A Big Sky Walk

After a quiet day off in tiny Ray, I was ready to finish the North Dakota chapter of my walk and start fresh in Montana. However, the state line was still 50 miles away and I needed to pass through the oil boom town of Williston. I had a feeling that was going to be a challenge.

A local warned me of construction north of town on U.S. 2, so I followed a series of paved (but narrow) county roads into the Williston area. Traffic was light until I hit town, which happened to be right at rush hour. It was a slow last six miles to my host’s house. I moved off the road to let semi-trucks and passenger cars pass more times than I could count. I got a handful of dirty looks and a few middle fingers, but vehicles still slowed down. Some people look at you like you ran over their dog when they need to take 1 minute out of their day to slow down for a walker on the side of the road. I wish I could say to them “Believe me, I wish I had a shoulder so you wouldn’t have to slow down and I wouldn’t have to risk a rattlesnake bite by moving off the road!”

I arrived at Lisa and Roger Hennesy’s house around 8 PM. Roger had to pick me up in a church parking lot two miles away because I plugged the wrong address into my phone. Initially I blamed it on Google, but this time it was my Googling. I credit my mistake to the heat and Williston traffic!

I had an incredible stay with the couple. The two moved to Williston during the oil boom and recreated their lives in North Dakota. Roger worked 110 hour weeks driving oil trucks while Lisa managed the Blaisdell/Stanley RV Park where I stayed a few days prior. They lived in a 20 year-old RV for two years before upgrading to a FEMA trailer. Several of Lisa’s children lived with them intermittently at the park. They walked through the parking lot in the brutal wintertime to the “cabana” to cook and shower. Their hard work and sacrifices paid off. They have a comfortable life in Williston now.

Lisa is also a thyroid cancer survivor. The cancer left her vocal cords 80% paralyzed, which restricts her breathing. But by being an avid walker, Lisa keeps her lungs strong and is able to push herself further physically. She participates in yoga, hikes with her kids, and even attends P90X classes, which doctors didn’t think would be possible.

Lisa and Roger are a great example of what hard work and determination can lead to. They overcame one little challenge at a time. Eventually all those little victories added up and they have a great life (and some great stories) to show for it.

I left the Hennesy home July 13th and ran a few errands before heading out of town.

1My walk underwent a major route restructuring during my rest day. My initial plan was to follow U.S. 2 clear through Montana. I heard from countless people that the towns of Wolf Point and Poplar were very dangerous, especially since I was traveling on foot and sleeping in a tent most nights. Camping options were limited or non-existent, and most of the hotels had gone out of business. Highway 2 also follows the Missouri/Milk Rivers and a rail line. The mosquitos are legendarily vicious and I had my fair share of noisy trains in North Dakota. Plus there was bound to be more traffic. After taking these factors into consideration, I elected to drop south and walk Highway 200/87 to Lewistown and Great Falls. There were fewer services and towns, which meant less traffic (in theory). The challenges of this route scratched my adventure itch in all the right places.

I walked 25 miles southwest out of Williston and spent my last night in North Dakota camping on the banks of the Missouri River. After 10 miles the following morning, I arrived in Montana!

The skies were bigger as soon as I passed that sign!

North Dakota was a challenging state to walk through. It was mentally grueling, and unexpected obstacles like nuclear mosquitos, passing trains, inconsistent shoulders, and fireworks wore on me. I didn’t have many restful nights of sleep. Still, I was grateful for the kind folks I met, and I knew that the rough walk through the Roughrider State would prepare me for the trials ahead in Montana.

I spent my first night in Montana in Sidney. Locals welcomed me with open arms. A construction worker gave me a bag of candy. Matt and Bobbi, the duo working at the Subway in town, bought my sandwich. And my camping spot at Bagnell RV Park was comped by Candy and Tim, the owners. These small gestures made me feel right at home!

From Sidney, Highway 16 followed the Yellowstone River through a beautiful valley into Glendive. The 52 mile stretch took two days to walk. Traffic levels steadily decreased as I moved away from the Bakken Oil Region and Williston. Badland formations, corn fields, and ranchland lined the road.

Common scenery off Highway 16 between Sidney and Glendive.

I arrived in Glendive in the early afternoon. I elected to get a cheap hotel room (which was only 15 dollars more expensive than a campsite would have been!) for the night to clean myself up and rest.

I walked to Circle over the next two days. The scenery remained similar – endless ranches, a lot of cows, and hills on the horizon. Traffic levels continued to dwindle. I came across four cross-country cyclists, which added some nice roadside socializing to an otherwise quiet two days.

I camped in the middle of nowhere off the highway past the halfway point to Circle. The stars were incredible. The only sounds I could hear were the occasional moos from cows grazing in nearby pastures. I’ll take moos over a train’s “whooo-whooos” any day!

Wide open spaces under big skies between Glendive and Circle.

I arrived in Circle on July 18th and camped at Horse Creek RV Park for the night. Disappointingly, their showers were out of order (which knocked 5 bucks off the camping fee), but their immaculate laundromat was in full swing. It’s very difficult to make a laundromat feel homey, but the Horse Creek RV Park accomplished the feat! Nice hand crafted wooden tables were placed near the windows, Western decor hung on the walls, and a TV with cable hung in the corner. The floors were spotless. Laundry was higher on my priority list than a shower (though anyone caught within ten feet of me may disagree). I have said it before and I’ll say it again….Never run out of clean socks!

I considered taking a day off in Circle, but I was nervous about the next stretch of my walk and wanted to tackle it instead of sitting around thinking about what I would face on Highway 200 west of town.

I was told the road had “a lot of truck traffic,” that it was narrow, and was very hilly. Of course, everyone has a different definition of “a lot.” But I didn’t doubt that it would be narrow and hilly. There was no turning back after leaving Circle. A rest area with potable water was the only “service” available for the next 67 miles until I reached Jordan.

The ensuing two day stretch tested everything I have learned during my 5,000 miles of walking American and Canadian roads.

I enjoyed a shoulder for the first 13 miles, then poof, it was completely gone for the next 36 miles. The road was barely big enough for two semi trucks to fit on side by side. PJ and I literally walked on the road, taking up a quarter of the lane. I didn’t listen to music. I didn’t daydream. I immersed myself in the walk, carefully picking up cars with my eyes and ears as they approached me from both sides. If a vehicle didn’t scoot to the other lane when they were 100 yards away from me, I moved off the road. Sometimes that was difficult, considering there was a 30 degree slope off the road in spots. I needed to carry five gallons of water for the stretch, so PJ was heavy! It took every ounce of strength I had to keep my buggy from toppling over and falling down the hillside.

Highway 200, about 25 miles east of Jordan. The grade of the road looks relatively tame here, but trust me, it was a hilly son-of-a-gun.

The wind complicated matters. At its gustiest, the breeze made it difficult to hear cars coming from behind me. And when I walked up a hill, I obviously couldn’t see (or often hear) whether a car was approaching. If a vehicle crested the hill I was climbing, I immediately moved off the road. The trouble was, there wasn’t always a safe place to simply scoot over considering the dropoffs next to the road. After a few of the climbs (and having to dodge a few oncoming cars), I decided I would need to walk with traffic going up hills, then against it everywhere else. At least walking uphill I could look behind me and see if a car was coming. The most important thing was to be as visible to drivers as possible.

Highway 200 – up close and personal, in all its narrow glory!

This unnerving “game” went on for a long 36 mile stretch which spanned two days.

31 miles into the 67 mile walk, I arrived at the rest area and decided to camp there for the night. My feet were throbbing the following morning. I put on the pair of shoes which felt best (I was grateful to have four pairs to choose from!) and got on the road. My feet loosened up slightly as the day went on.

PJ and I had an interesting encounter shortly after leaving the rest area. A man named Dan pulled up in an ATV asking “Have you seen a bull around?”

“A bull?” I confirmed. “No I haven’t, but I will keep my eyes peeled.” I took Dan’s number in case I saw his bull. So now, not only was I worried about passing cars, but there was a bull on the loose. What does a person do if they come across a bull on the highway? Aren’t bulls attracted to red? Crap, I thought. I’m wearing a red shirt! PJ is red! My flag, which is effortlessly blowing in the Montana breeze, is red! That bull is going to gore us! I cautiously scanned the grass along the road while looking ahead for cars.

30 minutes later, I saw a big black blob run across the highway. Dan’s ATV was right behind it. “Bull!” I yelled. They were 200 yards ahead of us. A few seconds later, the bull ran back across the road with Dan close behind, and eventually ran off into a field north of the highway. I was glad Dan found his bull and PJ and I didn’t end up as shish kebulls.

With the neighborhood bull safely in his pasture, I continued my routine…left side downhill, right side uphill, move for a car. Repeat. The hills kept coming, but thankfully traffic levels remained manageable. Mercifully, I reached a shoulder 16 miles from Jordan. I was safe, but still needed to walk into town on my achy feet. PJ and I made it as the sun set. My feet felt numb by the time we arrived in town.

The sunset over Jordan was even more beautiful considering the difficulty of the previous two days!

From start to finish, that 67 mile stretch was as difficult as any two-day walk I have completed. My adrenaline was still pumping at midnight. I didn’t want to go to sleep. But once I finally hit my smelly sleeping bag, I was out like a light.

Trip Stats –

Days – 101

Miles – 2,307

Peanut Butter Jars – 79

Favorite Roadside Find –

On my last evening in North Dakota, this sweet dog (who I named Sebastian) started following me. I passed a house with a mean sounding German Shepherd in the front yard barking. I kept walking and felt like I was being followed. I turned around and saw the cute little guy. I told him to go home but he kept walking the shoulder with me. After a half mile I stopped and gave him some water and beef jerkey. I petted him for a while. He had a nice collar but no tags. I assumed he lived at the house where the shepherd was. Someone would surely miss his fluffy face so I carried him back to the house down the highway. The German Shepherd was still barking in the yard so I couldn’t ring the doorbell. I hoped that was his home! I nearly had a new travel buddy, but PJ wouldbhave gotten too jealous!

Loose Change – $6.86

Favorite Three Pictures –

Montana directories look a bit different!

I felt inclined to post a picture PROOVING North Dakota is not flat! This was just south of Williston, looking North.

Badlands just north of Glendive.

From what I’m told, the highway widens west of here. Towns will continue to be 30-60 miles apart until I reach Lewistown, 133 miles down the road. Rumor has it there are some mountains ahead, too.

I will continue to take this journey one step at a time and enjoy every obstacle and every blessing that presents itself. Until next time!

Walk on!

2 thoughts on “A Big Sky Walk

  1. Thanks Ben for the update. Sounds like N. Dakota was a challenge but you prevailed! Now you are in Big Sky Country!! I enjoyed the photos of the Badlands and “Sebastian” You have met some very interesting and inspiring folks on your journey! Carry on. Liz

    On Sun, Jul 22, 2018 at 8:41 AM Walking Across America – 2018 wrote:

    > Ben_Clagett posted: “After a quiet day off in tiny Ray, I was ready to > finish the North Dakota chapter of my walk and start fresh in Montana. > However, the state line was still 50 miles away and I needed to pass > through the oil boom town of Williston. I had a feeling that was ” >

    Like

    1. Thank you Liz! Yes, ND was tough….Montana has been phenomenal so far!!! I am midway through the state (geographically anyway) in Lewistown now. Mountains ahead! Happy late July!

      Like

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