For readers eager to experience a long-distance trek sans blisters, sore ankles, and chilly June mornings, The Walk Across North Dakota will satisfy their yen for an "existential adventure." The walk was completed in two parts—the first covering a distance of 191.6 miles in fourteen days in June 2011 from the North Dakota–Montana border to Bismarck, and the second covering 215.1 miles in thirteen days from Bismarck to the North Dakota–Minnesota border in June 2013. Two pairs of expatriate North Dakota siblings, Jeremy and Tyler Bold and Gwendolyn and Richard Hoberg (and Gwendolyn's spouse, Bruce Ringstrom), return home "to rediscover many things that make North Dakota weird and fantastic."
The book may best be appreciated by readers familiar with the state, as landmarks, points of reference, and cultural idiosyncrasies abound. For readers unfamiliar with North Dakota but open to its treasures, the book is significant. And for anyone wishing to invest in an extensive walk, the authors provide a plethora of sound advice for long-distance hiking, camping, and exploration of one's physical and mental stamina. The one thirty-six-year old and four twenty-something walkers embark on "one of the most rigorous journeys any [of them had] attempted" to answer what it means to be from North Dakota and how the state has and has not changed since they left. As their eyes reopen to the "marvelous emptiness" of the state, they capture in terse prose the essence of their daily experiences that include North Dakota's infamous hourly changing weather, unsurpassed sunrises and sunsets, the boast of opulent bird species, rolling hills and majestic buttes, the lonely barks of coyotes at night, the irrepressible song of the mead-owlark, and "kindred spirits." Also gracing the book are the hikers' haiku that eloquently capture additional reflective moments.
The design of the book, with its numerous blank and uncrowded pages and the seemingly intentional white space, mirrors the spaciousness of the "Blank Rectangle" and the numerous times the hikers encountered quiet, desolate places.
Because the book focuses on place, the authors could have provided more visuals, such as maps, in addition to the two maps of the state identifying the cities or towns the walkers traversed from the western to the eastern border, and a few more photographs. Also, the authors' decision not to edit journal entries sometimes leaves readers with unnecessary repetition. The philosophical introspection and wonderstruck summaries of their days that comprised part 1 seem diminished in part 2, perhaps because of the two-year break between the walks and perhaps because the western part of the state is vastly less populated than the eastern half. Also glaringly absent is any mention of the state's Native American indigenous population. Only at the end of the book does a perfunctory reference to the Plains Indians appear. Nevertheless, the authors successfully document their unique and introspective experiences, reinforce the majesty of North Dakota's land and the enigmatic and resilient character of its people, and provide a plethora of advice for anyone wishing to engage in a life-changing long-distance hike. [End Page 149]
Bismarck State College