For those who have never ventured to North Dakota, a great way to experience the state, its scenic byways, and its friendly residents is via Cycling Around North Dakota In Sakakawea Country, or CANDISC, as it is commonly referred to.
My wife, Kathie, and I spent our vacation on CANDISC this past August. The blog is finally appearing due to a three month absence of blogging capabilities on the Pratt Tribune’s website since I returned to Kansas following the ride. This will be my first of three blogs on the North Dakota experience.
We definitely knew we were in a different place when we awakened to a 53 degree morning in Linton, North Dakota after leaving the hot plains of Kansas behind on the previous day with its 100+ temperatures and lows in the mid 70s to low 80s.
CANDISC is as much a celebration of rural North Dakota as it is a cycling foray. It mirrors Biking Across Kansas in its length, although it’s one day shorter, and likewise meanders through the byways and back roads of our far northern neighbor. One difference between Kansas and North Dakota this year, however, is that the rivers up north actually had water in them and the roadsides were mostly green.
If you draw a line straight north out of Pratt and then jump over a couple of meridians west, you will arrive at Garrison, North Dakota, the starting and ending point of the ride.
We were joined by 282 persons on this year’s CANDISC, a much smaller number than a typical BAK crowd of 900. Of those 282 cyclists, 25 states were represented, as well as several Canadian provinces, including Winnipeg, Ontario, and Quebec.
The weather throughout the cycling journey was excellent, especially considering the summer we had in Kansas. The event had only one day that surpassed the 90 degree mark and most days had highs in the mid 80s, 70s, and even one day that the temperature never made it out of the 60s. The mornings were always cool, with readings in the 50s and 60s, which made for good sleeping weather.
CANDISC proved to be a well-supported ride, featuring “migrating” porta-potties every 10-20 miles (geese rode atop each one feature different male and female attire each day), which were carried on a trailer from stop to stop. All rest stops offered cold water for riders to hydrate. Pay as you go rest stops featured local baked goods, sports drinks, and pre-packaged energy and protein bars for sale. The best part of the ride came at the end of the day. In addition to showers available at local facilities, riders could opt for the Greater North Dakota Watershed: four private showers contained in a rolling shed with adjustable hot and cold water. To me, life doesn’t get much better than that, after having taken numerous communal showers on Biking Across Kansas where the water either froze you or scalded your skin. Two rolling vehicles with bike racks on the back and plenty of seating inside offered an alternative transport to the next town for cyclists who ran out of steam. A bicycle mechanic from Minot also drove up and down the route each day looking for stranded cyclists needing a fix.
Besides the support from the CANDISC organization, the support from the local communities we stayed in each night was outstanding. Besides the local restaurants (which were at times few and far between in small communities along the way) each town offered an evening meal and departing breakfast to cyclists. These meals raised money for local community projects. Additionally, the evening meal in each town featured local entertainment. Cyclists had the option of visiting local swimming pools, museums, movie theaters, and other facilities in the process of discovering each town along the way.
One of the best welcomes CANDISC riders received was in Hebron, ND, where five high school students on foot and with golf carts met incoming cyclists and offered whatever assistance was needed. One young man helped me to carry our luggage, air up our mattress, and cart us to both showers and supper after we had set up our tent. The five students were members of the local high school’s Close Up Group and accepted tips toward a planned trip to Washington, DC to observe a session or two of Congress and Senate and also meet with national political leaders.
One thing that makes this ride unique is that participants vote at the end of the ride on their favorites, including best overnight town, best rest stop item, best supper, and best breakfast. The winning towns or groups receive a donation from CANDISC that can be used to support local community projects and organizations. The awards for 2012 included the following: Best Host Community: Mott (population 732). Favorite Breakfast Meal: Hebron (population 754). Favorite Supper Meal: Hazen (population 2,417). Best Rest Stop: Gladstone (population 250) K-Cetts. Best Rest Stop Food Item: Boy Scout Troop 6.
What is CANDISC? It is slowing down to experience North Dakota and its scenic beauty, including prolific blooming sunflower fields and August wheat harvests. It is realizing that the state, like Kansas, is definitely not flat and that its people are friendly and courteous, even if the accent is a little different. It is a rolling journey filled with people from far flung places, each one etching a story in rubber tread upon the North Dakota asphalt.