Saturday, August 18, 2012

West Coast Adventure - Day 4

I got to sleep in this morning...which was unexpected with a 4 year old and nearly 2 year old in the house. A heartfelt thank you goes out to Ben and Libby Johnson for putting me up for the night and filling me up on some delicious homemade and garden fresh food last night. I do feel like I need to apologize though...I was totally clueless in missing that today was their 5th anniversary. I took their wedding pictures. I saw the collage of photos on the cabinet in the dining room a half dozen times over the course of last evening and this morning and it never clicked that today was the day listed with the photos. Anyway...HAPPY ANNIVERSARY LIBBY AND BEN! From the bottom of my heart. :)

The sun was shining brightly in Grand Forks when I hit the road. US-2 is a four lane highway all the way across North Dakota...but it's definitely not a busy interstate.

I was only about 4 miles out of Grand Forks when I rolled over the 1,000 mile mark on my trip, so I stopped and snapped a quick picture to prove that I was still smiling. Well...I was smiling on the inside.

So, there is a downside to riding through the is a little boring. I saw lots of cowscornwheathaysunflowers and other agricultural whatnot. For the first 3/5 of the ride today, I struggled with keeping my speed in check. Everything is so flat and wide open, and there's so little traffic, that I kept slowly speeding up. It seemed like I'd have the speedometer up to around 80 without even realizing it. In a situation like that, I find it actually helps me to have a vehicle traveling the speed limit, or slower, about 100 yards in front of me; it gives me a gauge to keep things in check when I start to wish I was looking at something other than pavement, fields, and the black-eyed Susans growing along the edge of the highway.

I did find one thing to slow me down and distract me for a whole two minutes about 50 miles out of Grand Forks. I found myself back in Michigan. Whodathunkit? :)

I stopped for a quick gas up and lunch at Devil's Lake. I had planned on stopping there...but I was surprised to get there as quickly as I did...see the paragraph above for an explanation on how that happened. If you're ever in Devil's Lake, North Dakota, I'd recommend Kneadful Things for a meal. It's a small bakery/bistro. Not a huge menu. Mostly sandwiches, pastries, and other desserts. It was really good food, even if it was a bit pricy, and the coleslaw seemed like it was pretty well made on the spot, just for my meal, instead of scooped out of a bin.

About a half hour or so down the road from Devil's Lake I found a cool roadside attraction to stop at...the geographical center of North America. It's a small, unassuming monument in Rugby, North Dakota.

After enjoying being the "center of attention" for a few minutes, I jumped back on Black Max and continued my journey into cowscornwheathaysunflowers land. I was in for a nice surprise though...things spiced up just east of Minot. The terrain changes quickly. One minute I'm cruising along through the flattest land I've seen in a long time and then you come around a curve in the highway and the road dips down into a small valley and all of a sudden you're in hill country. It reminded me a lot of what the northwest lower peninsula of Michigan might look it didn't have trees. Things got even more spicy after Minot, the hills just get bigger. Again, I was thinking it compared to some of what I've seen in the western and norther upper peninsula of Michigan...but, again, without the trees. The scenery doesn't change much after Minot. It's hills, hills, and more hills all the way to Williston. One thing that surprised me was that Williston is only 1,000 feet higher in elevation than Grand Forks and only 200 feet higher than Minot. It seemed like I was riding uphill for the better part of 2 hours after I left Minot. Every time I got to the top of a hill, there was just another, slightly taller, hill in front of me.

Yesterday, I was bemoaning what I felt was pork barrel spending that had resulted in US-2 being widened to 4 lanes. A little research shows me that happened, at least for some portions, back in the early 70's. I softened my stance on it a little today, not a lot, just a little. A couple of reasons:
  • There were several times when large farm equipment was being driven along the highway. On a two lane highway this would have caused a huge back up. Even though US-2 isn't a packed interstate, there does seem to be enough traffic that having the ability to just go around the tractors is a welcome benefit with those extra lanes.
  • The closer I got to Williston, the more traffic there was. It never got overwhelming, but there was enough for me to think that a two lane highway would have seemed pretty busy...and probably slow. I can see where having the extra lanes makes things move more smoothly along the highway, even if there are times when it seems like you're the only person using the road.
Now, before leaving on this adventure I had been told that there was an oil boom out this way. I wasn't prepared for what that meant. If you're desperate for can probably find it out here. You may not be able to find a place to live, but you can find work. The oil and natural gas industries are running full tilt. There are not enough hotels, apartments, and homes to keep up with the housing demands. I first started seeing the effects just a few miles outside of Minot. What appears to be "temporary" housing complexes are popping up along the highway. These complexes look a lot like railroad boxcars that have been modified to be apartments. The ones I saw were typically stacked 2 high and there were 10 to 20 units in a "complex."

As I got closer to Williston, I started seeing corporate housing complexes. At first I thought they were prisons. They were often fenced in and they looked like single story barracks lined up one after the other. I have a feeling these "villages" can be set up in just a couple days, house hundreds of workers, and probably earn the companies putting them up a pretty penny.

Some of the farmers are starting to get in the act, too. About 20 miles out of Williston, you start seeing the "land for sale" signs. They're plopped down right in the middle of the fields that are currently being harvested. There's money to be made here and those who "have" will. It would appear that at least someone thinks this boom can last a while, too. It looks like they are extending public water and utilities out along US-2 a good 20 miles to the east of Williston. In short, if you want a job, and don't care where the work is, or what it is, you can find some good money out here. One of the efficiency housing units on the outskirts of Williston is advertising "cheap" rentals...only $699 per week...

**** Sunday Morning, August 19 ****
Was surfing the internet and stumbled across this article about a kid trying to make money for college by selling showers in Williston.

I've traveled over 1,300 miles at this point. I'm more than halfway to the west coast at this point. Tomorrow is going to be a warm day and I'll be planting my flag in Havre, Montana, for the evening. After that I'm heading to Kalispell, Montana, where I'll spend two nights so that I can do a day long tour of Glacier National Park.

Here's maps showing today's route and the trip overall.

Tomorrow is another day and another road. :)

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Chad Cole