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Day 10: Dickinson, ND to Richardton, ND via Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Well, thanks to all that skipping ahead yesterday, I wound up with some very odd routing today.

Remember, if it had been up to me I would have returned the rental car in Montana so I could bike into North Dakota. Instead, I wound up 60 miles into ND and was past TRNP, which I really wanted to see as one of the highlights of my trip. So the first order of business was backtracking 30 miles to visit the national park. Except the truly first order of business was returning the rental car at the airport.

I did my best to get up bright and early (after sleeping surprisingly well, given that I was at a Motel 6), but by the time I dropped the car off it was already 7:30. Now for some reason, Theodore Roosevelt Regional Airport in Dickinson is 5 miles south of town, despite there being nothing but farmland in between. So before I could even start backtracking to the park, I had to bike the 5 miles back to town. And remember that prevailing northwesterly wind that I’ve been longing for that was one of the reasons I biked west to east? I finally got it. Only now I had to bike 5 miles north and 30 miles west into the lovely prevailing headwind.

To make a long story short, it took over 2 hours (including breaks) to bike the 25 miles to the town of Belfield, where I got breakfast. The only things keeping me going were the fact that I’d get an awesome tailwind on the way back and the knowledge that if I didn’t make it to TRNP I’d never forgive myself.

The other thing about Belfield is that it allowed me to cross US-85, so I didn’t feel like I had skipped any highways. If you don’t know, the odd-numbered US highways run north-south and increase in number from US-1 on the east coast to US-101 on the west coast. I didn’t hit 101 because it’s out on the Olympic Peninsula and I started in Seattle, but I did cross Route 99 (formerly US-99) on my warm-up ride. I then hit US-97 in Ellensburg and Yakima, rode on US-95 outside of Lewiston, paralleled US-93 from Lolo to Missoula, caught up with US-89 20 miles west of Great Falls, which took me to I-15 (formerly US-91), and rode on US-87 in Great Falls before driving it 135 or so miles east yesterday. So I had to hit US-85 on bike. (As a preview, US-83 goes through Bismarck and US-81 goes through Fargo.)

Getting back to the ride, Belfield actually has a paved bike path through town, but it’s so overgrown that I gave up on it and used the road. After another 6 miles, the side road I was using became a dirt road, and the only paved route to cover the last 4 miles to the national park visitor center was I-94. So onto the Interstate it was! Thanks to some construction, the shoulder was covered with gravel, but since this is the designated bike route through the area some other cyclists had worn a track down to the asphalt, which I was largely able to follow. When I finally got to Painted Canyon visitor center at 11:15, I was really glad I had gone to the trouble!

I also hiked partway down a nature trail into the canyon and saw some really nice flowers.

If you want to see more photos from the park, I posted a selection to my Instagram.

As I was leaving the park, I met another cyclist who was biking from Portland, ME to Portland, OR for his 70th birthday. He’d been going since the end of May and said he’d really been getting clobbered by the wind the last couple of days. He’d actually tried to rent a car in Dickinson but there were none available; he said it was too bad we hadn’t met sooner or he’d have happily driven my car back to Great Falls for me and we could have both saved a lot of money and trouble!

Once I got started on the way back, I finally got to enjoy the long-awaited tailwind! To give an idea of how strong it was, over the 35 miles to the park, my average speed was 13.5 mph. After I biked the 30 miles back to downtown Dickinson, my average speed for the whole 65 miles was 14.9, so I must have been averaging something like 17 on the way back!

As you may recall from yesterday’s post, I met a couple in Wibaux, MT who were traveling in the other direction, and they had told me about the brewery in Dickinson, so I headed on over to Phat Fish Brewing for lunch, arriving at 2:20, or two hours flat after I left TRNP including breaks. The timing of my ride was lucky on my part, since Phat Fish has been open less than a month (one-month anniversary tomorrow!) and they’re the only brewery between Wibaux and Mandan (a suburb of Bismarck).

As you can see, they already have a good-sized brewing operation going. And I didn’t think to get a photo of the whole taproom, but it’s huge. I guess they’re really expecting big things from being the only brewery for such a distance.

Theyre definitely off to a good start with the beers themselves. They’ve already sold out of their IPA, so they only had six of their own beers on tap, and I got to try them all. (They also have a number of guest beers available from around North Dakota and neighboring states.) I thought three of the six particularly stood out: The Blonde Ass Bass German blonde ale was very well-balanced, refreshing, and drinkable; I’m also not sure I’ve ever had a German-style blonde ale before or what constitutes one, but hey, if it’s good I’ll drink it. The Northern Route scotch ale had a great flavor, but this batch came out a bit too light-bodied. Start-up pains, I guess. Hopefully the next batch will retain the same flavor with a fuller body. Finally the NoDak Sunrise oatmeal porter was a nice, roasty, dry porter. Unfortunately I saved it for last because I was working light to dark, and it was kinda warm in the taproom, so the beer was decidedly warmer than it should have been by the time I drank it. Oh well.

Incidentally, their food selection at the moment consists entirely of pizza, but the garlic Margherita pizza is really good. The garlic makes the pizza stand out from your typical Margherita.

I got into some involved conversations with the staff and some other patrons while I was there, so I wound up staying an hour and a half. This meant I was leaving at 3:50, and I had a reservation at a Benedictine monastery in Richardton, 24 miles down the road, which served dinner at 5:30. Fortunately, the tailwind was still my friend, and I got to Assumption Abbey at 5:30 on the dot.

Okay, back up a step. You’re probably wondering what a nice Jewish boy is doing at a monastery. Well, if you remember my awesome hosts Jim and Christy back in Lewiston, Christy mentioned that when she had biked cross-country 3 years ago, she had stayed in a monastery near Dickinson that hosted cyclists for free. At the time, I didn’t even know what route I’d be taking across North Dakota, so I didn’t give it much thought. But yesterday, when I was emailing a potential warmshowers host in Bismarck for tomorrow night, she asked me if I knew about the monastery in Richardton. Now that I had a specific town that I knew was on my itinerary, I gave them a call and they do indeed provide free lodging and meals for cyclists. The monks are also very friendly, and I’m moderately knowledgeable about Catholicism, being from Massachusetts and all, so I was able to get somewhat in-depth asking them what it’s like living at a monastery. By the way, the monastery also has a nice view of the prairie out the back.

And that wraps up the day. As a final thought, consider: With my backtracking, I biked the same distance that I would have if I’d started in Wibaux this morning, but I had to fight a headwind for 35 miles, whereas if I’d started in Wibaux I would have had a tailwind the whole way. Also, Wibaux is 250 feet higher than Dickinson, so that’s 250 extra feet of climbing I had to do to get to TRNP.

Total distance: 88.1 miles
Average speed: 15.2 mph

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