We pretty much picked the longest possible way to ride across the fourth largest state in the union, but today, our third day in it, we were planning to finally kill it off. We still had 150 miles or so, but as usual we were fairly determined in the morning and knocked most of that off. We hit the border in early afternoon, but then ran into heavy road construction. We learned the reason soon enough – oil. Western North Dakota around Williston sits atop an oil-containing geological structure known as the Bakken Formation. Either the discovery of oil here was late or the cost-benefit ratio delayed the decision to exploit it, but now the whole area was buzzing with extraction-related activity. Wells were being drilled, oil was being pumped, and, unfortunately, natural gas was being flared. All of this caused a lot of truck traffic, which took a greater toll on the roads then they were built to bear. Just about every major highway in the region was being resurfaced, widened, or both. The state apparently got a cut of the oil revenues though, so it could afford to pay for the roads.
The practical implication for us two humble motorcycle travelers coming in on US 2 was that we hit stop-start traffic and construction zones starting around the border and continuing 20 miles in to Williston. Williston itself was in full boom-town mode. The population is said to have doubled from 14,000 to 30,000 since 2010, but if there are fewer than 70 or 80,000 there I would not believe it. The built-up area was extensive and there were busy 4-lane streets going everywhere.
We navigated our way through these to lunch and a coffee shop. The heat was intense, and we decided to kill a couple of hours inside air-conditioned environments until the sun got lower in the sky. We saw mainly men and overheard lots of conversations about oil wells.
Finally around 5:30 we picked up some groceries and headed out of town to the east on state highway 1804 towards Lewis and Clark State Park along the Missouri. Although one might have expected a scenic byway like this to have little traffic, this was oil country, and trucks zoomed frequently in both directions despite the late hour. It appeared that things operated on a 24-hour schedule here.
Unfortunately this proved true of the road crews as well, and we sat for 30 minutes before a single-lane section, then crawled through it stopping every few hundred feet to let road construction vehicles go by. By the time we rolled in to Lewis and Clark, the sun had set, and we hustled around to find a site. It turned out that the best sites at this particular campground were reserved for tents, and so we were in luck to get one in a grassy area by the river.
I fell asleep wondering how the sound of the night insects could be so soothing when I’d probably be disgusted if I found one of the insects themselves crawling over me.