Trail Angel Stories

Make America Bike Again

Day 24 –

Next morning Mayor Don of Mosby, Montana, stepped up once again, displaying his iconic trail angel colors. For a tank full of gas, he offered to take Robert and me to the nearest town with food and services. Thank you Don for your generosity. It turned out to be Glendive, Montana. More than 150 miles. Thank you Don. An interstate crossed the 2-lane highway there. Probably three days of travel on a touring bicycle. Thank-you Don from Mosby.

Glendive’s population is about 5,000. The next ride took us from one side of this fair city to the other. Not far in distance, but strategically significant because it planted us right on the interstate highway ramp heading east. I can’t even tell you the driver’s name. Robert didn’t write it down in his journal. I only remember that the back of his truck was full of supplies for muzzle loading rifles. It was about midday and warm for Montana. Traffic was light. In fact the next person to stop was a repeat appearance. A trail angel at heart, the previous driver was returning with a large piece of brown cardboard to aid us in getting another driver to slow down and look. On the sign he had written in big black letters: Bike Broke! Thank you, bearded, black powder rifle enthusiast.

A rolling bicycle can watch the landscape pass by at about 12 miles per hour with a light breeze blowing and a song in your head. It’s much more fun than baking on the stationary concrete of an interstate highway. Time crawled by, until, a small white GM sedan parked on the road and a lean looking stranger climbed out. It wasn’t the police. Instead, a talkative middle aged man walked towards us. He was a bicycle mechanic without any tools, but he wanted to help out. His name was Dave, the proprietor and Communications Director of Dave’s Mobile Bike and Golf Emporium.

According to trail-angel Dave, Glendive was no longer home to a bicycle repair shop. The latest one was another victim of the falling crude oil prices and a shrinking local economy. The city might be shrinking, but he was a fifth generation North Dakotan and…looking at my broken chain which he correctly identified as a Shimano…he believed that he could tap into a network of friends and acquaintances who would remedy our situation. He made some phone calls. Recommended a more universal kind of chain replacement. Sent some text messages.

This was not just an interstate highway ramp, this was a metaphorical folk in the road. Dave offered to install a new chain himself, if Robert would purchase the chain from his friends who ran a bicycle shop in Medora called Dakota Cyclery. It was several more exits down the highway and another 20 miles or so. We could all meet at a truckstop halfway in between, after the bicycle shop folks got off work. They would bring the new chain and some tools. Dave his expertise, and Robert would bring the credit card. In the meantime we all could wait in the shade of a friend’s storage unit, a few blocks away.

It was  choice: And with so much good fortune behind us that day, why not expect these people to be generous and kind? This was still southeastern Montana after all.

Robert and I spent the rest of the afternoon waiting in a well furnished storage unit in Glendive, drinking a beer…thank you Dave…and waiting for the sun to set on another day of business. The trickiest part proved to be transporting everything to the truckstop parking lot. For that, three adults and a disassembled touring bike had to pack themselves into a small GM car and drive about 15 miles down the road to the edge of a truckstop packing lot.

That’s where the deal went down, exactly as planned.




St Helens – Portland – Troutdale

Make America Bike Again – Day 4

This day would be a memorable stretch of the Lewis & Clark trail, beginning with some morning mirth. We sliced up a watermelon in the parking of the Safeway store and devoured it joyously. Then, time to ride.IMG_1214

A celebration was going on in every town along the way. It was a perfect day for bicycling. As we neared Portland and the road headed turned east, Mt St. Helens, one of our active volcanoes, came into view. We crossed the St John’s bridge into Portland. Robert had to stop and take in the views, but we didn’t linger.

Portland from the bridgeInstead, we kept going into Troutdale, a scenic area at the western end of the Columbia River Gorge. The town straddles a small tributary of the Columbia. The Sandy River is named for the large natural build ups of sand that adorn it’s banks.

At the close of the holiday weekend, they were filled with bathers and other revelers. But not us. We had to find a place for the night. There were several state parks in the area, but also an abundance of “No Camping” signs. It was dusk when Frosty asked a young man in a pick up truck where we might find a place to camp that night?

“There’s no camping for twenty miles,” he replied, “And, it’s uphill.”

Next there was silence. I could see the young man, Brian, talking with his wife in the front seat, their small child comfortably in between. All around us passengers in other vehicles slowed to stare. Until Brian turned back toward Frosty and invited all of us to camp on the lawn of his parent’s home in nearby Corbett, and join in their celebration.

IMG_1246This is how trail angels often appear. Just when things look bleakest, a kindness appears in the form of a hospitable stranger, to turn events around. It was the beginning of a fun and memorable evening. Everyone in our group carries a luxury item or two. Robert has his books and his air mattress. For Gerry, the Irishman, it’s a small traveling guitar. He is a gifted player and a professional musician in his homeland. That night he had a campfire and a willing audience of singers. It was unforgettable.

Robert, Frank, Gerry, friend of host, Frosty, Brian’s son, Don, and Brian. (Can anyone reading this remember the dog’s name?)

Thanks so much Brian, Ed, and Corinne for your hospitality that day, for the elegant campsite with its many blooming hydrangea, and for sharing the 4th of July with us.

Waiting Out The Storm

Make America Bike Again – Day 40

“You’re going to get wet out there if you leave today!”

It is the lighthearted voice of Donn Olsen, a cheerful generous man and the owner/operator of the Bicycle Bunkhouse. It’s early morning. Grey billowing clouds fill the sky and the sun, nowhere to be seen.


We’re seating at the table in this remarkably dry and cozy space. There’s a hot shower, a fully stock kitchen, and plenty of cots for any number of sleeping cyclists. Donn likes large groups.

So much to be thankful for.

His farm lies along the Northern Tier bicycle trail (Adventure Cycling Association,) just outside of Dalbo, Minnesota. Donn was born there. And, he returned here after his service in the military. His is the signature bicycle hostel, offering bunks, a stocked kitchen, and a hot shower to anyone who can pedal there. Guests are expected to share the accommodations. He only charges for the food and snacks used. Donations accepted. Among the bicycle touring community, his hospitality is legend.

To do the Bicycle Bunkhouse justice, here’s what his renovated barn looks like when the sun is shining.


In response to Donn’s warning, Robert explains our situation and the looming deadline of Friday’s flight back to Denver. They talk about the options. Our host advises us to go off the Northern Tier route. He produces a different map to explain the difference. His suggestion would cut the distance to the airport in half, an easy day’s ride away.

This continuing appearance of trail angels is one of great and unexpected luxuries of travel, balanced astride a bicycle seat. The encounters can become moments of great satisfaction and happiness. In all my years of city life, there is nothing to compare.

Thank you, Donn for your gifts.




Trail Angel

Make America Bike Again – Days 37& 38

Day 38 was a blue sky day that ended in the cozy shelter of a renovated barn called Alice’s Attic.


It’s an eclectic patchwork of flowers, fields, folk art and shadow. (Find out more at:


Here’s Alice and Robert having morning coffee.

For cyclists on the Northern Tier Trail it’s a welcoming place, and Alice, a Trail Angel of distinction!

What happened to day 37? If you’re curious, think rain, mosquitos and history at Charles Lindberg State Park.