Great Wide Open and the lifeblood unveiled

I left Havre two hours into the afternoon with a full belly and an earful of telephone conversations in the shade. I filled a bottle with water and left US 2 for the first time in many hundred miles– since Grand Rapids, MN. A few miles out of town I realized one 40 oz bottle of water would require a little moderation; difficult in this drying prairie wind. No services for 45 miles, I planned to get some water at the border. After the usual questions about employment and residence (none, and nowhere I respectfully answered), I delved into the long story to satisfy customs that I was not entering Canada to gain employment or injure myself on their dollar. I was informed that not many cyclists pass this rural checkpoint, Wildhorse. With no potable water onsite, a few bottled waters were offered, and I was again on my way. The first sign read, “No gas or services next 80 km”. I sighed; I would again have to ride another fifty miles for the promise of water. This is not a true desert, but it was hot and dry. I did not see a single structure for 45 miles; just the most beautifully paved road and shoulder with an average of one vehicle an hour. This was the wild version of what Montana had promised. These vast grasslands were peppered with grazing cattle, antelope, deer, moose, and two beady eyes from the roadside that frightened me– a beer can reflecting my headlight.

A moose reared, and turned in one muscular display against a twilit horizon. It was not, after closer inspection and a near heart attack, a horse. It was a very athletic moose.

I am scared of a lot of critters. Sometimes I am scared of crunching leaves.

The last, furious miles into Elkwater passed through the Cypress Hills, “an elevated island in the vast prairie that captures cool, moist air and sustains a localized pine forest”. And thus, a long, fast descent after dark on a deserted road– in the midst of vastness, an island– past a ski resort and ending at a lake. A break from beautiful, Albertan monotony.

The morning brought an early rise and a classic display of bike trip resoucefulness. Coffee and a warm concoction of yams, raisins, and Grape Nuts by the waterside. A swim– the first since Minnesota– and an outdoor shower. A full drivetrain cleaning, and some lube. Public restrooms and electronics charged. And free wifi in the lobby of an upscale lodge (I dressed my best).

Fully revived from the desperation of yesterday’s riding, today brought favorable winds and uncharacteristically fresh legs after a late-night surge (or purge). Submersion–swimming– is the lifeblood of this metal cowboy. And a liter of chocolate milk.

post script: Lost my maps and debit card in MT, somewhere. Moms are real helpful sometime. Mine is getting more frequent phone calls, for a little while at least. ACA is most helpful as well. That’s what they do: help people ride bikes.

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Acceptance; Welcome to Havre

Small towns on ACA Routes, mostly in the central part of the country, offer camping to cyclists in city parks. Most often free, water and toilets are always available, along with some picnic tables, trash receptacles; and sometimes power outlets, showers and even the city pool. In general, people seem to understand what’s going on with “the sweaty, sunburned bunch on overloaded bikes” and are quick to offer directions to the library or the ice cream shop.

This system begins with acceptance on the part of city officials and planners, but further promotes acceptance by community members of this peculiar, and numerous visitor. I am less often asked the kind of uninspired questions such as, “You got a lotta stuff?”; and more likely to hear stories about a large group of cycling teachers from Seattle, or “one guy that was from Japan or something”. I listen patiently to these stories– it shows how others can feel connected to your journey, whether simply curious, or proud.

Rail-trails connect towns where industries have  passed–towns in obscurity, and occasionally, desperation such as in southwestern PA. Cross-country routes– like those designed by the ACA– select smaller county, state, and interstate routes that may service similarly obscure towns; areas where the transportation needs of industry never required the modern interstate highway projects such as Hwy. 90, 80, or 10. US 2 is a lonely little road with all it’s history intact, not yet swallowed up by a few extra lanes and exclusive entrance/exit points. The northernmost east-west highway in the US, traveling from Everett, WA to ME, the road follows the Great Northern Railway much of the way; they are collectively referred to as “The Hi-Line”. The route ends in St. Ignace, MI, and resumes in Northern NY, connected by Canadian Highways in the interim. Major interstate highways such as US 66, US 40, and US 2 were all finalized, on paper, in 1926 and soon thereafter made complete.

As romantic as interstate vehicular routes were in 1926, intercity and interstate cycling routes are growing today. With a culmination of varied facilities, long-distance bicycle travel could be embraced by the masses. First, exclusive pedestrian/cycling trails such as rail trails use existing “right of way”, purchased or donated from rail companies, funded through grants, as well as local and state money and private donations.

Safe on-road facilities have broad shoulders, or low traffic volumes. Signage communicates to motorists that cyclists may be present, are encouraged to use this roadway, and are acting in concert with the law. Maps, such as those published for free by the states (Oregon has a great map) or for a small fee by the ACA can facilitate travel and can benefit local services such as groceries and bike shops.

The final ingredient are those welcoming small towns that offer camping and basic services in the town’s center, or within proximity. This encourages money to be spent in the towns themselves, not only at the roadside truck stops and chain stores. People meet, and share with one another. Idealism? Absolutely! But it’s happening in a lot of “red” states, so don’t be fooled, it’s American.

Update: Chinook, MT provided a free hot shower. I obliged, ate dinner, and rolled on to Havre in the closing hours of the day. Of twenty miles to Havre, all were under construction and half were gravel. With cooler air and a hot meal, I surged through broken roads and gravel right along with traffic. Winds subsided, and Havre was only a dusty hour away.

In Havre, I made quick work of finding beautiful Pepin Park, where I was allowed to camp. I spent the night dodging sprinklers that were programmed in sequence. I awoke on the only unwetted plot of land in the entire park, tucked up against the wall of the maintenance building.

I am informed, by a North Dakotan trucker, that the town is pronounced “Have-er”. It’s French, he says.

Canada today. Medicine Hat, Calgary…mountains!

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Harlem, MT. City pool, showers, tables.

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Chinook, MT.

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Chinook, MT. Pavilion, tables, water, bathroom and hot shower. Orzo, red lentils, yam, tomato, garlic, caraway, and green onions fueled me to Havre.

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Mountains at last. The peaks of the Bear Paw Range, underserved by this photo, they stand at over 6000 ft.

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Pepin Park, Havre, MT. Beautiful, but deceiving. Complimentary cold showers offered mid-night.