I’ve always wondered what it feels like to be at your physical limit. How do you know when that is? Isnt there always a little more you can push yourself? I think I found mine.
Eastern Montana proved to be the hardest section of the trip for me so far. The crew I was rolling with was gone, small town America made me anxious, and it was hot. So hot.
The other big complaint was the route takes you on one the worst roads for cycling. Heavy grain truck traffic and no shoulder (literally the grass was covering the white line at times) had me screaming “this road is garbage” many times out loud as another RV narrowly misses me.
The stress of riding this for several days was heavy. I cranked out my biggest day and first century of the trip at 130 miles. Actually it was 129.4 so I rode around the town to get it to 130.
The following day, 110ish miles. The tail wind is alive!
I lay under a pavilion checking the weather on my phone, headwinds tomorrow… I am restless that night, will I recover from a double century ride in time to ride tomorrow into the headwinds?
I crank out I think 60 miles to a town outside of the North Dakota border. Finally, out of this nightmare. I check my maps and I finally find a cycle shop in the next town Medora, which I am desperate need of some parts. I roll in at 9:30, they opened at 9. I don’t leave until 2:30…
I chat with the local retirees at the coffee shop about road conditions and drought, a common conversation I find myself in. I wait for the mechanic to get in, the mom and pop shop is staffed by mom and pop, and pop is grocery shopping this morning.
An older guy rolls in, his Trek barely holding together. He’s heading west and according to him, he had to make great time with this tail wind he was having. Do I tell him about my 130 mile day where I went uphill at 18mph without even pedaling and how today is hardly a “tailwind”? I refrain.
I offer him get his bike worked on first since I’m not in a hurry, I’m only doing 70 today. This guy is giving me the crazy old guy vibe, but not it the cute Pixar way.
Pop comes back and gets to work. What was supposed to be a quick fix took over two hours. New derailer, digging fishing line out of a his hub, new cassette, spoke tensioning . I watched and marveled that a bike so broken had made it this far.
I get a new chain, a bolt that fell off with my cranks I couldn’t find, and a torque wrench on the headset. I’m not a mechanic, that’s what I keep telling myself, so I pay someone to do this stuff. I knew what I needed, just not how to do it. So I sat in an idealic tourist town for 5 hours where the cowboy hall of fame is buzzing and scent of sunscreen is ever present.
I leave. It’s 103F.
I make it 8 miles to a visitor center for the Badlands area. I can’t pedal anymore, my skin feels like it’s in the microwave. Drinking 3 electrolyte tabs, I text Kevin that he is insane for riding in this heat, I don’t care if youre from Aus, it’s dangerous. A few hours later he’s checked into a motel because of heat exhaustion.
The following day I ride another century across the rolling hills of Western Dakota to Bismark. It’s hilly. Frustrating. Headwinds the whole time. “At least I know I rode a proper 100 mile day without cheating” I think to myself. I lay in my tent that night that I paid $12 to setup and wonder if I can make it to Fargo in two days, 230ish miles. A rest day there I think.
I ride another century to Gackle. It’s dead. The ice cream shop is open everyday of the week except Wednesday. It’s Wednesday. “I guess I’m vegan today” I think. My only food is 4 oatmeal packets, a bag of dates and a packet of ramen. I setup my pad and sleeping bag in a park that has seen better days, and more people I hope. I post a picture on the gram and I get bored so I surf through pictures tagged in the town. What type of pictures do people post in a town like this? Its all people on bikes. All riding through the same route, July/August. I read one picture where he talks about how he stayed in town with a bee keeper who has a hostel for cycling people. What? How did I miss this? A quick Google I realize I’m 2 blocks away.
The bicycle Oasis contains 2 beds, a shower, plenty of lawn space and wifi all for free. There is a fridge stocked full of food and is donation based. I put a fiver in and get some carrots and Gatorade. I sleep outside under the stars, it never rains here. There is a couple from NZ there that I’m super excited to talk to. They are not as enthusiastic. I retreat to my cocoon and leave them be.
I wake and I begin my ride with thoughts of Fargo. I just need to do 120 and it’s a rest day. My last rest day was over 1000 miles ago and like 16 days. Google maps says I lose 1k feet in 110 miles. That’s pretty flat and it was.
I roll into a farm, my legs can’t move another inch. 5 centuries in 7 days. I rode across North Dakota in 4 days. This is my limit.
I heard about this place from a group of people called “The Green Riders”. I ran into them a few days back and they recommended I stay here. My experience with them is deserving of its own post in similar length, but just know it’s a group of rag-tagging, crust punky people riding across the country helping plant gardens every couple days and getting almost all their food from dumpsters that grocery stores through away.
The Solbergs farm is amazing, and I have fallen in love. The chickens run free, she makes yarn from the sheep she raises and sells at the farmers market(wool and meat), she tells me about the food coop they just started in town. We stayed up way too late having one of the most heartfelt conversations. Perhaps I’m homesick I begin to think.
I spend the morning weeding her vegetable beds and she gives me a tour of the place. The ideas are flowing and I give her advice on things I’ve read in books and seen in videos. I’ve never grown a plant in my life.
The wild flower bed in front of the house brings me peace. This place is amazing I keep repeating. My heart becomes fuller and fuller. “These are my people” I think . Bandit, their Australian sheep dog, brings a flood of memories from my childhood.
Was this the whole point? To end up on a family farm in North Dakota on a bike, a place that makes me question everything again?