|On the morning of April 10th, 2008 I left the Twin Cities of Minnesota and head for Fargo, North Dakota. There would meet my long time friend and fellow TL member akula802, known to me as Brian Hartley or simply Hartley. I had just finished my fifth of ten semesters of chiropractic college and we both were in need of a break from the everyday life of school, work and people in general. Hartley drove from Grand Forks, North Dakota that morning and picked me up at a parking garage where I kept my car for the weekend while we headed out into the middle of no where, also known as the Maah Daah Hey trail near the Theodore Roosevelt National Park in western North Dakota near the tourist trap town of Madora (home of the Cowboy Hall of Fame).|
After picking up a few needed supplies at the local Walmart and some food at the slowest Subway in America (I think it took more than 15 minutes to get my sub; I pretty sure they were working backwards that day) we hit I-94 and headed straight west until we hit the sleepy little tourist trap town of Medora about 4 hours later. Unfortunately for Hartley it was still out of season for the town and everywhere was closed including the gas station which meant he couldn't get the beer he had forgot to pick up earlier. Aside from that we had to figure out the most complicated automated gas pump in the history of the world.
After filling up the tank we headed into the park its gravel and red clay road. Right away I realized we were in the middle of no where. There were free-range cattle walking along side the road with their offspring in tow; wild elk, prong horned antelope, mule deer and turkeys were numerous and none of the roads seemed to be properly marked or matched the map and direction that Hartley had brought along. We both found it kind of funny that the map of the area that the park rangers had sent him in the mail was labeled not for navigational purpose. After a few missed turns, u-turns, stops for photo ops, many cattle guards and barbed wire fences we found the campsite we had been looking for. It was called Elkhorn Camp and was nothing more than a dead-end gravel road with camp sites on each side equipped only with a fire pit and picnic table and one public enclosed toilet (which was actually pretty nice). We picked out campsite #7 because it had the best tree coverage and also had a stack of wood next to the fire pit left kindly by the previous inhabitants. By the time everything was unpacked and set-up we were both starving so we started a fire and cooked cans of soup hobo-style and roasted a few brats and polish sausages for dinner; damn did they taste good. The rest of the night was spent scouting the area and sitting around the camp fire talking until we retired to our tent built for 1 for the night.
This was the beginning of the list of many things that Hartley had forgot to bring. Over the course of the trip we discovered we both forgot our pillows, he brought the wrong tent and forgot his camera battery chargers, didn't bring enough water and there were no plates, cups, bowls or utensils. While at the time of these discoveries I was a little annoyed at his unpreparedness (being the anal retentive perfectionist suburban kid that I am) his over sites turned out to be a good thing. They made for interesting problem solving like: carving our own utensils out of wood (his were much better than mine), using our coffee mugs to drink everything, making bowls for oatmeal and pasta out of Gatorade bottles with the tops cut off and sleeping side-by-side with very little room to move.
That first night it rained most of the night and we discovered that the tent was not waterproof or resistant in any sense of the word. I woke up to drips of water on my exposed forehead to which I covered myself completely with my sleeping bag and went back to sleep hoping it would pass by morning. Thankfully the rain sounded worse on the tent than it actually was. By the morning it had stopped aside from a few sprinkles here and there and the sun was trying to peek through the dark clouds. We made boiled some water over Hartley's single burner propane stove and mixed in some instant coffee to wake us up. I also made some instant oatmeal by pouring the mix and hot water into a Gatorade bottle with the top cut off and covering it with my gloved hand until it had cooked. I ate it with my wooden "spoon" I had poorly fashioned the night before to eat my soup with. That morning brought another surprise as Hartley was checking and tuning our mountain bikes for the day's ride; a truck with a small trailer pulled into camp, circled the grounds and parked at the first camp site near the entrance. The 3 men inside unhitched the trailer and left. Needless to say we were both a little surprised by this since we didn't intend on seeing anyone the entire weekend.
That afternoon we headed south on the Maah Daah Hey until we lost the trail and the imposing dark clouds ahead warned us to go back the way we came to camp. Although the trail was beautiful provided many awesome photo ops it was HELL to bike. I was definitely not in good enough shape to make it up all the hills, of which many I walked, especially since the trail was still damp from the night before. The trail mud stuck to my tires like glue the entire time and was only made worse by the grasses that they picked up along the way. By the time we hit the first ridge I was already dead tired and my tires looked like little jungle huts. I tried to scrape some the mud off my tires but it was useless, not only because it was glued to them so well but as soon as I started to ride again they would just pick up more and fill in the gaps. The highlight of the ride was flying down the trail from the top of one of the ridges to the valley below going about 20-30 miles per hour. The only thing I could think of was if I hit something solid with my front tire I was done for; luckily this did not happen and I made it to the bottom safely, adrenaline pumping.
That night we made some more hot dogs for dinner and decided to hike one side of the ridge that surrounded the camp. It provided a great vantage point of the area and many more great photo ops, especially as the sun sank towards the horizon. After a rainy start to the day it had turned out to be great weather after all with a warm breeze and blue skies in all directions. It was so night in fact that Hartley had strung up a hammock between two trees, made a wind break with a tarp over it and was planning on sleeping there that night. Unfortunately for him he didn't know that the temp would drop to freezing later that night and he would be clamoring to get in the tent after only a few short cold hours of trying to sleep under the stars. Late that night as we sat around the fire we were surprised for the second time. Another truck and camper pulled into camp and this time parked only a few sites down from us towards the end of the grounds. It was too dark to see but we did hear the voices of a man and a woman as well as 1 or 2 little kids. This was just as curious as the trailer at the entrance but we would wait until morning to go say "hi" and see what was going on.
The next morning there was frost on everything and between the cold and "whump whump" sound of an oil pump a few ridges over echoing into the valley neither of us slept very good. After crawling groggily out of the tent and starting a fire for warmth we noticed that the truck from the first night had returned. Even more interesting yet, the people that arrived the night before were a husband and wife with two elementary school aged girls, all were decked out in full camouflage. It turned out that everyone else at the campsite were turkey hunters out for the opener. Once we heard this it all made sense.
More to come later...