Today: 16.77 miles, 45 miles hitchhiking Total: 676 miles 9.17.10
oohhhhh man. What a ridiculously appropriate message for today. I slept well. Apparently I’m in a different time zone now.
I read for a while, then headed to the Watford City Public Library. I plugged in my solar panel/battery charger, iPod, and phone. I caught up on lots of email and called the ND State Bike Coordinator, who was hopelessly helpless. I hung out for hours. The librarians, even though the place was empty, didn’t much like my presence. I don’t know why. I was, however, in no rush to leave, primarily because the day’s goal was only about 15 miles away: Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
I eventually decided to start riding. It was snowing lightly–and, for some reason, I wasn’t surprised. Minutes into the ride, it was an absolute blizzard. Zero visibility.
People made it very clear how crazy they thought I was for biking through this. Zero visibility, tons of semi trucks, and ridiculously hard biking. It was impossible to coast, even down most hills. I was absolutely soaking wet, couldn’t see anything because my sunglasses were so fogged and covered in snow (except one small spot on my right lens that I relied on), and had no idea where I was. The road went on forever. I was cold, miserable, and completely hysterical. I couldn’t stop laughing. I tried to momentarily step away from my physical self, looking at the situation I was in. I found it unquantifiable, but limitlessly ironic. Here I was, attempting to ride my bike across the country, in mid-September, in an absolute whiteout.
I was only trying to go 15 miles. It took me over 2 hours, having been soaking wet after only 10 minutes. I wore my first set of brake pads almost completely down while descending the last hill before the National Park. It was a 7% or so grade, extremely long, and super smooth. I fully could have set my speed record on it, and was furious that I didn’t get to do so because of the weather. So unfair. 1/2 way down the hill was the previously-unmarked entrance to TRNP. It must be the least advertised N.P. ever.
The Park was free to enter because the scenic road was 1/2 closed due to snowdrifts. It was snowing so hard. A ranger was standing outside the tiny visitors center and we talked. I went inside the little building, and met the only other ranger in the entire park. We talked for a while and I bought my obligatory pin (you’ll learn about it soon enough). I, hopelessly, tried to dry my clothes. They let me kind of spread out all over the building because I was the only person in the entire National Park.
I had planned on camping in the park that evening, enjoying the Badlands which comprise it, and leaving myself the entire next day to tackle the road construction which began immediately past the park on higway 85. But the weather was horrible, the parks campgrounds were miles and miles away, and, according to the rangers, the road was completely impassable by bicycle as soon as I leave the park. For the next 45 miles. “Great,” I thought, “all those idiots in Watford pointed me to a road that I can’t even bike down. I’m soaked, cold, in a blizzard, 2000 miles from home, and absolutely loving life.”
Before I knew it, I was riding shotgun in Ranger Eric’s truck as I watched my bike, in the bed, get absolutely annihilated by the mud of the oncoming trucks. Eric had offered me a ride to the other end of the construction. He left the other ranger, who had only started working there days ago, alone and confused. Riding through the construction was horrendous. It was a 30′ wide, 6″ deep mud pit, unmarked, with cliffs on both sides, and filled with semis and lifted pickups going 70mph in both directions, completely out of control, flinging mud all over eachother, without any shoulder. There is absolutely, positively, zero chance I could have biked through it, contrary to what the geniuses in Watford Tourist Information, and at the State Bike Coordinator’s office, told me.
Eric was moving through this mudpit in his little Tacoma. I was completely terrified for my life, as muddy semis whizzed by us at 70mph. He tended to look at me as he spoke, taking his eyes off the needy road–I couldn’t blame him, though, because it’s not like he could see out the windshield anyway.
After graduating high school, Eric and a friend biked from Minnesota to Vancouver–AND BACK (which is very rare). He worked security for the National Park Service at the Salt Lake Olympics. He’s a nice, shy guy. Upon pulling up to 200 East (where he told me he’d have to leave me, only 1/2 way to Killdeer, the 45 mile destination), he mumbled some joke about the movie Fargo, and continued driving, instead of leaving me and my bike in a blizzard in the middle of nowhere. At the turnoff to Killdeer, his driving finally paid off in the form of a near-death-collision–definitely the closest of my life–almost getting us t-boned by a lifted pickup going 70mph.
Eric just…left me, at the small grocery store in town. But, it was awfully nice of him to get me through an otherwise impassable stretch of road.
Inside the store, still wet and cold (he never turned the the truck’s heat on, which was all I was truly looking forward to during the ride), an employee’s husband was loitering around her in the store, and overheard me ask her where to camp. He insisted on driving me to the campground in town. So, outside he tried to manhandle my 130lb. bike into the bed of his (lifted) truck by himself, until he realized it was impossible. Of course, he worked in the oil industry. He dropped me off less than a mile away at the RV park. I was hoping for him to take me to his backyard, and eventually offer me a bed and a hot shower. I guess a snowy, cold, wet RV park with lots of dirty pickups and jeans will suffice, though.
But, into action mode I found myself heading, setting up my tent in a wet and windy snow, beneath a tree between two camp spots as he drove away in his truck. That was the theme of the day for me, trucks leaving me in the snow. I crawled in the tent around 5:30pm and tried to figure out what had just happened to me.
It was 30 degrees, I ate a bunch of horrible food I had readily accessible, and tried to sleep.
Biking for skiing? Biking for POW is more like it.
The snow continued without fail. It accumulated quickly.
WOOOOOOOOOOHOOOOOOOOOO. This is awesome. Why? Because regardless of the position I’m in right now, this is all going to work out, make a good story, and my cold and misery will fade.
OK, so check it: I fell asleep, wearing all of my dry clothes, at 6pm. I had eaten 7 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and awoke at 1am to a voice outside my tent’s door, “Hello? Hello?” Assuming it’s the campground host asking for money or something, I exaggerate my groggy reply. As I’m shuffling beneath my fully-bundled-up-airtight-sleeping-bag-self to unzip my tent, I get this from a faceless female voice:
“Yeah, um, hi. We’re nice, compassionate people, and we’re wondering if you’d want to come sleep in our trailer instead of freezing your ass off out here.”
“Wow,” I try to process what I had just heard. “Well, I’m actually pretty warm. I’m wearing everything I’ve got.”
“Listen,” she said, as my head finally surfaced from behind my tent’s snowy door, “we have a furnace, a full hot shower, food, a spare bed…” I thought about how miserable I’d be in the morning, even though I was fine at the time, and decided it’d be a good idea, “and you must be freezing out here. It’s 20 degrees.” The 30-something couple stop talking to me, tell me that they’re cold, and to just let myself in when I’m ready. I gather my things, and open the trailer door, sitting 30 feet from my tent.
It’s a guy, Jake, and his girl. I saw her as I was running around setting my tent up at 5pm, but was too frantic to say hello. She tells me she saw me too, and wanted to invite me inside right then, but Jake was working and she didn’t want to do that without asking him. When he got home from work at night and saw that they had a neighbor, they both felt horrible and wanted to help. But to WAKE ME UP is pretty amazing, if you ask me. Without ever having even made eye contact with me, strangers wake up a person–me–who they could have just as easily–heck, EASIER–left alone, to myself, in my miserable tent. But no, they brave the snowstorm out of sheer compassion.
Jake and his girlfriend sleep on the little double bed in the middle of the trailer, leaving the queen-sized, warm, heated, perfectly made-up bed with a private bedroom free for my use. I lay my stuff out to dry, charge my phone, call mom at 3:30am to tell her what’s happened, and get comfortable in dry clothes as they shower. It was too good to be true.
They live in Golden Valley, 35 miles East of Killdeer, but there is “no economy” there, so they work in Kildeer, living in their trailer, for a few months at a time. When they woke me up in my tent, they were quick to the defense, saying “we would have asked sooner, but he was afraid you’d shoot us. Do you have a gun?”
“Yeah, most bikers in North Dakota do.”
I couldn’t fall asleep for hours–probably because I had already slept for, like, 7 hours. They have the tv on. The heat is blazing. But, I finally sleep. I’m not becoming reliant on generosity, but it sure did help make today bearable, and in fact, wonderful.