Well, I mentioned earlier in my entry about Ridgecrest that I am not a Christian. Most of my family is, and I have had the background growing up, but these days I really try not to limit myself to just one set of religious beliefs. I believe every form of faith has its validity, and it is up to each individual to find for themselves, based on their own experiences, what works and speaks truly to them. For me personally, I find that many of my beliefs and ideals come out of Christianity and Buddhism. For now, that’s what works and makes sense as I work to understand the world around me.
Throughout this journey thus far, I have had many encounters with Christians of all varieties that have helped to reinforce and reiterate those values which I hold to be important, those of goodwill and hospitality to strangers and neighbors, loving everyone as you would your own close family, and striving to be understanding and accepting of those who are different. Of course, with the good must come the bad, and not all my experiences with churches and those professing to be devoted to Christianty have been positive, but that’s to be expected with anything. These past few days, however, have been immensely positive, with a few overwhelmingly hospitalbe encounters, that have really lifted my spirits and reminded me of those ideals.
On Monday, after writing my last bit from a truck stop, I set out again to the road, into narrower shoulders and heavier traffic than I had had in the morning. It made for a mind-numbing couple of hours, looking out for trucks and devoting all my mental energy to balancing in that narrow strip of asphalt between the solid white line and the dirt and gravel. So when I came up to an intersection with a gravel road, nearing the town of Montevideo, and a man sitting in his SUV on the gravel road, waiting to turn onto the highway, said ‘hello’ to me, I was not too attentive to the opportunity for conversation. I just said ‘howdy’, and passed on by. Well, the man pulled out and up along side of me, slow enough to keep pace beside, and struck up conversation. He asked me some questions about my trip. I was still in a bit of a daze, but I asked him about the distance to Montevideo. He answered and asked if I was staying there for the night. I told him I was just going to stop for a late lunch. A truck came up behind him, so he had to speed up and continue down the highway. As he disappeared over a small hill ahead, I started getting a little bummed I had not taken advantage of this opportunity to talk to someone. I could have pulled off at the intersection and talked.
I thought about it for the next few miles, as I approached the town. I was thinking that maybe I would somehow run into the guy again. It seemed that he really wanted to talk to me. The first place I came across was a Wal-Mart. I didn’t want to stop there for lunch, but I figured I should go in and look for gloves, and it’s always a convenient bathroom. As I was locking up my bike, though, the man pulled up right next to the sidewalk and started talking to me again. It startled me at first, and I’ll admit I was a little creeped out. He seemed friendly, I suppose, but it was still a bit weird that he had obviously been sitting and waiting for me to pass so he could intercept me again. He offered to join me for lunch, and I figured I shouldn’t pass up the opportunity to talk again. We decided to go to a Subway up the street.
Over sandwiches the man, Mark, told me about his own bike trips when he was younger, going out to the east coast a few times, from Denver up to Canada, and maybe another one in southern California. It was great to talk to someone with similar experiences. He told me some stories, and I shared some bits with him. When I told him that my goal of the day was to find a pair of gloves, as my hands had been freezing earlier, nearly numb, he told me he had an extra pair of some nice gloves that I could have. So when we finished eating, he told me to meet him a little bit into town. He told me the route to take to get back to the highway and he would drive and find me. Sure enough, minutes later, he pulled up and bestowed upon me a pair of deerskin gloves with microfleece lining, brand new. They are a bit large, but they will do just fine. We talked for just a brief minute there on the side of the street, but he said he had to go. Before he left, however, I did want to ask him one question about his trips. I wanted to know why he did them, what was his motivation. He said it was about finding out if he could accomplish the feat. I know that for some people that kind of answer just doesn’t really make much sense, but I understood. The personal reward that comes from accomplishing a difficult task like this is really much more valuable than anything anyone could ever give you. Knowing that you can persevere through good and bad and push yourself physically is an immensely satisfying feeling.
I left Montevideo, finally awaken from my daze, with a brand new pair of gloves and a smile on my face. That evening, the last 20 or so miles before I stopped for the night, turned into a beautiful spectacle. The heavy traffic disappeared, and I was once again left alone for long stretches, just me and the road and nature. I stopped and took tons of pictures, which is often a general indicator of a good mood. I ended the ride that day in a town called Milan (pronounced like Mylen). Mark had mentioned it when we talked, said it would be a nice town to stop in. The place was pretty dead when I rolled in around 7:30, but the city building was still open, due to the local primary elections being held. I went in to use the bathroom and asked a lady in one of the offices if she knew anywhere I might find a safe place to sleep for the night, such as a park or church. She was very friendly and got on the phone to the pastor of the local church, who said I was more than welcome to sleep inside the church. Inside the church. Surprisingly, that is a first for me on this trip.
At the church, I met the parish nurse, Sandra, and she informed me where the pastor lived. She wasn’t aware of the situation, and said I should go talk to him. I wanted to talk to him anyway, to feel more comfortable about sleeping inside the church. So I went to the pastor’s house and met him. His name is Tom, a very friendly man. He walked with me back over to the church and showed me where I would be staying, in the library with a couch to sleep on. The custodian, Dave, was there by that point. He asked if I had eaten supper yet. I hadn’t, so he said he would bring over some chili. Tom said I could take a shower at his place. I needed it. So I went back to Pastor Tom’s house, met his family. I had a shower and then some good conversation with Tom and his wife Gayle. When I returned to the church to go to bed, I found Dave had left a big bowl of chili, crackers, and a few cookies in the small kitchenette adjacent the library. Yummy. I ate well, slept fairly well, and in the morning I packed up and went back to the pastor’s house for breakfast. It was a delicious breakfast of waffles and bacon and rhubarb juice.
After the great meal and some more good conversation, I set out back on the road. Tom set me up with a rural route that would keep me off the highway as I made my way toward the border with South Dakota. It was obviously a bit longer than the highway, but I wasn’t too worried about it. The wind was rough at times, coming out of the south, but I kept making turns, and for some long stretches I had an amazing tail wind. Always a welcome boost. The roads were sparsely traveled, and I was really able to relax and enjoy the scenery. The sky was a bit dark and cloudy, but it made for some really saturated colors. Almost all the passing cars and trucks were friendly, and most waved as they went by. It was really a great start to the day.
When I finally reached the town of Ortonville, which is just at the border with SD, I was hungry and tired and ready for a break. I was hoping for a nice little friendly town. Instead, the place was a little creepy. Everyone was staring at me, which I am somewhat accustomed to by now. I am an outsider, and very obviously so, in many places I pass through, but generally you can get a vibe of what people think of you. Sometimes they seem curious in a good way, other times they seem to take an instant dislike or apathy to you for some reason. In this town, however, I couldn’t read what these people were thinking. No one was outwardly friendly. Most people seemed stuck, possibly very unhappy. And when people would stare at me as I passed or as they passed, I couldn’t help but compare their blank stares to those of passing cattle. As I pass pastures of cows, they always keep a fixed gaze upon me, a look lacking expression. These people looked like cattle, and many of them never broke their gaze when I looked back at them. No one was mean. No one really said anything to me. It just came across as a depressing little town. I ate my food, checked my maps, and got on my way, without wasting much time there.
Exiting town pretty much put me in South Dakota. The rest of the ride was decent. It was starting to get late and actually started misting, so I needed to find a place to stay. The town I was hoping to reach was easily over 50 miles from the border, and it was already around 5, so there wasn’t much of a chance of me making that. Only about 20 miles away, however, was a monastery that Pastor Tom had informed me about. Blue Cloud Abbey. He said it was a notable place to stop by with friendly monks. I figured I would stop in there in the afternoon as I as passing by. Well, it turns out that I happened to reach the abbey right at the end of my day, as I was just starting to really get wet from the heavy mist. What a fortuitous change of plans this was, however. I want to devote a whole entry to my stay there, so I’m not going to say much more here, other than that it is beautiful, I stayed an extra day, and had a great experience.
I left the abbey Friday morning, feeling good. I was better rested and had been given more food than I could pack. The ride that day was surprisingly beautiful with lots of water. Everything else is just pasture and prairie, but the ponds and lakes, plus the big blue sky, made for some stunning scenery. I took plenty of pictures, which shall be posted soon. I was able to cover over 80 miles that day, making it to the town of Aberdeen for the night.
I thought I would first try the churches, as I have been having some really good luck with them lately, but the first one I went to was not welcoming. The man I talked to was friendly, don’t get me wrong, but he didn’t offer to let me sleep in the church, and there were no good overhangs to sleep under, as rain was in the forecast. He did tell me about a park that had camping. He didn’t know the price, but I figured I should check it out.
Got to the park just before dark. Just two campers there, no signs of people, and no office. The sign said 12 bucks for tent camping and that check-in time was 8am. Well, I figured that meant if I was up and out of there before eight, the cost for me would be free. To have bathrooms and picnic tables, I figured that was a good deal. I cooked my dinner then set up my hammock. I thought it would be too cold now for skeeters, but they were alive and ever-present there at the park. I didn’t want to hassle with another night of terrible sleep due to mosquitoes, so I strung up my hammock between two support posts of a picnic shelter. That way I would stay dry if rain came, the mosquitoes wouldn’t be able to get at me, and I wouldn’t have to put my rain fly on, since it was a relatively warm night, and that cover adds a lot of heat.
It did rain that night, but I stayed dry. I slept fairly well. I got up just after 6, well before the sun, packed up and moved over to another area of the park to eat my breakfast. I figured if someone asked, I would tell them I slept somewhere else but came there for breakfast. No one ever came around. It rained in the morning as well, lightly at first, but really picked up by late morning. I took my time eating and stretching. I was waiting until after 9, because I figured that the local bike shop would be open by then. My rear rack broke at some point yesterday, and seeing as this would be the biggest town I would pass through for about 100 miles, I figured I should replace it here and not try to push it any more.
I was hoping I could just make-shift some kind of repair for the thing, but because of where it broke, that wasn’t possible. And even though I got at least 15 miles with it broken the night before, I didn’t want to try my luck. So I found the bike shop and just bought a new one. I’m really proud of myself for not getting upset about the whole incident. Granted, the last rack got me through over 5,000 miles of traveling, so I think that’s pretty good life, and nothing to be upset about.
Mounting the rack took a little bit of time; making adjustments to my rear panniers to fit the slightly different design was necessary. Meanwhile, it was pouring down rain. It wasn’t good conditions for riding anyway. So I got the rack going and ate lunch at the bike shop. They were all friendly. I also picked up a new water bottle. That was a bit overdue, as one of my bottles had been with me for over 5000 miles as well. It was starting to break down, and I was getting bits of plastic in my mouth.
The rain let up just after one, and I set out. My pace was slow, as I was tired, and there was a slight headwind. The scenery was decent, but not as nice as the day before. The sky was pretty amazing, though, with so many different kinds of clouds. They were all on the move, and every ten minutes found a completely different sky. By 5 or 5:30, the winds had really picked up. It was a nasty headwind, blowing directly against me. On top of that, I think the entire rest of the ride was uphill. Nothing too steep, just slight steady climbs. Every time it looked like the top, the road just leveled out for 100 yards and then continued up. It was a tough ride. I think the winds must have been over 30 miles per hour at times. Slowly, and without any anger or bitterness, I pressed on, knowing I needed to make it to some kind of town before dark.
I arrived in the small town of Roscoe at 7. It took me about two hours to cover 15 miles, which is considerably slower than my usual pace. There was just nothing I could do with so much wind. It was starting to get chilly, and I was tired after the struggle, so I decided to treat myself to a warm, prepared meal. At the local restaurant, I got myself a plate of chicken alfredo. It was pretty decent. A bit overpriced, but warm and filling. After the meal, I headed over to the local Lutheran church, where I knew there was a service at 7:30, as I had passed by before stopping at the restaurant. I figured that was a golden opportunity to find a warm place to sleep.
I caught the last 15 minutes of the service and waited around to talk to the pastor. Pastor Winfried turned out to be a very nice man. He said I could sleep in the basement of the church. That’s where I am writing this from now. I will be sleeping on the floor, but I don’t mind, and there is a bathroom and a kitchen, where I was able to boil some water for tea. Saves me some stove fuel. The pastor and I hit it off well and ended up talking for quite some time before he left me here to myself. Again, I am so grateful to have a place to sleep that is warm and dry. There is a chance of rain in the forecast again tonight. Tomorrow morning’s service is at 9, so I will have to be up well before then. I may stick around for the service, or I may just eat breakfast and head out, get an early start to the day.
Looking back, I’m really amazed at the hospitality I have received this week. Much of it is on par with some of my time in the south, but it was been so long since then, so many nights of solitude, that I had forgotten what it’s like. Of course with family I always was given amazing hospitality, but there really is something different and special about being taken care of by complete strangers. For me, it warms my heart like few things can. I really look forward to sharing my experience at Blue Cloud Abbey. That will come soon.