Friday, December 16, 2022

“Sprinting Through No Man’s Land,” Adin Dobkin

 The 1919 Tour de France, the first since 1914 after a four-year hiatus during WWI, had a host of noteworthy elements, not the least of which was the introduction of the Yellow Jersey after stage ten of the fifteen stage race so the fans could spot the race leader as the riders sped past.   It had the fewest finishers of any Tour (a mere eleven, reduced to ten due to a belated disqualification), the slowest average speed (24.056 km per hour), the longest stage ever (482 kilometers) and the heartbreak of Eugene Christophe being denied victory for the second time due to a broken fork, as well as a return of this popular event. 

As with any of the more than one hundred editions of the race, the first of which was in 1903, it’s drama and many side stories would make for a fine book.  The young American journalist Adin Dorkin recognized that when he ventured to France to research a novel about a soldier walking across France after WWI witnessing all the devastation.  He wished to include events the character might have witnessed and discovered the Tour de France could have been one of them.  He mentions in a YouTube interview that he didn’t know much about the Tour or how long it had been going on, so went to Wikipedia to learn more. When he discovered the magnitude of the race he shelved his plan of writing a novel and shifted it to an account of the 1919 Tour still allowing him to write of the after effects of the war, his true interest.

His lack of knowledge of racing and his inclination to be a novelist dominate the book—“Sprinting Through No Man’s Land.” His florid writing won the favor of reviewers, at least of the non-cycling press.  That and the promotion by his publisher Amazon turned the book into a best-seller when it was released in July of 2021 during The Tour.  With Amazon making it easily available as an e-book, it received nearly three hundred reviews from readers at Good Reads, mostly favorable from those who weren’t put off by his superficial racing acumen, some who actually mistook the book for a novel.  

The very title exposes its author as a dilettante of the sport.  The sixty-seven men who set out on the race around the perimeter of France were hardly “sprinting” over those three thousand miles nor was it through a “no man’s land.”  No Tour is a sprint and this less so than any with an average speed of barely fifteen miles per hour over the rough roads of the time.  There are occasional sprints at the end of a stage for a few hundred meters at most, but these riders were so spread out there were few sprints on any of its fifteen stages.  He loosely uses the word “sprint” throughout his book, writing that riders were sprinting up mountains and even down them.  He refers to sprinting as “an intellectual exercise.”  More balderdash, as it is instinctual fearlessness.

His research included driving and walking portions of the route, not biking it, which would have given him some insight into the act of cycling.  Instead, he relies on his imagination to describe what it is to race a bike.  In trying to convey the experience and the mindset of the riders he resorts to the most banal of descriptions, writing such nonsense as a rider “paid close attention to the ground underneath his wheels.”  

Twice within thirty pages he uses the word “torque” to describe the effort a rider transmitted into his bike, a word I’ve never come across in thousands and thousands of pages written by authorities of cycling.  He regularly writes that the riders were pushing hard or bearing down on their pedals.  That goes without saying, except that he could find nothing better to say of their efforts. His inclination to be descriptive borders on the ridiculous and laughable, painfully so at times. At one point he claims the riders were putting so much effort into trying to ride fast it was as if they were “trying to pry apart the earth underneath.”

He describes riders drafting as “siphoning” the “excess energy” of another rider, as if they were draining his efforts and that he was stronger than others.  His propensity to write colorfully is a continual insult to the intelligence of those versed in the sport.  As the riders approached the first set of mountains he wrote, “The Pyrennes would sprout in front of their tires; first unnoticeable, then unavoidable and unceasing.”  It was almost as if the book had been written in another language and this was a shoddy translation. 

His research gave him such a familiarity with the racers that persevered, twenty-six dropped out after the first stage and only eighteen of the sixty-seven who started were left after stage four and reduced to eleven after stage nine with six stages remaining, he began to refer to them by first name only.  It was most disconcerting to have the legendary Eugene Christophe, the first wearer of the Yellow Jersey, and whose grave I searched out in Malakoff, a suburb of Paris, reduced to a first name.  Henri Desgrange,  the larger-than-life founder and director of The Tour, was spared such an indignity, partially because the race included a Henri (Pelissier) for a spell, a longtime thorn in the side of Desgrange and future winner of The Tour.

The book is further undermined by five chapters totally unrelated to the race, two about African Americans and two on women, as if he anticipated some edict, such as the NFL’s Rooney rule, that all books had to include so many pages on these groups.  One of the chapters on Blacks was about an American troop solely consisting of them based in the north of France that might have seen The Tour pass if they were still there.  

He also makes the egregious error of stating a blacksmith assisted Christophe in the repair of his fork in the 1913 Tour and was penalized ten minutes for the infraction of accepting help, when it was a young boy who lent a hand with the use of a bellows, causing the ten-minute penalty, later reduced to three minutes. This is one of the most storied events in Tour history.  A plaque resides on the building where it took place at the foot of the Tourmalet and was re-enacted fifty years later with Christophe and the aged boy. 

He refers to the story as Christophe broke his fork once again in the 1919 race on the penultimate stage when he was in first place by thirty minutes and destined to make up for his ill fortune in 1913 when he was also leading the race when tragedy struck.  His loss of time caused him to finish third, allowing the Belgian Firmin Lambot to win.  

Christophe was such a fan favorite that thousands of French sent a few francs to the newspaper sponsoring the race to give to Christophe, amounting to more than the winner’s stake.  The newspaper published the names of all the contributors, twenty pages worth.  I once saw a copy in an exhibit celebrating the one hundredth anniversary of the Yellow Jersey at a Sports Museum outside Nice. To emphasize Christophe’s setback he masquerades as an omniscient narrator claiming that Christophe “found himself in tears at countless points” on the final stage, a gross exaggeration of someone who would have accepted his fate.  

The book is sprinkled with many slights.  He refers to the Paris-Brest-Paris race as a “one-day cycling event.”   The winning time of this 750 mile race, which was founded twelve years before The Tour and continues to this day, was 71 hours and 22 minutes in its inaugural in 1891.  It wasn’t until 1951 that the time fell under 48 hours.  The latest winning time was only four hours faster.  How could he not know that it would take considerably longer than a day to ride from Paris to the northwest corner of the country and then back?  This comes on page twelve, a fair warning of reader-beware.  

He departs from the usual use of the word “grade” for the slant of a climb with the clumsy description of the Tourmalet—“the ground shifted between ten and sixteen degrees.”  He wrote that only the most dedicated of fans gathered on the mountains, when in fact they attract any and all fans, always their highest concentration.  He diminishes the last two stages of the race, referring to them as “rides.”  Nor does he pay proper respect to the climbs referring to the Galibier and Tourmalet and Aubisque without “the” or “Col de” preceding them as is customary.  No one versed in cycling would have written the sentence, “As Tourmalet had been for the Pyrenees, Galibier was for the Alps.”   Curiously, the Galibier is in the index as “Col du Galibier,” while the Aubisque is simply “Aubisque” and the Tourmalet is ignored.  

It was no wonder that this book had escaped my notice until recently when a friend mentioned it, as the cycling press has ignored it.  I rushed to the Chicago Public Library to get my hands on it with great anticipation.   It may be the most disappointing book I’ve ever read considering my eagerness to relive this seminal Tour.  Read it at your own peril.  

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Fargo, North Dakota

I thought I was going to survive this trip without being subjected to gravel, but I had to endure two stretches during my last two days on the road, both times a surprise and both I could have avoided by riding on Interstate 94, whIch is allowed in these parts. The first was a five-mile dose entering Valley City.  The second came the next day for eight miles halfway between Valley City and Fargo. 

I avoided a fourteen-mile stretch of gravel by riding on the Interstate after leaving Valley City.  I wasn’t certain I would be able to until I came to the entrance ramp and there was no sign forbidding non-motorized vehicles or farm equipment or anything.  Both the night and the morning clerk at the motel I stayed at assured me bicycles were allowed on the Interstate, but I didn’t believe it until I saw it with my own eyes.  

I had a nice wide shoulder with minimal debris.  I didn’t suffer any more turbulence from the 18-wheelers than on a two-lane wide road, maybe less though their roar may have been a little harsher on the ears as they could go a bit faster.  I could have continued on the Interstate all the way to Fargo, but I turned off with forty-five miles to go when I came upon a paved road paralleling the Interstate.  

If I had known it would turn to gravel after eight miles I might have stuck with it, as did just about every else.  I encountered only three pick-ups stirring up clouds of dust in my hour of non-pavement.  There were gravel-free lanes most of the way but narrow enough thwt I was continually in danger of being blown into the thick gravel sandwiching them by the strong side wind from the north. It did cause a few heart-stopping moments when it did.  

I was happy to enter the wind-blunted semi-sprawl of Fargo, the largest city in North Dakota with a population of 115,000,  just enough to rank it in the top three hundred metropolises in the US.  The road I was on took me right by the Carnegie Library on the campus of North Dakota State.  When the library was built in 1905 it was the North Dakota Agricultural College.  Not only has the university changed its name so has the library.  It is now Putnam Hall housing the departments of Criminal Justice and Political Science and Public Policy.  A plaque on the exterior of the building acknowledges Carnegie.

I continued on to the lone Statue of Liberty donated by the Boy Scouts in North Dakota.  It was just before the bridge over the Red River to Moorhead, Minnesota, Fargo’s sister city.  The official Boy Scout plaque was on the side of the statue’s base.  On the front wss another plaque saying this statue had replaced the original.  It’s the second replica I’ve come across after the original had deteriorated from the elements.  

It was nearly dark when I rolled over to the Amtrak station with hopes that I might be able to get on that night’s train rather than having to wait until the next day.  I was also eager to confirm that the station could supply me with a box for my bike.  Unfortunately the station was closed and wouldn’t open until midnight. The hours posted on the door were 12 a.m. until 7:30 a.m.  I was faced with the dilemma of trying to find a place to hang out until midnight or heading to a cluster of motels (all the Inns—Days, Ramada, Quality, Holiday, C’Mon, America’s Best Value along with a Motel Six and assortment of the usual chain motels) at the intersection of the Interstates 94 and 29.  With so much competition it would be the cheapest motel of the trip. 

Before I’d decided what to do a cyclist happened by, the owner of a nearby bike shop.  He was rushing to see his father at his retirement home before he went to bed, but had the time to point to a heated parking garage I could slip into until midnight.  He also said that if I needed a box for my bike I could find one in a pile of cardboard outside his shop.

I went over to the garage and sat beside a heater and set of electrical outlets marveling at my good fortune of having it recommended.  It was perfect, but the more I thought about the long odds of there having been a cancelation opening up a seat for me on the train I decided it wasn’t worth the bother of sitting on concrete for over four hours with the likelihood of having to bike across Fargo and check into a motel after midnight. I might as well get that over with and look forward to a day of exploring Fargo.  Returning a day early would just be a favor to Janina’s cats, as she had left that day for a two week artist’s retreat, and they were going to have to survive on dry food until I returned and could supply them with their daily can of meat. 

I chose America’s Best Value Inn as it came with breakfast and was only two dollars more than the Motel Six, the cheapest of the lot. The Indian woman at the counter quoted a higher price than the on-line price.  She said I could book it on-line but it would take thirty minutes to process.  I thought I was doing her a favor by buying direct, but she didn’t see it that way.  When I asked if its website was right about there being breakfast, she said that was only on weekends.  I said I’d go over to Motel Six then, to which she dropped the price to that of the Motel Six.

When I left in the morning an older guy came in wanting to check in early drawn by the low rate and the breakfast.  When I gave him the dope on those issues he shook his head and sighed, “Everybody’s got a scam.  Someone tried to charge me an extra dollar for coffee yesterday.”  He was living in his van.  It was a cold night as it had gotten down to ten.  He said he was looking for a place to live but it was hard to find something affordable for his Social Security. I told him if he just wanted a shower he could use my room, which perked him up immeasurably.  He grabbed my key card and dashed up the stairs.

My first destination for the day was a nearby mall, the largest in Fargo, as it had a Museum devoted to Roger Maris, a native son.  It couldn’t have been more topical, as his American League home run record of sixty-one in 1961 had just been broken. The first entrance I tried led right to it—three class cases of memorabilia along a walkway with a string of flags above giving the date and place of each of his home runs.  There was also a small room with a handful of seats from Yankee Stadium facing a screen showing an hour-long, continually-playing documentary on his life. 

The doc was superb.  It contained interviews with his wife (his Fargo high school sweetheart) and several of his six children and Bob Costas and other journalists and Mickey Mantle and many other players. Next to the screen was a list of figures comparing Maris to Babe Ruth whose record he had broken to the dismay of many.  Maris was twenty-six when he hit his sixty-one.  Ruth was thirty-four when he set sixty in 1927.  Ruth weighed 251 pounds, Maris 200.  Ruth had a 48 inch waist, Maris 35 1/4 inch.  

As far as the controversy of Maris having a 162 game schedule, compared to Ruth’s 154, the documentary pointed out that Maris had only seven more at bats.  They both benefited by the short right field of Yankee Stadium, but Maris hit thirty-one of his homers on the road. The documentary also pointed out that there was no controversy of Ruth having a much longer schedule when he first broke the home run record of twenty-seven homers with twenty-nine in 1919.  The documentary also dispelled the myth that Maris and Mantle didn’t get along, as they shared an apartment with another teammate in 1961.  Not only did Maris win the MVP award in 1961, he’d won  it the year before.  

The documentary concluded with Maris’ funeral in 1985 after succumbing to cancer at the age of fifty-one.  He was buried in Fargo.  I asked the other person watching the documentary if he knew where the cemetery was.  He said he did and was going there next.  Me too.  It was north of the city abutting the airport.  The cemetery office was closed but a guy on a crew working on a power line along the road pointed me in the direction of where the grave was.  He said he didn’t realize Maris was buried there until the day before when a guy on his crew discovered it when he entered Holy Cross Cemetery on his smartphone. It even gave the coordinates of the gravesite.  

A tiny sign pointed to the grave that I missed on my first passby as I was scanning the graves for “Maria.” His tombstone was in the shape of a baseball diamond and stood above all those around it.  It simply bore the name “Maris” above a left-handed swinger with 61 above the bat and ‘61 below it.  At the base of the tombstone was “against all odds.”  There was a scattering of offerings by the grave—coins, baseballs, a Yankee hat and a baseball bat.  I was glad I had made the effort to see it. It was my second grave of the trip along with that of Sinclair Lewis.  Sites were coming in pairs, as I had seen two Statues of Liberty as well.

On the way to the cemetery I passed the stadium of the minor league team Maris had played for.  This one replaced the one Maris played in.  It was built in 1996 and with the exact dimensions of Yankee Stadium.  His number had been retired here, as it had been by the Yankees.  The stadium had up until a few months ago a Maury Wills Museum, as he had been a coach and announcer for the team for twenty-seven years even though he had been a long-time Dodger.  He’d adopted Fargo as a place he liked being and was much loved by the community.  But shortly before his recent death he wanted his memorabilia given to his children and the museum was no more.

Just two blocks from the baseball stadium stands a Fargodome for indoor sporting events and concerts and such.  It is on the campus of North Dakota State University, as is the baseball stadium.  Back downtown as I surveyed the large library for a window to lean my bike against so I could keep an eye on it from within a sixty-year cyclist pulled up.  He’d done a bit of touring, his longest ride across Minnesota. He was headed to a twenty-four hour restaurant just a few blocks from the train station where I could fill in the three hours from nine p.m. until midnight awaiting the opening of the Amtrak station if I cared to opt out of the parking garage.  I had a lot of food I was trying to make a dent in, so I wasn’t all that inclined to buying more.

I ventured back to the bike shop by the train station to verify there would be a box for my bicycle if need be. The quite friendly owner, Tom, apologized for being in such a rush the night before, as he could have offered me a warm spot to hang out in a building he was rehabbing across from his bike shop, which I could use this night.  We walked over to scout it out.  As we talked, we learned we had much more in common than we realized.  He had been a bicycle messenger in Minneapolis and had toured in South America and had been on L’Alpe d’Huez at the same time I had been more than once during the Tour de France. He such a devotee of the Tour he organizes groups to go over for it.

My trip was ending up in fine fashion.  My extra day in Fargo was certainly putting a bow on it.  I was even able to have the bike shop extract a water bottle bolt whose 
head I had snapped off, forcing me to hold the cage in place with a piece of wire.  The final piece of the travels fell in place when I was the first passenger at the station shortly after it opened at midnight.  

The station master said I didn’t need to box my bike or turn the handlebars or remove the pedals.  It would be accepted as is.  All I need do was strip it off all its gear, pay twenty dollars and then when the train pulled in hoist it into the baggage. I was able to stuff all my gear into my duffle except the two sleeping bags and sleeping pad, which I’d carry on and make use of. I also carried aboard my dayback filled with food and reading material and various sundries in my handlebar bag.  

I had been waning sitting and reading in the basement of the building being rehabbed greatly tempted by a can of Coke on a table with architectural plans, but sitting under the bright fluorescent lights in the train station took the edge off my fatigue.  Two older single women arrived before one and then two single guys before two. There was a small rush of four more passengers at three.  

The train was right on time at 3:30.  About twenty passengers disembarked and then we were allowed aboard.  I had a seat to myself at the back of a car, but I laid down on the floor behind the seat and slept solid for four hours woken shortly before we arrived at St Paull by the warning that one hundred and fifty people would be boarding, filling all the seats.  I took to my seat and continued snoozing in a more upright position. 

The thirteen hours to Chicago, some of it along the Mississippi, capped another fine month of travel, my third 2,500 mile bike tour in the US this year, each Carnegie-inspired.  I visited twenty-eight on this one I hadn’t been to before (twenty-two in Minnesota, three in Ontario and three in North Dakota) plus a handful of others I’d previously been to in Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota.  

Along the way I crossed the Mississippi nearly a dozen times and went beyond the Arctic Divide in Canada.  I passed through the home towns of Minnesots’s two Nobel laureates for literature (Sinclair Lewis and Bob Dylan) and the hometowns of a couple of sports icons—Chicago Bear great Bronko Nagurski and the home run king Roger Maris.  I came upon noteworthy statues of Paul Bunyan and Smokey the Bear along with that of Nagurski. I passed through Minnesota’s largest Indian Reservation and had my passport perused at two border crossings.  I was snowed upon and ferociously barked at.  I started out with one sleeping bag and returned with two, one a gift after my first was stolen, and the other an end-of-the-season close-out bargain.  I needed both and more on the coldest of nights.

As goes the Carnegie-quest, Minnesota becomes the fifteenth state I’ve completed.  I came within one of completing North Dakota, as the seventh of its still standing Carnegies is in the far southwest corner of the state, a bit out of my range on this trip. The twenty-eight I added on this trip brings the tally to 1,070.  I still have 436 to get to in the US, most of which are in the northeast and northwest.  Slowly but surely I’m going to get them all.


Monday, October 17, 2022

Valley City, North Dakota


It was seventy-one miles from my last Carnegie in Minnesota to the next in North Dakota in Grafton, a mere hop after long jaunts of 178 and 133 and 303 and 163 miles between the last few startling with Two Harbors to Thunder Bay. .  But those seventy-one miles were all into the strongest wind of the trip, a twenty-miler,  making it the most demanding stretch of all. 

At least I managed to reach the Carnegie in Grafton during its limited Saturday hours, though just twenty minutes before it closed at two after opening at ten.  The lights were on in the building but with just one car in the parking lot off in a corner I feared it was a typical small town library with no weekend hours.

But praise be, there was an open sign on the side entrance to the addition that had replaced the original entrance.  The elderly librarian was just a part-timer and had to look up the password for the WiFi—flynn006.  I couldn’t get it to work, as she thought the F wss capitalized.  After several unsuccessful attempts, two with her looking over my shoulder, she went and got the slip of paper with the password on it.  I could see the F was lower case,  

She hovered about me pretending to be arranging books during my entire stay.  I had to sit at a table in the addition, as the Carnegie portion of the library was crammed with book shelves.  I would have much preferred to sit under its semi-dome on the comfortable couch in front of the fireplace with Carnegie’s portrait above it, but there were no electrical outlets nearby.  

My delay in connecting to the WiFi meant I had to sit outside in the cold to book my train home.  I had waited until now, not sure when I could reach Fargo, now less than two hundred miles away. I would be turning south and would have the wind with me, so could make the Monday night train.

That Monday night train was fully booked and the next night too.  That wasn’t all bad, as it meant I could make a leisurely ride of the home stretch, something I had yet to afford myself in these travels, as I’ve been maximizing my time on the bike to complete my circuit with it getting colder and colder.  I realized several hours after I booked my ticket it was fortunate my first choice wasn’t available as I’d miscalculated my day of departure.  That Monday night three a.m. departure was actually late Sunday night bridging into Monday morning. If I’d showed up Monday night the train would have been long gone.

After crossing the Red River into North Dakota the terrain became wide-open vast pasture lands with just clumps of trees here and there.  The traffic thinned to almost nothing.  It should have been just me and vast herds of buffalo, but there were none to be seen.  Where oh where had they gone?  Such a sad tale.

My first night of camping in these wide open spaces was along a fringe of trees separating a field of corn from the road.  There was a packed dirt trail into a corner of the field for farm equipment, making it an easy entry.  There was a farmstead across the road down a long driveway with no one stirring in the cold and near-dark.  No one could have seen me or been aware of my presence.

After about an hour, well after dark, while I was still eating, a dog started barking.  It was nearby.  I doubted the owner was giving it a walk in the sub-freezing temperatures, but just in case I turned off my lantern and ate in the dark.  The dog crept closer and closer and barker louder and more fiercely.  No flashlight came within sight, which I almost wanted, as if the dog was accompanied he could be curbed.  

I didn’t have anything much to fend off the dog should he come clawing at the tent.  My mini-pump would have been useless as would have been the knife on my leatherman tool.  The best defense measure I could scrounge up was a pannier with a can of baked beans and a glass jar of marmalade to smash into its nozzle.  My heart was pounding.  The farmstead was so far away I doubted anyone would want to be drawn to see what had stirred their beast of a dog even if they heard the ruckus.  If they could even hear its frenzy, they’d assume it was in reaction to some critter.  At last, after several minutes the dog having made its point and failing to draw me out crept away, still barking.

An hour or two after I had gone asleep the dog returned and was barking even more viciously and even closer to the tent, as if challenging me to come out and fight.  I feared he had returned with a full attack in mind. I regretted I hadn’t rummaged for a stick to ward him off if need be.  Would he go scurrying away if I gave him a pop or would he battle to the death?  After what seemed an eternity, he retreated once again.   

I was intent on an early departure before he was back on the prowl.  It was still dark when my alarm sounded at seven.  It was the fastest I had broken camp in a long time.  Thanks to the early start and a good tail wind for the southerly portion of my ride I had my first one hundred mile ride of the trip arriving in Valley City just as the sun was giving its goodbye to the day.  There was just enough light left in the sky to illuminate its Carnegie Library, giving it a little extra luster. 

I asked a couple of dog walkers if there was a cheap non-chain motel in town.  They said the last privately owned motel had turned into an Super Eight and that it was probably the cheapest.  It was one of a cluster of three motels along Interstate 94.  I might have opted for the town campground even with the temperature dropping into the teens, but it was vacant and the restroom was locked.  I really needed a good wash before i boarded the train and also needed to sort through my clothes and let them lose their dampness.

The Super Eight had actually closed, so I settled on the nearby Econo Lodge.  It was cheaper than the last motel I had stayed at two weeks ago and came with breakfast and also had good hot water, not something the other motels I have stayed at had, economizing now on water temperature.  A motel every once in a while is a wonderful luxury despite my preference for being in the tent. And with it a Sunday I had a football game to watch and didn’t have to wait until Monday to learn all the scores.  

I emptied my four panniers on the second bed, not sure if the clothes were damp or just cold.  I was hoping I’d find my Garmin cyclometer as it had gone missing since the Walmart after the snow storm where I spread out my tent to dry and other gear to dry.  It didn’t turn up, evidently swiped by a passerby.  It wasn’t a total loss, as it had started to malfunction with its battery having difficulty to hold a charge. It had served me well.  I have most missed its thermometer and the altimeter a bit.  It was an older model that will be easy to replace on eBay with many people upgrading, how I managed to come by this one thanks to Ralph.

Friday, October 14, 2022

Thief River Falls, Minnesota


The librarian in Northome advised me to take the long route to Thief River Falls rather than the  direct route through the Red Lake Indian Reservatiin as she said it was dangerous with a high level of alcoholiiism and drug use and gun play.  She never drives through it.  I had been looking forward to sampling life in Minnesota’s largest reservation with a population of 5,500, especially since it skirted Red Lake, the largest lake in Minnesota. So she couldn’t discourage me.

The Reservation included two towns of more than a thousand residents, Redby and Red Lake, just five miles apart.  One offered a full-fledged supermarket/“trading post.”  When I pulled up an older guy with a gray pony tail and lavender neckerchief around his neck warmly greeted me and asked where I was headed and where I had started. He said a cyclist from Chiczgo had passed through a couple years ago.

As I checked the deli department still wearing my helmet a woman commented, “It’s a bit cold to be cycling isn’t it?”  And when I returned to my bike another woman asked where I was headed and where I’d come from.  These were the warmest, friendliest folk I’d encounter on this trip with kindly, unhardened features. it was a pleasure to be submerged into this community, where I was the lone Anglo.  

Even the dogs were friendly.  I had one follow me for a couple of miles as if to look after me.  He even plopped down beside me when I paused to take a photo.  I had a most peaceable thirty mile ride through the reservation.  What little traffic there was displayed no ill.  No one tried to run me off the road or speed close by. There is no private property on the reservation, all is communally owned.  The Reservation administers three casinos and also generates revenue through logging snd commercial walleye fishing in the lake. 

The homes were very modest, small box like dwellings and a few mobile homes here and there.  Alcoholism is indeed an issue, as there were signs along the road endorsing the reservation’s policy of no alcohol.  Besides a quart of chocolate milk I left the Reservation with a red neckerchief, just the second I’ve come upon in these travels.

The predicted snow burst forth in light flurries throughout the day with the temperature hovering around freezing.  I wore the nearby-duty, insulated snow pants for the first time on the bike I’d bought a couple weeks ago when my sleeping was stolen and I needed reinforcements while I slept.  They were quite warm, not allowing any heat to escape from my legs.  They kept the blood plenty warm flowing to my feet.  I was glad to have them.  They kept me so warm I had to shed a layer on top and slightly unzip my jacket, as I generated a sweat for the first time in days.  

After the second town on the reservation it was seventy miles of nothing until Thief River Falls.  I was hoping to make it by nightfall for my first motel in over two weeks so I could have a shower and charge all my batteries.  It’d been two weeks before I’d even fully charged my iPad and my five batteries were nearly all drained. My generator hub can’t keep up despite putting in seven hours a day on the bike.

After I turned west after twenty miles of heading north along Red Lake a strong head wind slowed me to under nine miles per hour.  It was forty-three mikes to a motel and I had six hours to make it.  I tried to keep my rest and fueling breaks short, but the wind was sapping my energy and slowing me to seven miles per hour for stretches.  I was so looking forward to a motel that I was prepared to ride in the dark, but as the light prematurely waned thanks to a thick cloud cover and the flurries turning into genuine, wet, fluffy flakes of snow that began soaking my pants I had to abort and get into my tent but fast.  I was fortunate there was a nearby forest as after the lake the trees gave way to pastures and large farmsteads, mostly hay, but some corn and cattle as well. I fell eleven miles short of my goal. 

I used my candle for the first time to generate some extra warmth in the tent, though I knew it would be of little use in drying any of my outer layers.  I had been so intent on making it to town, I hadn’t submerged my ramen in water, which I need to do at least an hour before I want to eat it in this cold weather, so the ramen came late after a couple of peanut butter sandwiches and cereal in applesauce.

The road was clear in the morning, just a little wet.  I stopped at the Walmart to stock up on supplies.  I was able to spread out my soaked tent alongside the vending machines by a side entrance that few people use.  It was also able to start drying my gloves and booties and socks and do a little charging before venturing to the Carnegie Library.  No one protested my presence.  A Native American even handed me a five dollar bill.

The Carnegie had no columns but it was still an exemplary example of the genre, a fortress of a building with extra ornamentation here and there to enhance its bearing.  It is now the town’s Chamber of Commerce, with the new library across the street.  

And with it I could celebrate completing another state.  It was the twenty-second Carnegie I had visited in Minnesota on this trip.   Forty-eight of the sixty-six remain.  I had gotten to the other twenty-six on previous trips.  Now it’s over to North Dakota for three more before catching a train in Fargo home.  

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Northome, Minnesota



I was given a civil, even cordial, welcome back into the US entering at International Falls, just across the Rainy River from Fort Frances.  I was asked a few perfunctory questions as I straddled my bike culminating with “What are you going to do when it gets cold,” as snow was in the forecast, not for today or tomorrow, but the day after. But the cold seemed a far way off with it actually up to seventy, the warmest it’d been in a couple of weeks. I told her I had already had a taste of snow in Canada and that I had plenty of warm clothes. I was able to keep my helmet on during our brief exchange, so she couldn’t see I was in need of a shower, which might have been grounds for denying me entry.

She didn’t get overly personal on what I might be bringing from Canada other than if it were cannabis or tobacco or fresh fruit.  I had half a loaf of bread and a couple of pop tarts remaining of the food I had purchased in Canada, otherwise the rest of my food were leftovers I had brought in from the US, peanut butter and nuts and oatmeal.  I wasn’t returning to the US with any non-food purchases, though I was bringing in a couple of Ontario license plates I had found along the road.

I asked her if it had been busier since October 1 when Canada did away with its requirement for Americans to be vaccinated to enter.  She said it had, as many people in International Falls go over to Fort Frances for its Walmart, as International Falls with less than six thousand residents, one third of Fort Frances, is without.  An older guy in the International Falls library admitted he’d rushed right over to the Walmart when Canada did away with the rigamarole of having to register on-line to enter the country with proof of vaccination, his first visit in nearly three years since Covid.  I asked the librarian if she had been and she replied, “I couldn’t be bothered to go to Canada.”

She didn’t realize Fort Frances had a Carnegie Library, which just might entice her over.  It was similar to the noble Carnegie in Kenora, a solid brick building with a pair of columns at its entry.  It had an addition to the side opposite from fhe “1914” chiseled into a rock near the base of the building.  The building wasn’t open, so I was denied being able to check to see if it had the Carnegie portrait or acknowledged him in any way, as nothing on the outside of the building did simply bearing “Public Library” over its entry.

International Falls may not have had a Carnegie Library, but it had the largest statue of Smokey the Bear in the US, twenty-six feet tall, erected in 1953, sixteen years after the equally grand Paul Bunyan statue in Bemidji one hundred miles south, the oldest such statue, but not the tallest.  Behind Smokey was another striking statue, that of the legendary Bronko Nagurski, a football great who is on the Mount Rushmore of Chicago Bear running backs along with Red Grange, Gale Sayers and Walter Payton., a foursome that no team can match.  He played in the 1930s in the era of leather helmets.

The day before if I’d had access to a television I could have watched a double header of .Canadian football games, as it was Canada’s Thanksgiving Day, and as in the US, there is a special offering of football.  Rather than a Thursday, Canada’s Thanksgiving comes on a Monday, the second Monday in October.  

The few businesses in the small resort town Nestor Falls, the only town I passed through all day in seventy-six miles, were all closed, partially because it was the off-season and partially because of the holiday.  I was fortunate to use the WiFi at a campgrounds/motel on the town lake.  The office was closed when I arrived with a note on the window saying the proprietor was cleaning rooms.  I went roaming to see if I could spot her.  She came scooting over in a golf cart.  

She said she had seen me the day before, as she had driven up to Kenora, sixty miles away, for a Thanksgiving dinner.  Someone had left her a container of chicken soup and another with a couple slices of pumpkin pie outside the office door.  As I sat outside the office using the WiFi she presented me with a warm bowl of some of the chicken soup, the first offering I’ve had in nearly a month on the road and also the first warm meal of the trip.  

My final twenty-five miles in Canada were in a valley along the border.  The terrain had flattened and had also become more fertile with clearings of forest turned into pastures of hay.  Crossing into the US the terrain remained flat and also had rolled bales of hay in fields. For the first time on the trip I had less than one thousand feet of elevation gain for the day.  This after two days of just under and just over three thousand feet of climbing for the day.

And I also had the first chance in nearly two weeks to ride bare-legged as a strong south wind pushed the temperature all the way up to seventy.  The legs sure spin easier when unsheathed. But it’s going to be just a one day aberration with the wind due to switch from the north plummeting the temperatures and possibly bringing some snow.  

Monday, October 10, 2022

Kenora, Ontario


I’d been in Canada six days before I finally had a meal at Tim Horton’s, so much of a Canadian institution that I wouldn’t have been surprised if the ultra-inquisitive customs official at the border, who granted me permission to enter the country, had told me one of the prerequisites for entry was to promise to have a meal at Horton’s. I hadn’t had much on an opportunity, as there’d only been one in three hundred miles from Thunder Bay until I came upon a second in Kenora.

I was continually reminded that I was in the land of Tim Horton though, as for one hundred miles leading in to Kenora and before the first in Dryden, eight-five miles from Kenora, I came upon a discarded bright red Tim Horton paper cup every mile or two along the road.  Yes, Canadians litter, though that has been about the extent of it.  Canadians are litigious too, as three different law firms have been advertising their services on billboards. They were a sorry reminder of the world I thought I was free of in this remote area.

The Tim Horton’s in Kenora asserted its Canadian roots with hockey sticks as door handles.  It’s menu was a combination of Subway, MacDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts.  I went with the season and settled on a pumpkin muffin.  It had WiFi and several electrical outlets, but no self-serve ice and drink machine, almost enough to make me go down the street to the MacDonald’s.

I actually set my alarm for the first time on this trip to make sure I reached Kenora well before dark so I could get an adequate photo of its Carnegie and continue a good distance down the road.  With my head shrouded in the tent to stay warm, the morning light doesn’t wake me, and I’ve slept as late as 8:30.  I wanted to be up by seven. Kenora was sixty miles away. Turned out I didn’t need that early start, as for the first time in a while I had no head wind to contend with, just a slight breeze from the north, so I made great time arriving before three.  

With the early start I had my first eighty mile day in over a week, though I didn’t get full credit for it on Strava, as with it just twenty-five degrees when I set out, my iPad wasn’t functioning, and it recorded just seventy-six of my eighty-five miles.  It was the second time it happened this week, keeping me from registering five hundred miles for the week, as I had the previous two weeks of these travels.

Kenora’s  Carnegie had a Main Street address, as many of them do, and had the classic temple architecture with a pair of pillars and “Public Library” over the entry.  It stood out as the most noble building in this town of fifteen thousand.  It had an addition of matching brick to its rear with a patio overlooking the large lake the town is nestled upon. 

Kenora winds up my western foray through Ontario.  Now it’s one hundred miles south to the next and final Canadian Carnegie of these travels in Fort Frances, just across the border from Minnesota and International Falls. I’d like to think it will be warmer, but I’d have to go much further south for it to make much of a difference.  

It may be close to freezing when I make camp, but my body heat quickly warms the tent by ten degrees or more, though not while I’m sleeping.  I have yet to need my candle for extra warmth.  I ward off the cold wrapped in my sleeping bags and what I’ve been wearing all day as I eat and read.  

If the sun isn’t blocked by clouds, the temperature has approached fifty degrees by mid-afternoon.  But as the sun nears the horizon, the temperature plunges fast.  I’ve been spared having to adjust my helmet in the morning, as lately I’ve been wearing my wool cap all day.  Previously when the day warmed enough I could shed the wool cap necessitating a tightening of the cinch on the helmet, then have to loosen it in the morning to accommodate the wool cap.  

As I ride, the cold is more than skin deep, as not a bead of sweat pops forth on long steep climbs, as happens ordinarily from the extra exertion.  I don’t even need to slightly unzip my jacket.  That extra exertion only serves to store some much needed warmth that will quickly dissipate on the descent.  The descent may generate an extra wind, but they are still a pleasure. The cold adds an extra challenge to the cycling,  but it hardly diminishes the pleasure.  It’s as glorious as ever to be experiencing the beautiful countryside from the seat of the bicycle.

Saturday, October 8, 2022

Dryden, Ontario


Not only does Canada have a Continental Divide, it also has an Arctic Divide, an east-west line that is the separation point of rivers running into Hudson Bay and on into the Arctic and rivers funneling into the Great Lakes.  It’s not as far north as one might suppose as I crossed it yesterday, well from the Arctic Circle, though not its cold winds. A northerly dropped the temperature to the twenties with it just twenty-seven when I broke camp my first night north of the Arctic Divide.  The cold wind even brought a few late afternoon snow flurries.

I couldn’t have been happier when I came upon a picnic area with heated rest rooms and a pair of electric outlets.  With towns few and far between in this wilderness area it’d been several hours before I’d come upon a place offering warmth to stop and rest and eat. I was hoping such rest areas would be a feature of this main artery that continues on to Winnipeg and Vancouver, but the only rest area in the next one hundred miles merely offered latrines.  That was a bummer what with the temperature just above freezing.

It takes a long time for the sun to raise the temperature, barely one degree per hour.  It wasn’t until after noon when it edged above freezing.  Any billboard in the distance is a welcome site, as they often announce an inn or cafe and how many kilometers further it might be. It’s usually twenty or more kilometers, but at least it gives me something to look forward to.  

One sign offered cabins for twenty-five dollars per person.  I’d have seized upon that if it had come at the end of the day.  One resort on a lake advertised “water-proof cabins.”  Others advertised air-conditioning and WiFi.  I did come upon a solitary rustic motel near dusk several days ago.  There were no cars parked in front of its eight rooms, so I feared it might not be open.  The woman in the office said rooms went for $101 including tax.  I asked if she’d take $70.  She testily snapped, “I’ll take $101,”  evidently tired of others asking for a discount.  So I had a pleasant night in my tent and was $70 richer and she $70 poorer.  It just meant I had to wait until late the next afternoon for WiFi and the chance to add some charge to my devices and batteries other than what my generator hub could provide.

With two sleeping bags, or more a sleeping bag and a zippered blanket as the Marlboro bag essentially amounts to, I do not fear subfreezing temperatures, though I did have to put on a sweater during the coldest night.  My gloves aren’t much good when the temperature dips below forty, forcing me to put plastic bags over them.  But no more, as the road offered up a pair of large worker’s gloves with reflective bands that fit over my gloves.  As always, the road provides. 

Even though I’m traveling on a main artery,  the service stations can be seventy-five miles or more apart.  Signs warn “Check your fuel level, Limited services.”   Half the traffic is 18-wheelers.  The road is only two lanes wide, but there is usually an ample shoulder for me and the truckers generally pass wide.  Every ten miles or so a sign announces an upcoming passing lane that extends for a mile or so. The speed limit is a sane fifty-six miles per hour (ninety kilometers) and a stiff fine of ten thousand dollars and the immediate impounding of one’s vehicle should one exceed the limit by thirty one miles per hour (fifty kilometers) to eighty-seven miles per hour.  Needless to say, motorists abide by the speed limit. 

The terrain is hilly so the road has few straightaways as it follows the contours of the forested land.  It is so lightly settled it has been proposed as a repository for nuclear wastes, an issue that also generates signs.

Other signs warn of moose. 

Dryden with a population of 8,000 is the first genuine town I’ve come upon in over two hundred miles since Thunder Bay.  Ignace with 1,000 residents has been the only other with more than a handful of residents.  It had the first franchise food outlet since Thunder Bay, a Subway.  It didn’t offer WiFi so I had to find some place else for my break.  

I was shocked to learn there was a library a block away.  I didn’t have to ask if it had WiFi, as a sign on the door gave the WiFi password (letsjustread) for those who come by when the library is closed.  I had two days of podcasts to download and another attempt to add photos to my last blog post, which the previous WiFi wasn’t strong enough to do.  I thought I was going to have a couple hundred  miles without a library between Thunder Bay and Dryden, so it was totally unexpected—one I won’t soon forget.  It felt toasty warm, but the thermometer on my cyclometer said it was only sixty-three degrees.

I continued until dark getting to within forty-eight miles of Dryden, the same distance I’d left myself the previous two days from my campsite to the next outpost.  With the prevailing westerly that could take five or six hours, a long start to the day.  I’m not much more than one hundred miles north of the border, but I feel as if I’m on the fringes of civilization, not a bad feeling at all.