Friday, September 30, 2011

Minot, North Dakota

Friends: I almost feel as if I'm back in China riding one of its industrial corridors with all the truck traffic and bustle. It is boom times in North Dakota thanks to all its oil production.

The first large city across the border from Montana, Williston, has just one per cent unemployment. There were "Help Wanted" signs everywhere, many adding "All Shifts." The local newspaper advertised a seminar this weekend for employers on how to keep their employees happy and to prevent them from leaving for another job.

Highway Two might not be the best route across North Dakota for a cyclist, as it has turned to four lanes wide, compared to the mostly two lanes in Montana, and has a steady flow of truck traffic and doesn't have much of a shoulder and what shoulder there is has a rumble strip taking up most of it. But I am stuck to it for the time being, as the wind has turned on me, gusting from the south east, holding me to barely ten miles per hour after doing nearly double that across all of Montana. I can't turn south to a more lightly trafficked road as that would be into the teeth of the wind.

It is wide open country with nothing to block the wind. Its another 200 miles to Minnesota and trees, but of course the wind could switch tomorrow and I'll be flying once again, wracking up the centuries. After five straight days of frolicking with a hearty tailwind I was almost feeling guilty for how easy it was, but I've had plenty of head winds over the years, including my coast-to-coast ride in 1977 east to west into the wind most of the way, though fortunately rarely as ferocious as today's wind.

If I assess my ledger of days with the wind and days into the wind, I know I have earned a good dose of tail winds from all the head winds I have endured over the years. Five straight days was a heaping big bonanza of tail winds. I greatly enjoyed it and tried to take full advantage of it, keeping my breaks to a minimum. I was just hoping it didn't spoil me, as being upgraded to first class on a trans-Atlantic flight spoiled me for flying.

Now having the wind as a foe rather than an ally, I have geared down and reconcile it taking twice as long to reach the next town as it had in Montana. It still feels good to be propelling myself along. My legs almost enjoy the extra exertion required of them. Even though the wind is from the south it doesn't have much warmth in it. It only reached 66 degrees today. When I stop to rest I have to put on a layer or two to stay warm and have not shed my tights after beginning the day with the temperature below 40.

Being in oil country with drills dotting the landscape, it was no surprise that I camped last night behind what I though was an oil company reserve. It was a one hundred foot by one hundred foot plot surrounded by a high fence with barbed wire atop it and hatches to a bunch of compartments. It was down a dirt road about a quarter mile off the highway.

I felt sure my tent couldn't been seen from the road on the backside of the plot when I set it up just before dark. There were "no trespassing" signs on the fence and some more writing that I didn't bother to read, though I noticed at the bottom there was a warning "Armed Force If Necessary." I thought that a little excessive, but gave it no more thought until I was woken in the morning, just as the sun was peaking over the horizon, by an authoritarian voice demanding, "Could you please exit your tent."

I was greeted by a burly soldier in camouflage and full military gear cradling a monstrous rifle. "This is a military zone, you must vacate the premises," he said. I was lucky it wasn't China, as I would have been hauled into the local police station or military outpost, as happened to me when I inadvertently bicycled into a forbidden zone. But this was more like Israel, when I camped near the Syria border and Israeli soldiers on night patrol stumbled upon me. They recognized by my bike I was a harmless sort and just advised me not to go wandering across the border. This soldier made a similar assessment and was most cordial about his duty. He explained I had camped alongside a weapons depot.

The night before I took refuge behind a pile of railroad ties stacked to my height alongside the railroad track paralleling Highway Two, the only object for miles taller than the knee high wheat. They reeked of tar, but my tent and the wind kept the scent from intruding upon my nostrils.

My most unique campsite though of these travels was the night I camped behind two large tubs near a spring for cattle to drink from about half a mile up a jeep trail from the road I was biking. They didn't provide full shelter from the sparse traffic along the road, but in the dark it was highly unlikely anyone would spot me. Where I shall camp each night is always a much anticipated event, not only for the potential novelty of it, but also the affirmation that there will be a place, as if my day of biking is being blessed.

Despite the booming economy in North Dakota, the library here in the large city of Minot is the first in these travels, and one of the few ever, to charge me to use the Internet--$2 for an hour. I don't mind at all contributing to a library's coffers. It is a large three-story facility that replaced a Carnegie in 1966. The Carnegie still stands and is now known as the Carnegie Center for Community Events.

It was my only expense for the day. I had a windfall of free food yesterday that I haven't eaten up. A kindly gentleman who has always wanted to take a bike trip gave me a sack of food yesterday at the Williston library--chunky soup, apple sauce, saltine crackers and granola bars. I also picked up several cups of dehydrated soups still sealed in cellophane and a pound of potato chips that must have flown out the back of one of the many pick-up trucks that are a common site overloaded with supplies headed out to a drill site. It was cold enough yesterday with a wind from the north that I bought a half gallon of chocolate milk, good for two days.

Later, George

1 comment:

dworker said...

Yes I have that same anticipation for finding a campsite. I know I will find one that 'will do'. Often times when I leave in the morning, I pass one that would have been better. But so be it. .