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!

Day 34: St. Joseph, MN to Nelson, MN

Sunday, July 12th, 2009

St. Joseph, MN to Nelson, MN (58 mi)

We got up pretty early and packed up our quiet camp and left. We quickly got up on the Lake Wobegon trail and headed west. It was soooo nice to be on a paved trail again… we can ride next to each other, don’t have to worry about looking behind us all the time, etc. There were a lot of crossings in certain parts of the trail, but those are much preferable to being on the road.

I’m writing this a week removed and things are starting to meld together. I think we had tailwinds today for the first time in awhile. There were a lot of little towns along the trail with places to stop for breakfast, lunch, second lunch, etc.

I’m pretty sure this was the day we met up with what we joked were our “back to the future” selves. We saw them ahead of us on the trail, heading in the same direction as us. We joked that they were trying to see us (“them”) in this day and age without actually letting us see them (“us”). If that makes any sense at all 🙂 It took us forever to catch up with them… we know we’re slow with all our gear! Eventually we caught up with them at a stop and chatted. They were from South Dakota, I think, and we swapped some stories, and they offered to share some of their maps with us when we got to where they were parked, a few miles down the trail.

We passed some interesting sites on the way along the trail, as you can see from the pictures below… a little touristy “railroad town” called Memoryville, some beautiful churches, and a very large viking.

Oh yeah… I remember a hallmark of this day. We decided we were going to try and save some money today by starting out with a “European” breakfast of bread, meat, and cheese from a grocery store, and having the leftovers for lunch. So we did that, but didn’t get great bread, only some “sandwich thins”. It was fine for breakfast, ok for lunch, and by the time we ate the last of it for dinner, we were SO tired of it.

We weren’t quite sure where we were going to stay as the day wore on, and we stopped at a bar and grill for some nachos and beer. We talked with some of the folks about the campsites and “resorts” that were close by, then started calling places. A bunch of the “resorts” don’t allow overnight/tent camping, and one of them was promising, based on what people said, but didn’t pick up the phone. We had called twice with no answer and just decided to head there – it wasn’t that far off the trail. We got there and the office was empty (it was Sunday, after all) but there was a phone number for the campsite manager. We called the number but didn’t get a response, so decided to just put our stuff out that needed to dry in the last of the sun and wait for a bit. No callback, so we pitched our tent and tried to make ourselves as compact as possible, just so we wouldn’t be in the way. It was a really beautiful location, on a lake, and I enjoyed hearing loons for the first time in a long time.

Day 33: Milaca, MN to St. Joseph’s

June 11th, 2009

Milaca, MN to St. Joseph, MN (34 mi)

We had a mishap and tried to publish our day but it disappeared into cyber space.

This was an amazing day. Serendipity is usually something I think that much about but this day it seems very appropriate.

We left Milaca around 11 am after check out and headed down Hwy 23. There had been detour signs for some time, but we weren’t worried about that since bikes can go just about any where.

We make it about a mile before it is clear that there isn’t a real way around the “road closed” signs.

Nathan walked up to the bridge going over another section of the Rum River and determines we should try and find a different way. We utilize the iPhone to use some roads around the detour. We started heading south on a main road and are looking for 130th St.

We make it down to the very busy, non-bike highway without having found any crossroads where the map said that they were. We look again for 130th and find it. It is no longer a road but is a grass covered nothing. So we start biking back into town.

We make it back to a residential neighborhood and pass a guy who says: didn’t I just see you pass here? Then we had a conversation about how to get around the detour and finally rested upon going through the cemetery and crossing over the foot bridge. Woo hoo! A plan after an hour of detours.

We follow the plan and Nathan picks up the bikes and we push them over the bridge. We start talking to this guy about traveling and life and he accompanies us all the way back to Hwy 23. We say goodbyes and head off and are almost our if Milaca by 1:30.

About 20 minutes after being on 23 we see another bike tourist passing in the opposite direction. He cones over to our side of the road and we tell him about how to get around 23 and he tells us what to follow on our map. Mike has been on the road since February and has logged over 6,000 miles with the goal of 10,000. Wow!

We took off and followed the directions of the map and decided to look again to see if it was saving us miles or not. We concluded not and headed south the reconnect with Hwy 23. We had only gone about 5 miles out of the way.

We kept on biking and pulled over to take a break at a church. We were having a snack and a woman came up to us and started talking about biking. She had done some touring in Alaska and in Minnesota. She had this bandage on her leg and I asked her what happened? She said that she had just gotten her first tattoo an hour before. We asked about biking into St. Cloud and she called over her friends to ask them.

Her name is Tracy and we were introduced to Kramer and Stevie. Stevie had grown up in the local area and gave us a great route into the city so that we wouldn’t have to bike on 23 at rush hour. Tracy invites us over for dinner and to hang out for the evening and we quickly accept.

We get Tracy’s number and head on our way. Her group of friends just had a good feel about them, very free and accepting and fun to be around.

We continued biking for a few miles and came to a MacDonald’s and wiped out their dollar menu. Stevie’s directions were fantastic and brought us right into downtown St. Cloud. We again crossed the Mississippi River.

I call Tracy for more specific directions and we get there quickly and lock up our bikes and head up to a really cool apartment.

Tracy was getting ready to cook for every one. She loves to cook and is a great chef. She offers some refreshments and a place to chill out. We loved our time. I hung out drinking Poweraide and wine and picked Tracy’s brain about a variety of topics. She is a professor at UM St. Cloud and teaches in the sociology department. Both of us would have loved to take a class from her in college and she reminded me of some of my professors, two of which gave me recommendations for grad school. Tracy teaches about the politics of food, gender and racial inequality, and intro to sociology.

Nathan was hanging out on the porch with Stevie, Kramer, and Amanda, who are roommates and live in St. Paul. All I can say is that we had a great time and amazing food. They are warm and generous people.

A bit after dinner Amanda and Tracy helped us load up our bikes and stuff and took us the 7 miles to our campsite at St. Joseph’s. It was a bit of an adventure once we got there because it was dark and all we saw was the baseball fields and no camping. Tracy chased down a couple of bikers and asked them about it and it turns out that we just needed to go one drive way further. I had resigned myself to sleeping on the baseball field, but its good that that didn’t happen because the sprinklers came on pretty early in the morning.

Nathan and I had a conversation earlier in the day about how we came to meet the people that we had met today. There were a lot of wrong turns and turn arounds, but I know that all of those “mistakes” led to meeting new and cool people and a gourmet meal. I think that that is one of the things that I’ll take from this trip: wrong turns aren’t always wrong, sometimes its just a different path with different people to meet. Cool.

Day 36: Fergus Falls to an insane thunder storm

July 14
We have more posts coming but since we couldn’t share our near-death experience with our non-conversational waitress, it felt important to share.

There’s this story I heard growing up: this guy was drowning in a lake and a man comes up to him on a boat and asks if he wants help. The drowning man replies that he is waiting for God to save him. The man in the boat left. Two more people come and try and help the man, they receive the same response.

The man dies and goes to heaven. He asks God why he didn’t save him. God replies that he had sent 3 people to rescue him, but he was too dumb to climb in the boat.

This story comes into play. However we’re still alive.

Things to know so you think that we’re not as dumb as this story will show we are: we have had bad weather forecasted for the past week; the radar will say that it is raining over us, but it will be dry; the radar will say that it is 75 and sunny, but it will be cold and overcast and even raining; we have yet to have bad rain or storms while riding; this all led up to today.

Last night we were hanging out with a cool camper family we’ll tell you about later, they asked us if they should put on their tarp and I said yes looking at the radar it seemed as if it would rain all night.

No, it didn’t rain, it was just windy.

We got up and looked at the weather channel’s iphone app, it looked like there was a break in the weather. Sure there were some darker colors, even some yellows and oranges. But no severe weather warnings.

We headed into Fergus Falls and found a bakery, had some donuts and coffee. Some of the locals warned of bad weather. What did they know?

We stopped to fill up water at a Taco John’s (Amy had potato oles) and talked to some more locals who were very friendly and encouraging.

The sky did look pretty scary and there might have been some rumblings in the back ground. But we continued on. There was a town about 15 miles out and we had the winds to our back, so if we had to stop we could.

This proved to be a poor plan. It started lightly raining and rumblings became a bit more frequent. We passed a quad of youngish bike tourists crossing the opposite direction and quickly chatted about the routes both ways. The rain picks up and we part ways.

Yes, it was raining and there was some thunder, but this didn’t dampen our spirits. We pulled over after 10 minutes of increased down pour to put on our rain jackets. A truck pulls over and asks what way we’re going, Fargo, he’s not. We say we’re fine and he asks if we’d seen the radar and offers to looks at his. Nate does, but we no longer trust radars at this point.

The man wishes us well and we depart and so does he in the other direction.
Ah that the story would have ended with us getting a ride back to Fergus Falls.

So we keep treking forward and the rain picks up and is now coming down pretty hard. The thunder and lightning are getting closer.

We’re going but regretting our decision not to hitch a ride back. It is getting scary and then the booms were really close.

At this point we’re not scared, terrified is more like it. There is no shelter any where in sight and we know we’re on danger. Prayers start coming quick in between bemoaning our idiocy. But there is no choice but to find some where to hide.

A huge thunder boom put me over the top I was near hysterics and Nate had to help us keep pushing forward.

Nate was thinking of psalms that I’m glad he didn’t share with me at the time: the Lord is powerful, who can withstand His strength. You can’t help but think of the power of the Almighty when in the midst of a thunder storm.

We see a larger clump of trees and pull over and set up a temporary shelter.

In my head I keep on thinking: I think that trees are dangerous. Lightning plus trees equals bad and dangerous. But at that point I was glad to be off the road.

We trudged with our bikes through tall grass and into a cluster of trees. I was officially freaking out and freezing and soaked and miserable, so naturally I broke out in random fits of laughter. Nate pushed the bikes a bit further and got out the footprint tarp and we hunkered down. We sat like this a few minutes then grabbed the emergency blanket and crossed it over our backs. It was still coming down really hard and even picked up a lot. The thunder was close and very scary. We held our breathe each flash or crack.

We got out the iPhone and looked at the satellite and guess what popped up? 2 severe weather warnings. One of the thunder storm we were in and another for flooding. It was about 12:25 at this point and the warning was until 12:45.

Time sort of stopped for us and we hunkered down. We were sitting in water, we were near our metal bikes, we were in the trees and it was terribly dangerous. We were 7 miles from the next town, we were stuck, we were stupid, we were lucky, though luck had nothing to do with it.

At one point Nathan starts singing the Mountain Song I had written and we sang at our wedding. “Hiding out in the rain storms together.” That really made me start to calm down.

After being stuck and getting pelted and knowing we were in danger, it was just sort of like a movie, but we were in it.

After more than an hour of this, the severe rain bands seemed to have moved to the north. We waited for a few more minutes and decided to go for it. It was cold and we were wet and I was shivering.

On the road again, it of course picked up and was an absolutely drenching rain. The roads were beginning to flood and the thunder certainly wasn’t done.

It was funny to me. I don’t know why. But I just laughed and said come on rain. Nate said I reminded him of Lt. Dan in the huge storm in Forrest Gump. We just pushed forward. We finally made it to Rothsay. We were something to look at. The rain was coming down and we made it to the inn just exhausted.

We were alive! There really were times of sheer terror, when Nate thought he’d wake up in the ER or something.

In times under our shelter, I tried not to dream of a warm shower, but now it was just a few doors a way.

We were dripping and at a loss for how to describe our experience to the innkeeper. He asked if we were held back in the 3rd grade to go out in a storm like that. I replied I must have been.

I probably took the longest, hottest shower of my life. Everything was wet, but thankfully there was a washer and dryer.

We were safe. We survived. It is impossible to describe, but hopefully this has started to do the job.

Our other posts are coming, but this just needed to get out there asap.