24-May-2004 -- It had been over six months since my last confluence visit, so I was itching to snag another DCP point. Unlike my prior confluence attempts, this visit was planned at the last minute. It was enabled by the most unfortunate of circumstances, the death of one of my dearest childhood friends, Bill Wegerer. I met Bill in ninth grade in chemistry class, and we instantly bonded as the two “alpha nerds” in the class. I followed him to MIT, lived in the same dorm as he did, and visited him in Minnesota a few times, including a wonderful road-trip from Boston for his wedding. I mention Bill because he and I were planning confluence visits this summer to the remaining two virgin DCP points in Michigan (both in Lake Superior). We even discussed trying to snag the remaining three unvisited DCP points in Wyoming. He was intrigued by the idea of confluence hunting, and I was so looking forward to seeing him again after a few years. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be.
Bill’s wife Sue called me on Wednesday, May 19, 2004, with the awful news. She just lost her mom two weeks ago and her dad six months ago, so I couldn’t begin to comprehend her pain. Bill died suddenly at work, from a massive heart attack, at the tender age of 39. She asked that I contact all our mutual college friends so they might attend the service in Minneapolis if possible. We emailed itineraries, cell phone numbers, and memories of Bill as we planned this most tragic of reunions. Bill and I also were planning a quick “border trip” this summer to North Dakota so I could rack up my forty-ninth state (watch out Louisiana, I’m gunning for you!). I thought it would be an appropriate tribute to Bill to drive to North Dakota myself after his funeral and try to snag a confluence to boot. Most of my college friends were coming from the East Coast and were returning home shortly after the funeral. However, my good buddy Gus Lopez, now living in Seattle, was staying overnight in Minnesota and was game for this insane road-trip. Gus and Bill were polar opposites, former roomies, and truly the best of friends ever since freshman year at MIT.
I started looking on the DCP website to determine the most accessible confluence point for this quick journey to North Dakota, including confluences along I-94 in Minnesota. The point just a few miles west of Harwood, ND and I-29 fit the bill perfectly. My primary tourist destination in North Dakota was the KVLY-TV tower just west of Blanchard, which at 2063 feet (629 meters) is the world’s tallest man-made structure, twice as high as the Empire State Building! Gus and I knew it would be a challenge to visit the tower and a confluence point before dark, but it was just the kind of crazy trip Bill would have loved. Bill enabled my first visit to Iowa, simply for pizza and a photo of the sign at the border, back in the late 1980’s. He did Gus one better, plodding through Iowa entirely so Gus could log his first visit to Missouri! Clearly, Bill was a man who appreciated the inane, random road-trip!
I left LAX at 12:30 am on Monday, May 24, 2004, after an unbelievably busy weekend of work, trip planning, choral rehearsals, and a concert. Gus and I talked on the phone on Friday night for nearly six hours, so I was running on four hours of sleep Friday and Saturday nights before tackling my red-eye. I slept a bit on the plane, arriving at MSP at 6 am. I picked up my rental car and drove to the Clarion Hotel, awaiting a reunion with my college buddies while trying to nap in the hotel lobby. Nine of the eleven surviving members of this group made it to Minnesota, which was great. We met at Denny’s for breakfast, the sharing of Bill photos, and even a few laughs. I remarked it was like “The Big Chill” except with no women (since we’re all from MIT). We left the restaurant for the viewing, funeral, luncheon, and burial. Boy, that was difficult for all of us. It did help us gain some closure, but we weren’t ready to bid adieu to this dear friend, one of the sweetest guys to ever have walked the planet. We took a few photos of the college gang (see Picture #9 below) before saying our farewells.
Gus and I returned to Motel 6, changed clothes, and prepared for a long drive. I was exhausted from lack of sleep, but thankfully the drive was nearly all on interstate highways. We brought CDs but were thwarted by the Dodge Neon’s lack of a CD player. We listened to the radio some, but mostly talked, often of our memories of Bill. I made good time driving on I-94 westbound, though the rain started shortly after leaving the Minneapolis metro area (which was also no small feat, given some pretty bleak traffic). We left Motel 6 at around 3:30 pm CDT, hoping to take advantage of late sunsets in North Dakota this time of year. I celebrated a little after crossing the North Dakota border, and then we turned north on I-29 at Fargo. Since it was still raining, and we knew the confluence was in a (presumably muddy) field, we decided to visit the TV tower first. We made our first stop in Grandin, ND, gassing up the Neon and getting some caffeine and butter pretzels. We chatted up the proprietor, enjoying her thick upper Midwest accent immensely (yeah, you betcha). The rain refused to let up as we pressed on to the KVLY tower. We wandered around slick dirt roads in Blanchard, asking some local boys for directions to the tower. It was quite a sight to behold as we drove straight up to the base of the tower (see Picture #8 below). At some points, low clouds enshrouded the top of the tower, making for quite a picturesque view. As the crow flies, this tallest man-made structure on Earth is only 27.2 miles (43.8 km) from (47ºN, 97ºW), so this confluence has the distinction of being the closest DCP point to the tallest structure on Earth!
We left Blanchard, backtracking to I-29 and the trip south to the confluence. Despite the ever-present rain, I was driving about 82 mph, trying to get to the DCP before sunset. We exited in Harwood and I followed Gus’ immaculate directions, based on the MapQuest views I printed before leaving for Minnesota. We navigated the dirt roads with little trouble, crossing the 97th parallel just north of the confluence. We turned south at the next dirt road, stopping the car at the 37th parallel. From there, it was a mere 0.3-mile trek east to the confluence, albeit it across a muddy field (presumably of spring wheat, the leading crop in North Dakota). My Garmin eTrek Legend was starting to act a bit flaky, and it was after 9 pm CDT, with darkness approaching rapidly.
When we first looked at our projected path across the field, Gus and I burst into laughter, because it looked so bleak. We faced a very wet ditch and a truly muddy journey beyond. Having experienced this obstacle (a water-filled ditch) in prior confluence hunts, I suggested we walk south along the road to find a better crossing point. We did so, with little difficulty, and started traversing the field. Boy, was it tough going! When will I ever learn that confluence hunting and boat shoes don’t mix? I sacrificed yet another pair to the confluence gods as I trudged through the muck. It was rainy, a bit breezy, with temperatures around 45 ºF (7 ºC), and I was in shorts! It’s a good thing I have some extra padding around my midriff and elsewhere for such eventualities.
Gus was really struggling with the muddy trek, but I pressed on rather quickly since daylight was fading fast. We were laughing as our shoe sizes doubled due to an ever-growing mud base. I finally obtained all zeroes on the GPS, with an accuracy of 21 feet (6.4 meters), but I was unable to photograph the GPS at this point. I had at least six satellites tracking, but I was too harried to write down the elevation. By this time, the GPS was showing “Batteries Low” and turning off after mere seconds of operation. I brought a spare AA battery all the way from California and left it in the car, a scant 0.3 miles from my current location! What a rookie mistake for a thirteen-confluence veteran! Gus and I were panicking, trying to get pictures in the four cardinal directions before sunset, along with a discernible GPS photo. I used my coworker’s Nikon CoolPix 2500, since my CoolPix 3500 suffered a catastrophic “infant mortality” failure back in California (I’m still not done “ripping some new ones” in trying to get this camera replaced or repaired). The GPS photo included below is far from optimal, but it is the first GPS photo from this DCP. It is also the first visit to this site not in winter. For these reasons, I decided to submit this confluence visit, even though the pictures from the confluence are poor as well.
As darkness fell, we slopped through the quagmire back to our car. We took pictures of each other at the car and then set off for Minnesota, including a shoe-cleaning marathon at Mickey-D’s. We finally arrived at Motel 6 at 3 am, where I showed Gus pictures from my prior thirteen confluence adventures. We crashed out at 3:40 am, with our wake-up call one hour later, in order to catch our respective flights west. I couldn’t stop laughing as Gus bellowed about this being the craziest hobby in the world. I told him this was an absolutely perfect introduction to confluence hunting: fighting darkness, bad weather, GPS snafus, and so forth. I fear I’ve turned him off to this unique hobby forever, but I still hold out hope we might visit some virgin sites in Wyoming this summer. We some preplanning, I expect those trips would be far less difficult. It was a great adventure, though, and a fitting tribute to our dear friend, Bill Wegerer. May he rest in eternal peace.