Trip Log – Day 47 –Fargo, ND to Cooperstown, ND

Fargo ND to Cooperstown NDJune 22, 2015 – sun, 90 degrees

Miles Today: 93

Miles to Date: 2,852

States to Date: 14

I woke refreshed, had a big Super 8 breakfast, and headed out on a beautiful calm morning. My route out of Fargo turned into gravel roads, so I reverted back into town and had my first experience riding my bike along the Interstate – four miles along I-29 until I hit old 81. It’s safe and easy, but I was happy to get on a local road. The wind was light, the Sunday traffic even lighter.

I turned west at Gardner for my thirty-mile stint to lunch. Every mile the wind picked up, and soon I was working hard just to maintain 8 or 9 miles per hour. With the wind in my face, North Dakota feels like Pennsylvania – without any downhill coasting. But when I picked my head out of my troubles, the landscape was huge. I’m always frustrated by the magnificence of my surroundings and how puny it appears in my 5S viewfinder. So I took a series; perhaps they will give a better perspective. Otherwise, the only way to experience the vastness is to cycle out here.

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By the time I arrived in Page, the wind was fierce and I was bushed. I knew Page had a grocery and a cafe, but I didn’t know whether either would be open on Sunday. Worst case, the town would have a shade tree where I could sit and eat food from my pannier. Lucky me, the cafe was open, so I settled into a long break. I arrived at the end of the after-church rush, talked with folks, and then ordered the Sunday buffet – a collection of salads long on mayonnaise and pasta, with enough veggies, tuna, and chicken to make them both filling and healthy.

IMG_2482Within thirty minutes I was the only customer, but the place was open all afternoon, so I stayed over two hours. When I paid, the waitress explained that the Cafe is community-owned. “No one could make a living running this place, but the town wants a cafe.” That probably explains why I saw waitresses sitting with customers and people wandering in and out of the kitchen.

IMG_2483As I rode out of town I noticed that half of the main street storefronts were now community enterprises – a senior center, an auditorium. What Page lacks in commercial enterprise it replaces with community services.

The wind died down as the mercury rose. It was 94 degrees when I reached Hope around 5 p.m. I spotted a gas station off the highway and hoped for a cold drink, only to find everything shuttered and one vending machine humming in the shade. Seventy-five cents for a can of soda. I had a single quarter – a mangled thing I picked off the pavement when I locked my bike in Becker MN – and a five-dollar bill. I was debating whether a cold soda was worth five bucks, when I noticed two quarters sitting in the change tray. So, I got a Coke Zero thanks to a two guys too busy to collect their change and a quarter picked off the ground: the benefit of being a slow moving, observant, touring cyclist.

IMG_2486I sat on the concrete in the shade of the gas station, enjoyed my drink and appreciated Hope’s happy water tower.

Back on the road, I ground out the last 25 miles. The risk of taking a long lunch break is that the afternoon thunderclouds will catch me in a storm. Fortunately, I ducked them all and arrived at Cooperstown around 7:30 p.m., tired but content. The motel office isn’t open on Sundays, but the staff left my key in the door. Despite being the center of our Cold War nuclear missiles, security’s not too tight here. My housemate Paul wanted to know that kind of room $46 a night buys in North Dakota: clean but not fancy.

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I took a short walk around town, cycling always leaves me needing to stretch my legs, and had a long Father’s day chat with Andy. My daughter is in Cambodia, my son on the Hamptons, and I’m in North Dakota: a pretty diverse family. When the sun finally set, the thunder exploded and the sky poured rain, I was safe and asleep.

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Trip Log – Day 46 –Fergus Falls, MN to Fargo, ND

Fergus falls MN to Fargo NDJune 20, 2015 – rain, fog, clouds, sun. 55 degrees to 80 degrees

Miles Today: 63

Miles to Date: 2,759

States to Date: 14

IMG_2458The problem with pedaling 115 miles one day is that it wipes me out for the next. When I opened my eyes, after seven, everything ached. I got myself upright and stretched, but I was moving slow. My host, Jen, had a 4 a.m. bakery shift, but Jen’s so sweet that while I slept she’d bought my bike indoors to stay dry through last night’s thunderstorms, and left me a generous breakfast. There seems no bottom to the kindness of warmshowers hosts. I enjoyed my breakfast, oiled my chain, loosened my bones, and stopped by Jen’s workplace to thank her and say goodbye. It was nine when I cycled out of town, a very late start.

I was sluggish for the first five; make that ten, no make that twenty miles. Intermittent rain, rolling hills, and a hefty headwind compounded my fatigue. I took a Diet Coke break; the caffeine put me in gear. Complete fog replaced the rain. There was no traffic on old highway 52; I was the only moving thing, though the wind made sure I didn’t move fast.

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After another energy bar and diet coke break, my highway was barricaded and the detour sign arrowed me backwards. I hate going backwards. I peered down the closed road; it appeared paved but not striped. I decided to gamble that it was passable and I wouldn’t be caught on a somnolent Saturday. My hunch was rewarded with six miles of the smoothest pavement and nary an oncoming vehicle. The wind still taunted me, but the land turned flat and I was doing okay. By three, the sun was shining. I rolled into Moorhead and stopped at Walgreen’s for provisions. By four I entered the King China Buffet in downtown Fargo for a long overdue lunch / early dinner.

North Dakota. Months ago, when some asked me what I was most looking forward to on my trip, I replied, “North Dakota.” I’ve never been here, but I love tall grasses and broad horizons and feeling like no one on the face of the earth knows where I am. All attributes I bestow upon this rugged state. Yet as I arrive, I’m filled with apprehension, which contributes to the hard cycling I’ve had the last two days. My mind is distracted. Tomorrow, when I pass beyond Fargo city limits, so much about my trip will change. It’s exciting, but also scary.

IMG_2472North Dakota requires a level of strategy places East don’t demand. I have no warmshowers hosts in North Dakota. For seven nights, at least, I’ll stay in motels, all booked in advance, many spaced at challenging distances from each other with few if any services between. My preferred rhythm of riding 50 to 60 miles and then meeting with people in the afternoon is impossible here. I will have 90 to 100 mile days, followed by rest days. If the weather is kind and winds are good, I’ll be able to handle the distances. But they are both notoriously fickle here.

I’ve already modified my route. For years, bicyclists traversed U.S.2, and I planned to follow that road to Minot and Williston, the heart of the oil and gas boom. However, the boom related truck traffic on U.S.2 is so strong cyclists have been advised to stay away, so I pulled my route south accordingly. North Dakota actually allows bicycles in Interstate 94, which may not be pleasant but at least the road has wide shoulders.

I’m also traveling heavier. Instead of two water bottles, I’ll carry five, plus more food than usual. When I tackle my 90 miles to Cooperstown tomorrow I’ll tote enough to go the distance. One advantage – I’ll have plenty of daylight. I’m going to my northernmost destination on the longest day of the year.

All this worry washed away with plate upon pate of fresh vegetables, egg rolls, chicken in sticky sauces, puff pastries, almond cookies, vanilla pudding and ice cream. Chinese buffets lose money when I walk in the door. I left around six, wandered Fargo’s funky downtown, got some bike accessories at Great Northern Bike Shop, located in the former railroad terminal, and then pedaled over to the Fargo Red Hawks Minor League baseball game. It was a perfect night for baseball, and the Red Hawks have a good following.

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Everyone I talked to in Fargo, except the two old-time loiterers on the park bench in front of China King, is bullish on Fargo. Unemployment under 3%, 11,000 vacant jobs ready to be snatched, $600 signing bonus advertised to work in a restaurant, and a population projected to grow by more than 50% in ten years over the next ten years. The passenger train station may have been turned into a bike shop, but the long oil-car trains that rumble through town on a Saturday afternoon whistle that in North Dakota, they’re pumping money.

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Trip Log – Day 45 – St. Cloud, MN to Fergus Falls, MN

ST CLoud MN to Fergus Falls MNJune 19, 2015 – Blue skies, 70 degrees

Miles Today: 115

Miles to Date: 2,696

States to Date: 13

Cycling conditions were perfect today. After seven early morning miles out of St. Cloud, I was on the Lake Wobegon and Central Lakes bike trails for over one hundred miles – all paved, all car-free, all with the wind nudging me north and west from behind my left hip. Still, even under the best conditions, 115 miles is a very long day in the saddle.

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Minnesota has an impressive system of paved rail trails. Another cyclist told me state law mandates that after a set period of time after a railroad right-of-way is abandoned, the land reverts to private property owners on either side. In order to avoid this, a state bicycle trust takes over many right-of-ways to keep them in the public domain. This may have another positive upside, as rail traffic is increasing and it’s possible they may be needed for rail service again someday. Once lost, it would be very difficult to reassemble these right-of-ways. Outside of St. Cloud I actually saw a construction crew installing a third set of tracks on the main line that runs from Minneapolis to St. Cloud. Proof that everything comes around again.

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Since my cycling was long today, I took several well-spaced breaks. On A Prairie Home Companion Garrison Keillor riffs on Minnesota Lutherans, but in fact the Lake Wobegon Trail ties together Minnesota’s Catholic belt. I stopped at the solid, and thriving, churches in Albany, Freeport, and Melrose. The trail parallels I-94 for about fifty miles, but at enough distance the highway is just a steady din. Alexandria is the largest town in these parts, the hub of the Central Lakes region. It’s a lovely town, and I ate lunch in a local restaurant that’s been in the same family over ninety years.

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The wind picked up by mid-afternoon. The grass along the sides of the trail billowed and shimmered like waves on vast verdant sea. I passed a cool house made from a grain elevator. Around mile 90 I needed a beak but there was no place to stop. Fortunately good size trees grow along the path, and I found a shady spot, stretched out flat, and enjoyed a Cliff bar and bottle of water.

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Despite ideal conditions, the rest of the ride was a chore. Around mile 108 I hit the wall. I dismounted and walked my bike for half a mile. Just allowing my legs a different cadence helped. I arrived at my warmshowers host’s house just after six: eleven hours of cycling time. After a shower and fresh clothes, Jen, who works in an artisanal bakery, her boyfriend David, and I had fresh bread and hard cheese. Then we walked through the charming town of Fergus Falls to a pizza/microbrewery joint. The minute we walked in I hit my second wall of the day. I needed sleep. I excused myself and missed out on really great local food, but was happy to be horizontal in bed before ten.

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Trip Log – Day 44 – Medina, MN to St. Cloud, MN

Hamel to St CloudJune 18, 2015 – Blue skies, 70 degrees

Miles Today: 59

Miles to Date: 2,581

States to Date: 13

It’s always great when a warmshowers host can ride me out of town, and this morning Frank rode with me 35 miles toward St. Cloud. Frank is a brisk cyclist who took me along highways with good shoulders. He turned around when we reached US 10 and I headed on my own. I had plenty of time, so took an Internet break and met on of the happiest McDonald’s employees anywhere.

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I had enough highway riding so found a nice side road for the last twenty miles into St. Cloud. River Road went past giant irrigating sprinklers that reminded me of dinosaurs and I was mesmerized by a yellow bi-plane crop-dusting the fields.

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I got into St. Cloud by six and stayed with another phenomenal warmshowers host. Susan made a picnic of fired chicken and barbeque ribs, quinoa salad, and grilled cauliflower. Then she topped it off with ice cream with fresh fruit and a sour cream ‘bar’, a Minnesota term for a pan crumble. Oh, and after we were finished, local beer!

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Trip Log – Day 43 –Minneapolis, MN to Medina, MN

Mpls to HamelJune 17, 2015 – Blue skies, 70 degrees

Miles Today: 30

Miles to Date: 2,522

States to Date: 13

I woke up feeling pretty good, considering the shock I gave myself yesterday. Still, I was glad to have an easy day ahead of me. A nice breakfast and visit with my yoga buddy Ellen and her boyfriend Derrick, then an easy ride to downtown Minneapolis to visit the Cedar Cultural Center, a non-profit music venue in the heart of the Somali immigrant community of Cedar-Riverside and then the American Swedish Institute, an elaborate mansion along Minneapolis’ first paved street, to talk about tomorrow with their key staff.

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It was almost five o’clock before I headed out of town, along great bike paths, to reach Medina. My warmshowers hosts, Frank and Connie, welcomed me with a great Italian dinner and interesting conversation. They are adventurous cyclists who have been to California, Montana, and New Zealand. As Connie says, “There’s nothing like the two-wheeled view of the world.”

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Trip Log – Day 42 – Rochester, MN to Minneapolis, MN

Rochester to MplsJune 16, 2015 – Blue skies, 70 degrees

Miles Today: 96

Miles to Date: 2,492

States to Date: 13

A perfect riding day. Rochester has bike paths along the main roads, but construction obstacles prevented me from connecting to the Douglas Trail. Eventually, the giant suburban boxes cloaked in murky aluminum siding came to an end. My wide sidewalk ended. The road narrowed, then it turned to gravel. Seven miles out of Rochester and I am on a dirt road!. But the Midwest is nothing if not logical, so I just kept north and west, and, sure enough, found the trial I wanted.

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U.S.52 is the main route running NNW from Rochester to St. Paul. Bicycles are allowed, and the shoulder is good, but the traffic is constant. So I zigzagged north and west and north again along County and State roads. Rather, boulevards. In Minnesota a ‘road’ is often gravel, while a ‘boulevard’ is paved. The land grew broad, the sky huge. Intuitively, one might think such a grand landscape would make me feel tiny. Actually, I feel expansive rolling across the immense, taut surface of the earth.

I stopped at 48 miles in Cannon Falls for lunch – my first Chinese Buffet! Chinese Buffet is the ideal lunch on a long riding day; a great amount of food, including soup and vegetables, that’s healthier than most other roadside options. Besides, I got spot-on fortune: Soon you will be sitting on top of the world.

IMG_2379Sure enough I had 20 more miles of high plains cycling. I passed my first irrigated farm, another sign of heading into remote terrain. But I have one more major city: Minneapolis.

By mile 75 I was in the city exurbs and looking for a break. Instead I found only miles of wide four-lane roads with wide sidewalks that double as bike paths with subdivisions off either side. I believe separated bike paths are actually more dangerous than bike lanes integrated onto the street, because motorists don’t see me as easily at intersections. At every crossing I have to watch for cars in all directions and make sure they see me. Making sure that I can be seen, I managed to miss seeing a curb rise between a pair of sidewalk ramps.

There’s this instant of unity and light when cyclist and bike are suspended in midair, unburdened by friction. You know instinctively that things are going to get very bad very soon, but at the apex of your flight you are suspended, together, in bliss.

Then I am on the ground, disconnected from my bike, my head on the concrete, eyelevel with grass and shoes. “Are you alright?” One, two, three people hover over me. “I think I’ll just lay here a moment and see how things feel.” My response to trauma is always deliberate. I take a deep breath, two. I move a hand, an arm. I might be rousing from savasana. My left side hurts, and my knee, but all my joints move. I get up on my knees. Make sure I’m not dizzy, and then I stand. My elbow hurts. That’s not good. I broke that elbow in my last bike accident, 19 years ago. “Are you okay? I’ve got a first aid kit here. Can I clean you up?”

Two men in uniforms stand in front of me. Men in uniform are comforting, even if there are from Bartlett’s Tree Service. We discover I have a bloody knee and elbow and a terrific raspberry bruise on the left side of my belly. Thank goodness I ate so much at lunch; I’ve got more padding there than usual. We clean my scrapes with iodine. Ouch! We apply bandages. I appear to be fine. The Surly, the warhorse of cycles, is fine. Actually, the left pannier seems to have cushioned the fall. Saved by my trusty two-wheeled steed! I take a picture of the offending curb, which is a poorly designed obstacle that ought at least to be painted yellow. I am shaky but there’s not much to do but bike on. Less than an hour to Minneapolis.

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In city after city I cycle through miles of big box stores and fast food joints. Now, when I want one, I find nothing. I take the bike path across the Mississippi Rive on a perilously high bridge; take in the view from the bluffs of Fort Snelling. Minneapolis is rational to a fault. Numbered streets and numbered avenues run at right angles without the hierarchy of New York where Avenues are wide and rare and streets narrow and often. Minneapolis is a square grid. I have to get to the 4800 block of 38th Avenue, but after ninety miles plus an intimate connection with a sidewalk I am confused and go to 38th Street. Eventually I find my way and my yoga friend Ellen and her boyfriend Derrick have a great dinner for me, wild rice and salad and that Minnesota State Fair staple: pork chop on a stick. We talk until near midnight. I fall sound asleep wondering how sore I will be in the morning.

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Trip Log – Day 41 – Cresco IA to Rochester, MN

Cresco to Rochester MNJune 14, 2015 – Wind and rain, 65 degrees

Miles Today: 61

Miles to Date: 2,396

States to Date: 13

IMG_2346I rode straight north on a still grey and humid morning to Minnesota. Then the country road began to wind and the land turned hilly and the pavement turned to gravel for six miles. I couldn’t help thinking, ‘Is this the best route across the country?’ Pavement returned and I stopped for breakfast at the Preston IGA – the only food option in town – before finding U.S. 52 and a nice wide shoulder. The wind picked up, the rain came down, and I was happy to have the country road behind me.

Rain is not conducive to dawdling; I arrived in Rochester at one o’clock. I was interested in talking to an editor of the Mayo Clinic’s online site – one of the most extensive and respected online resources – but had been tardy in contacting them. Their public affairs guy tried to make a connection without luck. I will try again, with more advance notice, when I am Scottsdale or Florida. The Mayo Clinic has satellites.

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However, as is often the case, I may have learned more by simply camping in their lobby, borrowing their guest Wi-Fi, and observing one of the world’s leading medical institutions in action. I’ve spent a lot of time in hospitals, often to observe, but I’ve never been anyplace that comes closer, in atmosphere and attitude, than the Mayo Clinic when it comes to creating a hospitality experience. Most hotels only dream of having such well appointed spaces and polite yet professional staff. The choreography of so much activity transpiring in an atmosphere of subdued calm is impressive. I visited the public spaces, museum, and 1930’s era offices of the brothers Mayo and came away assured of that fundamental truth of any business: put the emphasis on people and they will flock to you. Rochester is full of hotels, all of which have shuttles to the clinic. People come to this small city from all over the world for healthcare. Yet there’s no reason why Rochester should draw so many patients, except that the Mayo invented patient-centered care, and probably no one does it better.

The sun was shining by the time I left Mayo. I found a great little motel on the edge of the hospital district, had a nice meal in a cafe, and strolled the streets in summer’s lingering daylight.

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