By Jelane A. Kennedy
“So are you headed to Williston?” A male voice said across from me at the gas pump.
Looking up from my quiet reprieve, “Ah, yes we are”.
“Your van kind of looks like an RV.”
“Actually it is, it’s little like the old VW camper van, and the top pops up into a tent.”
“Well, I’d be very careful driving through that area. There are big trucks all over and they don’t give a mind, and you are small in comparison” the guy finished up filling his pick-up with gas.
“Thanks for the tip.”
This was a first. I didn’t quite know what to make of his warning. I would remember this conversation a lot over the next 48 hours.
In about 45 minutes we were in Williston, North Dakota.
“Wow, they must be big into RV’s around here,” Eileen commented as we slowly began to pull into town. There were several backyards with multiple trailers, several parking lot, like campgrounds with all gravel and no tree’s or ambience.
It was about dinnertime, arriving to set-up camp hungry doesn’t work for us. I’m grouchy with low blood sugar. So we decided to stop for dinner before picking our way to the State campground we had found on the map. On the outside the restaurant looked like a steak house. When we got inside it was a bit quiet and look a bit shabby in a subtle way. After ordering we went to the salad bar and notice all of the other customers were men, it had been hard to pick that up with the booth arrangement. The only other women were the wait staff. The guys also seemed very dusty, like they were coming straight from a gravel pit. We looked at each other curiously, an odd observation to file away.
After dinner we wiggled Abbey through the back roads to Lewis and Clark State Park and campground. It’s a bit tricky, with dusk coming, some traffic but not too much. We noticed a lot of pick-up trucks and a few very large trucks. We had hardly pulled in and as I started to hook-up the electric to the van, Eileen quietly stepped beside me.
“Jelane, we need to move.”
“Um, what? This seems like a good spot near the bathroom.”
“True, but since we’ve gotten out of the van, we have had an audience. There are two guys behind us, watching us, it just doesn’t feel right. Let’s not finish hooking up and walk around, I’m not sure about this. I’d like us to see where the campground hosts are camping.” Eileen said warily.
“Ok, I trust your intuition.”
First we went to check out the bathhouse, we were a bit surprised and didn’t quite know what to make of a sign on the bathroom that said if we weren’t registered campers we would need a shower pass. When we peeked inside the bathrooms they were lovely, very clean, well lit, just what we liked. We then walked around and found a camping spot just across from the campground host that seemed nice.
We moved Abbey to the new campsite and within minutes the camp host was over to gather our fees and check us out.
“How long you ladies planning on staying?” She asked.
“Only tonight. Could you tell us about the a shower pass?”
“Oh, that is to keep this campground a place for rest and relaxation, this place would be crawling with oil workers if we let it. They come in and want to take over the place as a work base so we have to monitor very closely who comes in. They also leave the bathrooms filthy. So we have watch that they don’t get abused.”
“So I’m not sure what you mean?”
“Oh well, Williston is overrun with men here to work the oil fields. It’s a boomtown. They are camped all over town. There is no infrastructure in town so it is like the Wild West, anything goes.” We had just met Miss Kitty.
The next morning we took a leisurely walk down to the Missouri river and around the campground. We also stopped at the visitor center, learned some more about the Lewis and Clark expedition and double-checked the directions to the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. We were headed to Montana to visit Glacier National Park but decided to take this detour on our way. As I drove the three miles back to Williston the sun was shining and it was a beautiful day to drive. This would all change as we pulled into town.
Suddenly I was thrown into a massive sea of trucks, not pick-ups but vehicles that were twice the size of semitrailers. Some of the tires on the trucks appeared as big as Abbey. We looked like a matchbox car in comparison. The roads were congested. Men were in a hurry and we saw several times near accidents occurred as people cut each other off. It was probably a 20 to one ratio of normal size vehicles to extra large monster four wheeled machines. The amount of testosterone in the air was palatable.
As we turned onto State Highway 85 going south, we became part of a slow moving snake. To complicate matters, the road was being torn up and re-built as we drove. This meant that on one side there was a drop off close to a foot down to a gravel bed, enough to break the axle or severely pierce Abbey’s tires. Sometimes trucks zoomed up beside us as though this area was just another lane. On the other side there were tar trucks and large pressing machines laying the road. Vehicles were on all sides of us walling us in. The only way was forward.
To add to the confusion trucks would cut in front of us coming off gravel roads that had been recently created that lead to the oil fields. We drove with no radio on and little to no talking. Off and on Eileen would offer words of encouragement as the dust rolled over us. For two hours we made our way to the Park, being sure to stay in our lane, both hands on the steering wheel and on full alert.
I was elated to see the National Park sign and once we pulled in I immediately parked Abbey, and took a deep breath. After getting out of the van and shaking off the strain, I knew that I had successfully earned my road warrior badge. I was glad the test was over. The wilderness landscape my eyes gazed at slowly pulled the tension away from me.
© Jelane A. Kennedy & Eileen A. McFerran 2015