June 25: Page to Binford, North Dakota - The Great North American Sticky Bun Hunt - CycleBlaze

June 25: Page to Binford, North Dakota

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VICKY IN PAGE said there were originally two rooms beside the bank. So few people stayed that one was closed and let to an insurance broker as an office. And that, I think, explains a mystery. The Adventure Cycling map says there is a single room available in the town, only for cyclists. It is unlikely that there is a single room anywhere else in such a small town. I suspect that Vicky, in explaining to someone how few people looked for somewhere to sleep, said: "The only people we have here are cyclists."

My bet is that that got translated as "We only rent this room to cyclists." Because there's no suggestion outside that that's the case.

From the outside, you'd never guess. But the Pentagon knew, the Russians knew: from here entire civilisations could be vaporised.
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The novelty of today was to visit a Cold War missile control centre, much of it beneath ground, just north of Coopersville. It's called the Ronald Reagan museum not

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because the old boy had anything to do with it, except of course that he was president for a while, but because the folk behind it realised they were much more likely to get funds out of North Dakota's Republican administrators if they added Ron's name.

There are still enough nuclear missiles in North Dakota to destroy the world, let alone any enemy, but a good many others were destroyed in an agreement with the Soviet Union in 1991. The army left the Oscar Zero base as it was, complete with everything from the control panels and missile detonation key to paperbacks and corn flake packets in the hope that it would become a museum. Which is just what it has become.

The tour is often disturbing, sometimes comical. Men who shared the code to send missiles into space passed the time sweating that the moment would come, locked behind a door as thick as your leg is long and as grey as doom, 20 metres below ground.

The entrance to the underground control centre. The crew of two were locked inside for the length of their duty.
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There, two at a time, they slept in turns and spent the rest of their long, tense incarceration dreading the moment the president might send the launch order. To ease the strain they

While one slept, the other sat permanently ready at this control panel, sweating that the order would never come.
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watched TV, piped in from the surface, ran round and round the machinery to keep their blood moving, read books, told dirty jokes and sometimes climbed up and up the metalwork to see just how high and in what improbable places they could write their name. Time and again the so-called missileers rehearsed the start of the end of the world.

If doomsday came, the key would be placed in this slot and turned. Chillingly simple.
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Phone calls home were limited to lessen the risk of soldiers' families knowing what their sons were doing, or where. Rubbish and sewage were disposed of on the site rather than allow access to outsiders or link pipes - liable to sabotage - to the outside world. Eight-foot fences still surround the base, each with an electronic alert, which local children delighted in setting off for the thrill of seeing dozens of soldiers arrive in Jeeps. And when a Russian missileer oversaw the destruction of bases, she said: "We guessed this is how your bases were and how they were linked because that is how we did it, too."

The last crew to stand duty signed their names and walked out.
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Maybe the Pentagon kidded itself the numerous control bases were hidden from the Kremlin. If they did, you'll know how deluded they were when I tell you that they all looked identical from the road, from the air and therefore from satellites. Not like army installations, it's true, more like schools with fences. Recognise one and you can find what remains of the others by searching on Google Earth. Which, in their way, is what the Russians did.

Jan Nowicki from Warsaw, cycling from California to New York.
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