Day 20: Bismarck to Valley City, North Dakota

When I was little my father and I watched a running marathon.  I was amazed that people could run 26.2 miles.  It seemed almost impossible, yet thousands of people were streaming by who were doing it.

I asked my father “how were they able to run that far?” He said if you want to run a  marathon then the first day you run around the block.  The second day you run around the block twice.  The third day run around it three times.  You just keep building up gradually and after awhile you are running long distances and able to do a marathon.

I think back to that moment often during this trip because numerous people have  expressed amazement when I explain what I am doing.  Six months ago, in February  I was pedaling each day an exercise bike for 20 minutes while reading.   This was not very strenuous stuff.  When the weather got warm enough to pedal outside I started off doing a short 10 mile loop each day and would come home exhausted.

After doing the 10 mile loops for a couple of weeks, I added on a few side streets and made the loop 12 miles.  Part of the loop included going around a golf course, Each loop around the golf course is a bit over four miles.  Once I could make it 12 miles I did two loops around the golf course, instead of one loop.  Before starting the trip I was doing so many loops around the golf course that I needed to bribe myself to keep going.

In short, pedaling across the country sounds amazing but I have heard dozens of stories of people in all stages of their life who have or who are currently pedaling very long distances. For example, in  Montana a bar owner wanted to tell me about her 80 year old uncle who had just pedaled across the state.  In North Dakota a man wanted to tell me about two men  he had breakfast with that morning.   They were pedaling across the country and both men were in their 70s.  I am telling you this because today I recited the above story multiple times.

I woke up in Bismarck, North Dakota, not really knowing what kind of day it would be.  My goal was to pedal 100 miles to Jamestown, North Dakota.  However, the weather forecast was for thunderstorms around 4 pm plus heavy rain after dark and into tomorrow.  Not only was the afternoon weather iffy, the maps showed more than half the day’s ride would be on gravel roads.

On the positive side the morning’s weather was supposed to be greatand there were numerous towns with motels if the ride needed to be cut short.

The morning ride of 45 miles was glorious.  The weather was perfect.  Once I left Bismarck, few cars or truck were on the road and the pavement was new and easy to pedal.  I reached my lunch spot of Steele, North Dakota around 11:30 am.

Steele had a grocery store!  While they didn’t make sandwiches or salads, they did have a ready to eat BBQ beef bowl.  The store manager even heated it up in her microwave oven and gave me a plate so it would be like a real meal.  I then told her and some customers the above story when they asked how I could pedal so far.

I ate my lunch two doors down on some benches in front of a church.  The Pastor came out and invited me inside to use the bathroom and fill up my water bottles.  Yes, I had the same discussion with him.

After lunch I hit the first 8 mile stretch of gravel.  It was pretty bad.  The first 2 miles were so soft I switched into sneakers to prevent myself from crashing again.  The last 6 miles were so bouncy there were times my eyes couldn’t focus because my head was being jarred so much.

After 8 punishing miles, I decided to try pedaling on the Interstate.  My goal has been to avoid the highway, but the gravel roads in North Dakota were too tough for me.  The first section of the interstate I traveled was quite pleasant.  The only issue were that some delivery service companies like Federal Express were running triple trailers.  These road trains create quite a suction force, but all the road trains stayed in the left lane when they passed me so there was a lot of space between us.

After a dozen miles, I got off at an exit with a gas station.  The clerk told me it was either the highway or gravel roads the rest of the way to Jamestown.  This was not good news, so I got back on the highway to pedal more.

A few miles later in Crystal Springs, North Dakota, I ran into a problem.  The highway, starting at that point, was under construction.  Instead of being two travel lanes and one breakdown lane it was one of each and my road train cushion disappeared with the left side travel lane blocked off with cones and signs.

They started the highway construction at a rest area.  I pulled into the rest area to contemplate my options.  The choice seemed clear.  Get back on the gravel road, at least until the construction was done, and live with the jarring. This was easy since the service station had one entrance on the highway and a back entrance onto the gravel road.

Alas, this idea did not work out.  I pedaled the gravel road for about 1 mile and then ran into a sign stating the gravel road was closed 2.5 miles ahead.  I was now semi-trapped at the rest area.  I could definitely not go forward on the gravel road and didn’t want to go forward on the interstate highway.

It took a long time to find someone who would give me a lift down the road.  My saviors this time were Ben and Lisa, who were driving a pickup truck that was towing a camper.  They had just started out on a 3 month adventure.

They were going to Jamestown so they gave me a lift the whole 35+ miles.  It was a good move because there were some bridges on the interstate that were under construction and had no shoulder at all.  In Jamestown we looked at the world’s largest statue of a buffalo and then parted ways.

There was still plenty of sun in the sky so I called my wife for some trip help.  The map told me it was 33 miles to the next set of hotels. My wife told me she could book me a room.  If I hustled I could make it beyond Jamestown and be in a motel before dark.

The bike and I flew the first 25 miles.  The road was great.  I felt good and there was a clear sunset deadline.  The next 5 miles were slower.  My legs were tired and I was running out of energy.  Maybe I misread the map but it turned out to be 38 miles not 33 to Valley City.  I was very slow the last 8 miles but still made it into the city before the street lights came on.

Overall, it turned out to be a great day.  The morning ride was excellent.  The people in Steele, ND were friendly and welcoming.  The late afternoon sprint was exhilarating and once again I met nice people (thanks again Ben and Lisa) who were willing to help out a stranger.  Plus the weather held off and no rain has fallen yet.