Who can resist a winter drive across N.D.?


Ed Kemmick/Last Best News

The sunset Friday, our last glimpse of Montana, maybe.

I doubt we could see all the way to Wibaux from Bismarck, N.D., but I like to think of the magnificent red sunset as our last glimpse of Montana for a week or so.

My middle daughter, who was driving, saw the sunset out her rear-view mirror late Friday afternoon, and so of course we had to stop and get some photos. She didn’t see it through the rear window because the only patch of glass visible among our vacation baggage, our supply dump, was about as big as a credit card.


Ed Kemmick

It’s not a good idea to leave so little visibility through the back window, but when you choose the first week of January to drive from Montana to Minnesota, such a thing is only a slight addition to the big-picture stupidity.

Stupid is what we do. I think this is the third January in a row we’ve made this drive. On the lifetime stupidity ledger, this was probably my 15th or 20th mid-winter trip down I-94.

A friend of mine in Minnesota asks why, with the whole year to choose from, we opt for the week most likely to be bitterly cold, with a good chance of blizzards on the side. Well, we’d risk anything to visit our granddaughter, but she lives in Minneapolis year-round. So I guess I don’t know why. Remind me to ask Mrs. Kemmick. She’s the planner.

This year, to compound the adventure, we didn’t drive straight through to the Twin Cities. My daughter’s in-laws are from warmer climes, and they wanted to go skiing. So we veered off at Fargo and headed for Duluth, guided by Siri. Thank God for the iPhone. If we had tried to run that maze of two-lanes and back roads armed with just an atlas, I’m sure we’d be there still.

We haven’t seen Duluth proper yet, but we hope to tonight. If you haven’t been here, it’s like Butte with a waterfront: a mining city built on a very steep hill, populated by an ethnic stew of interesting people, with Lake Superior stretching out to forever down below.

The skiing took place at Spirit Mountain, near which we are staying. We laughed at a sign on the front door, warning us that we were “in a mountainous environment,” where “snow, ice, wet and slick areas are prevalent. Uneven terrain is possible.”

At first, I thought “uneven terrain” was a better descriptor than “mountain,” but once we got a better look at it, it seemed like a fairly respectable ski hill. We probably shouldn’t engage in topographical snobbery anyway. People living this close to Lake Superior could with justice say of any body of water in Montana, even of Flathead, “You call that a lake?”

So anyway, yes, we came to Minnesota in January and then went to Duluth because there wasn’t enough winter in the Twin Cities.

At least the roads were clear. It might have been August, except for a few short stretches where there were patches of ice in the passing lane. I don’t know what kind of weather would make us cancel a trip. We’ve gone through so many white-knuckle white-outs, with three kids shrieking in the back seat, that I suppose the governor would have to close the highways to change our plans.

I’m not proud of any of this. It’s just who we are. Most people in Montana have the same fatalistic relationship with the elements, though probably a good many of them are better at scheduling vacations than we are.

Then there are the hundreds or thousands of people making the round-trip drive from the Bakken to dozens of cities in Montana every week or 10 days. I don’t know how they do it, but a job’s a job and who the hell wants to live there on days off?

Our fool’s paradise is likely to end soon. I don’t usually bother to look at weather forecasts, figuring foreknowledge won’t make me any warmer, but when I know I’m going to be driving across North Dakota again in a week, I tend to pay closer attention.

The most recent headline on the Weather Channel?—“Coldest Temperatures of the Season Are on the Way for Midwest, East.” And Spirit Mountain has just announced that it will be closed tomorrow, in expectation of Arctic temperatures and high winds.

Still, the forecasts don’t call for anything as cold as the temps we dealt with last January in Minnesota. We take our consolation where we can get it. Wish us luck.



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