Today marks 31 days – one month – of moving across this country west to east. I’m sitting in a picnic shelter staying dry as it rains and thunders all around me. The shelter is located in Icelandic State Park, in the northeast corner of North Dakota. (The park was named after the first settlers – Icelandic families.) It was the threat of heavy rain that prompted me to stop here after only two hours of cycling. In those two hours I was able to cycle just over 30 miles. Compare that to yesterday, when pedaling 5 ½ hours moved me 42 ½ miles. There was a point after I’d already paid to stay here and before the rain started when I had second thoughts about stopping so soon. At that point the winds had picked up blowing from the west, this time at 18 mph. A tail wind like that could have moved me across the North Dakota – Minnesota border perhaps more than 70 miles. Nevertheless. I am happy to have stopped here where I have spent the day in a local museum, doing some reading, napping, and writing this blog post.
Unlike much of the rest of the country (and much of Europe) North Dakota is not in the grip of triple digit temperatures. In fact, I’m sitting here in a wool cap, four layers, and my sleeping bag across my lap. This rain is forecast to continue well into the evening. Even though I’ve paid for a tent site, I’ve yet to set up my tent and am considering trying to stay here in this shelter where I can stay dry. Tomorrow is forecast to be sunny again, and with any luck I will still have a bit of west wind.
It has occurred to me that it might be helpful for some of you if I were to describe the road I’m on and the landscape I’m riding through. For the last three days, I’ve been riding on North Dakota Route 5 – a two-lane road paralleling the Canadian border – at times within a dozen miles of that border. This road is, for the most part, flat, straight, and not heavily trafficked. There is no shoulder to speak of, so I cycle in the east bound lane. Traffic coming behind me (including semis) treats me as slow moving traffic, crossing into the westbound lane to pass me. I can see approaching traffic miles ahead of me and, in my side mirror, traffic coming up behind me. It is only seldom when vehicles traveling in opposite directions have to slow because of me. Most drivers are accommodating.
Route 5 is dotted with small towns 30 to 40 miles apart. These are centers of commerce. Between these towns is farmland – hundreds of acres of it. (I learned in the museum today that the average North Dakota farm is over 1,200 acres.) The only buildings are grain silos. There are some copses of trees, but they are few and far between. This morning, riding under threatening skies, I kept looking for where I might shelter if the rain were to come sooner than predicted. I saw very few opportunities.