Pedaling the Plains:
México > Canada
A Bicycle Experience
Day 0: La frontera internacional..................................................................................... 4
Day 1: The middle of nowhere........................................................................................... 5
Day 2: The gun store......................................................................................................... 7
Day 3: The bad spoke and the bad dog................................................................................ 9
Day 4: “Watch for wild hogs”.......................................................................................... 11
Day 5: Finally out of Texas............................................................................................. 13
Day 6: The farmer who came from SD to OK – on a horse.................................................. 14
Days 7, 8, and 9: Rest days in Oklahoma.......................................................................... 15
Day 10: Greyhounds, Indian Territory, and the prairie fire............................................. 16
Day 11: Crepes, frogs, and dad........................................................................................ 18
Day 12: Stone fenceposts on the prairie............................................................................ 20
Day 13: Flashing fisherpersons in the middle of the country............................................ 21
Day 14: A Nebraska Lied community................................................................................ 23
Day 15: Things were a lot different here ten million years ago....................................... 25
Day 16: “Big Muddy”, the longest river in America.......................................................... 27
Day 17: Rest day in South Dakota................................................................................... 29
Day 18: Three states at once............................................................................................ 31
Day 19: Bison, mosquitoes, sacred ground, and water flowing uphill............................. 32
Day 20: The Lutefisk Capital of the USA.......................................................................... 34
Day 21: The lightning strike............................................................................................ 35
Day 22: Scooter shoppers and the Fargo Public Library................................................... 36
Day 23: Bad Food and riding on the Interstate................................................................ 37
Day 24: No pepper spray allowed in Canada..................................................................... 38
Day 25: The sights of Winnipeg, including Costco............................................................ 40
Day 26: “Paging Mr. Jeffrey Reeder to the ticket counter please”................................... 41
A Random Collection of................................................................. 43
Quick Statistics............................................................................................................... 43
Interesting (?) facts about the places my route included................................................. 43
Transcontinental Highways Crossed.................................................................................... 45
Major Rivers Crossed (and their lengths).............................................................................. 45
Historic Trails or Routes Crossed....................................................................................... 46
Geographic Points of Interest............................................................................................. 46
Other Points of Interest.................................................................................................... 47
60 U.S. Counties............................................................................................................ 47
Most Populous Counties.................................................................................................. 48
Least Populous County.................................................................................................... 48
Best Roadway for Cycling................................................................................................. 48
Most Scenic Roadways (to me...)....................................................................................... 48
Odd Official Road Signs................................................................................................... 48
Odd Non-official Signs..................................................................................................... 49
Most Isolated Roadways................................................................................................... 49
Most Popular Beer in the Northern Plains............................................................................ 49
Soils and Orography....................................................................................................... 50
Drivers: Friendliest / Best / Worst................................................................................... 51
In Preparation................................................................................................................. 52
Equipment and Supplies.................................................................................................... 53
June 18, 2003. Ciudad Acuña, Coahuila to Del Rio, Texas. 3 miles.
Last grading day at the Advanced Placement (AP) Spanish Test reading site at Trinity University, San Antonio, Texas. After being dismissed and eating lunch, Susye (my wife) and I drove 130 miles west to Del Rio, where we checked into the Best Western, I changed into bicycle clothing, put the bike on the car and we drove the 15 miles to the Amistad Dam. My plan was to ride across the dam, cross the border (mid-dam), and ride about 4 kilometers into Mexico to the statue of Tlaloc (the Aztec deity of rain and water), then return to the motel. However, what my planning hadn’t uncovered was that the border crossing at the dam closed at 6:00 and the Border Patrol agents were just chaining the gate to the dam as we arrived. The inauspicious start worried me, but we drove back to Del Rio to the main (24-hour) crossing, where I crossed into Ciudad Acuña, Coahuila, Mexico for pictures and to officially begin the trip.
I went out to dinner that night with Susye, my son Andrew, and my mother, and stepfather with the idea of loading up on carbohydrates. My stomach, however, had other ideas. Whether I had some stomach bug or just pre-ride jitters I don’t know, but I felt nauseous and couldn’t eat more than about five bites of my pasta meal.
June 19, 2003. Del Rio, Texas to Sonora, Texas. 91 miles.
The day started out well, and by 8:00 I had eaten a light breakfast (hotel lobby donuts), said goodbye to my family, and started north. The bike was so heavy it was hard to carry it down the stairs from the motel’s second floor! It was loaded with clothes, tools, food, maps, and water. Day 1 happened to be the day that I harbored suspicions of being the hardest day of the route. Certainly it was the day that left the least room for error, since it was 91 miles across one of the most isolated parts of Southwest Texas; 91 miles of – quite literally – nothing save the road, mesquite, yucca, and cactus. There was also just under 4,000’ of climbing and the mid-summer, mid-latitude sun to contend with. I was ‘on my own’, and had to take along my entire day’s food supply (not a big deal) and water supply (that was a big deal, an extra 24 pounds of weight). Some of the ice from the hotel ice machine had slimy moldy stuff on it – I tried to avoid that and ended up not getting as much ice as I would have liked in the Camelbak.
I had barely left Del Rio when I realized that I didn’t have the ‘Halt!’ dog spray (that’s the small pepper spray canister that many postal carriers carry). Fortunately I knew that my family would be passing me within an hour or so on their way to Oklahoma, I assumed they’d stop, and I assumed that the canister was in the car, since I had taken it off in order to facilitate the Mexico-U.S. border crossing.
Around this time (8:30 a.m.) it started getting really hot, so I unzipped my jersey down to mid-chest, which was apparently just enough for a bee to find its way in. I got three stings before it finally died. Just after that, when I stopped to take a picture of a vulture announcing fresh road kill (a very thick seven foot long snake), I noticed my back brake rubbing on one section of the wheel rim, a problem which seemed to be caused by the wheel not being true. I tried to solve this by repositioning the brakes somewhat and loosening the cable, but the problem persisted.
And so it was that only an hour and a half into the adventure I was already hot, had gotten several bee stings, and had a suspicious mechanical problem. To top it all off, when my family passed me in the car, we couldn’t find the dog spray. Oh well, I reasoned, at least my body felt fine.
About 30 miles after the border there was a Border Patrol checkpoint; all vehicles have to stop for inspection. The Border Patrol agent was chuckling to himself as I approached. He asked me about my citizenship (“US”) and place of birth (“Japan”). He then asked me if my family had gone through earlier (“yes”), and he said that my wife had been there over an hour earlier and had told him “my husband is coming right behind us on a bike”. After a while he was beginning to worry, but then when he saw a bicycle instead of a motorcycle he realized why I was so far behind. Finally, he asked where I was going (“Canada”). He chuckled some more and announced that fact through laughter to one of his buddies, but before letting me go made sure I had enough water and food.
The “at least my body felt fine” from the morning didn’t last very long into the afternoon. The heat, several long hills, heavy bike, and my lack of good nourishment were taking its toll. I had no appetite and couldn’t eat more than half a Clif bar or two Fig Newtons per hour without feeling nauseous, nor could I drink more than about five swallows at any one time. By mid afternoon, with the heat index at 105ºF and with me still about 20 miles away from Sonora, I was seriously getting worried. My shorts and jersey were stained white with salt, I felt weak and hot, and the hair on my arms and legs looked like little icicles or stalagmites, coated as they were with tiny salt crystals from my sweat. The last 15 miles took about two and a half hours, as I would ride to the point of exhaustion (usually only about 15 minutes), stop and lie in the shade (not many trees around, but a big thanks to the State of Texas for so many shaded picnic tables!) and try to drink water or mix up some powdered Gatorade. After regaining some human characteristics, I would then continue for fifteen more minutes to the next shade tree. I hoped I could somehow make it... When I finally reached the town of Sonora I was relieved but completely exhausted. My signature on the motel registration card was completely illegible because I was trembling. It was a second floor room – I almost couldn’t make it up the stairs with the bike and tumbled over backwards with the heavy bike by trying to do so. Anyway, after an ice-cold can of Dr. Pepper and a bottle of Gatorade from the vending machine, a shower, a pizza from the Pizza Hut across the street and some more Gatorade, I felt real again. By 9:30 p.m. my family had arrived in Fairview, Oklahoma (where I would be in a week), so I talked to them about the day (except for the little details about how rough it had been...).
Very nice roads today, very smooth to moderately smooth, 6 to 12 foot shoulders (with the exception of several of the longer, steeper hills that had only a two foot shoulder to make room for a climbing lane.
June 20, 2003. Sonora, Texas to San Angelo, Texas. 72 miles.
I woke up feeling well, with plenty of energy, and set out for San Angelo, which I knew to be a short, flat ride; I had planned Day 2 in advance to be a mild recovery day from Day 1. About 20 miles into the day’s ride I reached the highest elevation of the entire route (2,439 feet) near the town of Eldorado. In town, when I had stopped to take a picture and drink some Gatorade, a man in a pickup pulled off the road in front of me, got out, and started walking my way. I wished for my dog spray, but soon found that he was just being friendly and wanted to know where I was from and where I was going, since he claimed to be ‘the only crazy cyclist around those parts and not too many others ever come through’. Shortly after that, while stopped at a picnic area, I discovered the problem with my back brake – a broken rear spoke that was causing the wheel to be out of true. I duct-taped the spoke to an adjoining one (I kept imagining it going in my leg the whole time after that) and dialed 411 on my mobile phone to see about bike shops in San Angelo. Sure enough, there was a bike shop, and they were open and confident they could fix my problem. I got there at around 1:00 p.m. and found that the bike guy was out to lunch. It was a combination bike shop and small engine shop – Trek and Giant along with Husqvarna and Stihl, so after looking at chain saws for a few minutes I decided lunch didn’t sound like a bad idea so I found a Subway sandwich shop and came back later. By then the bike guy was back and he fixed the spoke, but unfortunately the bike shop was out of Halt! dog spray, so that led to a ‘Tour de Tom Green County’ (it’s apparently named after a Confederate General) in search of pepper spray or some substitute, a search which ultimately proved successful, although I soon found that it was not as easy as I had thought. I ended up riding to opposite ends of the city and back, but when I finally got to the right place (by this time I had called in advance and was told that they did have what I needed), I saw that it boasted a parking lot full of beat-up 4 x 4 pickups, all with gun racks. I was able to choose from among about ten different kinds of mace and pepper spray (I finally settled on one that combined both). The clerk in the hunt outfitting store (which must have had at least 300 firearms on display for sale) helpfully said that they had some .38 caliber revolvers that would work a lot better than pepper spray (“for up to six dogs”, he said), but I limited myself to the spray. While I was paying, a different clerk asked me if I’d heard of the new .17 Magnum (what, did they think I looked like I was going to buy one???); a waiting customer standing nearby added his opinion that it was great on jackrabbits out to 100 yards. I felt a little uneasy in there with my non-Texas Hill Country English and my tight, bright cycling clothing, but I believe it did surprise them a bit when the clerk pulled one of the .17 Magnum rounds from its box to show me and I commented that “it looks like its made from a necked-down .22 Mag”. He said “that’s exactly what it is” and let his countenance show just a hint of approval.
I stayed in a Motel 6 with a pool that I floated around in for about half an hour before I went on a walk downtown. San Angelo’s downtown was a charming place (except for the rather eerie lack of people), full of lots of old brick and stone buildings and newly constructed riverwalk along the flood-prone Concho River. It was not hard to imagine the time when the city (today’s population 85,000) was much more prosperous. It seemed a shame that there wasn’t anyone out enjoying the relatively pleasant Summer evening; the only busy place I found downtown was the very good, very friendly, well-decorated, and inexpensive Mexican restaurant where I ate a hearty meal.
San Angelo was originally named “Santa Angela”. This eventually changed (probably due to a 19th Century Texas drawl) to “San Angela”. When the town applied to the Postmaster for an official post office, the name San Angela was rejected (because it is agrammatical in Spanish). Faced with the choice between Santa Angela and San Angelo, the latter was chosen.
June 21, 2003. San Angelo, Texas to Anson, Texas. 140 miles.
Lots of energy and tailwinds today. By mid afternoon I had already gone 100 miles, visited Fort Chadburne, stopped at a site where the Pony Express route used to cross and change horses, and eaten lunch at the western edge of the Hill Country near where the Spanish explorer Coronado camped during his 1542 travels. It was about 3:30 p.m. with only 10 miles to go for a day that had gone very well when I noticed a familiar problem – another broken rear spoke. I sat down, dejectedly, to ponder my situation. This was the second broken rear spoke in 100 miles, there were no bike shops for the next 4 days, and Abilene (pop. 116,000) was 15 miles back and off my route. I dialed 411 again and found that Abilene had 2 bike shops, so I called the one with the easiest number to remember (“Bike Town”). Would they be able to help me out late on a Saturday afternoon? “Sure”, they said, “just bring it in”, after I explained my situation, but they closed at 5:00 so they said I should hurry. So I rode hard (of course that strong tailwind was now a howling headwind), and as I finally got to the Abilene city limits the road kept getting busier and busier, became “Business Route Interstate 20” and turned into a multi-lane divided highway, speed limit 70. I decide to cross over to the access road that has just started to parallel the main highway by riding across the harmless-looking ditch. Coming onto the pavement after crossing the ditch, I hear and feel the dreaded “clack (bump), clack (bump), clack (bump)”, timed exactly with each rotation of the front wheel, and I see a piece of wood the size of a cigar following the wheel around. I stop and see that the piece of wood is securely connected to the tire by a mesquite thorn every bit as big as a 16d nail. I called the bike shop again and asked them to “Please, Please, Please, Please wait, or maybe send a van or something...: They said that everyone had biked to work so there was no van, but to “just fix your flat as soon as you can and bring it in, we’ll wait for you”. Finally, by about ten minutes after five I arrived, and from that moment on I was well taken care of. Only once in my life have I experienced such “beyond the call of duty” customer service (the other time was in 1993 at a Honda motorcycle shop in Kagoshima, Japan, but that’s a completely different story). They gave me pizza and drinks and offered to fix my wheel and loosen the other spokes (which they thought were too tight). I didn’t trust that wheel much anymore, so I suggested a whole new wheel, which they fixed me up with and sold to me at cost. If you ever need a bike shop in West Texas, I recommend Bike Town! They’re the greatest! (Thanks, guys, and I hope you enjoyed the Thanksgiving package!) Anyway, they finished at 7:15 and I still had 25 miles to go to Anson, so I rode as quickly as I could, arriving at sunset.
Oh, and I almost forgot! This was the day of the attempted dog attack from the pit bull that was guarding his territory along the highway southwest of Abilene. Some dogs chase just to run, some chase to defend territory, some want to play, and I’m sure some don’t themselves even know why they chase. But some dogs chase because they want to attack, and I met one of those, a large pit bull, just south of Abilene. He was in front of his owner’s home, carefully defending it against who might happen to pass by wishing to harm the trailer or the weeds around it. I wasn’t that worried, since his domain was, I reasoned, on the other side of the highway. Nevertheless, as soon as I approached, he sat up, alert, and as soon as I passed he started the pursuit, though still on the opposite side of the road. Since there were cars passing in both directions, he continued to match my pace (which I had increased, but to no avail), and when there was a break in traffic he crossed over the highway and continued chasing me from a few yards back. By now he had chased me for over 200 yards and was closing in, obviously studying where the best bite would be, but by now I had the pepper spray in my hand with my thumb under the safety tab. I yelled “halt”, got no reaction, so with the dog less than ten feet away, gave him a good spray in the face and mouth. Surprise, surprise, surprise! Killer stopped and I kept going.
What an eventful day. I wondered if it was going to be like this for the whole trip, and if so, if I could sustain it for three weeks.
June 22, 2003. Anson, Texas to Quanah, Texas. 108 miles.
Local lore (according to the guys at the bike shop) has it that the town of Anson was the inspiration for the movie “Footloose” (an 80’s movie about a town where dancing was prohibited). Apparently dancing is outlawed there, and the Abilenians (Abilenites? Abalones...?) all had heard of the expression “No dancin’ in Anson”. Regardless of whether all this was true or not, it did not seem to be a very happy little town.
Hot, Hot, Hot today, but made good time with a tailwind. The first few hours from Anson were on good paved “Farm to Market” roads (secondary roads on the state network) which I had nearly all to myself. Exactly two cars passed me during one one-hour period (both in the opposite direction; with both drivers waving, of course). At noon traffic picked up to about ten cars per hour (the Sunday after-church rush hour, no doubt). The last 50 mile stretch was very remote with only one town. The road conditions were excellent for cycling – today boasted the best roads of the entire trip from a road quality / traffic standpoint. All afternoon I was on Texas Highway 6, a smooth road with smooth, paved shoulders at least 10 feet wide and with very low traffic volumes – less than 600 vehicles per day, according to the Texas Department of Transportation. Interesting fact: This same Highway 6, further south near the Gulf Coast, is signed as an official ‘Hurricane Evacuation Route’ for Galveston and Houston. A very interesting official Texas highway sign on the side of the road warned travelers along the highway to “Watch for Wild Hogs”. I didn’t see any.
After riding in such great conditions and arriving in the town of Quanah, it was a bit surprising that the only confrontationally rude driver of the trip happened to cross my path then. The driver of an old Ford van (early 1970’s vintage vehicle, late 1950’s vintage driver) pulled directly in front of me to make a right turn on (his) red light. He apparently was very surprised that I didn’t stop for the green light that I and hollered at me to ‘get off the g****** road, you f****** s** o* a b****’. Hmm. Needs anger therapy and a new perspective, I think.
The town of Quanah, is named after Native American notable Quanah Parker, so it was fitting that I stayed at the Quanah Parker Inn. While I was in the motel “lobby” I ended up talking to the motel owners for some time (they were from Mumbai [Bombay]) and had only recently moved to rural Texas from New York City. They were experiencing culture shock, they said. Another guest (a talkative but, shall we say, ‘dim’ elderly woman) asked if the owners were Indian. Of course, they replied “yes”, so the woman wanted to know if they were related to Quanah Parker. They laughed and said that they were Indian, but not “the kind that she thought”.
I went to the grocery store to buy something for the quite painful saddle sore that had just appeared. I settled for some ‘soothing antiseptic spray for burns’ which worked for about 15 minutes but which was particularly unpleasant if not aimed just right... I ate at the Pizza Hut across from the motel where I had two pizzas and made several trips to the all-you-can-eat salad bar.
Today three of the “Four H’s” (Heat, Hills, Headwinds, Humidity) had been in abundance, with Headwinds mercifully replaced by Tailwinds.
June 23, 2003. Quanah, Texas to Cordell, Oklahoma. 98 miles.
Finally out of Texas; a big psychological hurdle overcome! It may have been my imagination, but it seemed like people had become a little friendlier and the grass a little greener after crossing the Red River (which really is quite red) and resting at the “Welcome to Oklahoma: Native America” sign. Well, my photos show that I was right about the grass, so I was probably right about the people, as well. On the other hand, the 10 foot shoulders to which I had become accustomed in Texas were now 3 foot shoulders. I rode past several harvest crews cutting wheat, which brought back memories of the summers that I used to spend doing just that work and visiting ‘exotic’ places in search of ripening wheat and barley... places like Friend, Kansas, Lone Mountain, Oklahoma, Alamosa, Colorado, and Delano, California...
The most beautiful single stretch of my trip was today – a 15-mile ride through the Quartz Mountains between Altus, Oklahoma and Lone Wolf, Oklahoma. The Quartz Mountains are so named because they are made of a reddish-pink quartzite with lots of reflective crystals that make them glisten in the sunlight. The bare, craggy peaks spectacularly rise nearly a thousand feet above the surrounding flatlands with the brand new glass-smooth pavement of Oklahoma State Highway 44 sinuously winding its way around the mountains and along the edge of a beautiful lake. It was beautiful, and for a while I forgot about the heat-related symptoms of “Hot Foot” and “Fire Butt”.
Cordell (pop. about 2,500) was a friendly town with a quaint little downtown. In fact, I later learned, it has earned national recognition for its Main Street preservation and restoration efforts. I arrived before it was late (around 3:30 p.m.), so there was time to shower and walk around before dinner. I sat down in an ice cream parlor to enjoy a cold milkshake and ended up having a nice chat with the owner, a woman (who reminded me of my aunt) who had left town to move to the city. Like many people, she had now come back because she believed in the town’s future. She had managed to turn an elegant old brick building into a very classic, tastefully done space with beautifully decorated high ceilings. We talked for about half an hour and I learned a lot about Washita County from this very vibrant, enthusiastic woman (but of course how can one not be enthusiastic working in an ice cream shop...). I continued my walk around the town and admired the collection of renovated turn-of-the-century red brick buildings, stopping at the local pizzeria. It was much better, and friendlier, than the Pizza Hut of the day before, but alas, I wasn’t as hungry and so only ate one pizza with the all-you-can-eat salad bar. On the way back to the motel I looked over a bridge into the lazily flowing creek and saw a water moccasin (a venemous snake) floating in the shallows. No swimming today...
Left knee started to get sore (probably psychosomatic because I had mentally calculated that each day my legs were doing about 35,000 rotations).
June 24, 2003. Cordell, Oklahoma to Fairview, Oklahoma. 98 miles.
Windy, windy day. Luckily for me (at least for the first 70 miles) the wind was straight out of the south and I was headed (at least for the first 70 miles) straight north. It was the first day since I had begun that there were any clouds, so it was not nearly as hot when the sun was not beating down directly on me. With the tailwind and the smooth road, the first 15 miles zoomed by in barely over half an hour. Early that morning I visited the “Route 66 Museum” in Clinton, Oklahoma (not named after the president, they were quick to tell me). At first the museum staff people were quite excited when I rolled into the lobby and asked if they had a safe place where I could store my bicycle while I visited the museum – it seems they thought I was cycling Route 66 (Chicago to L.A.); they were kind of disappointed that I had a different route.
I had lunch (two bean burritos) at a farm store/convenience store in Taloga, Oklahoma, and there the two elderly men in the booth next to me brought me right into their conversation. I had gotten used to that, since it seemed like everywhere I stopped people would talk to me (“Passed ya on the highway back there and wondered where you was headed” was almost inevitably heard when I stopped). By the time I was ready to leave, I knew all about the time one of the men had ridden his horse from South Dakota to Oklahoma (“G****** my a** was sore”, he said) and about the guy that had come by looking for farm work and ended up stealing his pickup (“Well, he asked me if he could borrow it to run into town; didn’t think he’d run off with the d*** thing”). I also heard about their friend Joe. It seems Joe’s doctor told him that he had high blood pressure, high cholesterol, was overweight and was going to die early. Well, apparently “ol’ Joe” said to his doctor “like h*** I am” and went out and bought a bicycle, “one of them fancy ones, like yours, it cost him 500 bucks”, even though he “hadn’t rid’ a bike in ages”. Apparently now, about 6 years later, Joe’s “all slimmed up and fit as a spring chicken”.
The clouds broke up and it got hot again right when I turned east for the last 30 miles. The howling south wind made it hard to ride straight and made progress a challenge. Sore muscles. Painful saddle sore. Left knee hurts. Hot. Lean into the wind. What made it worse, aside from my having begun the final mental mileage countdown too soon, was that this area was dominated by tiny sand hills, resulting in constant little rises of 20 feet or so; just enough to not be able to see any landmarks or mental goals on the horizon. Those last two and a half hours seemed like forever, but finally I did arrive in Fairview, and then at my mother’s house, and then Susye said “oh, you’re here so early!” That was encouraging, as the slow progress of the last 30 miles and the time I spent at the museum had made me forget just how fast I had been able to go the rest of the day.
June 25, 26, and 27, 2003. Rest days, Fairview, Oklahoma. 2 miles.
Rested. Ate. Rested. Ate.
I noticed that I had a really funny tan. Of course, there were the tan lines from the shorts, jersey, and socks, but the really funny lines were on my hands and neck. My fingertips and forearms were deeply tanned but the base of the fingers and back of the hand was not, except for a 1/2 inch circular tanned spot right in the middle of the back of my hand where the gloves had a little round hole (what were you guys thinking, Pearl Izumi???). On my neck was a helmet strap tan coming outlining each ear and going under the chin. Everyday of my ride I had put on as much “Bullfrog Extreme Sport SPF 30” as would stick to my skin, which did prevent me entirely from having any sunburn, but the tanning rays still came through...
With Andrew, I rode around the block a few times. At age five, he has learned to ride a bicycle without training wheels while I’ve been away this week! He has been really anxious to go on a ride with me, and I know I must be beaming with pride as I follow him around the neighborhood.
While washing and inspecteing the bike, I noticed a loose screw on the front derailleur and tightened it. Oops! That messed everything up and it wouldn’t shift anymore. Luckily I had brought along the “Complete Guide to Bicycle Maintenance and Repair” and found out that I had tightened the index screw, something I shouldn’t have done, so I fixed it.
After that, I put on a new rear tire. I have great things to say about the “Continental Top Touring 2000” tires that I use, but they do wear much faster in this heat than I’m used to in Sonoma County. The only other complaint that I have about those tires after going through six of them is that the newest three that I’ve used have all developed a sidewall split on the. Nothing that seems to be a problem, although that lapse of structural integrity can’t be a good thing. The only difference I can discern between the older tires (that did not split) is that they were all marked “Made in Thailand” and that the newer ones (each of which did split) are marked “Made in India”. I have tried to find, on Conti’s website, a customer service or comment area (‘cause that’s something they might want to know, I think), but with no luck. Meanwhile, I resent getting an inferior product for the same price, but it still is a good tire and there aren’t too many choices made for the Volpe’s wider rims.
I was interviewed by Dave Altman, editor of the Fairview E-News, who wrote and published an article about the trip. I also met with Kay Miller, reporter from the Fairview Republican, who wrote a lengthy article about the trip that was published in that newspaper.
June 28, 2003. Fairview, Oklahoma to Pratt, Kansas. 114 miles.
Riding near Cleo Springs, Oklahoma, a farm pickup passed me, stopped on the shoulder ahead of me, and the driver got out and motioned for me to stop. Carefully noting the position of my pepper spray, I did, and was relieved to discover that he just wanted to tell me that he had just heard on the radio that a line of strong thunderstorms were due in a few hours. Luckily, the forecast was accurate, so by the time the storms came a few hours later I was already in Southern Kansas and something entirely different was raining out of the sky on me – ash. Between Kiowa, Kansas and Medicine Lodge, Kansas there was a huge prairie fire about half a mile off the road that caused ash and charred grass stalks to rain down on me for several miles (not to mention that it significantly lowered the air quality)
The last remaining pioneer sod house on the Great Plains is in Alfalfa County, Oklahoma. Since the pioneer story is an important part of the history of this part of Oklahoma, I’ll tell a bit of it here. First of all, Oklahoma’s first people were the so-called Plains Indians (e.g., Kiowa, Comanche). When the white settlers of the nascent United States spilled over the Appalachians into territory occupied by the Cherokee, Choctaw, Seminole, and Creek, there were inevitably conflicts. The discovery of gold in Georgia along with expansionist tendencies to led president Andrew Jackson (the guy on the $20 bill) in the 1830’s to order the removal of all Native Americans in the Southeast to lands west of the Mississippi, namely the newly organized “Indian Territory”. The treaties between the Indian nations and the United States promised that in exchange for ceding all claims to their ancestral lands, they would be given lands in Indian Territory in perpetuity – “as long as the rivers flow”. So some of the Plains Indians got pushed out because the “Civilized Tribes” had themselves been pushed out of their land. The forced migration became known as the “Trail of Tears” due to the high mortality rates associated with having men, women, children, and the elderly walking 1,000 miles in open country with all their belongings (and which included some of my ancestors – my great-great-grandmother is an Indian Territory-born Cherokee).
“As long as the rivers flow” lasted about 60 years, and by 1889 the first of several “land runs” was organized, where people could stake out their own claim to 160 acres of land (the people who jumped the starting gun and found their claims early were called “Sooners”). And so it was that by the early 1900’s settlers were very numerous and the push for statehood began; Indian Territory became the State of Oklahoma in 1907. Of course, one of the first things the pioneers would do once they got their land claim was naturally to build a house, but since there was no wood available on the treeless plains they made their homes out of sod – hence “sod house”. Of the many thousands of sod houses that once dotted the plains, only one, in Alfalfa County, Oklahoma, still remains. Today it is a ‘house within a house’, since in order to keep it from being eventually washed away by rain a historical society has built a nice little house around it. Unfortunately for me, however, the outer house was not open for me to properly see the inner house – I had to settle with looking at it through the window.
Somebody near Cleo Springs raises greyhounds. I know this because as I was riding along, I saw them, about a dozen of them, fenced in just off the road in adjoining long, narrow runs about 10 feet wide by about 100 yards long. As I rode by, the dogs, sensing a challenge, began running. As I rode by, they easily outpaced me, probably at double my speed. When they reached the end of their enclosures they stopped and watched me ride by. They probably thought I hadn’t been worth racing...
I set out that day not really knowing how far I would go. I had this notion in the back of my mind that I would be rested enough to go all the way to Hoisington, Kansas in one marathon day (175 miles) and thus have an extra day to rest in Hoisington. Well, it got hot and my knee started hurting again in the afternoon and I figured I would be lucky to just barely make Hoisington by nightfall if nothing at all went wrong and if I was able to keep the same pace. It would have been more logical for me to have stopped in Medicine Lodge, Kansas, the halfway point, but I had passed through Medicine Lodge before knowing whether or not I would stop. My knee and the weather forecast that I was hearing on my NOAA weather radio (severe thunderstorm watch for that evening). Anyway, as I arrived in Pratt and started looking for lodging, I happened to notice a big Victorian home with two signs in front: “For Sale” and “Bed and Breakfast”. So I rang the doorbell to see how much it was (for the second sign, not the first). For only $55.00 I could have a full breakfast and a nice room with a private bath. It turned out to be a wise choice, and most notably the shower was the best one of the trip, with the approximate water volume and pressure of a fire hydrant in a tile and glass-brick enclosure. I walked downtown to see the Charlie’s Angels movie in the Pratt movie theater, a 1940’s or 50’s vintage downtown venue with an attractive classic interior. I was struck by the fact that the moviegoers were of all ages and types – there was no one demographic that dominated the room. There were high schoolers, elderly couples, families with kids in sports uniforms, and people coming alone. It seems that not having entertainment choices is a democratizing factor in some ways, and it made me ponder the concept of diversity for a while, since this was clearly a very diverse crowd, but only when factors other than ethnicity are used.
Interesting note: Pratt has twin water towers, one marked “Hot”, the other “Cold”. Most of its downtown streets are paved with red brick cobblestones.
Important note: I have exactly the same birthday (December 2) as Charlie’s Angels’ actor Lucy Liu.
June 29, 2003. Pratt, Kansas to Hoisington, Kansas. 61 miles.
The bed and breakfast owners are selling the 6 bedroom, 6 bathroom, full basement home (“The Gephart House”, built 1907-1910 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1987, fully renovated in the 1990’s), along with all the furnishings (beautiful!) for $240,000 (whoa!). I was joined for breakfast in the elegant dining room by a newly (the day before!) married couple from Kansas City and a pastor and his wife from Wichita who were giving a guest sermon at a local church. Both couples said they would like to take a trip like mine sometime, and the church couple said they were close to applying to serve on a foreign mission, but ‘not to anyplace dangerous or really poor’, they noted.
Fueled by a healthy (?) stack of blueberry crepes, fruit, coffee, and orange juice, I set off into the light rain. Before leaving, I called my father so he would know that I would be arriving in Hoisington that day (Important background information: My father had wanted to share the trip with me in some way, so when he gave up on the idea of riding a bike or battery-assisted bicycle, he decided to get a motor scooter. The week before he had arrived from Honolulu to Kansas, bought a motor scooter (a very cool, bright yellow 2003 Honda Metropolitan with a 4-stroke, 50cc, liquid-cooled engine), and was waiting at his aunt and uncle’s home in Hoisington to join me for the second half of the trip). He told me that he’d set off on the scooter and meet me along the way.
It was clearly frog season in Central Kansas. There were thousands of them. Hopping along the road, sitting in the road, squashed in the road. In Texas and in Oklahoma there had been The Big Grasshoppers (some as big as a thumb, not counting the legs). Those would go crunch under the wheels or ding in the spokes and were occasionally quite scary when they would unexpectedly jump up onto my legs and latch on. One even rode for several miles on my mudguard before it jumped off. I wonder if it felt lost? But these frogs were different. They were wet, slimy, and soft. They didn’t crunch. They didn’t ding. They squisssshed with any impact. In places they were so thick there was no possible way to avoid riding over the little amphibious blobs. I wonder if they were even frogs at all, or if maybe they were toads? I couldn’t tell.
After a few hours of mist and frogs, my father and I crossed paths, embraced, and then continued northward, me at my regular pace, my father gong a bit slower than the 35 mph that he had become accustomed to on the Honda.
That afternoon, we visited with relatives, told stories, and took a tour of the area devastated by the huge (F5 – the largest tornado, with rotational winds in excess of 230 mph) 2001 Hoisington Tornado. My cycling route was taking me right through the middle of “Tornado Alley” – Central Oklahoma and South-Central Kansas has the highest concentration of strong tornadoes in the world. It was very sobering to see where Uncle Orval and Aunt Virginia’s house used to be before it was leveled by the tornado. Fortunately, we were able to ride around in the car with Orval and Virginia, since that fateful evening they were more fortunate than their neighbor and had been able to dash to their basement when the tornado struck. Although they were trapped for several hours in the rubble, they survived.
June 30, 2003. Hoisington, Kansas to Osborne, Kansas. 78 miles.
Uneventful ride to Osborne. Rode past Olmitz, Kansas, the Czech town where my grandmother was born (well, actually a Kansas town, but since everybody that lived there 70 years ago was born in either Bohemia or Moravia it was called a Czech town). Grassland with undulating hills as far as the eye could see in all directions, only broken by occasional telephone poles and fences. It must have been hard to change the beautiful scenery of Central Europe for the less spectacular Central Plains, but I suppose having title to their own land made the difference. In the 1870’s and 1880’s, when my grandmother’s grandparents arrived in Kansas, the deal they got was that they could homestead a quarter-section (1/4 square mile, or 160 acres), and if they could live on it and farm it for five years it became theirs to do with it what they chose.
Many fences in North-Central Kansas are made with cut limestone fenceposts because there used to be no wood available on these treeless plains. The largest town in the “post rock” region, Russell (pop. 4,500), has a big sign at the edge of town informing visitors and reminding residents that it is the hometown of both Bob Dole and Arlen Specter. There are innumerable fossils in the limestone, which used to be the bed of a giant inland sea during the Permian Era. Here’s our conversation at one road cut where we stopped to look... “I found a fossil!” “Here’s another one!” “Look, here’s the two matching halves of the shell!” Every third rock that we picked up contained some kind of fossil; some hand-sized rocks had as many as 10 full or partial fossils. After collecting a few, we moved on, just a little bit heavier on the tires.
Just outside of the town of Osborne there is a stone and bronze marker indicating the location of the Geodetic Center of North America. This point has been used by cartographers for the last century as the standard reference point for all North American maps and surveys.
The motel in Osborne charges nearly $50, perhaps $40 more than it’s worth, but it’s the only choice within 50 miles.
July 1, 2003. Osborne, Kansas to Hastings, Nebraska. 95 miles.
Departed in the morning but retraced the route about a mile to see the Osborne County Courthouse, an elegantly imposing stone structure. Despite its external elegance, the interior looked timeworn and unimportant, but did house a small collection of prairie pioneer artifacts and the infamous “General Bull’s Elk’s Antlers”. One of Osborne County’s pioneers was General Bull (“General” Bull because of his rank in the Union Army during the civil war). Apparently, General Bull had a very large pet male elk. One Sunday morning in 1879 (I think...), when General Bull probably should have been in church, the rutting elk attacked one of General Bull’s hired hands. General Bull and some of his other employees rushed over to help, but before it was over, the elk had severely injured one worker and killed three others, including the General himself. Today, on the first floor of the courthouse, that little reminder of the unfortunate event hangs imposingly on the wall. After visiting the courthouse, my dad and I stopped in the Osborne city offices, responding to a “visitor information” sign. They were very well stocked with local and state brochures and maps, so we picked up information on Kansas wildflowers, Kansas birds, and a state map for each of us (Kansas’ official state map is of very good quality and is free). We also chatted with one of the city officials about the town’s past and future. One of the more interesting points was the state’s repaving plan for the downtown streets. The roads in most Kansas towns were paved about a hundred years ago with brick paving stones. Supposedly, the cobblestones would last for about 50 years, after which time they could be turned over and would remain viable for another 50 years. Osborne’s cobblestone streets are still fairly smooth and even, more than 100 years after they were first placed, exactly as they are today. Somebody in the state Department of Transportation office decided that they were ‘outdated’ and needed to be modernized; Osborne, along with other Kansas towns, has fought these efforts in order to preserve the beauty and historical significance of the original road surface.
I bought ($1.00) an “Osborne Commemorative Coin” from a box of them that they had left over from the town’s centennial celebration in 1971.
Just as the town of Osborne is the location of the Geodetic Center of North America, about 30 miles to the north, near the town of Lebanon, is the spot that marks the Geographic Center of the 48 Conterminous United States. To visit the exact location that marks the spot we took a two mile detour off our route, passing a Kansas highway crew that was resurfacing the road. Within minutes after stopping in the heat to admire the bronze plaque set in the stone obelisk, the same highway crew came along to take a break among the picnic tables and shade trees that were out of the blazing sun. They were a friendly group and we chatted for a while, and when we were ready to leave we asked one of them to take our picture in front of the obelisk. He looked at the digital camera and immediately said: “No, I don’t want anything to do with this thing”, passing the camera to one of the other highway workers, a college student who was working through her summer break.
Just after the ‘Welcome to Nebraska’ sign (that somebody with a shotgun had used for target practice) is the Willa Cather Prairie, a grassland area that has been preserved in its original state. After admiring the prairie, we went on to Red Cloud, Nebraska, which boasts an attractive downtown of turn-of-the-century brick buildings, where we stopped at a drive-in burger and shake joint. It was a very hot day and the two milkshakes went perfectly well with the burger and fries. With the bicycle and scooter, we became celebrities when the municipal swimming pool next door had its hourly 10-minute break and the restaurant was suddenly besieged with kids. A group of 8 to 10 year old kids, mostly boys, wanted to know all about the bike, my dad’s scooter, and stories of our trip. They were so intrigued that they didn’t go back to the pool when it re-opened, instead waiting until we left.
At several places along the way we saw cattle standing in ponds or in the wide, shallow rivers to try to escape the sweltering heat, so it wasn’t too surprising to see two women sitting on lawn chairs in the middle of a river that we were crossing. We stopped and waved, they waved back and then raised their shirts (yep, that’s exactly what they did) up in a rather unusual form of salutation. We waved again and rode on.
July 2, 2003. Hastings, Nebraska to Albion, Nebraska. 81 miles.
I noticed that we had apparently crossed an isogloss (a boundary between two different dialect groups) somewhere near the Kansas/Nebraska border. The speech of the Southern Plains, with its deliberate, drawn out vowels had suddenly given way to a Northern Plains dialect. “Yup” had been replaced with “yaa”; “y’all” turned into “you guys”.
Up ahead in the distance I could see cars flashing lights to each other, slowing down, and swerving about. As I got closer, I could just make out a strangely animated figure slithering along the roadway. I thought it must be some kind of huge snake. Getting closer, I saw that it was a mother skunk with about half a dozen baby skunks in tow, crossing the road. The young were not at all steady on their feet and had bushy hair and tails, so it was quite a spectacle! A man leaned out of his car window as he went by and shouted to me on the bicycle: “I’d wait a while if I were you!”. Good advice!
The road between Hastings and Grand Island becomes a four-lane limited-access highway, which always feels a bit strange to cycle on. This area is the Platte River valley, an area of flat, sandy soil associated with the Platte River (“a mile wide and a foot deep” is the saying) that many East to West pioneer trails followed (e.g., Oregon Trail, California Trail, Mormon Trail). Grand Island is Nebraska’s 4th largest city. One of their tourist brochures reads “3rd largest independent city in Nebraska” – they obviously want to be as high up on the list as possible but probably resent the fact that one of Omaha’s suburbs outpopulates them. Clearly at one time Grand Island was a very prosperous city, as its downtown is replete with ornate brick and stone buildings with cornerstones carved with such dates as “1889” and “1903”. Many of its leafy, broad residential avenues are lined with stately homes boasting the elegance of yesteryear. The four mile stretch of U.S. Hwy 30 departing Grand Island was the worst and most dangerous road of the trip (and would keep that title until arriving in Winnipeg) – the two-lane road was busy, rutted, potholed, narrow, had no shoulder, and had frequent bends and curves. I was especially disappointed because I had selected that route based on the Nebraska DOT Road Shoulder Width Map which indicated a paved shoulder of at least 4 feet. Fortunately the paved shoulder appeared outside the city.
We stopped in Central City to eat and so my dad could see if he could find some of the people that he met on his own bike trip. In 1973, my dad attempted a South Dakota-to-Oklahoma bike ride in a completely unsupported way (sleeping bag for accomodation and a .22 caliber pistol to shoot rabbits for food), but ended up with severe tendonitis after a few days. Central City was as far as he got, and he was fortunate to benefit from the kindness of a local eccentric who had a home that he opened to one and all people that were coming, going, and passing through. Apparently, some of the people staying in the house had pharmacologically induced ‘temporarily or permanently diminished or impaired mental acuity’ (it was, after all, 1973...). So anyway, he stayed there for a few days until the cortisone injections from the doctor helped enough for him to be able to finish the trip – by bus. So dad was curious about whatever became of his host and the infamous “wicked house”, so he asked for him by name at the restaurant where we had stopped for lunch. After a few people had consulted with each other, they decided that he had left town some years ago, but that his brother had a law practice in town. After getting directions, we paid a visit to the brother (it is, I think, just a bit out of the ordinary in rural Nebraska to park a bicycle and motor scooter on a sidewalk in front of a law office, just as it is out of the ordinary to enter into such an office in sweaty (it was 96º by then, according to the bank clock) riding clothes).
We had a very nice visit with the brother, the main point of which seemed to be that times had changed since 1973... I also picked up a bumper sticker from his office (“Midwest Corn or Mideast Oil? Support Ethanol”) and learned what a mysterious official sign at the entrance to Central City meant (“Welcome to Central City, A Nebraska Lied Community” it read). I had been wondering what the “Nebraska Lied” part meant, and whether it meant that Nebraska had lied to Central City or vice-versa. It turns out that the truth was much less interesting, since it happened that a wealthy philanthropist, whose surname was Lied, set up an endowment for towns to use for renovation and civic projects.
When we checked into the little roadside motel in Albion, Nebraska, I detected a familiar accent, so I asked the woman at the reception desk if she was Japanese. She was, and since it was surprising to meet a Japanese person in a small town on the plains, I started speaking to her in Japanese. That somebody should ride up on a bicycle to a small motel in a small town on the plains and begin speaking Japanese apparently was a big surprise to her. It was surprising to us when we met her husband (who looked like he could be Radar O’Reilly from M*A*S*H* plus about 30 years) and he could also speak Japanese. So we talked to them for a while; it turns out that the husband (who I think said he was from Iowa, strengthening the Radar image) also spoke Russian and Mandarin and had been a military linguist.
July 3, 2003. Albion, Nebraska to Niobrara, Nebraska. 106 miles.
After a really, really good breakfast in the surprisingly crowded restaurant next to the motel (well, maybe it shouldn’t be surprising – it was, after all, the only restaurant in town) we got started down the road. After a few miles of blissfully riding down the road, I had a suspicion that something was wrong navigationally, so after checking the map, we turned around and rode back to the road we were supposed to turn onto and continued north.
Stopping for lunch, we couldn’t decide whether to go to a larger, more traditional restaurant or to a renovated ice cream and soda shop. Opting for the only reasonable choice, we went to both. Of course, after so much food we couldn’t just go strenuously riding off, so we detoured to visit the Neligh Mills State Historical Site, an old mill that had been powered by a water wheel in the adjacent Elkhorn River. Noticing the time, we hurried off to reach our next destination, the Ashfall Fossil Beds State Historical Park, the famous site where paleontologist Jim Voorhees discovered a dense concentration of fossils in the early 1970’s. We hurried so that we could arrive before the park closed at 5:00 p.m. during what was one of the hottest days of the trip (104ºF with considerable humidity), not to mention the extra effort required by the rolling terrain. We made it at around 4:45, just as they were getting ready to close, but still had to pay the entry fee. The stop was definitely worth the extra 18 miles off our route, though, and we did get to stay until about 5:30 to examine the outdoor excavations. Before leaving, I soaked my head in the sink and helped dad pull his scooter out of the pavement – it was so hot that the scooter’s center stand had sunk about an inch into the asphalt parking lot during the time we were there.
Sinking into the asphalt is something like the fate that the animals that used to live there met. Several million years ago the area was a watering hole where animals like rhinos, giraffes, horses, saber-toothed deer, bone-crushing dogs, and others would congregate – right up until a gigantic volcanic eruption sent billowing clouds of choking ash as much as several meters thick, killing them off. So there they are, animals sunken into the ash, intact skeletons partially excavated for your viewing pleasure! A great treat of our visit was a 10 minute chat with Jim Voorhees himself, who happened to be there that day, still digging, collecting, and looking very paleontologist-like with his big safari hat!
After fighting the seemingly incessant rolling hills between Ashfall and the town of Verdigris, I was worn out, thirsty, and hungry. We had already gone about 90 miles, it was 7:00 already, my legs were exhausted, it was hot, and there were storm clouds forming in the north, the direction we still had to travel for 15 more miles. We stopped at a grocery store in the tiny hamlet of Verdigre because I was completely out of water. During the 10 minutes it took me to finish the Pop-Tarts and Gatorade, the hyper-talkative store owner (who had followed me, talking, out of the store) told us all about the town and its fame as a Czech community. Out of curiosity, I asked him about the dilapidated brick building facing his store and its prominent inscription “Rad Bila Hora 1903”, since it would mean that it was currently the 100th anniversary of whatever it was. He replied that it had been the Czech town hall and that it had recently been fixed up (!) for its centenary. He didn’t know what Rad Bila Hora meant, though. Suddenly I remembered that I knew what Hora meant in Czech (which kind of surprised all three of us), and when I told him that Hora was hill, he said “oh, yeah, I remember, the whole thing means “- - Hill” (darn, I’ve forgotten...).
Arrived at the “Hilltop Lodge” in the hamlet of Niobrara just as it got dark (“hilltop” because it of its location on the bluffs overlooking the Missouri River). The only place in “town” with food closed at 9:00, so we didn’t even bother to clean up and walked straight over to the restaurant. The place was completely covered with University of Nebraska Cornhuskers kitsch (Nebraska even beats out Oklahoma in the “show support for your state university’s football team” contest), but it did serve a very large chicken fried steak with a very large baked potato. Just as we were leaving the restaurant the storm hit, so we had a short walk in the rain with plenty of lightning to illuminate our path. Right after getting back in the room, the electricity went out. After a short mental debate in which I weighed the benefits of a shower against the dangers of being in a shower in a motel on a bluff during an electrical storm, I strategically placed the flashlight and quickly showered.
July 4, 2003. Niobrara, Nebraska to Vermillion, South Dakota. 79 miles.
After yesterday’s sweltering heat, it was hard to imagine that these two days could have been in the same month. Today was cool, still, and overcast with occasional intermittent sprinkles of light drizzle. Crossed over the imposing and majestic Missouri River into South Dakota on a new bridge (“Chief Standing Bear Bridge”; previously the nearest crossings were 30 miles in either direction). “Big Muddy” (as the Missouri River has been known) is the longest river in America. When considered a tributary of the Mississippi River, the two together form the longest river system in North America and the fourth longest in the world.
Today’s route was entirely along the river (although it was not in view most of the time), and thus was along Lewis and Clark’s route of exploration of exactly 200 years earlier. Detoured at Yankton to ride across the wide (3/4 mile) Gavin’s Point Dam (which impounds Lewis and Clark Lake and which is a crossing over the river between Nebraska and South Dakota) and spent about an hour relaxing by the spillway. About a dozen people were fishing from the spillway overlook, and before long we had started talking to one group of four anglers. Even though South Dakota is not known for ethnic diversity, this particular group was quite diverse, as it consisted of a Laotian, a Mexican, a Guatemalan, and his wife, who called herself a “native South Dakotan” (but most likely not so “native” as that word might imply; my guess is that her ancestors came from Scandinavia some five generations ago). They all seemed to know a lot about fishing, particularly the “native South Dakotan”. They were doing quite well until two guys arrived and started bowfishing, spooking the fish. Bowfishing (in case you don’t know) is fishing with a compound bow that has been modified to accept a special fishing reel that shoots barbed arrows with fishing line attached to the back. The idea is to shoot a fish with the arrow and then reel it back. Of course, this only works when the fish are really, really big (which there were – some of the fish visible in the murky water were 4 or 5 feet long) and if you are a really, really good shot (which they weren’t – all the fish escaped on Independence Day). We learned that in the area around the spillway, people can fish both sides of the river with either a South Dakota fishing license or a Nebraska one.
Back on the dam there was heavy traffic (mostly RVs, pickups pulling boats, and RVs pulling pickups); it was, after all, the 4th of July, so we headed into Yankton (which has a real, off-road, paved, Class 1 bike path all the way to the lake, about 7 miles! Way to go, Yankton!). Continuing on to Vermillion, we found the Super 8 Motel, checking in with enough time for dad to contact an old friend and colleague (Background information: Dad went to graduate school at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion and was also the coach of USD’s men’s gymnastics team; he hadn’t been back to Vermillion in nearly 30 years). Dad’s friend and former colleague, Chuck, was surprised to hear from him and arranged to take us to breakfast tomorrow.
Since it was Independence Day and since tomorrow was a rest day, I chose a “Texas Barbecue” restaurant for dinner. Mmmm, good choice. About midway through the meal, our waitress asked us if we didn’t want to finish eating out on their patio, since the town’s fireworks display could be seen from out there. So we moved outside, got another beer, and watched the fireworks.
July 5, 2003. Rest Day, Vermillion, South Dakota. 4 miles.
Got up in time to meet Chuck, who drove us to breakfast. He suggested that we eat at a place called “Pamida” because, as he claimed, that there’s “nowhere else in town worth s***”. We agreed and soon discovered that Pamida wasn’t a restaurant but rather a Wal-Mart type mega-store that had a ‘food court’ area with a burger counter, a Chinese food counter, and a breakfast counter. Way to go, Chuck (insert sarcastic tone here). The breakfast choices were all variants of sausage/bacon/egg/pancake combinations (e.g. 1 sausage, 1 strip of bacon, 1 egg, 3 pancakes, or 1 sausage, 1 strip bacon, 3 eggs, 1 pancake, or 1 sausage, 3 strips bacon, 1 egg, 1 pancake, et cetera, et cetera, ad nauseum). I got the predominantly pancake plate, and after eating we went on a tour of Vermillion, which appeared to be a clean, relatively prosperous town. We drove by the “Dakota Dome”, the controversial domed sporting venue that was vigorously opposed during its planning and construction (my dad, as one of the physical education staff and as a university teaching assistant, was one of those who challenged its merits. In exchange for his dissenting opinion, the university dismissed him from his job, but a team of ACLU lawyers paid a visit to the administration and got him reinstated). The dome is affectionately (?) known around town as the “breast of the west” (you have to see it to guess why...).
After a morning tour, Chuck had to return home (in fact, only his ‘holiday home’ – he lives and works in Illinois, where he is a dean at a university, spending his vacations in Vermillion). By tradition, Chuck organizes a “Sandbar Golf” tournament on a sand bar in the Missouri River adjacent to his home several miles out of town, and he invited us to join in (in case you don’t know, in Chuck’s “sandbar golf” you ride in a boat out to a sand bar in the river, the tournament organizer – Chuck – sinks empty tuna cans in the sand, and the contestants drink beer and putt around the sandbar). Since the skies didn’t look too friendly (approaching storms), dad and I decided to pass on the sandbar golf and take our own tour of Vermillion. First was the university. It’s an attractive campus, a mix of old elegance with the new (e.g., a Tom Brokaw communications center [he’s from Yankton]). We couldn’t get inside the Old Armory building where my dad’s office used to be and where the gymnastics teams practiced because it appeared to be undergoing renovation. Around back was a construction debris dumpster, so of course we peeked in... Dad saw several sets of old parallel bars that he had trained and coached on, and I found a nifty “Exit” sign made of painted glass at least fifty years old. I stuffed it in my pannier and it finished the trip with me.
After that we rode to see where we used to live. We found the trailer park and very same trailer in which we had resided nearly 30 years earlier; I commented that the trailer sure looked old, dad explained that even back then it had looked old...
I only barely recognized my former elementary school and realized that all of my most vivid memories of it featured lots of snow, such as playing “king of the mountain” on the snow drifts during recess.
Downtown we saw a bike shop, so I paid it a visit and to see if they had any Loc-tite for the screws in my pedals (“Wellgo” brand) that I was by now having to tighten every day. The bike shop owner was interested in hearing about the trip, and we chatted while he fixed the pedals and gave the bike a check-up.
July 6, 2003. Vermillion, South Dakota to Luverne, Minnesota. 110 miles.
We got an early start heading northward out of Vermillion but were not out of town more than 3 miles when there was a sign: “Road Closed: Bridge Out”. We stopped and looked at our maps and wondered what to do. We flagged down a passing car; the driver stopped and asked us if we needed help. Our question to the driver was “is the bridge really out or just being worked on?”. The driver told us that it really was out, but that we could go north on another parallel paved road (that wasn’t on our map). The alternate route turned out to be a great ride – smooth pavement, picturesque cornfields and farmhouses, and it took us past Spirit Mound, the low hill that Lewis and Clark stood on to survey the area during their travels (local Indian lore at the time was that the mound was inhabited by evil devils!).
After several hours, we came across the track of a tornado that had blown across the road. In late June, two weeks earlier, South Dakota experienced a phenomenal event – 68 tornadoes touched down in one day, tying (with Texas) the all-time one-day U.S. record for most tornadoes in one state, and exceeding by a factor of four the average number of tornadoes in South Dakota in a year. We could see about a mile of the tornado track as it left a trail of corn beaten down in a circular pattern, broken and uprooted trees, and one leveled farmhouse and barn. There was a hand-painted sign on a large sheet of plywood leaning against the mailbox of that farmhouse that read: “Go Tornadoes”.
Just before crossing eastward into Iowa, we saw a familiar sign: “Road Closed: Bridge Out. Detour”. We followed the detour southward over an alternate bridge over the Sioux River, it was soon followed by a hard climb. We rode for less than two hours in Iowa before we came to the tri-state marker, the point at which Iowa, Minnesota, and South Dakota intersect. There is a little metal obelisk on a concrete base on the side of the road (it used to be in the middle of the road, because that’s where the actual point of intersecting borders is, but a car hit it several decades ago and it decided that it was a bad idea to have it in the middle of the road). As soon as we were in Minnesota there were definitely more lakes and certainly more mosquitoes. It was already getting dark by the time we got to Luverne, and the restaurant next to the motel “A family owned steakhouse since 1938” was closed, so we ate at a truckstop on Interstate 90.
July 7, 2003. Luverne, Minnesota to Lake Benton, Minnesota. 46 miles.
Had breakfast at the same I-90 truckstop. Dad took a picture of me hanging (literally) from the I-90 sign since I had taken pictures of all the other East-West interstate signs that I had crossed. During the time it took him to take the picture, about 10 mosquitoes landed on me and many of them had started biting. That was to be the norm for the next week; any stop of greater than two seconds duration would attract swarms of mosquitoes. West Nile Virus was in the news, the cities in the region conducted frequent aerial spraying campaigns, but there was nothing more I could do, since mosquito repellent with DEET can’t be used on synthetic clothing and the mosquitoes seemed equally at home biting me directly on the skin or through cycling clothes.
Along the side of the road (Highway 75, which runs from Winnipeg, Canada to the Gulf of Mexico at Galveston, Texas, used to be known as the “King of the Highways”) we passed a Bison ranch. That seemed interesting, so we rode right on in, along their driveway and to the main part of the ranch (I hoped they didn’t mind...!). Dad found a worker to ask for permission to take pictures of the bison (‘buffalo’); the worker said ‘sure, but don’t spook them, they’re kind of jumpy’. Yes, they were kind of jumpy. I’ve been around cattle, which are about the same size as bison, but the bison seem much less at ease. After a couple of mini-stampedes from the bison that were in the corrals, we decided that we had better leave. About a mile down the road we saw a herd of about 50 bison in a field. I thought it would be a much better photo-op than in the corral, since these were out in the prairie and looked like they were in their natural habitat, except for the 5-wire fence. No sooner had I stopped to take a picture than this group stampeded also (but not a ‘mini’ one this time!), running off about 100 yards in just a few seconds (these are most definitely not slow animals!). Several of the larger bulls stayed behind to mark territory, which they did by defecating. I left quickly because I wasn’t sure that the 5-wire fence and a small canister of dog spray would be much help. About an hour after that, a pair of loaded cyclists passed us, going the opposite direction. I circled around behind them; they stopped and we chatted for a while. They were two nice people, Meg and Peter (I think...?), going from Portland, Oregon to Portland, Maine by bicycle.
Arrived in Pipestone under light rain and stopped at the visitors information center to get another Minnesota map (they were very apologetic that they had to charge $1.00 for it, but hey, it was a good map!) and for restaurant information. We went directly to a Chinese restaurant where the waitstaff was very surprised to have a client in cycling clothing and even more surprised when said client ordered food and made small talk in Mandarin. After fueling up, we went to Pipestone National Monument on the edge of town. The national monument is named for a vein of soft stone (caitlinite) that runs through the reddish quartzite of the area. For over a thousand years, Native Americans had been using the stone to carve pipe handles from, and the site has long been considered sacred ground. Interestingly, pipe handles made of rock from this site have been found as far south as Central America, suggesting active trading existed along an extensive network. Today, the national park service allows Indians to mine the stone with a permit, providing they use only traditional tools. The park was so interesting that we ended up spending about 3 or 4 hours there (in addition to the museum, there are several hikes around the area), so we left “behind schedule”. And so it was that when we came upon the town of Lake Benton and it was getting late and there were storm clouds directly in front of us, we decided to call it a day when we saw the lakefront cabins. There was one vacancy, a huge cabin for multiple families. No TV, no phone, just lots of mosquitoes! We watched the sun set over the picturesque lake and enjoyed the views of the nearby ridge (‘highest point in Southwest Minnesota”) and the water.
Apparently, water used to flow ‘uphill’ in this area tens of thousands of years ago, which it could do because glacial meltwater trapped under the tremendous weight and pressure of the glacier was squeezed out from under the glacier – uphill.
July 8, 2003. Lake Benton, Minnesota to Ortonville, Minnesota. 85 miles.
Another day of lots of cornfields (which really are quite pretty), gently undulating terrain, and bridges. I know Minnesota if famous for their “10,000 lakes”, but they should also be proud of the number of bridges they seem to have. Every little water crossing has an official Minnesota DOT sign proudly proclaiming it as “Bridge No. 7836”. Some of the bridges, mysteriously, have two signs – an older one with something like “Bridge No. 3847” and a newer one with “Bridge No. 8492”. My guess is that it’s some sort of initiation trick for rookie highway workers. Of course, all the signs also have little fiberglass pole extensions with bright reflectors so that when the signs are buried in snow during the winter the road graders will have some idea where the bridge is.
Stopped in Madison, Minnesota to eat at the Dairy Queen (yum!), visit the Lac Qui Parle County Museum (surprisingly quite good), and pose for a picture under the giant Lutefisk statue (Madison is the “Lutefisk Capital of the USA”). Just before the end of the day, we came to a long, low dam on Big Stone Lake (which is the Minnesota / South Dakota border, and which is also the lowest point in South Dakota). We rode up to the dam and watched a flock of about 10 huge pelicans fishing at the base of the spillway – which, incidentally, is the precise point that marks the beginning of the Minnesota River. Apparently, many birds that fish like to do so around spillways because the fish that go over the dam are stunned for a while by the impact and thus make easier prey.
Of all the ‘mosquitoey’ places, the Big Stone Lake area was probably the ‘mosquitoiest’ of all.
July 9, 2003. Ortonville, Minnesota to Moorhead, Minnesota. 115 miles.
It started out a cool day with a light headwind and light drizzle. We crossed the North/South Continental Divide (separating the Gulf of Mexico watershed from the Hudson Bay watershed) and rode on into the drizzle. And on, and on, and on... By afternoon, the light drizzle had turned into scattered thunderstorms that seemed to be around us in all directions, and we soon found ourselves pretending to dodge the storms (‘pretending’ because neither our speed nor our course could be altered). One particular afternoon storm that appeared to be crossing our paths looked exceptionally bad – dark, dense clouds with lots of lightning flashes. So dad and I resolved to take a break in the town of Breckenridge, about five miles up the road, until the storm passed. It kept coming closer as we got closer to town. We were a little nervous being in the flat, treeless plains with so much lightning around, so after each lightning flash I started counting how long before the sound from the thunder would catch up with the light from the flash to estimate its distance. Flash. One, two, three, four, “boom”...27. Good, over five miles. Flash. One, two, “boom”...14. OK, nearly three miles. Flash... “boom”... 5. Uh-oh, one mile. Finally, about half a mile from the edge of town, the sky opened up. Huge, icy drops of rain pelted down (Having once been hit on the head by a big hailstone in Colorado (a different story...) I kept thinking of hail, but luckily there was none this time). Nearly all the frequent lightning flashes were followed by thunder in less than five seconds, meaning they were striking within one mile. We raced for the edge of town to find somewhere to stop – anywhere, a friendly-looking home, a store, a barn... Immense frigid raindrops, whipping winds, and incessant lightning... The first thing we came to was a farm supply store. We rode right up to it, and just as I dismounted in the parking lot in front of the door, a flash of lightning, a deafening thunderclap, and a sharp tingling in my feet all assaulted my senses at precisely the same instant that the lights in the store momentarily went out. My heart skipped a few beats (from fear more than anything), and I went right in, asked if I could bring in my bike (“of course you can”, they said), and proceeded to wait out the storm for an hour. While there, I bought a “No Snowmobiling” sign for my office, ate about four bags of popcorn from their machine, and chatted with dad and a guy from Denver riding through on a Harley who had also been chased indoors by the storm.
After recovering from that experience, we rode on and had another brush with nature (see Cold). By the time we arrived in Moorhead, we were utterly exhausted and bitterly cold from having ridden for hours and hours in the cold (low to mid 50’s) rain. The final two hours of today were the most miserable time that I’ve ever spent on a bicycle. We later learned that a tornado had crossed our path several hours behind us.
July 10, 2003. Moorhead, Minnesota to Grand Forks, North Dakota. 84 miles.
Woke up late to recover from yesterday’s ride. We met some people in the motel lobby that were curious about our trip and even more curious about dad’s scooter. In fact, after looking at the scooter and hearing about its virtues (125 mpg, quiet, comfortable, etc.) one woman offered to buy it! Dad noted her contact information (she was a teacher from Washington State visiting relatives) and said he would contact her at the end of our adventure.
The first thing that I wanted to do in the day was to cross the river from Moorhead into its larger sister city of Fargo, North Dakota and visit the public library. I was teaching an Online Summer course for UCLA Extension that had started the day before, so I had to find a computer with Internet access. When I inquired about the procedure at the desk they told me that they were very proud of their new computers (“they came from a Bill Gates grant, they did”), and they set me up with a “Fargo Public Library Visitor Card” (an unusual souvenir!) for $5.00 that would let me use a computer for 1 hour. There was no way for me to work for more than an hour, as “those are the rules”, but if I came back tomorrow I’d get another hour. As it was, there was already a queue that had formed to use the machines.
After finishing at the library we rode through Fargo, stopping at a McDonald’s to eat lunch. While we were eating, a UPS driver came up to us and wanted to know about dad’s scooter... Once again, dad explained when and why he got it, what his experiences had been with it, and that he was planning on selling it a week later with a few extra miles on it. The UPS driver was very excited to hear this, and gave dad his contact information and said to call him when he wanted to sell it (*Investment Opportunity: Honda scooter franchise in Fargo!). After lunch, we crossed back to the Minnesota side to continue northward to Grand Forks, which we were able to do after a rather long construction detour (“Bridge Out”, of course). It was 9:00 p.m. by the time we reached East Grand Forks, Minnesota (probably the ugliest town along the whole trip, or at least the part that I saw of it). We hurried across the Red River Bridge into Grand Forks (“No Bicycles or Pedestrians on Bridge” read the sign, but I saw neither any alternatives nor any police), got lost a bit in town (Grand Forks, at about 60,000 population, was too big to find things by chance but too small for me to have bothered with planning a route), and finally got to the Super 8 Motel at around 9:45. The sun had set a few minutes earlier, but it was still dusk, and despite the late hour, it was still light enough to see well without any lights.
July 11, 2003. Grand Forks, North Dakota to Pembina, North Dakota. 83 miles.
The Bad Breakfast and the Bad Dinner. The Bad Breakfast consisted of fossilized donuts; about 12 hours later, after riding through endless miles of flat fields into a strong headwind came the Bad Dinner with the micro-potato.
In the lobby of the Super 8 Motel (“Free Continental Breakfast”), I mistook the fossil donut display for part of their continental breakfast. I ate one. Like most fossilized things, it was quite hard. Upon closer inspection (in the trash, where I was going to deposit the partially eaten fossil donut), I discovered the fossil donut box. It had a red ‘sale’ sticker on it that said “50¢” (not bad for a dozen fossils!); on the front of box it was stamped “SELL BY JUN 30”. Hmm.
After that, the day was much like any of the last few – miles and miles of fields – corn, potatoes, and sugar beets, punctuated by windbreaks of tall, stout trees. From the fields would frequently erupt ducks, blackbirds, rabbits, foxes, and even mink. In the ultra-flat and flood prone Red River Valley (actually, Red River of the North Valley, but up there they don’t seem to use the ‘of the North’ part) a great many of the surviving farmhouses and small towns are completely surrounded by 15-foot levees. Seems kind of claustrophobic, like living behind a big dirt fortification, but I guess it comes in handy when the river is up 14 feet.
The main excitement came in the last 25 miles of the day’s ride, when our rural Minnesota road ended and we had to cross back into North Dakota to ride on Interstate 29 (it’s one of the few states in which it’s legal to ride a bicycle on interstate highways). Riding along the shoulder of I-29 (“Speed Limit 70”) was not, in fact, as bad as I had expected, and just as I had suspected from the North Dakota DOT traffic volume map that showed a daily average of only about 3,200 vehicles, it was not busy. We stayed in a tiny motel in the tiny border town of Pembina, a town with several gas stations, several duty-free shops, but only one restaurant. I was hungry from that freeway riding (not to mention the headwinds), so I ordered what looked like the best thing from among the limited choices on the menu – chicken fried steak with a baked potato. When the food came and I was finally able to find the potato, I was surprised that it was only about the size of a lemon. Since I wanted more than a mini-potato, I asked the waitress if I couldn’t have a different potato, another potato, or an order of fries or something, as I was very hungry from riding all day (I was still in riding clothes). She said no, that it was the last one left, and that the kitchen was closed. So I ate it (it was overcooked and thus very mushy) along with the chicken fried steak. I was shocked when the waitress came out of the kitchen with a huge plate of food, including two large baked potatoes, and sat down a few tables away and started to eat her dinner. So there’s the opposite of good customer service for you...
July 12, 2003. Pembina, North Dakota to Winnipeg, Manitoba. 78 miles.
Breakfast was Pop Tarts from one of the gas stations, as nothing else was open. An inspection of my book of Winnipeg attractions revealed that the Royal Canadian Mint production facility was only open on weekends on Saturdays from 9-2:00. Since that was the one thing in Winnipeg that I really wanted to see, we decided to ride hard to try to make it in time. The morning had turned out to be nice cycling day, sunny, relatively cool, with virtually no wind.
The border crossing would have been quicker (we were 3rd in line) had I not had to go inside to surrender the pepper spray that I was carrying to the Canadian customs officials (who did not look like a stereotypical “Canadian customs official” – “attractive young female Canadian customs officials” would be more accurate).
Manitoba Hwy 75 (the continuation of I-29 on the Canadian side) had beautiful, smooth pavement with a wide paved shoulder – for about 4 kilometers. After that, it turned into what would later prove to be the Manitoba standard – a good paved road with wide gravel shoulders. And thus I found myself riding in the traffic lane of a divided multi-lane highway. Fortunately the traffic wasn’t as heavy as it could have been, probably since it was still rather early on a Saturday morning. It was still an uncomfortable ride from a safety perspective, so it was a relief when about 30 kilometers south of Winnipeg, at the town of Ste. Agathe, we were able to exit the main highway to take an alternate paved route (Hwy 200) north. This turned out to be a nice ride, with lots of wooded areas and fields in full bloom with yellow (canola, I think) and purple flowers and many different hues of green.
We arrived in Winnipeg just after 1:00 p.m. (less than an hour before the mint closed!) and followed the marked bike routes (thanks, Manitoba Cycling Association for sending the Winnipeg Bike Map) to the eastern edge of the city where the bike routes ended and we had to ride on Lagimodière Boulevard. That busy traffic artery featured very heavy traffic that darted between traffic signals and retail shopping; just like Hwy 75, it was a multi-lane divided roadway with a rough gravel shoulder.
We finally got to the doorway of the Royal Canadian Mint at 1:45. They said we could either catch up to the last tour of the production facility and miss the gift shop or visit the gift shop and miss the tour. Since I wanted to buy a 2003 Canadian mint set, we chose the gift shop, which also had a few displays of the mint’s history and an assortment of the specie coined there. An interesting fact about this large, ultra-modern facility is that it not only produces all of Canada’s coinage, but under contract also strikes the coins used in dozens of other nations around the world.
After the visit we set out at a leisurely pace toward our downtown hotel, the Delta Winnipeg. After crossing the Red River (the bridge had a dedicated bike/bus lane!) we found our way among the high rises and office towers to our hotel. After I checked in and my dad found out that the staff at the parking garage next door had decided to let him park his scooter for free (“because it’s not really even a motorcycle, is it”, they said), we went walking around downtown. Since it was a weekend, there were quite a few people out in the many restaurants and shops. A big thank you to the front desk staff at the Delta Winnipeg, who gave us coupons for a free breakfast (and it was a good breakfast!) in the hotel restaurant.
July 13, 2003. Rest Day, Winnipeg, Manitoba. 0 miles.
We walked all over Winnipeg, including the majestic Manitoba Parliament building, the first settlements in the city, and the walking paths along the Assiniboine River. Our next stop was Costco (because they had a digital photo lab that could develop all 313 pictures I had taken and even store them on a CD in one hour). When I called to get directions, they said it “was really close” to where we were. I forgot to mention that we were walking, so we ended up walking for about an hour straight into a stinging gale (stinging because the air was laden with dust, silt, and saltating fine sand). After I had the pictures, we went back downtown, just in time to enjoy an exhibition of dancing and drumming exhibit from some of Canada’s First Peoples.
July 14, 2003. Winnipeg, Manitoba to Winnipeg International Airport. 10 miles.
Dad got up early and departed for Fargo to sell the scooter (to the teacher from Washington) and to catch a flight back to Honolulu. I had planned on arriving at the airport three hours before my Northwest Airlines flight through Minneapolis to Oklahoma City, where Susye, Andrew, my mother, and stepfather were meeting me. After the pleasant one-hour Sunday morning ride along marked bike routes through Winnipeg, I arrived at the airport exactly three hours before the flight. The gate agent, however, had no record of my request for a bike box, and didn’t know how to get the bike on the plane without a box. Fortunately the agent searched in the baggage area and came back with a box, so I went over to a quieter part of the terminal to begin putting the bike inside, still wearing my cycling clothes. I did get the impression that some of the other passengers must have thought that I had something to do with Lance Armstrong’s Fifth Tour de France (which was going on at that time)!
My tools were inadequate for the task (I only had a screwdriver handle with different sized metric hex bits and a Leatherman tool), so I couldn’t get the leverage to take off the bars or pedals and instead had to take off the front wheel and mudguard and squeeze everything into the bulging box). The Northwest agent paged me over the intercom (“Would Mr. Jeffrey Reeder please report to the Northwest Ticket Counter”) just as I was finishing (“you need to hurry, sir, if you want your bike to ride on the same flight with you”, he said). Since I was finished, I dragged the bike box, panniers, trunk, and helmet (which had all become my carry-on luggage) through customs and security inspection.
I ran into a delay at immigration because I had no document proving my nationality. I had brought my passport with me on the trip, but after crossing the Mexican border, Susye took it to send to the Brazilian Consulate for a visa to travel there in July and August. I had expected that it would be sent to me c/o my mother in Oklahoma in time to take with me on the rest of the trip but that didn’t happen. So anyway, my flight was just beginning to board and the immigration official was asking me about my citizenship (USA), place of residence (California), and place of birth (Japan). This last one required an explanation, after which I proceeded to show him all the pieces of identification that I had with me (well, all except the Fargo library card).
After clearing immigration, I went to the boarding area and quickly changed out of my cycling clothes while general boarding was going on. I must have looked suspicious, however, because right before getting on I was called aside for an additional security inspection. At least I had put the Leatherman multi-tool in the tool bag on the bicycle! As I opened my bags, they wanted to know what the lumpy, heavy things wrapped in paper towels were (rocks and fossils), what the large flat thing wrapped in newspaper was (an antique glass exit sign), and what was in the canvas bag (tools). Uh-oh...tools are not allowed in carry-on baggage, they said. I opened up the canvas bag and they separated most of my tools (screwdriver, hex bits, and bungee cords) into a “forbidden” category. Meanwhile, the gate attendant was standing in the background getting ready to close the door to the jetway as soon as I boarded (I was now literally the last one), so when the security personnel told me that I would have to go back down to check those items as baggage the gate attendant interrupted: “There isn’t enough time, I’m sorry”. So my only choice was to surrender the tools (which wasn’t so easy, there was a “Revenue Canada” form to fill out, just as I had done with the pepper spray when coming into the country) and board (at least they let me keep the chain tool...).
Ten hours later I was relieved to meet my family Oklahoma City and was relieved to see that my bike had been on the same flight. After a bit of driving around looking for food (not too easy at midnight on a Sunday in Oklahoma City) and a sleepy two hour car ride I arrived in Fairview and put the bike in the garage, where it was to rest for the next month while Susye, Andrew, and I went to Brazil and Argentina.
· Total mileage: 1,841
· Total number of days: 26
· Total number of riding days: 20 (1,825 miles)
· Longest distance day: 140 miles
· Shortest distance day: 46 miles
· Average distance per day (1,825 miles/20 riding days): 91.25 miles
· Average distance per day (1,841 miles/26 riding / rest days): 70.81 miles
· Countries: 3
· Mexican states: 1
· Canadian provinces: 1
· U.S. states: 8
· U.S. counties: 60
· Largest cities visited: Winnipeg (617,000), Abilene (116,000), Fargo (91,000), San Angelo (88,000), Ciudad Acuña (79,000)
· Smallest town: Tie (several that appeared to have 0)
· Flat tires: 1
· Broken spokes: 2
· Rainy days: 6
· Days with heat index over 100º F: 9
· 100+ mile days: 6
· Headwind predominant days: 8
· Tailwind predominant days: 12
· Approximate average calories consumed per riding day: 7,500
· Approximate number of pedal revolutions: 700,000 (35,000/day)
· Total number of photos taken: 313 (avg. 15.6/day)
· Southernmost point: 29º19’ North Latitude
· Northernmost point: 49º55’ North Latitude
· Easternmost point: 96º08’ West Longitude
· Westernmost point: 100º57’ West Longitude
· The nation’s 2nd most populous state (Texas) as well as its 4th and 5th least populous (North and South Dakota, respectively)
· The 2nd largest state in the U.S. (Texas), as well as the 13th (Kansas),14th (Minnesota), 15th (Nebraska), 16th (South Dakota), 17th (North Dakota), and 19th (Oklahoma)
· The “Lone Star State” (Texas) and the “North Star State” (Minnesota)
· The 4th largest city in Canada (Winnipeg)
· Every state through which my route passed has a name originating in a language native to North America (Texas: Caddo – friends, allies, Oklahoma: Choctaw – red man, Kansas: Sioux – south wind people, Nebraska: Omaha – broad river, Dakota: Sioux – ally, Iowa: Iowa – beautiful land, Minnesota: Sioux – cloudy water)
· The states with the 3rd and 4th highest percentage of Native American population (South Dakota and Oklahoma, 8% and 7.9%, respectively)
· States with the highest percentage of vacant hospital beds in the U.S. (tie – Kansas and Oklahoma, 46.1%)
· Lowest (Iowa) and 3rd lowest (North Dakota) homicide rates in the U.S.
· Lowest rate of robbery and aggravated assault in the U.S. (North Dakota)
· Largest (Texas) and smallest (North Dakota) prison population in the U.S.; 2nd (Texas) and 3rd (Oklahoma) highest incarceration rate in the U.S.
· Three areas administered by the National Park Service: Pipestone National Monument (Minnesota), Missouri National Recreational River (Nebraska / South Dakota) and Amistad National Recreation Area (Texas)
· The 8 U.S. states along the route were all admitted to statehood between 1845 (Texas) and 1907 (Oklahoma).
· Crossed the lowest point in the state of North Dakota (Red River at Pembina, 750 ft. above sea level); was on Big Stone Lake (966 ft. above sea level), lowest point in South Dakota ()
· The states with the 4th and 5th fewest new immigrants (South Dakota and North Dakota, respectively)
· Lowest (North Dakota) and 3rd lowest (South Dakota) public library budgets in the U.S.
· Public high school graduation rates: 1st (Iowa), 2nd (North Dakota), 3rd (Nebraska), 4th (Minnesota); Texas: 40th
· Performance on national standardized math examinations: 1st (Iowa), 2nd (North Dakota), 4th (Nebraska), and 5th (Minnesota)
· Per capita energy consumption: 4th (Texas), 5th (North Dakota)
· Lowest number of unemployment insurance eligible persons: 49th (North Dakota), 50th (South Dakota)
· Lowest per capita taxes in the U.S.: 2nd (South Dakota)
· Greatest total area of planted cropland in the U.S.: 1st (Iowa), 2nd (Texas), 4th (Kansas), 5th (North Dakota), 6th (Minnesota), 7th (Nebraska), 8th (South Dakota)
· Greatest total value from agriculture in the U.S.: 2nd (Texas), 3rd (Iowa), 4th (Nebraska), 5th (Kansas), 7th (Minnesota)
· Greatest number of farms: 1st (Texas), 3rd (Iowa)
· Agriculture is king: U.S. production rankings, by state:
· Barley: 1st (North Dakota)
· Corn: 1st (Iowa), 3rd (Nebraska), 4th (Minnesota)
· Cotton: 1st (Texas)
· Hay: 1st (Texas), 2nd (South Dakota)
· Oats: 2nd (Minnesota), 3rd (North Dakota), 4th (South Dakota), 5th (Iowa)
· Potatoes: 6th (North Dakota)
· Soybeans: 1st (Iowa), 3rd (Minnesota), 5th (Nebraska)
· Wheat: 1st (Kansas), 2nd (North Dakota), 4th (Oklahoma), 5th (Texas)
· Eggs: 2nd (Iowa)
· U.S. Interstate Highways: I-10, I-20, I-40, I-70, I-80, I-90, I-94.
· Trans-Canada Highway (Canada Hwy. 1)
· Rio Grande (1,900 mi.)
· Colorado River - Texas (862 mi.)
· Washita River (500 mi.)
· Red River (1,290 mi.)
· Canadian River (906 mi.)
· Cimarron River (600 mi.)
· Arkansas River (1,459 mi.)
· Republican River (442 mi.)
· Platte River (928 mi.)
· Niobrara River (431 mi.)
· Missouri River (2,540 mi.; longest single river in U.S.)
· James River (710 mi.)
· Minnesota River (332 mi.)
· Red River of the North (545 mi.)
· Assiniboine River (450 mi.)
· Mexico/U.S. (Coahuila/Texas)
· Cheyenne-Arapaho Nation/Oklahoma
· Nebraska/South Dakota
· South Dakota/Iowa
· Iowa/South Dakota/Minnesota (tri-state border)
· Minnesota/North Dakota
· U.S./Canada (North Dakota/Manitoba)
· Southern (Butterfield) Overland Mail Route (Texas)
· Spanish explorer Coronado’s 1541 Route (Texas)
· Chisholm Cattle Trail (Texas)
· Old Route 66 (Oklahoma)
· Santa Fe National Historic Trail (Kansas)
· California National Historic Trail (Nebraska)
· Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail (Nebraska)
· Oregon National Historic Trail (Nebraska)
· Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail (South Dakota)
· North Country National Scenic Trail (Minnesota)
· Highway 75 ‘King of Highways’ (Minnesota)
· Geodetic Center of North America (near Osborne, Kansas)
· Geographic Center of the 48 Contiguous United States (near Lebanon, Kansas, at 39º50’N, 98º35’W)
· North/South Continental Divide (near Graceville, Minnesota). Waters to the south flow to the Gulf of Mexico; waters to the north flow to Hudson Bay.
· Amistad Dam and Amistad Reservoir (Ciudad Acuña, México/Del Rio, Texas)
· Fort Chadburne (near Bronte,Texas)
· The deepest well in the U.S. (I was near, but didn’t see it) (Washita County, Oklahoma
· Route 66 Museum (Clinton, Oklahoma)
· Last Remaining Prairie Sod House (near Cleo Springs, Oklahoma)
· Carrie A. Nation’s Homestead (near Taloga, Oklahoma)
· Carrie A. Nation’s First Smashed Saloon (Kiowa, Kansas)
· Great Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge (near Cherokee, Oklahoma)
· Bob Dole and Arlen Specter’s hometown (Russell, Kansas)
· Willa Cather’s Childhood Home (Red Cloud, Nebraska)
· Ashfall Fossil Beds (Royal, Nebraska)
· Lewis and Clark Lake & Visitor Center (near Yankton, South Dakota)
· Missouri National Recreational River (NE Nebraska, SE South Dakota)
· Spirit Mound (Clay County, South Dakota)
· Pipestone National Monument (Pipestone, Minnesota)
· The tallest tower in the U.S. (I was near but didn’t see it) (Fargo, North Dakota)
· Manitoba Legislature (Winnipeg, Manitoba)
· AND, I stopped to read every single roadside historical marker or point of interest marker along the entire route, without exception.
Val Verde, Edwards, Sutton, Schleicher, Tom Green, Coke, Runnels, Nolan, Taylor, Jones, Haskell, Knox, Foard, Hardeman
Jackson, Greer, Kiowa, Washita, Custer, Dewey, Major, Alfalfa
Barber, Pratt, Stafford, Barton, Russell, Osborne, Smith
Webster, Adams, Hall, Merrick, Nance, Boone, Antelope, Knox
South Dakota (5)
Bon Homme, Yankton, Clay, Turner, Lincoln
Rock, Pipestone, Lincoln, Yellow Medicine, Lac Qui Parle, Big Stone, Traverse, Wilkin, Clay, Norman, Polk, Marshall, Kittson
North Dakota (3)
Cass, Grand Forks, Pembina
· Taylor County, Texas (126,000)
· Cass County, North Dakota (123,000)
· Tom Green County, Texas (104,000)
· Foard County, Texas (1,622)
· Texas Hwy 6 in Haskell, Knox, Foard, and Hardeman Counties
· U.S. Hwy 183 in Washita County, Oklahoma
· U.S. Hwy 277 in Val Verde, Edwards, Sutton, and Schleicher Counties, Texas
Worst Roadway for Cycling
· Lagimodiere Blvd. (Manitoba Hwy 20), Winnipeg
· Manitoba Hwy 75 between the U.S. border and Ste. Agathe
· U.S. Hwy 30 east of Grand Island, Nebraska
· U.S. Hwy 277 in Val Verde County, Texas (Amistad Reservoir, edge of Chihuahuan Desert Region, rough valleys and canyons, limestone road cuts and outcroppings)
· Oklahoma Hwy 44 in Greer County (Quartz Mountains dramatically rise 1,000’ over the surrounding wheat fields and Altus Reservoir)
· Manitoba Hwy 200 between Ste. Agathe and Winnipeg (Multihued fields with flowers of yellow, blue, and purple interspersed with densely wooded areas and frequent small towns)
· Any of the many rolling grasslands of northern Kansas or Nebraska; and any of the cultivated fertile croplands of the Dakotas or Minnesota
· Dry Devil Relief (a draw in SW Texas)
· Climax (a town in Minnesota)
· Stop When Occupied (at a crosswalk in Nebraska)
· Danger: Poisonous Gas May Be Present (in Texas)
· Watch for Wild Hogs (in North Texas)
· In Kansas: two water towers, side by side, one ‘Hot’, the other ‘Cold’.
· Let Us Clean Your Bottoms (in Kansas; well bottoms, I think)
· Rest Area 10¢ (on an old toilet in front of an antique store in Oklahoma)
· Roadside Parka (on a scarecrow with a parka in Texas)
· No Trespassing, No Guns, No Drugs (on a ranch entrance in Texas)
· Free Air – Help Yourself (at a gas station in Minnesota)
1. 91 miles of U.S. Hwy. 277 between Del Rio and Sonora, Texas. Nothing except two intersections of other paved roads, one “store” (kind of a scary, empty place, actually), four picnic tables, and a border patrol checkpoint
2. 51 miles of Minnesota Hwy. 220 between East Grand Forks and Robbin. Nothing of note except for about six or seven intersections
Keystone Light is by far the most popular beer in Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, and the Dakotas, based on informal roadside litter counts.
The trip began at an altitude of 999 feet above sea level and ended at 751 feet above sea level. The highest point was 2,439’ (Schleicher County, Texas), the lowest point was 730’ (Winnipeg, Manitoba). About half of the route was flat with the other half consisting of low, rolling hills or low grades. The most notable downgrade was a 500’ drop over 8 miles in Taylor County, Texas. The first mile dropped from 2,300’ to 2,000’ down the face of an escarpment with the next 7 miles dropping further to about 1,800’. Notable ascents included a steep 250’ climb over less than a quarter of a mile going up the bluffs of the Big Sioux River in Sioux County, Iowa and a series of 5% to 10% grade 100’ to 200’ hills in Antelope County and Knox County, Nebraska.
Mean altitude remained between 1,000 feet and 2,439 feet from the beginning of the trip to the Missouri River crossing (Nebraska/South Dakota border). The remainder of the trip was between 720 feet and 1,500 feet. The consistently flattest part of the route was the approximately 300 miles between the North/South Continental Divide (elev. 988’) and Winnipeg (elev. 751’). That flood-prone, mosquito-infested area, corresponding to the valley of the Red River of the North, used to be the bed of Glacial Lake Agassiz during the last Ice Age in the Pleistocene Epoch. There are no perceptible topographical features whatsoever, and the 1 foot drop per mile certainly did nothing to counter the effect of the persistent north winds.
Coahuila and Texas: Mostly dry with barren, rocky soils of red or brown color; intermittent dry stream beds and draws. Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska: Mostly dry with red (OK) or brown (KS, NE) soils. Regular streams. The Dakotas, Iowa, Minnesota, and Manitoba: Mostly moist with rich, black soils. Many regular streams and rivers.
Coahuila and Texas: Mostly shortgrass prairie, brushland, and scrub. Some areas with farmland and rangeland. Oklahoma and Kansas: Mixed farmland, rangeland, and shortgrass prairie. The Dakotas, Iowa, Minnesota, and Manitoba: Mostly farmland with occasional tallgrass prairie. Frequent streams with densely wooded banks. Section lines and rural property lines often feature windbreaks with dense, tall mature trees.
Snakes, raccoons, opossums, skunks, a red fox, mink, beavers, vultures, eagles (including one bald eagle!), hawks, doves, quail, turkey, pelicans, lots of ducks and geese, some Really Big Fish, and many thousands of red-winged blackbirds. Oh, and of course, vicious, biting ‘horseflies’ in Kansas and Nebraska and millions of bloodthirsty mosquitoes in Minnesota and North Dakota (it’s the North Dakota state bird, according to a postcard I bought).
I don’t believe that at any point along the route I was ever out of sight or earshot of some creature. During the first third of the trip this mostly meant crickets, grasshoppers and vultures, but in the Central Plains more birds became visible. In the North, there were swarms of mosquitoes and thousands of birds and waterfowl.
The first six days in a row were “Hot, D*** Hot”. Mid to upper 90’s each day, no cloud cover, and humidity pushing the heat index as high as 108º. After moving northward it cooled somewhat (with the exception of one brutally hot day in Nebraska when the temperature reached 104º – that was the day that the road asphalt was so hot it was gooey.
Hard to believe that in July it was really cold one day. The high temperature the day I arrived into Moorhead, Minnesota was 57º, and the last few hours it was in the low 50’s. That, along with the incessant drizzle and the headwind made for some really cold riding. For dad it was far worse, since he wasn’t pedaling, and was experiencing symptoms of hypothermia onset. I couldn’t write anything when checking in to the hotel since my fingers were so numb.
The worst drivers (from a bike point of view) were clearly in the cities, particularly Winnipeg (pop. 600,000) and Abilene (pop. 125,000); Fargo (pop. 91,000) was an exception with respectful drivers. The most respectful were in the very remote rural areas, but especially in northern Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas. There the drivers would usually slow down and/or go completely out of my lane to the other side of the road. Pretty much the same situation in Nebraska, the Dakotas, Minnesota, and Iowa.
On the rural roads of Oklahoma and Kansas most of the drivers of oncoming vehicles wave. A few Texans did it (more in the north than in the south) and a few Nebraskans did it (more in the south than in the north), but almost nobody in the Dakotas, Iowa, Minnesota, or Canada.
After dad joined me, he started waving at all motorcycles and soon found that most Harley riders would not wave back. He got kind of frustrated with that, and one day at a highway stop he asked a Harley rider outright: “If you saw me on the highway and I waved to you, would you wave back, even though I’m on a scooter?” The Harley rider replied “D*** right I would, I wave at anyone on two wheels!”. So dad explained that this was not what he’d encountered from experience, and the man said something about how so many riders now weren’t “real riders”...
It’s probably dad’s fault. When I was 9 years old we lived in Costa Rica, and he and I once took a 4-day bicycle-and-train trip from our home in San José to the Panamanian border and back. We started out by train to the Caribbean coast, spent the night in Limón, and then rode the next day along the (then) newly paved coastal road to where the pavement ended in Cahuita and then on the rest of the way to the border, spending the night in a ‘house of ill repute’ in Puerto Viejo because it was the only option for lodging (we got the ‘room only’ plan). On the way back we retraced our route, stopping at a black sand beach and spending the night in Limón again; on the last day we rode partway up the mountains until I couldn’t go any more, then we waited for the train to come by and take us back up to San José.
I have been wanting to do a long, solo trip for about 3 years. For the first 2 years I had been planning on riding the “Trail of Tears” of the forced relocation of the Cherokee. The route was about the length that I was looking for, 906 miles, and would be meaningful since among my ancestors are those who were forced to abandon their ancestral homeland some 160 years ago and go to Oklahoma (then ‘Indian Territory’) along the Trail of Tears. The more I researched the route, however, which runs from near Atlanta, Georgia to near Tulsa, Oklahoma, the more reservations I had about it. I found out that most of the roadways are busy and often without a shoulder. Adding that to the fact that I’m not that excited about the rural Southeastern U.S., I started to look for an alternate route.
I decided on Mexico-to-Canada through the Central U.S. because of convenience (I was in San Antonio in mid-June grading the Spanish AP tests), road conditions (generally good roads with very little traffic), topography (flat to low rolling hills), personal challenge (the idea of crossing the entire country), and family reasons (my mother and stepfather live along the route in Oklahoma and Susye and Andrew would be staying with them during my trip, I have aunts and uncles along the route in Kansas, and one of my childhood homes was in South Dakota).
Being a map reader, I got as many maps as I could and Planned, Planned, and Planned. I looked at maps so much I probably could have done most of the route without any maps. I also wrote the Department of Transportation of each state along the way to tell them of my plans and request information about road conditions or advice about alternate routes along the same general footprint of my route. To my surprise, every single state DOT responded, most with thick packets of traffic flow pattern maps, construction schedules, and shoulder width maps (thanks especially to Nebraska, several of the Texas regional offices, and South Dakota for the exceptionally through and personalized materials).
I also looked at the Climatic Atlas of the United States to learn about June and July’s average daily high temperatures, average wind speed and direction, average percentage of possible sunlight, average humidity, and average number of days per month with rainfall.
Finally, I got listings of all hotels and motels along my general route from yellowpages.com and pasted them into a word document (even with two columns and size 9 font it was still 30 pages long!).
For training I continued with my regular routine – no riding on weekends and commuting by bicycle every day (10 miles each way, 5 days/week), adding extensions to go over hills or to take longer routes home on occasion. I was also fortunate that two of the student teacher candidates that I supervised during the preceding Spring semester were doing their student teaching in Novato and Cloverdale. I would ride out, change, go to the school for the visit, change again, and ride home. Thus, I was able to still get in a number of 60+ mile rides on working days. This routine resulted in 100 miles a week in the early Spring and 200 miles a week by late Spring. The main thing that I learned to do was to keep a schedule for eating and drinking and to enjoy the ride for its own sake and not as simply an accumulation of miles.
Bicycle: 2001 Bianchi Volpe, all stock components (Shimano Tiagra, Triple front ring, etc.)
Tires: Continental Top Touring
Helmet: Giro “Mojave” with a “CycleAware” mirror
Carried 4 spare tubes (used 1) and a patch kit with 6 patches.
Took a screwdriver set with hex bits in all the necessary sizes. Didn’t use the hex bits at all, but used the Philips screwdriver as the pedals were wearing out and needed daily tightening the last half of the trip.
Three bungee cords of different sizes (not used, except once to rig up a laundry line in a hotel room). The Winnipeg Airport police confiscated my tool set and my bungee cords on the return flight because it wasn’t allowed on board the aircraft.
About 5 feet of duct tape (used twice, both times for broken spokes).
About 3 feet of electrical tape (used once to stop the pepper spray from rattling in its holder).
A bottle of T-9 chain lube.
A “Leatherman” multi-purpose tool (used the pliers tool once and a knife blade once).
3 children’s (small) plastic hangars (used several times for drying clothes).
An AM/FM/TV/NOAA Weather Radio with headphones (used it several times to hear about weather conditions when skies threatened) and 2 spare AAA batteries.
Canon 2.0 MP digital camera with 128 MB memory card (held 252 medium/high-resolution pictures that I developed at the Winnipeg Costco; I had to borrow an additional card from my dad because I filled the card about 5 days before the end of the trip); 4 spare AA batteries.
Mobile Phone (service with Sprint, which had the best overall coverage of my route; used it to contact a bike shop when a spoke broke and occasionally to make lodging inquiries and reservations, and once to call home from a motel with no phone).
A small Maglite flashlight with 2 AA batteries.
Clothing – 3 sets of cycling clothes, 1 pair of cycling shoes, and 2 sets of summer street clothes, 1 pair flip-flops, 1 light jacket (on northern half of trip only).
Maps of routes which were pre-cut for the route footprint and which I put in the map sleeve of my handlebar bag. 30 pages of hotel/motel listings (from yellowpages.com) for all towns along the route footprint.
Mosquito spray (with DEET, but didn’t use it when riding because it supposedly damages synthetic fabrics – too bad, because Minnesota and the Dakotas were so mosquito infested and West Nile Virus was in the news there).
Travel size personal toiletries. Muscle rub.
Various bandages. Antiseptic wipes and cream.
Food (Fig Newtons, Clif bars).
Laundry soap and Gatorade powder (both carefully marked!). And, of course, along the way I picked up stuff – postcards, rocks, maps, etc.
All of this fit into one of four places: Trek panniers, rear, left and right, a Trek rear “trunk”, and a Klein handlebar bag. One set of tire changing necessities (tube, levers) lived in a small Rhode Gear seat bag, the tire pump and two bottle cages (each with its own 24 oz. bottle), and the dog spray canister were mounted on the frame. On my back was the 3 liter capacity Camelbak.
Cycle computer: I have no cycle computer. I don’t want a cycle computer. I ride because of, and according to, how I feel. Ordinarily, I’m a very empirical person (being a linguist...), but I don’t want to know information about my “progress”. When I did have a computer I would spend more time looking and thinking about it than about the beautiful land around me. I would pay more heed to it than I would to my own body and spirit. *All the distances on my trip are calculated from official state highway maps. I don’t know my average speed except that I’d usually ride between 15-20 mph, stopped frequently, and beat dad by some distance in a race down a hill in Nebraska despite his speed of 42 mph (but then on the upslope...well, never mind). I used to have a cycle computer (and heart rate monitor, etc.) but it didn’t work for me…
Bicycle with empty packs: 31 pounds
Loaded bicycle: 54 pounds*.
Loaded bicycle + normal supply of water: 62 pounds.
Loaded bicycle + Day 1 supply of water**: 78 pounds.
Total weight (rider + loaded bicycle + normal water supply): 237 pounds.
Total weight (rider + loaded bicycle + Day 1 water*): 253 pounds.
*This weight remained relatively constant. As I would expend items (Clif bars, Gatorade powder, etc.) these would be replaced by acquired items (rocks, souvenirs, etc.)
**On Day 1 of the ride there was nowhere to replenish my water supply for 91 miles, so I had to carry a total of 3 gallons of water and Gatorade.
I chose Clif bars to take instead of Power Bars when I discovered that the latter melted in the heat of my packs. I took 20 for the first week, of which I ate about 8 or 9. I took another 20 along for the last two weeks and ate about 15.
I took powdered Gatorade and made two bottles per day of this in the morning. I had a Camelbak ‘Mule’ (3 liters) which I filled with fresh water and ice cubes. With the exception of Day 1 (91 miles of nothing), there were convenience stores usually at least every 30 miles or so where I could buy Gatorade and put more ice cubes in my pack. Everyone let me get ice for free with the exception of one little store in Minnesota that charged a quarter...
Breakfasts were usually hotel lobby donuts and pastries, coffee, and juices, I’d usually have two mid-morning snacks (Fig Newtons, Clif bars, etc.), eat a fairly light lunch (convenience store burritos, sandwiches, etc.), eat one or two mid-afternoon snacks, and eat a Really Big Dinner. My estimate is that I typically ate between 5,000 and 10,000 calories per day; the net effect is that I lost about 10 pounds during the trip, even though I was trying not to lose any weight. I drank between 1.5 and 3 gallons of liquid per day; more in the heat, less on cool, rainy days.