When I get bored, I drive. When I feel sad, I drive. When I have the time, I drive.
My life is flecked with wanderlust. Or, more like plagued. I’ve read enough travel memoirs to know I’m not alone and that there are more like me out there. This week, I felt great kinship with author Irma Kurtz as I read her memoir The Great American Bus Ride, cover to cover.
I like the safety and security of my home base. My nook on the couch and the flop of my husband’s favorite slippers as they slap the hard floor. I like waking up to the sound of his morning showers and the smell of freshly brewed espresso. But I also like to wander and this wanderlust always leaves me with a certain amount of discontent. One small town or back road is never enough. Once I visit, I want to know more about that town and then I want to move on to another. Ironically, my wanderlust is both propelled by both enthusiasm and fear. There’s nothing I find more invigorating or terrifying than solo travel.
It’s Thursday and nearing the end of my spring break from school. At the break’s start, I became enamoured with Andrew Flier’s website Everydot, in which he photographs every town in North Dakota. I spent hours working my way down the list, from A-Z, lost in big skies and fields of soft, waving grass. Some of the locations were nothing more than an intersection of rusty dirt roads. Others reminded me of the abandoned towns depicted on AMC’s television series the The Walking Dead. I kept an eye on those that seemed to have active cafes and bars and notated them on a map. Flier was kind enough to email me back and mention a couple memorable dining experiences.
I stayed up late drawing majestic itineraries that would take me to the far reaches of North Dakota. Straight north to the Canadian border, passing through Grand Forks, Cavalier, Langdon, Pembina, and ending at the strange, pyramid-shaped safegaurd complex. Another took me through the south-central part of the state in search of German-Russian cuisine, passing through Fredonia, Wishek, Napolean, and Linton. Unfortunately, March in North Dakota might as well be February. The roads have been prone to iciness due to the temperature fluctuations and precipitation so I put my grander plans on hold. It’s hard waiting for the spring.
Recently, a Twitter friend mentioned a new bakery in Hillsboro, a town of about 1,600, located less than a half hour north of Fargo on I-29. Our Town Bakery opened early last December. According to this Grand Forks Herald article, the cafe was a community effort. The residents helped Amanda Johnson, the bakery’s owner, save the buildings, built in 1890, from destruction.
I parked across from towering farm buildings, stopped in a quirky antique store, and almost walked past the bakery whose window was marked with a paper sign. The interior was beautifully remodeled. Exposed brick walls, interesting wooden tables, and a sleek contemporary feel. The bakery counter offered a small selection of treats such as cookies, bars, and turnovers. Shelves to the left of the counter offered homemade marshmallow creations and hinted at freshly, baked bread, although I did not see any that morning.
A whiteboard described the daily lunch special ($8) and soup of the day. I ordered two beef pies, one for me and one for Jake, and sipped on a bottled soda. The pie crust was buttery and flaky, like it had merged with phyllo. Its golden top was thoughtfully sprinkled with salt and pepper, encasing stew that comforted with carrots and tender beef.
I paused to enjoy my pastry. The tables were few and I watched people who appeared to be in a business meeting extend an invitation to share their table with a pair of elderly women. As I returned back to my car, I heard the tinkling of a carillon. I half-heartedly drove in search of its source before rejoining the freeway towards Mayville.
The city of Mayville is about 20 minutes north east of Hillsboro, home of Mayville State University It’s smaller than it’s counterparts in Fargo or Grand Forks, and its total enrollment hovers around 1,000 students. I figured Mayville would have the type of charm that usually accompanies college towns.
I spent my college years in Waverly, IA, a small, rural town along the Cedar River. The campus was surrounded by neighborhoods. We could walk to our favorite bars, a small grocery mart, and a movie theater that treated students to 99¢ cent movies one midnight a month. On these evenings, we marched to the theater in packs. I loved running on the bike trail along the river and we always felt safe. Back then, I resented the smallness of the community and have now grown to miss it.
Mayville is quite a bit smaller than Waverly. About nine times smaller. The main street was dotted with the usual suspects. A pizza joint, drug store, bank, bakery, cafe, and even a small theater. Paula’s Cafe was packed for lunch and I slowed my car down to examine the day’s specials including a hickory burger, roasted ham, and roasted turkey. Since I was full of beef handpie, I made a mental note to return and moved on to the Soholt Bakery.
A woman greeted me as I gazed at the small shop’s products. A sign let me know they did not accept credit cards, so I averted my gaze from loaves of bread and packages of cookies. With two dollars in my pocket, I focused on the smaller treats and settled for a tray of plain donuts.
“How much are they?” I asked.
The woman replied about $2.50 for six or 45¢ each.
“May I have four?” I asked after trying to do some quick mental math.
“Whatever,” she responded in a sing-song voice. “You can have however many you’d like.”
By this time in the afternoon, the donuts were cold. A little dense, a little soggy, with enough crisp left on the outside. They tasted like nutmeg and I found them strangely addicting. I enjoyed them with my next couple morning coffees.
Before I left Mayville, I drove around the campus and admired a stately, red brick building. Maybe it was the winter or the cloudy day, but the town looked tired. I’ll pop back on my grand tour North. Everything looks better in the Spring.