Day 7: Bismarck, ND / by Wookie Kim

In the last 4 days, I've driven over 1,600 miles. And today was my first pure driving day. I drove 460 miles from Afton State Park, which is just east of the Twin Cities in Minnesota, to Bismarck, a city in south-central North Dakota.  (Note: I recognize that I've skipped Day 6--I'll come back to it when I have time).

You might wonder why I'd spend an entire day driving. All along, that was my intention. One of the biggest priorities for me during this trip has been to hit our national parks. But the reality is that the vast majority of our national parks are west of the Mississippi. As interesting as Cuyahoga Valley National Park was, I know that it pales in comparison to what I'm going to get to see in some of the upcoming parks (Theodore Roosevelt, Badlands, Yellowstone, Grand Teton, etc.). Given my time constraints, I wanted to get out west as quickly as possible. This has meant several long days of driving.

Another important reason for only driving today is that I'm still in recovery mode from my trail 100K. Ultrarunners generally use the guideline of "one day off running for every 10 miles raced." Some even say that for a particularly hard race, you should take a day off for every 10 kilometers raced. So I should ideally be taking roughly 10 days of recovery. I recognize that I'm not completely following this rule-of-thumb. Even though I took several rest days (including some active recovery in the form of easy hiking), I could probably use a little more rest. Today was one more solid rest day.

Also, the driving was actually not as bad as it sounds. I quickly realized that there are lots of things that I like about driving. What I despise, though, is traffic. In the cities where I live, driving and traffic go hand in hand. So it's natural to have a tendency to dislike driving.

But out in the open farm country, where the speed limit is 75 mph, and you have driving directions as simple as "turn right onto I-94 and proceed 410 miles", driving actually becomes fun. It's stress-free, because you don't have to constantly worry about which asshole is going to swerve in front of you, or which pedestrian is going to mindlessly walk into your path. I also use this time to listen: to upbeat road-trip music, to the Revolutions Podcast (right now, I'm learning about the English Civil Wars), to nothing but the sound of my wheels roaring across the open road.

I also look around. The open road shows us the vastness of our country. Being on the open road also means that I'll inevitably stumble across interesting sights. This bison, for example:

Sometimes, you also see things that remind you of your friends (thinking of you, Sam, Henry, and Nick!):

Sometimes, you see a giant buffalo and want to run alongside it:

And sometimes, you just want to eat that very buffalo (the bison burger was quite delicious--the Big Chief Travel Plaza serves up a solid one):

And, sometimes, if you're really, really lucky, you might actually see a live bison resting for the afternoon:

After several stops, I arrived in Bismarck at 6 p.m. I filled up my almost-empty gas tank, and began shopping around for the motel with the lowest price (because when spending $0-20 on campsites, even the cheapest of motels seems exorbitantly expensive). Why a motel? Because I'm spending the next 10 or so days in our parks, and because I needed to plan ahead a little, I wanted to spend a night under a roof with wifi. I found America's Best Value Inn (no, really, the hotel is literally called "America's Best Value Inn"), and decided that it had the lowest price--and "best value"--in town. It has air conditioning and a bed, and no bugs. I can't complain.

Tomorrow, I hit my first big trail run. The Achenbach Trail (and possibly the Upper Caprock Coulee Trail) in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Let's do this.