Fargo ND

In the frozen tundra of lambeau… whoops we’re not there yet.

Fargo ND, a surprisingly large town in ND, with the feel of Tulsa, OK. You probably heard of a movie by the same name. The wood chipper in the movie, is at the visitor center, here they have free popcorn and coffee. There is a wood chipper double outside, if you arrive outside of normal hours.

West Acre Mall is a nice respite back to consumerist America. Oh, simple variety of food courts and everyday shops I used to see everyday, how I miss thee.  Especially when the drive through North Dakota consists of a snow storm and when the temperature outside is 16 F during the day, and 6 F at night. But seriously, the indoor environment there is very nice, and on a weekday, laid back so you can sip your coffee slowly w/o the whiny crowds.

Downtown is about 6 blocks that reminds me a little of union square in NYC. New store fronts on top of older brick buildings w independent shops mostly, mixed with some national retail shops. And office spaces nearby to goto them. Donuts were good Sandy’s, but they were unfortunately out of bacon maple syrup donut.

Old Railroad Depot in downtown.

Didn’t go inside, but if I stayed a little longer, it was open until 11p.

Downtown shops.

The Dr James Carlson branch of the Fargo library on the south side of town is nice clean environment to plugin and hammer some work on the laptop.

It even has Planet Fitness gyms.

I was only here for 48 hours on a driving respite and the freezing weather dictated indoor activities. Though, it was a kind of a dress rehearsal after winterizing in Rapid City, for visiting cities on the Great Lakes later.

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Ronald Reagan Minuteman Historical Site SD

Hour and a half north east of Jamestown is the control center of an decommissioned Minuteman Missile squadron. $10 admission. It it is a state facility and will not honor National Park Service passes.

The top side is actually boring and ordinary. Like walking thru barracks.

You see a video, but what is really interesting (if you didn’t see it in SouthDakota near badlands natl park), is the basement where the control room and environmental systems are located in a hardened, steel reinforced capsule, suspended from the walls by a piston absorbing shock to a suspended platform.

Jamestown ND and the world’s biggest buffalo

You can see it from the interstate. But it’s right next to the Buffalo Museum. You can walk up next, like most buffalo it looks giant, but friendly and maybe even smiling. You get a funny pose of the buffalo eating you, but it is anatomically correct.

Also right next to it, is where the famous and sacred white buffalo pastured during the summer. Unfortunately white Cloud the white buffalo died last year.

In Jamestown is a tiny mall called Buffalo mall that has a nice theater. It has an Applebee’s right next to a Perkins if you need late night eats.

They have a well oiled snow removal operation. And neighborly w strangers stuck in the snow.

Enchanted Highway ND

A 2-lane highway with giant metal sculptures?  You ask why.  Why not.  It is an extra 25min off the interstate, to and another 25min back.  But the scupltures all have picnic tables to eat at, so if you’re not in a rush, it’s as good as a rest stop away from the beaten path.

And you get to see bucolic farms along the drive.

Regent is where the highway ends.  It has 2 gas stations.  A gift shop for the enchanted highway, but it’s mostly just a very small farming town.

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It does have a tank.  I knocked on it.  It feels like steel.

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The Vagrancy Strategy

As you have probably have guessed, to do this trip, I have been sleeping in my vehicle, to save costs.

Where to stay.  Let me tell you. It is better than setting up tents, but worse than any other option you can think of.  America doesn’t have public shared space for people who don’t spend money, as a general rule.  You are likely trespassing or at best, invading the space of someone.

The best strategy with this RVing-like option are 1. campsites or RV sites ($), 2. places where they will tolerate you for one night (police), and 3. where they won’t notice you (hiding in plainsight), in that order. It is very difficult to find a place where they won’t notice you.  Walmart is a option when not around a metropolitan area such as Denver, that has passed ordinances preventing overnight parking.  And many Walmarts around metro areas have a similar policy.

Where they don’t care, isn’t an option (crooks). Bc where they don’t care, is where everyone else goes. And human territoriality doesn’t stop bc they go where most other people don’t care (See entries about Montana). It is just where different and less civilized people who care about your presence. In one place in Denver, on a weekend, it was unoccupied, but later at night it became either a place where drug deals occur when no one is around, where people go to make out, or where prostitutes take their johns. But eventually I had an unmarked car pretend it was a security guard and ask me to leave. I left, no questions.  I was ready to go anyway, if these people kept showing up.

After that, food is the next major hurdle, with this kind of travel. If you want to save a little bit of extra money, cooking will save you tons, if you withhold from eating meat.

Why meat?  Refrigeration is a huge huge problem for cooking in a vehicle. I haven’t tried out one of the ARB 12v refrigeration coolers (not peltier cooling) yet, bc the cost benefit vs buying 10lbs ice every 3 days is break even at 1 year. And that’s wo being sure on real life battery consumption and cooling ability of the fridge.  And meat costs more (Walmart ribeye costs about $12 for 2 steaks, or 2 meals).  You might as eat fast food for similar cost.

And most methods of cooking meat involves grease splatter, something you don’t want in your vehicle. Picnic areas with fire grills are best for that.  And only when weather permits (not too cold, windy, etc.).

Then there’s water needed on hand for cooking and cleaning, which you can restock at public water fountains.  Keeping water in your car adds weight and risks of leaks, but it has great specific heat qualities for in winter. It’ll stay warm after sun has come down, for a little bit at least helping the car stay warm longer in early evening. That’s terrible in the summer but a plus in winter.

Otherwise fast food is pretty economical (trip is temporary after all).  Breakfast at McDonald’s can be less than $5.  Olive Garden has unlimited soup and a bowl of pasta for around $8.  Same for Pizza Hut restaurants that have buffets.  And some of the regional fast food definitely needs to be tried.  Raising Cane’s chicken fingers for states that have them, have a great dipping sauce, as well as crispy fries, and usually juicy fingers (thank you, Ole Miss for having one on campus, so I would try it later).  Thickburgers at Hardees and Carl’s are 1/3lb shot of ground beef.  Pollo Loco has become a new favorite chicken place, next to Boston Market (which now that I think about it, I haven’t seen a branch, since leaving the east coast).

Bathrooms are a necessity of life no one thinks about until you don’t have one. You need a bathroom. Forget traveling this way if you don’t have a bathroom in the vehicle. Using a public bathroom is always preferable if one is available, assuming you have a greywater setup. No cleanup, better privacy, a working sink, and no where near where you sleep.

Forget about privacy while you’re traveling this way. You’re using public resources all the time since your electing to forego having private real estate for cost savings.

Stay clean. That means laundromat, gym. I cannot stress how important this is. Not staying clean means attracting unwanted attention. Remember those old movies when a spy is in foreign country and some authority asks to see their papers. Clean and presentable are your initial papers in America.

Planet fitness probably doesn’t want the business segment of budget travelers, but if you can avoid going when the soccer moms go, it’s basically $25/mo to goto any club. They have showers but rarely have towels so bring your own. In north Boston and Maine, the facilities suck bc they have communal showers. I suspect they bought out existing gyms and haven’t renovated. But otherwise almost every other location is very clean, modern and nice to look at. Remember, companies experiencing success will eventually price out market segments less profitable (more cost, less margin, less volume, etc). And since their facilities are so nice and up to date, I don’t see how it doesn’t.  If soccer moms start noticing a pile of rags coming in, they might elect to go to a more expensive gym.  You’ll be considered like a higher cost. And the company prices up.  Don’t be a pile of rags. The benefit might last longer.

El Paso’s Planet Fitness is gorgeous and new. A great view of the city too. It’s actually worth mentioning.

The Planet Fitness’s are located on the outskirts of metropolitan areas. Sometimes in the center of a city like Salt Lake City or NYC on 23rd St. But where are you going to park your car then? Or are you going to take a bus to the gym, from where you parked your vehicle?  The outskirts have parking lots.

Power.  I do have extra batteries in my vehicle, and pure sine wave inverter for auxiliary power for what RVer’s call boondocking. This is custom work for my vehicle. I have an extra line bleeding extra power from my alternator to recharge the battery, and a cutoff switch so when I use the battery bank, it’s not draining the starter battery.

It allows some work on the laptop, some hours of TV.

There are 12v accessories for most things that going to a truck stop, they have. Most of these accessories in my opinion suck. But feel free to try yourself.

  • Fan, awesome.
  • Heater, useless. Less than useless. Drains the battery at ridiculous rate and provides minuscule amount of warm air.
  • Electric blanket. Haven’t used it. Regular blankets are fine in layers, so never needed it. But I discovered later that the air gets cold. Hence the heater above.
  • Electric skillet. Didn’t get it myself but read truckers like it.
  • 5v USB adapters. A necessity for charging your gadgets.
  • 12v Lights, expensive for something that your probably going to be too concerned about bringing attention to yourself to use.

I have a 100w solar panel. But I find driving for 2 hours recharges the battery bank more than a day of sunlight. I actually planned to get another panel if I ever stayed in a local area for more than a few weeks, bc there isn’t enough time driving and my daily depletion rate is faster than the panel’s charge rate.

Tools.  Ever seen the movie Dune and the quote “Water is life”.  Mobility is life, traveling like this. You need extra Fix-a-flat, or Slime tire sealant. Spare tire. 12v Air pump. Tire pressure gauge.

Battery jumpers. Jumper cables. Voltmeter to test battery. In case you left door open too long, like when you’re camping (done it).

Duct tape for when the lens of your taillight falls off. Clear extra strong gorilla tape is awesome. Forget that clear lens tape, they try to sell you in auto store, though the repair plastic lens patch is useful for a really large area.

Screwdriver, ratchet wrench and pliers for repairs you can do yourself like changing ignition wires, changing a battery (though if you buy a new one, most places will install it for you).

Touch up paint if you have fenderbender that exposes metal and you don’t want rust.

AA batteries for flashlights.

Antifreeze. Windshield wiper fluid. Ice scraper. Work Gloves.

Emergency roadside assistance thru your car insurance or triple AAA. I had 2 (2 separate) 2 tire losses due to road debris and potholes. Thank you Oakland and New Orleans.  No spare or fix-a-flat is going to help you with a double tire failure.

Insulation is ridiculously important. It keeps heat from escaping at night on cool nights. Keeps the sun from cooking it at the break of dawn during summer. If you have a fridge or a cooler, it gives it a fighting chance at keeping your food cool.

Heat.  Camping propane heater like Mr. Buddy Heater. It is ridiculously effective in such a small space and yet I feel the oxygen depleting, by my eventual and slowing ability to do math when it is in operation. Don’t use it without ventilation or asleep. But good for a quick shots of heated air in my opinion.  There is a low oxygen sensor that cuts off propane to the pilot light, and it works.  But then if there’s low oxygen, how much is left for you?

The ridiculously unexpected events.  I’ve had to replace struts (after a Oakland pothole, the old ones bottomed out w every little bump) in Anacortes, WA and needed to get a new wheel bearing in Dallas (anything over 50mph resulted in a bad vibration). This means you may have to budget for the occasional unexpected event.  Or you go home.

 

The Unbelievably Helpful and Neighborly Northern Midwest.

12/4 update, I take back a lot of what I wrote (or at least offsetted). I was stuck in the snow in the buffalo mall in Jamestown ND and a old man and 2 of his girls came out and let me borrow his shovels and he tied a harness on my van and pulled me out in a half a dozen pulls with his truck. I would’ve been stuck in that, for the entire night, if he hadn’t helped. It doesn’t look like much but it was enough to stop forward progress.

And then trying to make it to Applebee’s, got stuck a second time and 2 guys getting off their shift and a officer, helped push my car back on the track again, in the freezing 17deg weather. Where I finally made it to Applebee’s, 2 min after it closed, but I didn’t have to pay for a tow. And I’m so happy not to be that guy with the car stuck on the road, the plow trucks have to deal with.

When you really need that just a little bit of neighborly help, they are there. That’s what matters.

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Unexplainably, Passive Aggressive Northern Midwest

11/30.  Again, another entry about how Montana feels unfriendly.

Ok, I’m now in Miles City MT. The librarian here is an old woman who takes every chance she can, to talk w these odd patrons who come in and don’t sit down, or look at books, but just come here to strike conversations. But those conversations seem again directed at me b/c of their volume. It’s like they come in, so they can give her (the woman) a chance to make veiled insults at me, pretending to talk w the patrons. She at one point, (the librarian in question) pretended to talk on the phone and started talking about “he’s homeless”, just to make sure to reference a phrase that would get my attention and think about myself (I assume word in town gets around fast that a strange traveler is in town).

The library actually had a steady stream of patrons who came in acting, with the exact pattern above, with no visible purpose in the library except to talk loudly and walk with a few feet of me, presumably looking to get my attention. And these are supposed to be the adults and mature people.

The Pizza Hut here, where I went for lunch may have had this happen. A group of guys show up, sit down at a table and he yelled “Loser! at what I presumed to be his friend. But they didn’t talk much.  I assumed this might have been a coincidence, until a second crowd came in and some of the new members seemed to position themselves right behind me at the buffet line, so I’d be startled if I turned around saw I almost got in their space, and apologize to them.

12/2

I’m in Dickinson ND. Just before I arrived in town, a state trooper stopped me on highway. He was extremely friendly and said he mistaken my taillight repair kit, for a broken taillight. Like the Rapid City officer, he seemed interested in my camping gear. But he let me go on my way quickly. I shouldn’t have any complaints, but I can’t shake the sense that in specific states, I am a targeted person by people who have connections to authorities.

And at 3a, two cars just passed by, waking me up, and I’m parked on a dead end street w no entry to any building nearby.

Went to a McDonalds breakfast, had a bunch of kids come in just as I was about leave, to a loitering couple outside this SUV.  Oddly, the girl covered up her face before I took a photo.

At best, I feel like a visiting sports team, that is in a town w/o a sports team but is ambiguously hostile anyway.

Mercator projection

While driving on the roads, I wondered if the Mercator projection made everything in the north on my itinerary maps, look bigger.  It in essence exaggerated distances between towns in north, and visually led me to underestimate distances in south. Distance between pixel centers are smaller on the Mercator projection, as you move toward poles.

So I wondered, if roads are built using line of sight techniques such as surveying tools and lasers, do they built roads along latitude lines and how? Bc if you built a road in straight line on a sphere, it is a circumference. But latitude is more like what a chord is, to a circle.

And apparently this is a problem that is in property lines as well.

http://www.tested.com/science/earth/557287-challenge-building-straight-roads-spherical-earth/

This probably doesn’t mean property in Texas is bigger bc they measure from longitude to longitude.  They still measure in acres. But if they kept making equal sized square plots, and stacked them up north, there has to be less plots going east to west, the further you go north. It’s like trying to stick a bumper sticker on a spherical-like surface.

But my question remains unanswered: do they builds straight roads that run parallel to latitude, and how do they do it?

The Little Bighorn MT

 

Otherwise known as Custer’s Last Stand. Admission to National Battlefield is $20 for admission. You get to see 25min film. Drive on the road which goes over the same terrain Custer did. There’s an obelisk with the names of the soldiers that died. This is approximately where Custer was discovered.

There are marble tombstones where each soldier’s body was discovered. The displays describe a grizzly battle where the soldier’s own horses were killed, so their bodies can be used as barricades in the flatlands of Montana, until the last of their ammunition ran out.

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The video describes an ignominious start of national events, that led to Custer being ordered to this location to force the Sioux Indians back onto their reservation.  But the legacy for posterity set aside, this site exists to honor the soldiers that gave their lives here.

The road travels the north side of the Little Bighorn River where Custer was engaged. If you continue on the road, you will exit the National battlefield and re-enter it later at a different part, where there was a subsequent battle after the Sioux were done with Custer.

 

The battlefield itself is remarkably small. Shrunk by our easy travel in our internal combustion engine driven cars.

There is a museum there that contains artifacts, as well as very interestingly, drawings of the battle by Sioux survivors.

Outside the visitor center, is a national cemetery.

Devil’s Tower WY

Unlike Mt Rushmore, you can see the tower coming up from miles away, in a relatively flat part of Wyoming.

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$15/vehicle entry fee (but it does respect the NPS annual pass).  Strong AT&T signal from within the parking lot and the some of the trail.

This tower might look familiar.  It is famous in popular media for being the site of the conclusion of the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  You cannot climb above the boulder line, without a permit.  But you can climb it.

If you so climb it, please don’t do up there, what some a*hole did to the bathroom there.

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You can see every crack from the observation scope.  It’s that good.  It would suck to see someone’s initials love some other initials, if there’s a 50% chance that that pair won’t be together as long as the tower is.

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Among geologists, it is famous as an example of columnar basalt. Just like the ones I mentioned to watch for in western Washington State’s Columbia River gorge.  But this one is in the form of a giant tower.

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There is a trail all the way around the tower and you should be able to hike it in about an hour.  You get to see the hexagonal columns from every angle.  And look out from the view from the tower.

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And there are prairie dog towns on the road to and from the tower, too.  And just as vigilant.

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Deer too  but no pictures.  I had to avoid them on the road.  But if you get the chance to see a group prancing around and see them approaching a fence.  Get a camera ready.  They jump over fences 4 ft high, and it looks completely effortless.