WANDering in North Dakota, starting in Sentinel ButteSENTINEL BUTTE — Dusty roads, rolling plains, funny accents, breathtaking landscapes and hometown hospitality are the norm for most residents, but these are the things a band of young out-migrated Bismarck natives hope to encounter as they return to their homeland to hike halfway across the state and dig deeper into the uniqueness of the place they once called home.
By: Sean Soehren, The Dickinson Press
SENTINEL BUTTE — Dusty roads, rolling plains, funny accents, breathtaking landscapes and hometown hospitality are the norm for most residents, but these are the things a band of young out-migrated Bismarck natives hope to encounter as they return to their homeland to hike halfway across the state and dig deeper into the uniqueness of the place they once called home.
A journal of their experiences will be released as “The WAND (Walk Across North Dakota) Chronicles.”
Brothers Tyler and Jeremy Bold, of New York, and siblings Gwendolyn and Richard Hoberg, of Minnesota and Colorado respectively, set out to march nearly 200 miles from the Montana border to Bismarck Friday, stopping in towns and taking in various landmarks and historic sites along the way. Bruce Ringstrom plans to accompany them for half the trip.
The journeyers strolled into town just in time for a potluck dinner at Olson’s Service Station before they ventured to climb the butte. As they munched on burgers and watermelon, Tyler said this is the kind of generosity he expected.
“This is North Dakota hospitality at its best,” Tyler said with a grin. “It is really exciting to see the state represented in a way I am familiar with.”
Each member of the group recently finished a stage of higher education and thought this would be the opportune time to make the trek.
Richard and Gwen said it was the longest hike they have undertaken and that it would be a demanding experience.
“I just love the adventurous stuff,” Richard said. “The concept of adventure has been instilled in me since I was a kid and it is great to realize we could do something adventurous in a place we are familiar with.”
The physical demands of the hike didn’t slow the group down, but the members said they were concerned how it would take its toll over the next two weeks.
As the group dined with locals, the station showcased newspaper clippings of past achievements and fossils from the nearby landmark. The group said it is a privilege to be immersed in the local history.
The trip was inspired by the group’s alias “The Blank Rectangle Project,” which strives to educate the nation about the true essence of North Dakota.
Since he has moved away, Jeremy said he has noticed other Americans have misconceptions or no understanding of the state. The group hopes to help people understand by “filling in the blank.”
The name came from a quote by North Dakota-born former CBS journalist Eric Sevareid, who wrote in distant cities North Dakota “was a larg, rectangular blank spot in the nation’s mind.”
Each member will journal their individual experience through photos, poems and writing in an effort to find what is unique about the area.
Jeremy said that being in New York has helped him notice outstanding characteristics in himself and other North Dakota natives that he was unable to realize when he lived in the state, but it is something he can’t fully describe. He is on the trip to help himself and others realize that distinctiveness.
“I never considered what it meant to be North Dakotan when I lived here, it wasn’t part of an awareness I had,” Jeremy said. “There is a really unique experience that formed who I am now and this is a way to re-explore that and retain that identity.”
Those moving away from the state may not be appreciated for abandoning home and it can be a very difficult relationship, Tyler said.
“It is difficult wanting to identify with the state and not living there,” he said.
Richard said he is excited to be a part of the project, but he doesn’t want to force meaning.
“I am open to some kind of quasi-cultural experience during the course of the trip, but I don’t have any expectations about that,” he said. “I am letting the trip be whatever it ends up being.”
The group sought funding through Kickstarter, which is a website devoted to artistic and creative projects. Over $1,000 was raised from donors. Donors will receive a copy of “The WAND Chronicles.”
The group plans to see Sentinel Butte, Theodore Roosevelt National Park, Patterson Lake, Assumption Abbey, Sweet Briar Lake and multiple towns along the way, but they said the excitement will come from the things they don’t plan.
As they marched down the dirt road, they were excited to be on an adventure in a place that is “close and meaningful.”