Monday, August 19, 2013

Road trip

Just one of the thousands of pristine gravel roads of North Dakota.
In the early part of the month, we took a little over a week to go on a road trip. We ventured northward through Colorado, across Wyoming and southeastern Montana, western South Dakota and sliced through North Dakota diagonally from southwest to northeast. The objectives were alternately to visit relatives and sightsee along the way. Of course, I brought some wheels; my single-speed Surly Cross-Check serving as my do-it-all machine. As of today, I'm up to 238 consecutive days of riding a bike.
The iconic bronze tyrannosaur in front of the University of Wyoming's Geological Museum in Laramie.
Helping Grandpa feed a calf at his ranch.
Riding in the buddy seat on one of Grandpa's tractors.
This was as close as we got to Devil's Tower, as the day we came through it was swamped with motorcycle riders from the nearby Sturgis rally.
Examining an archaeological artifact on the Wyoming prairie. 
Scout loved running along on rides without the need for a harness.
Quarter-sized hail fell one afternoon.
Practicing cowgirl skills by roping the fence with her new lariat while sporting boots and spurs.
For much of our trip, the weather was uncharacteristically cool and damp. I can't remember an August that's been so green and rainy in this part of the world. Although an aberration, the weather generally made for pleasant days outside, though we found that we didn't pack enough warmer clothes.

Exploring in Makoshika State Park, Montana.
Posing with Salem Sue, the world's largest Holstein cow, New Salem, ND.
On a pedestrian bridge across the Yellowstone River.
I always found time to fit in a daily ride.
With two kids, one of whom is definitely still in the pre reasoning and/or bargaining phase, we took things slow and made lots of stops. We rarely passed places where ice cream was obviously being sold without stopping. Not a bad travel philosophy, actually.

Bull riding at King Ropes, Sheridan, WY.
A late afternoon meltdown at the Fort McKeen blockhouses, Fort Lincoln State Park, Mandan, ND.
Railroad bridge across the Missouri River, Bismark, ND.
Splashing in the Missouri River.
Once we were approaching the family reunion destination in northeastern North Dakota, the girls dropped me off and I rode the rest of the way. For years, I'd been hoping to ride some of the gravel roads in the area, and I thought my single-speed Cross-Check would be a good choice. As it turns out, it did fairly well on the gravel with 38 mm tires, but I wasn't entirely satisfied with its suitability.

The Cross-Check has always been a good semi-rough conditions, semi-road-ish bike; in fact its capacity to serve these purposes were why I first bought it. Of my many bikes, I've generally thought of the CC as being my best general purpose all-rounder. However, my tastes may have changed in the decade plus since I've had the bike. Though it rode well on many sections of the gravel roads I encountered, there were times when I would have liked to have had some wider tread. In turns where the gravel was deep, the CC's footing felt less than confidence inspiring. At other times, when the gravel was comprised of larger pieces, the front tire popped back and forth between rocks like a pinball.

I know that my perceptions are colored by the many miles I've ridden recently on fatter tires, primarily on a Big Dummy with 26 x 2.2 knobbies and a Pugsley with 26 x 3.8 fatties, and that I've never really been a road bike rider. Yet, I kept thinking about how a 29er with fatter tires would have done anything the CC did at least as well, and would have been more enjoyable for most of the riding I did during the trip, especially on gravel. I suppose I like the concept of sorta-fat tires on a road bike, but in practice, I like the practicality of actually fat tires on an all-terrain bike. For anything other than pavement riding, I think 2.0+ 29er tires trump pseudo fat tires, no matter how much wider they appear to be compared to standard skinny road tires. This is not to disparage the CC or tires narrower than 50 mm, just an observation of my evolving perceptions and lifelong gravitation toward meatier tread. It all amounts to more evidence to support a 29er (or 29+) in my future.
Much of North Dakota looks basically like this in any direction.
Verdant crops are omnipresent. 
The bean green Cross-Check blends into the landscape.
Though I didn't really do any bikepacking, I did get to do a little bike camping during the trip. I was able to strap everything I needed for a S8O (sub 8-hour overnight) to the CC, and Scout and I were off.  A town park, with the permission of a city council member, made for a pleasant camp spot. Across much of northern North Dakota and Minnesota, small towns are usually at 10 to 20 mile intervals. The geography of the area and the copious, lightly traveled roads make for endless possibilities to cross this part of the country by bike.

As with most road trips, near the end, we were ready to be home. The girls did well and had fun, and we learned how to improve our procedures along the way. Next time around, I hope to be able to take a little more time for a solo bike trip to explore a bit and meet up with the family along the way.
Playing along the banks of Spearfish Creek.
Fun with static electricity.

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