Two thousand miles north of Bradenton, FL, we have finally arrived at the eastern origin of U.S. Route 2 called the Hi-Line. The Hi-Line connects the northern most cities in the continental U.S., including North Dakota and Montana.
It more of a journey than a destination. On a seventies day in September, monster thunderstorms flooded pickleball courts, hard driving winds blew our screened room across a field and fast dropping temperatures put a freeze on the Grand Hut. The locals tell us it is still summer. We are working hard to survive a summer like this.
Grand Forks, North Dakota anchors the eastern edge of the Hi-Line, actually UND and it’s 117,000 seat, $100mm ice hockey arena does. Fine dining is a beer soaked college bar or a late night pizza joint. After two hours of trying to find a pie that had a less than 50% chance of making us sick, we opted for a can of tuna and some potato chips back at the campground. The only thing worse than the dining in “The Forks” was the advanced pickleball we joined at O’Leary park.
Pickleball is truly a national obsession. Even the folks here in Grand Forks are crazy about the game. They literally have no idea what they are doing, but they sure are having fun. A wild thunderstorm rolled in and rollicked the courts. With two inches of water and lightening striking trees nearby, they finally knocked it off to our great relief. They may be pickleball challenged, but they sure are fearless. Sorry to be a snob, but when the first team to get a serve in wins, you know you’re not in Florida anymore.
The Fam Camp on Grand Forks Air Force Base is peppered with inside RV campers while us lone outside tent campers battle the elements. Somewhere on the deathly quiet base, a couple of thousand young men and women “fly” RQ-4B Global Hawk drones, as in the drones fly around the world and they sit in brick buildings in North Dakota and watch the video feed bounced back to the base via satellite. It’s a new world for sure. If we saw three airman outside all day we would be surprised, and that includes the nice young man at the gate.
As we passed through Fargo on our way to Grand Forks, it felt as though we were leaving the sameness of franchise America behind. Despite the reputation gained from the Coen Brother’s award winning movie, “Fargo,” Fargo did not feel any different than most any other city. Chick-Fil-A’s were going up fast. A sea of the same chain stores lined the highway. Craft Breweries are still making a go of it.
Audra at the Visitor Center helped us find a genuinely Fargo-esque lunch at the Sons of Norway Lodge downtown. There, a warm-hearted bunch of septegenarian Vikings served up lunch like we were at a pot-luck in the basement of a Lutheran Church. Thursday is pie day so it was standing room only. We sat with the widow Janna who turned out to be an abstract painter. It was a nice break from the sameness of retail even if the meatloaf could have used gravy.
The 625,000 acres of North Dakota sunflowers had an August Superbloom this year, but we’re about 3 weeks past prime. The weather is changing fast and we can feel winter in the air already despite what the locals say. At least it feels like winter to a couple of Floridians. Camp is tied down using all our ropes and stakes and the new wind panels in the Clam room help to combat the chill. It’s a whole new survival skill set. Like wild animals, we are forever out in the elements. We chase the sun with our solar panel to keep the ice chest cold. Sometimes the wind blows so hard the propane barely heats the pan which means luke-warm coffee for breakfast. A shower is such a nice treat.
The Hi-Line stretches out in front of us for 700 miles. We hope to experience a little bit of what life is like up next to the 49th parallel which marks the border with Canada. We also hope to reach the other end in one piece.