It had obviously stormed all night. The inside of my tent was damp and the ground outside was saturated. My tent probably shook in the wind as thunder crashed but I didn’t wake once.
I stuffed my soaking wet tent in its bag and loaded the board, as my shoes sank ever deeper in the mud. Missouri River mud has remarkable cohesive properties. Like many times before, my mud caked shoes slid all over the rubber foot pads. I had to balance on one foot as I scraped the mud off on the edge of the board. Preserving my carefully varnished finish was no longer a concern.
Fourteen miles later, after 28 days of paddling and 687 miles, I hit North Dakota under chilly, overcast skies. I wasn’t as excited as I should have been. Supplies were needed and Lake Sakakawea loomed.
I realized I could make Williston that evening. My plan was to hide my board and gear in the bushes and hitch hike to a grocery store. An island, two miles from the bridge into town, made for a good stopping point for the night.
Williston is an oil boom town. People talk of Williston as if it’s a foregone conclusion that you don’t want to be in Williston. However, there is plenty of lucrative work to be found there. The problem is, the people don’t know what to do with their new found riches and problems arise.
Despite the warnings, I decided I wanted to see Williston for myself. Everyone has their own ideas about the places they see. On past trips, people in Chicago wouldn’t understand why I’d vacation in the “nothingness” of Montana. Upon telling people I was from Chicago, Montanians are often quick to say that the city is no place they’d wanna live or even visit. To each their own.
By 9am I had my stuff well hidden and I walked up a dirt road to the bridge. After paddling under a couple bridges in North Dakota I already knew to expect no shortage of semis and pick-up trucks.
I had never hitch hiked before and I never considered it before this trip but necessity brings new experiences. At least I’d be heading into a town and not toward the boonies, and my cell phone had good reception.
Roughly two minutes after sticking my thumb out an old minivan slowed down and pulled over. Trent, a student from Michigan Tech, drove me into town and dropped me at a grocery store. Along the way he explained how he works on the rigs in the summer to make enough money to pay for school. He was seizing the opportunity and trading his summers for a student-debt free graduation.
Shiny new pick-ups raced around the small city at a big city pace. Practically everything I saw out the window of the passenger seat looked new. There were huge tool stores and dirt lots full of pipe, with man-camps scattered around. Trent explained that it cost him $300 a month just to park his trailer and for electrical hookup. No water.
Walking into a well stocked grocery store has taken on a whole new meaning for me. I resisted the urge to just start dumping things in my cart, but on this trip I bought as much stuff as I thought could fit in my dry bags. After weaving through the many shelf stockers, who are trying to keep up with the consumption of Williston, I headed for Arbys.
After ordering from a less than friendly cashier, I enjoyed a great sandwich with a big milkshake. In desperate need of a couple days worth of water, I rinsed out my milkshake cup and filled a two gallon jug, one cup at a time, from the bathroom sink.
Getting a ride back to the bridge proved more difficult so I called a cab. It was on the way back that I noticed all the help wanted signs. If the boom ever dies Williston will be the most depressing city in America. It will be a city of abandoned, purpose-built structures, that couldn’t be built fast enough during the boom. The driver was enthralled by my trip and refused to accept my tip at the end of the ride.
I found my gear safe and sound. The price for its safety was paid in mosquito bites as I pulled it out of the high grass that covered it.
With a heavy load of supplies I was looking forward to seeing what Lake Sakakawea had in store for me.
Location as of this writing: Bismarck