I didn't sleep well; probably because it was the first night in the tent. I woke up in the night with an incredible thirst, only to spill water all over my tent which didn't help the matter. Then to make it worse, we woke up to rain and dampness. Packing up gear when it is raining out is never any fun because you know the next night you will be cuddling in wet swamp smelling gear and be stuck with it all night. Once we were packed up and Isaiah fetched his bike from its lonely parking lot, we were off again heading west unknown. The weather progressively got worse and worse. It was cold and changing from rain to sleet on and off. We found ourselves in the middle of nowhere.
At this point we knew we had to find a town and some Wi-Fi to check the forecast. After another hour of riding we came into a town called Winkler, which I automatically put with the Fonz. We found a McDonalds and while fast food and chains are against the rules while we are traveling by motorcycle, we knew that they had Wi-Fi and heat, so we stopped.
Inside we hung our jackets up and got some hot food. Sitting down looking at the atlas and radar, we knew our Canadian trip was at its end. We saw a perfect line of thick rain exactly where we wanted to ride and the next day didn’t look any better. Some of the locals started to chime in, asking questions about our adventures and let us know that it was snowing in Alberta. We didn’t expect to get as far as Alberta but heading towards snow just sounded like a foolish idea. After talking with the entire customer base of the Winkler McDonalds, we decided to head south until we hit 70 degrees. Sounded simple, we would head back into the states and south until it was sunny and warm.
After getting our bearings from a friendly Frenchman in the parking lot, we started heading back for the states. Arriving at the border we pulled into the “garage” and the first thing the guy yells is “EVERYTHING COMES OFF! OPEN IT ALL UP!” He ordered Isaiah to pull up next to me and start the tear down. First he asked us where we were coming from and where we were going. I explained that we went up into Canada from Minnesota and we are coming back down because of the weather. He repeatedly asked me why we would enter in one area and leave in another. I continued to explain that the weather ran us out of Canada. Finally Isaiah made him happy by telling him a different story besides just me repeating the weather. Isaiah told him that we were on a motorcycle trip and we were just traveling around or something to that effect. I wasn’t paying much attention but whatever he said satisfied the officer. He asked for our passports and we handed them over. He took them into his office while we tore our bikes down. Immediately he came back out and tells me that I haven’t signed my passport and it isn’t even valid. Thankfully he just handed me a pen to sign it instead of making a big deal about it. We took everything off the bike and started stacking it on a table. The officer then perused through two or three of our bags and told us to pack it all back up. By this time there is a line behind us so we hurried by throwing everything back on the bikes and getting out of there.
We continued south into Wallhali, North Dakota, and then exiting Wallhali and heading south on a highway that turned into a nice dirt road. We followed the dirt road for a while until we had to choose between continuing south on pavement or staying on the dirt road. The way the weather was treating us we thought it would be best to continue south. We pulled into a town called Edinburgh and stopped at a gas station. I made a call to my wife to let her know we were back in the states and asked her for a weather update, since the area we were in had poor coverage so my phone was having trouble getting weather information. She said that it was clear to the south of us and we were almost out of it. We were excited and noticed where we were was already warmer and the rain was slowing. What we didn't know was we were in the calm before the storm.
We headed south and the weather got progressively worse. We decided to try west for a while but that only made things worse. Now we were getting the wind along with the rain and sleet. The winds were so strong that it ripped the rain cover right off my tank bag. We came across a wayside and decided to pull over to reevaluate our course. Finding ourselves in Devils Lake, South Dakota, we were fighting the wind just to read the map. We ended up going back to heading directly south.
I am sure that we would have enjoyed the ride more if it wasn’t for the weather because next we found ourselves riding on dirt roads in the middle of the lake. We had waves crashing on both sides of the road and you could see how the water was eroding the road away. This went on for miles, riding on greasy dirt roads which with one wrong move would have you out in the lake. We were even impressed at the intersections in the middle of the lake. As we started getting out of the lake covered roads, there were hundreds of fishermen on the sides. I'm not sure what they would have been fishing for but they sure were dedicated to the sport in the cold wind and rain. Pretty soon we were back on the straight flat roads burning miles as fast as we could to get out if this horrid weather.
The fatigue you feel when you are cold and getting battered by the wind and rain is sometimes unbearable. I found out about fatigue thankfully not the hard way. As we were going along I knew I was tired and needed a break but there was absolutely nothing around us. If we would have stopped we would have been standing in a field getting battered by the weather, so we chose to push on. Then it happened, I was riding along and had a strange thought pop in my head. I pondered the thought for a bit when I realized... it was a dream. I successfully fell asleep on the bike and had a dream. This shook me pretty hard to the point I felt ill to my stomach but that only lasted a few minutes and I started drifting again. We soon came into a town that gave us an opportunity to take a rest with a bit of protection from mother nature. It seemed we were close to Jamestown, North Dakota, a sign that I saw in Devils Lake that I had been following. I always figure that if you see a sign for a town and the mileage to that town is greater than 50 miles, its a good chance that it is a town of size that you can find everything you need.
After our short break we headed on and found Jamestown. Stopping at a gas station we noticed it was quite a bit warmer and not raining as much. We looked at a map and figured that the weather was getting better as we headed south so we decided to shoot for Aberdeen, South Dakota. After filling up with gas and having a burst of energy come over my body with the new found weather, I had no problem taking on another 100 mile trek. We weren’t even 5 miles out if Jamestown when the sun came blaring out if the sky. I promptly pulled over and stripped my riding pants, changed gloves, pulled my jacket liner out, and opened all my vents. I was going to need all the warm, dry air I could get to dry my clothes.
Pulling into Aberdeen and feeling like a million bucks, we went on with the task of finding a place to stay. Isaiah got a map and I picked up a Coke, and we asked what our best bet was for a campsite. You have to remember that this is Memorial Day weekend and is one if the biggest camping weekends of the year in the United States, so I was sure that the sites would be slim if we found any but as I told the Border Patrol when leaving Canada, I'd rather be warm and homeless than wet, cold, and having a good choice of campsites. The gas station attendant told us to check out Richmond Lake State Park. We headed over there and there was nobody in the ranger house but there was a number to call. We called the number and they were no help but told me to ride around and look for the camp host. Doing as instructed I notice an open site and make a mental note of the number in case we end up doing a self register. Continuing along we see the sign for camp host so we stopped. We meet DJ and Camp Captain. DJ was the park ranger? Not exactly sure what his professional title was but he is the one we followed back to the entrance to book the last site available. DJ was new to the job and this was his first weekend alone on the job. I felt bad for him because of all the weekends to be your first alone, Memorial weekend is not the one you want. He fumbled through the computer trying to get us checked in and eventually after the third or fourth try succeeded, at least to his satisfaction. He didn't charge us for a state pass, only the site itself, and he never did get the paper that you are supposed to hang at the site, to print. We also purchased our firewood at the same time and were told that the camp host would deliver it.
We got to our site and started unpacking our mess from packing in the rain and repacking at the border. While dealing with the mess the camp host came blazing up in his golf cart with his black lab sitting shotgun and a load of firewood in the back. He dumps the wood and chews the fat with us for a bit about where we're from and where we're going and moves on to his next stop. This is about the time we started calling him Camp Captain, because we didn't know his name and for some reason couldn't remember the word host. Back to unpacking, putting up tents, and hanging wet clothes to dry. The inside of my tent was soaking wet so I left the rain fly off and gave it a shake every so often till it finished drying. We got settled with a fire going and were about to pull out the stoves to cook up some dinner when our neighbor camper comes over and offers us plates of hot food. Chicken sandwiches smothered in BBQ sauce, brats, and a big tinfoil wrapped side of fried potatoes and onions. This was great, we didn't have to cook or clean up after cooking. After eating our free dinner, we finished setting up camp and got our wet clothes hung out on the line. We went to check out the view over the lake that Camp Captain told us about. It was definitely worth checking out.
We looked around for a soda machine that I swore I saw but couldn't find it. Finally asking Camp Captain we found out that I didn't see one because there isn't one. He offered us a couple of sodas so we headed over to his place. I asked him how you land a gig like camp host and he basically told us his life story. I wish I would have wrote down all he told us because he led a fascinating life. He was basically part if the original invention of the consumer and personal computer, traveled the world as a teacher, lost his wife, fought with alcoholism, and ended up volunteering as a camp host. It was much more interesting to hear it from him than it ever will be from me writing it. We finished our chat along with our sodas and headed back to our site before the fire went out. Sitting around the campfire talking about the day, all of a sudden the neighbors start up a movie outside with a projector shining on a white sheet. We laughed about the comfortable camping these people do and watched the movie for a while. Happy that I was warm and dry, I headed to bed.