Lightening storms, trailers, and a dead deer

Yesterday, the miles just seemed to fly by unlike Tuesday in which they dragged on and on. I think stopping in Wisconsin to see my big sister, Abby, who I only get to see once in a blue moon sure helped. So feeling refreshed and confident I decided to truck on through and drive the remaining 12+ hours to Bismarck. We finally made it to the North Dakota line, and zoomed through Fargo. Passed Jamestown, 1 1/2 hours remaining and we’ll be there. That’s when I hit my wall and decided to start looking for a hotel and call it a night and plan to do the remaining hour in the morning. Well turns out there is NOTHING between Jamestown and Bismarck so I had no choice but to keep on truckin’. About that I time I hear the emergency service tone on the radio followed by an announcement that a severe thunderstorm was moving from Bismark east containing damaging 60+ mph winds, quarter-sized hail, and copious amounts of rain. I look up and see lightening in the distance.


I really had no choice but to suck it up and face the storm. I have never experience a storm in the plains of the west before. I did not know that lightening could be so intense and so numerous. I felt as if we were surrounded by paparazzi, there were flashes of light everywhere, perfect bolts of lightening crashing from the sky to the earth, and rain so heavy I could hardly see 10 feet in front of the truck. It was amazing – and a tad bit unnerving, needless to stay I was wide awake. We made it through the storm, pulled into Bismark, and found a hotel. It was full. So we started calling every hotel and they all too were booked full. Apparently there is this huge softball tournament going on and every single hotel in Bismark AND Mandan is full. Softball. WTF? Having no other options we pulled into a Walmart parking lot, turned the truck off, and curled up in the tiny seats of our Ford Ranger to try and get some sleep.

I guess the adrenaline from the storm wore off because I actually got some sleep and woke up ready to find out what the next three months of my life is going to contain. Megan and I drove down to the North Dakota Game and Fish Department where we met a bunch of people (all of which are extremely nice and welcoming). They showed us our trailers that will be our homes for the summer and let us settle in.

Let me describe my trailer to you. It is an old FEMA trailer, contains a “master bedroom” with a full sized bed, a kitchenette, table, couch, and a back room with four bunk beds which are being used for storing out field work supplies. Okay that’s not too bad. It’s actually pretty decent. Other than the fact that I have no running water or bathroom. But the machine shop/garage for the ND Game and Fish is right behind my trailer (Yes, I am living in the middle of a parking facility) and contains a bathroom with shower. So, overall it’s not bad, just will take some adjusting having to go next door to use the bathroom, brush my teeth, etc.


Dr. Dan Grove, the wildlife veterinarian here invited Megan and I to participate in a white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) necropsy. Of course we both said yes! It was really a cool experience. All of the staff here are incredible and very willing to teach us anything we might be interested in learning. The doe turned out to most likely have died from old age (they estimated her to be 10-12 years old), and her four (yes four) fawns died from starvation. It was a great learning experience and Dan offered to let us know if he has any more necropsys in the future so that we can participate in them as well. I’m hoping for something cool like a mountain lion or moose!

As far as the reason I am in North Dakota, I am still a little unsure of the details. Dr. Serfass should be here on Saturday to further explain our job for the summer. Until then, it’s settling in, meeting the staff of the Game and Fish Department, and exploring our new “home.” Dan and Stephanie told me about an Irish pub just down the road called Blarney Stone Pub which boasts of 30 draft beers, and many different authentic Irish whiskeys – I am pretty stoked about that!

I guess I’m going to go relax read some of the second book in the Hunger Games, and call it a night. Yeah I know, it’s true I got sucked onto the bandwagon. But the books really are good!

Goodnight all!

And so the adventure begins…

Well it’s been a long day to say the least. Today has consisted of a very early morning (4:30am) and around 800 miles of roads, 350+ of which were in Ohio. I didn’t even know Ohio was that long! Okay, well I’m kinda just jumping into things, I guess I probably should start with a little background information to give y’all a feel for why I have traveled over 800 miles today.

First I’ll introduce myself. My name is Johanna, but usually I just go by Jo (it’s easier that way). I recently graduated from West Virginia University with a B.S. in Wildlife and Fisheries Resources and a minor in Conservation Ecology. Now that I have completed college, what the heck do I do with a wildlife degree? I know, go back for more schooling! I have been talking to Dr. Tom Serfass for the past few months about trying to working with him as a master student at Frostburg State University (yes, that means I’d have to live in Maryland for at least two more years). Dr. Serfass’ focus is on carnivore ecology and conservation, sounds perfect for someone who want to dedicate her life to (large) carnivore conservation. His primary species is Lontra canadensis, aka river otters. Okay, so not large carnivores, but still pretty awesome, and not to mention adorable, predators and besides I need to start somewhere. Well not long after commencement at WVU I meet up with Dr. Serfass and he offers me a position that will have me spending the summer in North Dakota doing some sort of work with trail cameras and some human dimension studies on river otters (Lontra canadensis) and beavers (Castor canadensis) (insert your favorite beaver joke here, I’ve heard them all over the past few weeks). But anyway, I figured “sure, why not?”

After a nice beach vacation with my boyfriend, J, down at Virginia Beach, I packed my bags, met up with Megan an undergrad at Frostburg who will be working with me this summer, and hit the road. We actually have made decent time so far and even had the opportunity to stop in Chicago and go to Wrigley Field for a Cubs game – AWESOME! The field was more than I expected and took my breath away with the amount of history it contains.

Chicago, Illinois

We wanted to see the giant chrome bean (not really sure what it is, just know that its huge and super shiny), but didn’t really have the time to go searching downtown Chicago for a bean. We hit the road in search of a hotel cheaper than the ones in Chicago and that leads me to this Super 8 in Hampshire, Illinois where I am currently writing this.

So, that’s pretty much the background and justification as to why I have driven 12 hours to this flat, windy landscape. We are planning on traveling another 10 hours tomorrow and arriving in Bismarck sometime decently early on Thursday.