The little town of Rugby ND, was a gem. The smallest town in the USA to have a Symphony Orchestra, we were told. “Is it any good”, we asked the waitress in Rockin’ Relics Coke themed diner, “well some years it’s not bad”. For a town of 2,939 people, not bad is quite an achievement. We planned to go North of the Adventure Cycling official route, in an attempt to avoid the widespread flooding that has hit hundreds of miles of North Dakota.
Before we left Rugby we asked how far it was to Devils Lake. “Well it used to be 25 miles, but it’s more like 12 miles now”. Rugby was not effected much by the oil boom further West, and was all the better for it. It was close enough to Minot to have full motels because of the rebuilding after the flooding disaster and felt prosperous and tidy. It was a great place, and the landscape was starting to have a bit of variety and the occasional bend in the road. It was all helping to raise our spirits which was a very good thing.
More time on HWY 2 into a stiff headwind was doing it’s best to take our spirits in the opposite direction. Touring cyclists, riding in flat, open land, take a keen interest in the weather forecast. The wind and its strength and direction that day are the difference between 90 easy miles with your feet resting on top of your front panniers and a miserable 30 of swearing unhappiness. Added to that is the danger in this area of damaging hail storms and the occasional Tornado. We set out from Rugby with warnings of heavy rain causing localised flooding and possible tornados for the next day.
The thousands of frogs were happy enough about the flooding. We had by now, passed a few hundred miles of their upturned dead bodies on the shoulder of HWY2. None were the right way up, which was curious indeed. All looked quite healthy except for being quite dead. I had seen this once before, a long time ago when I owned a farm and about a thousand pedigree sheep. In early summer the sheep would still have their big heavy fleeces on and would get itchy after a rainfall. On to their backs they would go in writhing joyous relief, realising too late that they could not get back onto their feet they would die in appalling numbers. The frogs had an itch and to use a Scottish term, were cowped and quite dead.
We pulled away from Devils Lake’s Super 8 Motel and headed East as usual. The little town of Lakota came up a little short of second breakfast distance but we stopped any way. We were served by 75 year old Donna dressed in cheerful pink. “I lost my husband and then my cat just before Christmas”. She was not letting it get her down and may even have been over compensating a bit. Full of energy and sparkle she served up a great breakfast and less great coffee. “You should get a pig Donna, you would love it”. She liked the idea. “I’m going to work until I’m 92, that’s enough”.
We were on HWY1, going South now to pick up the Adventure Cycling route and a storm was brewing off to our right. I turned to Larry, our cycling companion at the moment. “Could you drop back a bit with that ‘day glo’ top, lightning is attracted to bright colours”. He dropped back or we sped up and we rode on the very front of the storm.
Binford, with a population of a little over 300, came up at the end of our day and we lent the bikes against the window of the Binford Cafe. This was rural North Dakota at its very best. The cafe was experiencing a late afternoon lull but there were signs that it had been busy. Most chairs had a little pile of dust under them, some had grass and all had recently been vacated by hard working farmers.
It was a tough time, the weather patterns had changed and now historically dry land was host to ducks, geese and formed a thousand small lakes. Many had ruined crops that they were going to have to weave around if they ever did manage a harvest. Again that night it rained and added another 4″ to the 7″ that they had got earlier in the week.
It kept on raining, so we stayed and watched the world from the Binford Cafe and the town and its people treated us like family. We watched and listened to a table for 6 next to us as the 15 farmers seated around it told wonderful gentle stories of their life. The following night was dry and still and filled for us with the sounds of Coyotes. We were sad to pull away from Binford and the wonderful people there.
It is strange, these people of North Dakota have been the highlight of the State for us with their warmth and generosity. It sits at odds with a fact that we were told back at the cafe, “During the Cold War, we had so many missiles that if North Dakota had been a country we would have been the third largest nuclear power in the world”. A short way into our ride we came across the site of one of them, a Minute Man Silo, one of many that now sit abandoned. There are still enough here in Dakota to send us all to oblivion.
We stopped that night in Page. I checked the door of the store. It looked closed, but so do a lot of these village stores. We wandered around inside for a while before we realised that someone had just forgot to lock the door. Another night of camping at a village park for no charge.
We are now in Fargo, which is the biggest place we have been in since Seattle. They do not like the film much at all. As I have not seen it I find it a hard one to call. Napoleon Dynamite, which we have seen a bit of looks quite close to the gentle warmth of the truth.