Notes from the Road: Flee Into the Night

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I am an extremely lazy hitchhiker, mainly because I like to sleep in. I’m the kind of asshole who waits until thirty minutes before check-out time to roll out of bed. Fuck your hemming and hawing about “Circadian rhythms”; I know my body, and I know I function better getting up late.

Unfortunately, sleeping in isn’t possible when you’re hitchhiking in November, in a part of the country where the sun sets at four in the afternoon.

With that in mind, I pulled myself out of bed at 5:30 in the morning the Monday after Thanksgiving, brushed my teeth, grabbed my gear and trudged out six miles to the nearest hitching spot. With the temperature five below. Destination: Rapid City, where I could meet up with a couple of friends of mine and get some long-awaited R&R after two straight months of 5am wakeups and manual labor.

Williston, North Dakota

Williston, North Dakota

Williston, North Dakota

Williston, North Dakota

Williston, North Dakota

Williston, North Dakota

Williston, North Dakota

Williston, North Dakota

Williston, North Dakota

Williston, North Dakota

Williston, North Dakota

Williston, North Dakota

Williston, North Dakota

Williston, North Dakota

Williston, North Dakota

Williston, North Dakota

More shots of downtown Williston. The city is basically a compact, retro-70′s downtown with a sprawling suburban/industrial cocoon. The downtown core is maybe a mile in diameter with everything walkable. You’re got bars, strip clubs, a crappy cafe, a nice coffeeshop, a couple of movie theaters and a J.C. Penney’s. Yep, no one’s going to this town to be entertained.

Williston, North Dakota

Williston, North Dakota

Williston, North Dakota

Williston, North Dakota

I was shocked to discover that Williston had a library, mainly because the kinds of people who inhabit Williston aren’t exactly the book-learnin’ type. But the library is actually pretty nice: it has a huge interior, new carpets, a big selection and free WiFi. Better than the ones back home, anyway. They even have better hours than most libraries: 9am to 8pm Mon. – Thurs. and 9am to 5pm on Fridays.

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Williston, North Dakota

You know you’re in for some hard times when this is considered gourmet cuisine.

Williston, North Dakota

Williston, North Dakota

Harmon Park, on the north edge of downtown. Black Friday was when the good people of Williston put up the Christmas lights, also engaging in some merry caroling while they were at it. Despite the influx of degenerates from all points of the country, the city still retains a good deal of small-town charm.

Alexander, North Dakota

Alexander, North Dakota

Alexander, the next town down from Williston and my first stop. Hitchhiking is paradoxically much easier in bitterly cold weather because nobody likes to see someone freezing on the side of the road. I didn’t even have to signal my first ride; as soon as he saw me, he pulled over and immediately gestured at me to get in “before I fucking [froze]!”

Watford City, North Dakota

Watford City, North Dakota

Watford City, North Dakota

Watford City, North Dakota

Watford City, North Dakota

Watford City, North Dakota

Watford City, another sleepy rural town made big and imposing by the oil boom. Unlike Williston, there is at least one compelling reason to visit Watford if you’re not interested in oil work; it’s the closest town to the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, an awe-inspiring range of white, windswept badlands that I idiotically forgot to photograph. One of the hotels in Watford even has a gigantic bust of Roosevelt himself out front (that I also forgot to photograph).

Watford City, North Dakota

Watford City, North Dakota

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Watford City, North Dakota

A man camp on the southern edge of Watford.

Belfield, North Dakota

Belfield, North Dakota

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Belfield, North Dakota

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Belfield, North Dakota

Belfield, a town of such little consequence that you can actually miss it if you’re going west, east or north. It’s a unique species of town found only out west; the shithole town with a highway on-ramp. Belfield exists solely because it’s at the intersection of two major highways, with nothing to recommend it aside from a truck stop and a motel.

Bowman, North Dakota

Bowman, North Dakota

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Bowman, North Dakota

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Bowman, North Dakota

Bowman, last stop before South Dakota, and where the terrain finally starts to vary up. Most of North Dakota is flat, desolate prairie with the occasional lake or river; nearing the Black Hills, you finally start to see gorgeous rock formations and mountains. It also warms up massively too, with wind chill almost entirely absent.

Belle Fourche, South Dakota

Belle Fourche, South Dakota

Belle Fourche, which one of my acquaintances described as “Spearfish without the charm.” It also boasts of being the Center of the USA, factoring in Alaska and Hawaii, so there’s that.

It was in Belle Fourche that I got stranded: bounced from a truck stop for “solicitation” midway through my coffee, I was forced to hump all the way to the other end of town, where Officer Friendly proceeded to get on my case. I was forced to text Sven and Kasia* down in Rapid in order to get the cop off my case; Sven extracted me a little bit later.

Keystone, South Dakota

Keystone, South Dakota

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Keystone, South Dakota

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Keystone, South Dakota

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Keystone, South Dakota

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Keystone, South Dakota

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Keystone, South Dakota

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Keystone, South Dakota

Shots of Mount Rushmore and the surrounding area, where Kasia took me on Wednesday. Highlight of the trip: I passed off my smartphone to an old guy so he could get a picture of us together, and then watched him fumble with it for about two minutes accidentally snapping photos of his thumb. We finally got a professional to do the shots.

Berne, South Dakota

Berne, South Dakota

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Berne, South Dakota

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Berne, South Dakota

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Berne, South Dakota

Inside the museum at the Crazy Horse Memorial, a massive, massively botched monument to white guilt.

Berne, South Dakota

Berne, South Dakota

The monument itself, a project so enormous in scope that it’s still not finished even after fifty years of construction. The Crazy Horse Memorial was intended as an apology for that whole “carving up a sacred hill to make Mount Rushmore” thing, despite the facts that:

  1. The Sioux weren’t opposed to carving Mount Rushmore out of their sacred hills, they were opposed to carving anything out of the hills period. So the official apology consists of tearing up even more of their territory?
  2. Crazy Horse was so opposed to photography that no images of him are believed to exist. The Memorial admits this, saying that the monument is based off of “word pictures” provided by Crazy Horse’s friends and acquaintances (read: the fading memories of senile octogenarians).

In other words, the Crazy Horse Memorial is the equivalent of a gigantic middle finger to the Sioux, the people we’re supposedly building it for.

Berne, South Dakota

Berne, South Dakota

What the completed memorial will look like… in 2050.

Rapid City, South Dakota

Rapid City, South Dakota

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Rapid City, South Dakota

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Rapid City, South Dakota

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Rapid City, South Dakota

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Rapid City, South Dakota

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Rapid City, South Dakota

Some shots of the edge of Rapid. I wasn’t able to get any of the city’s (very chic) downtown because I was too busy having fun.

Next week: my wretched journey through Wyoming and Montana.

* She’ll likely be annoyed that I’m referring to her by this name, but I couldn’t think of a better one.

Read Next: Notes from the Road: Rough Riding Through the Roughrider State

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