In attempting to enter the ‘headspace’ that is the Eastern Montana that we have been riding through. You need only know that Evil Kenevil and David Lynch have connections here and that there are three cows for every one person. We ride mile after mile of Highway 2 East almost every day. Just after midday, on this day, and we arrive in Harlem, detouring off the 2, with 42 easy miles done.
The road is secondary here. The towns were built for the railroad and are called ‘elevator towns’ each about six miles apart. A notice, ‘Never squat with your spurs on’ , which is good advice. The vegetation is much more lush now, particularly after the wet winter and we find it less hostile, a little more what we are used to. The state tree is said to be the electric pylon, so it is still sparse but we are grateful for the roadside flowers.
We get to Malta and are warned of a bad storm with Tornado warnings so search out a Motel. It is run by a Hungarian émigré who made a good living in Alaska as a hunting guide before he started buying motels. We had a wildfowl themed room with Eastern Block touches. We had climbed just 275 ft during that days 91 mile ride, but the long flat arrow straight roads are now as hard on the mind as the mountains had been on the legs.
Early in the ride the next morning we pass two lots of the usual roadside crosses. This is a terrible loss of life indicated by two rows of three crosses together and a further one on top. “Perhaps it was a motorcycle display team in a head on”. I get a scowl from Esther.
I would have to use the phrase ‘boring’, to describe the ride. I don’t want to, but there I have done it now. I thought back to times of boring journeys from my childhood. “Esther we are going to play ‘car cricket’. This kept cousins and myself happy for hours on the long drive to Butlins in Minehead before the invention of the M5 and’ in car entertainment’. You are in and scoring runs for every car that passes until a truck comes and you are out. With an oil boom just up ahead it was a low scoring competition that lacked enthusiasm and Esther won by many runs.
The town of Glasgow is on the horizon. Two water towers can be seen from about twelve miles away above the flat land. In Europe church steeples stand tall over isolated fenland villages in just the same way. I want to take a photo of the name Glasgow on the tower but as we get closer somehow both towers have vanished. Each tower of these elevator towns is different and each town has a different taste to its water, some nice enough but some are dreadful and we pop tablets into it to give it a fizz and some taste.
The outskirts of Wolf Point. This is Indian reservation area and we want to stop early before we get into the difficult area up ahead. Ron runs the place and it is nice enough without ever troubling the judging panel of campground of the year. The real treasure here is Ron himself. “I was world champion twice in native dance”. He shows me the trophies and costume. “The whistle that is bound to the end of the staff came back with my father from WW2″. He points at his green beret badge. ” Maddest of the mad I was” and I do not disbelieve it at all.
Fort Peck Indian Reservation around Poplar had been flagged up to us as a bad place to be. We entered it with whistles at the ready and yet had big smiles and waves greeting us. We were going to end the day in Culbertson, but for the first time in days a big hill was in the way and I flicked down to the Granny ring and tired legs spun up the hill. Behind was a second hill hidden by the first and no sign of the town. I hate the last five miles of most days and this more than most.
Culbertson is 40 miles from the oil boom and is the last place where some sort of economic normality remains, but only just. Trailers and trucks with exotic licence plates fill the RV park. We stand and watch a storm build to both the north and the South of us. If this drops golf ball sized hail like it can do then our tent will be ruined. It builds and gets closer turned orange and red by the low sun. It looks terrifying and we learn of tornado warnings. Insects fill the air. Traveling the world by bike often feels like working hard to get eaten or stung by a different type of insect most days.
” Vanilla, they hate Vanilla”. We were now the proud owners of two vanilla tree car fresheners and the gnats were keeping their distance. “You put the Vanilla dryer sheets under your hat and in your air vents”. The guy had worked in Alaska and knew his stuff.
The storm goes by us and then joins forces to pound the countryside a few miles ahead of us and we know we have been very lucky with this near miss. We climb into our sleeping bags with such a strong smell of Vanilla that it is hard to sleep.
Highway 2 and the road engineers play a nasty game with us the next morning. We have a small strip of sealed road to ride on and half of it has a rumble strip carved into it. Gusting side winds push the concentration levels to the limit and we stop every so often to just calm down a bit. This is not nice even without the tons of fast moving oil tanker at our shoulder.
Luckily for moral, the day ends in Williston where we are guests of Sam, Marcia and their son Mark. Treated in the best traditions of American hospitality we are put back on the road in better shape than we left it and we are so grateful. The wind and the road remain inhospitable and it is now hot and humid and even less like fun.
We pull into Snow Whites Burger joint to rest the senses and when we come out the wind has turned just a little bit and up ahead the road points away from it just a little. The gusts are now punching us forward and it is less of an ordeal. We still manage to climb 2,500 ft in 70 miles, proving that North Dakota, for that is where we are now, is not flat.
The landscape here is a little easier for us as it is closer to what we know. Green tractors go about their agricultural business in fields that here are dotted with sheets of bright flame and nodding oil rigs. Lutheran Churches and gas tanks are scattered across the rolling landscape.
People wave at us and I think they were happy without the oil millions. They spend the money in quiet ways and I hope they will be happy when the boom moves on.
The end of the day brings an important event. We reach Rugby, The Geographical Centre of America. A nice place, but not good if you like sea food.