Day 18 and 19: Dickinson to Bismarck, North Dakota

Crash! I have been pedaling a lot of miles on dirt and gravel roads on a bike made for city streets, not mountain trails.  I guess the odds of my not crashing at some point in the trip were low.   Fortunately, the crash resulted only in scrapes and a sore shoulder, nothing more.  The bike was untouched since my body cushioned the blow.

How did I end up face down in the dirt?  I left Dickinson, North Dakota relatively early in the morning.  I wanted to get a jump on the day because about 35 miles outside of Dickinson Mountain time ends and Central time begins.  This means I lose an hour off the clock.  This doesn’t matter for pedaling since the sun doesn’t care what time zone humans use.  However, restaurants close based on clock time.  Few places keep their kitchens open very late in this part of the world.  I found that out here you can drink from sunset to sunrise easily, but eating is a very different story.

Both my wife and I looked at the route using Google Maps.  We both agreed there appeared to be no gravel roads for the 100+ miles I had to travel that day.  The day started out glorious.  It was warm but not hot.  There was no wind and the traffic once I left Dickinson was almost non-existent.

I passed five women who were biking long distance from east to west, which made me glad that there were others on the same route doing this same madness.  I stopped in a drug store in Richardton for a quick break at the 25 mile mark.  Today looked like a relatively easy day.  The wind picked up and my speed dropped but I still made it to Glen Ullin, North Dakota in good shape for lunch at the only supermarket on the route.  I had done 55+ miles, had a full belly and lots of Gatorade.  Life was good.

A few miles outside of Glen Ullin came the unexpected and dreaded sign; “Pavement Ends.”  I stopped and opened up Google Maps. It showed to continue straight ahead, onto the gravel road.  I have been on many gravel roads the last three weeks.  Up till now most roads have been consistent.  Some are hard pack or washboard the whole way.  Some are tight or loose gravel the whole way.  This road was different.  The surface kept changing.  Parts were washboard, which is a killer on the wrists, but doable.  Parts were paved with gravel thrown on top.  That is doable if you can find where tire tracks have clearer away most of the gravel.  Parts were loose gravel, which is the most dangerous because the whole road bed keeps shifting under the tires.

The worst part for me was that the gravel was unexpected.  I didn’t know how long I had to go.  Simply knowing if it is 5 miles or 25 miles makes a big difference psychologically even if you still have to suffer the same amount.

This section was a bit less than 10 miles.  After about 8 miles on a moderate, but not very steep downhill, I hit a slippery patch and crashed.  The bike slid out and I landed on my left side.  Nothing broke on me or the bike.  I had some scrapes on the left elbow and knee, but no blood was flowing out.

On a deserted country back road with nothing in sight there was little to do beside have a drink of Gatorade, get back on the bike and keep pedaling.    After two more big hills I sat down and took off my cleats and switched to sneakers.  This gravel road had beaten me.  I could no longer pedal it.  I would walk the rest of the way.

I was dejected, sore and wondering how many more miles I had to suffer before the day would end.  To be a long distance cyclists you need to have an optimistic outlook and be prepared for pain.  At that moment when I put on my sneakers I lost my optimistic outlook.

More importantly, I was almost out of water.  I was down to about one quart, which in the city is a tremendous amount but if I still had miles of gravel to traverse would not be enough.

Where I sat down to swap shoes was half-way up a small hill.  If it was paved, I wouldn’t even have noticed climbing the hill.  I started trudging up to the top of the hill, which was about 100 yards away.  At the top of the hill I was shocked to see a blinking traffic light ahead.  The bottom of the hill marked the end of the gravel road and the beginning of pavement.

One mile later I saw a strange sight coming toward me.  It looked like a cyclist, but the bike was a strange shape.  It turned out to be another long-distance cyclist named Ernie.  Ernie was from the Netherlands and was towing a two wheel cart filled with his gear.

Five minutes of chatting with Ernie brought back my optimism.  He said three important things.  First, there was a gas station at the top of the next hill that sold drinks.  I would be replenished shortly!

Second, he had just come from the Eastern part of North Dakota and thought it was not challenging because it was so flat.   He wanted mountains and hills!  I wanted just the opposite!  I am tired of being constantly challenged

Last, he was using the “official” paper bicycling map.  I didn’t buy the maps because almost all of the information on the map beside the route is where to camp and where to find a hot shower.  The “official” route avoided the gravel section where I crashed.  It did everything else that I pedaled today.  Instead of the gravel section it told bicyclists to pedal on Interstate 94 for one exit.

In hindsight if I knew the “official route” avoided a gravel section in preference for the Interstate, I would have pedaled the gravel section anyway.  Being on gravel and potentially crashing is less scary than being beside tractor trailers doing 75 miles per hour.  I would have, however, switched to sneakers earlier if I had known the gravel road was that bad.  Wearing sneakers probably wouldn’t have helped much anyway.  I fell on my left side and on that downhill I wasn’t cleated, or locked into, my left side pedal. I had the ability, but not the chance, to put my foot down.

After talking to Ernie I pedaled 40 more miles to Bismarck, North Dakota.  The last five miles were on a great bike trail that wound through a golf course and then over the Missouri River.  At least this Missouri River had a bridge.  I didn’t have to get wet crossing it.  The end of the ride restored my spirit.

Today (day 19; July 17, 2018) I am taking as a full rest day.  No fifty mile quick rides to the next city.  The plan is simple.  Once I finish typing this go back to bed.  Wake up and see a mindless movie, like Ant-man.  Eat dinner and go back to bed and rest up since there is still 200 miles left of pedaling in North Dakota.

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