Days 42-43: Fargo, ND to Winnipeg, MB, Canada

Monday, July 20th – Tuesday, July 21st, 2009

Fargo, ND to Winnipeg, MB, Canada via Greyhound Bus

One more thing I wanted to mention about Steve and Sarah, with whom we stayed in Fargo. They really value “buying local”, not just with food, but with clothing, housewares… really, everything they can. This is something we’ve run into a lot on our trip, and has really got me thinking about what I buy, where I buy it from, and the impact of those decisions. I’m meeting more and more people who are really mindful of these choices, including the folks we are staying with right now in Winnipeg. But first…

The bus ride from Fargo to Winnipeg was not bad at all. There aren’t many stops along the way, as there aren’t many cities, and the countryside is quite beautiful to sit and watch go by, especially when the sky is full of scattered cumulus and cumulonimbus clouds, with a broken ceiling at about 9000 ft (insert push-the-glasses-up-the-nose nerd sign here… I’ve been learning more about clouds and weather after our scary experience in the thunderstorm). This area of North America is mostly commercial farmland, but was originally prairie, and retains most of the flatness and some of the openness, giving a nice big view of the sky.

I spent a lot of time daydreaming on the bus. We’re getting closer to the end of our trip, when I usually start thinking about home and about things I’d like to do and changes I’d like to make in my life, based on the experiences and people met during the trip. Thoughts drift to finding a good bakery with fresh bread, buying local produce and dairy from Central Florida farmers, and checking out the Homegrown Co-op. Making more things ourselves, both food and home related. Cleaning and organizing the house. Getting rid of that dang shed that’s starting to fall apart. Maybe I’ll start making bread and barter it for fresh sprouts from the Stedmans. Getting a bike stand to facilitate maintenance and repair. Learning how to preserve food – drying, canning, freezing, pickling. What works best in Florida? It’s so hot and humid… potatoes don’t last more than a week before sprouting or starting to rot.

There were a few random stops, when the bus driver would get off without saying anything and we didn’t really know what was going on. It was kind of funny. Eventually we made it to the border crossing at Pembina, where the bus pulled in and two immigration/customs officers got on. We had all filled out our customs cards and had our passports out, and one officer started at the front, and one at the back, where we were sitting. A few questions about our trip, and then we’re sent inside to the office, where we sit down and wait for an immigration officer to be available. It wasn’t a long wait – we were some of the first inside from our bus – and then we’re up at the counter, showing the woman our passports and customs card and answering a surprisingly large number of questions. Where are you from, what’s the purpose of your visit, what’s your business, where is the conference, do you have documentation for the conference… oh, I can see it online; what’s the website, how long will you be here, how are you getting home, how much money do you have on you?

I would suggest you print out all of this information if you are going to cross the border from the US into Canada. Receipts for your accommodations and travel, information about your conference if you’re going to one, etc. It will go smoothly and you’ll feel safer, being more prepared. The woman checked up on a few of our claims and papers, including checking out the Bridges website to see my name among the exhibiting artists.

I would also suggest you exchange some money before you cross the border, but I’ll let Amy tell you about that…

Okay seriously, we didn’t think it’d be that big of deal. So we spent the night at the Marlborough Hotel in downtown Winnipeg, about 5 blocks from the bus station. We unloaded our stuff in the swank hotel room and headed out for inexpensive Asian cuisine. Not much to say here, we ate and stopped and picked up a bottle of wine. We didn’t have an opener and so the store opened and recorked it for us. Nice relaxed night, every thing going smoothly, surely it would always be like this? No.

The next morning after a complimentary breakfast, we headed back to the bus station where I knew there were lockers. Things are going well. I ask if there is an ATM near and I was standing about 5 feet away from one. I put my card in and wait for the money, but of course…it said that it couldn’t communicate with the bank. Ah crap! Nathan says well it is probably that we forgot to tell our bank that we’d be out of the country. So I call the bank and set it up so I can use the card. No problem. Woohoo! So I go and try to use the card again, but I got the same error message. Maybe I just didn’t wait for Bank of America to undo the hold. So I wait 5 minutes and try again. Nope. Here I noticed that the machine wasn’t compatible with my card, no VISA logo or any of the other cards from the back either. So I set off to find an ATM in a nearby shopping center. I go up the escalator, look at the map and again I’m standing within a few feet of one.  Cool, I try that and of course it doesn’t work. So I head down the stairs and go into the Staples and ask if they do cash back and yup they do, so I find a cheap notebook and purchase it and put on cash back and of course it doesn’t work. Ugh! I didn’t have the phone on me so I had to walk back to the station. I walk back to the station and call the bank and talk with a different person and they ask me to hold (this is international!), but what can I do? I need money. Finally she comes back on and asks me to go to the ATM. I say okay and walk back and awkwardly talk for 5 minutes with this lady on the phone. I stick the card in and try the same thing. It doesn’t work. I’m on hold again. She comes back on and asks me to try again. The same thing. Doesn’t work. More holding. The bank can’t even see that I’ve tried to do any transactions. I go to another ATM in the same building, but it doesn’t work. I’m reasonably holding it together. I just want some money. Seriously. She finally gives me directions to a bank that is an associate of Bank of America called Scotiabank. So I went there and walked many blocks and finally made it and found the ATMs and took out a bunch of money, so please don’t send anyone to rob me.

More on our fun time in Winnipeg soon…

Days 41-42: Fargo Part II

Sunday, July 19th to Monday, July 20th, 2009

Fargo Part II with James, Daniel, and Raj

After staying with Steve and Sarah, we took up temporary residence with three young guys in their apartment just a few miles north. James was our Couchsurfing contact and the one who invited us to stay with him, and his roommates Raj and Daniel were also around, though all three of them have somewhat crazy schedules with night shifts, and half night shifts, at a pizza parlor, gas station, and nursing home, respectively. James did a long bike tour after high school, just by himself, all around the US – thousands of miles. Daniel had just come back from a bike tour with his dad. All three of the guys were really generous with their space and made us feel very welcome. James cooked us two excellent meals, spaghetti with homemade sauce, and stir fry. What more could you ask for? Well, he also offered to take our stuff to the UPS store, as you can see in the pic below, and dropped us off at the Greyhound station on our last day.

I finished boxing Amy’s bike, after wheeling it to the bike shop for some help getting the pedals off (I had the right wrench, just not enough torque).

Saturday night we spent some time with Eric, a couchsurfer who was in Fargo from Austin, TX and his cousin Reed, who attends college in Fargo. This was our introduction to Fargo’s bar scene, which is quite extensive, and varied… we started out at the Old Broadway, with its screaming bachelorette parties and thumping bass, and moved to the American Legion, with its excellent rock band and much more subdued, older crowd. Night and day. We had a good time, and decided to go see Public Enemies on Sunday, which we did, and enjoyed, then went out to eat at a nice restaurant.

More movies Sunday night – a crazy documentaryish about a street thief that if you google it, its just a movie NOT documentary, followed by The Bank Job, a Jason Statham movie (always fun). Sleep in a bit Monday morning, walk downtown to buy our bus tickets (a nice clean Greyhound station!), get breakfast, back to the apartment to finish packing, drop by the UPS store, and make it to the bus station just before the rain!

Days 38-40: Fargo Part I

Thursday, July 16 – Saturday, July 18th, 2009

Fargo Part I with Stephen and Sarah

That last day of wind was enough for us. I threw the idea out there, and Amy came around to it, that Fargo might be a good place to stop biking and continue our journey via other means of transportation. So here it is, the end of the biking road for us, Fargo, North Dakota! We added up our mileage, and we biked over 1000 miles this summer!! We feel great about our accomplishment.

We really enjoyed our time with Stephen and Sarah, who hosted us at their lovely home for our first three nights in Fargo. We cooked food and ate together, ran errands together, and talked and laughed together. Sarah took us to her favorite coffee shop, Babs’, and across town to buy some camping supplies. They were very generous with their time and space, as their house was Couchsurfing central for awhile – us, the couple from Madison who greeted us when we first got there, and another Nathan, a friend of a friend who was in town to play some shows and promote his film company, and who also was very helpful with taking us around when we needed it.

Stephen and Sarah are cat people, like ourselves, and we had fun being in a house with cats again. Kim and Boots are Siamese cats, mother and daughter, and stay inside, while Harvey goes in and out and likes terrorizing baby bunnies and bringing them to the doorstep.

For the first few days we had our bikes, and biked around town, running some errands, sampling the local cafes, and getting our bearings in Fargo, which has some beautiful neighborhoods and a really cool downtown. We made many trips to Scheels, a local chain of stores with camping and sports type clothing and equipment, as we thought about what we needed for the rest of our trip. For instance, we realized that we each only had one non-bike-clothing outfit, and we were also a little short on warm clothing, and it was getting cold… down to the low 50s overnight.

We also spent a lot of time trying to figure out the best way to get our bikes and excess gear home, and get ourselves to Banff. We really wanted to ride a train, but the train doesn’t go to Banff, or even to Calgary; it goes to Edmonton, which would necessitate another long bus ride after getting off the train. Eventually we settled on Greyhound from Fargo to Winnipeg, plane from Winnipeg to Calgary, and shuttle or bus from Calgary to Banff.

Stephen took us around one day to run some errands, including looking for bike boxes to ship the bikes home. We could have paid one of the local bike shops to pack and ship our bikes, but I decided to do it myself for a few reasons… 1) I figured we had the time and could save some money, 2) we had some miscellaneous gear (e.g. racks) that I would have to take off anyway, and 3) I like learning how to do things.

So, as we explored Fargo and got to know our hosts, a lot of time was spent refactoring for the rest of our journey. I definitely felt some restlessness and withdrawal as we transitioned from the pattern of biking all day and camping in a different spot every night, to an extended stay in Fargo. Our patient hosts helped a lot, and there was stuff to do in the city, including a big street fair with kettle corn, arts and crafts, and some live performances.

Of course, packing the bikes ended up taking more time than I expected, so we only had one bike packed by the time we transitioned from Steve and Sarah’s house to our second CS host in Fargo. It also took awhile to figure out what we wanted to keep with us of other gear, and what we’d have to ship home or give away that might be an issue getting on the plane. Nate the musician/filmmaker helped us out Saturday evening, tossing all our stuff in the back of his truck and taking us to the apartment where we stayed in Fargo, Part II…

Day 37: Rothsay, MN to Fargo, ND

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Rothsay, MN to Fargo, ND (43 miles into the wind)

The inn at Rothsay was a lifesaver, as nearly everything was dry by the time we woke up. It took awhile to pack everything back up, as it was strewn all over the room, but we managed to do it, going over our checkout time by a little bit (no problem with the innkeeper, just an opportunity to jest with us once more).

Normally, we start out the day swapping the lead every 5 miles. Today, the nice strong breeze (25-30 miles per hour) that had blown away the storms and blown in the nice weather was right in our faces, so we started out swapping the lead every 2 miles. We had about 40 to go, so you can imagine that it was slightly demoralizing to go just 2 out of 40 miles and be tired enough to have to swap.

Unfortunately, swapping every 2 wasn’t good enough, and we quickly cut it down to 1 mile. Every single mile was grueling, as we averaged between 6 and 7 miles per hour. As we neared Moorhead, the city in Minnesota right across the Red River from Fargo, North Dakota, the terrain completely flattened out and opened up into prairie (the Eastern ND / Western MN version of prarie that has been developed into farmland). This essentially meant no hills, trees, or other structures to break up the wind for the vast majority of the time. I’m sure if I were the wind I would love the prairie, with nothing to stop me from gaining and maintaining strength and speed.

We made many stops and eventually made it into Moorhead, exhausted. We made a mistaken turn and ended up heading back south for a mile or so; we were just fried and navigating took too much brainpower. Eventually we figured out where to cross the river, and connected with our Couchsurfing hosts over the phone, who gave us directions to their house. We made it there without too much trouble, and were greeted by another Couchsurfing couple Zsusy and Casey, who were staying there as well, and who gave us the tour since Steve and Sarah were at work. The house was beautiful and we felt welcomed and right at home, with our own room and an air mattress, and three cats, Boots, Kim, and Harvey.

Steve had made some taboule and had some hummus for us to eat, which we did (first dinner), then after recharging for a bit and unloading the bikes, I went back out to the grocery store to pick up some supplies for pesto pasta (second dinner) and a bottle of wine, which we all enjoyed sharing when Stephen and eventually Sarah got home, sharing stories and getting to know one another.

More to come on our time with Steve and Sarah, Fargo part 1.

Day 35: Nelson, MN to Fergus Falls, MN

Monday, July 13, 2009

Nelson, MN to Fergus Falls, MN

We rode on the trail for a long time and came across other bikers who encouraged us on our way.

First we met two Canadians who had been bike touring together for decades. One was from British Columbia, the other from Ontario, and they were on a tour from the west coast to the east coast. They really looked like they knew what they were doing, which made their encouragement and praise of us all the more impactful! They said we looked like we were seasoned and experienced, and did a great job of packing light. They liked our modified back racks (thanks, Mr. Reeves!) and were very encouraging (did I say that already?).

We also met this really cool biker family traveling from Spokane. Imagine traveling with two teenage girls. Right, but these girls rock. We had some funny conversations about killer grouse and whose trip had been harder into the wind and up hill. They’ve done about 1500 miles so far and are heading to Maine and will take the train back. We were very impressed with this family and their spirit of adventure!

The girls are blogging about their trip on kellyannerinbikestheusa.com and posted a picture of us on their site.

As the clouds continued to gather, the SSW wind continued to blow us toward the end of the Central Lakes Trail. As we found out later, and you already read about, wind from the S or SW might be a good thing if you’re traveling NW in Minnesota or North Dakota, but it also means that bad weather is coming! We made it to the end of the trail after passing a very stinky processing facility / wildlife management area (I didn’t really understand how those things went together) and then the trail just ended. No clear road or path or “welcome to Fergus Falls” at the end; it just ended. We were looking for a park at the end that was supposed to be relatively cheap and good to tent camp at, and it wasn’t there. We figured it must be the park we had passed a little over a mile back, so we turned around, back into the wind and backtracked a mile or so to DeLagoon Park.

The park was really beautiful, with a lake, wide open grassy areas, lots of trees, pavilions, etc, and hardly anyone was camping there. We said hi to a family as we picked a site, dumped our stuff, and refueled and planned for the evening and the coming rain. Pretty soon our neighbor came over and offered us some cold pop, knowing that we wouldn’t have ice or a cooler on our bikes! We set aside the soda for later and took a little exploratory walk over to the pavilion. It started to sprinkle a little bit, so we decided to go back to the campsite, pitch our tent, and move our bikes and the rest of our stuff under the pavilion, where we also planned to cook and eat dinner.

Amy bumped into the family again by the bathrooms, and asked them if they had change (we needed some to pay for the campsite in the drop box). They did, and so when we headed back to our campsite we walked back with them, and chatted about our trip and theirs. They quickly invited us over to their spot to share some drinks, snacks, and hang out, which we gladly accepted, and ended up hanging out and talking with them for a few hours. I can’t remember their names right now… maybe Amy will later, but if you guys are reading this, thank you so much for your hospitality and the good conversations! [Amy remembers their last name was Samcoff, strangely similar to Selikoff! The mom’s name was Crystal, and one of the two young boys’ names was Christian].

It didn’t rain overnight, though the radar showed green all over us (thus leading us to mistrust the radar, leading to poor decision making the following day). A great day full of new relationships with fellow travelers!