Nowhere Slow

Bike to the Border
Fort Peck Indian Reservation, MT
The badlands make for good biking (Anne Sherwood)

We wriggle into our long johns and resolve to press on. It takes two and a half hours to cover the ten miles to Saco. The sage bushes are bent nearly horizontal, tips pointed toward us. It's an idiots-only biking day. Yet, perversely, we enjoy the challenge. Our legs feel strong. So we grind on, happy in our misery, through unflagging rain and ferocious winds, seventy-one miles to Nashua, just outside the Fort Peck Indian Reservation. In Vick's Bar we eat three hot-roast-beef sandwiches apiece and get fleeced at pool by a pair of senior citizens. We are repeatedly warned about the dangers of venturing onto a reservation. "If you must go that way head through quick as possible — they get drunk every night and it's not safe after dark," one bar patron, himself inebriated, tells us. "Don't even think of staying the night."

That is precisely what we intend to do. We cycle almost the whole way across the reservation without incident — in fact, the drivers here hail us with the heartiest waves of the trip — and decide to camp in the village of Brockton. We wander through the collection of prefab homes and discover a small town park tucked behind the high school. Though it smells vaguely of sewage, we decide to set camp. Almost immediately, a half-dozen children materialize and pepper us with questions, curiously inspecting our bikes, our tent, and the contents of our panniers. We have nice stuff, they tell us. Then they say the town bullies will surely come during the night and steal it all.

This makes us nervous. We bring our bicycles and all our valuables with us to the B&H Quick Stop, a combination video-rental store, laundromat, and broasted chicken outlet. Brockton's other retail establishment, Hey Johns Bar, which is owned by the only Caucasian couple in town, is completely empty — so much for the rampant drinking. We order chicken, and as we're eating a woman comes over to us. She tells us we might be happier sleeping in a place that's a little quieter and says if we'd like to move our tent to her backyard she wouldn't mind at all. We graciously accept her offer. She shows us where she lives, and we haul our tent to an exquisitely manicured lawn enclosed by a stand of protective spruce. We walk back to B&H to retrieve our bikes, and when we return we find two thick wool blankets stashed in the tent's vestibule. Our final night is the warmest and coziest of the trip.

The last forty-seven miles, appropriately I suppose, are some of the hardest. It's as if Montana doesn't want to let us go — from the heavens come endless volleys of hail and wind and snow. Loosely attached roadside reflectors clang against their posts like discordant chimes. We battle the elements through a stretch of badlands, where the burlap-colored cliffs have eroded into whimsical sculptures that resemble dollops of whipped cream.

And then we climb a long, gradual hill and see what we'd been biking toward for a dozen days: the large green and yellow sign demarcating the North Dakota state line. After 750 miles of cycling, after millions of pedal rotations, after absorbing an infinite array of sensory stimulants, we aren't sure whether to celebrate or lament. Neither feels appropriate — the end is merely a lonely street sign. Getting there, as always, was all the fun.

Published: 28 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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