[Read part 1 here: Cross Country Journey – Part 1 Stage One: From Belfast to Ohio]
We left Cleveland with new found enthusiasm. Allane and I had made it 1,000 miles and our friends and riding partners, John Williams and Nancy Beardsley, joined us for our journey continuing to Davenport, Iowa.
We headed out of Cleveland on our way to Defiance, Ohio, a fabulous name for a town full of nice and welcoming people. Heading into Defiance we had a forecast of rain showers. Donning wet weather gear, we plowed through light rain with determination. In Defiance we stopped at the Cabin Fever Coffee Shop, made all the more wonderful because of the people who stopped by our table and engaged with us. Sam and Eric from the local Team Defiance Bike Club spoke to us for a bit, giving us some history of their club. After we conversed for a while, Sam brought us Team Defiance Bike Club jerseys as a gift and tribute to our transcontinental ride. What nice and generous people!
We rode through on-again, off-again rain showers for the next few days. It was not enough to dampen our spirits. On Day 24 we arrived in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. There’s something about crossing state boundaries when you’re traveling on a bike. It doesn’t happen often and when it did I tried to make a point of getting off my bike, celebrating a bit, and taking a photo to memorialize it all. We were entering our sixth state on the journey.
We took a Down Day in Ft. Wayne. I found down days are important for all sorts of reasons. Primarily it allows the body to recover a bit from the grind of pedaling all day on the seat of a bike. Also important is the pure enjoyment of stopping to take in more of your surroundings, to act for a moment like a tourist, and get to know, a little more deeply, the people who work and live in our great country. Ft Wayne was the perfect place for a Down Day.
We began the day at the local tourism center, where two very enthusiastic locals recommended places and experiences not to be missed. We also enjoyed a visit by friends Beth and Kevin, from my days working in Vietnam. They drove up from Indianapolis to catch up and enjoy dinner with us. What a treat!
Our continuing journey took us through increasingly expansive farming country where corn and soy bean fields are everywhere. The countryside in this area is vast and flat. As far as you can see there are row after row of planted fields, from horizon to horizon. There were fewer and fewer houses and more and more fields. I have a whole new understanding of what the locals called “corporate farming”. The roads framed the one-mile by one-mile sections in very orderly north-south, east-west lines. Farmers didn’t necessarily talk about how many acres they farmed, they talked about how many sections they worked.
After Ft. Wayne we hugged the Wabash River and came into Peru, Indiana, the birthplace of Cole Porter and the Peru Amateur Youth Circus, a town with Big Top architecture and large indoor circus training facility lining Main Street. At the Farmers’ Market, we were gifted with fresh apples by a supportive orchard owner. We left Peru to travel through more soy bean and corn fields. At one restaurant in Rensselaer, Indiana, Allane asked if there was anything interesting she should see in the area. The waitress answered, “ No.” and added, “Just corn and more corn.”
We made it into Illinois on another rainy day. The rain poured on this day, but we were elated to make it into state #7. We had reservations at a small farm Bed & Breakfast in the town of Kempton, Illinois, population 231. When they say small town in the Midwest, they mean small town. The B&B was in the middle of one of the many 1×1 mile grids and was one our favorite places on the journey. The proprietors were genuine and exceptionally nice. We rested up and enjoyed a wonderful home cooked meal and comfortable evening.
The rain cleared, the heat began to rise, and the headwinds started. Without trees to break some of the force of 20 mph winds and with the thermometer getting close to 100 degrees, the pace slowed a bit. One tough day included a 43-mile stretch with absolutely nothing in the way of services, stores, or shade.
We knew the next big sight for us would be the grand and massive Mississippi River. We pulled into Davenport, Iowa, situated along the banks of the Mississippi, and felt elated with what we had accomplished. It was Day 32 and time for another Down Day.
After a farewell to our riding partners, we left Davenport heading north for Dubuque. We spent the next week riding back and forth across the Mississippi, or the “Great River,” as it’s referred to in these parts, from Iowa into Wisconsin and finally into Minnesota. We rode through LaCrosse, Wisconsin, Wabasha, Minnesota, and up to St. Cloud. Riding along the river was spectacular. There was a nice breeze and there seemed to always be a nice restaurant on the route when we needed one. We enjoyed the beautiful (and familiar!) scenery of blue skies, bright blue lakes and green fields and forests.
We found our way into Fargo, North Dakota, on Day 45. Fargo is not the little, rural city you may think it is after watching the movie. It’s a bustling, active economic center that has quite a nice feel about it. The locals here have enjoyed some added notoriety and tourism as a result of big screen and TV show adaptations of Fargo, but everyone we talked to said it was really hilarious how inaccurate the media coverage of the city actually is. That said, Allane and I visited Fargo movie props and memorabilia.
North Dakota is really an interesting state. On our route we found it’s largely made up of small and very small towns with populations ranging between 112 to 800. On this route, except for Fargo, pop. 124,000, and Bismarck, pop. 73,000, towns were scarce and sparsely populated. We went through such places as Enderlin, Gackle, Napoleon, Hebron and Medora. None of these towns topped 800 people.
The people we met were welcoming and generous. We tented in Gackle and met Dean, a life-long resident, who also served as the historian, entrepreneur, and all-around good ambassador for the town. He talked with us, gave us a bit of history and a souvenir from the Gackle’s 1979 Duck Hunting Capital celebration. I’m not quite sure what I can do with an empty beer can that announces the joyous event, but I sure wasn’t going to refuse the gift. We also met Nicole, second grade teacher and owner of the only bar/restaurant in town. The K-12 consolidated school graduated two students last year.
Starting in Fargo, people across the state asked if we planned to go to the Medora Musical. Medora, the most westerly town in North Dakota, is a beloved tourist trap. We were determined to stop and enjoy this unique event. Approaching the area, we experienced the incredible vistas of the North Dakota Badlands, an intricately eroded landscape of sparsely wooded canyons, bluffs, and buttes displaying layers of colors. Black veins of lignite coal, reddish bands of a rock called clinker, and a variety of creams and browns decorate the steep slopes. We also caught our first views of herds of buffalo and wild horses. After an early morning visit to the spectacular Theodore Roosevelt National Park, we finally had the Medora experience. Starting with a “Pitchfork Fondu” dinner of steak cooked on a pitchfork over a roaring fire and all the fixins’, we followed the crowds into a stadium and enjoyed a comic musical rendition of the history of the town. Many North Dakota families look forward to their annual summer pilgrimage to the celebration.
It was Day 53 and we were raring to go. North Dakota had been our 12th state along the journey and the next big adventure lay ahead in Montana. I had covered roughly 2,500 miles.
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