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Danger of attacks or police harassment?

Old 05-10-13, 12:49 PM
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Danger of attacks or police harassment?

I have done a few overnighters in my home state (Minnesota), but never any longer tours so far. The main thing I worry about is that I will be recognized as a vulnerable stranger far from home and either be attacked by locals just for fun, or harassed by authoritarian cops with nothing better to do. Neither of these things has actually happened to me, but this is what I would be worried about on a long tour in a remote region (South Dakota, eastern Montana). Any thoughts on this from more experienced long-distance riders would be appreciated.
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Old 05-10-13, 01:15 PM
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I have done a fairly good bit of long distance bike touring over the last few years and it isn't even on my radar. The cops have generally been very nice if they paid any attention to me at all. As far as the local civilians they have been either really friendly or avoided contact, mostly the former.

I have to say that someone who has to ask this question may be more likely to have problems though. Fear attracts problems in my opinion. I would say that hostility attracts hostility as well. The one guy I met on tour who always assumed that the locals were hostile red necks, the cops all hostile, and the truck drivers all murderous seemed to have a problem everywhere he went. He was more or less run out of at least a couple towns where we had nothing but warm interactions with the locals. He also had plenty of similar stories that he liked to relate.
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Old 05-10-13, 01:23 PM
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I think I'd be more worried about a wheel falling off an airplane and hitting me!

Why would locals attack you "just for fun"?

We accidentally strayed into the middle of a rock fight between two drunks in Duncan, Canada one time. We came out it unscratched. That's more than I can say for the windshield of a woman's car stopped at the traffic signal.

The police have always been more than helpful. An officer overlooked 3 of us camping underneath the "No Camping" sign in a Wyoming rest area when he checked on us about midnight.

P.S.

My wife and I have cycled through several large cities including Chicago, Detroit, Gary, Toledo, Cleveland, Boston, Los Angeles, Oakland, and SF. A couple of times I did not understand what the locals who were giving us directions meant when they said something akin to, "that is hard-core intercity." It is amazing what a "hello" and a smile, even in a sketchy neighborhood will do.

We were lost in Springfield, MA and I finally had to stop and ask for directions. We were in an ethnic neighborhood ( my stereotyping was running rampant) when I saw a guy with numerous tattoos, "wife beater T-shirt, and a bandanna wrapped around his head come out of a store. He was what I typified as a "home boy"( I grew up in Detroit, MI). When I said, "excuse me, I need some help finding a certain motel", he cracked a big smile and gave me directions along with "have a good ride". As I pulled out of the driveway of the convenience store where we were talking, 4 of his look-a-likes in a car started yelling at me. My alarm bell went off again until I stopped and they pulled up next to me.--to tell me I had dropped something! I had dropped my sunglasses. So much for stereotyping. It is a good idea to take your sunglasses off when talking to folks so you can make eye contact. Just remember that you set them on your rear pannier when you fished the map out of the bar bag.

The point is that we have ridden through a lot of places where , if you believe the papers, being accosted is more likely than in the rural midwest. It never happened.

Last edited by Doug64; 05-10-13 at 03:53 PM.
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Old 05-10-13, 01:58 PM
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Originally Posted by Doug64
I think I'd be more worried about a wheel falling off an airplane and hitting me!
Heh.

OP: I rode the entiee High Line from Cut Bank to the ND border near Culbertson. Mosquitos were the biggest problem. Certainly not the cops. In fact, we were treated quite nicely by the Harlem police when we camped in the town park.

Discliamer: This was long before the oil boom. Now, you might encounter some drunks in eastern Montana. Crime has really picked up in some towns in that part of the world, fueled in part by drugs and alcohol. (A school teacher out for a jog was murdered last year in Sidney, MT). Still, I would be more worried about drunk driving than getting in a scrap with people, at least if you avoid problem bars. Also, a portrion for the Fort Peck Reservation gave me the creeps a little, but that's way up in the northeast part of MT.
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Old 05-10-13, 02:00 PM
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I cycled across MT, ND, and MN on my Northern Tier ride last summer. I met the friendliest people imaginable. Local LEOs helped out several times with pointers on camping, water, toilet facilities, etc. Local folks would invite me into their homes and to join in the fun at their town parties. Other campers would share meals and campsites. Bicyclists are pretty non-threatening to the average person. You're not hiding much and you're pretty exposed. That's a good point above--I'm sure much depends on your demeanor, too.
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Old 05-10-13, 02:17 PM
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Originally Posted by northeaster
I have done a few overnighters in my home state (Minnesota), but never any longer tours so far. The main thing I worry about is that I will be recognized as a vulnerable stranger far from home and either be attacked by locals just for fun, or harassed by authoritarian cops with nothing better to do. Neither of these things has actually happened to me, but this is what I would be worried about on a long tour in a remote region (South Dakota, eastern Montana). Any thoughts on this from more experienced long-distance riders would be appreciated.
You worry way too much. If you want to worry about something then worry about break down, getting sick, hurt etc and have a contingency plan rather than worry about the extremely unlikely event that you will run into an "authoritarian" cop (oh brother ).

Be respectful, obey the law and treat others and their as you expect others to treat you and their property and it is unlikely you will have any issues. But as always be aware and have some street sens. If a situation feels wrong then it probably is. For example if you try to camp in the middle of central LA you are probably asking for trouble.
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Old 05-10-13, 02:26 PM
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I think maybe the OP has watched Easy Rider one too many times.

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Old 05-10-13, 03:06 PM
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Good advice! Thank you!
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Old 05-10-13, 03:26 PM
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The only encounter our 2009 Trans Am group had with police was when the evening officer on duty in Sterling KS interrupted our dinner preparation to inform us of a tornado warning. Touchdowns had been already sighted around town. He insisted I get into the cruiser with him to see the route to the high school shelter, then back to the park to round up the rest of the group!
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Old 05-10-13, 03:43 PM
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If you want to gain confidence in people, start by taking a tour through rural Iowa! Last year my wife and I rode across Iowa, with about half the route on gravel roads. We were welcomed in towns with coffee and donuts, and I think we could have stayed with people we met in some of the small towns. I was working on a photography project, which in these times can be looked at as suspicious, and people were off the chart friendly. Smile, wave at cars that you meet and that pass you, and expect the best of people. Be honest and up front, and start as many conversations as you can. Seriously, I do understand that not everywhere people are like in Iowa or the Midwest, but I have always found people (in general) to be good.
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Old 05-10-13, 03:45 PM
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The thing you have to ask yourself is: "Is that the type of behaviour I would engage in, attacking visiting touring bicyclist to my area, just for fun?"

If not, why tar other communities with a very unpleasant brush?

After more than 15 years of bicycle touring and general riding in various parts of the world, I have never been physically attacked, and the unpleasant encounters I can recall I can count on one hand.

There is a disclaimer: The general advice is that if you feel uneasy or intimidated by a locale, move on. That gut feeling does count for a lot when bicycle touring.
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Old 05-10-13, 04:26 PM
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When my relatives express these same fears about my safety while bike touring in various parts of the world I tell them to stop watching television and relax. Long ago no one heard of an attack or disaster until months later. Now every negative item is linked to all the rest until the world appears to be a dangerous place. Fear is a great control mechanism for those who benefit from creating the fear of others particularly those who look different from you.

Direct experience with those people is the best antidote for fear.
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Old 05-10-13, 04:40 PM
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Originally Posted by spinnaker
I think maybe the OP has watched Easy Rider one too many times.
Cyclotouring is safer than canoeing, where you may have to squeal like a pig...

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Old 05-10-13, 05:07 PM
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July 14, 2009 on South HWY 51, heading to Sardis MS, I was pulled over by an unmarked pickup truck. It was the County Sheriff.

I was the first rider on the road that AM. The sheriff said that I had done nothing wrong.

He wanted me to Warn the others To Not Stop in The Town for Anything. The residents were not friendly to bike riders.

So I waited for the others. We road into town only to find our tour leader (van) parked in the center of town at an empty parking lot.

She said the sheriff told her we were ok as we were a large group.

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Old 05-10-13, 06:13 PM
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Originally Posted by VFerreira
Cyclotouring is safer than canoeing, where you may have to squeal like a pig...

dang you.. I was about to warn him to ride like hell if he heard any banjos..
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Old 05-10-13, 06:28 PM
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Originally Posted by VFerreira
Cyclotouring is safer than canoeing, where you may have to squeal like a pig...

You're confusing your movies.
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Old 05-10-13, 06:58 PM
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Originally Posted by spinnaker
You're confusing your movies.
Nope. It's just that not everything is an Easy Rider fairytale. Sometimes it's Deliverance.

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Old 05-10-13, 06:59 PM
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Originally Posted by robble
dang you.. I was about to warn him to ride like hell if he heard any banjos..
EXCELLENT advice!
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Old 05-10-13, 07:44 PM
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Originally Posted by northeaster
I have done a few overnighters in my home state (Minnesota), but never any longer tours so far. The main thing I worry about is that I will be recognized as a vulnerable stranger far from home and either be attacked by locals just for fun, or harassed by authoritarian cops with nothing better to do. Neither of these things has actually happened to me, but this is what I would be worried about on a long tour in a remote region (South Dakota, eastern Montana). Any thoughts on this from more experienced long-distance riders would be appreciated.
Every now and then you're going to run across a Yahoo. Some places are more "Yahoo Country" than others . . .. I don't buy the "fear attracts trouble" concept for a guy on a bike in a remote area. Fear is GOOD. It makes you pay attention.

When hiking, I've come up with a five mile rule. If a person has to hike five miles to get to you, the vastly overwhelming odds are that the person is not dangerous--scumbags are just too lazy to do the work to get to you. I reckon it may be the same on a bike. A doped up kid looking to express his violent feelings is not going to go to a lot of trouble to hunt the rare cyclist in a remote area.

Cops are your best source of advice. A lot of them have a surfeit of helpfulness.

Last edited by MarkvW; 05-10-13 at 07:53 PM.
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Old 05-10-13, 08:37 PM
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Originally Posted by MarkvW

When hiking, I've come up with a five mile rule. If a person has to hike five miles to get to you, the vastly overwhelming odds are that the person is not dangerous--scumbags are just too lazy to do the work to get to you. I reckon it may be the same on a bike. A doped up kid looking to express his violent feelings is not going to go to a lot of trouble to hunt the rare cyclist in a remote area.

Cops are your best source of advice. A lot of them have a surfeit of helpfulness.

Excellent point, but I would actually put it at a mile or less. The five mile thing sounds like overkill

I have had one really scary encounter that came to nothing in a little town on the Mississippi river. It was one of those grotty little places that have at least one dive bar, one Caseys, and several blocks of totally empty downtown, including empty Zenith Tv repair shops and an empty theatre, the rest is just boards covering all the broken glass. Set up camp and rode up to a Caseys to buy some water. Guy approached me, holding a small dog in a pink sweater(the dog, don't remember what the guy was wearing). The guy had two teardrop tats below one eye, and seemed a tad sketchy, whether it was the dog or the tats I don't know. Anyway, he asked me where I was staying, and if I was alone. I usualy never lie,(and I have a great deal of respect and empathy for the members of the military and their traumas) but I told him that I was with a group of friends just back from the middle east, and as they were all jacked up with ptsd, and as I was the only person in the group who could be trusted not to freak out I was going for the water alone(luckily I was buying two gallon jugs instead of a little bottle!). The guy sort of shuffled off, and the dog really seemed to hate me. But who know, maybe I missed out on a truly great night, better than actualy spent(more on that in a minute)
So after pink sweater dog tear tat guy got into his AMC Hornet(really, it was an amc hornet, which really creeped me out more than anything, cause, really, have you ever been in one? they had a plastic headliner, perfect for wiping various hemoglobins and such off of, Plus it was in really nice shape with rims. Anyone who does that to an AMC Hornet is troubled)A cop pulls up.
I approach the cop, as its usually a good idea to let the fuzz know that you are camping in town and mean no harm, and please don't let the weird teardrop tat guy feed me to his angry little dog in the pink sweater. The cop backs up to his car, opens the door and positions himself to get in or radio for help or grab the shotgun, or something. It feaks me out a little that this Constable of the People(COP) thinks I might be about to use my two gallon jugs of Caseys water to overpower him and terrify this already slightly terrifying town for the night. Anyway, I reassure him that I just wanted to let him know that they had a cycle tourist staying at the campground, as there was no one there to take my money or make it official. This officer actually seems to deflate with relief, and assures me that he might swing by over night to check on me.
Encouraged but not a little bemused at things, I returned to my campsite, and read till about dusk, when all the teenagers showed up, drunk, stoned, aged 13 to possibly 16, and bored out of their minds living in a town of 300 people. Refusing to either drink with them or do any of their drugs, I fell back on the ultimate defense against small town teens. I lectured them gently on how much fun libraries can be, how bad it is to drink and drive, and how their only chance to get out of that town was to study hard in school. Within five minutes they got bored and left, which was lucky cause I had run out of boring advice, mostly because five minutes was about the time I used to give those lecturing me when I was a drunken teen.

And to date, that has been my scariest experience in a small town. I was up and out by daybreak, and don't even remember the towns name.

On police, I have had a few run ins. one state trooper stopped to see if I was OK when I was trying to find my map in a field, as the crosswind had made it blow off. He gave me some directions on how to get to a side road with less traffic where I had a better chance of not being killed by fishtailing 18 wheelers. Another stopped when I had a flat and asked if I was alright, and another was waiting with a couple stranded on the Katy trail when I pulled up with enough tools to fix the guys chain. SO while there are probably psycho cops out there with cycle tourist skin lamps, the odds of meeting one outside of the cinema seems low.

Good luck with your touring.

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Old 05-10-13, 09:02 PM
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There are spme parts of the city I live in that I avoid altogether - and it has nothing to do with bicycles or touring. Most big cities are like that do the best idea is to research your destinations in advance, know what areas to avoid and which to aim for. Then just relax and enjoy the ride - and people. I've found police and military friendly and helpful just about everywhere - more so in small towns.
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Old 05-11-13, 03:07 AM
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As a general rule try your best to blend in wherever you may be at, that means clothing and whatever else you can do. Don't ever look like a tourist or people will try their best to rip you off, restaurants will charge you more and the odds for any criminal to target you will increase. Secondly, stay away from any place where there is alcohol. Be it a bar or whatever grounds kids like to hang around at and drink.
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Old 05-11-13, 03:33 AM
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I understand your concern. Depending on where you camp, maybe the city park, just about the time you are ready to go to sleep in your tent you become aware of how vulnerable both you and your bike are to a local who wants to mess with an outsider. If you stay in motels (I don't) you can avoid some of that night-time, after dark, potential exposure.

Like others, I think your concern is greater than it needs to be in nearly every case, but there is always that statistically remote possibility. You are playing the odds and they are greatly in favor of not having any problem but there is always a chance. You know not to camp in a place where there are empty alcohol containers or other "party" trash.

If you want to make your odds better, tour and camp along an ACA route. They have seen bicyclists there many times and you will not be the oddity that you might be in an area where cyclists don't tour. Or, kind of at the opposite end of things, find a stealth camp that is so stealthy none of these folks or anyone else will know you are there.

Reading journals from CrazyGuyOnABike will give you peace of mind. The kind of worries you mentioned just don't seem to have happened to folks who have written up their tours at that site.

Since you and I are locals in Minneapolis I can tell you that riding from here to International Falls and back, using the 100 miles of the Paul Bunyan Trail and then US 71 going north, is a very safe ride and very unlikely to set off any alarms in your areas of concern. Similarly, riding from here to Madison, WI and back on either side of the river to LaCrosse and then on the limestone trails in Wisconsin is very safe. Many have gone before you and reports of this kind of trouble are non-existent. Lots of these little towns make their living off of tourists, fishermen, snow-mobilers, etc. and they know not to mess with this source of revenue.

I think, and hope, that as you do it more you will gain confidence. Good luck.
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Old 05-11-13, 07:28 AM
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Originally Posted by 58Kogswell
Reading journals from CrazyGuyOnABike will give you peace of mind. The kind of worries you mentioned just don't seem to have happened to folks who have written up their tours at that site.
It's difficult to post your journal when the remainders of your body are burried in a swamp...
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Old 05-11-13, 07:56 AM
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