bike, you could lift it with one finger! They all agreed they had a lot of respect for what we were doing and how we were doing it. That made us feel pretty special, so, full of encouragement, we headed off on our way to Bismark, the state’s capital.
This section of the ride became quite hilly, but the wind was over our shoulders once more (a rare thing nowadays), as we got sight of the Missouri River for the first time. It wasn’t too long before the first of the road cyclists caught us up and went tearing past with a generous wave. We watched them ride quickly out of sight as we plodded along at our own pace. The day had heated up and it wasn’t worth pushing it too hard.
Our route today paralleled the Missouri River but bypassed Bismark. We were headed to town though and needed to follow the road we were on right through the heart of the city to the north end of town where we had booked a Super 8 room for a couple of nights. As we made our way through town we were joined by Roger and Laura again. Apparently, we had passed them somewhere out on the road as they were having a long and relaxing lunch break in a field. They had booked a motel room near our Super 8, so we all headed up through town together.
Although Bismark is the capital of North Dakota, it is much smaller than Fargo, making it pretty easy to ride through. We found our Super 8 on top of a hill and next to the Interstate (as they always are!). Tomorrow is a rest day before heading out towards the Dakota Badlands and more rolling prairies.
Bismark to New Salem, North Dakota: (58kms)
Someone had told us a few weeks ago that the Missouri River was like a border because the original white settlers in the area had fought with and pushed the local native tribes to the other side. We sort of took this story with a grain of salt.
Immediately upon crossing the river, it became apparent that this story may well be true. We began seeing more and more native Americans, it was like we had crossed into another country.
We crossed the Heart River on the western outskirts of town and were caught head-on with a 15mph gusting wind. Fortunately, we didn’t have far to ride today as it became a rollercoaster of a ride into some hilly country. The scenery was changing now and we encountered large fields of sunflowers which brightened up our day along these vast, rolling prairies again.
We rode on Old Highway 10, which parallels Interstate 94, a familiar road to us now. The I94 starts in Detroit, Michigan and goes all the way across to Billings, Montana, where it becomes the I90 and follows through to Seattle on the coast in Washington State. If you’re driving, and you want to get across the States quickly, this is a good option for you.
We arrived in New Salem and were greeted by a giant cow on a hill in the distance and a big, white “New Salem” sign stretching right across it. We both figured this must be dairy country, although we hadn’t seen too many cows grazing. It was still fairly early, but we hadn’t planned on going any further and, besides, it was pretty darn hot. We made our first port of call the grocery store, where we rehydrated with some cold Gatoraids and got something to eat. Then we headed down to the small town park and had a sleep under their pergola for an hour, grateful for the shade.
We had planned to stay at a campground just out of town, but it was still too early (and hot) to pitch a tent. So, we headed across the road with our bikes to the local bar for a couple of beers and had a chat with a few of the locals.
After checking out the campground and talking with the manager about where to set the tent, we rode down to the Interstate and bought a couple of beers and something to eat for tea.
Back at the campground, we met Jim. He was in a large trailer taking his wife and 2 grandsons on holidays. He was quite surprised to see someone actually cycling across the States and was full of questions. We gave him a beer and entertained him for an hour or so! It turns out that Jim had been up to the cow on the hill. It was 38 feet high, and you could climb in it. The way he told it, he seemed to think we’d want to climb in it as well. Sorry Jim, we had other apples to pick!
New Salem to Hebron, North Dakota: (55kms)
After a rather cool night in the tent, we awoke to a thick foggy morning. We packed up, said goodbye to Jim, and headed up to the Sunset Cafe alongside the Interstate for breakfast. We took our time as we had another, shorter day today.
As we prepared to leave, I noticed I had a broken mount bracket on my rear mudguard. I quickly fixed it in place with a couple of zip ties, this was probably now stronger than the original mount bracket.
About 5kms out of New Salem, our route turned onto the 86 and went up to the Interstate. I had read about this section in my research. We had a choice. Ride the Interstate (which you are allowed to do in North Dakota) with its really wide rumble strip and shoulder, or, continue on Old Highway 10 which from now on is on the dirt.
When we arrived at the intersection, we looked down Old Highway 10, there had been no rain in these parts for a while and a couple of trucks we could see in the distance were raising a huge cloud of dust for miles. So, it was plainly the Interstate for us, and we made our way up and onto it. As it turned out, the rumble strip finished about a foot from the road’s edge, allowing us enough room to cycle along the shoulder comfortably enough, as long as you paid attention.
Out here on the highway, the cycling actually became easier. The hills were long, but not steep, and we had a 10-foot shoulder to boot. So, when the route wanted to take us down to the little town of Glen Ullin (our planned lunch stop), we decided to keep on the Interstate. By now the rumble strip had shrunk considerably and we would be saving 5 miles, a no-brainer really!
In Hebron (pronounced He-Bron), we sat and had a late lunch with the locals at the Wagon Wheel Diner. The ladies in charge were absolutely gorgeous, and we had them entertained with stories of the road for ages. They, in turn, told us that Hebron was on General Custer’s route to Little Big Horn where he met his ultimate demise.
We were originally headed to a small place called Richardton, not far up the road, but we decided we liked this place and told the ladies we were staying the night at the local park.
We had the large park shelter all to ourselves and the toilets were open. Next to the park was the community swimming pool, which looked great, except for the fact that every kid in town was trying to empty it with bomb dives! So, giving that a miss, we laid on the grass in the shade for a while and rested.
Later on, after I had ridden over to the local store for something to eat and a couple of beers, the ladies from the Wagon Wheel pulled up in their car. They had bought us a bag full of cherries and a few cucumbers! We were gobsmacked! They sat down for a while and told us they had driven 100 miles to pick up the cherries and returned. Now here they were giving them to total strangers they’d only just met. We still can’t get over the hospitality shown us out here in these remote communities.
After they closed the pool and the kids made their way home, a lovely silence rang out over the town.
Hebron to Dickinson, North Dakota: (65kms)
We were a few minutes early for opening at the Wagon Wheel for breakfast. Our friends weren’t there, so a young girl let us in and served us. A couple of obligatory coffees and a bit of a fry-up, and we were on our way.
Old Highway 10 (or the 139 as it was now called) rolled right passed the outskirts of town, we quickly joined it and turned and headed west once more. Around a long, looping bend, we turned directly into a very strong wind. This had been our strongest challenge for a while and we struggled a bit with it. It just meant we’d need to rest more often and chip away at it bit by bit. We knew that we’d better get used to it though as there was plenty more of this kind of country ahead of us.
Richardton was a pleasant sight. We found Johnny’s Cafe and promptly parked the bikes. The Caramel cake was huge! In fact, too huge. I could only eat half, but I now had enough sugar in me to get me to Australia!
The next 10 miles or so made us feel pretty nervous. The road had narrowed considerably and had degraded due to all the grain trucks in the area. Fields of wheat were now being harvested and these big hulks were on a mission to get to a silo and back.
Shazz and I eventually had enough of the grain trucks and for about the last 12 miles into Dickinson, we chose to ride back on the Interstate. It’s pretty noisy and not as interesting as the small roads, but it gets you there quickly and its 10-foot shoulder is much safer than mixing it with the grain trucks on the old road.
Interstate 94 dumped us right next to the Relax Inn, a highway motel in central Dickinson and right across the road from food, a pub, Army’s West Sports Bar, and a liquor Store. Happy Days!!!
It was here in Dickinson we made the first big change to our plans. We had been keeping count of the kilometres we’d been averaging, nothing great, but enough we figured, to get us across the Rockies in time before they closed Highway 20 in the Northern Cascades in Washington State. But something else was weighing heavily on our minds. Our mate Robert, who we first met in Winona, had been riding well ahead of us and posting on Facebook about his ride. He had not had a great time of it. Apart from the ridiculously strong headwinds and the dangerous cowboy drivers (he’d had some very close calls and a near fight), the land was flat and featureless and offered nothing new to us.
As we sat in the bar across the road that night, I knew that neither of us really wanted to ride that section of the route, but then neither of us wanted to be the first to admit it! So, after some consideration, I bit the bullet and told Shazz that I think we should skip Eastern Montana and go straight to Glacier National Park at the foot of The Rockies. Not only would we not have to cycle the strong winds, avoid reckless drivers and get bored to death with endless, flat plains, but we would also gain an extra 2 weeks getting across the mountains to the coast. After all, the main reason we had chosen the Northern Tier was to see Going to the Sun Road and to cycle The Rockies. I had sold my argument well, it made sense and Shazz totally agreed. There was something akin to a great weight lifted from our shoulders at that moment. All of a sudden, the beer tasted that much better and we were excited again – we were going to the mountains! … but how??
We spent the next 2 days seeking out every possible means to get our bikes up north to Williston. The Amtrak station there allowed you to load bikes onto the train, and then it passed through East Glacier. All we had to do was work out how to get there. After much research of hire trucks, public forums and asking around for a ride in a pickup truck, we finally had to hire a U-Haul truck and drive ourselves there.
So, on the fourth day, we cycled up to the U-Haul place and loaded the bikes into the back of a pretty big truck. The smaller one he’d promised us was still unavailable, but he said we could take it for the same price. It was total overkill, as the bikes took up a tiny space against the wall in the back. I tied them in and off we went to Williston.
On our way, we passed through a section of the North Dakota Badlands, a geological area of sedimentary deposits, layered down over millions of years and weathered away into buttes, spires and pinnacles. It was visually striking and completely different from the rest of the agricultural lands around here.
In Williston, we booked a Super 8 room for 2 nights to coincide with the train. We dropped off the truck and cycled back down to the motel.
The next day we cycled down to the Railway Station and organised boxes to put our panniers in. The staff are very particular about how things are packed and loaded. We just rolled our eyes and paid the money, who cares? we were on our way. That night we had a few celebratory drinks at the Williston Brewing Company. After a bit of a struggle, we had managed to get ourselves and our bikes here, get train tickets for ourselves and our bikes and find another craft beer place.
We were both excited, but we also knew that the next time we rode, it would be on Going to the Sun Road and would be our first major climb of the trip.