Day 25: M.Y.O.B.

People keep asking me about the little black keg strapped to my trailer. Stumped, they try to guess it’s purpose. Is that your water? Is that your battery? I must be out of bear country now.

In Dickinson, North Dakota, I locate a chainsaw/bicycle shop conveniently located next to a grocery store. One stop shopping.

Before I finish deploying my kick stands, four people pile out and the Q&A session begins. Inevitably, we get to the “where are you from” business.

Having established a rapport, I seize the opportunity to stick my head in the lion’s mouth.

“California. I just rode all the way through Montana and nobody seems to like that answer there. What am I going to find in North Dakota.”

“We don’t like ‘em either.”

“Good to know. So tell me, what should I do when people ask me where I’m from?”

“M.Y.O.B. Mind your own business.”

I think M.Y.O.B. is at least part of the reason why I have gotten fewer questions about the bike in these parts than, say, California or Washington state.

Day 23: There is an Ointment for That

Or is it a new salad dressing? Oh, wait. I see. Never mind. My bad.

I wake an hour before dawn and use the remaining charge in my battery to make coffee because my stove is out of fuel. There is only enough charge left to heat the water to 185°F (85°C). It’s not quite hot enough for a proper extraction but it will have to do. I am now a rough and tumble frontiersman and this is how we roll.

Next door, my loud-splaining neighbor expounds on the difference between “the good black people” and “the regular black people” to someone on the other end of a Zoom call.

I linger for a while to get some charge into my battery before heading out. Local store patrons walk past me, studiously avoiding eye contact. I haven’t even had a chance to tell them I’m from California yet. Are they prejudiced against filthy bikers? Outsider! Unclean!

I pop into the store to say goodbye to my host. “Would you happen to have any bananas?”

“No, but I have some at home,” she says, picking up her keys. I thank her profusely and convince her my need for bananas is not that urgent. I’m filled with admiration for this woman who has created an oasis for bikers in this desert. The contrast in attitude gives me whiplash.

In Jordan, I stock up on fruit and muffins. I see my first cowboy with actual spurs on his boots. Is it an affectation? Based on the amount of dust covering him, I decide he is the real deal.

“Busch Beer: Welcome Hunters” signs are everywhere. I pull over to the side of the road for another charging break and there is a small fortune in scrap aluminum on the ground around me. Hey hunters, I understand that drinking cheap beer is an essential part of the tradition but how about starting a new tradition of not tossing cans out the window? Seriously, aluminum recycling is one of the most effective recycling programs we have. The energy requirements for extracting new aluminum from ore are insane.

Oops. There I go trying to infect the local culture with my “California” ideas. I’m starting to see why my kind is so unpopular around here.

The landscape begins to change and interesting land forms appear – weathered rocks and miniature canyons. Out of habit, I start looking for camping opportunities. Then again, with all these beers-swilling hunters around maybe wild camping isn’t such a brilliant idea. I wouldn’t want to be mistaken for a ten point buck.

In Circle, Montana, the city park allows tent camping as long as you check in with the sheriff’s office by phone. I have the place all to myself. As it gets dark, the yipping of coyotes fills the air. Good hunting, fellas, and remember to pack out your cans.

Day 18: The C Word

Robert and I ride together for a while longer before parting ways. He just flew in from Alaska where he has been working at Denali National Park. I ply him with fresh brewed coffee and instant mashed potatoes and ask questions about biking in Alaska.

The green tunnel of trees is replaced by flat grasslands from horizon to horizon. I suddenly have more solar energy than I can use in a day.

The winds have been fierce for the last 24 hours. Last night, my bike stand snapped under a strong gust of wind. The wind continues to plague me today. I have to pull off the road and lock out the trailer tilt mechanism to keep it from being blown sideways into traffic by wind gusts. One section of road is almost unrideable due to crosswinds.

I almost miss the green tunnel. Almost. Riding for extended stretches at 28 mph (45 km/h) is a welcome change.

“California” by Phantom Planet is playing on the radio in the hardware store. “California, Califooornia, Califoooooornia. Here we come!” I point it out to the cute cashier and get a genuine laugh. “California” is a dirty word in Montana.

The joke is that Californians suck and that all 40 million of us are moving to Montana and generally ruining things by bringing in new money and new ideas. That most Montanans are recent descendants of immigrants is conveniently forgotten.

I have been told several times not to tell people I’m from California. I ignore the advice. It’s too much fun watching their faces scrunch up when they hear the answer. If you don’t want to hear where I’m from, then don’t ask the question.

In fact, I’m only most recently “from California.” I could also say Connecticut or Czechoslovakia. Or even Colorado or Canada if we’re counting all the places where I’ve spent time. All C words. Weird.

When I open up my merch store, the second item I sell will be a trucker hat with the words “NOT shopping for real estate.”

The RV park in Cut Bank, Montana has some cool hoodoo rock formations. I feel like I’m in a scale model of Cappadocia, Turkey. I sleep under the stars and wonder where I’ll be sleeping tomorrow night.