Williston ND: Redemption

Four hours later I was up and getting ready for breakfast, hoping to get over to the airport before they gave this seat away.

Round 3 at the airport!  I arrived at 7:30am, ran the (always insulting) gauntlet through security, and arrived at the gate around 8am.  I was hoping that 3 hours would be sufficient to secure my seat aboard a Great Lakes flight.   The gate agents were astonished that I’d gotten through security with my flight voucher alone (no boarding pass).  One of the gate agents called me “sweetie” so I asked if it was OK if I called her that, too.

I was issued a “no bump” boarding pass for the 11:10am flight (not particularly reassuring), and also was on stand-by status for the 9:57am flight.  I called Randy, who was vastly more caring than the airline.  Some of the gate patrons called them “Great Mistakes.”  I thought “Great Flakes” was a better name.

As the 9:57am flight boarded, I asked my new pal, “Sweetie, is there any chance for standbys?”  She nodded, to my disbelief, and told me to stand with another girl at the gate.

Minutes later, the two of us were through the gate door and strolling out in the morning sun toward the plane.  The girl, from NY, acted ridiculously relieved, so I figured she’d been through the same sort of nightmare I’d just gone through.

On the plane, I sat and very soon came up with this literary masterpiece:

Great Lakes was supplying a plane
But the wait brought unbearable pain
The gate was my vision
Of Shawshank prison
And I was its Andy Dufresne.

Yes, I felt like I had just crawled through 500 yards of shit-smelling foulness you can’t even imagine.  Great Lakes Airlines, what a sham.  Not worthy of the title “Airlines.”

I talked at length with a fellow passenger heading to Williston from Oklahoma, an oil worker who stated that the wages in the Williston area were just too good to pass up.  He said most reasonable flyers took the plane to Minot, then drove a car to Williston, because this airline was just too unreliable.   The plane stopped in Chadron in northern Nebraska, and the NY girl stepped off.  The green hills and prairie outside looked very beautiful to me.

Finally…finally…down in Williston.   There were no taxis at this tiny airport, so I asked a policeman for walking directions to the bike shop.  It almost surprised me at how helpful he was, extremely friendly and caring.  I was not in Phoenix (or the Denver airport) anymore.

I started the 2 mile walk in to town, but the oil worker from the plane grabbed me and we jumped into his truck for the ride.  More kindness.  Maybe this day would be better than yesterday.  We found Service Plus, which contained the Bike & Skate Shop, easily enough, and I thanked him away.

Inside, I found a small bike shop coupled with an auto service area and shipment business.  Jim soon wandered in and knew who I was right away, and led me into the back where my bike was lofted onto a stand, partially assembled.  He gave me carte blanche to all the tools in the shop and told me I was free to finish the assembly.

The ridiculous delay in getting to Williston had played on me, and I felt in a hurry to get things in shape.   I installed both racks, then re-adjusted the handlebar stem, which had been put on upside-down.   While I worked, a couple guys came into the shop and started looking for Jim, who had left.  I poked my head out and explained that Jim should be back any minute.

The one guy then held out his hand and told me his name was Tom.  I immediately followed with “Wild!”  This was not an interjection – his name was actually Tom Wild.  Randy had sent me a link to his crazyguyonabike cross-country blog a while back, so I had been following it.  Still, Tom was surprised and pleased that someone would know his name out of the clear blue here in Williston.

Tom and his buddy (from NH I think) joined me in the back room as we chatted and I continued to reassemble my bike.  They had been riding with Randy off and on since Washington, and they already knew about my stranding in Denver.

Very soon, Randy himself appeared at the shop!  It was really great to see him!  It took me about another hour to put the finishing touches on my bike, then gather up all my gear from both the bike box and the additional box.  I was working anxiously, not wanting Randy to waste his time here, and just eager to finally get this adventure started, (although of course it already had).  Randy wisely told me to slow down and relax.

The amount of gear I had seemed overwhelming to me, so I simply slung it all into my panniers without much thought, figuring to play around with it later.  I paid Jim $35 for storing, unpacking, and partially reassembling my bike, which seemed reasonable enough.  As I rolled my first mile through town, I could feel my tension ease up immediately.  The bike was rolling well and felt comfortable.

We stopped at M&H Gas for a beer.  The convenience side of the store was completely separate from the beer side, with separate entry doors.  Only the central payment counter was common.  I selected an unknown British beer and waited quite a long time for an attendant to take my money.  She explained that all the other attendants were too young to sell beer.

We finally arrived at a city park, and I started setting up my tent, officially for the first time.  I knew nothing about the art of selecting a good tent site, so just picked a flat spot partially under a tree similar to Randy’s.  Inflated my new Thermarest sleeping pad and unrolled my sleeping bag.  To my dismay, almost immediately it felt to me like the Thermarest pad was leaking air.  A very slow leak, I hoped.  I also threw all my panniers inside the tent and figured I’d reorganize everything tonight inside after dark.  Again, all this gear seemed overwhelming to me.

Very happy to finally be in Williston (photo by Randy)
Very happy to finally be in Williston (photo by Randy)

I was immediately surprised to find numerous other cyclists already set up and lounging around, maybe 15 or so.  A few of them came over and started up friendly conversations, along with a local guy named Myron.

Meeting other riders in the park (Randy center)
Meeting other riders in the park (Randy center)
Lots of touring cyclists
Lots of touring cyclists

Five of us met up at J Dub’s Bar & Grill about ½ mile from the city park, including Tom and a few other riders Randy had been traveling with.  They asked me various questions about myself and I felt pretty intimidated, like these were real touring cyclists and I was a green rookie who hadn’t even ridden a mile yet.  A couple beers later, though, I started feeling better – a few ‘rats’ (that had jump onboard in Denver) started to jump off the ship.  We ordered pizzas and I had a couple slices, and was duly impressed at the appetites around me.

Back at the park, I decided to fuel my handlebar bags with some provisions for tomorrow, and so took off on Randy’s directions to the nearby Economart.  Grabbed some bananas, Fig Newtons, envelopes of instant Cream of Wheat, and some sugar packets.  In a funny way, doing this short ride by myself further boosted my confidence in moving forward with this tour.

I was just amazed to see the sun up for so many hours, past 9pm, past 9:30pm.  Several other riders came over and spent most of their time studying maps for tomorrow’s ride, and simply conversing.  Several groups of local residents struck up competitive volleyball games right next to our tents, but they mercifully finished up before nightfall.

Volleyball game
Volleyball game

I walked around the park for a while, found the bathrooms, but also did some exploring.  I laughed when I saw an oil well playground ride – they must start ’em young here in oil boom country.

Oil pumps can be fun
Oil pumps can be fun

The sky remained bright almost to 10:30pm – wow.  I eventually ducked into my tent, and found the Thermarest pad inflated just like I’d left it, to my relief.  I then spent at least an hour staging and repacking all my little baggies of stuff, pushed in some ear plugs, and settled down to sleep.

  • Miles ridden today: 7
  • Cumulative miles this tour: 7