More About Survival In Western North Dakota

In the South, where I lived for most of my life, you don’t absolutely need a four wheel drive vehicle. I will concede that you might live at the end of a muddy road, and you don’t like getting stuck, but it’s not like you are going to die if you get stuck.

In North Dakota, it’s not that you own a four wheel drive vehicle because you like driving off road, you own one because you are trying not to drive off road. You own a four wheel drive vehicle in North Dakota because you are trying to stay on the road. Going off the road in North Dakota might cause you and your passengers to die, yes die.

Unlike the South, in North Dakota, most often there is no guardrail along highways where there is a several hundred foot drop, less than twenty feet from the edge of the road. On Hwy 85 just south of Watford City, even at the curves, there is a very narrow road shoulder, then a very steep embankment, then a several hundred foot drop. I know from experience, that if you get off the narrow flat shoulder, and onto a wet embankment, Don’t Move!

In North Dakota the embankments contain a clayey soil, they contain bentonite, which is far more slippery than dish soap when wet. If you are on a wet embankment, that has more than a slight incline, Just Stop! If you are just a couple of feet from the edge of pavement, stop, and keep it that way! Even if you have a four wheel drive vehicle with all four wheels locked, if you drive forward or reverse, you will begin sliding laterally, downhill, all the way to the bottom, however far that is. Let a heavy truck that is completely on the pavement, pull you back onto the shoulder from behind, while you are still only a few feet from the edge of pavement. Even then, it is dangerous for the tow vehicle. In wet or icy conditions, even a heavier tow vehicle can get pulled over the side from a lighter vehicle that suddenly gives way.

In the several winters that I have lived in North Dakota, the coldest it has gotten has been about 25 degrees below 0 degrees Fahrenheit. With a small amount of wind, with wind chill factor, it might have been -40 degrees Fahrenheit. If you had on just blue jeans and a hoodie, and tried to walk, you might have hypothermia in about ¼ mile. If you didn’t reach a warm shelter within that ¼ mile, you would die.

In North Dakota, you should do everything you can to avoid unintentionally dying in the Winter. Four wheel drive is not for monkeying around in the Winter, it is for staying on the road, and helping you get back onto the road. If you are driving out of town, you need to make sure that you and all of you passengers have warm enough shoes, clothing, and jacket to be outside for at least ½ hour, because you might be. No kids, especially teenage girls, just wearing pajamas, thinking that they are only going to have to walk no more than thirty feet to and from the car.

Unfortunately, many people do not have extra radiator coolant, aluma-seal, or tools in their vehicle, nor do they know if they have an inflated spare tire or a jack. Their preparedness plan is to try to get somebody else to pull over and help them, using their extra coolant, aluma-seal, tools, fix-a-flat, jack, air compressor, etcetera, give them ride. This plan is not always going to work.

1 thought on “More About Survival In Western North Dakota

  1. My husband and I have lived in Dickinson for about one year. My husband is prone to slipping a bit over the speed limit (not a speed demon, just one of those people). About the time I resolved to stop telling him “Honey, the speed limit is….” he got a ticket (that stretch heading over to FamilyFare west). It was a lady cop and she was very nice, the ticket was $10, as he was only a little over. I think the speeds in some zones could safely be raised here in Dickinson. That said, whatever they’re doing here to NOT BE more like Williston, I hope they keep it up. The few times I’ve gone up there, I leave feeling like I need to to scrub my skin off (picture that scene in Silkwood), and am grateful to come back to Dickinson. Anyway, I’m enjoying your blog very much, having just come across it yesterday. I think you’re kind of crazy and also hilarious. Your writing (voice) reminds me of John Kennedy Toole, author of “A Confederacy of Dunces”. (I think you’d enjoy that book, read it if you haven’t already.)


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