Day 3 – Boom Town USA
So my plan for the day 3 was to ride west on Highway 2 from Grand Forks, ND to Havre, MT, a distance of about 630 miles. And I might have done it. I should have been able to do it. It was about an 11 hour ride. But, I didn’t leave Grand Forks until nearly 9:30. And the usual delays each time I stopped for food or gas set me back also.
After leaving the Geographical Center of North America Monument, riding Highway 2 across North Dakota for the rest of the afternoon was pretty much uneventful. That is until I began to get close to the Montana border and the town of Williston. I began to see a lot of pickup trucks with license plates from all over the place, especially Texas. And based upon the signs pasted on the sides of the trucks, they appeared to be associated with oil-field work. Lots of semi trucks too. Some were dump trucks and some were tanker type. But all of them had one thing in common. They were absolutely filthy dirty.
The roadway soon began to show signs that something was up too. What had been a nice smooth four-lane highway where I traveled along at 70-75 mph, had begun to show signs of degradation. The road was falling apart. And there was road construction everywhere. Not new roads, just total replacement of the existing roadway. In some places, the speed limit was 15 mph. Smooth blacktop was replaced with gravel in some places. Dust was everywhere. Traffic was too.
I also began to see what I believed to be portable or maybe temporary housing. These are known as man camps. Most were single-story units, maybe a hundred or more, set up like a little subdivision. And then there were a few others, right out in the middle of nowhere, which would be more like a hotel-looking structure. Except they appeared to be stacks of those big containers you see on ocean going ships hauling goods back and forth across the ocean. A few of them were stacked maybe five high, and rows of them all ganged together. I would say that many were simply manufactured housing projects still incomplete. There would be a staircase constructed on one end. And these “containers” seemed to have been converted into little apartments. And school buses would appear hauling workers between these man camps and the oil fields.
There seems to be many of these “hotels”. Not just two or three. I’m sure I saw at least ten or maybe even more. There did not seem to be any stores, restaurants or such. Just these hotel-like structures. And lots of wind and dust. This was the placed I had been warned about. Williston, North Dakota. Ground zero for America’s new-found oil boom. Fracking. That is what they call it. And they are doing a lot of it here.
I’m not going to go into a lot of detail about fracking. Or even this area of the country. But I will give you a brief overview of what I saw and learned.
Fracking is basically the pumping of lots of hot water, with some other chemicals into the ground where known oil reserves are located, but trapped in layers of rock. The hot water and chemicals are pumped into the ground, breaking, or cracking the rock formations. Then the oil works it way up through pipes to the surface. There is really a lot more science to it, but this is the general idea. With oil now staying near or above $100 per barrel, the technology used in fracking becomes economical enough to warrant using the process to get to the oil. And there is a lot of oil.
I was told that these wells, once they become operational, may run as long as 40 years. And that with this technology, we now have access to so much oil, we are now considered to have more accessible oil than the Middle East. And as long as oil prices stay at least where they are now, it is profitable to go after it.
Each new oil well will require 2,000 semi-trucks to haul materials to and from the well before it begins to produce. There could be thousands of these wells installed. 10’s of thousands I was told. I don’t know if that is true, but that does sound like a lot of oil to me. And a lot of trucks and people involved in the process.
So Wiliston, North Dakota is the equivalent of what we would call a boom town. Thousands of people have come to work because the pay for many jobs is nearly $100,000 per year. Some think they are going to get rich working for the oil companies. But rent alone in these man camps is something like $750 per week. So I doubt many are getting ahead. But enough about fracking. Back to the trip.
As I previously said, I only made it to Glasgow, Montana, about 480 miles ride for the day. It was getting dark. I was riding across various Indian reservations, which don’t have much of any services available. Hotels seemed to all be full. And due to where I was riding, it was recommended to me that I not ride on to Havre as the roads are not safe at night due to the abundance of animals on the road.
So when I saw a billboard sign for a hotel in Glasgow called the Cottonwood Inn, I decided I better stop to see if I could get a room. As it was, of the 146 rooms they had, only one room was available. And there was a big reason why it was still available. The lady behind the desk said it was a smoking room. I said if I can have it, I will take it. She said, and I quote “ Honey, maybe you should go down and take a look at it before you say that. It really does have a strong smoker’s odor.” I assured her that I could handle it. And with that the room was mine.
Back out to the bike with one of those carts to unload the bike. I pulled off two tires, the BMW bag, two side panniers, the top box, two luggage bags, the tank bag, and headed back into the hotel. This was now the third night of unloading the bike and I was beginning to get quite fast at it.
Well she was not stretching the truth any. I could hardly breathe when I stepped into that room. WOW! I didn’t know smokers could ruin a room so badly. I honestly did think that maybe I would be better off just sleeping outdoors with the bike in the parking lot. And I probably should have. But it was supposed to storm and lightning had been flashing to the west when I pulled into the hotel. So I toughed it out. But in the morning, I told the hotel clerk I should have gotten a medal or something for staying all night in that room.