Miles Today: 55
Miles to Date: 2,907
States to Date: 14
There were three men sitting at separate tables when I entered the Coachman Cafe for breakfast on a grey post-storm morning. So I took a place at another table. I got a cup of coffee, ordered eggs, toast, and hash browns; then topped that off with more coffee, biscuits and gravy. While I ate, the room dynamic shifted, and seven men sat in the center table, talking, playing dice, cajoling one particularly jovial, simple guy. During the hour I enjoyed breakfast, more than a dozen men came and went and passed the time of day. The only woman in the Coachman Cafe was the waitress, who circulated with her coffee pot every few minutes. It’s more difficult for me to engage in conversation with men than women, especially established groups, especially so early in the morning. So instead of asking my question I just eavesdropped on the conversation: weather, corn, hail, pick-ups, rain, driving to Fargo, washouts, fertilizer, weather. By nine, all the men were gone and everything changed at the Coachman Cafe. The place was full of women. I even met one lady from lunch the previous day in Page.
Heading back into town I began to worry about tomorrow – not a good thing for a guy with my question. I was supposed to take a rest day, and then pedal 113 miles to my next motel. Instead, I found a place 48 miles away, checked out early, had a hearty lunch of beef sandwich with mashed potatoes and gravy, and rolled out of town by 2:00 p.m.
Those 48 miles were the hardest, but perhaps most rewarding, of my trip. The day was fine, the air sweet, the road smooth, the drivers polite, the grass giant waves in a billowing green sea. But the wind hammered me. Ten miles an hour was tough, even though the terrain was flat. I struggled for miles. And then, I stopped the struggle. Cycling in North Dakota is a Zen thing. Give up expectations; give up the idea that flat is easy; give up the idea that I’ll cover ten miles an hour. Downshift and just pedal. That’s all. Breathe, hum, or even sing, but don’t keep checking the odometer.
I stretched at a railroad crossing – there are few places to prop my bike here. Around mile 36 I needed a real break, but there are no side roads, no shade, nothing but a single strip of asphalt and the immense wind whistling past my ears. It’s easy to see why so many pioneers went crazy out here – the wind is relentless. The earth is silent, but the wind is deafening. I couldn’t hear vehicles coming from behind. Fortunately, they all gave me wide berth. I was so tired I considered stopping at whatever house appeared, just to get off my bike, eat a power bar and do a forward bend. Then, a little church appeared, abandoned but quaint as any in a model train village under a Christmas tree. The first church I’ve seen in North Dakota, a solitary silhouette against the giant sky.
I rolled my bike up the church lawn, leaned Surly against its steps, and stretched out on the porch. I surveyed the world from my perch and wondered what the heck I was doing here, at six o’clock in the evening, absolutely nowhere. Then I realized why we do this, why humans push our endurance and test our fortitude. We take our measure against nature, to understand how we stack up against the great forces. But also to appreciate the majesty of creation; to discover nuance in a place a broad as North Dakota: hearing the shimmering grass, triggering the bird flocks that rise up as I pass, feeling the temperature dip when a cumulus cloud casts me in shade. From the stoop of this postcard church on the High Plains, the earth is formidable, but I’m invigorated by its energy.
I didn’t go any faster the last 18 miles, but they passed with great enjoyment. I sang and wove and laughed at the wind. It was eight o’clock by the time I got to Carrington; I averaged just eight miles an hour. Carrington offered a nice motel and a pleasant view for two more hours of sunlight, but it’s not such an outstanding destination. Today was all about the journey.