Record-setting bike ride Fargo - Watertown,SD


Saturday, July 12, 2003


After my Fargo-Winnipeg ride I haven’t been sitting on my bike for 3 weeks. For the week of July 4th I visited the family in Florida for sun & fun. I had my roller-skates and the whole family went for some combined roller-skating (Sarvenaz + Daddy) and bike-riding (Philip + Mommy). So I felt ready for some bike riding again. Since the weather report was quite excellent for this weekend, I started thinking about another big ride…

Which way is the wind going to blow on Sunday? 15-25 mph SSW! And only slight WNW on Saturday. I decide to go “all-out” down South on Saturday, with hopes of “sailing” the tailwind back home on Sunday. I ponder the map and declare Watertown in South Dakota my goal. Along Interstate 29, which is going straight South, this would be about 220 km. I had ridden down towards Big Stone Lake 6 weeks ago and had felt too tired to continue on, but this time I wanted to go all the way.

Rule number 1: If you want to go far, you have to start early. Ok, maybe not in the dark of the night, but at 5:40am I sit in the saddle and hit the road. After rain-showers yesterday and a clear night it dawns cool and moist with only 56 F (13 C). I need a long-sleeved sweater to get going. After a few warmup km I cross the bridge across the Red River into Minnesota heading for Hwy 75 South. There is even a bit of morning fog, reaching just a few feet tall. The rising sun reflects off the fog like a silver carpet.

The fog disappears quickly and it gets warm enough to ride without the sweater. I retrace the route of 6 weeks ago. Except this time I am much earlier in the day. Plus I don’t have a flat tire in Wolverton like the last time, so that I “gain” another 45 minutes or so. The first 2 hours pass by without anything noteworthy. Then I see a “road closed” sign up ahead! The traffic is routed in a detour due to a bridge closed up ahead. Since I don’t intend to go for some extra miles, I decide to give it a try and head for the closed bridge. There isn’t really any river or creek worth mentioning, so I figure I can always carry the bike around the closure through the corn fields.

I get to the construction site just North of Wahpeton. They dug up the entire road to apparently lay a new foundation for some drainage canal. Definitely no riding here! So I shoulder my bike – good thing it only weighs in at just below 20 pounds – and head for the fields. But boy: Due to the rain I instantly have 2 inch of mud sticking to my boots, everything is wet and the mosquitoes – just unbelievable! I look at my right arm holding the bike on the shoulder and see it covered with maybe 20 of these bloodsuckers! I hurry to get to the other side of the construction zone. By the time I covered the 200 meters or so I have bug bites everywhere – and I mean everywhere! I try to clean the now 2 pounds heavy shoes at least enough to get back into my click pedals – not an easy feat. I roll down another km or so and stop at a family restaurant for breakfast. First I clean my shoes some more and then walk in my socks still wet, my skin covered with bug bites from top to bottom. When I wash my face in the restroom, blood-caked mosquitoes stick to my face from under the straps of the helmet. Maybe a detour of a few km would have been the better choice?

I order some pancake, eggs and hashbrown breakfast – let the feast begin! For the next two days it will be a constant rhythm of riding and stopping to eat and drink. After a quick phone call I get back out on the road. I reach the 100km mark at 9:50am. The sun is getting stronger now, and there are some 3/8 textbook cumulus clouds due to the moisture everywhere. Thankfully there is very little wind. I reach the little town of Wheaton, where I stopped 6 weeks ago both on the way down and up. So I stop again for more food and drinks – and chat with the same old lady, who remembers me from 6 weeks ago. I’m thinking she probably hangs out in this coffee shop quite often. I answer her questions about where I am heading and I also show her some pictures in my camera from the family.

Notice the matching color of biker jersey and table J After this refreshing stop I continue to pedal along Lake Traverse. This lake forms the border between Minnesota and South Dakota and the road offers nice ridge views of the lake. At the southern tip I cross over to South Dakota in Browns Valley. 6 weeks ago I headed towards SE along Big Stone Lake. Today I turn SW into South Dakota. For the first time there are some real hills, which slow me down. But they also add to the scenery and offer sweeping views of the country side.

I try sitting down in the grass and just taking in the views, but there is not enough wind to keep the bugs away. So I give up and hop on the bike again to continue. I pass under Interstate 29 near the little town of Peever and follow a smaller road parallel to the Interstate down South towards Watertown. Somehow the hills start slowing me down. Feels quite different than the 400km tailwind “sailing” into Canada 3 weeks ago. I hardly remembered how slow a bike rider moves uphill without wind… I feel quite tired already, so I decide to take longer breaks. I still have plenty of daylight left so I am not in a hurry. I reach the 200km mark at 3:30pm.

This picture shows the typical amount of traffic – barely any! It is getting really hot now. Since I didn’t bring any sunscreen my arms start turning red and burning in the hot afternoon sun. Up ahead there is an underpass of my road and the Interstate. I stop and seek the shade under the bridge. I take off my shoes and feel the cool asphalt under my bare feet. I sit down in the middle of the road – “don’t try this at home” -  to cool off and decide to sit there until the next vehicle comes.

I wait a full 15 minutes and watch the swallows and pidgeons flying around the bridges. Finally a car is coming and I get up from my cool ground floor “seat”. It would be nice just to keep sitting here, but I need to keep going. I climb another long hill and reach a little town with the fitting name Summit. In the convenience store of a near gasstation I refuel and cool off again. Unfortunately they don’t sell sunscreen and none of the car drivers who stop here carries any. So I continue without. The intervals between breaks get shorter now. My average speed is reduced to around 30km/h due to the many hills. About 1 hour from Watertown I sit down again in the shade of a tree and try to ignore the mosquitoes, take a quick nap and enjoy the cooling breeze.

The time of day is approaching 7:00pm. Going South, I have a steady compagnion to my left from the Westerly evening sun:

Finally I get to Watertown around 7:20pm and stop at a gasstation like so many times. It took me 13.5 hours with about 9.5 hours of riding to cover the 275 km down here.

It takes a bit of searching around since the first two hotels are full and they tell me that many others are, too. Then I find a motel with restaurant and they still have one last room. It is a smoking room and very noisy, but better than nothing. I order a Prime Rib Steak and a Merlot to drink a toast to this first day of the weekend. I feel quite sore and don’t necessarily look forward to a second super-long bike day in a row. But I guess I have no choice now, short of taking another Greyhound Bus back home to Fargo. Let’s see how much the wind is going to help tomorrow…


Sunday, July 13, 2003


I get up for breakfast and hit the road around 7:00am. Not quite as early as yesterday. But I expect the wind to increase in strength throughout the day, plus I figure I can reach Fargo late if need be, as the sun is not setting until 9:22pm! First I ride a bit West on Road 212 – the Hwy described by some round-the-world bike rider as the endless road: 700km across South Dakota from West to East without much to look at other than dry and hot grass plains. If you have to ride into the wind you are lost! But when the wind is blowing in your back… Just out of town I turn NW towards the nearby Lake Kampeska. There is a nice Bike Path separate from the 4 lane highway, but there is practically no traffic this early anyway, except a few fishermen towing boats on their trailers. Several small ponds lign the road with a bunch of wild geese enjoying the morning. I stop at the lake, which offers some nice real estate and fine lake homes.

Luckily the weather report was right and the flag shows some moderate wind from the South already! This will help me in the next couple of hours J After about 20km I turn straight North towards the little town of Waubay. The next 40km are very scenic with rolling hills, beautiful morning light and lots of birds. A few times the road comes down and seems to go straight through the middle of a small lake left and right of the road. On one occasion I grab my camera from the backpack while still riding and get a nice picture with a flock of pelicans just taking off, apparently scared away by the passing bike rider.

In Waubay I have my first (but certainly not last) stop to refuel and have a second breakfast. Aah, those two muffins and coffee and nut-&-fruit trail mix really taste good! Not to mention the cool bottled water and gatorade… I chat with some locals. They usually shake their heads in disbelief when I tell them where I’m coming from and heading to. One elderly man seems quite interested in the price and technology of the bike. I roll in the bike – by now the talk of the entire fisherman shop – and let the old man lift it. He utters some unintelligable, non-quotable words –surely a sign of appreciation.

Anyway, I need to get going again. I also buy some sunscreen to protect my skin on the way back today. It is going to be scorching hot today with highs in the mid 90’s (35C) and no escaping the sun all day.

The next 12 km I have to go East passing Ortley to connect with the next good (i.e. paved) road going North. Riding sideways to the wind is much more work; however I am happy that it is blowing harder now, as this will push me nicely again soon. There are waves with a few white crests on the lakes, I would say the wind is around 30km/h. Not expecting much of the road to come, I am pleasantly surprised about this next stretch, which is as close to bike heaven as I have ever seen it: New, perfectly smooth surface, practically no traffic whatsoever, scenic rolling hills with plenty of lakes left and right, and a strong tailwind pushing me beyond 45 km/h. How awesome: The “Which way is the wind going to blow on Sunday?” rule worked perfectly again! On the downhill slopes I coast without pedaling to often more than 50 km/h, shifting up & down frequently due to the rolling hills. With the wind I can often still pull the big ring in the front going uphill! What a rush.

The 100km mark rolls around at 11:00am. I stop at a large tree, sit in the shade right by the road, look out towards the horizon and nibble away at a nut-&-fruit mix with my cold water. How wonderful when you can enjoy the simple pleasures of life: Just laying in the grass, barefoot, listening to the wind swaying the branches of the big tree, the breeze both refreshing and keeping the bugs away.

Just ahead is the top of the ridge and there are scenic views towards the East overlooking the valley with the Interstate where I rode yesterday.

The next 8 km are downhill with tailwind – it doesn’t get much better than this! The bike handles smooth as I shoot down with speeds up to 63km/h. For someone used to ride in flat Fargo, these hills are definitely a welcome change.

The next 2 hours or so I spend hopping from one little town to the next, always trying to escape the brutal heat in the luxury of an air-conditioned store or coffee shop. In Claire City I have no such luck: Population 85, there is no store, just an automatic gas-station and two soda-machines. Luckily I have the right change to buy two ice-cold bottles of water and Mountain Dew. I sit down in the shade and drink to cool off. With the hot wind it doesn’t really get cool, but at least I get reprieve from the sun for a while.

Short of the next little town, Lidgerwood, I see something I haven’t seen in 2000km of riding in Minnesota and the Dakotas: Another bike rider! It is Paul from the Netherlands, who travels the continent by bike on his way to New York City!

Paul has the proverbial kitchen sink on his bike, he even has a cooler on his back. He says the entire bike weighs in at around 200 pounds (!) – about 8-10 times as much as mine! Consequently he travels very slow, but he can stop wherever he pleases and pitch his tent. It turns out he just started his day in the next little town, and it is almost 2:00pm! We certainly represent two different ends of the spectrum of long distance bike riding, but we both share the road and the love of the outdoors and adventure! We chat for 10 minutes, exchange email addresses and vow to stay in touch.

I stop in the same gas-station where Paul just left 15 minutes ago. So the tenants continue to talk about bike riding… One more hop brings me to Wyndmere, where I refuel again and enjoy a fresh homemade apple pie with coffee. I buy an extra bottle of lemonade and stow it in my back-pack. With a total of three full bottles I start for the next long leg to Kindred. There will be no service for the next 50km. In this heat you have to have plenty of fluids…

First there is a 40km straight-away, along which the 200km mark gets passed at 4:15pm. Then I have to turn East again to connect with the next roads. These next 13km are the absolut worst of my entire trip: I am tired, the wind is blowing hard from the side, reducing my speed to around 25km/h – a far cry from the the effortless 40+km/h I have gotten used to – and there is lots of traffic including big trucks. At one time a flat-bed truck passes with a movable home as his oversize load. And there is no shoulder for me to give way… Not good. I pedal hard to get off this stretch, and feel close to overheating and really fatigued now. I head straight for the next gas-station after 50km and walk inside, covered in sweat all over my body.

I just sit there for 10 minutes, resting, cooling and looking at the map for the umpteenth time today. I finally get up to order and then scoop down a huge cone of soft-serve icecream and some cold pink lemonade. Together with the sweat and the cold air-condition, all this helps to reduce my body temperature back down from the overheating. However, after ½ hour my leg muscles have contracted so I can hardly walk out the door!

It takes a while and lots of spinning in low gear to get the legs warm and working again. Maybe this hot and cold is not the best after all – certainly not for the legs. However, I am quite excited, as I am now within about 40km from home, so I won’t need another rest stop. Some more legs sideways to the wind bring me back towards the Interstate and into familiar territory. I pass 270km after 7hrs 42mins of riding for an average speed of 35.07 km/h thanks to the good South wind. At 7:15pm I reach home, take my shoes off for the last time and relax in the grass outside of my apartment. In the end, I rode 275km on Saturday and 280km on Sunday. Less than 38 hours after I left the apartment I had seen a total of 555km on roads in Minnesota, South and North Dakota. Never before have I gone so far in one weekend. Sometime after a long ride I feel I could have gone further; not so today! This time I am really tired and wouldn’t want to go any extra mile.

I take a shower washing off layers of sweat, sunscreen and blood-smeared mosquitoes. Hungry? You bet! I head on over to the Outback Steakhouse. Rarely has the steak tasted any better! I bring the PC and camera, so I load the pictures and start typing this report. They pull up the chairs already when I leave the restaurant as the last guest. Rain drops start to fall just as I drive home. The storms forecast for the Western Dakotas finally seem to have reached Fargo. The three floors of stairs from the underground parking feel longer than ever before – and I am practically sleeping by the time I sink down in the mattress…