I am sitting in New Rockford, ND twelve days into our hike, feeling absolutely content with my belly full and body on a mild caffeine high. It was 48 degrees when I walked up to the only cafe in town at seven this morning. Just as I hesitated while reading the sign on the door “To go orders only”, the door opened and the owner asked if I wanted breakfast. I mentioned I hadn’t realized it was “to go only” and she remembered I was the hiker that had chatted with her the day before. We walked into town just as she closed shop yesterday. She told me to come on in and sit at the counter. “It’s time we set up a couple tables anyway”, she said. I was sooo glad to accept her invitation. “It’s too cold to eat outside. Plus, you walked all across town from that park to be here,” she added.
She had coffee ready in a heartbeat, made me breakfast and told me to stay as long as I wanted. Wingman arrived minutes later and we visited with her for a good hour. She invited us to come back anytime we wanted to be inside for awhile.
Every person we’ve seen in North Dakota has been very welcoming, and many have gone out of their way to help us out- just as the owner of the New Rockford Cafe did. It makes me believe there are kind people surrounding us everywhere. My fears and anxieties sometimes cloud my view and I worry people will be indifferent or flat out not want us here; Thru-hiking let’s me see once again that most people are good people and will more likely be welcoming than not.
We have had many acts of kindness along the way, which makes up for the mostly bleak and repetitive scenery. It’s actually quite surprising how many people have already helped us, because we hardly ever see people. The first days in 30-40 mph headwinds, we walked hours down gravel roads. Over and over, people pulled to the side to talk with us a minute, invariably offering encouragement and welcoming us on our journey. Each chat was a good lift to break up the challenge of hiking long distances.
We met Jesse the third day. He was watering his mom’s plants and hailed us over. Jesse was living at Turtle Lake until he could go back to Hawaii, and seemed to really enjoy the idea of long distance hiking. We told him we were headed to Bev’s Cafe and a bit later he found us there. He wanted to give us a bag of food and Gatorade for our journey. It felt so good to be encouraged, especially when we expected at least some people to be a bit put off that we had traveled to their state to hike. It had been a few weeks since restaurants partially re-opened, but most folks are still social distancing as are we overall. (ND never issued a stay at home order)
Near Harvey, ND the canal seemed to run dry for several miles. I called a camp park to see if they had tent camping, but the call went to their Chamber. It turns out we could camp there, but it was a city park and no one managed it onsite. That meant there was no one to ask for a ride to town, about six miles away. Ann, the Chamber President who also happens to be their Mayor, said to give her a minute and she would call back with info. Minutes later she was picking us up herself and driving us to the park!
The next morning at 6:45 we stood outside a cafe which normally opened at six, but a sign stated a 7:30 opening for now. A passing man asked if we wanted to eat, then told us to wait while he called the owner to open early for us. (He saw her car was already there.) She did, and later directed us to a group of men having coffee to see what they knew about finding a ride back. One of those men immediately took us the six miles back to where we left the trail. Absolutely amazing acts of kindness from the folks in Harvey.
Water appeared in stops and starts along the marshy middles of the canal, and sloughs along the way contained water. The challenge was wading through ticks, muck and algae to reach it. We hoped the extra pounds of water we carried from town would last until morning, hoping to delay needing more water until we reached the James River twenty-three miles from where we had been dropped off.
While leaving a bridge which crossed the canal about fourteen miles into our day – really the only tick-free place to take a break – a man passed in a truck. Moments later he was backing up, so we waited thinking he wanted to chat. He asked if we needed water. We said water would be wonderful! He asked about pop – Awesome! He told us to wait and a moment later came back in his four wheeler with water, Gatorade and Root Beer for each of us! Oh my goodness! We could drink up on a warm day and skip the climb down the steep walls of loose rock to the mucky canal! It was the best gift we could have been given right then.
All these kind strangers, giving us a little help along the way has certainly brought a smile to my heart. Sure, we could have made it without their help. We are resourceful and have what we need to survive on our backs.
However, it’s kindnesses like these that keep me wanting to continue the journey.