Fargo, ND. hundreds of miles of flooding and frogs.

Rugby in the setting sun.

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.

Instructions,HWY2.

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.

Railroad in a lake, HWY2.

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.

Devils Lake,ND.

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”.

Donna, our waitress in Lakota ND.
HWY1, Going South.
One of a thousand new lakes.

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.

Barn and approaching storm.
Race from 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.

Towards Binford ahead of the storm.
Binford ND,.

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.

Binford in the rain.
Car in Binford.

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.

Flooding after Binford.

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.

Missile Silo, North Dakota.
Road logo goes a bit wrong with three digits.
Diner Hope HD.
Flooding Near Page ND.

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.

Village store, Page ND.
Cinema at Page, closed and awaiting repair.

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.

A strong tailwind and raising clouds on the way to Fargo ND.
Fargo outskirts.

Rugby,N.D. geographical heart of America.

Montana sign

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.

Montana, storm ahead
flat lands of Montana, Hwy 2

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.

3:1 cattle to people.
Dodson

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.

rural Lutheran church

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.

cattle country
landscape with "state tree of Montana"

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.

dinosaurs still walk in Montana
afternoon clouds

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.

Ron's trophies
Ron, aka 'Jinx'

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.

Indian heart beat
road side flowers
Hwy 2 is a dangerous road

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.

Insect repellent

” 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.

to the South
storm on the road ahead

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.

rumble strip, North Dakota

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.

Mark, Sam and Marcia, our hosts in Williston

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.

road side snack

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.

Possible art installation.

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.

flooding near Minot
ruined property, Minot

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.

mural in Towner
Rugby, geographical centre of North America