I am overdue for posting an update, but for the last two weeks there has been at least one of us at any given time plagued with illness or seasonal allergies, and when you couple that with the summer heat and high-mileage days that defined our eastern Montana experience, little energy was left to think or write come bedtime. However, this physical challenge described, while draining, is greatly offset by the continued kindness and hospitality we continue to receive.
We left Medora, ND today. We stayed longer than planned to allow me more time to get over whatever sickness or allergy settled into my chest. I can only imagine what people in Medora must have thought of us. Riding behemoth bikes everywhere, the kids were chronically filthy from the windy dust bowl that was our campground (are they tan or dirty?), we all have white raccoon eye masks on our faces from sunglasses, I have a bright red nose from sunburn and nose-blowing, with a gravelly 80-year old smoker voice and accompanying hacking cough. Undoubtedly, a picture to inspire others to follow in our tire tracks….. Medora, however, was quite charming. We had our bikes serviced, checked out Theodore Roosevelt National Park, walked around town, the kids slid down the World’s Largest Inflatable Water Slide (with a guy at the top adding the water by way of garden hose), and we attended the Medora Musical. The National Park was beautiful. We saw a herd of wild horses, a lone buffalo, and prairie dog metropolis:
The musical was very well-done.
They both highlighted treasured quotes and themes from Theodore Roosevelt. One quote, “Do what you can, with what you’ve got, where you are,” was a central focus of the musical and so captures the spirit of the people in this part of the country. The musical went on to put it in the context of the value of the contributions from everyday heroes, which was very similar to Farmer Fred’s sermon that I mentioned in a previous post. The continued kindness and hospitality we receive is tangible evidence of everyday hero actions, and doing what you can, with what you’ve got, where you are.
The greatest purveyor of our hospitality most recently received is MD. We suspect she has a network tighter than Kevin Bacon, as we have yet to meet anyone within a 100-mile radius that does not know her. Much to our benefit, her kind and generous heart has such a legacy that she inspires others to follow her lead, even for complete strangers like us. She sought us out to offer accommodations after seeing a picture of us on Facebook and tapped her wide network of friends to do the same. We stayed on a farm with the Egypt family, who asked, “How do you know MD?” “We don’t; we haven’t met her yet, but will in a few days.” Despite not knowing us, they fed us well, gave us a tour of the farm, taught us that eventually one can become numb to Montana’s notorious mosquitoes (it apparently takes over 20 years—no more welts or itch, much like horses with snake venom…), and indulged us with great conversation.
On the morning we departed the temperature was already warm (and expected to reach 100) and the Yellowstone River was high and rising, to the point of flooding out the campgrounds we were planning to utilize. As the Old Man and I sat in front of the grocery store figuring out our plans B and C, a guy pulled up into the parking spot in front of us. We chatted about the bikes, our tour, and his own biking experiences. He asked where we were planning to stay, and we told him we were figuring that out since the high river water and forecast temperature were thwarting our plan. “Well, why don’t you come over and camp at my house?” Old Man and I looked at each other incredulously thinking, “Again?! Someone is swooping in at just the right time to help us?!” Yes. Yes, we will happily camp at your house! Upon arriving at his house, he came outside to amend his offering. “You know, I talked to my wife and she suggested you guys just stay in the RV.” This was only a day or two after I wrote my last post, when the kids and I researched RVs online, still never having been inside one. The boys were fit to burst and proceeded to showcase it like Vanna White as we walked through it. Sissy was bogged down with allergies, so her joy was a bit muted. After the tour, he took me inside to meet his wife, who was baking cookies and unfazed by her husband’s unexpected entourage following his grocery store errand. Not only did she share her freshly-baked cookies with us, she even sent us along with a bag of them the next day (AFTER a hearty breakfast!). Anyone who knows me well, knows that I have a weakness for baked goods, cookies specifically. What a treat! In addition, we were spared riding in 100-degree weather, which would have been back-breaking.
The morning we departed our RV friends, Otter wasn’t feeling well. He was ultimately struck by a stomach bug that utilized an equal-opportunity exit strategy. We felt obligated to continue pushing through given the upper-90s forecasts on the week’s horizons so we asked Otter if he could tolerate being upright on the bike for the duration if Tango and I hauled him and the load. Thankfully, Otter is stoic when sick so he agreed and we pushed through over 40 miles to our next destination (we splurged on a hotel that night in case others succumbed to his disease—way better than falling victim in a tent lined with your siblings far away from a bathroom in the middle of the night!). Both boys were troopers. Otter never complained, and Tango rose to the occasion and powered more whole-heartedly and consistently than he has the entire tour. After we reached the hotel, Otter offered an unsolicited thank you to Tango for helping carry him that day. Tango beamed with pride and my heart melted. The next day Tango assured me he was going to remain as powerful as he had the day before, which was good, because we had to pull over roadside for me to have my own go-around with the bug. (objective #3: to not take for granted creature comforts…. Oh, indoor plumbing, how you were missed! Heck, I would have eagerly taken the privacy of an outhouse or a mere partition in that moment!) Otter came up to me afterward, “I’m sorry you got my germ. Do you need me and Tango to carry you the rest of the way on the bike?” I love their lion’s hearts, even if their boy bodies cannot deliver their good intentions. Team Eleanor has been stronger ever since, both physically and as a team.
We camped in another small town’s city park, and as has happened in every other small town’s city park, the local kids and ours came together and played without missing a beat. It truly stands out how much these small towns invest in these community spaces given how limited their municipal budgets must be. It is also notable how much freer these small-town kids are to engage their community, and seemingly as a byproduct, they are much more outgoing with our kids. Sissy’s radar for baby birds remains alive and well, and she discovered a fledgling robin there, which occupied everyone for quite a while. Old Man and I speculate that the parents were likely watching overhead in frustration, “Stop babying him, he needs to launch!” If ever a baby bird needed a motivation to fly, four helicopter-parent children trying to feed you bugs on a stick would be it.
The next morning we stopped by the grocery store to get ice (daytime refrigeration is our current challenge) and chatted with some locals who, of course, knew MD. As we progressed that day, a gray SUV approached us, hopped out and said, “Hi, Gang!” It was MD. She got off work early and backtracked our route until she found us in order to offer us snacks, ice, AND haul our panniers and my trailer the rest of the way. It was a 43-mile day, in the heat, against a head wind, so the load reduction was significant. MD tracked us down again with her other vehicle to pick up Team Frank’s trailer and offer us more ice. We didn’t expect any of these provisions or services, but were grateful for the relief! We finally made it to her office, far less worn down than we would have been, and our time with MD really began. We slept in her office, but ate, bathed, and did laundry at her house. She gave us a tour of the town with tips on where to take the kids and left us the keys to her second vehicle so we could maximize our time in town. She even coordinated a friend to transport our load onto to our next destination, in addition to lining up rest stops for us along the way with friends. We had an amazing tail wind that day, no load weighing us down, and each stop’s host welcomed us to cool off inside with cold water (very much appreciated in hot, shadeless eastern Montana!). One pit stop even had horses and offered to saddle one up and let each of the kids ride. I’m amazed the kids could speak at all with their grins spread so widely across their faces, “Please, Mom, can we? Can we?! Please?” “Promise to pedal harder to make up the time after?” “YES!” And, in all honesty, they largely kept their word on that. (*side note: Now all the kids want horses in addition to goats. Realizing that horses are less likely to be indulged by us than goats, they are making plans for their adulthoods while we pedal. Since the RV debate was mostly resolved after staying in one, they are now debating the ways and means of horse ownership. Most comically, big brother Otter advised, “Tango, I’m not sure you’re going to be able to afford horses with the way you spend money. Maybe you can be a helper on my farm with my horses to save up the money for your own.”)
After our day of well-supplied pit stops and support, we arrived at another MD-coordinated overnight host. They are a busy household, juggling two careers and a handful of active teenagers, but they opened their doors to their air-conditioned house, fed us an abundant dinner, and gave us a place to sleep inside to spare us the overnight storms in our tents. They even organized their son to ferry our load the next day since he works in the town that was our destination. Two and half days of riding without pulling our trailers and panniers was pure decadence, and I assure you that as we got back into the saddle today, towing our full load against a diabolical head wind, that the gift they gave us was ever more apparent and cherished.
We were sad to leave Montana, having our hearts filled and re-filled so many times as we journeyed through it. The Medora Musical gave a great sales pitch for North Dakota, so much so, that Otter voiced his openness to living in either state. Lil’ Mo would like to move to Medora specifically so she can attend the musical every night and admire the ladies’ dresses (specifically the sparkly ones) and enjoy the firework finale. I, on the other hand, find myself missing the overt friendliness of Montana where 9 out of 10 drivers waves as he or she passes and truckers toot their horns with or without an arm-pump request. Perhaps the oil boom and the influx of associated workers skews the reality and my perception of North Dakota drivers. As I was pondering this against today’s head wind while slogging uphill (even the downhills were slogs today, too, to give you an accurate picture), a truck passed tooting his horn and waving. The driver was the son of the horse-ride pit stop back in Montana. A little act of friendliness can literally brighten an overcast, head-wind ridden day. A small gesture by an everyday hero, doing what he can, with what he has, where he is.
Another great quote from Roosevelt is, “Life is a great adventure… accept it in such a spirit.” Thank you to everyone who has helped us embrace this adventure.