I crossed the 100th Meridian today, a milestone on this journey after almost 1900 miles of peddling. I’m leaving the West behind as I move ever eastward. While the changes in landscape are not as dramatic as when I crossed over the Rockies, they are here nonetheless: more varied terrain, more trees, different and more varied crops, the beginnings of endless fields of corn, and birds that I think of as “eastern” varieties such as Baltimore Orioles, Chimney Swifts and Field Sparrows. Farms are looking more prosperous, and I begin to notice ethanol plants replacing the huge grain silos of the dryland wheat region.
(Still wide open, still long, straight roads, but a changing landscape nonetheless as I move east; photo east of Bismarck, North Dakota.)
These changes are what this trip is all about, eh? It is one big continent to cross, and the variety of terrain, weather, rainfall, farmland and settlements is what makes this country so interesting and gives regions their character. At an average pace of 10 miles per hour, I’m trying to take it all in.
Did I mention THE WIND? Not since the slopes of Mount Rainier have I experienced winds like here on the high plains. My daily life now depends on how the wind blows. A tailwind is a total blessing — I can make 80+ miles while being blown across the great flat spaces. Sidewinds and, even worse, headwinds, can change the equation dramatically. Coming out of Medora ND recently, I had such a nasty headwind that I was peddling downhill to get any forward movement, and I was down to my lowest mountain gear on the flats and uphill in order to garner more than 5 miles per hour. A workout, indeed.
Today a local in his pickup confirmed the obvious to this visitor: “Yep, it’s a rare day around here when the wind don’t blow one direction or another.”
Many of you have commented that traveling west to east such as I am doing should be all tailwinds. The reality is anything but. Sure the general weather moves west to east. But the wind responds to the high and low pressure areas (highs rotate in a clockwise direction, while lows go counter-clockwise). Thus, as high and low systems move across the landscape, the winds change, often quite dramatically within 24 hours Terrain features (buttes, river drainages) also affect the direction of wind on a local level.
I love (especially while enjoying a tailwind) to watch the whole prairie seem to move across the landscape. The surface of the land seems to be alive, and moving, as the wind tickles each grass head in turn. Take a look at this short video (I hope it plays for you) to get a sense of how the whole prairie seems to flow like a river. I can enjoy this view if I’m going with the flow, but it is a teeth-clenching, swear-word-uttering workout to go against it on two non-motorized wheels.
As I moved from the high prairie of Eastern Montana across the state line into North Dakota, the terrain changed dramatically: from rolling high plains to the Badlands.
What a cool place. I’m a big fan of Teddy Roosevelt, who spent some formative years here (a great read: McCullough’s Mornings on Horseback). So I’ve always wanted to check out this area that he said formed his character (as huge as that was).
The reality matches the hype. I can see why Teddy loved this place. As I took a “rest” day (only 36 miles of steeply rolling terrain) riding through the southern unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, the vistas were fabulous of layered sandstones, hoodoos and canyons — this is very different topography from nearby Montana. I saw prairie dogs, bison and wild horses (and couldn’t drag Mick Jagger’s voice away for the next few days from the song loop going around in my head). It is a unique place.
In Medora ND, an oasis where the salads are actually Romain instead of the ubiquitous iceberg and the beer selection includes Beaver Creek IPA as well as Bud Light, I took in the locally famous Medora Musical. This incredible production, now in its 51st year, is set in an outdoor amphitheater rivaling the Gorge in George, WA, for its dramatic setting. The country-western song and dance numbers, coupled with celebration of local cowboy history and a huge dash of Americana patriotism, are delivered with Broadway-quality voices and choreography. It is quite a production and it spoke to me of Dakota values, a love of the land and local history, and a deep-rooted patriotism that is not usually on display where I come from, all red-white-and-blue and God Bless America. Two enormous elk appeared on the ridge across from the theater as if on que, their huge antlers glowing in the setting sun. Quite the scene, indeed. I’m in the Heartland, fer sure.
I crossed the Missouri one last time at Bismarck, the capitol of North Dakota. It was nice to be in the area where Lewis and Clark spent their first winter in 1804 near the Mandan Villages just north of my trajectory. (Another great read: Stephen Ambrose’s Undaunted Courage.) The Missouri is one impressively big river at this point.
And so I continue ever eastward in search of America. I’m making progress, yet still have a ways to go…
— Dave (posted from Napoleon, North Dakota, on June 20, 2016)