For the love of the Hi-Line

The disdain for long highways with little topography, no major cities or curves have made Kansas, Iowa and Nebraska not top choices for American travelers. Its always a place one rushes through to get where they are going. US Highway 2 in Montana (known as the Hi-Line) is out of the way for everyone and not considered worth going out of their way for.

Why travel the Hi-Line? Small towns that the world forgot and an open road where you can see for miles. In a fast paced world, you don’t get the time to calm down and think. Process your thoughts on IMG_0133[2] the open road. Before I left North Dakota, I HAD to drive the Hi-Line one last time. I wasn’t the same person that arrived in Williston in 2012. I was not sure it was a good or bad thing. Was spending almost four years of my 20’s in a boomtown worth the sacrifice. A nine-hour drive on the Hi-Line could put those last few years into perspective.

Nine-hours later (add in extra time for small town museums and coffee) it was evident that I needed to go to North Dakota to confirm that I could anything that I wanted and succeed. The only question left was, what? After nine hours, the answer could only be answered once I traveled the world.

 

Personal highlights of the Hi-Line.

SMALL TOWN DINERS – Cheap coffee and pie. Need I say more? I have always loved saddling up along the counter and talking with the locals. They are wonderful and excited to find out why someone is actually visiting. If I wasn’t in a slight time crunch (aka 15 hours max) These stops would turn my trip into three days!

FORT PECK DAM – The massive dam was not made by concrete but rather by dirt. It is a massive and it took me about five minutes that I was not going to see a structure similar to the Hoover dam. The dam was built under the Public Works Administration during the Great Depression. (Aka PWA, you know one of those acronyms you had to learn in US History) There is a little wildlife museum near the dam showcasing some of the fish found in Fort Peck dam along with details about the construction. In the summer, there is a theater group that performs plays at the Fort Peck theater. Below is a panorama from the top of Fort Peck Dam along with the memorials of the men who died while making the dam.

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BEAR PAW MOUNTAINS (Chinook) – This area was the location of the last battle of the Nez Perce War. This was the location where Chief Joseph surrendered. Take time to visit the battlefields or visit the Blaine County Museum for some great information.  And yes the high school mascot is the Beeters. The image is a half sugar beet- half egg beater.

HAVRE, MONTANA – This is the largest city along the Hi-Line until you get to the Flathead Valley. This town was originally started as a railroad hub along the Great Northern RR. This town wIMG_1519[1]as also a hub for some classic vices that we still see today. After a fire in 1904, the entire downtown was completely ran underground. Today, you can take the Underground Tour of Havre. It is a great showcase old machinery and artifacts used during the turn of the 20th Century. Havre, had its IMG_1523[1]vices and you get to see the opium dens and prostitution house. I have suggested this a place to visit for anyone traveling the Hi-Line. Being a good midway point, it has plenty of places for lunch.

(Left: This is the Madam’s room)

SHELBY – As you head towards town, look north to see the Sweet Grass Hills. There some good places for coffee and its your last chance to see a Interstate until Spokane or Grand Forks. I got pulled over here once so I usually don’t stop.

CUT BANK – It is home to a massive penguin to remind us that it was the coldest place in the continental US. Just outside the city, is the river that gives its name. I visited Montana mostly in the winter and spring so its a reminder to always pack a hat.

GLACIER NATIONAdscn1288L PARK – This will start off your trip or end it. The place speaks for itself. It is amazing that the majority of your trip is so flat and then all of a sudden you are in the mountains. I have
been through Glacier by train and by car. Both ways are phenomenal. When you drive outside the summer, the road is mainly all yours.

ABOUT THE WANDERING BADGER

IMG_1372Short Story: Born and raised Wisconsinite (hence Badger) that can be best described as a responsible free spirit with the most varied work history you’ll ever see.

Long story: I grew up in a small village* just north of Sheboygan and south of Manitowoc. Its the home of Johnsonville Brats, Kohler toilets, Bemis toilet seat, Sargento cheese, Manitowoc Ice machines and cranes in case you did not know. Pretty much, my family has made something in your house. It was a great childhood where I had all the cheese, brats and hard rolls a kid ever wanted. However, jobs were slowly leaving town and I saw family members get laid off or had fear of loosing their job. It was evident that I would have to leave town to get a job. Through working at the gas station and late night studying I left the village to go to college. My major was education with History and Spanish. Teaching could allow me the freedom to travel in the summer and I could share my love of Spanish and Social Studies to everyone.

The warning signs of the plan not working were there. After arriving back from two months in Bolivia, my fellow staff were telling me that it was an amazing once-in-a-lifetime experience. I dismissed the reality of that statement until I graduated college. With $35,000 in loans and only hopes of making $30,000 a year, my 20s were destined to paying off loans and no big trips.

My hatred of debt and skimping by landed me on a glorious YouTube video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b8Qyyx6MTcc There were homeless people living in the Wal-Mart parking lot in Williston, North Dakota and making good money. I thought, “I can be homeless in a Wal-Mart parking lot!” After watching the video, I tried to convince my friends to come along on a crazy adventure. However, no one wanted to live in car with me. This was something I would have to do by myself. So in July 2012, I left my three jobs to try my luck in NortIMG_0376h Dakota.

Thus began 3.5 years of living the life of a boomtown. It was for sure a love-hate relationship the entire time. If I worked less, it could have been more manageable but that is not why I was there. The wages were good all around, even at Taco Johns! For the majority of my time in North Dakota, I worked at a rail yard where I learned a lot about oil, geology and trains. My loans were paid off in a year and I stayed for the pay and schedule. Working two weeks on and one week off allowed me to go home often and travel around the USA. It was an opportunity, I did not see happening at home and that kind of money would not be forever.

As the saying goes, all good things come to an end. The price of oil was in free fall in 2015. Things were not looking good as everyone was being laid and leaving town. Therefore I had plans A, B, C, and D which were:

A – Stay working at the rail yard, they seem to like me and my underground cheese business.

B- Try some new job in the Bakken,  a new schedule was what I needed and could add more to my resume.

C- Work back in Wisconsin, it is filled with lots of beer, cheese and brats and all my old employers would like me back.

D- Use all my ‘useless’ Geography knowledge and go on an epic journey across the world.

D is an obvious choice but it made no money. I like to make money however, I don’t like spending it. I am a responsible free spirit who was diligent and smarter than most 20-somethings with money. After talking with the close friends, I could take some time off of work. Heck, I was 27  and was always working since I was 16. A chance was taken in going to North Dakota, I’m going to take another.

With my job behind me, I am now the wandering Badger. I hope you enjoy my blog!

 

*In Wisconsin, we call them villages. Its not a town because that is something different. It’s not a township because we don’t have those in WI.