North Dakota and the Sneakiest Dog in America… The 10,000-Mile Bike Trek

Peggy and I discovered this pair of Canadian Geese in their idyllic setting near Minot, South Dakota.

Peggy and I discovered this pair of Canadian Geese in their idyllic setting near Minot, South Dakota.

 

I’m back in the saddle again/Out where a friend is a friend/Where the longhorn cattle feed — On the lowly gypsum weed/I’m back in the saddle again. –Old cowboy song by Gene Autry

My brother-in-law John wanted to know when it might be safe to come back to my blog. I really like John: he’s bright, is a talented writer, has a wonderful sense of humor, and is great to travel with, not to mention he has a really neat wife.  But we avoid talking politics. So this one’s for you, John. I am back in the saddle again. (grin)

I only needed one hand to count the number of people I met traveling through the US and Canada who were on long distance bike treks. So when I saw a fellow bicyclist loaded down with gear coming out of North Dakota on Highway 2, I flagged him down.

“The state is relatively flat,” he informed me, “and it should have been easy peddling. But I fought a strong head wind the whole way. It was tough.” I couldn’t help smiling. I appreciated his difficulty; I’d certainly dealt with my share of nasty headwinds. A strong headwind for him, however, would mean a strong tailwind for me. I would fly across North Dakota.

“One more thing,” the cyclist had cautioned, “there is a really nasty dog about five miles up the road. Be careful.”

I’d shared my experiences of bicycling through Minnesota and we had chatted for a while longer. We then parted company with him cycling east and me west.

Fifteen minutes later, I discovered the headwind— going in the wrong direction. That’s the thing about headwinds in North Dakota. They are close to legendary among bicyclists. You are always bicycling into the wind; it doesn’t matter which direction you are peddling. I hadn’t traveled for more than 15 minutes when I felt the first puff on my face. It hassled me all the way to the Montana border.

No large, drooling dogs came charging out to eat me, however. So I felt like I had dodged at least one bullet. I was thinking happy thoughts when I felt an irritation on my right heel with each rotation of the pedal. Curious, I glanced back. “What the…” went bouncing around my skull! A large, drooling dog that looked suspiciously like a pit bull was running silently beside me trying to grab my right foot each time it came close to his snapping teeth. I had met the sneakiest dog in America! My reaction was instinctual. I grabbed my bike pump and swung it backwards with a fair amount of force— and was rewarded with a solid thump and a surprised yip! I had caught the miscreant on his nose. Problem solved. The last I saw of him, he was low-tailing it home. Maybe he would think twice before hassling another bicyclist. Or bite harder…

Besides the large dogs and headwinds, two other things struck me about North Dakota. The first was sunflowers, millions of them, all pointing the same direction. I found them beautiful. North Dakota has more of them that anywhere else in the US. When they are young, they practice heliotropism. And no, that isn’t some weird sexual practice. Their necks are flexible and they track the sun. Early in the morning they are looking east. By late afternoon they are facing west.

When Peggy and I travelled through North Dakota in early June, it must have been too early for the sunflowers. So I recruited one from our yard that was hanging out a few months ago.

When Peggy and I travelled through North Dakota in early June, it must have been too early for the sunflowers. So I recruited one from our yard that was hanging out a few months ago.

The importance of agriculture to North Dakota could be seen everywhere, as with these distant storage elevators. I also like this photo because it provides a perspective on how flat certain portions of the state are.

The importance of agriculture to North Dakota could be seen everywhere, as with these distant grain elevators. I also like this photo because it provides a perspective on how flat the terrain in North Dakota can be.

It was obvious that people had been farming in the state for a long time!

It was obvious that people had been farming in the state for a long time!

Large farming equipment could be found everywhere.

Large farming equipment was found for sale in most towns.

And some of it I really would not like to meet on a dark night.

Including some that I wouldn’t like to meet on a dark night..

As I travelled west, ranching became more prevalent. Windmills are symbols of the West.

As I travelled west, ranching became more prevalent. Windmills are symbols of the West.

Cow now have strong competition from oil wells out in western North Dakota. Peggy and I saw oil operations everywhere. This wasn't the case when I biked through in 1989. Fracking seems to be the prime way for getting oil out of the ground. Can earthquakes be far behind?

Cows now have strong competition from oil wells out in western North Dakota. Peggy and I saw oil operations everywhere. This wasn’t the case when I biked through in 1989. Fracking seems to be the primary way for getting oil out of the ground. Can earthquakes be far behind?

The second thing I remember was a massive storm that caught up with me in the western part of the state near Williston. I’d been watching the clouds gather all afternoon and they had morphed into towering cumulus clouds that threatened one hell of a downpour and possibly a massive hailstorm. It was nothing I had wanted to be caught out in, and nothing I wanted to face in my tent. The higher the clouds had climbed the faster I had pedaled. I’d whipped into the first motel I had come to on the eastern edge of Williston and begged sanctuary.

“Sorry,” the clerk had told me, “We’re booked up.” Some type of event was going on and all of the motels in town were apparently full. Owners were calling around looking for space. “I just talked to a motel across town with three spaces left. Would you like me to call?” I had quickly answered yes. “You are in luck,” the clerk smiled, hanging up the phone. “You have the last space but you need to hurry.” People in Williston who looked out their windows must have thought that the Tour de France had made a wrong turn.

I pulled up in front of the motel office and opened the door halfway. “We are booked up,” the owner had growled. The pit bull had seemed much friendlier and probably was. “Ah, but I have a reservation,” I had responded, sounding cheerful, giving my name, and explaining about the motel across town. He had sourly looked down at a note he had made.

“You can stay,” he said. “But I don’t like bicyclists.” Whoa, I had thought, welcome to Williston. I wondered if a bicyclist had trashed one of his rooms forever condemning all bicyclists to hell. “You have to leave your bicycle outside. If you take it into your room, I am kicking you out, regardless of the weather.” I saw him staring out the window of the office, watching as I locked up my bike outside. Shortly afterwards the storm hit: drenching rain, high winds and hail. It was a nasty night in a cheap motel that had long since seen its glory days. Around 10 p.m., I went outside and retrieved my bike, carried it inside and put it down on newspapers. I was up and out by six the next morning. The sun was shining.

Some more memories of North Dakota…

This is the pond with the geese in it that I featured at the top of the blog.

This is the pond with the geese in it that I featured at the top of the blog.

A one room school house along Highway 2.

A one room school-house along Highway 2. Modern wind mills can be seen off to the right in the distance. There is a lot of wind in North Dakota.

I discovered the geographical center of North America when I road through Rugby, North Dakota. It was still there when Peggy and I drove through. (grin)

I discovered the geographical center of North America when I rode through Rugby, North Dakota. It was still there when Peggy and I drove through. (grin)

Another small lake we found along Highway 2.

Another small lake along Highway 2. I really liked the tree border.

It was skies like these that sent me scurrying for Williston. (The town has now become a city due to the oil boom, but it has been having tough times since Oil prices dropped.)

It was skies like these that sent me scurrying for Williston. (The town has now become a city due to the oil boom, but it has been having tough times since oil prices dropped.)

A North Dakota stream in the western part of the state. Note the hills!

A North Dakota stream in the western part of the state. Note the hills!

I'll conclude with this tree that lives out west.

I’ll conclude with this tree that we found out west. It was outlined by the sun, which had broken through the clouds.

NEXT BLOG: It’s off to Montana and Big Sky Country!

25 comments on “North Dakota and the Sneakiest Dog in America… The 10,000-Mile Bike Trek

  1. Good to see you back on your bike and away from politics. That dog would have really spooked me.
    What I like about North Dakota is that if there is a quiz question about US State capitals then the one I always recall first is Bismarck!

    • I suspect you aren’t alone, Andrew. 🙂 My policy has been to stay away from politics. It isn’t what my blog is about. Still, I needed to do it. Anyway, impressed that you know Bismarck. 🙂 –Curt

  2. I’ve heard of dogs not liking bikes, (I had one once – turns out as neighborhood boy liked to aim at the dog with his bike – the sociopath), but I never heard of motel managers having a distaste for them!! Sounds funny now that the event has passed, eh? (maybe a dog on a bike aimed at him?) 🙂

    • Part of it is a natural instinct to chase something that runs. Heck, dogs chase logging trucks. But shame on the neighborhood boy! 99% of the motel owners I came across were great, which is probably why the guy stood out in my mind. As for the dog on the bike, I like it. May have been even more traumatic had it been a bear on a bike when the circus was in town! 🙂 –Curt

    • Me too, Timi. I was really disappointed when Peggy and I drove through and didn’t see one sunflower! I’d even gone on the Net to check if they were still growing sunflowers in the state. 🙂 –Curt

  3. Isn’t North Dakota oddly, austerely beautiful? We drove the whole state east to west a few summers ago, and I was honestly transfixed. The wheat fields, the sunflowers, the shiny grain elevators, the old barns, … I imagine at some times of year it is quite bleak, but on a sunny summer’s day, it was bucolic and peaceful. Thanks for the mini-trip back! (I would have totally freaked out about the dog!)

    • I like that everywhere I travelled on my trip had beauty, although a vastly different type of beauty, Lex. The bike provided a superb opportunity to appreciate it, like your horse in Mongolia, I’m sure. The dog did a pretty good job of freaking me out. 🙂 –Curt

  4. Our Jack Russell has a thing about motor bikes. He goes berserk and no amount of training him seems to have any effect. We drag him away and try and block his vision of the roaring motor-bike. That seems to help. Oddly enough a stationary bike he hardly gives it a look.
    That motel keeper seems an unhappy man.

    • Kind of like a vacuum cleaner, Gerard. Peggy had a dog once who disliked her vacuum cleaner so much it had a heart attack. With my basset hound, it was the garbage man. No amount of persuasion could persuade him not to bark! 🙂 –Curt

  5. I love Highway 2, and I love both North and South Dakota. I did laugh at this: “You are always bicycling into the wind; it doesn’t matter which direction you are peddling.” There are more than a few sailors who say the same thing about heading anywhere in the Gulf of Mexico. In fact, more than a few have changed their destinations, just to be able to go with the wind.

    Dogs. It was a pair of mean, nasty, possibly out-for-blood dogs that kept me from achieving a primary goal of my vacation trip. Let’s just say that dogs who have decided the cemetery next door to them is part of their territory aren’t easily persuaded otherwise. I certainly wasn’t going to take them on.

    One interesting note about sunflowers that I’ve recently learned is that they do track the sun, but only when they’re young. As they mature, the behavior stops. You can find more about that here. I expected to see more sunflowers in Kansas, since it’s the state flower, but I only saw one field. Since they had faded and the heads were heavy with seed, it may be that most had been harvested.

    I was startled by your last photo, which I like a good bit. I took one along the Cimarron River in Kansas that’s almost identical, although there weren’t any clouds. I do love big, bare trees.

    • Sunflowers get a bit ‘stiff-necked’ as they age, Linda. 🙂 Wonder if this says something about humanity. As for me, I am still up for following the sun! Somewhere I have photos of the sunflower farms, but I took them in the pre-digital age. Was that forever-ago?
      Ah that I could have changed my direction. But then, I might have missed Peggy. Still there have been times when I have wandered when direction was not an issue. Backpacking by myself in the Gila Wilderness of New Mexico was one such occasion. It was like waking up in the morning, looking at my map and flipping a coin. For that particular moment in time, it was a wonderfully freeing feeling.
      As for the dogs and the graveyard. I suspect that their behavior had something to do with their owners. Number one is training, of course. Number two is confinement. But maybe they were trained to do exactly as they did…
      I don’t know if I have ever met a stream or river that I didn’t like. (Beyond, of course, a few we have polluted to death.) They have many looks and moods, but the bucolic look of quietly flowing along through a peaceful country setting has to be the most calming. And finally, you see lots of big bare trees on my posts. 🙂 –Curt

      • I know there was a relationship between the dogs and the owners. When I mentioned my experience to the couple at the little store next to the Methodist church next to the cemetery, they looked at each other and said, “Oh. That white house….” And they didn’t mean the one in D.C. 🙂

  6. Angry dogs, angry motel owners, a wind that gets you coming and going. At least you had shelter from the storm. After all this travelling I still don’t like street dogs, but I’m better than I used to be. I’m seriously impressed with your aim with the bicycle pump. I’d have probably missed and fallen off the bike at the same time.
    Alison

    • I might have fallen on the bike in the first few weeks of the trip, myself, Alison. 🙂 But by then I was a ‘steady eddy.’ As for aim, I just swung for the general vicinity and let nature take its course! –Curt

    • That was one big barn, which really looked like it had skimped on windows! And very sturdy…
      I suspect you are right on the dog, Kayti. And the sad thing is, he stood a good chance of being run over left free to be on the road. Thanks. –Curt

  7. Fascinated by the story of the motel owner not liking bicyclists. And so glad you left by 6 AM. Or you might not have been a bicyclist after all. Thanks, too, for posting a picture of the stone monument in Rugby, ND. Never even thought about where that would be — but there it is: In Curt’s blog!

    • That motel owner was a rare exception on my trip. Most folks were wonderful. As for the center of North America, I certainly wouldn’t have had a clue without the monument. 🙂 –Curt

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