Quarter of the way there!

Passing through the small town of Blair in Nebraska, 2 months and 2 days after leaving Deadhorse in Alaska. Unremarkable except this is the end of stage 6, which means that I’ve cycled 6000 km (3750 miles) and so have reached the quarter way point of my ride! So far the scenery has been as spectacular as I was hoping for, but the people have been far more friendly, interesting and generous than I was expecting, and the animal encounters more remarkable. 

This is the route I’ve taken – unfortunately the projection used makes it look like I’ve covered more than a quarter:

Feeling propper chuffed with having completed the “easy quarter” on schedule in a fifth of the time I’ve got with no major incidents. This gives me cautious optimism for the rest of the ride. But there are many many more miles and new challenges ahead, so nothing is certain. That’s all part of the adventure! 

I’m now off to Glenwood to check out the start of the Ragbrai (Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa ) and hopefully see a familiar face from when I was working in Maidenhead.

A mention for a few other travelers  who have reached significant milestones – Johan and Baerbel who I met in British Columbia are heading back to Europe after 3 years of cycle touring the world,  and a former colleague who has just completed a trip from the tip of South America to Deadhorse after 2000 days!

Finally thanks to Sue for helping out with the admin back on Jersey.

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Digging out my inner pioneer 

Something that has struck me so far is that while the history of this part of the world covers just a couple of hundred years (rather than a couple of thousand in the UK) a huge amount has happened in that time. All of this by people brave, lucky or just tough enough to make a new life through the extremes of the environment. While what I’m doing isn’t easy, I’m benefiting from good roads (mostly), a ready supply of food and other services and the latest technology to help me along. So I was amused to see this piece from a similar perspective in a local paper in the weather forcast:

(Here’s more about the current weather ” the most uncomfortably hot weather in 4 years.” from his blog)

Have I found an inner pioneer?  In some respects, yes – despite temperatures in the mid 30’s, humidity in the 80’s and a constant headwind that feels like the blast when you open the oven door, I’ve been managing around 100k per day. A very slow 100k – rests and cycling have taken up more than 12 hours of the day. Those of you following me on strava will have seen my average speed dip below 10mph! 

But I’ve also made full use of air conditioned petrol station shops, and consumed the refrigerated sweet drinks on sale. At one point I lay in the shade of some corn for a quick rest and snooze – all sounds very pioneer like, except the corn was genetically engineered! Not so pioneer. 
Despite my reduced pace, since my last post from Minnesota, I’ve been ticking off the states. From Minnesota I popped into South Dakota:

Then back into Minnesota 

Then onto Iowa 

And I’m now in Nebraska 

What’s next? Well if all goes well, tomorrow I should be passing through Blair – yes, the end of stage 6 and the quarter way mark of the trip!
That’s all for now except for a couple of photos:

Fortunately I’m eating well and have not had to resort to this for a fresh snack:

An impressive display of more bugs at the motel i stayed at by Ortonville:

Far more impressive than this was the old gentleman from Minnesota  I’d only briefly chatted with at breakfast – who wanted to pay for my room ! I politely declined his offer – but continue to be  amazed (and shocked!) that what I am doing is inspiring this level of generosity from complete strangers. 

Goodbye North Dakota, hello Minnesota!

A slightly less than grand sign in the suburb of Moorhead:

Looking back on my time in North Dakota, I realised I’d stayed in a different type of place every night. After the boutique designer hotel in Bowbells, there was chain hotel in Minot where i found something i’d not seen before by the remote control. Now if your reaction to the next photo is something like “What? Why? Really?? Nnnnnnno, surely not!!!” then you’re normal. If it is “OMG, i need those in my life!”, then you have an OCD and need to get some help.

Then there was Norman’s log cabin in Fessenden followed by a small motel in Cooperstown. I finally got a wild camp in on my last night in North Dakota. Good sites for wild camping were becoming rarer, and with all the hotels and motels i was thinking that I was getting soft!
On my first night in Minnesota I was expecting to camp again in the village of Wolverton. With no official campsite, I approached a nearby house with people sitting in the garden to check that it was OK to camp near by. I was invited to join Chad & Christine, and their neighbours Jef and Heather. After a good chat around the fire, Chad & Christine asked if I wanted to stay the night in their family sized Recreational Vehicle. With a forecast of rain overnight , and having been passed by so many of these on the road i accepted this very kind offer. And it was yet another different type of place to sleep!

I also met their sons Austin and Carter in their break from Pokemon Go. I was impressed with Austin’s propane “guitar” (my dad would never let me have built one of those!).

After a very comfortable night’s sleep, and being treated to breakfast,  it was to move on south through Minnesota (with its mini hard shoulders!) . . .

Wheat, Corn & Weapons of Mass Destruction 

With the only highway heading East to Fargo being the interstate 94 (a motorway, not good for cycling) I was taking increasingly smaller and quieter roads. This took me to this lovely quiet, smooth road just after Ayr – with perfect calm clear conditions making for a memorable end to Friday’s ride

The photo shows the corn and wheat that makes up much of the landscape – a change from the quinola in Saskatchewen. Here quinola is seen as a problem because it is a good “volunteer crop” – ie it’ll keep growing like a weed if the farmers try and grow something else. Earlier on Friday I took a break from the cycling to go on a guided tour of another part of the landscape. But not on the surface – do you know where? Underground! Or more specifically the Oscar-Zero Missile Alert Facility of the 321 Missile Wing.I’ve always been interested in the Cold War, so a tour around one of the underground bunkers where the nuclear Inter Continental Balistic Missiles would be launched from was not to be missed! From this console, up to 150 missiles could be launched from their underground silos spread across this part of North Dakota (spaced 3 miles apart so that if one got a direct hit from an incomming ICBM, the others would not be affected).

Surface of one of the missile silos:

The control centre bunker was 30m underground and shaped like an hour glass on its side – this photo from the generator room through the two blast doors (as thick as my gangly arm is long) to the control centre shown the huge shock absorbers that the floor was suspended from.

This place was decommissioned along with the 14 other similar control centres in North Dakota as part of the START arms reduction treaty. But we were re-assured that three of the original six missile wings are still fully operational and defending the nation. While it is an impressive feat of science, technology and engineering, the thought of 450 missiles being armed and capable of delivering the equivalent of half a billion tonnes of TNT to their targets in less than 30 minutes was far from reassuring! 

Ever since Fairbanks, my journey south has been more of a journey east. This right turn at this very unassuming junction marked the point where it became a journey south once again. The edge was taken off the celebration by a strong southerly wind for the rest of the day!

Turning South

Shortly after this I stopped at this very unassuming hall to top up my water:

I was surprised to walk in on a hall full of people playing bingo (I think they were equally surprised to see me!). But in tge short time that I was there, everyone I spoke with from Barry the hall manager to the bar man and the regulars were very generous in one way or another. I tried my first root beer float – i wasnt sure what to expect beer (6%!) and ice cream to be like, but it was surprisingly good!
Finally, I’ve appeared in not one, but two newspapers this week! The Jersey Evening Post and on tge front cover of the Hearald Press. Time magazine – here I come!! 🙂

End of stage 5

Yesterday I passed through the tiny village of Balfour, and so completed Stage 5 of the trip. Celebrating this in a rodeo style:

(Fortunately I managed this stunt without breaking me or the statue -or getting caught!)

My last post was sent from the Bowbells Hotel – thanks to Theresa for accepting a late guest (i hadn’t realised that North Dakota was an hour ahead of Saskatchewan) at her newly renovated hotel . I was lucky not only in that the hotel was open (it opened last week!), but the next night they were fully booked!

Yesterday was damp, but I had a great tail wind. As well as Balfour,  i passed through the amusingly named Anamoose. It was good to see that the locals shared my sense of humour with this sign:

The moose theme continued later with some very nice dark beer:

The village of Harvey, however, were perhaps just getting a bit too carried away 

“Not Just A Place . . . It’s An Experience!”. The true experience was to be had in Fessenden. It was after 6 in the evening and the rain wasn’t showing any sign of easing off – so time for dinner. I stopped at the Motorheads bar, wondering if this was the right place for a cyclist. I pulled on some trousers – you have to be pretty sure about a bar before walking in “with out any pants on” (ie just in a tshirt and a pair of lycra cycling shorts). But not only was the food great (and it was a buffet – perfect for a hungry cyclist) and the beer tasty, but the locals on both sides of the bar were very welcoming to a stranger from out of town. Danny was great – he had the sense to leave me to finish my meal (cyclists are a bit like bears in this respect – don’t get between them and their food!) and was happy for me to join him at the bar. Amy was also there, and she tipped off Anne from the Herald Press and I had my first face to face press interview! Norman joined us later – a former farmer – real North Dakota cowboy! 

He very kindly offered a place to stay – the cabin in his yard that was hand built in a 19th century style by his father-in-law:

I now know how Americans feel when they visit Scotland and see a man in a kilt, then stay overnight in a castle! 

The stay was rounded of with some very sticky cake at the Main St Diner. A big thanks to everyone in Fessenden for being so welcoming! 

Back in the U S of A!

Stage 5, day 8 – just crossed the 49th parallel – the line of latitude 49 degrees north of the equator. This marks the border between Canada and America – so after 5 weeks of cycling across part of the huge country of Canada, I am back in the USA! I am also, for the first time, further south than Jersey. It’s also a new timezone (GMT-6), a real sign of heading east as well as south.

It’s also a milestone for the trip – I’ve now cycled 3000 miles since I left Deadhorse 53 days ago! Or to put it another way, 20% of the way to the bottom of South America. That destination is still a very very long way off – by but a fifth of the way there is the first meaningful proportion of the journey. I’ve also cycled up hills totalling over three times the height of Mount Everest (not an entirely valid comparison-  I’m sure Everest is easier!).

For those of you following me on Strava, in closing in on being in the top 1% of cyclists in the July distance challenge – a top 100 placing by the end of the month would be cool!

The wild weather continues in this part of the world – as does my luck in avoiding it. Yesterday I passed through the town of Estevan, currently under in a State of Emergency following 13cm of rain in 2 hours the day before! Estevan also marked a change in landscape – if Saskatchewan is the Breadbasket of Canada, south of Estevan is the messy corner at the end of the garden where you dump the weeds and cuttings. Gone are huge fields and huge elevators :

Replaced by open cast coal mining for power generation:

For a place with quite so much wind, they really are missing a trick!

Finally, for those of you following my tracker, it has gone on the blink again. I’ve reported this to TrackerShop – hopefully it should be working again soon!

Stage 5 day 7 – Big weather in Seskatchewan

In my last full day in Canada yesterday, there was some dramatic weather just after I passed the town of Weyburn. I was enjoying a light if slightly humid tailwind when this monster appeared on the horizon:

As I passed under it I felt like a very small sea  creature walking down the seabed with a huge wave breaking overhead.  Here’s a video clip of that moment: under the cloud

I was expecting to get a good soaking because, surely, that amount of water couldn’t  stay there for ever! But in the end it was only very light rain, and then i was out the other side into some sunshine and another striking scene:


As an indication of how flat it is here, there is a railway line between the yellow quinoa (a bio fuel crop) and the green road side grass.

 Those of you following me on Strava or keeping an eye on the GPS tracker will see that I’m only 50 miles away from the US border – so I should be back in the USA by the end of today!

Stage 5 day 6 – The Corner Gas Station

I spent the night in Rouleau at what looked like a quiet spot, but turned out to be a family TV shrine – the location of the Corner Gas Station show! 

I had to wait for over an hour for it to get too dark for people to stop off had have their photo taken – but it wasn’t time wasted as I managed to get this shot to replace one of the many photos I’d unintentionaly deleted earlier in the day (Grrrrr!!!)

Time for breakfast and head off towards Estevan before more fans (of the TV show) turn up! Hopefully my last full day in Canada – its been a great 5 weeks cycling through just 3 provinces of this huge country – but I’m keen to move on south.

Too late – literally as I was typing the last paragraph, the first pilgrimage of the day arrives:

Grrrrrrrrrr!!!!!!!

A blog post I’ve been working on for over a week has just gone blank! 

Don’t by a cheap phone!!!!

Producing interesting blogs while on the move with limited screen, battery, internet access and time is proving to be much harder than expected. The tracker is still working, and I’m managing daily updates on Strava. Losing the post I’ve spent loads of time on, and accidentally deleting a load of photos yesterday is forcing a rethink on how i go about letting you know how things are going.

All is going well apart from the blogging! I expect to cross into the USA in the next couple of days.

Quick update

All going well (apart from not having enough time and battery to keep this blog up to date!). Finished stage 3 in 35 days – that’s 3000 km, with my daily average increasing, something I hope to keep building on (without overdoing it!). Had a few days of rain showers, but am all dried out now, and batteries all recharged. Now reached the end of the Alaska Highway (Dawson Creek), with the next target being Edmonton by Canada day (1st July). I also appear to be sufficiently close to civilisation for the tracker to be working! (Note that times are BST – I’ve not been cycling through the night!). A few of photos from the past few days:

Tailwinds are great – until this is the weather they are carrying – no stopping for a rest!

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Lovely smell of pine whenever one of these overtakes:

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Baerbel and Johan – lovely couple from Germany/Holland:

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Getting wet:

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Drying out:

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Never buy cheap shorts:

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Sun sets on Stage 3

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Me (thanks to Johan)

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