, ,

Biking out of Medora Photo courtesy Heather Hargrave

Biking out of Medora, ND
Photo courtesy Heather Hargrave

Last week my wife, our friend and I joined 220 other riders to pedal a few hundred miles around western North Dakota. The annual affair, called CANDISC for Cycle Across North Dakota in Sacagawea Country, is well-run, with full “sag” support for weary riders, pleasingly provisioned rest stops along the route, and hard-working host towns serving hearty dinners, evening entertainment for our tent city, and another big feed in the morning to fuel the day’s riding.

My wife loves this week. Which sounds strange because there will be hilly, windy suffering and unlike me she’s no masochist. But she described the attraction perfectly: All you have to do is bike. You don’t have to plan your day or your meal, or anyone else’s day and meal. Your one and only task for a full week is to ride, 15-20 miles at a crack, from camp to rest stop to rest stop (and possibly to a 3rd and 4th rest stop depending on the length of the day’s route) to camp. There is absolutely nothing else to think about.

Except the trucks.

Going in, the biggest concern is whether you and your bike have trained hard enough – long enough, that’s the real measure, your seat on its seat for enough miles to build up a callused tolerance. You’ll be pedaling an average of 50 miles a day, 4 to 8 hours depending on the wind, for 7 days in a row. Like a bad sunburn on your first day at the vacation beach, a rash on the seat can ruin the week. Even if you have pedaled the preparatory miles so that you’re now sitting leather on leather, you will lube up liberally every morning before you hit that big breakfast and the road.

Now you’re cranking away on the highway and you realize not everyone in North Dakota got the memo: This ride is a showcase for North Dakota’s terrain and towns, and a challenging, healthy way to spend a vacation week. This ride is a good thing! Unfortunately the truckers disagree. And suddenly you’re not so worried about your bum burn…

A sampling from the week: An oncoming trucker hit his horn at each biker he met to draw attention to the bird he was flipping. An angry trucker accosted 2 bikers at a gas station rest stop, demanding we ride on the opposite side of the road (facing oncoming traffic) and promising otherwise to put us in the ditch. My wife watched a speeding double-trailer semi driver buzz me within a couple feet despite the availability of an adjacent wide-open lane.

In general North Dakotans don’t bike on the highways. So our presence wasn’t a cumulative tipping-point for the truckers, just a once-a-year nuisance. And the roads aren’t otherwise full-speed ahead. Nearly as slow and much more common are farmers, in their low-gear grain trucks and monster combines. Truckers are constantly, calmly braking for farmers.

Truckers are under pressure to deliver on-time. Drive the interstate and you know their patience can be lacking. But cyclists hold a special, dark place in their hearts. During our ride numerous truckers were sufficiently lathered to call a ND talk radio station and rant about idiot bikers with no right to the road.

In western ND, on many of our otherwise serene rural roads, cyclists are at risk. Still, most of us accept it, for the opportunity to get up close and personal with the rolling hills and friendly farmsteads offering restorative stops with bananas, pickles, kuchen and coffee. And a fair warning to truckers: in that split-second where my life appeared to be over, my wife resolved to do unmentionable things to the trucker and his family. I fantasized about that, even with my violent death as a prerequisite. At the very least it was comforting to know that truckers aren’t the only bad-asses on the road.