We headed out of Gackle early to get a handle on the 100 miles we needed to ride that day. As soon as we headed out of town a tailwind pushed us forward, the sun broke through the clouds, and we began to see beautiful, sweeping grasslands, rolling green hills, and deep blue lakes. It was a wonderful break from the cornfields that had dominated the landscape since Ohio and the morning went quickly (maybe too quickly) as we finished 65 miles before noon.
We took the afternoon a little more lazily, but, as we neared Bismarck, the weather turned and we really just wanted to get there so we pushed hard towards the North Dakota state capital, finishing at about 4pm. We were staying at the University of Mary that evening, through a connection of Keene’s family friends to the university’s president, Monsignor Shea. We were met by the president’s assistant and given keys to a dorm room for the night. We washed up and discovered the dorm’s recreation room where we spent the rest of the afternoon playing ping-pong.
We had dinner with Monsignor Shea (which was a crazy idea in the first place; imagine being smelly and unkempt and eating dinner at SMCM President Jordan’s house) and we all really enjoyed it. He was a very hospitable and thoughtful man and, besides being very excited and interested in the trip, he was able to tell us even more about the oil situation in North Dakota.
We find it very interesting to talk to all the different people we meet, hosts or not, and hear their perspective on what is happening in the state. Monsignor was able to convey a lot of nuance about the situation and gave us more context on the conditions of the affected areas before and since drilling started.
A few fun facts: 1) since drilling started in earnest on the Bakken (the name of the oil field that lies under northwestern North Dakota) rent in towns that were previously in the process of becoming ghost towns has started to compete with rates in Manhattan and 2) flaring (burning off the natural gas that escapes oil wells; a practice we later learned is common due to lack of regulations requiring the capture and use of that gas) makes satellite pictures of that area of the state, previously dark, burn brighter than Chicago.
After dinner we told Monsignor that our next stop was Richardton, and he gave us the phone number for Assumption Abbey, residence of a group of Benedictine monks, for us to find a place to stay the following night. After thanking Monsignor for his hospitality and good company, we headed to bed. In the morning we rode out of Bismarck, crossing the Missouri River on our way out.