Author Archives: Tyler

Reception at Sentinel Butte


On the first day of our journey, we walked, guided by the force of an omnipresent 30+ mph wind out of the West, from the border of North Dakota with Montana, to the very top of Sentinel Butte. After 10 miles of walking, we arrived in the town of Sentinel Butte, which sits in the shadow of its neighboring promontory and shares its name. Ambling into the village, we gingerly approached a small service station, where we had hoped to replenish our water supplies.


I wasn’t certain that this would be possible as I had heard this place was famous for being un-staffed, dispensing gasoline on a sort of honors system, a testament to the trusting nature of its owners and the upright conduct of the area’s residents. As we collapsed on a couple of picnic tables out back, grateful for a place to sit that wasn’t the ground, a man walked out of the back of the station and immediately addressed us, “How about you guys come inside and eat some lunch?” This was Rick, the very first person we spoke with on our journey.


I guess it was the cynicism ingrained in me by city life, but I was concerned at first that he was upset we were using the picnic tables without permission, but no. He was genuine. FREE LUNCH: the leftovers of the weekly Friday lunch potluck, held that day at Olson’s Service Station. Rick and other area residents sat inside chatting, eating burgers, hotdogs and casseroles. We quickly yielded to the persistent pressure to eat some of these goodies. We sat and had nice conversations with several of these folks, including Wendy, a recent transplant from Montana. I asked her what makes ND special, and she responded that she felt North Dakotans have a unique way of looking at things: a very logical and smart approach to solving problems, but one ever so slightly quirky. I was so pleased at the serendipity of these moments and proud to come from a state where a high priority is placed on community and hospitality, that I couldn’t have asked for a better way to start the trip.


WAND Coverage in the Dickinson Press

A big thank you to Sean Soehren, a reporter from the Dickinson Press who interviewed us in Sentinel Butte and wrote a great article about the WAND. It landed on the front page of the newspaper on Saturday, June 4th.

"Jeremy Bold, left, and his brother Tyler Bold hike near Sentinel Butte on Friday afternoon. It was the first day of a 200-mile trek from the Montana border to Bismarck. "

“Always wear a life jacket when in North Dakota.”

Pieces of ice this big actually fall from the sky in North Dakota. Source: Bismarck Tribune

As my brother and fellow WANDerer, Jeremy, mentioned recently, in order for us to be better prepared the walk, I’ve been assigned the job of developing a contingency list. Basically, a list of specific things that might go wrong and how we would respond in each case.  To that end, here’s a very helpful website I found this evening.

What's this "local tradition" all about??? Source: iGuide Interactive Travel GuideInterestingly, a version of this cautionary piece also appears in the “Stay Safe” section of the North Dakota entry over at WikiTravel. The person who wrote this seems to know a great deal about:

1. The hazardous species that inhabit (“Wasps in the fall can easily ruin a day in Medora.”) or do not inhabit (“Snapping turtles should be left un-disturbed if stumbled upon, but these turtles are rare in North Dakota.”) our state of origin.

2. The risk imposed to life and limb merely by stepping within its borders (“North Dakota is mostly a dangerous landmass”).

3. And the explanation for why so few people live there (“North Dakota’s graveyards are full for a reason”).

A (late) Mountain Lion recently discovered in the Walmart parking lot in Bismarck. Source: Bismarck Tribune

Sorry, but I have to chuckle a little. While I certainly acknowledge the potential danger posed by the mountain lions, rattlesnakes, and weather that call North Dakota home, I can’t help but feel that over-hyped warnings of the sort presented in this article are a part of what has prevented me from actually exploring my state of origin until now.

Yes, we will make contingency plans. Yes, we will learn about and acknowledge and prepare for the real risks that come along with the rewards we hope to experience throughout the WAND.  Yes, we will be both smart and adventurous at the same time, and yes, we will walk right across this “dangerous landmass”. But no, we will not be wearing life jackets.

From North Dakota

“It struck me that distant cities are designed precisely so you can know where you came from. We bring home with us when we leave. Sometimes it becomes more acute for having left.”

-Colum McCann, from “Let the Great World Spin

Through my open window come the sounds that remind me where I live. If I close my eyes, I can envision the cars speeding past in cresting gusts of air or vainly flashing their lights in time with a distant alarm. There is the inevitable, steady rumble of an approaching bus. I can hear the movements and faint conversations of people on the sidewalk below. When I open my eyes and look out, I see white lights emanating from small businesses on the commercial street: a doctor’s office, a Mexican restaurant, a beauty salon. In this moment, I know, this is the city. This is, incessantly and unapologetically, Brooklyn, but I am thinking about someplace else.

I grew up in North Dakota, but I do not live there now. I spent the first eighteen years of my life in the center of that broad expanse of the American Midwest. Then, I left. Although there is considerable interest in the reasons why people, especially young people, leave North Dakota, my decision was not fueled by dissatisfaction with my state of origin. And when I think back now, it is often with wonder at the unusual, intriguing place that I am from.

What does it mean to be “From North Dakota”? I would like to understand, since I consider this heritage a defining attribute of my self. Being from North Dakota is no more separable from my identity than the content of my chromosomes or the date of my birth. It is an established, irrevocable aspect of my life, one that has influenced my life thus far and will surely continue to do so in ways both subtle and apparent. But how?

The most famous thing ever said (and frequently repeated) about this is probably: “I never would have been president if it had not been for my experiences in North Dakota.” This utterance, attributed to Theodore Roosevelt, clearly speaks to the significance of North Dakota origins in enabling life achievements. Yet, this quote has always bothered me because it says so little about what experiences precisely enabled what achievements and how. Still, I realize that I’ve never doubted that it’s entirely true, which is probably why I’m writing these words today.

I know that being from North Dakota is unusual, so few of the world’s people can claim it. What about this heritage makes me unique? What characterizes this isolated state and its people? What legacy do years, especially formative ones, spent in North Dakota impart on a person? The goal of The Blank Rectangle is to find out.

(Images: Top: Khurram Nazzir; Bottom: Tyler Bold)

%d bloggers like this: