2021 Snarl Par-Tay Day 12 – US2 into North Dakota

Today continues the US2-east mantra, crossing the rest of Montana and almost half of North Dakota.

Pre Ride

The 8:30am alarm went off and I hit snooze to finally get up around 8:40am. I threw on some clothes and went downstairs to check out breakfast. This was only the second (maybe third) motel that was actually having it’s normal breakfast in spite of all the Covid precautions. I made a waffle and browsed while it cooked, grabbing a yogurt and a whole grain strawberry Pop Tart (I didn’t know such a thing existed!).

With breakfast out of the way, I went back to the room to pack. I noticed that my hair was a total disaster. Not from a purely visually messy perspective (it’s always a bit disheveled) but parts of my braid were coming out and they’d be a rats nest after another day of riding without an improvement. I wasn’t really in a hurry, so I decided to shower and wash my hair.

I have a growing towards-the-end-of-the-trip problem: clean clothing. I’m running short of clean socks and underwear, but I’ll have enough if I wear what have left for multiple days (or I start recycling from used pairs from the beginning of the trip). I have plenty of clean tshirts, just not any clean long-sleeved tshirts. Who knew unseasonably cold weather would be following me across the country?

Everywhere you go,
Always take the weather with you.

Crowded House
Weather with You

With a clean body, a fresh braid for the hair, and somewhat clean clothing on, I pack up and hit the road just after 10am.

The Ride

I still had some gas in the tank from the last fill, so I decided to get in some riding before stopping for gas. I rode down the long main drag through Havre (my motel was on the far west side of town) at the allotted snail’s pace.

East of Havre, US2 continues to follow the Milk River downstream until it flows into the Missouri River at the base of the Fort Peck Dam, which captures the headwaters of the Missouri River in Fort Peck Lake. East of the dam, US2 stays in the same valley, but now it’s following the Missouri River.

The landscape between Havre and Glasgow slowly increases it’s gently rolling nature as you travel east. All the wheat fields still sport their buzz-cut stalks from the recent harvest, but now you begin to see the occasional fallow field or open grassland occupied by horses or cattle (or both). The only green vegetation continues to exist only near the river.

Sharing this valley is the BNSF main line (often called the Hi-Line). US2 and this railroad track will remain in lock-step all the way to the North Dakota border. The track is sometimes close to the road, sometimes across the river, and other times almost a mile away, but always within ear shot when a train blows that horn.

The weather today was nice and sunny, but it was still only in the upper 50ºs F. Consequently, I was still wearing my heated gear, though I did not have the electrics actually on and heating. For the moment, the extra wind-breaking layer was sufficient, but only barely so. The consistent headwind was kicking the perceived temperature down a few additional degrees; I’d be fighting this headwind all day.

Not every one of the small towns along US2 in this region include a gas station, so I stopped when the Nightowl’s distance-to-empty gauge said 20 miles and I was passing Harlem, which did have a gas station. I fueled up, cleaned off my windshield, and got back on the road.

The traffic volume was low, so it was easy to maintain a good pace and pass those vehicles whose chosen speed wasn’t so spirited. The next 100 miles brought only slight variations on the same scenery, so I turned on some music to pass the time.

You need direction, yeah, you need a name,
When you’re standing in the crossroads,
every highway looks the same.
After a while, you can recognize the signs,
So if you get it wrong, you’ll get it right next time,
Next time.

Gerry Rafferty
Get it Right Next Time

I passed a field of cattle where a small dog, not a traditional herding dog, was chasing the cattle around. I couldn’t pick up any pattern to what the dog was trying to accomplish; I think he was just out there to exercise the cattle.

The miles rolled…

Well some say life, will beat you down,
Break your heart, steal your crown.
So I’ve started out for God knows where,
I guess I’ll know when I get there.
Learning to fly, around the clouds,
But what goes up, must come down.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Learning to Fly

I came across two BNSF trains stopped on parallel tracks, which struck me as a bit unusual. Generally one train stops to let the higher priority train by. For whatever reason, both trains were stopped here.

The city’s a-flood and our love turns to rust,
We’re beaten and blown by the wind, trampled in dust,
I’ll show you a place high on a desert plain,
Where the streets have no name.

Where the Streets Have No Name

I pulled into Glasgow with no urgent need for food, a bathroom, food, or anything. On may way through town, I got stopped at a light near the local Dairy Queen. My mind went back to a memory I wrote up in a trip report all the way back in 1997 and that memory was from this very Dairy Queen. In a fit of nostalgia, I pulled into the parking lot to get a Blizzard. The drive-through for the Dairy Queen had six cars in it; I hoped they were staffed to handle the load.

A pickup truck pulled up and parked beside me. A lone gentleman got out of the truck and immediately accused me of riding his Bike. Apparently, he has a 2013 BMW K1600 GTL in his stable. We chatted for a moment about bikes, my trip so far, and the unusually cool weather. We continued to talk as I took off the heated gear for the first time since the Port Townsend to Whidbey Island ferry, all the way back in Washington state. I hadn’t needed to turn it on yet today, and it was sunny and not quite 70º F. Hopefully the flannel and perf gloves (perhaps with the heated grips on) would suffice.

The Dairy Queen looked about how I remembered from 1997. I didn’t really need anything after my healthy breakfast back in Havre, but I ordered a Heath Bar Blizzard and a Diet Coke anyway.

Dairy Queen Lunch of Champions: Heath Bar Blizzard and a Diet Coke.

Southeast of Glasgow is the Fort Peck dam. I was tempted to ride over there and take a photo or two, but it’s 14 miles down to the dam and another 13 miles back… all to see a big pile of dirt and a big lake.

I stayed on US2 east.

Now following the larger Missouri River down the valley, the scenery changes a bit east of Glasgow. For one, there’s a lot more trees. Not just down at the riverside, but now in rows between farmer’s fields and beside dirt roads off the main highway. The fields themselves, however, remained the same: recently cut wheat, fallow, or grazing land.

When I passed Wolf Point, the high school football team was having what was probably the afternoon edition of a typical two-a-day practice, cramming as much practice into the short time before the school year started. I suddenly remembered that it was late August and summer was hanging on by a thread. In another brilliant example of my random playlist being the soundtrack for my life, the next song cued up some Bob Seger.

Ain’t it funny how the night moves,
When you just don’t seem to have as much to lose.
Strange how the night moves,
With autumn closin’ in.

Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band
Night Moves

I needed more gas by he time I got to Poplar. I fueled up the Nightowl and scraped another dose of bug guts off the windshield.

Pretty soon I was crossing the border into North Dakota and losing another hour as I passed from the Mountain to the Central time zone. I was already seeing evidence of approaching the past-its-peak boom town of Williston and the city proper was still 15 miles away.

Williston is ground-zero for the Bakken oil fields. The Bakken region of underground oil had never been pursued until technological advances like horizontal drilling and fracking, along with a post-2008-recession increase in oil prices, suddenly make it not only possible, but profitable, to extract the Bakken oil. The boom lasted for several years, but active wells almost dropped by 50% in 2014 as fuel prices dropped precipitously.

Now, a drive past Williston and the surrounding area shows the after effects of the boom. Large housing complexes that were built to handle the influx of workers, and extract their hard-earned cash at exorbitant prices, are now mostly unoccupied. A strip mall of 10 stores may have active occupants in two or three slots. Gated fields outside of town are full of the now dormant trucks, drill rigs, diesel generators, pumps, and tanks that were once in high demand as new wells were being sunk every day. Now they’re surrounded by weeds.

There are still visibly active pumpjacks rocking up and down all over the place, but for every two you see, there’s another one that’s not moving or partially dismantled.

I stopped north of Williston as US2 makes a 90-degree turn from north to east; there’s a truck stop there and I needed to hit the restroom and make a reservation for the night. The growing number of clouds was making it cool down and I wasn’t looking forward to riding deep into the evening. Therefore, the most logical stoping point would be Minot, which was another 110 miles to the east. I found an available room and made a reservation using my rapidly accumulated Wyndham points from all this year’s travel. I didn’t bother with additional gas; I had enough to make Minot… if I kept track and didn’t ride too hard into the ever-present headwind.

Traveling east again, the growing clouds started to drop the occasional flurry of drops on my windshield. In some areas, the saturated road spoke of recent rain that was harder than what I’d seen so far. I could see veils of rain under some of the clouds off to the north of me, but they’d only be a problem if I had to stop for some reason.

No longer following the Missouri River, US2 get’s a lot straighter across North Dakota. It also gets wider. From downtown Williston all the way to the eastern border in Grand Forks, US2 is an unlimited access four-lane highway. Unlimited access means the roads intersect with it directly with stoplights and stop signs as opposed to interchanges like on interstate highways. Away from towns, the four lanes were divided.

The combination of four lanes of room and little traffic meant I could maintain a really nice pace… as long as it didn’t drain my gas tank too fast. I set the cruise and rode for 10 minutes, monitoring the average and current gas mileage figures. I was using gas faster than expected, no doubt due to the continued headwind that I’d been pushing through all day. I dialed the cruise set point back about 5 MPH and rode another 10 minutes. Much better; I’d make Minot for sure at this rate of consumption.

After a few more brief and light rain showers that dampened the front of the bike but not me, the road descended into another river valley. This was the Des Lacs River that would eventually flow into Minot. Another 10 miles and I was on the US2 bypass around the south side of Minot.

My motel for the evening was a little off US2, so I turned south on US83 to cover the last two miles. I pulled into the motel parking just before 7pm with 21 miles left in the Nightowl’s gas tank.

Post Ride

I checked into my nice little room on the fourth floor (thank the gods for elevators). A quick consult with the Yelp app found two possible eating establishments within a few blocks:

  • A pizza and chicken place called the Pizza Ranch.
  • A Mexican place called Mi Mexico.

Heading back down the the Nightowl for the short ride to dinner, the receptionist was talking to a customer. I interrupted and queried about the general impression of the Pizza Ranch. Both the receptionist and customer laughed. Well, that’s a bad sign. I asked about Mi Mexico. That scored two thumbs up from my limited panel of judges.

So I guess it’s Mexican tonight.

As I crossed the nearby Walmart parking lot to get to the restaurant, I was reminded that the Nightowl was due for a 6,000 mile service (basically, an oil change) in the next ~200 miles, so definitely sometime tomorrow. The Walmart I was driving by would definitely have the oil I like to use, but they’d never have the required oil filter.

I was seated at Mi Mexico and consulted their margarita offerings. I don’t usually go for the fruity variations, but mango sounded good for some reason.

I’m a traditionalist with regard to margaritas, so I rarely try a funky fruit-flavored version, but mango sounded interesting.

For dinner, I ordered shrimp fajitas. While I waited, I looked for a BMW Motorad dealer who’d would likely have the oil filter, somewhere between here and the Mackinac Bridge.

Nothing north of Green Bay. Ugh. That’s a little too far out of my way.

My food arrives. Before I totally give up on the oil change, I post a message to the K1600 Enthusiasts group on Facebook asking if anybody along US2 from Minot to Michigan has the required oil filter. We’ll see if anybody speaks up.

The fajitas were tasty and disappeared quickly. Likewise for the mango margarita (go figure).

After a quick ride back to the room, I was sitting down to do some writing.


Here’s today’s map with an altitude overlay. It was a long, gradual downhill ride east.


A just-before-bed check of my oil filter request on Facebook revealed:

  • Nobody has offered a filter… yet.
  • Several members noted that an extra 1-2k miles on an oil change shouldn’t hurt anything as long as the oil level is good, which it is.

That means I probably won’t have an oil change distracting me tomorrow. So it’s just further east along US2, perhaps as far as Duluth.

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