The Sauerkraut Route: Rural North Dakota
Probably not many people view North Dakota as a bicycling paradise. We have harsh winters, and our towns are spread great distances apart. Most of our roads, other than the interstate highways, are busy with farm machinery for a large portion of the year. We are mostly flat, hence the term “great plains” -- but if you fancy a subtle beauty, bicycling on the prairie is hard to beat.
I began bicycling about three years ago. I have been an Army officer and am now an educator, so fitness is a must for my lifestyle. I never ran well, so once I tried some serious bicycling (more than five miles) I was hooked.
As an educator, my year is always based around a school schedule, which works well for shorter trips on a bicycle. Since I got the bug, it has been my goal to bring more people into cycling, especially in the small rural communities, generally of 1,000 people or fewer. I have really noticed the more I ride, the more I see others giving it a try. A classic example is when I pledged to ride to work all year long, and several students did the same. Some have been riding to school ever since. Believe me, it gets cold here, so that is a real feat.
I decided to ride from Beaver Creek Recreation Area to Bismarck (about 60 miles), then home to LaMoure. I would follow highway 13, which runs from Hazelton to Linton, Wishek, Edgeley, and on to LaMoure. My wife Vicki, who always puts up with my wild ideas (I have plenty), agreed to ride what I dubbed "The Sauerkraut Route" with me. To make the trip all the more interesting, we decided to go aboard a used tandem we acquired and named the “Red Rocket."
We had some saddle bags on the rear, but needed room for even more gear (it was our first trip), so we hauled an inexpensive kid's trailer behind. It was a Schwinn, and pulled fairly easily.
The Beaver Creek area is nice, with some primitive sites and some developed sites. Showers are modern and very clean, and the park is well cared for. We took the whole family in the car for the send-off and had a pretty good night of camping before Vicki and I departed -- and immediately broke our chain on leaving the campground! So, into town we went and found a repair link at a hardware store. Finally, at about noon, we shoved off, leaving the campground for good.
We followed Highway 1804 to Bismarck, which is a beautiful ride, with plenty of views of the Missouri River and some wonderful hills. They aren’t bad, but they stand out because they aren’t covered with trees. We like to call the roads going up them "ribbon roads."
We got into Bismarck, all of our sunscreen worn off. It was a hot day. We made it to the hotel, where the children had our room reserved. We couldn't get to the pizza place fast enough. (If you are ever in Bismarck, the best pizza comes from A&B Pizza. They have two shops in town.)
After a full day of lounging, the weather forced us to get a lift for part of the trip. Out on the prairie the weather feature that dominates cycling is the wind. It really can be unbearable. With the wind in our faces, we knew it would be too much of a hindrance -- but the weather reports said we would have no wind if we waited it out a day, so we did. This pushed us off schedule, so we had to make up the time somehow. (Contrary to popular opinion, educators don’t always have the whole summer off. I was on a schedule.)
We got dropped off in Hazelton, which has a city park with showers, a pop machine, and nice, clean campsites. We set up in the dark (not recommended) and went to sleep. The next morning we were on the road early after a Cenex breakfast. (In the small towns, many times convenience stores are the breakfast place of choice.) Overall, we had a very pleasant experience in Hazelton.
As we left, I felt a wobble and quickly discovered we had a flat tire on the Red Rocket! I used a patch kit with scabs and quickly got us rolling. (Day 2, Breakdown 2. Was this a pattern?)
Well, the goal was Linton, less than 40 miles away, so the setback wasn’t a huge issue. We were rolling fairly fast.
Linton was, and is, one of my favorite North Dakota towns. It's rather isolated, so it seems a bit more self-sufficient than many of the other small towns. We arrived there at about 4 p.m. and pitched a tent at the small Seeman Park, which is connected to town by a bike trail. The park has a disc golf course and Beaver Creek flowing through it. The park features lots of trees, so we were prepared to see a raccoon or possibly a skunk -- and, when dusk arrived, so did the mosquitoes! We had gotten there early enough to drop the trailer and head a mile-plus into town to get some groceries. We even managed to find the Green Lantern Bar, where the cold beer sure tasted good.
We made it back to the campsite without incident and cooked some stir fry in my travel wok. It was excellent. Darkness quickly fell, so we went into bed -- knowing that the next day was a 50-miler, we wanted some to get some rest.
In the morning we really felt as though we were getting into a rhythm. Once we left the campground, we anxiously awaited to learn what would be the breakdown of the day. Nothing!
Pushing hard for the town of Wishek, we had beautiful weather and some nice hills and scenery. We got to town early and, since we'd made good time, decided to have a lunch. It was a little after one o'clock. We found the café, where I opted for a cheeseburger, a favorite of mine when I travel.
One thing you notice in North Dakota is that the people in the small towns don’t really understand the cycling culture. But that doesn’t stop them at all from being kind and courteous. They are very friendly, and will give you help if you need it. They may have an accent and come from a farming background, but they certainly are welcoming people. And it seems that out on the prairie everyone knows someone who knows someone that you know!
The drawback to Wishek, a nice small town, was that the only showers near the city campground were at the swimming pool, and they aren't accessible 24 hours a day. I was able to cook up some small steaks in the wok for supper and, once the pool shut down, things got pretty quiet. (Vicki was more fortunate than I, because the women’s shower was still open.)
We hit the hay early again and decided tomorrow we could get to Edgeley, a 50-mile-plus day. We could've overnighted at the park in Kulm -- but again, the showers are at the pool. I didn’t want to chance not getting a hot shower again. (I am an Army guy, not a Marine, so comfort is not frowned upon.) We stopped in Kulm only long enough to have two super-cold, super-big beers. We pushed on to Edgeley and trip's end, where our daughter would pick us up.
Total distance was around 256 miles. It was a fun trip. The Nike people had it right when they coined the slogan “Just Do It." The bicycle travel and overnights were a blast.
Tip for this adventure: Definitely take in the Green Lantern in Linton. The best tool I took along was the vice grips. I recommend a wok for camp cooking; it is versatile and folds up nicely. If you plan to travel the prairie, take time in advance to really study your route. Towns are spread out, so you'll want to pack plenty of water and allow some flex days. Check the weather and be sure to have your cell phone (you will have service). Be prepared for all kinds of weather.
North Dakota photographs by Chuck Haney.