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In the summer of 1987, we traveled across the United States on our summer vacation from work. We started by driving Jerry's car to Iowa. From July 7 to 11 we pedaled bicycles from Muscatine, Iowa to Fort Wayne, Indiana. (On earlier trips we pedaled from Fort Wayne to the Atlantic Ocean in Maine.) We rented a car in Fort Wayne, and drove to Everett, Washington. From July 15 to August 17 we pedaled across Washington, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota, and Iowa. Then we drove back home. The total distance pedaled was 3258.7 miles according to Nina's odometer. We followed Bikecentennial maps, along their "Northern Tier" route. Jerry made this journal on micro cassette tapes by speaking into a hand-held recorder as we traveled. This is a transcription of those tapes, with minor editing.
It's almost 7 o'clock in the evening. A slight mist is falling. I'm starting my vacation. The car is loaded up, and headed for Durham, New Hampshire, to get Nina. It's going to be a great time! Today's Thursday. Friday the third of July is a holiday this year because the fourth falls on Saturday, so this is the day to start. The car says 64,000 miles as we leave Yorktown. Ought to be able to put a few miles on the car as well as the bikes this trip.
11:30 and it's Durham, in the rain. Had rain most of the way, and arrived in Durham with a just about empty gas tank. Perfect, because in Durham you can fill up with good gas pretty cheaply - some of the best prices around. It's good to be here. It's been a long drive.
It's quarter to eleven, and we're leaving Durham fully packed, just Nina and me and all our stuff in the car. Heading right now for Quechee.
Well, the first major traffic jam on the trip: We've been in line here for ten minutes already. It's in Quechee. They're fixing a bridge. The cars are backed up all the way out to Route 89, filling up the whole exit. More than a ten minute wait in Quechee! A quick visit with Nina's Mom. She's doing fine, and looking forward to having Hilary around most of the summer. Gave my parents a phone call and said good-bye. Now it's up the highway to Burlington.
We stop at Kathy O's, but quickly hop into a car with Kathy and Jennifer O and head out to Joan F's, where we spend a few hours chatting with her and her husband and other friends who have gathered because of the death of her son. He was in an automobile accident and died just last Sunday. Back to Kathy O's for a quick dinner on the fly, and then to Hope and Denny's, where we hope to spend the night. This time we just leave a note and go quickly on to the Bouldin's for some bridge. The bridge goes reasonably well. It's pretty even with some interesting hands, each side making a slam, and we wind up just a few hundred points ahead of the Bouldins at the end of the evening. Not bad!
Now we're tired, so we head back to Hope and Denny's and find the light on. They're obviously expecting us, but they're all asleep because it's twelve thirty. They've locked all the doors. Knocking on the doors doesn't seem to bring any response. They have no doorbell. Hollering at the windows doesn't work either, so we go up to the center of town to a phone booth to try calling. It rings and rings. Nina is patient. Nina is desperate. She decides to let it ring twenty times. After twenty rings she decides at least a few more, and Denny answers on the twenty-first ring. Thank goodness! He unlocks the door and we have a good night's sleep.
The Fourth of July morning is spent in nice lazy breakfast table discussions. Getting up-to-date on Jeff, heading for Dartmouth; Denny's late-night doings at work; Hope working hard; Greg swimming; and other such happenings. Then we put on our ceremonial clothes and go to the wedding of Roberta and Roy. A very nice wedding at the Neumann Center, up on the Redstone Campus at the University of Vermont. The reception immediately following is outdoors, under a beautiful tent. It is catered by Pauline's Kitchen, nice gourmet food, very classy. Lots of nice people there, and we have a terrific time. But at quarter of four we hop in the car and we're off! Headed North, up Route 89, the real vacation now begins!
We reach the border of Canada at Cornwall at 6:30. It's been 130 miles since Burlington. The Canadian tourist office in Cornwall is open. They give us a nice map of Ontario, have nice bathrooms, and even have a money-changing place open at 6:30 at night! Things are going great! The wonderful clouds we've been watching - spectacular - all over the horizon - suddenly open up on us as we get on route 401 headed west across Canada, and we're getting showered in good shape. About 360 miles from Burlington, almost to Toronto, we finally stop for the night at 10:30 at Darlington Provincial Park. Beautiful place. Of course we never see it in the daylight. We just put up our tent, and sleep.
The first birds wake us up in the morning, and we head out. By 5:00 we're back on the road again. Now we're determined to make it to Tom and Kay's on Sunday, today. The way to go through Toronto without hassles is to do it at 5:30 on a Sunday morning, with the sun coming up behind you. Just cruise through the express lanes - beautiful - zip right along. Soon we're turning over more folds on the Ontario map, moving on toward Arnica, which sounds like a name right out of C.S. Lewis novels, but it's right in the corner of Ontario. One of the mysteries is why do all the silos have red and white striped tops, like beanies?
8:30, and we're in Michigan. Passing into Michigan we go over a high bridge over the St. Clair River. Nina snaps a couple of pictures of the lighthouse at the end of the river and Lake Huron behind. Lots of small fishing boats are out there early in the morning, clustered together at the mouth of the river. Must be something out there. We stop at the information center, pick up a map of Michigan, free coffee, Sprite and four free Michigan State Police key chains.
At 1:30 we finally enter Indiana, saying goodbye to Michigan, and we're not really too unhappy about leaving Michigan behind - it wasn't that exciting. Traffic is heavy as we go around the bottom of Lake Michigan. At 2:30 we enter Illinois. There's even a little rainstorm, to make it exciting down here.
We finally stop in Joliet, and have a wonderful walleyed pike dinner. Ah, real food! Nina's stomach has been telling her for miles it is time for real food, and finally I give in and stop. Feeling much better, we get back on Route 80, heading straight West, with all the signs saying "Des Moines," now only about 300 miles away.
Nina drives us over the Mississippi into Iowa at 6:20. OK! At a rest area only 50 miles from Des Moines, at 7:45 local time, we finally break through and contact Tom to tell him we're coming, and he gives directions to his house. I was beginning to wonder if we'd ever get ahold of him.
After driving 860 miles from Burlington, we arrive at Tom's and Kay's at 9:45 Eastern time. Of course that's only 8:45 in Des Moines. We have a very nice reunion. Tom opens the champagne bottles immediately, and we have pizza, cheese and crackers, relax and have a nice visit. Tom and Kay turn on the central air conditioning, and we have a very comfy evening sleeping on their hideaway bed. They are all very tired because they've been fishing and swimming and spending the entire weekend outdoors. They're exhausted. The boys are walking around glassy-eyed. They finally go to bed, and Tom and Kay figure they'll sleep about twelve hours. They're in good shape. They're all having a good time.
Monday, and Tom treats us to sweet rolls, an Iowa delicacy. I have a couple of gigantic sweet rolls, and some Maypo Kay makes for us. Tom calls his Muscatine office. Muscatine is going to be our starting point, and his company has a nice padlocked area that can hold our Honda while we pedal for a while. We're headed for Muscatine by 9:45. A very nice lady named "Sam" helps us out there. Everybody seems happy to have us in Muscatine, thanks to Tom's connections. At 1:30 EST, we've left our car in Muscatine, and we're headed down Park Avenue toward the Mississippi River. As we leave we see a huge bird, probably a big hawk, perhaps an eagle, high above us. A good omen for the trip.
Once across the river we turn right, off the main road. After about five miles of bucking the headwind, which is blowing right from the south as we parallel the river, we turn away from the river and head directly east. Of course now we have to climb up from the flood plain up the banks of the river. It gets hot. Nina decides to change into her tank top. The wind is cooling us off, but it is a HOT day.
And now for a crop report. Here it is, direct from the field: The corn is tasseling out, and is about six feet tall. Soybeans, on the other hand, are looking great. I think things are growing well this year. The wheat is also looking fine - real golden. Not as many fields of that - it's mostly corn here.
We take our first real break beside a telephone company substation. No one around. Just an enormous oak tree with about a four foot diameter trunk, with a beautiful shade. Nice! Nina took the opportunity, of course, to remove her helmet, remove her shoes, and remove her pants. She started riding in regular shorts, but they chafed. Now she is wearing regular cycling shorts.
After twenty miles of riding, we stop in Reynolds at both the general stores. Neither one seems to have very much that is really tempting, although we do fill our water bottles at one. Boy, that is nice! The people don't seem to understand about cyclists at all. We talk to some kids who are staggered at the thought of actually riding long distances. No one believes our packs.
At the second general store there are two guys with really nifty racing bikes, one of them a custom made aluminum bike. They look like real hot-shot racers, so I strike up a conversation. It turns out that the total distance they are planning to ride that day is twenty miles. They guy with the really hot bike says he is planning to work up to a hundred mile ride later in the Fall, but of course first he'll have to get a good Spenco cover for his saddle. Another thing that amazes us in Reynolds is that the people don't seem to know much about the geography of the state. When we say we are going to ride to Cambridge, no one knows where that is, although it is only about thirty miles away. When we then say we are going to go first to Orion, one of the ladies isn't even sure which direction it is. That's about fifteen miles away. One of them has heard a rumor, though, that there is going to be a ride across Illinois, going through town on the 26th, and about a thousand bicyclists are expected. They are all "ooing and ahing" about that. Figure they'll be swamped at the stores. Maybe they'll even have to have two people on duty - one full time at each cash register and the other one "helping out."
As we're riding toward Cambridge, a huge thunderstorm appears. Mostly to the North of us, but coming from the west toward the east, really paralleling our course, and it's very close. Then it appears that part of it will be coming right over us. So we're pedaling right along, heading toward Cambridge, and we're starting to contemplate how to take shelter. We're passing lots of pig farms, so one of the questions we both have in our minds is if it really starts to pour should we jump into one of the pig shelters, or not. Nina comes down heavily on the negative side. No way! She'd rather be struck by lightning. We continue on toward Cambridge, and the closer we get the closer the storm gets, and the faster we go. We arrive on the outskirts of Cambridge just as the first drops start to fall. We take shelter under the edge of a bowling alley. Safe! The rain pelts down heavily.
We go into the bowling alley, and discover that the bar is open. The lanes are closed permanently. The bartender is a great guy, who gives us free drinks. We hole up there for a while and have a couple of barbecue sandwiches, some pleasant conversation with the bartender, and finally the storm is over. We go on up into the middle of Cambridge. He's told us to ask the Sheriff where to stay. Maybe we can even stay in the town park. Well, the Sheriff directs us over to the County Fairground, just outside town. We go over, pitch the tent, and it looks very pleasant. End of a gorgeous day! We've pedaled a total of 58 miles.
The Henry County Fairgrounds is a good place to sleep. We're up pretty early in the morning - 6:15 local time and we're up and at 'em. Heading north out of Cambridge. Looks like another gorgeous day, just about like yesterday. The temperature is 68 degrees when we wake up. What bad effects do we see from the first day's riding? Well, my rear end is a little bit tender, but that goes away after five minutes of riding. Nina's upper back is a little bit sore this morning, probably from holding up her helmet for a long period. We aren't too used to that, but with a little massaging she's fine. I got a heat rash, which is something I don't get often, heat rash on my right thigh - that was the sun side. But basically we are in pretty good shape. The bikes also are in pretty good shape. Nina's derailleur needs a little adjustment, something seems a little wobbly in my front end, but I think things are going great!
We go 22 miles without getting off the bikes at all. After another five miles we are in Kewanee, which bills itself as the "Hog Capital of the World" on the sign outside town. For the last five miles we've been fighting a headwind, seems like we've been going uphill quite a lot, and we're dead. Although we had some granola for breakfast at the campsite, it's time to stop and eat again. Diner - old diner - that says "Sorry, we're open," has some eggs, bacon, and sausage. Great! As we leave Kewanee, we discover a little rainstorm and debate. Should we or should we not put on our raincoats? We decide finally not to put them on, and the rain is just enough to give us a nice cooling off. It's going to be nice to have that memory on a hot afternoon.
At Bradford I really want an ice cream cone, but all they have is the spiraling gunk, so we both settle for slushes. They are cold and wet, and do the job. We head straight south out of Bradford. South is bad news. The breeze is really coming from the south today, so it is a headwind for quite a ways. We are very relieved to turn east again and head for Henry. Stop at the Saratoga Town Hall, a little frame building in the middle of nowhere. Eat an apple, put on more suntan lotion, rest a bit - great break! Then it's on the road to Henry.
In Henry, I go in a store to buy film, and Nina strikes up a conversation with a local businessman. He is excited to hear that Henry is on a Bikecentennial route. He directs Nina down to a restaurant overlooking the water at Henry Harbor, and we go down there. Nice place. Nina has the salad bar. I have a big ham sandwich with potato salad. Very pleasant. We discover that we've been expected. The businessman actually called ahead, and they want to know the address of Bikecentennial, because they want to get more publicity for Henry in the literature.
Well, after a nice interlude, we go on across the Illinois River, climb up some steep hills on the far side, and once again the scenery starts to look like Illinois. None of the postcards in town had pictures of Illinois except of Henry. Several featured the big sign outside of town which says "Henry, best town in Illinois by a dam site."
As we approach Varna, a young, long-legged beagle comes out to greet us. Very pleased to see us, very friendly dog, and obviously ready for a nice long run following the bikes. Nina knows about beagles, especially young ones. They'll follow you to the end of the earth. So she stops, coaxes the dog back into his yard, and explains to the owner that this dog was about to follow us a long ways, and perhaps he'd better hang onto him for a bit. He thanks us, but says the dog usually stays around pretty close to home, and we ride off. About a mile down the road, suddenly we discover we're being followed by a pickup truck, with the fellow trying to catch his dog. He's been following us. Let him go too soon, obviously. Now this fellow is actually upset at us, saying things like "I don't know why they can't ride their bikes somewhere else." We stop behind the truck, and wait while he coaxes the dog into the truck. Then everybody is satisfied and we go on our way. Nina thinks she won't be as nice to the next dog owner, since this one wasn't too happy even though she was as nice as could be.
We're really up for showers, but the next campground is in Streeter. We recognize that it's a bit far, but Nina saw it on the map this morning, and figures that's the place to go. The last few miles are pretty tough. Fortunately, its an incredibly flat, straight road. We just have to count off the County roads, mile by mile. We pass our hundred mile mark for the day, and keep going. Now it's just a race between us, getting slower and slower, and the time, and it does seem as if the sun is going to go down soon. We finally make it to Streeter all right, but the campground office has just closed. It's just after eight, so we pitch our tent, figuring the collector will come around in a little while. We have showers. Wonderful, long, free showers. Then it's time for bed, and our bodies deserve it. We have a celebration bottle of Liebfraumilch. Nina had trouble finding it in the Streeter store. They weren't quite sure what the stuff was. Maybe if she'd asked for good old American beer they would have been right on top of it, but she finally did find a dusty old bottle in the corner, and it tasted really good.
In the morning, we get up at our normal hour, and we're on the road by 8:00. It's only 7:00 local time. We beat the man who runs the campground, so it was a free night. Our muscles aren't too bad, and the only obvious problem is that my rear end is a little sore. Guess I'm not used to sitting on the seat for so long. The soreness goes away after ten minutes of pedaling. As we cross over the Mud River, I'm tempted to take a picture, but then decide not to. After all, who wants a picture of a stick in the Mud.
After sixteen miles we stop at Cornell, but it's too small to have a real restaurant, so we don't have breakfast, just grapefruit juice and a sweet roll. Two miles out of Cornell, riding on the shoulder, which is a beautiful wide paved shoulder, Nina picks up a flat tire - our first of the trip.
We have a nice breakfast at Odell, at a little shop which has beautiful wood tables, an antique shop in the back, and old farm and other machinery hanging on the walls. Lots of old-time flavor about the place. The back of the menu has a write-up about what it really means to live in a small town. A small town is where you dial a wrong number and wind up talking for fifteen minutes anyway. Nobody uses their turn signals because everybody knows where they're going. In a small town you might get chased off Main Street by a combine. If you don't go to church on Sunday, within the next few days you get a "get well" card. We notice that one of the recreation opportunities offered by the town, especially for small kids about five, is riding the barrier for the railroad track when it goes back up. That looks like a lot of fun.
We stop for a Coke in Campus, population 217. A lovely little town. Big old beautiful houses, some of them now falling into disrepair. It's obviously seen better days. We stop in at the general store, and discover this is the place where the men sit around in the morning drinking coffee and playing euchre. They get fresh hamburger on Fridays. They also play pool here, and this is where the kids buy water pistols and lollipops. They seem to be the biggest customers of the lady running the place. The proprietors give us a couple of pieces of pizza for nothing. It was their lunch, but they had eaten all they wanted so they give the rest to us and won't accept any money for it. On the way out of town we pass a gorgeous cemetery with huge monuments. Really looks amazing in this part of Illinois.
Well, after fighting the headwinds south for quite a few miles, we finally turn the corner onto State 116 and head east. This is going to be a straight shot east of about 30 miles. Straight. We stop at the little town of Cullum, and sign-in on a biker log they keep there. As we cross the border between Ford County and Iroquois County, we come to a long line of shade trees. Beautiful! They border the road on the south side, and cast some shade over bicyclists heading east. This is so rare that it prompts Nina to ask "are we still in Illinois?" Beyond the trees is a big field of wheat, and a combine is just starting to harvest it. The farmer is sitting inside the cab with his young son, probably explaining how the thing works. We're fascinated to watch. It makes a corner right in front of us, and has to lift up its front end so we can see what's going on. Eastern Illinois seems to be all corn and soybeans, a little bit of wheat, and no hogs. We left all the hogs on the other side of the Illinois river. I guess that might be the hog capital of the state, out there in Kewanee.
We're still riding this straight road, almost to Ashcombe now. We're grateful for any little cloud which comes along. It provides a little shade. It's wonderful! The sun is ferocious. The south wind feels good too. It cools us off, even though it doesn't really push us down the road. If you're ever lost in Illinois on a dark night, and don't know which way is which, you can always get one bearing by looking at the TV antennas on the tall antenna poles. They all point towards Chicago. We've noticed the change in angle as we ride along from west to east. Now Chicago is almost directly north of us as we approach the border. In Ashkum we discover an oasis of shade and coolness in a little Italian restaurant, of all things. Their spaghetti sauce is lousy, but we enjoy it very much.
We reach Donovan, population 345, with not much sunlight left, and a long ways to any campground. We take shelter from a little passing shower under an overhanging roof, and here comes a fellow on a moped. He stops and starts the usual questions about where we're headed, and stuff like that. Well, it turns out he's Paul Frye, a farmer, and he invites us over to his place. Lets us camp on his lawn, takes us into his house, feeds us ice cream, and tells us all about farming.
His wife is on a trip to the Bahamas with one of his sons. His main problem is that he makes so much money that the income tax bothers him. He mutters about getting the politicians out of his business, and letting supply and demand take care of things. He feels like the farmers are competing with the government. But he's participating in the new farm program. He says he's "35% in the program." I think that means 35% of his land is not farmed, he doesn't plant anything there, and the government pays him for it. He says the new crop rotation is "corn, beans and Miami." He tells us all about his grandchildren, obviously a source of great pride. Very nice guy. One of the great treats for us, of course, is his bathroom and shower. We rode 89.3 miles today. Total for the trip so far is 255.7 miles!
The next morning Paul shows us all his farming equipment - combines, tractors, etc. He has his own storage bins, including a dryer so he can dry his corn to the right amount of moisture before putting it into his permanent storage bins. We take Paul's picture, and he takes ours. I guess he wants us to send a picture of ourselves to him, so he can show his wife. He says "she won't believe it." We aren't sure we believe the whole thing either.
The weather forecast says it's supposed to be kind of humid today, and up into the low 90s. We cross into Indiana with no fanfare. There's no sign, and we don't even stop at the border. I'm glad to be out of Illinois. Don't know if I could stand another one of those real hot Illinois days. We have breakfast in Brooke. Well, it's eggs, a couple of sausages, and some funny French fries. People don't talk to us much. Nina gives up looking for good postcards, and says she'll send a couple even though they're crummy. She's sending one to Hilary, one to Greg, who specifically requested one from Illinois. Maybe Indiana will have better post cards.
On down across bumpy farm roads towards Rensselaer. A couple of weeks before we started on this trip, I noticed a funny little "click" in my crank, every time I applied pressure on the pedal, near the top of the stroke. I figured I needed to tighten something up, or oil something, and I tried a couple of home remedies on my way back and forth to work. They didn't seem to do the trick, but then the noise wasn't very much. Well, the click seems to have gotten slightly worse on this trip, so as we approach Rensselaer we decide to go to the bike shop, and see what they can do to fix it. Now I know my bottom bracket hasn't been overhauled, so it's probably in need of new bearings and grease. Maybe that'll fix the problem, so that's what we ask them to do first.
Well, they have trouble finding the tool which they need to pull the crank. In fact they don't even know they have one, but finally find it. The shop seems to be under new management, and they really don't know what they are doing yet. There is an interesting cast of characters here. The owner is a classic salesman. He probably sold vacuum cleaners for a while, then moved on to men's shoes, and now is trying bikes. Fortunately he has a couple of people who understand a little about mechanical things. One mechanic is good at the standard stuff. Unfortunately, he is out to lunch when we arrive. A kid about 14 is there, and seems to be a natural whiz with bikes and all things mechanical. Bright kid. He is the BMX star of the town and his main thing is keeping all the kids happy on their BMX bikes, which he does expertly. The third mechanic is sort of a four thumbs type, a good honest Joe, but not real swift when it comes to things mechanical. Well they struggle, and struggle, and after three hours and a half of struggles they have finally managed to replace the bearings in the bottom bracket, grease one pedal, and get the bike back on the road. It still has the same exact "click." Oh well, a four hour detour in Rensselaer, but fortunately the price is reasonable. With two guys working on the bike most of that three and a half hours, the total bill for labor is five bucks. Not too bad. They didn't even charge extra for the entertainment.
We're in Jasper County now, which is in the Eastern Time Zone. However, in this particular part they don't use Daylight Savings Time, so the time here is the same as it is farther West in the Central Time Zone where they use Daylight Savings Time. Or at least part of the year, at least now, at least that's what we think. We don't even know what time it is, but we do know it's time to stop in Buffalo to eat catfish. Nina buys a delicious dinner where the guy fries two whole catfish (nearly whole - no heads) apiece, with a little special seasoning on the outside. Fried hard - harder than Nina likes. She orders white wine, and gets a glass of pale syrup - not exactly her type of white wine. The guy frying the catfish is doing a one-man show tonight, so service is incredibly slow. He is taking phone orders, making them up, doing all the cooking, waiting on tables, and probably trying to do other things too at the same time. We are offered a place to stay. We can stay on the lawn of a mobile home that is the summer place for a steelworker, but we decide to move on a little further. They seem like nice folks, but we're heading east. We have french fries. I drink a couple of lemonades, and we decide to head out in a hurry, because the sun is going down, and the next campground is about 27 miles away. We decide not to follow the Bikecentennial route, but to follow State Route 16, which is smooth (a nice change after what we've been on), and straight, so we can get there a little quicker. If the catfish had been served a little bit faster, we might be in less hurry now.
We make it to Royal Center in record time. Now it's genuinely starting to get dark, so I stop, put on my taillight, and put the batteries in my headlight. Nina gets out her light, and we prepare to actually do a little night riding. It's only eight more miles to Fletcher, and we figure we can get there in pretty good time. Well, we discover that we've pretty much expended our remaining energy getting to Royal Center. Now we're going slowly. It's a beautiful evening. The temperature is just right. There's no wind. A full moon is rising over the soybean fields. The road is nice, and we just cruise on down the road.
We arrive at Lucerne, and can't find it on any of our maps. We wonder if the old seventh dimension has crept in. We think we are still on the right road, and keep going. We're aiming for a campground which appears on the may to be a little bit below Fletcher. We're not sure which cross road it's on, so we take a stab at it and go across 900. No campground. We come back on 800. No campground. Now this is starting to get to be a drag. It's not romantic any more. It is playing Russian Roulette with giant dogs. We don't know which farmhouse they're going to come out of, but we know they're at one, waiting for us. Oh well. Finally we stop at a house, and gingerly approach the front door, hoping that the Giant German Shepard isn't at this one, and knock. We get directions to Fletcher, but the directions we are given would take us back past a lot of the dogs we've already alerted. We decide to take a slightly different route, and head up the road. It turns out that Fletcher is on 1000. We missed it by one the first time. 1000 turns out to be a lousy gravel road, the way we go, but at least we don't alert any more giant dogs and make it to Fletcher. There's a little lake there, with a few mobile homes set up on the shore. We decide to camp at the public access site, where people launch their boats. By this time it is midnight. When we ate catfish we only had 67 miles on Nina's odometer. Now we have 98.5. A good bit of night riding! There are people still active around this "resorty" place. A couple of boys on dirt bikes come zooming through. Not motorized dirt bikes, but still loud enough on that gravel. A couple of trucks come by - maybe just checking us out. We have a very peaceful night. A few splattering raindrops, but we sleep pretty well.
Friday, and we're up and on the road real early. Fletcher is not much, and it looks like we have to go quite a ways before breakfast. The temperature has dropped way down to 70 degrees, but the humidity hasn't dropped at all. You can see it in the air.
Suddenly we've hit a stretch of rolling hills. Just as the landscape changed, so did the farms. Most of them now have dairy or beef cattle, and hogs. The giant fields of beans are gone. The color of the dirt is different too. Instead of that incredible black Illinois loam, here there's lighter brown stuff. It's probably not as good. The corn isn't as high either. We stop at the Denver Cafe for breakfast. I enjoy a couple of enormous pancakes, along with an egg, and some sausage, and we have a good feed. We sign another biker logbook. This is the third one we've signed, and this time we discover that we're gaining on a fellow who's just ahead of us. We've actually picked up a couple of days since the last book we signed. He's only a day ahead now. We never thought we'd catch him, because he started in the state of Washington, and we figured he'd be doing 100 mile days easily through here. Who knows, maybe we'll find him at the next campground. In my note I leave a wish that we might see some of the west-bound bikers on our way back from Washington. Wonder if any of them will see the note. It would be kind of neat to meet someone who reads it. Nina is really rolling this morning. I can barely keep up with her. We stop for a drink of grapefruit juice in a wonderful little air-conditioned store. Then we go to the Salamonie River Dam. It's a flood control dam. We stop at the bathrooms and I crash for a half-hour nap in the shade. It feels good.
When we turn north, it feels terrific! The wind is behind us, and there's a slight downhill. We start flying. Absolutely zooming along, in top gear. Now headed straight for the Wabash River. It's so hot, we're looking forward to getting our feet in it at least. When we get to the river, it's a bit of a disappointment because the bridge is very high. It crosses a big, man-made reservoir that has no sandy beaches, and we don't see any road down to it. We do see some Great Blue Herons down below though. It looks like a sizable river.
We turn toward a campground, and discover the Kil-So-Quah camping area. This is a state-run place, but we're a bit disappointed because it has no showers. Oh well. The access to the reservoir is down steep clay banks, but they've got a few steps. We go down to a little dock, where there's nothing tied but one canoe, and take a swim. That feels great! OK, at last we're cooled off.
We're undecided about whether to go all the way to Fort Wayne today, or do the more sensible thing and camp here until morning. We decide to go uptown, call the airport, and find out about car rentals and airline flights. We go uptown, and I'm unable to make contact with the Fort Wayne airport. Although it's only about 25 miles away, neither I (dialing directly) nor the operator (dialing for me) is able to get through. It costs $1.30 to make this call. They keep saying "try again later." We decide the heck with it - we'll stay in town. We get some groceries at the grocery store.
I pick up some chicken at a chicken place, or at least try. The waitress is amazingly obtuse. When I walk in, I'm the only customer in the place, so I walk up to the counter and say I want to order some chicken to go. She says "all we have is chicken dinners." I say "I don't want a chicken dinner. I just want chicken. You must have some way that you sell it." "No, we just sell chicken dinners." "Don't you put some in a box, or something?" The she remembers, "Oh yes, we do have the six-piece bucket." "Well good. What's in a six-piece bucket?" She doesn't know, so she asks the guy who runs the place. His name is "Lumpy." Lumpy looks like he tries one out of every three chickens which go through the place. He must weigh 300 pounds, at least. He knows what is in the bucket, but it doesn't seem like quite enough. As I ponder, the waitress suddenly says "Oh, you CAN order chicken by the piece." Well, gee, OK. I order a couple more breasts. Just as I am about to leave, I notice on the wall that they also sell nine piece buckets, twelve piece buckets, and have it various other ways that this waitress doesn't seem to know about. As I leave, I notice a big white Cadillac outside, with the number plate "LUMPY." We go on back down to the campground, set up our tent, and have a chicken dinner.
Indiana provides a Naturalist, or"Interpreter" as his badge said. They have little evening programs at the campground. We discover him as we enter the campground the second time with our chicken, and we decide to ask him about the rates, since there is nobody at the gate. We ask him also if there is a good place to set up our tent. He is quite interested in us, because he is a bicyclist himself. Has a Cannondale, the longest ride he ever made was about 40 miles. He is somewhat amazed at our trek. He is planning a talk on vultures, and really hopes we'll come. I tell him I think vultures are marvelous birds, and he seems surprised at that too. I guess the traditional thinking is that they're ugly, awful things, so he is really hoping we'll come to his lecture. When we ask about the rates, he admits they are three dollars per night, and starts querying us about when we might be leaving. He figures someone will come around to collect in the morning, about 9:00. It becomes quite clear we won't be here, so he scratches his head, and asks if we'll be going by his office, which is a way out on the other side of town somewhere. When we say "no," he says "well, OK, I guess I'll take your $3 then." If we hadn't talked to him, we could be camping for free again. That would have made it a perfect record across the Mid-West. We pay the $3. After all, this is Indiana, and you can't have everything just right.
Nina has been carrying new "Grab-Ons" for her handlebars since we started, and we decide this is the night to put them on. It's a struggle, lasting well past dark, but we finally get them on. Then we go to sleep. Or we start going to sleep anyway. Since this is Indiana, people have decided to stay up half the night drinking beer and talking, sometimes loudly. Some of them keep us up pretty late. There are also some rude kids who walk through our campsite. It's not a great place, but the gravel on the ground doesn't keep us from going to sleep, even though we're awakened from time to time by the people. We rode 76 miles today.
In the morning we wake up and hit the road early. It's Saturday morning, and we're on our way to Fort Wayne, the last leg of this Mid-West trip. We make good time up Route 3, and arrive at the Fort Wayne airport at 8:30, just ahead of a good-sized thunderstorm. It dumps a lot of rain, but we're sheltered. We change our clothes in the bathrooms, and I get all the information on flights. It seems that it's going to cost about $500 apiece to fly from here to Seattle, and we have to put our bikes in bike boxes. The alternative is to take Hertz. They estimate about $420 for mileage, plus $20/day. Flying will cost about $200 more for each of us. Our pedaling mileage per day has been good so far, so we should be able to spare a few extra days driving west. We decide to drive, and get a white Ford Escort. On the car radio we discover that the temperature in Fort Wayne is 70 degrees this morning, but it's going to climb up to 90 and the relative humidity is at 97.5%. Rather high! We could have told them it was close to 100%, after all the sweating we've been doing for the past few days.
Our tentative plan now, as we start out from Fort Wayne, is to drive to Des Moines and stay tonight at Tom and Kay's. Maybe we can get a little washing done, and get a good sleep in a good bed. After Des Moines, we think we'll drive straight through Nebraska, all the way, and then go North just a bit to catch the Black Hills of South Dakota and Mt. Rushmore, which Nina has never seen. That should consume a day. The next day, Monday, we want to hit Yellowstone Park, maybe come down through the Tetons, and stay somewhere around there that night. By Tuesday night we ought to be at John and Mary Stec's house in Klamath Falls, Oregon. Wednesday, we can drive north from there, see Crater Lake, maybe hit some of the Oregon Coast, and go on up to drop off the car at the Seattle airport. We'll probably be there Wednesday night.
We're headed up Route 30, which is not an Interstate, so there are stop signs, construction, intersections, traffic, but up by Gary we pick up the road we were on before - good old Route 80 - and head straight to Des Moines on it. Nina is writing postcards. We manage to find a few at the Fort Wayne airport, and a few earlier, and finally she has a chance to sit down, relax, and write them. That's keeping her busy. Now we're cruising on Route 80 all the way across Illinois. Boring. Over the Mississippi River into Iowa. Just cruising along, no problems.
Finally we get hungry. Just at the right moment we come to the Amana exit. Amana Colony was run as a communal society for quite a number of years until the 1930s. They apparently had two sizes of house: one nice brick one, one gray wood. There are distinctive German-looking barns. It was settled by people from Alsace, Germany, and Switzerland. Now it's a tourist trap with German kitsch all over the place. You can get Pennsylvania Dutch hex signs, woven baskets, and locally made crafts of all sorts. We eat in a barn (or they call it a barn) restaurant. Have their bratwurst and their smoked pork chops. They serve all sorts of goodies, family style, along with that. There is sauerkraut. I like the sweet coleslaw, but it is too sweet for Nina. She especially likes the spinach and egg cold salad. The pickled carrots are kind of unusual. It's all very good and very filling, so neither of us has any dessert. They tell us it was 105 degrees earlier in the day, which is hotter than usual.
Now we drive on down to Des Moines, arriving at Tom and Kay's house at 9:30. Tom is gone on a business trip. That means he is fishing down in the Gulf of Mexico tomorrow. That's his kind of business trip! Kay is tired. She watched baseball games all day. Aaron pitched the second game his team played today, and they won both. The season is almost over. They did very well, and almost won the State Little League Championship.
There were big thunderstorms during the night. Des Moines got over two inches of rain. It's Sunday, and we're up early. We are on the road by 7:00, before anyone else wakes up. We drive through downtown Des Moines, past the state capital, insurance buildings - it seems like a nice city - and then west, on out Route 80 without stopping until we get to Nebraska. We have breakfast just outside Omaha in a Burger King, of all places. We get what seems to be pretty crummy food, and not much of it, for a high price. Some different from those little cafes we were eating in across Illinois!
Now we're stretching out up Route 275, up through Nebraska. Once we get up away from the river, the land flattens out. It is really flat. There are quite a number of trees, though, and horse farms and all kinds of crops. The weather has changed quite dramatically from yesterday's heat. The radio says the high is going to be only in the 70s. It's overcast, and we don't need the air conditioning in the car as much today. Yesterday we were very grateful for it.
Suddenly, here in Nebraska we're seeing enormous herds of cattle in dirt pens, where they're being fed and prepared for the market. Pretty grim life for the cattle, but there sure are lots of them. It's obviously dryer out here. The corn and soybeans are not nearly as well developed as they are in Iowa, and we've seen some irrigation systems working.
As we approach Norfolk, we get into roller-coaster country. The road continues absolutely straight, but just goes up and down over hills. Nina and I amuse ourselves by trying to guess the distances from the top of one hill to the top of the next one we see. We don't believe this would be a good place to ride bikes, because you can see so far ahead that you know exactly what hills you'll encounter. No, we'd rather ride something with a few more bends, and a few more mysteries.
In Norfolk we stop at a very nice supermarket. It has all sorts of fruit, smoked oysters, and Tang, so we stock up. Good thing too, because when we look at the map it's the last good-sized town for the next thousand miles. Nina calls her mother's house. It only cost $1.75 for the first minute. She has a chat with her Mom, but Hilary isn't there, so she'll call back.
We're only into Nebraska about 25% from the east, but already the corn and soybeans have vanished completely from the scene. We're in ranching country - just grass, cattle, and some horses. Mostly just empty space. As we go through Bassett, we see a lot of trees uprooted, blown down, broken in half - very localized. It looks like a tornado went through. Maybe yesterday. A lot of destruction, over quite a long swath. Today isn't looking too sharp either, and the slow-pitch softball games are questionable in the schedule today. We're watching the sky for funnel clouds, probably just like the locals. A little bit of rain is falling, and in Bassett it's 59 degrees.
We finally say goodbye to the Elkhorn River, after crossing it about six times over a long distance. Now we're in a different kind of country. The soil is obviously very sandy. Looks like piles of sand dunes all over, with just a skimpy amount of grass on it. Good for nothing but ranching, so we have lots of cattle around, and lots of horses. A few people are cutting hay, but that's about it for crops. We pass through an area of small sandy hills, that go on and on with no trees. There are cattle scattered sparsely on some of the hills. Nina is reminded of the Scottish Highlands.
In Chadron we see a bunch of bicycles outside a Pizza parlor, and pull right in. It's riders from a Bike-Aid group. Thirty-four of them started from Portland, Oregon, and are going to go all the way across the country to Washington, D.C. to rendezvous with other Bike-Aid riders. There are five different routes across the country. They are all going to ride up to New York City, arriving there August 19. This we find rather amazing. We figure it's a long ways, but they seem to be doing great. They are riding without big packs. A U-Haul is going along with them. They are spending most of their nights in churches, and camping out once in a while. They are mostly college kids, and seem to be having a lot of fun. The pizza is good too, at the Brothers Pizza, in Chadron.
After ten and a half hours in Nebraska, we finally cross over into South Dakota and the Buffalo Gap National Grassland, run by the U.S. Forest Service. It looks just like all the rest, with herds of cattle and planted grain, but they call it a National Grassland. Now we can see the hills of South Dakota ahead. The Black Hills look awfully blue, from this vantage point. Maybe they look blacker close up.
We pass a van which says "Peace Run" on it. Here comes another van which says "Peace Run," and beside it is a runner, carrying a torch, running on the side of the road! My guess is that it's a relay of runners carrying the torch across the country, promoting peace.
Just above Hot Springs, we enter Wind Cave National Park. Almost immediately we see a prairie dog colony - very cute - and a pronghorn, all by itself, too far away for a picture. Now we see a mule deer mother and fawn, and a buffalo grazing in a field. As we come through a narrow pass between the rocks, we see a buffalo walking right down the middle of the road toward us. Nina stops the car, and the buffalo walks right past the car on the driver's side, on the far side of the road. He must have been within about 12' of the car. A pretty exciting moment! It's a big male buffalo. As we go along, we see several other buffalo grazing in small groups and singly. We see two elk, one male and one female, walking along the hillside. We pass into Custer State Park, which is also supposed to have lots of animals. It's getting dark now, so it's pretty difficult to take pictures, but we hope to see more animals tonight, and to camp here, so we can see more in the morning. It's a wonderful road, winding up through the rocks, with lots of evergreens all around. This has been Nina's first look at pronghorn, buffalo, mule deer, and prairie dogs. It's a good night!
After 662 miles of driving since Des Moines, we take the last available campsite in Custer State Park. It's a little bit after dark, or 11:00 Eastern Daylight Savings time, but a couple hours earlier out here. A very helpful four-year-old named Andrew comes over from the camp next to ours. He's from Wisconsin, and has a big flashlight which he likes to use to help people out. Nice kid, and a ball-of-fire who's still going strong when we go to sleep. His parents are really good with him, and it is fun to listen, and watch them interact. It is cold. The clouds all go away during the night and it really cools off. My nose is cold, inside the tent. We zip up our sleeping bags, and are still cold. Chilly evening! Something to look forward to in the mountains further north, perhaps.
We're up before almost anybody else in the campground, and it is clear as a bell. the sun is shining, and it's going to be a gorgeous day. A good day to take pictures of Mt. Rushmore, and that kind of stuff. We head back toward where we saw the buffalo last night, hoping for some better shots this morning. One of the first things we see in the morning is a buffalo chip. We haven't had breakfast yet, but we aren't hungry either. We see a group of nine elk, up in the trees, too far away for a good picture, but close enough to see clearly. Beautiful!
We turn a corner, and there is the buffalo herd all over the road on both sides - lots of them - maybe 50 animals. They're really close. It's still pretty dark for me to take pictures with my big zoom lens, but Nina can get some great shots with her camera. I take some pictures anyway, just on the chance they'll come out. We notice one of the buffalo rubbing up against a signpost. We've noticed a lot of trees around here with just about all their bark rubbed off down low. They must do a lot of rubbing.
A mile further down the road is another, slightly smaller, herd. Again, they are right beside the road. We see one running - rumbling along across the grass. Around the corner is still another herd. There are lots of young buffalo here. We notice that just about every female seems to have a calf. Seems like a very healthy herd which is going to build up pretty fast. We turn another corner and there's another big herd. There are a lot of buffalo here! Nina estimates there are over 100 in this one bunch.
We enter the Wind Cave National Park, and see a pronghorn all by himself up on the hillside. Again it is pretty far away. We watch one big old buffalo, all by himself, take a dust bath, and then walk majestically along beside the road. We get several pictures of him. We see another pronghorn, lying down in a field by himself. Then we come to the prairie dog colony, which seems a little bit more active this morning.
Where the road goes through a narrow pass, we come upon two huge solitary male buffalo, which have come from opposite directions and met in the pas. They stand and eye each other, and we get some pretty good close-up pictures of them They are big! One, which we get very close to, has eyes at about door handle level, but that's only about half way up. The top of his hump is above the top of our car. We see another solitary male buffalo, and then a mule deer grazing. This is a wonderful road which winds through the hills and has a couple of very interesting switchbacks and tricky bridges. One bridge goes over its own road. A very high bridge goes over a gorge, and is also one-way. We come to another big prairie dog colony. They are out in clumps this morning. We see a lovely white-tailed deer, but he won't stand still for a picture.
We mosey on up to Custer for breakfast. The place serves buffalo burgers, but we stick to the eggs. Above Custer we take a quick look at Crazy Horse Mountain, but we don't want to pay the $3 each admission fee to drive in and look at it from 100 yards closer. We head on up toward Mt. Rushmore.
We arrive at Mt. Rushmore, and it's a beautiful clear sunny morning. Just a few clouds up there to add some flavor to the sky. We should get some decent pictures of the sculptures up on the mountain. After buying a bunch of postcards, we walk down to see the sculptor's gallery, where they have plaster casts made by the original sculptor. The project was a biggie, lasted about 20 years, and stopped only when the sculptor died and the project ran out of money. Gutsom Borglund was the sculptor. Of course he had a little help. There were about 130 hard-rock miners, experts in drilling, dynamiting, and all that stuff, who really did all the work up on the mountain. Borglund worked mostly on the plaster models.
We leave Mt. Rushmore about 10:00, local time. This has been a full morning - very busy and exciting! Roaring north now on Route 90, going into Wyoming. It's pretty much ranching country. It rolls a bit, and there are some real hills all around. They don't seem to do much crop planting and harvesting here. Haven't seen any irrigation. It's mostly just cows, a few horses, and a few sheep. We stop for gas in Gillette. Nina takes over the driving, and we keep blasting north. We've heard on the radio that the grasshopper plague is not as bad this year as it was last year. They're only planning to spray 700,000 acres of land. As we start out from Gillette, a number of grasshoppers hit our windshield.
The land has changed a bit more. It's dryer, and there are more gray bushes, which may be sagebrush. We've seen some oil wells. Just outside Gillette I'm startled to see two pronghorn grazing in a field right beside the interstate in broad daylight, in the middle of the day. Amazing! A couple of miles farther, we go around a corner, and there in front of us are snow-capped mountains on the far horizon! We're headed right for them. We see several more pronghorn, but the countryside seems absolutely inhospitable to anything else. It would be like trying to live on a slag heap, or the mountains of the Moon. It's dry, and it looks like they did strip mining here for a few hundred years and just piled rocks and dirt all over the place. There are deep gullies, and lots of erosion. The natural wonders of the West have created a really rough territory up here. We're getting closer to the mountains now, and have a pretty good view of them. They do look spectacular! The sky is also spectacular today, with real horsetails in the clouds. The clouds are hanging pretty heavy over those mountains.
We stop at a rest area in Sheridan, get a map of Wyoming, and discover a few more facts about the area. Crazy Horse was a Sioux chief. This area was populated mainly by Crows, until the Sioux and Cheyenne pushed them out, and it was the Sioux and Cheyenne who attacked Custer at the Little Big Horn. Coal was discovered in this area almost by accident. North of Sheridan they noticed some coal which appeared after a heavy rain. That's the source of the long line of coal cars we saw going down the railroad tracks. Sheridan has a hotel with 62 rooms, built in 1892, that (at the time) was considered the best hotel between Chicago and San Francisco.
We finally get off Route 90 in Ranchester at 2:15, and the temperature is 87 degrees. Ranchester is already higher than 3700', although it appears to be on a flat plain at the base of the mountains. We zig-zag up the mountainside, stopping to take pictures of the mountain, landslides, and rocks. It's very scenic, very interesting. Up on the top we enter a strange world of rangeland and pine trees, some of which seem to be dying, but we're not sure why. Nina sees a couple of deer grazing. We see lots of sheep! It's almost like the Scottish Highlands. We see a guy riding a horse, with a border collie, probably rounding up sheep or taking care of them. Finally we reach Granite Pass, which is the summit of the road, and the sign says it is going to be downhill for the next 18 miles. Nina thinks there really should be bighorn sheep up here, and she's scanning every cliff, looking closely. They've got to be here somewhere, but all we see are mule deer, a few cows, and lots of domesticated sheep with brands. We come to Antelope Butte ski area. We come to a 120' gorge, cut by the stream coming down. Finally at 5:00 we hit the flatland again, and are down off the Bighorn Mountains. Strange eroded shapes of big red rocks are on this side, and it's time to put the air conditioner back on. It was beautiful up on top, but hot down here. The town at the bottom of the mountain is called Shell, and its elevation is 4210 feet, higher than the top of Mt. Mansfield in Vermont.
We stop at Gray Bull, and pick up a couple of sandwiches to go from Mama Ziggys, an Italian-Mexican restaurant. This is a rather strange operation, where you place your orders in the office, and the kitchen is in one direction and the dining room in another. Oh well, we're back on the road again, headed straight west, across flat land, on straight roads, right for Cody, which is 50 miles away, with Yellowstone 50 miles past that. I take my Mama Ziggys sandwich out of its plastic container and dump it in my lap, getting mustard all over my sweat pants. Beautiful! Thank goodness Nina has her trusty washcloth handy, but I hope nobody wonders how I got those yellow stains on my pants.
We have a little passing shower, and then we reach Cody. We're at the edge of the flat land we've been going across. Just beyond Cody the mountains jut up. We're going to go over a pass which is almost as high as the Bighorn Mountains pass. These mountains have notches between them. It's not a solid range like the Bighorns. Cody is right at the opening of one notch, a prominent one which goes through the mountains. We get gas in Cody, and then head up the Shoshone River, right toward that notch. Sure enough, the Shoshone River goes through there, and so do we. We go along the river edge, and get drilled right through the mountain in a succession of three tunnels, one pretty long. The river is dammed up in the narrow spot, and there's a pretty big lake behind the dam. There's a power plant, called, of course, "Buffalo Bill Power Plant." Everything about Cody is "Buffalo Bill" this, and "Buffalo Bill" that. It's a real tourist trap.
We've now entered the Shoshone National Forest, and there are all sorts of high, eroded stone formations, all around us as we head up the valley. We stop and take a picture of one, and it has a sign calling it "Holy City." It's a whole formation of spires and strange things. We see it in silhouette, because the sun is now setting behind it. We proceed up a lovely sandstone rock canyon, following the Shoshone River for close to twenty miles. Four miles from Yellowstone Park, knowing that all the campgrounds are full, we pull into the "Sleeping Giant" campground. We occupy the last site. As we put up our tent, the Ranger comes by and hangs the "full" sign.
Now we're going to take a ride up to the Park itself. the Park has a big circular loop road, and we'll do a portion of it tonight and the other portion tomorrow. We're hoping to see bears, and it's 8:00, the right time of night. We've had quite a few showers, followed by light breaking through the clouds, so we've had some very interesting light effects. Now as we head toward the park, there are swarms of bugs. We aren't sure if these are the famous grasshoppers or something else, but there sure are a lot of them. Nina gets a good look at a mule deer as we approach the park. We come through the entranceway, and pay our $5, which is good for a week. Just inside, we see a small moose grazing. First moose we've seen in quite a while, and the first on this trip. We see snow up on some of the peaks, and preview spots for taking pictures of it. Nina is afraid it'll all melt before morning. At Sylvan Lake the trout are rising to the surface. A very calm lake on a beautiful evening. We take the opportunity to dump our trash in a barrel, and look for moose. It looks like good moose country.
As we come over a rise we have a beautiful look at some mountains far to the south, probably the Grand Tetons, with Yellowstone Lake in the foreground. The light is really neat, so we turn around in the middle of this narrow road and go back for a look, and take a picture. Then we notice, way down maybe 300 or 400 yards away, across the field on the far side, a large animal. Nina first thinks it is a buffalo, and it's about the right size, and dark. But the more we look at it, the more we are convinced that it's a bear. A very large bear. It's definitely a bear, and that's close enough for us. Our first Grizzly.
Back in the car, we pass a black bear, moving fast up a bank. It probably crossed the road just in front of us. Our first exposure to Yellowstone's famous connection to the center of the earth is an awful smell as we come through a little pass. We discover a little further on that it is some kind of sulfur springs. It smells like a paper mill - terrible! We go as far as Yellowstone Lake itself, and are able to snap a couple of pictures of a really lovely sunset. Now it's definitely too dark for more pictures, so we head back toward our campsite. Maybe we'll see some animals along the way, but won't be able to take their pictures. Watch out tomorrow morning! Nina just finished another film. This is definitely a record day for her, in terms of number of frames shot.
On the way back, right at the spot where we saw the grizzly bear, somebody else has tried to turn a big station wagon around, and has stalled right there in the middle of the road. It blocks traffic. We don't have any jumper cables, but I stop and prepare to keep traffic from rounding the corner and smashing into them. Somebody else stops and helps them get started. Then, with our lights on, we careen down the road. Two elk appear in the middle of the road, and we have to slow down for them. Then there's a deer beside the road.
We stop at "Buffalo Bill's Original Hunting Camp," now on the Register of Historic Places, or something like that. Anyway, now it's a tourist trap. We stop at the store, buy a second comb and some film, and Nina buys a bottle of Blue Nun Liebfraumilch. We sit there in the bar and relax, watching the locals, who run trail rides and stuff like that. By the time we get back to our camp it's very dark and we just pile into the tent and go to sleep.
Well, it's not a very good night. It's a little chilly. Nina is freezing! The sleeping bag she is using is the one Hilary has been using for quite a while, and it doesn't seem to be warm enough. It's also small, and Nina can't move around in it as much as she'd like. She has another lousy night, not the first. She's worried about spending more nights in the mountains in this sleeping bag. We've go to do something about that.
We get up early, because we're cold and not sleeping well, and head out, back up to the park entrance, which is now wide open with nobody on duty. We go up to a viewpoint overlooking Yellowstone Lake, and have cereal in the car for breakfast. Now we're warm, and fed, and now Tuesday can begin. It's Bastille Day. We should be celebrating.
Right on the shores of Lake Yellowstone, we come upon some steam vents. There's a lot of boiling water there somewhere, and it's pumping out a lot of steam. We really can't see much, just a bunch of steam coming up out of the ground. Around the corner we see what appears to be a white pelican bobbing for food in the lake. We pass several campgrounds, an auto repair shop, a hospital. This is a pretty well-equipped park! As we drive the loop, beside the lake we see two big buffalo, right beside the road. We haven't seen any boats out on the lake yet, but suddenly we come upon a full-fledged marina with lots of boats. We pass a couple of areas of thermal activity which are apparently too dangerous for people to visit. They don't have places to stop beside the road, and don't have paths down to them, but do have signs saying "Keep Out."
We spend quite a time at the "West Thumb Geyser Basin" which has all different kinds of little pots full of bubbling water. There are boardwalks over all the hazardous areas. They have different kinds of mineral formations, with different colors, different sizes of holes, different kinds of streams coming down from them, - all kinds of variations. The colors are formed by algae and bacteria as well as minerals. There's so much steam rising from this area that this was visible to us from the far side of the lake, early in the morning.
We cross the Continental Divide, at 8391 feet above sea level. It doesn't even seem like we're on a hill. Then we cross the Continental Divide again, at 8262 feet. Finally we arrive at "Old Faithful" and things are looking good. There aren't many cars in the parking lot. It's early, and not many people have arrived. Old Faithful is not erupting now, so we go to the bathroom, and get a quick breakfast of juice, coffee, and Danish, and buy some postcards. Old Faithful erupts every 45 to 90 minutes, we learn, so it's about time to wander out and wait for the eruption. It could happen almost anytime now. We wait. And wait. And watch little kinds feed the marmots and ground squirrels. And we listen to people mutter, because everybody is waiting, sitting on hard benches. And they are saying things like "it better happen pretty soon now," "it must be a female to be so fickle," and we wait and wait. After waiting for an hour and a half, (so it must have been at least two hours between eruptions) Old Faithful finally sputters and gives us a minor eruption. Very disappointing, but what can we do about it. Now we finally take the stroll to see the other geysers in the area. Lots of small ones, and lots of bubbling pots. Some are very interesting, and we see them erupting in their own ways. We are lucky enough to see Grand erupting. It erupts only every 7 to 15 hours, but when it does it really pumps out the water for quite a while. We watch it from a distance, but it is a nice eruption and we get some good pictures.
Driving up the west side of the park we go by a lot of hot springs, paint pots, little bubblers, lots of steaming, smoking ground, but we've seen enough of that for a little while and don't stop at any of them. We do stop at Gibbon Falls. It's a nice little falls, on a nice little river. We see a big herd of elk grazing, far across a field, but I snap a picture of them anyway. At Norris we turn right and head straight across the middle of the park toward Canyon. We're headed for the falls of the Yellowstone. There's the "Upper Falls" and the "Lower Falls" and the "Grand Canyon of Yellowstone." They are spectacular! Absolutely beautiful falls, a beautiful canyon, and we finally see some yellow rock and understand how the place got its name.
We head up towards Tower, and Nina is driving. She discovers that she really doesn't like driving next to sheer drop-offs of perhaps a couple thousand feet with no guardrail and no shoulder on the road. It's a rather scary experience. We go over a pass, and there are a pair of bighorn sheep, up on a cliff. Close enough for some good pictures. We should have some good shots! Coming down from the pass we have some fabulous views. Wide open spaces, and enormous meadows spread out on the mountains around us and below us. We see a big herd of elk grazing, far away on a hillside.
We stop at "Tower Falls" where Tower Creek spills prettily over a ledge into the Yellowstone River. We go on through Tower Junction, and turn off to see a 50,000,000 year old redwood that's still standing. At least part of it is still there. That is, some of the petrified wood remains. It was buried by volcanic debris, then silica percolated into the wood and petrified the tree. There are no redwoods or sycamores in Yellowstone any more. The climate has changed a bit. This is a relic of a long time ago.
At the top corner of the park we reach Mammoth Hot Springs. These are strange terraces formed by water boiling out of the ground over many, many years. They are the biggest terraces we've seen, and deserve the word "mammoth." We each drop two more rolls of film into the Post Office box at Mammoth Hot Springs and head out of the park. We're headed now for Route 89, north to pick up Route 90 so we can streak across Idaho and Washington towards Seattle. It's a long way. We'll get there, we hope, sometime tomorrow. As we cross the Gardener River, just north of Mammoth Hot Springs, we cross the 45th Parallel. That also runs just below the Vermont/Canada border. As we approach the big gate which is the northern entrance to the park, the pronghorn come out to give us a little farewell. First there is a little family, nicely spread out in the field, and then one solitary fellow guarding the gate. Very beautiful. We cross into Montana as we leave the park, and head north.
Huge mountains surround us. It's just beautiful country! The road goes up a valley, which is quite different from the roads in the park which careen around the edges of things. There aren't too many boring roads there. I discovered that my fear of heights isn't as bad now as I thought it might be, and Nina discovered that she has a little, sensible fear of heights.
Corwin Springs is the next town up. We find some big pens where they are raising elk for some purpose, but we don't know why. The arms which we hung out the windows have been sunburned today. We saw several people in the park with really bad sunburns. It didn't seem hot, so the sunburn sneaked up on us. At this high altitude I think you're more liable to get sunburned. The big mountain on our right is Granite Peak, 12,799 feet, the highest mountain in Montana. It is big. There are several mountains around it which look almost as high, but that is a huge mountain.
In Livingston we stop at an "Outfitters." This guy has everything anybody needs for living outdoors, shooting, trapping, and killing things. He has everything from blowguns to crossbows to high powered rifles, all kinds of tents, sleeping bags, and fishing stuff galore. Nina buys a space blanket, hoping that will cure her cold nights. I hope it works too. I need my sleep as much as she does. We also stop at "John's 24 Hour IGA." This is an incredible supermarket, a great place. The people are friendly, and they've got everything.
Now we point west, with Bozeman the next stop on Route 90. After Bozeman, it's Butte, Mizzoula, and a total of 800 miles to Seattle. Beside the interstate we see buffalo penned up in one field, and beside it is a field of elk, all penned up. This is just before Route 90 goes up over a pass. There's a special area, a wide spot in the road, where you're supposed to put on your chains under certain conditions. On the other side of the pass is a similar area where you take your chains off. Gorgeous country all around, absolutely beautiful.
In Deer Lodge National Forest, near Homestead, we go over the Continental Divide at 6393 feet. It's another beautiful pass. As we come down the mountain into Butte we notice a statue high atop the mountain, overlooking the city. We ask about it at the gas station where we fill up, and sure enough, it's "Our Lady of the Rockies," a 90 foot tall sculpture.
There are lots of billboards out here. One, though, we think is pretty good. It's got two messages on it. On the left hand side is a presumably religious message, saying "Pray, it works." On the other side is a message about the state lottery, "Win $10,000."
We pass through Mizzoula, home of Bikecentennial. It seems like a fair-sized town. We continue on to Alberton, where we hop off at a campground sign. We spend some time wandering dirt roads, and exploring ranch driveways, and finally find the campground. It's sandwiched between the highway and a river, with a railroad track on the far side of the river. Noisy! Giant freight trains go by and big trucks roar on the highway but we sleep soundly. Nina gets a good night's sleep for a change. Wonderful! We drove a total of 485 miles today, even though we spent an enormous amount of time in Yellowstone Park. It's amazing what an Interstate will do.
While eating cereal at the campground, we notice that one of the car's wheel nuts is missing, so we stop at a gas station in Superior. We buy some windshield washer fluid, which the very helpful attendant pours in for us. Then we notice that the nut is there, and we're only missing the cover. That makes us feel a little better. The attendant asks us how we like the car. Nina comes down strongly, like "Yuck!" I try to tell the guy it's not really that bad, it's just not a great car. The car has just turned to 21,000 miles.
We arrive at St. Regis, and finally lose the Clark Fork River. The Clark Fork has been traveling along with us almost since Mizzoula, and we must have crossed it twenty times. It always managed to find its way between these tall, steep hills. I think the river knew what it was doing first, and the highway just followed it.
Montana has legalized gambling. We're passing little casinos. One even advertises "exotic dancers" in their casino. We're going to be pedaling in Montana for quite a while, so we'd better watch out that we don't gamble away our life's savings.
We're over Lookout Pass, elevation 4680, and here we are in Idaho, the "Great Gateway." That's what they call it, but it doesn't look much like a gateway. There are mountains all over the place. At 9:00 Pacific time we enter Washington. We're going to be in this state quite a while. Spokane is only 19 miles away, and we decide to stop there for gas, breakfast, and to take off our sweatshirts. Things look a lot flatter around here. There aren't as many mountains.
We get gas in Spokane and head west. The land changes quite dramatically. It flattens out, gets dry, and is suddenly all sagebrush and dry grass. There are occasional wheat fields, and it's like being back in the middle of Nebraska. We stop for breakfast at Ritzville, where we have a choice among the "Circle T Inn," "Texas John's," and "Jake's Cafe." Jake's serves up a fine hearty breakfast: Eggs cooked just the way Nina likes them, thick slices of bacon, and big heaping servings of hash browns. Then we're on the road again, across flat, dry wheat fields. Where there's no wheat it's just dryer, and flatter, and hotter. It's so hot and dry I even see a couple of dust devils. They aren't very impressive ones by Southwest standards, but that's what they are.
Just outside Moses Lake, we're still going through this flat, dry, desolate region, and we go over a slight knoll. There, ahead of us in the distance is a snow-capped peak. That has to be Mt. Rainier, at over 14,000 feet, the highest mountain in the state. At this point it is about 120 miles away! There's pretty good visibility today.
At 12:30 we cross the Columbia River. It's a dramatic scene. It's a big river, and runs through quite a gorge, with volcanic rock cliffs on either side. The wind is blowing like crazy, mostly from the west or northwest. Although the river runs north-south, there are whitecaps all over the river, down in the bottom of the canyon. We stop at a rest area just before crossing the river, and almost get blown off the mountain taking pictures. There is an interesting sign that says simply "Rattlesnakes." We see a little fire beside the road too, on the west side of the bridge. The grass is burning, and the fire trucks are there. It's putting up quite a smoke screen across the road. Now it's up the other side and on we go.
We finally get to the top of the grade, coming up from the Columbia River, at a place called Ryegrass, elevation 2535 feet. As we come over the top we have a wonderful view of Mt. Rainier. Its huge snow-covered dome sticks way up above everything else. It's still far away, but it's enormous, and very beautiful.
We're going through the Cascades now, headed for Snoqualmie Pass, which has been advertised heavily for about thirty miles as an area where you might need chains, and where you should listen for radio warnings about conditions and traffic. It's quite spectacular scenery, with a few ski areas, though the runs all seem to be short, shorter than Whaleback. Nina is worried because Mt. Rainier has vanished behind the hills and she's afraid she'll never get a picture of it. I don't know.
We're in the pass at elevation 3022. It doesn't seem nearly as bad as a lot of the passes we've already cove over. I guess the signs and advisories are for the city people from Seattle and the desert livers between here and Spokane. Logging is the most obvious industry. They've been giving the mountains haircuts - real crewcuts - clear-cutting. There's obvious erosion just wiping everything off the side of the hills. It looks pretty ugly.
We gas up in Issaquah, and find out that there is a Hertz place at the airport in Everett. Nina picks up $400 at the local bank. Issaquah is a very nice place. Now we head north on Route 405, finally leaving good old Route 90, which must disappear into the ocean. Route 405 goes through Bellevue. We have a little glimpse of Seattle across the bay, but we don't have any great desire to go over and check out the tall buildings.
When we arrive at the Everett airport and turn our Ford Escort in to the Hertz people, we've driven almost 2800 miles.
We pack everything onto the bikes and go. We have to ride on some pretty busy roads, past the Boeing plant where they're assembling airplanes, down a really steep hill, and then down a long gradual hill passing lots of commuters heading for the ferry. We arrive at the ferry landing just in time to be the last people to board the 5:00 ferry.
Half an hour later, we're on Whidby Island. The hills roll a bit. In fact there is a real steep pitch up from the ferry landing. As we climb the hill, we see a tent stake exactly like the ones we use. We already have two spares, so we don't stop for this one. It's a good sign that campers have been this way. A little further, I spot something and go back for it. It's a dust cover for an SR crank, and just exactly the replacement part I need for the one I lost over a year ago. It fits perfectly. We feel the gods are smiling at this moment.
We cruise on, into a brisk headwind, up and down the hills, moving up the island. In this cool breeze we find we have to blow our noses once in a while. That's something we didn't have to do at all in Illinois and Indiana. There we were always hot, and dried out. Suddenly we are directed on a little detour by a fellow who announces that there has been a "fatality accident." "Fatal accident" might have been sufficient, but I'm sorry it was so bad. Nina has cramps in her foot, and thinks calcium pills might help. We get them at the store in Freeland, and also pick up some film. Now it's really getting chilly, so we put on our sweatshirts and head for the South Whidby State Park. At 7:45, after riding 22 miles, we reach the park and set up camp under some incredibly beautiful straight fir trees. They may be redwoods or Douglas Fir, something like that. There are several different types, all gorgeous. What a wonderful place to camp!
After getting our tent set up, we hike a very steep trail down the bank through an amazing enchanted forest of giant ferns, strange plants all around, and huge trees growing overhead. We pass a fellow climbing back up who is ecstatic. It is the first time he's seen the ocean in twenty years. He tells us he can tell it is still in his blood. We finally get down to the beach, and are at the Pacific Ocean. The ocean is beautiful, and we decide to stay a bit longer. I hike back up the bank to get our supper and we have a beautiful picnic, sitting on a log at the edge of the sea.
We wake up refreshed after a wonderful night sleeping under the Redwoods and the Douglas Fir, up on a bluff overlooking Puget Sound. We get up very early and take long showers, wonderfully warm, although the water smells slightly sulfurous. We have Tang and cereal, and pack up. We can't see the mountains on the Olympic Peninsula this morning because it's too cloudy. There are clouds all over, but no wind. It seems like a nice morning. We put on long-sleeved shirts and long pants, and head up the road. We hear a big woodpecker working on one of the dead redwoods, but can't see him. We do see a rabbit, a Flicker, and a wonderful Great Blue Heron flaps overhead. The commuters are starting to move already, headed in toward Seattle, and we're glad to be going in the opposite direction.
I go to tighten the dust cover which I found and put on my crank, and it has fallen out. Easy come, easy go, I guess I'll just have to look for another one. We pass a signpost which Nina says Dorothy would have photographed. It points the way to "Alaska," "Good Burgers," "China," "Birds and Airplanes," and all the nearby towns. The road takes us down beside the ocean, and Nina sees a Great Blue Heron, sitting on a log, quite near the road. We stop for a better look, and it flies away. Then we see a Kingfisher, sitting on a post a little farther away but clearly visible. It was just sitting there enjoying the view, and we enjoyed it too!
After 24 miles it's 9:00 and we're at Oak Harbor. We're just in time for "race week" - boat racing that is. Probably the boaters have filled all the restaurants, but we stop at the "King's Table" anyhow. It is full, and there's a waiting line. Forget it! We head up the road, and stop at "Jason's." It's a good place to have breakfast. I have french toast, and write my first postcards of the trip.
"Anacortes 19" the sign says. It's a town we've wanted to see for a long time. There seems to be a building boom, and a real estate boom out here on Whidby Island. In Oak Harbor, about every third place along the highway seems to be a real estate office. At least the prices don't seem too bad. We see a three-bedroom place advertised for $64,000. You can't get anything like that around Durham!
The temperature finally goes up to 65 degrees, and a hill warms us up, so we stop to take off those long pants and shirts. We go past an Air Force base, where some slow jets are practicing takeoffs and landings. They're slow, but they sure are noisy. Fortunately, they fly out over the water most of the time, so it's not too bad where we're riding. We cross over Deception Pass, discovered by Vancouver, which separates Whidby Island from the mainland. They must catch a lot of salmon up this way. We've seen quite a few ads for smoked salmon, and one sign said "World's Largest Salmon Barbeque." Unfortunately, that's next month. We pass Lake Campbell, a nice little lake, up Route 20. Now we're on the routes marked on our Bikecentennial maps. We've been 40 miles, and it's just 12:00 when we get to the route.
Anacortes is a beautiful name, but it's quite a busy city, with petroleum refineries, sawmills, and lots of traffic. They also grow every type of food you can think of, including wheat, potatoes, squash, and all kinds of other stuff. In the lowlands, we see a Great Blue Heron in every canal. There's a high bridge on Route 20 that we have to take. For the first time on the trip, we're chased by Indians. Well, one Indian at any rate, a teenager on a bike. He inspires us to put on a show of real pedaling. He follows us until we turn off toward Bayview.
In Bayview we take a few pictures of the bay, not because they are great pictures but because that's the last chance we'll have to take pictures of the Pacific for a long time. Then we turn our backs on it and head up the hill. We can see the pass we have to go through, and there are pretty big mountains on either side. None of them appear to have snow, just clouds, but they're pretty big.
In Sedro Woolley we see a giant Douglas Fir slice, which started growing about the time of the Norman invasion of England and was cut in 1948. Big tree! We also pick up a grinder and some grapefruit juice, cross the Skagit River, which is a wonderful green color, and head up along the south bank of the river. We stop for a picnic, and low and behold, a westbound rider comes zipping down the hill. He stops to say hello. He has traveled all the way from Arizona, and tells us we have "some good times ahead."
The road up the lower Skagit River valley is really gorgeous. Just a steady climb through beautiful countryside, beautiful trees, and an occasional view of the river and the mountains. Mt. Baker is the highest mountain in the area, but it keeps hiding behind the others. We do get a pretty good view at one point, when the clouds pull away to reveal the snow-capped dome. We pass through Concrete, which isn't much of a town, but it's where the Baker River joins the Skagit, and we stop at a store to pick up some goodies. We down a whole bottle of cranberry juice, and it tastes good. Only nine miles more to our campground.
Just a little ways out of Concrete, we see another beautiful snow-topped mountain up ahead of us, pretty far away. I look on the map, but can't figure out what it is. Nothing up that way looks big enough, but this one must be 10,000 feet, or that's my guess. As we approach Rockport, we take a picture of Sauk Mountain, with some cows in the foreground.
Rockport State Park is one of the cleanest ones we've ever seen. It's a beautiful place. There we meet a fellow who went to UNH and now lives in Portland, Maine. He just started the Bikecentennial Northern Tier Route, and is going all the way to Maine. Good luck, Bob. No doubt we'll be seeing a lot of him along the way. It's been another great day. We did 100.3 miles! That included a little climbing, and a little into the wind, but probably doesn't compare to the difficulties of tomorrow.
It's Friday, and a nice morning. There are lots of clouds, with a little blue sky peeking through. It's a chilly 52 degrees when we get up, and damp, with fog in the air. As we start riding, our fingers feel the chill. Nina puts on her long underwear, and we head up the road. Bob actually gets out of camp ahead of us. He's headed for an easy day, only 37 miles, to a campsite on this side of Rainy Pass. Nina is ambitious, and wants to do 95 miles and go over both Rainy Pass and Washington Pass. We'll see! Nina usually does these things, but today I don't know about these high mountains. There's snow up there. We see a motorcyclist wearing a snowmobiling suit, and Nina wonders if we'll find somebody along the way selling homemade mittens. Route 20 is busy with logging trucks - the kind with telescoping back ends. At this time of day, most of them have the back part folded up on top of the front part, and they're headed up the mountain in search of wood. We're glad when the trail crosses the river and takes us up the quiet south bank for ten miles.
We cross over the Cascade River, and then the Skagit again, at Marblemount. We stop for breakfast at the "Mountain Song" restaurant. A very unusual menu includes "oyster pie" for breakfast. I settle for the spinach quiche and a side order of trout. Nina has the smoked salmon, which comes with cold fruit, and she doesn't like the salmon. Bad news. Bob is there, finishing a couple of trout. He's looking fine. He's thinking now about going over the passes. We get more or less fed, and head out of town past the sign which says "Last gas for 89 miles." We pass a salmon hatchery and a bald eagle refuge. It's nice to see the sign "Do not disturb the eagles."
Still five miles from New Halem, we go past the first mountain which has snow on top. Big Devil Peak, at 7055 feet. Quite a bit of snow, and quite a steep slope coming down toward us on the North side. It's quite a sight! New Halem is the town of the Seattle Electric Company. They own the El Diablo dam, and seem to have built the town too. The information center has restrooms, and there's a nice general store. We stock up for the passes ahead.
We pass the Gorge Dam, and suddenly the Skagit is nothing but a trickle. They must have the Diablo Dam pretty well closed. There's now a steep climb of about three miles, where we keep in our lowest gears, and go through a couple of tunnels. At Gorge Dam there's a nice view of Gorge Creek coming in. There's also a little headwind - a little breeze coming down the mountain - just to impede our progress a little bit more. It's pretty though - gorgeous - a lovely gorge.
We stop at Colonial Creek, right down at the edge of Diablo Lake. Just as we stop, a car pulling a boat trailer rounds the corner beside us and loses the ball on its trailer hitch. Thank goodness for safety chains, without which the trailer and boat would have creamed us both. It drags on the ground for a bit, until the car stops. We help the driver find the nut and lock washer which came off. I lend him a wrench, and he puts it back together and is on his way again.
From Lake Diablo it's a steep sharp climb up, up, up to Ross Dam. A couple headed west passes us on a tandem bicycle, pulling a trailer. They look like a couple of serious travelers. We stop and eat right at the sign where we leave the Ross Lake Recreation Area and enter the North Cascades National Park. The sky has gotten really gloomy and ominous now. We've actually felt a couple of drops of rain, but it's not raincoat time yet.
Twelve miles to go to Rainy Pass, and Nina is taking her fourth Tylenol. A bad sign. Her knees are hurting, but we continue slowly up the hill, which seems to never end. It's a steady grade. The roadside toward the cliffs is heavily pockmarked. Obviously, rocks have fallen off the cliffs and knocked some pretty good-sized holes in the pavement.
The road flattens out for a bit, but we're up in the high country, way up. We stop for a cookie and a little rest. A bear crosses the road about fifty yards in front of us, and goes down over the bank. He doesn't seem real big, but he's brown and shaggy. After we get done with our cookie we move along a little bit and see him down there turning over logs, looking for food. We snap a couple of pictures, but it's a little dark. Then he moseys off, and we head on up the road again.
We creep upward until we reach the summit of Rainy Pass. This is where the Pacific Crest Trail crosses our route. There's not too much daylight left. We haven't turned on our lights yet, but it's getting dark. It would be a long way to the next campground, beyond Washington Pass. Where the trail crosses, there is a parking lot and bathrooms. We decide that's a good place, and we camp after doing 66 miles, almost all uphill. During the night Rainy Pass lives up to its name. Drizzly rain patters on the tent, on and off all night. It gets cold too - a damp cold.
In the morning my thermometer reads 48 degrees, but it seems colder. We are wearing all our clothes, and are still chilly. Nina's muscles hurt just rolling over, but I'm in a little better shape. We're getting sort of a late start, but it's hard to tell, because here at the top of Rainy Pass it's always cloudy. At 10:35, after only one stop to rest, we reach the top of Washington Pass. Once over this pass it's sixteen miles downhill, some of it quite steep, until the bottom by the river. We stop several times to warm our hands.
Winthrop is one of the great tourist traps of the west. Everything is sort of "fake frontier" architecture. There's probably a zoning ordinance that says your sign has to be faded. We have a nice lunch there anyway, and get filled up on some good stuff. We buy a few supplies, but not really what we'd like. Then we head on down the road towards Twisp. This side of the Cascades is pretty dry. They have sprinklers going on all the fields just to grow grass for their stock. Where they don't grow grass, we might be back in South Dakota's scrubby dry brushland.
We've seen a few cyclists this morning. One fellow, all by himself, was getting near the top of Washington Pass as we were heading down. The neatest sight was a pair of tandems, just before we got to Winthrop. Husband and wife (apparently) were on the fronts, with a small kid behind on each one. The smallest was a girl who looked about six years old. They had full panniers on their bikes, and looked ready for adventure.
Below Winthrop we pass the base camp of the "North Cascades Smokejumpers." Then, beside an irrigation ditch, I see a marmot perched on top of a post. Weird spot, but I guess he is enjoying the view. Coming up out of Twisp we are just in time to get good seats for the Hoyt Axton Show, which is to start at 7:30, but we decide to pass it up. One reason is that we haven't the foggiest idea what a Hoyt Axton is. Halfway up the hill to Loup Loup Pass, we meet a lone rider who started in Wisconsin exactly a month ago. He's proud to announce that he only paid for campgrounds three times.
We reach the top of Loup Loup Pass, and there's still a little bit of daylight. We camp on top, at Loup Loup Campground. We build a fire, share a bottle of wine, have smoked mussels and Triscuits, and things are looking really good. It isn't even raining yet. This is the third pass we've seen today. Started on top of Rainy Pass, went over Washington Pass, and here we are at the top of Loup Loup Pass. Not bad for only sixty miles.
Sunday, we wake up to the sound of water dripping on the tent. Sure enough, we've encouraged another rainstorm to hit another peak. It's not too cold, and we've slept well, but we take our time getting out of bed, eating, and starting down the hill. Again we have to stop often to warm our hands. It's almost all down hill, eighteen miles, to Okanogan. One little climb in the middle, but beautiful! We are now in fruit-growing country, with lots of apple trees and a few apricots. It's all irrigated. They have to sprinkle everything. Where it's not beautiful apple orchards, it's scrubby, dry, sagebrush country. At 12:15 we stop for lunch in Riverside. The burgers are fair. They're having their annual weekend holiday, "Riverfest 87." This morning's big action is an auction. This used to be the "head of navigation" on this river. They used to run flat-bottomed steamers up here to get the apples.
A tailwind from the south gets us to Tonasket by 2:30. We zip right along up that river. In Tonasket we find a good grocery store. It's got Granola! It's got Grape Nuts! It's got Granny Smith apples! We stock up, turn straight east so the wind doesn't help any more, and we start a long climb. We get pretty wet on the way up to Wauconda. Finally it clears up, and Wauconda turns out to be an interesting place. It's a one-building town. There's a combination grocery store, cafe, gas station, post office, bar, and ice cream parlor - all in one building, and not too big either. The town is closed, but there is a phone outside, and there's a line for it. There's a guy on the phone who talks for a long time, and apologizes for it later. Says he only gets a chance to talk to his wife once a week. We talk to another guy who is trying to find out if his wife is at his house or his mother-in-law's. He tells us that people up here either ranch, log, or loaf. He works on construction, and in summer is a part-time rodeo clown. Nina finally gets Hilary on the telephone for a little chat, and now we head up the mountain again. It's three and a half miles to the summit, then down the other side to the campground, and it's nearly ten to eight. At quarter of nine we get to the top of Wauconda Pass, and head down, hoping the campground has a shower, and that there aren't too many hills before we get there. There's still quite a bit of light. After going 83.7 miles, we stay at the Sweat Creek Campground.
We get up slowly this morning. We've been chilly again, because of the damp. It's 9:15 before we get going. It's a nice downhill to Republic, where we pick up a few things at a natural foods coop. Nina doesn't get waited on so she leaves without her pumpkin seeds and banana chips. The climb to Sherman Pass has logging trucks going in both directions. Some are taking logs up the mountain, and some are taking them down. It doesn't make much sense to us, but must to somebody. They're also paving the road, and it's steep. We stop at an Indian crafts and art place, where the fellow seems to have a collection of stuff from all over the west. Some of it is pretty expensive, and we don't buy anything. There seems like a good chance of getting ripped off. Nina says she doesn't want to buy any Indian stuff unless she talks to the person who made it.
"Mile 317" on the road marker, and it is time to put on the raincoats. Eastern Washington is raining on us again. This is supposed to be dry country, but we've had rain every day! The the sun comes back out. We picnic on apples, Jarlsburg cheese and carrot cake, and now we're headed for the top. Things are looking up.
Coming down from Sherman Pass is easy. The first 12.6 miles we do not pedal at all. After the fastest twenty miles we've ever done, we're at the Columbia River, and cross it. We stop at the National Recreation Area, and discover that two bicyclists have just arrived on their way from Anacortes. We go over to the campground and talk to them. It's Howie and Carol, a couple that look just out of college. They have been averaging 50 miles per day, and took a day off in Republic because Carol's knees were bothering her. We just say "hello," and get back on the road to Kettle Falls, still in search of a hot shower and a grinder. We don't find a grinder, but do find Luigi's Pizza Parlor, and have their special with a salad. Then we hit the road for Colville, both of us thinking the other wants to go that far instead of staying in Kettle Falls at the RV Park which has hot showers. Oh well. In Colville we have a glass of wine at a cafe and then go to the fairgrounds. There are hot showers there, and if you arrive late and get up early, you don't even pay the $7.50 fee. Nina takes two showers, but I settle for just one long one.
Bright and early we're out of bed and at the cafe for the breakfast special: two eggs, hash browns, coffee, and toast, for 99 cents. By 7:00 we're heading out of Colville, and things are looking real good. By 1:30 we reach the Pend Oreille River. It's 44 miles since Colville, with more climbing than we expected.
A bit later we stop for a picnic, and are munching on cookies, crackers, and some fish with mustard sauce. Here comes Bob, from Portland, Maine! We flag him down, and have lunch together. He's surprised to see us. He spent the night at the bike hostel on the other side of Colville. We share our experiences and crackers. He's going to start up a civil engineering and environmental engineering branch office of the company he worked for in Cincinnati. He's been told about the Riverbend Inn, just down the road, which has good food. We stop there, but the cook has "gone to Newport" and isn't back yet, so it's not open. We decide to go further. It's a gorgeous afternoon, and we're really rolling. We draft all the way down to Usk, where we chat with a half-drunk Indian about fast bikes and old cars. We learn that we can get food at the Crossroads Tavern, and go up to Route 20. It's Nina's birthday, and we want to celebrate. They have a lot of fried food, a lot of tough dry roast beef, a lot of gooey mashed potatoes, a lot of salty gravy, not much wine, and not very good beer. We eat, and stagger out of there. We roll a few miles down the road to a campground, and find a nice spot free, thanks to the Department of Natural Resources.
We get up and it's overcast. There has been a little rain already this morning. Bob shows off his stove, but we don't have water enough to make coffee. After a little cereal we're on the road. I manage to fix my chain by finding the loose link which has been making noise for a couple of days. Now with my bike working properly we head for Newport and a good breakfast.
About 9:00 we reach Idaho, and cross the river for breakfast. It's a big breakfast, with lots of potatoes. There's no gravy on these and they taste better than the ones last night. Idaho is famous for potatoes, after all. Still with Bob, we head into a little wind, and some rolling ups and downs. After a few downs and ups, Bob, who's very strong on the ups, decides to ride on ahead. After 31 miles, Nina and I stop for a break beside the river, and Bob disappears.
We meet Bob again at Round Lake State Park, where he waits for us in the rain. It's raining pretty hard now, and he's got on his fancy Gore-Tex rain-suit, complete with booties. We've got our rain gear on too. We wait for a while on the porch of the Visitor's Center, but finally decide to keep going despite the rain. We ride all the way to Sandpoint, pretty fast, in pouring rain. We cross the incredibly long bridge coming into town, but it's not very scenic today - it's too wet. In Sandpoint we go immediately to the laundromat. It's a good place to spend a rainy afternoon. We get all our clothes clean. I manage to put new tape on my handlebars. We say goodbye to Bob, who's decided to take a day off and stay here in a motel.
Just as we're leaving the laundromat a fellow walks up and asks directions to the courthouse. I was just looking at the next map, which says the courthouse is at the corner of Lake and First Streets. I give the fellow accurate directions immediately, which is rather amazing. The courthouse is the only building in town whose address we know.
We head out of Sandpoint in the rain, down Route 200, which is a pretty lousy road. It has lots of traffic. There are people getting out of work in Sandpoint, plus logging trucks, dump trucks, and other traffic. There's also no shoulder, and it's raining. Wonderful! Finally we reach the Trestle Creek Inn, an oasis in the wilderness. It's a restaurant all by itself, beside the lake, where a lady is playing old songs on the piano. They're serving a Mexican Special, but specialize in steak. It's very pleasant. We finally leave there and go another five miles down the road to Sam Owen State Park, and camp for the night, after a 73 mile day in the rain. That's good mileage, considering that we got all our laundry done too.
The rain has stopped. It's dripping off the trees, and the sky is overcast. The rain might start again at any moment. It was a pretty warm night, so we slept well. We have breakfast and are ready to hit the road. As we start riding, the sun starts peeking through breaks in the clouds. We have some good views of Lake Pend Oreille with clouds on the surrounding hilltops. Quite pretty. We dry off a bit, and it's nice riding. Ten to twenty thousand years ago, during the last Ice Age, the ice dams made Lake Pend Oreille enormous, extending 200 miles into Montana. There were no logging trucks then, and the water depth at Mizzoula was 800 to 1000 feet. Not much left of the lake now, but it's still nice.
After only eight miles on the road, we enjoy the town of Clark Fork. We start with hot showers at the laundromat, move on down to the store, where we pick up new shoelaces for Nina's shoes along with some groceries. At the cafe we have a nice big breakfast, mail some letters and postcards at the Post Office, and finally head out. By now it's getting late - about 11:00 local time. Just seven miles down the road we'll cross the border into Montana, and the time jumps to 12:00. Half a day and we haven't gone far yet, but it's been a good morning.
Just out of Clark Fork we're passed by two guys also heading East. They spent the night in Sandpoint, and are aiming for Libby tonight. They're trying to average 90 miles per day. Nina saw them yesterday at the laundromat. They look like a couple of characters.
Eight miles and one hour from Clark Fork, heading up the Clark Fork River, we cross the state line into Montana. Almost immediately we pass the Cabinet Gorge Dam, on the Clark Fork River.
Just before the junction of Route 200 and Route 56 there are a couple of restaurants. The other two bikers stopped at the first, but we didn't like the looks of that one and stopped at the second. We have some excellent pea soup, nice thick milkshakes, hot tea, water, use the restroom, and are ready to head up Route 56. This goes right up the Bull River, into some beautiful mountains. It's a gorgeous afternoon. The clouds have lifted off the mountains so we can see the tops now, and they are spectacular!
Just halfway up we pass those two bikers again. They had a flat. They don't go much faster than we do - maybe a little faster uphill. We play tag with them, and they pass us again on the upgrade. It isn't too long before we're over the top and headed down to Route 2.
We stop at the first restaurant/bar on Route 2, a place where twenty-inch trout swim around in a pond just outside. At the bar we have a wine and a big glass of Olympia beer, and start talking to the brandy-drinker next to us. He tells us that all the roads around here are dangerous, which we know. As we leave, heading for the campground, he offers us a chance to stay at his house in Libby. Something about him tells us "no," so we politely decline the offer and he drives away apparently miffed.
Route 2, running along the Kootenai River below Libby, is a disaster of old two-lane, narrow road, with no shoulders and lots of bumps. It has lots of traffic, but we survive to Libby. This is a strange town, which seems to be mostly trailers, but it's a big place with stoplights and everything. We get to the free Firemens' Camping Area about ten after nine. You can stay there free for up to three days, and it seems like a reasonable spot. It isn't particularly clean, and the bathrooms are disaster areas, but it'll do for the night. We make a crummy fire with the little wood we can scrounge, and have a nice supper of smoked oysters, Monterey Jack cheese, California wine, and a couple of kinds of crackers. We're doing fine.
It's Friday, and we get up under a solid gray sky. Not a break in the clouds anywhere. We could be inside a big gray bowl. At least it isn't raining. We pack up and have breakfast at the Four B's Restaurant, right across the street. Kenny and Myland, the two bikers we played tag with yesterday, are just finishing breakfast there too. They're on their way to Eureka today. Kenny says he's writing a book, and one of the things he's going to put in it is how deceptive it is sometimes when you're riding along and it looks flat but it's really uphill. This is something we've experienced ourselves, several times. Kenny does all the talking in that crowd.
After breakfast we go down the street looking for the non-existent bike shop Finally we find a sporting goods store, where I buy a fancy chrome-plated mirror to attach to my handlebar. I broke my rear-view mirror some time back. Once we get out of Libby a little ways the fog goes away. It was just an overcast fog, not real clouds. Now we're out in the sun, and it's beautiful.
At Libby Dan we meet two other riders. Tony and Herb, from Hartford, Connecticut, have caught up to us. They're going all the way across, and then back down to Hartford. We should be seeing them once or twice. They took an extra ride off route to see the Grand Coulee Dam.
It's really a beautiful day, and now we're riding beside Lake Koocanusa. It ought to be pretty flat for the next forty miles, and we ought to be able to really cruise. Near the dam we see two huge birds. My guess is they're eagles, but maybe they're just Osprey. They seem to have white heads.
We meet two people westbound. A man and woman have taken a year off to see the world. They're from Philadelphia, and they like to talk. They talk about everything. They say going up over Logan Pass isn't really bad, and that if we get an early start we should be in good shape. That makes Nina feel better. They also say there is an "eagles nest" not too far ahead, so we spend quite a bit of time looking for it. Finally we see a beautiful Osprey nest, high up in a dead tree, certainly the one they were talking about. In the process of searching, I actually do see an eagle, flying below me across the lake. The white head and broad brown wings are clearly visible. Looking carefully at the area where it stopped on the bank, there appear to be two juveniles sitting on a tree. They are all brown, and I am confident that they are eagles too. So we do see eagles, even though the people from Philadelphia directed us to Ospreys.
We see a lot of dead trees, and other pines turning brown, and signs tell us this is the work of the Mountain Pine Beetle. It gets really hot, there's a headwind, and instead of being flat beside the lake it rolls, up and down, up and down. With the headwind, it's as if everything is tilted against us. We struggle up little inclines in our granny gears, and have to pedal even on the downgrades. Hard work, and hot work in the sun. We run out of water, and scrounge some from the streams, of which there aren't many. We plod on, stopping only for a nice lunch of cheese, crackers, an orange and an apple. By four-thirty we've only done fifty miles. There are a lot of grasshoppers, making wicked clicking sounds.
Finally we stumble into Eureka. It's still blazing hot, over eighty degrees, and we are beat. We stop at a fast food, Dairy Queen sort of place, and I have two root beer floats while Nina has a thick chocolate shake. Then we have some chicken and fried fish and fries, and then we try to ride out of town towards Route 14. We want to get a few more miles in, so we can make it all the way to Glacier National Park the next day. Well, the road is lousy, still has logging trucks, and it's bad going. At least it's cooler now, but our stomachs don't feel right.
After 82.5 miles we come to Route 14, and Jerry's Saloon. It's getting dark, and is definitely time to stop. Jerry's Saloon offers free camping and plenty of beer and wine. We go in and chat with the Montana people at the bar, especially an ex-schoolteacher who is now in real estate, and tells us all about the Montana real estate scene. He says if you can point to a piece of land out here, you can buy it. We put the tent near an old sandpit, way down in a field past a horse. A trail bike rides right past our ears in the middle of the night, but otherwise it's quiet.
It's Saturday, and we get on the road not too early. As soon as we hit the highway, we meet Kenny and Myland. They stop for a break, and talk about how much they have to eat. They have to "eat right." Kenny is carrying extra prunes for potassium, while Myland has more of a sweet tooth. They eat a lot, but of course all bikers do.
We come to a little lake, and it has green water. It's as if the Skagit ran into it. It's very calm this morning, and the only ripples are caused by mergansers getting breakfast. They sky is overcast, and one lady we saw at a post office said "it might rain."
After fighting a road covered with loose gravel for quite a while, a very rough road with ups and downs, we finally pick up a smooth road, with a little tailwind, and a bit of downhill. We sail into Whitefish, moving right along at great speed. In Whitefish we discover a bike shop that is well-equipped. I pick up a good rear-view mirror and am able to unload the chromed piece of junk that's been hanging on my handlebar for over a day. We have lunch, and head out of Whitefish toward Columbia Falls with a terrific tailwind. It's blowing straight from the west, and we're going due east on Route 40. We just fly into Columbia Falls.
I called ahead from the restaurant to see if we could get a reservation at Sprague Creek Campground on Lake MacDonald. That was already full, and they don't take reservations at Apgar, but the person on the phone seemed to think there'd be no trouble staying at Apgar if we arrive at a reasonable hour. Columbia Falls turns out to be a good place to stock up on beautiful fresh fruit, more crackers and smoked oysters, and our usual assortment of cookies, brownies, and cherry pies. At last we head up Route 486 out of Columbia Falls past Teakettle Mountain, a big hunk of rock on the right. It looks like we're going to go around it, and take a gravel road toward Blankenship Bridge on the north end of it. So after a nice run north of 486 we turn off onto the four and a half miles of gravel. Blankenship Bridge crosses the Flathead River, and is a nice spot to stop and take a swim. We get cleaned up in the cold water, and then get back on the gravel. This is certainly the worst road of the trip.
Finally we arrive at West Glacier, and buy t-shirts so we'll have something with which to remember this trip. Then we go to Apgar Campground, and find the area for bicyclists and hikers, the so-called "people without vehicles." We set up for the night next to a couple of college kids from a town just down the road. They laugh when we complain about the gravel road, and tell us that the main entrance to the park has just been made into a beautiful four-lane highway which is perfect for bicycling. They're going to spend a couple of days hiking up on the high peaks of the park, a common activity here.
We don't have a "bear rope," and there are supposed to be bears occasionally in this campground, so we "secure" our food with a bungee cord, suspending a garbage bag about six feet off the ground. We're hoping there are no tall bears here, and that not even the short ones come around. We have our traditional dinner of Blue Nun Liebfraumilch, smoked oysters, Triscuits, cheese, and get to bed early (perhaps 10:00). After we're in bed, some other hikers camp next to us, and sit up talking and drinking beer until about midnight. This disturbs us some, but not too much.
Sunday, and I wake up with the first bird chirps. It's early! We try to avoid making too much noise eating breakfast. After all, we don't want to disturb the nice fellows who arrived late. We're on the road about 6:00. As we start out, the mountains are a marvelous dark blue against the lighter sky, and are reflected beautifully in Lake MacDonald. About 7:00 we pass the campground at the other end of Lake MacDonald, where we wanted to camp but were told it was full. We see some bicycles there. Those cyclists evidently didn't take advantage of their better location to get an early start on the climb, (assuming they're going our way today). We pass Lake MacDonald Lodge, which looks pretty plush. All we've seen so far is one deer, but we're expecting to see more of the park's famous wildlife. Wonderful tour buses are starting to move about. They look English for some reason, and very old.
Now we're starting to climb, next to some waterfalls in the so-called creek, which is actually a pretty good-sized river. The glacier wall is ahead. Nina is definitely not ecstatic about riding over Logan Pass. She would be very happy taking Route 2 around the park. She proceeds toward the Pass like a doomed person heading for the execution chamber. I am confident she'll make it all right. It'll be tough for both of us. Anyway, here we are riding up "Going-to-the-Sun Highway."
It's getting brighter, as we pass 8500 foot high Mt. Brown. It's sheer rock - a real cliff. There were heavy rains and mudslides here just a few days ago, but today is clear as a bell, with absolutely calm winds. Now we're passing Sacred Dancing Cascade, where the water does bounce and twirl over the rock. There are sheer cliffs all around us, one called simply Glacier Wall. We stop at Avalanche Creek, where tents are not permitted because of bears. We use the restrooms, not because we really have to but because we figure there won't be any more until the Visitor's Center on top, which might be a while.
We cross Logan Creek, and it's just twelve miles to the top of the pass. It's still chilly. Nina's feet are cold, and we see our breath in the air. We've been pedaling for a while, so our legs are warmed up, but it's chilly. We take a break to eat cookies. Nina realizes it's just ten miles to the top, and it's only 8:30. For the first time she says that she believes she can actually do it. The sun comes up over the mountain, and lights up our little corner, making it a bit warmer. A New Hampshire car goes by, the first she has seen in days and days of noticing license plates. Things are looking up!
We pass a lot of tall, standing, dead trees, and a sign tells us there was a lightning fire here in 1967. A lot of new growth is starting underneath the dead trees. We go through a little tunnel, and then THE corner - there's just one switchback on this hill. It is a doozy, many miles long. The road is steady, gradual, six-percent climb all the way. Not a real steep climb, but constant. With about four miles to go, one bicyclist passes us. He looks like a racer, has no panniers, and is climbing rapidly. The marmots are out up here - quite a bunch of them. They seem skinnier than the ones at Yellowstone. Maybe they don't get fed as much by the tourists, but they're standing by the roadside, looking like beggars, and we see a couple little kids feeding them. Nina tries hard to take a picture of a marmot, but it moves too fast. We see Bird Woman Falls on the far hill, two miles away. A sign says the falls are 492 feet high. It's obviously meltwater coming right off the glacier, or what's left of the snow on top. The same cyclist roars past on his return trip down the mountain.
At a quarter to twelve we finally make it to the top of Logan Pass! We are on the Continental Divide at 6646 feet above sea level. We didn't quite make it before the 11:00 deadline, but nobody official said anything, and we managed to get up all right. There's no food on top, but there's water, and a horde of tourists are crawling all over the place, taking pictures of everything in sight, and feeding the marmots and Columbian Ground Squirrels. We've been thirty miles. At twelve-thirty we start down the other side.
We take a nice long lunch break overlooking Wild Goose Island in the middle of St. Mary's Lake. We stay there a long time, because I'm tired. It's a scenic spot, and every car seems to stop and take the same photograph. Nina and I are both certain they all take the wrong picture, and after careful consideration we each take what we believe to be the perfect photos. Of course we don't agree with each other, but ours will both be better than the standard shot.
The road alongside St. Mary's Lake gets flatter, and the wind gets annoying. It blows right into our faces, so we have trouble making progress toward the town of St. Mary's. We finally get to the restrooms at the Visitor's Center, and go on into town to discover a giant tourist trap at the Park entranceway. We go right on by, and find a nice little cafe just around the corner. It's a good place for Nina to have a big (though rather strange) chef's salad, and for me to have an interesting veggie sandwich with hummus, and rhubarb pie. We go to the general store next door, which doesn't have much, but we get two bottles of wine labeled Mountain Rhine and Mountain Chablis. Now we're gong north up the lower lake, and the wind is strong from the east. Sometimes it helps us, and sometimes it hurts, as the road turns, but mostly it's just wind. The tour buses are still going by, promising something interesting around the corner. The countryside ahead, due north, except for the mountains on our left, looks flat.
At Babb, Nina calls her mother, and leaves messages for Hilary. We find out that our pictures are coming out well, which is good news. Three miles more up the road and we turn off Route 89 onto Route 17, "Chief Mountain International Highway." The first six miles are a killer uphill, like six percent grade. It's Going-to-the-Sun all over again, but his time we're tired. I mean tired! We find ourselves stopping quite regularly, and even pushing the bikes a bit. It's slow going. Finally, well above the 5,000 foot mark, up next to Chief Mountain, which is a 9,000 footer, we start heading down, down, down toward Waterton, Canada. It's a nice feeling to be going down. There's a strange wind coming from the southeast. I think that's a very unusual direction. We see clouds building up behind us, and coming this way from the southeast. Very strange. Tomorrow may be a lousy day in Glacier National Park, whereas today was magnificent. We're glad we pushed that little bit more and got there today. We think about the other people that are just about one day behind us.
Still half a dozen miles from our campground, before we get to the Canadian border, the sun starts going down behind the mountains of Waterton Park. They look beautiful, but the clouds are moving in. Some clouds have already raced past and now cover most of the sky. The clouds are especially strange-looking. It's an unusual storm, but something is in the air. We're tired. It gets darker and darker, but Chief Mountain still won't let us over his road without more climbing. We're getting more and more tired. Finally we see one of the most wonderful signs in the world - the truck pointed downhill. Ah, wonderful! A downhill it is, and we zoom down to the border just in time to be legally admitted to Canada. The customs station was about to close at 10:00. We zoom on down the hill and stop to take a picture of the "Welcome to Alberta" sign. We go downhill so much, and Nina is so tired, that she starts complaining about going downhill so much. That's an indication of how tired she is.
Finally at the bottom of the hill we arrive at a Provincial Park Campground. We wander around a bit before finding a campsite, and then hit the sack. What a day! 79.3 miles, including Logan Pass and Chief Mountain International Highway. Whew!
It's Monday, and we wake up only when the ranger comes around to collect. We were too tired to pay last night, and didn't have the correct Canadian change either. We take our time getting up, doing everything slowly. Nina indulges herself by washing her hair under an outdoor, "do not drink without boiling," cold water faucet. We dry the tent off. Slowly we move around, and get ready for a hot day. The ranger tells us it's going to be about 30 degrees Celsius, which is about 90 degrees Fahrenheit. It's going to be a warm one. We avoid the mosquitoes in our own special ways. Nina is in her bathing suit, and the bugs don't bother her. I'm wearing long clothes and am still getting bitten. Oh well.
At 10:35 we head out of the campground. We have now gone through Glacier National Park twice without seeing any of those famous bears. We did see two unusual animals yesterday: a coyote alongside St. Mary's Lake, and a porcupine as we turned into our campground. Now we find ourselves on a pretty long, hot climb, up beside Sofa Mountain. It looks neither soft nor cushiony up there, but the rock is shaped somewhat like a couch. Since the campground had no drinkable water, we're down to our last few sips. Lo and behold, a mirage appears on the roadside. A sign displays a dripping faucet. We round the corner skeptically. There's a little stone and wood structure covering a pump. That's all, just a pump. The pump yields beautiful clear, cold, spring water. What a wonderful oasis!
We reach an overlook from which we can see all the peaks of Waterton Park spread out in front of us. At the base of the mountains we see the Prince of Wales Hotel. There's even a free telescope with which to get a good look at the green roof of the hotel, through the heat waves. Then it's down hill, past the 5,000 foot mark, past the 4,000 foot mark, all the way down to the flatland. Boom. We take one last look at the mountains, turn east, and head out across the plains. The prairie rolls some, up and down, and it's cattle country. That's about all they do. There are very few crops, but a little irrigation with ditches, and no sprinklers in sight. It's hot.
Mountain View lives up to its name. We can still see the mountains. It also has a great store where you can buy anything. We settle for big ice cream cones and bottles of juice. We rest in the wonderful shade of the building's overhang. Then it's back on the road. Leavitt has nothing. It's sixteen miles from Mountain View to Cardston, and that's our next objective. Cardston is a big town of 3,000. We eat in Cardston where the Rotary Club meets every Tuesday at noon. It's a place which has western and Chinese food. It is owned by a Chinese guy, and there are Chinese in the kitchen, but everything else is basic all-American stuff. The food is okay. We don't go for the Chinese food, which looks pretty ordinary. We are thirsty, and the waitress brings three pitchers of ice water before we are satisfied.
We head out of town into a little passing thunderstorm. It's very light rain, and we just keep on riding. As we approach McGrath, we run into a real horde of grasshoppers. They are all over the road, and it is impossible to avoid running over a lot of them. When you get close, they jump up and try to fly away, but keep hitting our bikes and our legs. Nina is really grossed out, and coasts down to a large part of the hill with her legs lifted high up on her bike, trying to avoid the grasshoppers. It's quite a sight!
McGrath is a nice little town, with heavy Mormon influence. We stop for the night at the free town park, which has a fishing pond for kids under sixteen. It's deep enough for the local boys to have a high dive off a tree. They're jumping into the pond, having a swim, and we also take a swim. We swim around, wash up, and I even shampoo my hair for the first time in about a week. We meet Dan Royster there. He's a solitary cyclist from Ohio, who started at the Seattle airport and took a bus to Whidby Island the day before we arrived there. He's been staying just a day ahead of us all the way. He took a day off at MacDonald Lake, and yesterday he went all the way to Waterton Park. He doesn't eat in restaurants, and is a vegetarian. He has a meal of yogurt and raw vegetables as we chat.
We meet two brothers who grew up about half a mile from where we're camped, when the town was smaller. They're nearly seventy now, and haven't lived here for about forty years, but they keep coming back. They live down in Utah now and are visiting in their motor homes. They could probably talk forever, telling us stories about this place. One story started with the brothers at their regular chore of bringing drinking water from the well. Then they noticed the neighbors' house on fire. The first barrel of water they got there was credited with saving the house. Then there was the story about the millionaire for whom their grandfather was building houses. He used to go around the job site picking up bent nails. When asked why, the millionaire looked the boys' grandfather right in the eye and said "Did you ever make a million dollars?" That was apparently sufficient justification for anything the old man did.
We get up at a good hour, 7:15, and decide to skip our cold cereal and go up into the town to a cafe for a good breakfast. At the cafe, the proprietor tells us that "it's too early for eggs." All he can serve us is coffee, juice out of a box and toast. We eat the toast and juice, go to the store to pick up a couple of things, and go back to the campground to eat cold cereal for breakfast.
Now we have another encounter with the talking brothers, but finally break loose and head down the highway. As we head south from McGrath we can still see the mountains way over there to our right. Chief Mountain is easy to pick out. We think we can see more mountains now than when we were up close. They seem to extend way up to the north and way down to the south, and Glacier National Park includes only a small part of them.
After nineteen miles from McGrath, which felt like about thirty, we reach the Milk River, where there's a little campground. One of the old-timers in McGrath told us about a great spring here, a "self-rising well" he called it. Well, we try the faucet, and it doesn't work, much to our disappointment. We leave the campground and are on the bridge over the river when we see a second faucet, nearer the road. I go back to try that, because we are about out of water. That faucet drips some, so I start collecting in a water bottle. I mess with the faucet some, and suddenly it comes unstuck. Out comes a rush of nice fresh water. Now we'll make it to Del Bonita, five miles away.
Del Bonita, an almost deserted town in the middle of nowhere, just a couple miles from the U.S. border. There's a little grocery store that's the biker's perfect stop. They've got all kinds of juices, candy bars, and other goodies. Nina falls in love with a box of cottage cheese, and makes it disappear in a big hurry. A nice grandmotherly lady fills our water bottles. Outside the store we meet a guy from Ohio, headed west, going all the way from Bar Harbor, Maine. He is traveling extremely light, and explains that his wife is driving the car, sagging for him the whole way.
Ten-thirty, and we're back in the USA. The customs official requires me to eat my two oranges before going on. He's afraid there might be some disease carried on them which will get to the California orange groves. Well, that's not too hard to do, though it's been a long time since I've eaten two oranges and two bananas in half an hour. Now we're headed into the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. Route 213 has nothing on it for the next thirty-something miles. The soil here looks absolutely miserable. It's full of rocks, and very dry, very high prairie. We're up about 4,000 feet here, and it just rolls. A desolate place, but the grass and wheat are growing pretty well.
The road coming into Cutbank is one of the worst we've been on. It isn't very wide, has no shoulders, no painted lines, and lots of bumps. It's so hot that the tar is sticky where the car wheels have been. Just what we needed after a really long hot ride across the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. We're barely managing to make headway.
Finally in Cutbank, we pick a restaurant called My Place. We sit down, and just sit there drinking water for about ten minutes while the waiter keeps asking if we want anything. We're beat. Finally we start ordering, and we order and order. For about an hour and a half we sit there and eat. Now the world seems like a much better place. The temperature improves while we're in the restaurant. It drops from 96 degrees on the bank thermometer all the way down to 94. At 6:55 it's still 94 degrees!
We're thinking about riding to Shelby, another 20 miles, when Herb and Tony ride by, cruising Main Street, looking for a motel. They rode over Logan Pass the day after us, and spent the night in St. Mary's. Then they came straight on to Cutbank without making the loop into Canada. Almost immediately we see Bob Bowker again, with another fellow named Dick riding with him. The two of them did the same thing as Tony and Herb, and are also looking for a place to stay in Cutbank tonight. We debate what to do. Nina is keen on riding to Shelby, and when we discover that none of Cutbank's campgrounds have showers, we head out, leaving all the others behind.
This is clearly the oil well drilling capital of the northwest. They have more places selling oil well equipment than we can believe. It's all over town. The first couple of miles are beautiful, flat with a wide shoulder, and a slight tailwind. Suddenly the wind shifts and starts blowing hard in our faces. What's this? A giant thunderstorm has appeared just behind and to our left, and must be the cause. We pedal on, and the thunderstorm seems to get larger and closer. We pedal harder. It really seems to be heading this way. We decide it's probably best to stop at the restaurant in Ethridge, if it's open.
We get there and discover a strange looking building set back from the road, called The Ranch, which labels itself a nightclub. Who knows what this is, but the thunderstorm looks very threatening, so we go inside. It turns out to be strange inside too, owned and run by a fellow named Ron and his wife Mary, an Alaskan. There are pelts nailed on the walls, and we learn that Ron shot them. One is a wolverine. He is very proud of his Eskimo carvings, which are on display, and he tells us they are worth ten thousand dollars. They're making tons of money and having a great time. He cooks and tends bar while she waits tables. They're handling the whole place by themselves tonight. Some nights they add a bartender and a waitress, but tonight it's just them. They're rolling in dough. They make three thousand dollars a month just on their five poker machines. It's a great scene. We have a few drinks. Ron tells us about his Alaskan adventures, and Mary stops waiting on tables to sit and talk with us too. We really feel like honored guests. Even their teenage daughter comes by to say hello. The locals start serving their own drinks, putting the money into the cash register themselves. Some people who have had dinner seem unable to pay the check, but Mary stays talking with us. Ron invites us to spend the night in their camper, which is parked permanently out behind the place, so we do. It's a bit dusty, but we think it's very pleasant. It's fun. The thunderstorm never does hit where we are, but that's ok. Everybody has a good time at The Ranch! It has been an 82 mile day, despite the heat. Not bad for Indian Reservations and 96 degrees.
We aren't quite to Ethridge yet, but we got going very early this morning. That's what sleeping on a mattress will do. In Galata we have a small Tombstone Pizza, served by a dry old bartender. People gamble by punching out numbers on big cards, at a quarter or so per try. This is breakfast in Montana. The bartender tells us that somebody went over Logan Pass the other day on roller skates.
We discover that Chester is a wonderful place! It's got a nice post office, a nice store where we buy lots of stuff, and a beautiful park. We picnic under a canopy, take a little nap, and both of us take long, hot, free showers in the town park. A perfect place, where we spend about two and a half hours just relaxing. In fact we spend just a little too long there, because a huge thunderstorm rolls in from the west and shuts us down just when we are leaving town. We huddle under the overhang of the Circle-K food store, trying to decide whether to challenge the storm or not. It's a mean looking storm, but doesn't seem to be moving east very fast. Maybe we can outrun it. We decide to head out.
The wind blows, from behind us, hard! We have our raincoats on, our chains shifted into the highest gears, and we're just cruising across the flats. We don't know how far we can get, but we'll go on a town-by-town basis. It's blowing so hard that we don't shift whether we're going downhill, are on the flat, or even on a slight upgrade. Two or three cars stop to offer us rides, figuring we must be in trouble. We just smile, shake our heads, and keep on going. We make it all the way to Gilford, about thirty miles, before I finally say "enough." Nina wants to keep going, and even goes past the turn to the town, trying to encourage me to follow her to the next campground, which is thirty miles farther away. However, I have had enough. We stop in the beautiful little town park, which has a roof under which we pitch the tent. There are flowers, and it's really pretty. We spend a nice night, after a 90.9 mile day.
Thursday, and we're on the road pretty early. Nina plans to go 120 miles today. Yesterday Nina noticed lots of Minnesota cars. Today we are passed by lots of Indiana and Illinois cars. This phenomenon is obviously related to the regularity of the American vacation, and the distance we are from those states. Havre is a success. Nina finds a replacement for the reflector on her pedal at a combination bike shop and waterbed store. The proprietor says that helps him pay the bills in winter. We get a big stack of pancakes, and some other breakfast stuff at the Iron Horse restaurant. The great powdered milk search ends, finally, at the Buttery, a supermarket which actually has a small package of powdered milk. Now it is 10:45, the prairie is heating up, there's blue sky all around, there's a little breeze from the west, and we head for Chinook.
Twelve fifteen, we've gone 50 miles and we're entering Chinook. Just twenty miles south of here is the site of the battle of the Bear Paw Mountains, where Chief Joseph surrendered and the Nez Perce were forced to go back to Idaho.
After 72 miles, we take a nice long break in Harlem, where its ninety degrees in the shade. We sit in the shade at the town park, watching the kids cavort in the town pool. Looks like all of them are here, jumping repeatedly into the pool. What a great way to spend a hot summer afternoon! At quarter of four we're back on the road again, headed for Malta, about 45 miles away.
We enter the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation, home of the Assinibone and Gros Ventre Indians. This is part of what some cyclists called "mosquito alley." They told us that for a hundred miles the mosquitoes are so bad that they bite even when you're pedaling. We've seen some, but they aren't quite as ferocious as advertised.
Dodson, and we've been 101 miles. After a quick break for cottage cheese and lemon flavored Gatorade, we climb back on the bikes and battle mosquitoes towards Malta. It's only quarter of seven, so we should make it to Malta.
Nina pushed her big gears a little too hard this morning, and now her knees are a little tender. These last seventeen miles to Malta are going to be slow. Of course they should be slow, since they're the last ones of a long day. Fighting headwinds, sore knees, sore rear ends, and tired bodies, we get to Malta just as the sun goes down.
We head directly for the West Side Restaurant, which is the first one we see on the edge of town. It turns out to be great. For seven bucks we get a carafe of wine, and for another eight fifty we get two enormous dinners - all we can handle. When we come out of the restaurant, the mosquitoes are so bad that we quickly put on all our clothes, despite the temperature, and still get bitten. Terrific. We go straight to the city park, and camp for the night. We've done 119 miles, our longest day ever.
We are awakened this morning by enormous amounts of noise. First a truck comes through the park, spraying mosquitoes, and then a plane makes repeated passes, spraying the entire town. They have a mosquito problem here, and they're trying to do something about it. We get headed out of town about seven-fifteen. Today should be much easier day than yesterday.
Just outside Malta, Nina spots a cardboard sign which Kenny and Myland have left for Herb and Tony. It's dated, so we figure Kenny and Myland passed through Malta yesterday. They aren't very far ahead, and Tony and Herb are definitely behind us.
By ten of ten we've done 27 miles and are in Saco. This place bills itself "The Mosquito Capital of the World." A few more miles and we stop at Hinsdale, for milkshakes. I have mine "Boston," which means there's a lump of soft ice cream floating in it, plus some sundae topping on top of that. "Mike" serves it to us. He's young, but already over 200 pounds. He's picked on by his big brother, who's also working there. They bicker constantly, and in the process a coffee pot gets knocked and smashes on the floor. The bickering intensifies. Some place.
Nine miles further I'm overpowered by the urge to take a nap. So I simply stop beside the road, lay my bike down, stretch out on the ground, and go to sleep for twenty minutes. Nina waits patiently, and fortunately there aren't many mosquitoes. Finally I stop snoring, climb back on the bike, and resume riding, much refreshed. The day is overcast, a solid overcast, and there's a slight headwind. The road surface is terrible, unrelentingly horrid all the way. Traffic is light, fortunately, since the shoulders come and go, and are always bumpy, rough and miserable. It's a lousy stretch of road, and boring. We reach a rest area, and stop. We eat things. We drink. Nina washes her hair outside under a cold water faucet. We rest in the shade. We sleep on the picnic table benches. We are revived. We feel a lot better. The sun has come out now, so it's hotter, 88 degrees by my little thermometer. Somebody passing by tells us the radio is broadcasting sunstroke warnings. The wind picks up, still blowing in our faces. We climb on the bikes, feeling much better, and pedal toward Glasgow.
Glasgow is a nice town, with a good supermarket. We buy stuff and have a picnic in the park, watching a lady show her tiny daughter about the slide. She can barely climb the steps. We analyze the thunderheads, and decide we've gone far enough today. We pedal back to the campground on the edge of town. Their swimming pool is broken, but they have nice hot showers. I carry all our dirty clothes to the laundromat, and return just in time for a glorious sunset under spectacular clouds. We share a bottle of wine, in the tent due to mosquitoes, and go to sleep. Despite all the problems, we've gone 71 miles today! The total for the trip so far is 1737 miles!
I start the day with a hot shower, and then we head down the road. Leaving Glasgow we see another cardboard sign made by Kenny and Fritz. Evidently they're not far ahead. This sign is dated July 31 at 8:30 PM, so they must be close. This sign also encourages Tony and Herb to catch up, and to stop in Rock Island, Illinois, when they get there. I'm a little dehydrated, and drinking extra fluids. It's not the heat, it's the mosquitoes. They're still really bad here in Glasgow.
By 8:30 we've gone 20 miles. Today we have a tailwind, and it's pretty flat. If this keeps up, we'll have a really long mileage day. By 11:00 we reach Wolf Point, and have gone 50 miles. Now we stop for a nice long break. We start with some (not very good) grinders, Gatorade, and orange juice, sitting on the grass under the trees. The sun is bright today, but it's much cooler and dryer than yesterday. Soon we're riding again, and stop in Poplar after 72 miles. The milkshake maker gives me a special which isn't on the menu, with little bits of banana in the shake. He says he makes these for himself, but never served one to a customer before. We also try the frozen yogurt, asking for watermelon but getting something which tastes like cherry. Then we're back on the bikes again, making excellent time. Today I've been riding almost all the time in my highest gear, and I've decided to call it my "prairie tailwind gear."
One problem out here is that if you need to go to the bathroom, there's no tree. You have to wait until there are no cars coming either way, as far as you can see, and quickly jump into the ditch to do your business. This is especially difficult for Nina, because she has to dismount and have me hold her bike. She says "men have it much more convenient" because I usually keep straddling my bike.
Just before Culbertson, the map leads us off Route 2 for about 12 miles. This little detour goes through Fort Peck Indian Reservation. We are rewarded by the sight of an earth-sheltered house. It's a neat looking house, and it's a surprise to find it here. Now we're getting a few glimpses of the Missouri River. We'll follow it for quite a ways.
At 5:00 we roll into Culbertson, after doing 109.4 miles. There, strolling up the street in their good restaurant clothes are Kenny and Fritz. They are delighted to see us, and tell us where to find what they've been told is the best restaurant in town. We pick out a spot in the park for our tent, and go over to the restaurant. It does not serve any alcohol whatsoever, even though it seems to be associated with the bar next door. This suits Kenny, who tells us he's a reformed alcoholic. We get a tremendous quantity of food for a total bill of $ 11.75. Then we stagger back to the park and set up camp.
We get up early. It's a beautiful day, with no wind. We chug along until we arrive at the Montana - North Dakota border. It's ten of ten, North Dakota time. We've just crossed the time zone boundary, and have either gained or lost an hour. We've gone 22.5 miles already, which is a good start. The wind looks like it's going to pick up and blow us into North Dakota. We're hoping the roads are better than those in Montana. We're tired of those crummy roads. Off our bikes at the border we see a few cacti - prickly pear type - so maybe it's going to be dryer in this state. Maybe that'll help the mosquito situation.
Going down a little hill, in our prairie tailwind gears, Nina picks up a little piece of glass, and we have the second flat tire of the trip. We've had a pretty good record so far, and hope it continues.
At exactly 12:00, with the temperature at a nice 77°, we get to Williston. We eat a big breakfast at Grandma Lee's restaurant. It has a surprisingly good bakery. We debate whether to take Route 2, which looks boring and goes north, or Route 1804 which the bike map recommends, which goes closer to Lake Sakagawea and goes through some "badlands." By Route 1804 it's seventy miles to the next town. We can't decide which way to go. We do some grocery shopping, and still are undecided. Finally I decide to go the Bikecentennial Route. We finally leave town about 1:30, aiming for New Town, seventy miles away. It's hot, and there's a little breeze from the west.
The first few miles out of Williston involve a lot of climbing. Now Nina is sure we should have gone the other way. We almost turn around, but continue to the height-of-land, then roll up and down, and then drop all the way down to lake level again. At Whitetail Bay there's a marina, and lots of small boats are at the launching area. We overshoot the entrance, but I go back to get water while Nina keeps riding. The only thing working at the marina is a thermometer, which says 82 degrees. There is no potable liquid for us. Back on the highway, there's a good tailwind really blasting us along, and Nina is out of sight. I don't catch her until after seventeen miles of hard riding when she stops to rest at the county line.
The tailwind is great until we turn a corner and head directly south. Then the strong wind makes control of the bikes difficult and we proceed slowly up and down the rolling hills. It's tough going for about a dozen miles. Finally we get a couple of good views of the lake, and turn more towards the east again. We go down a hill, around a corner of the lake, up a couple of pretty tough hills, and at last we arrive in New Town. It's about 8:30 and we're tired. Most everybody in town seems to be at the ball game. It has a lot of spectators, but there's not much else happening. All the good restaurants are closed, and only the fast food places are open. Nina calls Hilary from a gas station.
As we stand there, who comes walking up the street by Kenny and Myland. This may be the last time we see them, because they've decided to go south to Route 200, dash straight across to Fargo, and then go home to Illinois. We're planning to go north to Minot, take Route 2 across, and then go back down to Fargo, a longer distance. It seems they've been having some difficulties. Myland Fritz chats privately with us while Kenny is in the store buying milk for his Grape Nuts. They apparently have a little personality conflict, which we find easy to believe. Kenny insists on getting up at first light every day, and riding hard to make their 90 mile goal and another motel. Myland is probably not going to go past Illinois, although their original plan was to go all the way to Maine.
By now it's almost dark, and the campgrounds are half a dozen miles outside town, on unpaved side roads. It is a good night for our first motel. We select a motel on the edge of town, and enjoy not putting up the tent. We shower, take baths, lounge around in towels, and find it lovely. total mileage for the day was 114.6 miles, so we've done two days back-to-back over 100 miles.
We're as clean as we can get. We've each had a bath and a shower, using about 400 gallons of the motel's water. We have breakfast in the room, and Nina tries a new, mostly bran, dreadful cereal called Fiber-1. We hit the road at 8:30, a little later than usual. There's already a little breeze from the west, and we head east on Route 23. The road roller-coasters past some lovely fields of sunflowers, and we amble along. Nina's knees are tender, and she's taking it a bit easy this morning. Her shoulder is also bothering her, so it's not going to be a fast pace.
We meet two guys traveling light, staying in motels, heading west. They started in Madison, Wisconsin, and New Town is their destination. They've made the trip in nine days. Three days ago, in Fargo, they encountered a Bikecentennial Tour Group. The Bikecentennial people complained about a lot of headwinds. We're glad the winds are blowing the right way now.
We stop for a snack, and sit next to the fence of some sort of small military installation. It's unmarked, except for a sign that warns "Use of deadly force authorized" against trespassers. While we're there, an unmarked car with government license plates arrives and drives slowly around the perimeter of the fence. It looks like a missile silo to me, but not very heavily defended.
We're passing lots of little "pothole" ponds, each very small, and every one has ducks. I break the plastic frame which holds my handlebar pack on my bike. Fortunately Nina has some miniature bungee cords which solve the problem. I plan to write Cannondale a letter, denouncing not only the lousy plastic snap which broke, but also the stupid design which locates the carrying strap under the map case.
We take a break by Tangedol Lake, and see some big birds. They are white, with black wingtips. We don't recognize them, but perhaps they are some kind of crane. They fly a bit like pelicans, and we see them only from a distance. There are many other birds too. One I call a "Sooty Tern," because I've heard the name and it seems to fit. There are ducks everywhere.
We're heading up Route 83 now, directly north, right into the teeth of a brisk and steady wind. Nina drafts me as much as she can but it's hard work. If she gets more than five feet behind, the wind slows her down dramatically. It's a long eighteen miles of this work before we finally reach Minot.
This is one of the few times the route takes us onto a four lane, divided highway. As we struggle along, a pickup truck with a flashing yellow light passes us. Then another, and I notice the "U.S. Marshal" marking on the door. We stop to see what's happening. It's a convoy consisting of three Marshal's vehicles, two armored personnel carriers with camouflage markings and machine guns, and two enormous white unmarked trucks. My guess is that we are seeing a shipment of bombs or missiles, probably headed for the big Air Force base just north of Minot.
The only things worth looking at on this stretch of road are the billboards. Some seem to be erected by the North Dakota Department of Tourism, perhaps attempting to transform the bleakness of the landscape into something worth watching. We noticed "Here's another of those famous North Dakota billboards," and "North Dakota mountain removal project completed."
We ride through most of Minot, a pretty big city, on Route 83. It gets even busier as we get into town, and there are a multitude of shopping centers and other businesses with entrances right on the road. We arrive about 5:00, just as everybody gets in their cars. Cycling in this traffic is not fun.
We find refuge in Sammy's Italian Pizza Parlor, and order both fettuccine and tortellini for a pasta feast. Feeling much better, we turn our bikes east, and head out of Minot. It seems wonderfully peaceful to be back on secondary roads with almost no traffic, after the sensory overload of Route 83. The wind is now more at our backs. Soon we are back on Route 2, and discover it is a four-lane highway here, but the traffic is very light. pedaling is fine. We stop at a small store and I pick up a battery for my camera. Somehow the compartment has opened and let my battery escape. I mutter about the design of the camera, but with a new battery everything is fine.
Now we're racing with the daylight. We are headed for Granville, where the city park provides a free campground. We have visions of another Colville, with free hot showers too. Granville is still a ways away, and we're kind of tired. We pedal like mad, and get there with a little daylight still remaining. The city park has no facilities, except some picnic tables with extremely high seats. There are some boys playing tennis, swatting at mosquitoes as much as at the ball. The mosquitoes are pretty bad. It doesn't take us long to crawl into bed and fall sound asleep. It has been a 97 mile day, which would easily have been a third consecutive 100 mile day with a slightly earlier start and less headwind on Route 83.
I sleep late this morning. Nina is delighted when I finally move and show some signs of life. Soon after, we're back on Route 2. Our side of the four-lane divided highway has one of the most beautiful cement surfaces ever made. It is absolutely smooth, except for little scratches to improve traction, and runs perfectly flat and straight for about twelve miles. It's certainly an alternative runway for the big bombers. It is nice pedaling, especially on this beautiful morning when there is no breeze and a nice temperature. There are just a few clouds in the sky, and it looks like another lovely day.
At Turner the good road stops. Route 2 now becomes a two-lane affair, with lots of big trucks. Perhaps the number of vehicles is the same now, but traffic seems much heavier since they are more crowded together. We're looking forward to getting off Route 2 in Rugby. We have a good opportunity to study road-building. There are lots of big machines, graders, dump trucks, and fun activities to watch.
We stop for a break, about ten miles from Rugby, and discover a family of hawks sitting on the ground near us. One flies up into a tree as I walk toward them with my camera poised. Then all take off at once. The smaller two birds, presumably the chicks, streak low together, and I snap a shot in their direction. One of the adults circles, and makes a half-dive toward me. It gets low enough for a good photograph, then soars high with its mate. I hope the pictures captured the excitement.
After 42 miles, we're at the "geographical center of North America" according to the monument and the publicity. After big club sandwiches and lousy french fries at the cafe in Rugby, we pick up a North Dakota map at the tourist bureau, pick up some groceries at a supermarket, and head south on Route 3. The wind has moderated considerably. There's a light southeasterly breeze which drags at us. We pass a billboard saying "Stay in North Dakota. Custer was healthy until he left." Turning east, we stop in Esmond and have a couple of thick chocolate shakes. They are served at a counter by a heavy-set young lady who looks like she has a wide experience with milkshakes. It's six-thirty, and Nina is determined to get to Minnewaukan before dark. That's twenty-five miles due east. The wind seems to blow harder now, right in our faces.
We arrive in Minnewaukan just as the sun sets. We find a camping spot in the city park, and then find a bar. Dakota Spirits has an electronic scorekeeper for the dart game, and a big screen TV showing the Pirates against the Cubs. We arrive in the eighth inning with the score 2-2. It goes into extra innings, and finally Andre Dawson hits a home run to give the Cubs the victory. By this time I've had several beers, and Nina has had several glasses of wine. We share a Red Baron Pizza, and it seems about like the Tombstone variety. It's a good time. Then, under half a moon, we ride to the park and pitch our tent. We traveled 105 miles today!
We're slow getting up this morning. We have breakfast on the dilapidated picnic tables of the park, and then go uptown for homemade donuts and coffee at the cafe. By the time we head out of town, the church bells are ringing 9:00. We head south, down Route 281, right into a brisk south wind. To make our journey more enjoyable, the highway department has just paved the road, and covered it with sand. With these conditions, we manage just fourteen miles in two hours, working hard without a break. Finally we pass the road crew, then turn a corner and head east, and the going gets somewhat better. We go up and down hills, and arrive at Devil's Lake. This is the Fort Totten Indian Reservation. Here they actually have trees! They are very useful in breaking the wind, and make bicycling more bearable. By 3:00 we've covered 32 miles. Not a very impressive total, but against that wind that's all we can do.
We take a break at Warwick, where the cafe is closed and the grocery store is pretty minimal. There's an enormous thunderstorm passing to our north. We can hear it rumbling. As we turn the corner below Warwick, the south wind seems to be joined by a little west wind, so we are getting a little push. It feels good, and lets us shift into a higher gear. we proceed east on Route 15 toward Pekin, cautiously. Another huge thunderstorm has moved past us to the south, and now the entire area ahead to the east is black. A little sun peaks through, and we see a rainbow. The wind has shifted, and now blows from the north. We move slowly, because the storm is a monster, and we don't want to get too close too fast.
We ease into Pekin, and discover a bar that isn't on our map. It has pizza, again not Tombstone but pretty good, which I wash down with a couple of beers. We listen to a couple of local characters, especially one who can't eat but can drink and talk. We learn about his adventures, which tend towards violence. We also hear stories about twisters. Apparently there was one in that big storm north of us today. Others hit this area hard pretty frequently, to judge by the stories. Do we believe one picked up a barn and lifted it over the adjacent unharmed house? How about the hundred yards of tar road which got picked up and dropped in the field? The smashed storage bins? Finally we escape to set up our tent in the town park and have a peaceful night's rest. We've only gone 67 miles today, but considering the winds it was quite an accomplishment.
There's a breeze blowing when we start out. It's from the west. Our route starts with quite a few miles directly south, but the crosswind doesn't bother us too much. It's overcast today, with lots of clouds everywhere. There can't be too much rainfall here, because the golf courses often have sand "greens" instead of grass. We stop for a drink in Hope. Nina is not feeling well. She has a Coke, and I have a strawberry milkshake. Two teenagers in the ice cream parlor are talking about hailstones. One describes picking up enough in the front yard to fill the refrigerator. Her father saved one hailstone bigger in diameter than his hand width. The crops haven't been helped by this, and despite crop insurance, one confides to the other that they'll have to sell the farm if they get wiped out again this year. I'm glad my income doesn't depend so much on luck, and we climb back on the bikes.
The wind pushes us pretty well, and we travel 84.5 miles by 4:30. We now have the choice of stopping at Erie Dam, just three miles away, or going to the next campground 40 miles away in Fargo. That seems awfully far, but possible, and we keep going. The farms here are more like those of Illinois and Indiana, but not as impressive. They grow corn and soybeans as well as wheat. There's obviously much more water here than on the other side of the state. We've had many good looks at hawks on this trip. One of the best occurs today when a big one lands in the road about fifty yards in front of us. It waits until we are only twenty yards away and then takes off. It is a beautiful sight!
5:15, and we've been 99.5 miles. I stop to take a picture of a big tractor/harvester rig working on a wheat field. A farmer driving another tractor along the road stops and starts talking. He's Glen Hagemeister and owns that rig. He'd like a copy of my picture if it turns out. I have high hopes, because there was a shaft of light hitting the tractor, with the rest of the field shaded by clouds.
We roll into Fargo before 8:00. Our goal was the County Fairground, but it turns out to be way over in West Fargo. That would mean crossing through the whole city tonight, and then coming back in the morning. We hear about Trollwood Park, an "arts and culture park," right near us, and decide to sleep there. We enter a restaurant which advertises home cooking just a couple minutes before 8:00, which is their closing time. Nina is upset, remembering how she hated customers who kept her long past closing in her waitress days. Our waitress doesn't seem to mind, and serves me a nice turkey dinner. Nina gets some of the worst halibut she's ever seen, fried crispy, and smothers it with tartar sauce to make it palatable.
We reach the park just in time for the mosquitoes to descend in full force. The restrooms are not open, which is a disappointment. We pitch the tent quickly, in a far corner, somewhat out-of-sight behind a willow tree. Nina is entertained by a couple of very small local cyclists, who are there at dark pedaling around by themselves. We figure it must be a fairly safe place, so we sleep. Despite Nina feeling ill all day, we have established a personal record of 126 miles in one day.
One car comes around about 7:00 in the morning, annoying us with its noisy muffler, but that's the only disturbance. We decide not to compete with mosquitoes for cereal at the campground, so pedal back to the same home cooking restaurant for breakfast. Now we debate, again, whether to take the northern or southern route through Minnesota. Bikecentennial gives us a choice. The southern route is about 100 miles shorter, and is designed as a bypass for cyclists in a hurry. Nina would prefer the shorter route, but is willing to go along with me if I really prefer the other. The northern route is the main route, and goes through the headwaters of the Mississippi. We have enough time in our schedule, and I like the promised scenic wonders of the northern route, so we head that way.
We cross the Red River into Minnesota, and soon discover that it is different from North Dakota. There's a hazy, thin overcast, and all the wind which blew from the northwest yesterday has decided to go back. We're getting a little breeze from the southeast, not very strong, but we know it's there. At noon we are in Hitterdal. We buy donuts and orange juice, and eat in the shady town park. It has a nice restroom building, and we both wash our hair under the cold water faucets. We put on clean t-shirts too, and feel much more civilized as we head into the wilderness of Minnesota.
Up to Callaway it's the usual checkerboard of wheat fields and other crops. Then the country changes from flat to rolling, and the slopes acquire many more trees. Now it looks much more like Vermont than North Dakota. We see signs for many resorts. There are lakes in the area. We stop at the Strawberry Lake store for milkshakes, and find out about using leeches as walleye bait. We saw pictures of big fish, one a twenty-three pound muskie. The proprietor showed us the black leeches that are the best bait. He encouraged us to start a business in the east, exploiting this unused resource. Said we could make good money with just a few thousand invested in traps set in the swamps. It doesn't appeal to us.
Just past the town of Two Inlets we turn onto a sandy side road and go a couple of miles to a lakeside campground on Cedar Lake, near Hungry Man Lake. The campground isn't elegant. In fact it's quite rustic. However, there are loons in the lake and the sunset is lovely. We hear wolves howling (or perhaps coyotes - we don't know) in the night. A wild noise, slightly scary. Some big animal comes sniffing around the tent in the middle of the night. We never see it, but I wake up, and in the darkness it seems to be an enormous wolf. We sleep pretty well except for that, since we covered 98.6 miles today.
By nine o'clock we are at Lake Itaska State Park. It's starting to warm up. We see a muskrat as we ride in the park road. Alongside Lake Itaska we are directed onto a bike trail by forceful signs. This is the first real bike path of our expedition. It goes winding through the woods with no views of the lake. The woods are full of mosquitoes. We don't stop at any place too long. Finally the bike path ends, and we stop at the bathhouse and beach. I take a swim in Lake Itaska, where the Mississippi begins. Then we go to Brower Inn for the 99 cent breakfast special: scrambled eggs, funny hash browns, and toast. Back at the bikes I discover one of my tires is flat. That's the third flat for us this trip, and perhaps this one is due to mosquitoes? After replacing the tube we amble on to the place where the Mississippi River runs out of the lake. Nina wades the river but I stay above it on a one-log bridge. Many people are trying the stepping-stones, keeping more or less dry. Okay, enough of the tourist activities.
We ride out of the park and start following the river. The nearest grocery store has pretty postcards for us, and then we cruise the countryside for a while. It's quite pretty, and the route follows County roads. Then we encounter a miserable five-mile stretch of dirt. This is sandy in many places, and pretty lousy going. We are happy to find a grocery store at the end of this stretch where we can get a drink and relax. We try a new malt beverage, just 3.2% alcohol by weight. It's a citrus-flavored thing, and not very good. Then we go down the road to Bemidji in Beltrami County.
Bemidji is a college town, and at 11,000 people is larger than most up here. One professorial-looking chap tells us the University is open, in case we want a shower, and tells us how to find the town's best hamburger joints. They're having the Lion's Club Fair now. We stop at Made-Rite Shop for sandwiches at two minutes of four. They close at four, but give us Made-Rites anyhow. These are ground beef, not very spicy, on a hamburger bun. We can't believe they've managed to stay in business since 1926.
The route out of town is torn up, and we have to detour. This means more traveling on gravel, but finally we escape. We've been noticing large numbers of satellite antennas in people's yards up here. Many are painted with pictures, a new folk-art medium. Between Bemidji and Cass Lake we cross the Mississippi on bicycles for the sixth time today. Nina throws some dried bread into the river for some ducks she sees downstream, but suddenly the ducks fly under the bridge and start diving for fish on the other side. They are Mergansers, which eat only fish. We pass a golf course with beautiful greens, made with grass here.
The lady in the Pennington store gives us bad news about the campgrounds just ahead - no showers. We head down a dirt road toward Chippewa Pines Resort, whose sign by the main road advertises camping. It must have showers, even though it requires riding 3/4 mile of dirt road. Sure enough, it's a nice place. We build a campfire to roast Polish sausages, toast marshmallows, and keep the mosquitoes at bay. Inside the main building we take turns in the shower, and spend a while chatting at the bar with the owners, having a couple of beers. Their two daughters are learning to play pool and help with the chores. The owners are worried that the older will become too "bar-wise" too fast. Back outside, we dive quickly into the tent to escape the mosquitoes. It has been a 73.6 mile day.
We sleep late, not even getting out of the tent until 8:30. It's a beautiful day, and we finally get rolling. We cross the Mississippi again, for the seventh time since the headwaters. Cass Lake has Star Island in the middle, and there's another little lake on Star Island. They claim this is one of the few occurrences of this oddity in the world. We hit a straight stretch of Route 2. This straight is about 30 miles long, flat, and incredibly boring. The shoulder is wide, but has cracks and bumps just like the main road surface. There is almost no scenery to look at because tall pines hem us in on both sides. We go right near Lake Winnibigoshish without even seeing it.
At 12:30 we're just about to turn off Route 2 onto County Road 3, when we stop at the Willow Beach Cafe for lunch. They serve big meals, and we stuff ourselves with a salad bar, barbecued ribs, and codfish. They have no desserts, but we spend an hour and a half there anyhow. Looking at the maps, we see that staying on Route 2 saves a dozen miles of winding along the Mississippi on small roads through more swamps and pines. We decide to stay on Route 2 and run straight ahead to Grand Rapids.
Grand Rapids is at the northeast corner of our path through Minnesota. Here we'll leave Route 2 for the last time, and head mostly south. The road leaving Grand Rapids has a beautiful, wide, bike path shoulder. We enjoy this. The store in Jameson is a disappointment, with no food, and the road from there to Big Sandy Lake is bad too, with no shoulder.
Big Sandy Lake surprises us with a wonderful campground run by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. We gladly pay the eight dollar fee and enjoy the free showers. There we meet a couple from Minnesota, riding with a trailer for their little girl behind one of their bikes. They're having a good time, but obviously hope she'll grow up and start riding her own bike soon. We pitch the tent on a point jutting into the lake. With lake on three sides, we have some good views of waterfowl. A flight of geese passes right overhead. It's a great spot to end a 95 mile day, toasting our marshmallows with the other cyclists.
The Minnesota cyclists share their real milk with us in the morning. This is a treat after so many mornings of powdered milk on our cereal. It's another gorgeous day, with light and variable winds. We're on our way by quarter of nine. Almost immediately we meet another cyclist going from east to west. He started in Connecticut, and is headed to California. He has been riding for a month and a half, and tells of headwinds all across the flatlands of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. He's really happy to be up here in Minnesota, even though he can tell it's a little cooler. He's having fun. He's the first westbound rider we've seen since Minnewaukan, so I gave him the two tickets good for free drinks at Dakota Spirits.
When we stop for groceries in Palisade, I notice that my eyes are itching. Aha! Somewhere a ragweed plant has blossomed. It's that time of year again. Now we pick up Route 169, are joined by Route 210, and we're on a big road. Fortunately there's a two-foot wide shoulder, but Greyhound buses and big pulp trucks go by. Some are real shirt-raisers, blowing the backs of our t-shirts up to our necks. Soon we come to Aitkin, population 1204, and approximately 800 of those people eat at the same place as us. It's a good place. Nina gets a giant chef's salad, much more than she can eat. I get a Ruben, which comes with sour cream, plus some wild rice soup, and cherry pie. Nice place.
Heading south from Aitkin, we leave the Bikecentennial route in favor of Route 47, which is described on the Minnesota bike map as perfect for cycling. By 5:15 we've covered 65 miles and are still plugging away down the east side of Mille Lacs Lake, fighting a slight headwind as we've done all day. At Isla we get groceries and wine, and decide not to detour an extra mile to Hennepin State Park but to continue on the route a couple more miles to a private campground. When we arrive we discover it is closed. Now it's a little after seven and it looks like another 15 miles to the next campground. We head down the road. Suddenly, about two miles from Lake Ann, Curly's Campground appears on our left. It isn't on the map and it isn't very big but Curly lets us put our tent there for just three bucks. There's an outhouse, water, and we're the only customers. Even the mosquitoes are kind. It's a nice place. We lie outside the tent and drink two bottles of wine looking at the stars. It's the end of a 91 mile day.
We hear the breeze blowing before we get out of the tent. You guessed it - it's blowing from the south. We have to go south almost all day, and that stronger headwind will make the pedaling tougher. By noon we arrive at Dalbo after twenty hard-fought miles. A pretty blond, blue-eyed barmaid dishes up breakfast and a BLT in a dingy, dark tavern. It tastes good, and we are glad to be out of the sun. Dalbo has a Land-O-Lakes dairy products processing plant which is about the only industrial building we've seen up here. It seems like a pretty depressed area, where leeches and walleyes predominate. Beyond Dalbo, our road bends east more, and sometimes a little north, which is a pleasant change in this wind. At Stark, we celebrate the end of another Bikecentennial map by eating chocolate ice cream. Four miles farther we have lemonade in Harris. Those things taste good on a hot day.
Now we decide to trim off a slight bend in the marked route, and take Route 95 straight to Taylors Falls. We figure we can get there by dark if we hurry. Route 95 is fine, and the wind seems to die down. We drop down into the valley at Taylors Falls just about 9:00. There's still enough daylight to find a restaurant in this touristy town. I try walleye, but it's Canadian, fried, and not very good. Nina does better with a pollock fillet. Then, in the dark, we go the last mile of 73 to the Interstate Campground, a beautiful spot on the St. Croix River. Nina takes a shower, while I watch the moon rise reddish over the river. During the night we get lightning, thunder and a good bit of rain.
It's raining when I wake up in the morning, so I roll over and go back to sleep. Nina waits patiently until I wake up again, about 9:00. Then I take a shower, eat, brush my teeth, the full morning rigmarole, and it's after ten before we start riding. There's a paddle-wheel steamer on the river, which looks pretty and carries a lot of sightseers. We start riding in our raincoats. There's a little water in the air. Going up the hill out of town we take the coats off, but it's still sprinkling. One of those problem days when we're not sure what to wear. We ride through lots of rain, down Route 95 to Stillwater. Past Marie the shoulder disappears, and the road twists up and down the hills. The traffic is bad all the way to Stillwater. We stop in the Rivertown Grill, and have a great lunch. We then struggle through the traffic, up the hill out of Stillwater, and finally reach County Road 21. It's 3:00, and now we're cruising.
At Afton, Nina mails a birthday card to her mother, and I discover some Brie at a delicatessen. This is a real novelty so far in the hinterlands. Afton seems like a very nice town. Leaving there, County Road 21 has some real ups and downs. It goes through pretty countryside, but the hills are getting to us. We stop at Point Douglas, where the St. Croix joins the Mississippi. Here in the park, Nina delights in using the bubble-making stuff she found beside the road in the rain above Taylor Falls.
We cross the drawbridge wondering at the strange drawbridge beside us for trains, and enter Wisconsin for the first time at Prescott. We pick up groceries, including incredibly cheap Liebfraumilch and even cheaper Wisconsin wine. At ten of seven we leave Prescott, aiming for Hager city, seventeen miles away. The road rolls through good farm country, and we're getting tired. Nina says she can't climb hills well because she hasn't used her mountain muscles in so long. Lately she's used only her prairie muscles. We get down on the floodplain beside the river above Hager City just as the sun ducks beneath the edge of the clouds and treats us to a lovely display of pink, yellow, and orange sunset. It's almost dark when we reach the bridge over the Mississippi, and right there we see the Shanty Campground. It's not much of a place, but the showers are brand new, and we're the only campers. The owner calls himself "River Rat," has a big dog, rents canoes and rowboats, and is trying to build a business. He charges the biggest fee we've paid yet: $12 for the night. It's the end of a 74 mile day, so we swat mosquitoes, drink the lousy Wisconsin wine, and go to bed. With cars and trucks going over the bridge all night, it is like sleeping on the median of an interstate highway. We sleep well, perhaps helped by the wine.
We watch fish jump in the river as we eat our cereal. The day is overcast, but should be all right for riding. We doubt the rain will fall as hard as yesterday's. Nina discovers another flat tire as we start out. A tiny nail has gotten into her back tire. That's our fourth flat of the trip. It's 9:30 before we're rolling over the Wisconsin channel of the Mississippi, and soon we cross the Minnesota channel into Red Wing. This is a drab, industrial town where they make Red Wing Shoes. It's a long way up the hill on the other side, and we chug away.
Suddenly, behind a very ordinary house in a very ordinary neighborhood, we see Mr. Johnson's miniature village. The man spent twenty-seven years building a collection of little buildings on terraces behind his house in his spare time. It's amazing. A neighbor is there doing some painting, helping Mr. Johnson's widow maintain everything.
By 11:30 Nina is hungry, so we try the Whistle Stop Cafe in Frontenac. It's a truck stop, and we get a good breakfast. All the cows we pass are lying down, but it isn't raining yet. We roll down to Pepin, and down to the Mississippi at Lake City, which claims to be the birthplace of water skiing. Nina is annoyed at all the hills the bike route takes us over, and takes off. She roars up hills, down hills, and across flats. I was eating a cookie when she started this burst, and she maintains a good lead on me for ten miles. Finally she stops for a rest, and I catch up. Now we discover Route 81, a little shortcut which will keep us from descending to Wabasha. Nice little Route 81.
At Kellogg, Nina mails a film to Vermont Prints, with the prints to be mailed to her own home. We're getting close to the end of the trip.
We stop for supper at Minneiska. We have to choose between two places, both of which have great views of the river. Unfortunately, at the one we choose they can't get the deep fat fryer working, so the menu is limited almost entirely to hamburgers and potato chips. We indulge, and wash the stuff down with a couple of beers and glasses of wine. Suddenly one of the barflies invites us to spend the night at his house, just down the road. He's Charley Zane, in charge of the student activities center at Winona State College. His wife seems unsurprised by her guests, so it must have happened before. We enjoy the showers, and sleep in their daughter's waterbed. Both of their children are entering Minnesota state colleges this year. Charley is an avid hunter with three dogs, and his animal skins are on his walls. He says he doesn't fish much because "it's too easy." He tells us that the Iowa people come up here to fish, but the locals go to Canada when they want some real action. It's the end of a 64.9 mile day.
We get up at 7:00, and decline Charley's offer of cereal to hit the road immediately. It's very foggy. We can't even see the other side of the river. There's a big flock of ducks in the river right in front of the Zane house. Charley passes us on his way to work in Winona. Today is Freshman Registration Day, and he'll be busy. By noon we're 33 miles down the road at Nodine. Pronounce that no dine, since it's a place where Nina decides not to eat. We'll eat a dozen miles farther on, in La Crescent. Nodine is significant because here we go south of Interstate Route 90 for the first time on our bicycles. It's still incredibly foggy. We can't see a thing, and there's no sign of the sun. We still have that slight breeze from the southeast. That breeze is getting to be a pain.
As we come down the hill toward La Crescent, we pass a few scenic overlook places. There must be beautiful views of the Mississippi, but not today. In La Crescent we buy apples, and ride Route 26 right beside the river. There is no shoulder, but traffic is light. The fog lifts enough for us to see the river a little bit. We pass some floating shantytowns, and see lots of birds. It's really hot and humid.
We get to Iowa at 4:30, happy to leave Minnesota where the sun seldom shines. We hear thunder as we cross the border, and soon the rain hits us. We stop just long enough to don raincoats. It is so hot inside our raincoats, we soon take them off, figuring we can't get any wetter. After eighty miles we reach Lansing, and stop at Clancy's, which claims to have the best food in Iowa. We test that claim by attacking their seafood buffet. For ten bucks we get all kinds of good stuff.
The roads indicated on the bike map are closed, so we head west out of town, climbing up from the river again. After just a couple of miles we stop at the Red Barn Campground for the night. The campground is a little damp. The semi-permanent residents in their campers tell us they got three inches of rain yesterday. One of them welcomes us to "Wet City." We've been 82.7 miles, and it seems dry enough for our tent. We take nice showers, and ignore the little thunderstorm in the night.
We're up and at it pretty early. By 8:30 we're climbing on the bikes. The plan is to swing a bit west, and then south to rejoin the bike route. It's a long uphill climb to Church Town, on top of a hill. They probably built the church up there in 1875 because it was close to Heaven. This morning the weather is different. We have sunlight and a westerly wind. That's right, the wind is from the west and we're headed into it. We stop to eat in the shade at Luana, on the new picnic tables in the town park. It's 89 degrees and we do need shade. A semi-retired farmer strikes up a conversation, and we learn that most of the townspeople are retired. They've turned their farms over to their children but live nearby and keep in close touch. He explains about the corncobs we've seen stored in open wire bins. It's ground, cob and all, to feed cattle. Corn is 1.46, hogs 60, according to the electronic sign on the bank. We have some lemonade at Monona, pick up some groceries and don't leave town until 3:30. We're not making much progress today. The heat, headwinds, and hills are killing us.
As we approach Elkader we can't resist a roadside ice cream stand. Nina has her first-ever banana split, complete with little plastic boat, hard ice cream, and chocolate syrup. She complains that it isn't real hot fudge, but it tastes pretty good.
Further on, in town, we discover more good things. The first is a melon. Big. Ripe. Fresh. We aren't sure what kind it is, even after the farmer tells us the name. It's sort of like a honeydew. Second good thing is a laundry. It's been a long time since we washed clothes, so we do them all, and eat while the dryers turn. My clothes were so filthy I washed them twice. Just a bit on the other side of town we discover the County Fairgrounds, and select a nice site under the trees with many other campers. $2 lets us stay for the night and enjoy the free showers. Even though the people next to us stayed up talking, we slept well and didn't have to cover up once. It was nice and warm. We only went 56 miles today, the shortest of the trip.
In the morning we wake up with a dry tent. There isn't even any dew on it. It's Nina's Mom's birthday, so she calls Quechee. Jennifer, she discovers, needs a ride to Potsdam on Friday. Today is Monday, so we now have a goal: be back home in time to take Jennifer to school. Just a mile out of town, the heavens open and we are drenched. The wind starts out from the south, but is turned around by the storm, so suddenly we are pushed by a west wind. We go uphill, downhill, put the raincoats on, take the raincoats off, get wet, dry off, it's sunny, it's cloudy, the wind blows from all directions - we go 23 miles this way. There are a lot of hills. A little after 11 we stop and have a late breakfast at Colesburg. Then it's straight south into the now steady wind from the south.
At Petersburg we see the oldest consecrated church in Iowa. It's the church of St. Peter and St. Paul, built in 1904. Five miles further south we turn east and head toward Dyersville. In Dyersville we decide to abandon the Bikecentennial route and take Route 136 straight south to Cascade. Amazingly, in Worthington we encounter two other cross-country cyclists. Steve from England, and his girlfriend from Massachusetts, left Maine on July 6 and aren't even half way across the country. They aren't doing too many miles per day, and they're worried about the plains, and about snow in the mountains.
Back on route, headed toward the town of Wyoming, a little thunderstorm comes along and we don't even put on our raincoats. It's lovely, just cooling us off. The lightning crackles pretty close, but we keep on riding. The sun comes back out, and we soon dry off.
Going up a little hill, something seems a little funny in my drive train, and I stop at the top. The rear wheel seems to be wobbling, and I figure the bearings must have come loose. Taking a closer look, I discover a real disaster. The frame is broken! The right-hand side rear dropout has broken both parts of its triangle, and my rear axle is now attached to just the left side of the bike. I try to mend it with adhesive tape so I can limp to the next town. This holds for about five miles. When this gives way again, we go into a County Road maintenance shed, where there's a pile of sand and a pickup truck. Another thunderstorm is approaching. I start playing with pieces of adhesive tape again, but without much hope. This thunderstorm is a real doozy, and it's a good thing we aren't out on the road. The sides of the shed are big wide planks, and the rain pelts so hard against the side of the shed that it comes between the planks with quite a spray. We retreat to the far side of the pickup truck to keep dry. Lightning hits the electrical wires, and a transformer pops right in front of our shelter. There are big sparks.
Finally the storm is over. By now my adhesive tape is wet, and doesn't stick any more. I try tying it, but that doesn't do the job. Nina convinces me to stop at the next farmhouse and try to get help. It's getting dark. The next farmhouse belongs to hog farmers Clem, Rita and their four little girls. They are extremely nice. Clem takes a look at the problem, trying to see how he can rig up a splint for my frame. They insist on inviting us in for dinner, which we try to refuse, but they won't accept "no" for an answer. We share their fresh-ground pork burgers and ripe tomato slices from their garden. Then Clem gives us a ride to town in his pickup truck. He drives us past a welding shop, singing the praises of the welders. He seems to think they are something special, and can fix anything. He drops us off at the Sunset Motel, and the lady gives us a room with three beds, which she figures is large enough for bikes too. We eat some extra food in our motel room. We restrained ourselves earlier, not wanting to eat everything the hog farmers had prepared for their whole family. We decide that Nina can ride by herself the last miles to Muscatine, and bring the car back to pick me up. I'll spend tomorrow trying to get my bike repaired, or at least looked at.
Nina is on the road by 7:00, headed for Muscatine. She leaves her rear panniers at the motel, to lighten her load a bit. Neither of us is pleased with this ending of the trip, to say the least. However, that's the way things are, and we know it could have been worse. This could have happened in Eastern Montana, or some other spot far from civilization, welding shops, and my car.
I take all the packs off my bike and push it uptown. My first stop is at the bank, to cash the remainder of my traveler's checks. There's no telling how much this job will cost, if I am lucky enough to get my bike fixed in Wyoming, Iowa. Then I go to the welding shop, and find all the welders are away. It's a huge place, obviously able to cope with the biggest combines, and filled with tools and pieces of metal. I chat with the bookkeeper and she tells me to wait. Somebody will be back soon.
The first welder to return is not the owner, who is the alleged "genius with a torch," but this guy seems competent. He looks at the bike, and starts asking about my trip. As we chat, he just starts fixing it: grinding the broken ends and then welding the dropout. I wonder if it will be strong enough, and suggest some additional strengthening. He says he can fill the hole in the middle of the dropout, if that is acceptable. I like the idea, so he traces the hole onto a piece of scrap, cuts it out, and welds it into the middle. The owner arrives, and starts chatting too, while his cutting torch trims the end of a massive beam. He's an elk hunter, planning a trip to the Canadian Rockies. This all takes about twenty minutes. Finally my welder stops and allows as how my paint job may have suffered but "it'll hold." Now I'm sweating the cost. We did no negotiation and they can charge anything they want. After washing his hands, as I hold my wallet, he holds up five fingers. I am amazed. "Five dollars?" "Unless you want to pay more." I hand over five ones and ride away. I'm delighted, and they seemed to be glad to help me out.
It's too late to catch Nina so I go to the cafe for a big roast beef dinner. That only cost five bucks too, and they threw in a piece of fresh red raspberry pie. Now I go to the grocery store and buy cleaning stuff, planning to get all the grease and dirt off my bike. Back at the motel room I start watching television instead. I'm not feeling too ambitious, and know there is lots of time before Nina gets back. Nina shows up at 1:30! She rode the 55 miles to Muscatine before noon. With a little tailwind and no breaks, she cruised along with no problems. Nina's odometer recorded 3,258.7 miles in total on this trip. From Seattle we averaged 87.5 miles per day.
By 2:00 we have everything in the car, and are headed east. We zip through Illinois, and get onto the Indiana toll road, Route 80. We have the misfortune to stop at one of their service areas and try an Arby's so-called super sandwich, which I suppose is food. We'll try not to make the same mistake again. As darkness falls, we're halfway through Indiana, and fast approaching Ohio. We notice the insides of all the windows of the car look smoky. Sitting in Iowa sun, closed up for a month and a half, the plasticizers have come out of the interior materials and coated the windows. We arrive in Ohio, and pick up a campground directory organized by exit number, with directions to each campground from its exit. Using this nifty directory, we find Sunny's Campground about 11:15, despite the fact that there are no signs pointing to the place.
I suppose this is a good campground, but we don't see much of it. We're gone by quarter of seven in the morning. I drive until 9:00, while Nina naps. She woke up early, but was still a bit sleepy. Now we pull off at a service area, which has a magnificent restaurant with golden arches. Oh well, our breakfast is egg McMuffins, coffee, and something which is called a Danish but isn't a very close approximation. We're back on the road with Nina driving and the sun finally high enough in the sky to let us see down the road. It's less than 500 miles to New York, so we'll get there today.
We get to Pennsylvania by 10:30, and the odometer says 66,507. The indicators tell me to change the oil and oil filter soon. The car has been pretty far on this trip too. Nina drives steadily for over 200 miles without stopping. Most of the time we listen to my little tapes, reminding ourselves of what we've done for the past 47 days. We stop for gas and Cokes at a rest area right in the middle of Pennsylvania. My house is a welcome sight, except for the tall grass in the yard.
|Date||Night Location||Cost||Biking Distance||Car Distance|
|July 4||Oshawa, Ontario||$ 9||360 miles|
|July 5||Des Moines, Iowa, Tom&Kay's||684 miles|
|July 6||Cambridge, Illinois Fairgrounds||58 miles||148 miles|
|July 7||Streator, Illinois||108.6 miles|
|July 8||Donovan, Illinois, Farm||89.3 miles|
|July 9||Fletcher, Indiana||98.5 miles|
|July 10||Kilsouah Campground, Fort Wayne, Indiana||$ 3||76 miles|
|July 11||Des Moines, Iowa, Tom&Kay's||25 miles||454 miles|
|July 12||Custer State Park, South Dakota||$ 8||662 miles|
|July 13||Shoshone National Forest, Wyoming||$ 5||561 miles|
|July 14||Alberton, Montana||$ 6.25||485 miles|
|July 15||Whidby Island, Washington||$ 6||24 miles||466 miles|
|July 16||Rockport State Park||$ 3||101 miles|
|July 17||Rainy Pass||65 miles|
|July 18||Loup Loup Pass||$ 4||60 miles|
|July 19||Wauconda Pass||$ 4||84 miles|
|July 20||Colville, Washington Fairgrounds||$ 4||69 miles|
|July 21||National Resources Campground||83 miles|
|July 22||Sam Owen National Recreation Area, Idaho||$ 5||74 miles|
|July 23||Libby, Montana, fireman's campground||78 miles|
|July 24||Jerry's Saloon, Fortine, Montana||83 miles|
|July 25||Apgar - Glacier National Park||$ 2||74 miles|
|July 26||Belly River, Alberta, Canada||$ 6||79.3 miles|
|July 27||Magrath, Alberta, Canada||68 miles|
|July 28||Ethridge, Montana, "The Ranch"||82 miles|
|July 29||Guildfort, Montana (under roof)||91 miles|
|July 30||Malta, Montana (town park)||$ 3||119 miles|
|July 31||Glasgow, Montana||$ 6.25||71.2 miles|
|August 1||Culbertson, Montana (park)||109.4 miles|
|August 2||New Town, North Dakota||$ 25||115 miles|
|August 3||Granville, North Dakota (city park)||97.3 miles|
|August 4||Minnewaukan, North Dakota (city park)||105.1 miles|
|August 5||Pekin, North Dakota||67 miles|
|August 6||Fargo, North Dakota (city park)||127 miles|
|August 7||Two Inlets, Minnesota||97 miles|
|August 8||Chippewa Pines, Pennington, Minnesota||$ 6||74 miles|
|August 9||Sandy Lake, Minnesota||$ 8||95 miles|
|August 10||Olgilvie, Minnesota, Curly's Campground||$ 3||91.4 miles|
|August 11||Taylor Falls, Minnesota, St. Croix River||$ 6||75 miles|
|August 12||Hagar City, Wisconsin||$ 10||74 miles|
|August 13||Minnesota City, Minnesota, Charley Zane's house||65 miles|
|August 14||Lansing, Iowa||$ 6||83 miles|
|August 15||Elkader, Iowa (fairgrounds)||$ 2||56 miles|
|August 16||Wyoming, Iowa||$ 21||64 miles|
|August 17||Wauyseon, Ohio||$ 7||55 miles||472 miles|
|August 18||Yorktown Heights, New York||561 miles|
|46 days||Totals||$168.50||3211.1 miles||4853 miles|
|Daily Average (38 days riding)||84.5 miles|
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