Captain’s Log: April 21st, 2013 – The day before the transect

22 Apr

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Dickinson, ND: April 21st brought Richard Rothaus, Andrew Reinhard, and Aaron Barth–collectively known as Team Tortoise–together in Bismarck for a big breakfast at Perkins, followed by a drive in Richard’s diesel truck to points west. Richard’s vehicle is outfitted with a Toughbook running X-Maps, plus GPS, plus several charging stations for mobile devices, and is equipped with crew cab, and toolboxes (and Pelican boxes), which are now loaded with gear along with 75 gallons of water.

It’s clear that we are in Oil Country. North of Belfield construction is underway for the Sweet Crude Travel Station. The Trappers Kettle restaurant and gift shop had a pink onesie with a pump jack on it and the words, “I smell something crude”. Driving along Rte. 200, an east-west 2-lane byway, oil pads with pump jacks or derricks dotted the landscape every mile or so, sometimes less. On one stretch of dirt road just north of 200 we counted four trucks towing blue trailers full of fracking fluid over the course of 15 minutes on a Sunday afternoon. We spotted two man camps (Type 2), the camper vans huddled against one of the longest winters on record. In Dickinson, a road sign advertised a Boomtown Brawl mixed martial arts event at the recreation center. Several side roads and private drives were posted with “no oil traffic” signs. 

Although the artifacts of oil are present along the highways and in town, driving off the beaten path rewarded us with some wildlife. The truck spooked several pheasants from the brush by Killdeer Mountain where we stopped to visit, learn about the Battle of Killdeer Mountain, and inaugurate the 100 Miles of Wild expedition into the Badlands. The gateway to the region is guarded only by rolling hills without much hint of what lies beyond the horizon of false summits. All is covered with snow still clean and white, but the roads are clear and passable, even dry. Driving back from exploring one of the cache sites to be used mid-expedition, sage grouse took to the air off to one side of the truck, while geese foraged on the other. Six mule deer crossed the road and raced up the hill to watch us tentatively. A hawk captured but then dropped a rodent from the air, but lost it in the snow. Only a mile off of US 85, wildlife is evident. We’ll see how things are when we begin the walk tomorrow.

Tonight was spent repacking for Day 1 of the Long Walk and reviewing the route on topographic and satellite maps provided by Richard. We recounted the day that found us stopping at Assumption Abbey in Richardton, and at an oil pad under construction by Hess. We compared the cylindrical 6-packs of oil containers to the cylindrical bales of wheat and the cylindrical structures on farms. The oil derricks granted a vertical dimension to a hypnotizing landscape, and the slowly rotating heads of the pump jacks turned while in the background, fans of a wind farm spun without haste. The land rests, but there is motion above it, both animal and metal.

Tomorrow Andrew and Richard will walk, and Aaron will set up the base camp, meeting them to share stories over supper cooked over denatured alcohol stoves. There will be a meteor shower that cold night, sending 20-100 shooting stars per hour through the atmosphere. Perhaps there will be natural gas flares to count, too. We will photograph and record, film and measure, count and write, taking this snapshot of the wilderness now in 2013, setting a benchmark against which others can measure change.

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