Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Random Thoughts on North Dakota

Great scenery.

The Missouri River in Washburn.

Scenery outside of Bismarck.

One of too many to count nice sights in ND.


As I rode thru South Dakota the past few days my mind kept going back over what I had seen and done in North Dakota. This is a bit unusual because mostly I am into what is happening in the present as I ride along, checking out surroundings, but it happened that ND stuck in my mind for some reason.

It is an interesting state with lots to see, but a lot of states are like that. Maybe it is the people who are truly friendly and the kind of folks you would want for neighbors anywhere on earth. It might because almost all the people I met in ND are natives and are 3-4-5th generation decendents of some very tough settlers who moved here and tamed a rough tough situation. They had a hard knock life as they put down roots in a place that did not make it easy to like due to weather etc etc. These are solid folks with a heritage and a great knowledge of the state. They are different from many of the people you meet in places like Florida or Las Vegas or California where many are transients or recent move ins. There are definitely not a great many folks migrating to North Dakota, so whatyou see has been here awhile.

Now I may have a narrow view of the state because I was riding into a 20+ mile per hour head wind 95% of the time I was there but that is all I have to work with.
I have issues with the hills in North Dakota--unlike other states the uphills are much much longer than the down hills (again probably because of wind but I am not sure). Also, North Dakota has an inordinate number of what I call "double humper" hills.
Now a double humper is when you are working your way up a pretty long hill and it is stretching out ahead of you , maybe a half mile or more and you can see the top as you peddle away. It is your goal to reach that summit.The top of any hill is a welcome sight because it brings an end to the etra work you are doing to get there and also promises the plesaure of of a corresponding down hill reward. This is what most bikers (or at least me) have on their minds as they climb towards the summit. In North Dakota something ugly happens about 100 yards from the top of the hill which is where you should be able to start seeing over the top of the crest you are aiming for.

What you actually see is the top edge of another higher hill that was not visable on the way up. This new hill crest sort of grows out of the top of the one you are on and gets bigger and bigger the closer you get. So when you finally get to the top of the first hill what you see is another higher hill that is not that far away and to add insult to injury there does not seem to be much of a down slope between you and that second hill . It sort of stands there chuckling at you as you wipe the sweat from whereever you can reach on your body. This is a double humper and this is fair warning to anyone considering biking in this state. They will break your spirit after awhile which will be easier because it is a given that you will be riding into a stiff wind which will increase noticably just about the time you realize that there is that second "humper" in front of you..

Other thoughts, for starters the first 4 places I stopped to buy a state map did not have one. They had Minnesota , Montana and even Canada but no ND. My first thoughts were that maybe there are not enough roads in the state to warrant a map. Then I thought I do not really need a map , all I have to do is head my bike directly into the wind and that will take me to where ever I should be going.

Speaking of the wind, it is almost always the second or third thing that North Dakotans talk about upon meeting a visitor from out of state. You hear all the same stuff like "In North Dakota we declare a state holiday when it dops below 20 miles per hour, hahahahahah"
Well I am totally convinced that every man, woman and child who is a native of North Dakota is in a deep psychological denial situation about this wind they are all so proud of. Now this is just my very unprofessional opinion (and I do not stay at Holiday Inn Expresses very often)but the whole damned state is suffering from something called the Stockholm Syndrome. This is what Patty Hearst got into when she was kidnapped by the Symbianese Liberation Army. After awhile she began to sympathize with her captors and eventually became one of them. This same thing has happened in North Dakota but nobody wants to talk about it. That damned bastard son of bitchin wind had taken them over and controls their minds.
Another fact of life for a biker crossing North Dakota is that if you are on the loneliest stretch of road in the state and there is virtually no traffic, the only 2 cars you will see all day will meet and pass each other within 10 feet of where your bike happens to be so you wll have to hug the berm or if it is 2 trucks get into the side ditch--and the drivers of each vehicle will wave friendly at you as the go by.

North Dakota needs something like South Dakota has which its Mount Rushmore that gives them 3/4 of their identity. In SD, pics of Mt. Rushmore are seen everywhere including bill boards, license plates etc etc etc for all to see and be proud of. On the other hand in North Dakota nobody has yet figured out how to put a picture of the wind on their license plates , but I am sure they are working on it so that they can have an identity like South Dakota.
Another good possibility for a state identity for ND is Phil Jackson, the NBA coach who is from Williston ND. I can guarantee you that the only Jackson anyone in ND has ever heard of is Phil and it will not be long before somebody does a Mount Rushmorelike mountain sculpture with his face on it and it will 3 times bigger thyan that deal they have in South Dakota. North Dakotans will also let you know in a heartbeat that it is Sakakawea and not Sakajawea because she is a home town girl and they consider her one of their own. The current natives know all the details of this great unsung lady. One thing that sticks in my mind is the arguement of when Sakakwea died , 1812 or 1884. Ron Gerhardt set me staright on that detail. "It was 1812 bot 1884--those Shoshoni's like to exaggerate".

I will always have fond memories of ND because that is where I saw my first buffalo up close and it is where I found my American flag laying by the road on the 4th of July. That is special and never happened in any other state.

There are also the Gerhardts who give new meaning to the word hospitality and take it to a whole new level. I can not wait to go back to ND to see and feel more of it. I miss it already.
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