A Bunch of Big Things

Richardton, ND to Regent, ND

Having survived the hail storm of the previous evening (thanks to Father Odo and the monks of Assumption Abbey) as well as the ongoing thunderstorms that lasted well into the night , the morning that followed was sunny and calm. Well, not dead calm. There was a not-insignificant wind coming from the west but at least the skies were clear.

Bats in the Abbey!

Shortly before 7:00 AM, Father Odo came down to our room (aka. St. Christopher’s Room) to retrieve Alex and I for breakfast. A silent breakfast. As per tradition, there was no talking during breakfast. However, BEFORE breakfast could be had there was an imminent threat that had to be dealt with. As Father Odo reached for the door to lead us outside, he noticed a small bat had affixed itself to the door. And it would seem Father Odo didn’t want any part of said bat. It was unofficially deemed my job to relocate said bat to a more appropriate location. As it happens, there was a second bat on the floor too. I relocated that one as well. Crisis averted. Seriously, I wasn’t about to let a couple of bats get in the way of breakfast. Besides, it’s not like bats can carry rabies or anyth … uh, never mind.

It was funny, Father Odo said my bat relocation skills (my words, not his) saved his life. I laughed and thought that was a BIT of an overstatement but I assured him it was the least I could do considering he may have ACTUALLY saved my life by providing shelter from the previous night’s storm.

So, with the bats relocated we walked over to the cafeteria for our silent breakfast. And, as expected, there was no talking. Instead we simply ate – something that those of us on a cycling trip have no problem doing. I typically don’t eat a big breakfast – then again, I don’t typically have breakfast with monks either – but breakfast was delicious and very plentiful. Certainly the most I’ve eaten at breakfast on this trip – and in a long time. And they even had Mini-Wheats! If I keep eating like this I’m going to start doing more exercise!

The end of my Assumption Abbey experience

The silence continued until there were only five monks left in the cafeteria at which point Father Odo told us we could start talking. “Five monks”. That was the rule. Ok, maybe not an OFFICIAL rule (as he chuckled when he told us) but it was a rule he deemed appropriate.

With breakfast complete (and a few extra pieces of fruit taken for the road), Father Odo escorted us back to our room where we officially parted company. We thanked him graciously for his hospitality and then he was gone. The whole Assumption Abbey experience was really something I never would’ve imagined. So, thanks once again to Father Odo and the monks. Your generosity will long be remembered.

Goodbye, Alex. Tailwinds for all!

Today was also the day I would say goodbye to Alex. After four days of coinciding routes, today those routes would diverge as his continued west while I would finally be turning south – you know, the general direction of the Grand Canyon (although, there’s still a big western element remaining). Anyway, It was great meeting him, talking, and just hanging out. Maybe somehow we can both have tailwinds the rest of the way.

My goal for the day (other than just heading south) was to ride the Enchanted Highway. If all went well, it would be a short ride from a distance perspective but not a short day in general.

The Enchanted Highway is roughly 50 km (30 miles) and runs between Gladstone and Regent in North Dakota. It features seven landmarks along the way. Said landmarks are giant metal sculptures of things you can either see or do in North Dakota. My plan was to not only stop at each sculpture but to get some drone footage of each. Of course, given the limitations of battery life, I’d have to make each flight relatively efficient to ensure I’d have enough battery power left by the time I reached the seventh sculpture. Spoiler Alert: I did. In the end, each flight was a little over five minutes long.

Stop number one came about an hour into my ride. Side note: That first hour was a bit slow going as there was an unmistakable wind coming from the west. I was more than a little happy to reach Gladstone so I could turn south and avoid the brunt of that wind. Sorry, Alex.

The first sculpture was Geese in Flight which was raised in June of 2001. Apparently (as per the pamphlet) it’s in the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest scrap metal sculpture. And that’s how my journey along the Enchanted Highway began.

I won’t detail each stop along the way because, well … that’s why I took the drone footage. But the names and order of the sculptures (from north to south) are: 1. Geese in Flight (2001), 2. The Deer Family (2002) … I got this name from that aforementioned pamphlet but the sign on the highway calls it Deer Crossing, 3. Grasshoppers in the Field (1999), 4. Fisherman’s Dream (2006), 5. Pheasants on the Prairie (1996), 6. Teddy Rides Again (1993), 7. Tin Family (1991). In case it isn’t clear, the year in parenthesis is the year the sculpture was raised.

For what it’s worth, my favourite stop was probably Fisherman’s Dream. And then probably Grasshoppers in the Field. Side note: When I was at the grasshopper sculpture, there were a couple other guys there also taking in the view. And that’s how I met Patrick and Roo. No that’s not a typo. Roo told me his real name but then said that people call him Roo, so Roo it is. Anyway, Patrick and Roo were from Minnesota – actually I pedalled near their hometown on my long ride from St. Joseph, MN to Moorhead, MN. Anyway, we chatted for a bit (I found out there was a Renaissance Festival in Regent this weekend), took a photo together, and they were even kind enough to top up my water bottle – something that’s always appreciated. Thanks again! It was great meeting you both. Side note (again): I actually ended up crossing paths with Patrick and Roo again at the Pheasants in the Prairie sculpture. They were heading back north along the highway and honked and waved as they drove by. I reciprocated … well, minus the honking part.

Patrick, Roo, Me.
And a giant grasshopper.

From my perspective, the photos and video footage were better earlier in the day as they benefitted from better lighting. Sadly, I was limited to how fast I could travel and in the afternoon everything was backlit. Oh well, I did what I could under the circumstances. Regardless of the lighting, this was definitely the most I’ve ever set up, flown, and packed up the drone in any one day. It was a fun endeavour.

My ride finished in the small town of Regent where I made a quick stop at the Enchanted Highway Gift Shop. Not that I was looking for souvenirs – I’m on a bike after all – but I was on the lookout for a place to set up my tent. As it turned out, there was a campground behind the gift shop. A campground which clearly had pros and cons to it. On the upside I had power and water … the former allowed me to spend a LOT more time on my computer (for better or worse) including editing the day’s drone footage and the latter made cooking and cleaning up easier. The major con of the campground was the complete lack of washrooms which was, well … less than ideal. Somehow I paid $10 and had no washrooms. Remarkably, the woman in charge of such things actually wanted to charge me $20 but I was having none of that. Just to be clear, the woman at the gift shop was very nice and friendly – but perhaps not as in touch with the needs of a cycling tourist versus someone with an RV. And, again to be clear, there were some public washrooms a few blocks away. Not ideal but I’ve dealt with much worse. That said, I planned on using all the electricity I could. I limited my water intake because, well … did I mention the lack of washrooms?

Despite today’s short distance, I still crossed the 3,000 km threshold for the trip. I’m still working on my route for the next few days but it’s pretty clear that I’m not going to be anywhere near an official cycling route. Or Warm Showers hosts. Or Abbeys. So, we’ll have to hope there are no more violent (or not-so-violent) storms in the coming days.

For what it’s worth, if a storm hits tonight I’m pretty much done for. Oh well, if that’s how I go, that’s how I go. At least there was some mint chocolate chip ice cream to end my ride. It’s all about the ice cream.

Today’s totals:
Distance: 75.43 km
Ride time: 3:44:29 (travel time was close to seven hours due to all the stops)
Average speed: 20.16 km/h
Maximum speed: 49.29 km/h

The Legend of Assumption Abbey

Bismarck, ND to Richardton, ND

Before calling it a night last night, I had a bit of a chat with Anna about my upcoming route (which continues to be more than a little vague) as she has been to some of the places I am wanting to see. We also talked about my accommodation plans for the next day (i.e., today). My plan was to get to Richardton and, as I mentioned a couple of days ago, Joe and Bonny from Michigan told me of a potential place to stay. It sounded a bit too good to be true so I asked Anna if she knew anything about it. She did. And she just said, “It’s true.” She then elaborated enough to convince me that it was worth investigating once I arrived in Richardton. So, more on that later. Onto this morning.

A nice, calm start to the day

Once again, I found myself waking up very early … although, the fact that I set my alarm for 5:30 AM might have had something to do with that. Yes, I did go to bed at a somewhat reasonable hour the night before but it’s MUCH easier to wake up naturally when sleeping in a tent. The sun is a pretty powerful (and punctual) alarm.

So, as mentioned, my destination for the day was Richardton, ND. About 130 km away. A rather hilly 130 km. With headwinds for much of it. Thankfully, not ALL of it. The winds weren’t actually much of a factor for the first 90 minutes … or the last 90 minutes. The same can’t be said for the minutes in between. But I will admit that they certainly weren’t the brutal winds I had been anticipating. Yes, my average speed was once again below 20 km/h (such sadness) but some of that had to do with the number of somewhat long climbs. I didn’t find any of them particularly steep but they liked to go on for quite a while. I know, I know … kind of like these updates. Brace yourself, this could be a long one.

Mmmmm … peanut butter and banana!

My first real rest stop was in New Salem … about 50 km into my ride. Given that I was on the road by 7:20 AM, this was more like a second breakfast than a lunch stop. Either way, food was consumed. Not only did New Salem have a grocery store (which I didn’t really need other than to refill my water bottles) but said grocery store had a picnic table out front. I think my penchant for picnic tables has been well established by this point. Side note: New Salem also has a giant cow on a hill. I’m not sure why but it was too far out of the way to investigate (although, I REALLY considered sending the drone out to take a closer look). Anyway, based on what I saw on the map, the cow is a tourist attraction named Salem Sue.

After about 20 minutes of basking in the glory of refilled water bottles, food, and a picnic table, it was time to get back on the road. The winds were waiting and I still had 80-ish km to go.

The main reason it was “80-ish” was that it was not a great day for Google or Garmin as both seemed challenged as to what constituted a good bike route. Fortunately, I wasn’t really planning on listening to either as I had taken a look at the Adventure Cycling Association (aka. ACA) maps for this area and they seemed reasonable. And, most importantly, bike-friendly.

Yes, I think I WILL take the Interstate. Thank you.

It was kind of amusing watching both Google and Garmin try to re-calculate my route each time I ignored their suggestions. This was particularly the case when I found myself turning onto Interstate 94. Yes, that’s right. I was riding on an Interstate today. Legally. At least that’s what I assumed since that’s the way the ACA route took me. I actually considered staying on the Interstate much longer than the ACA route showed because, well … it was MUCH more direct and likely would’ve saved me roughly 10 km. However, I took the long way and lived to tell about it. It was DEFINITELY a lot longer though.

On several occasions during yesterday’s ride I really wanted to get the drone out – low winds, no obstacles but with storms and errands pending I opted not to which was clearly a good choice given how close I was to getting caught in a downpour. Today, there was really no time to think about bringing out the drone. Well, that’s not true. I did THINK about getting the drone out a few times (Salem Sue, for instance) but the winds and the long day of pedalling I had in front of me kept the drone in my panniers for another day.

One of the more exciting elements of the day was once again not marked by any signage and pretty much came and went unnoticed. I’m actually not entirely sure where it happened but it was fairly late in my ride and I THINK it was when I crossed into Stark County. Anyway, today I said goodbye to the Central Time Zone and said hello to the Mountain Time Zone and gained an hour in the process. Not that I really needed the hour as I was making reasonably timely progress. And I didn’t really have a specific arrival time I needed to meet. I just like making good time. And yes, I realize that a time zone change isn’t really THAT exciting. Or even at all exciting. But it does indicate that I’m making some good progress across the country. Side note: There was some real excitement later in the day but I’ll get to that later.

As for my vaguely detailed accommodation for tonight, well … the place is Assumption Abbey which is a long-time home to Benedictine monks and located behind St. Mary’s Church in Richardton. St. Mary’s Church is pretty big and its steeples could be seen topping the trees as I made my way towards the town. What I had been told by Joe and Bonny (and later confirmed by multiple other reports) is that Assumption Abbey has a room for hosting cyclists. No notice needed. Just show up. Find Father Odo and the rest will fall into place. “The rest” apparently included dinner with the resident monks and a silent breakfast in the morning. It really did seem a bit surreal. However, not long after I wheeled up to Assumption Abbey I was being given the tour of the facilities and it was confirmed that dinner would be around 5:30 PM.

Fast-forward a few hours and we just finished dinner. “We” being Alex (from Boston) and Father Odo and the monks. And dinner was great. And very abundant. I don’t anticipate being hungry for, well … who am I kidding, probably a couple of hours … but right now I’m stuffed. I probably didn’t need that third piece of cake (again, who am I kidding … of course I did).

The post-dinner entertainment was truly the highlight and biggest excitement of the day. Ok, technically the first post-dinner entertainment was a tour of the church by Father Odo which was very interesting. It’s quite the church. And Father Odo even gave us a little demo of his organ playing skills. But it was shortly after the tour finished when the real excitement began. There were teasers of said entertainment during dinner as everyone kept their eyes on the dark storm clouds that were working their way towards Richardton. Those clouds arrived shortly after the tour and unleashed what I can only say was the most impressive storm I’ve ever seen. Rain, wind, hail. All in great quantities and with immense power. It was truly awesome. Fortunately, the hail wasn’t the size of softballs. All I could do was watch and be thankful not to have been in a tent as I would’ve undoubtedly needed a new one after such a storm. Seriously, it was such a powerful storm that it amazed the locals! This was not your typical storm. Of course, had I been in my tent during said storm I think the condition of my tent would’ve been the least of my worries. And yes, the video below is more than a little rough but that’s what happens when you have to shoot quickly – and have to shoot through a window.

The storm lasted for about 20 minutes before it passed on to unleash its fury on the next town … which it clearly did as we could hear the thunder long after the storm had left Richardton. Yes, the storm had moved on but I don’t think I’ll forget it anytime soon. North Dakota knows storms!

Side note: My route becomes more than a little vague starting tomorrow and starts to head into some more remote areas. Not sure when the next update will come but I’ll do what I can … including trying to NOT get caught in a hail storm in my tent.

Today’s totals:
Distance: 133.99 km
Ride time: 6:48:08
Average speed: 19.69 km/h
Maximum speed: 41.61 km/h

Win, Lose, or Draw

Hazelton, ND to Bismarck, ND

Another early night led to another early start. Last night definitely cooled off more than previous nights and I woke a couple of times kind of wishing I had my sleeping bag as an extra cover. However, I wasn’t about to dig it out at 1:30 AM. Instead, I shivered a bit before eventually falling back to sleep. I woke a few times after that and by 5:30 AM I pretty much knew I was awake for the day. It boggles my mind the number of early mornings I’ve had. Again, it would seem going to bed before midnight helps one to get up earlier. Who knew?

One of the early views from today’s ride

I packed up my tent, loaded my bike, and had a pseudo breakfast consisting of some dry Mini-Wheats and an orange. Side note: I love oranges – well, good ones anyway. And this was a good one. I’ve had far too few oranges on this trip … I can say that pretty confidently because I think I’ve only had three. Anyway, I was ready to go and on the road at 7:30 AM.

I’m not sure what time Alex was hitting the road but he too was planning an early start as there were some things in Bismarck he wanted to see and there were also reports of storms in the forecast for this afternoon. We both wanted to avoid those.

In case it wasn’t clear, the destination of the day was Bismarck, ND. About 75 km away. Or 45 of those miles they like to use around here. I do my best to do the conversions but all things considered I still prefer kilometres.

I want one of those in my backyard – well, if I had a backyard

About 30 of those kilometres into my ride I crossed paths with another solo cycle tourist. However, there was no way I could stop to chat. Ok, technically there was a way but it really was a matter of bad timing. I noticed him as I was about a third of the way down a rather sizeable hill – a hill that generated my top speed of the day. He was at the bottom of that hill just starting his climb. Yes, I know … I just had new brake pads put on but had I tried to stop to talk I’d have needed new brake pads again. Instead, we waved to each other and continued our rides. I suspected he’d have a chance to stop and talk to Alex later in his ride.

My overall plan for the day was to get to Bismarck early, stock up on supplies, and then just go with the flow (i.e., try to get caught up my blog again). The getting to Bismarck early part was achieved very easily. I don’t know if it was the calm winds or the orange I had for breakfast or maybe a bit of both but the ride today was super easy. Sure, it was only 75 km but I (hmmmm … maybe I shouldn’t admit this) didn’t even stop for lunch … unless a few handfuls of salt and vinegar chips count. Either way, I was in Bismarck by 11:00 AM.

There are no STATE “Welcome” signs but there are TRAIL “Welcome” signs

The stocking up on supplies didn’t go as smoothly as my ride although it’s not like there were major problems either. First on my list was fuel for my alcohol stove. I wasn’t completely out but it’s definitely running low. I typically get said fuel at MEC back home so I went to an outdoor store here. The store in question was Scheels. Anna, my Warm Showers host, had texted me the names of some of the stores cyclists frequently need and Scheels was among that list.

Sadly, Scheels wasn’t particularly successful. Actually, it wasn’t at all successful. The staff were all very friendly (one might say TOO friendly but I’m sure that’s just me) but the store didn’t have any denatured alcohol (or methyl hydrate as it’s called in Canada … or methylated spirits in the UK) so that was a bust. Also a bust was the bike service area. Again, nice people but just not the sort of expertise you get from a local bike shop. Of course, I somewhat expected that going in but I really didn’t think inquiring about a few spare bolts would be as challenging as it turned out to be. As such, I figured I’d seek out a local bike shop. But first it was off to meet my Warm Showers host.

After a brief navigational snafu (i.e., going to the wrong house), I arrived at my destination … just as Anna was arriving home for lunch. Perfect timing. She showed me around the house, told me of a couple local bike shops, as well as a grocery store and a few other options for the fuel. From there, she headed back to work and I headed off to do errands. Anna warned me to keep an eye on the weather as it seems hail is common in this area – especially with the recent heat wave. Just to clarify, apparently the hail they get here can be pretty intense. She said that people tend to replace their roofs every four or five years because of the hail. Hail that has been as big as softballs. Not golf balls (well, that too) but softballs. That’s practically a death sentence to get caught in that on a bike! I appreciated the warning.

My first stop was a bike shop. Actually, my first stop was because of a dog encounter en route to said bike shop. I was following the trail when an somewhat excitable German Shepherd-like dog noticed me. I quickly deemed she was harmless except for her excitability. Her owner clearly had little control over this pooch which was still young but probably not THAT young. Anyway, despite the owner’s repeated calls, the dog seemed happy to follow/chase/circle me as I continued along the trail. She was giving me a wide enough berth so I wasn’t too concerned other than if I DIDN’T stop I was reasonably confident the dog would’ve followed me to the Grand Canyon. Not such a bag thing but I figured that would make the dog’s owner a bit sad. So, I stopped to let the owner catch up. During that time, the dog and I had a little chat and we agreed it would be best if the dog stayed in North Dakota. The owner eventually caught up and we all went our separate ways. Bye bye puppy.

As for the bike shop, Larson’s Cyclery was much more successful than Scheels but, again, that’s not much of a surprise (or saying much). Within a few minutes I had not only been given a few spare parts but I was also given some tips about the next portion of my trip. The key message I took from it was, “Watch out for rattlesnakes.” Oh, good times lie ahead!

From there I was off to Runnings, a store with seemingly everything. Including denatured alcohol. I didn’t waste any time there even though I kind of wanted to look around … a lot. However, before I went into the store I could see looming clouds. Very looming. I was confident they weren’t looming with softball sized hail but now was not the time for browsing. I still had groceries to buy and Anna’s place was still a few kilometres away. Fortunately, the grocery store was close.

Once again I minimized my dilly dallying and grabbed some essentials. Those looming clouds were getting closer and I really preferred not to get soaked on the way back to Anna’s. By the time I got outside it was obvious it would be a race to the finish with the clouds. I’ll spare you the details but there may have been a few slightly illegal turns and a couple of less than ideal encounters with vehicles (although, they seemed to appreciate the race I was in). in the end I would call the race a draw. I know, I know … you wanted me to get soaked or pelted with hail. I understand. If it’s any consolation, I did get a little wet but managed to beat the downpour. And there was no hail. I was more than okay with that.

Blogging in the shelter, out of the rain

The rest of the afternoon was spent doing some laundry, looking at potential routes, writing blog entries, and other such excitement. Some of those tasks I did while sitting out on the back patio – sheltered from the rain. For a while it looked like the big downpour might actually bypass the area but then it very much did storm which made me feel even better about getting an early start today. The fact that it was a short ride didn’t hurt matters.

Unfortunately, tomorrow is looking to be a long day (both from a distance and a wind perspective) and if there’s another afternoon storm it’s doubtful I will be able to avoid it. But I’ll worry about that tomorrow. Seriously though, softball-sized hail! It’s the kind of thing you’d have to see to believe but I’d rather not see it … unless I’m well sheltered of course.

Today’s totals:
Distance: 85.13 km
Ride time: 3:49:23
Average speed: 22.26 km/h
Maximum speed: 52.20 km/h

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