DEVILS LAKE, NORTH DAKOTA—North Dakota’s license plate is a colorful image of the plains, and in the sky it says “Discover the Spirit.” In the lower left corner stands a bison on two stems of wheat, opposite of the ready-to-harvest grain. Below this, it says “Peace Garden State.” It should read “Where boys go realize their wildest Tonka truck dreams.”
A half century ago I put my Tonka trucks to work in the backyard, digging holes and paving roads. That’s what’s going on today through almost all parts of the state I traveled through today. Oh, and it seems that all the bugs from surrounding states have moved to North Dakota as well, if my helmet face shield is any indication. It was bug free from Miles City, Montana, to the state line, and then they lined up to carry out their suicide pacts.
Road construction started with the two-lane country roads I followed to US 2 in Williston, the epicenter of the Tonka truck rodeo. Some were hauling dirt and other materials to make the roads wider and straighter. Flagmen looked like epileptic landing signals officers, and they looked harried as they tried to keep the construction and through traffic separate. I did appreciate the frequent butt breaks, until Blue’s oil temp started to climb.
Trucks comprised the majority of the through traffic. Big trucks, heavy haulers with 26 wheels. Many of them were tankers hauling unknown fluids to the drilling sites that were fracking the stone deep below. Their weight compacted the asphalt to a motion sickness series of whoop-do-doos. White pickup trucks were the ubiquitous mode of transport for supervisors. There were hundreds of them of all brands, but Ford seemed to predominate. On their door was usually a discrete decal bearing the name of some unheard of company.
Riding into and out of Williston the roads were lined with man camps, chain link enclosed seas of mobile homes or temporary buildings. They looked like modern day concentration camps, each with its own satellite dish. New dorms and apartment buildings were going up everywhere, and a new motel advertised on its lighted signs, rooms with kitchens for the bargain price of $700 a week.
Tank farms seemed to be replacing grain silos. Trains, with consists of new, graffiti-free tank cars waited their turn to suck up their share of North Dakota’s petroleum gold rush. Everyone, it seemed, was in a hurry. Refueling west of Williston, the pumps were monopolized by white pickups and haggard looking men, and a few women, of all ages hurried in empty handed and scurried back to their trucks bearing soda, sandwiches, and big bags of either chips or ice.
Construction on US 2 ended just a bit short of Rugby, and rarely did a few miles go by without seeing the monotonous bobbing of an oil pump or gas flare by the side of the road. For all this prosperity, no one seemed really happy, just grimly employed. During my fuel stop, a grimy man at the next urinal, seeing my jacket, asked what I was riding. He mentioned the construction, warned me to be careful, and added that he’d come all the way from Oklahoma to lay pavement. He didn’t seem happy about it.
The traffic—and the trucks—thinned out by Rugby, the geographical center of North America. I celebrated with the selfie above and was on my way. The only other attraction was a prairie museum that didn’t look that interesting, especially for the $7 admission fee. An hour later I checked in the Devils Lake Super 8 and set out for dinner at Mr. & Mrs. J’s Family Restaurant. The Chef Salad was okay, but the servers struck me as younger versions of the self-absorbed millennials at the Trail Shop east of Yellowstone.
Convenience stores in North Dakota do not sell beer. One must find a county bottle shop, like Wally’s, which was a mile past Mr. & Mrs. Js. The traffic on US 2 was thick, but I survived. But the day ended on a good note. With Fosters and Rocky I strolled to the shady end of the Super 8 and there, like someone knew I was coming, was a lone plastic chair. Ahhh.