My ogre friend invited myself and a couple others to hike the badlands of western North Dakota on our lazy legs. The Ogre is such because he stands 6’5″ and weighs enough to sweat the salt for a few bad buckets of popcorn. His face is laced with the growth of a lazy beard owner and his voice frequently elevates to a boom. He’s a scuzzball but friendly. And he’s the funniest dude I know. A deep swath of my comedic sensibilities are indebted to him.I’ve spent years listening to his ridiculous stories. They possess no definitive line marking where reality fades and goofiness takes hold. He’d talk about his friend sawing her itchy pussy with a toothbrush and getting throat herpes the next time she scrubbed teeth. About killing an obese AIDS patient’s fish after she got drunk and tried to fuck him.
The Ogre seems to live a life of contained depravity. He’s up to way more scuzzy stuff than I could ever be involved in. Yet he doesn’t quite go overboard. In high school he worked at McDonald’s. The first time I visited him as manager he showed us how to snap trays over a table. He casually played with an illegal blade stored in his pocket. A child ran around the kitchen, melting figurines in the scolding grease.
In college I’d laze in his apartment for marathons of HBO shows. A friend of his robbed a liquor store with an axe. That guy was often there getting wasted. The Ogre had a female friend staying over who got booted from the homeless shelter for hooking. She spoke of leaving her freshly overdosed boyfriend in a hotel room. About stabbing someone on a train in Chicago when they tried nabbing her shoes. She shoved her boobs in my face while inviting me to go with her to The Ogre’s pube-laden, trash-strewn bathroom. I declined but The Ogre accepted. I slept on his floor that night and woke to her moaning his name in an affected southern accent. Later on he told me he fingered her ’til his arm went numb and he drifted off. Deep in REM he rolled off the bed and unleashed a sonic boom from his anus that woke her. Though they were side by side for hours more, the moaning phase was over.
The good thing about The Ogre is he has no shame in telling those stories. I was never going to ask him about the girl. But he brought it up and told me embarrassing details I’d never have known. He tells me about a prostitute he counts as a friend. He doesn’t mind saying he gets lonely these days in his apartment overlooking downtown. I like how real he is and that he can act as my conduit into a world of scuzz without me ever having to tiptoe that portal myself. He’s the only dude friend of mine still left near home. We hang whenever I’m back.
The Ogre engineered an idea of blasting to the badlands for a hike and camping. Him and another friend of ours had been there years before on a class trip. I’d visited many times while growing up. Back then it was a stop en route to Colorado with my mom and sister. We’d always watch the Medora musical in an outdoor amphitheater packed with hair-netted old women. Though we’d walk a trail or two, there was never any deep exploration.
None of us had been out there since college so we decided to go. It was to be The Ogre, two friends of ours, and myself. One of those two guys was getting married in a year. This would probably be the last time we were all together before groomsduding it up in his wedding.
We were all friends from childhood except one who met us in high school. After finishing K-8 together, people we’d known all our lives broke off into their own social circles. My little group did too, but still we spent the most time with those from our tiny hometown. We spent hours cruising up and down the streets of the bigger city where we attended high school. We flicked people off and asked others stupid questions at stoplights. We hung at our parents’ houses watching movies and played lots of basketball at the Y. None of it was overly exciting but these were the people who were coming of age beside me.
After high school we mostly went to the same college. We’d get together during school breaks and holidays to drink beer, play foosball, and watch knife-themed infomercials. We traveled to Canada for its strip clubs. I drank for the first time in my life as foreign pussy snarled its wet sneer against my face. They took me to my first parties and tended me as I rested my hair farmer head in a bowl of self-produced puke. I’d drive home with bangs crusted over in vomit. Those were good times.
Over the past few years we’ve splintered off to different places. One friend in North Carolina couldn’t come out for the hike. But besides him this was our first time together as a group in years. I liked the safety and joy of being with those who were both friendly and familiar.
The Ogre, our engaged friend Josh, and myself all rode out together. Our other friend was coming separately from a different city. We all grew up in the flatlands of eastern North Dakota but the badlands were on our state’s western crust.
The further from home we went the more apparent the new oil boom’s visibility grew. Roads built for cars and the occasional grain truck were now populated with semis hauling heavy equipment. In Watford City the town was overrun with traffic. There were fields of man camps consisting of identical white trailers lined in rows with pickups parked at their side. Dozens of these trucks pulled in and out of a gas station designed for more idle times.
A few miles south of Watford we came to the north unit of the badlands where we’d be camping. The landscape changed from rolling grasslands to a rocky terrain of buttes and hills. They towered over canyons patched with brush, trees, and roaming wildlife. A park area had been developed into a campground. We took a spot back behind some trees and brush. We pitched camp on trampled grass and dusty ground. Afterward we shoveled down food to replenish the energy expended on snapping together a few poles.
The Ogre had been looking forward to this. To getting out of the office and sliding into a doable version of rugged nature. For me it felt normalized. I failed to feel his level of appreciation. Even though I thought it was great it was just another thing to tick off my docket. But now I was doing things with friends. I figured that was probably what I wanted.
We drove back to Watford for food and half expected the bar to be nothing but beer-gutted drunks throwing punches and spunking on the locals. But it seemed more like any other mid-sized North Dakota town out in the nowheres. There was the bar that doubled as a cafe. There was the gas station where people gathered for parking lot chats. There was aimless driving and endless trucks barreling with purpose.
Back at camp we hiked up the sort-of-there paths of a butte to its top. The Ogre got sweat fucked and winded from a climb that was easy for Josh and I. But we still hit the top. That revealed vistas of dry, scrub-brush valleys and rock formations in all directions.
A bison one hundred feet below scratched itself on a ‘Beware of Buffalo’ post. We slid along on our butts to reach other viewpoints and then crawled back on dusted hands and knees. After contemplations of sleeping up there we spotted our other friend Andy driving in. From high his car wound like a Hot Wheels set up on a rugged playground. We circled back down to meet him.
I hadn’t seen this dude since graduating college. Back in high school he was one of the first friends I made. It’s a fact I’ve always appreciated despite our sporadic hangs ever since. Here in the badlands we unpacked his car and quickly slipped into impressions of our most awkward high school teacher.
Andy’s girlfriend packed a cooler of food for us. We hogged what she made. We lit a fire and above it spun sausage ’til warmth crept through the pink meat core. We sipped beer and warm liquor. I sucked the remnants swirling the last half inch of a $2 can once filled with Four Loko. The Ogre was getting plenty sloshed as we burned embers in the hot pan of a camp grill.
We got caught up and regressed to stories of dumb things we’d done in high school that were funny then and painful now. Me walking around a mall with blue marker on my face. Driving ’round town with the wipers going on a dry day. Blaring classical to draw a bemused look. They were things that only instill amusement up to a certain age.
The next morning we changed into shorts to tan our pale legs and convinced ourselves we could do a sixteen mile hike on varying terrain. The Ogre packed little beyond caramel rolls and a water or two. My other two friends and I loaded up more as we set off. We signed the trailhead book stating how many were in our party, where we were heading, and when we left. It was for both looking back on who preceded you that season and a safety net in case a group became lost.
We walked through long grass and immediately came upon a foot deep river. We pulled off our shoes and socks to walk the fifty feet across. At the other end I did my best to get the mud off my feet before lacing back up. Though it was still morning the sun cranked its dial. It dried what was wet even before the dust could stick.
The trail was hard to follow at times due to so few using it. This was the less popular section of the park. It was far from the families and hair-net grandmas there for the musical. We coursed through grass, mud, rock, and dry, dusty ground. Before long The Ogre was sweating hard and sucking down our water supply. Bottle after bottle emptied down his throat and ejected out his salty skin.
We passed through an old creek bed that’d washed down the land over the years to form a rising bank on either side. It seemed as if one half was rock while the other dirt. We came across elephant sized boulders and jagged rocks growing from the earth that reached higher than our ogre. The numerous sloping hills looked like a series of dried out ski moguls made for a race of sporting giants. They were of rock and muted clay. I remembered the area being brighter than it was. Bushes of prairie rose and other flowering plants splashed color across the otherwise grey and green landscape.
Always ahead were piles of loose rocks and uneven earth. Most ways lead to dead ends of trees, brush, or rock walls that stretched across the expanse of our vision. Always in sight were more rock hills and dry brush. The path led us forever upward. At times you could look back at the expanse of what we’d covered and then miles beyond even that.
We did our best to take this all in while still keeping sight of the trail, the next marker spotted far off that’d guide us further. The grass was beaten down with animal paths that led us astray. We’d circle hundreds of feet before catching our mistake. The Ogre grew tired as we approached each post. He’d wheeze spit as I passed him.
“Dude, I gotta buy ya more expensive cigarettes.”
I’d been jogging for months and felt great, remarking how I felt as if I’d been training up for something just like this. The Ogre sat to eat caramel rolls and asked for more waters from our backpacks. The rolls were melted and sticky. He swooped his fingers to claw through them before globbing down a fistful. His system was now thick with sugar and booze. We kept on as the sun got hotter. We’d stop for pictures or to climb a rock that could be mounted.
There were piles of bison dung littering our path. Kicking them open revealed wet grub squirming in confusion at having their roof tore off. They burrowed back in to escape the sunlight. In copycat fashion we sat beneath trees as one scurried ahead to relocate the trail.
We talked of turning back but it seemed we’d been at it for hours — to backpedal might not reduce our travel time. Soon it became clear The Ogre wouldn’t be able to complete the full hike. He’d sit without warning and speak in confused gibberish. Sometimes he’d just look down and stay that way for minutes.
We got out of the clay and rock, entering a grassland composed of slow rolling, gentle hills. Off in the distance was a section of the same river we’d crossed at the start. It was decided we’d get to that, let The Ogre cool in its waters, then follow its winding path to camp.
No matter how much we hiked, even when the trail led downward and seemed to carry us swift and easy, the river wasn’t growing closer. We eventually came to a mile marker and it was numbered ‘5.’ It was disheartening and scary. We thought we’d gone significantly further.
By the time we reached the river The Ogre was totally shot. We all peeled off our shoes and sat in its water to cool. It was less than a foot deep at this spot. The Ogre lay staring at the sun through shades. He’d sit up only to lay back down. Away from him we discussed how worried we were, hoping the river would reboot his system.
It was perhaps a half hour before we journeyed on. At first we tried walking the shoreline of small, sharp rocks and sandy mud. There were jutting sandbars and stretches of sinking mud. We planned our movements fifty yards at a time. At the top of the bank was scrub brush and undergrowth too hard to trek. Above that rose the rocky trails we’d been on. We didn’t dare leave the river and its healing waters.
Eventually the pretense of avoiding wet feet was done away with. I did my best to avoid the muddy suckholes that’d gulp my shoes and leave me barefoot and trekking a rocky river bottom. Despite the cool water that at times rose to our knees or more, it soon got to be we couldn’t go more than a couple minutes before The Ogre needed a stop. The water that we thought would cool his core had failed to do so. He was sick and asking for what little to drink we had left.
He seemed disoriented and we knew he was having some sort of heat related exhaustion. Asking him questions only elicited responses of laughter or a downturned head. My two friends and I grouped to discuss whether he was going to be able to even get back to camp. The river would take less time than what we’d put in on the trail but it was slow going to slosh through water and mud.
At one point we hit waist deep pools. The Ogre lay on his back to float as I towed him through a piece of river with current. Soon the water lowered and my cargo had to return to its own two feet. We lamented not having a tube and rope to pull our friend like farmers shackled to a yoke, tugging along their oxen overlord.
After a couple hours of this we were virtually out of water and everyone was tiring. Our little GPS told us we’d only come half the distance we needed to go. It was decided Josh and I would run back to camp to load up on supplies. There we’d tell someone what was happening in case we ended up needing help to get our friend back. We left The Ogre with Andy on a mud bank in the shade. They had the last of our water.
We decided to climb the bank and do our best to run alongside the river. The pace we kept was quick. Our skin tore as we scrambled thickets of rough brush and wooded areas of trees whose branches slung low to snap us. We saw bison grazing but at this point had been out of gaze-and-appreciate mode for many hours. We had to cross fields of grass that led to more trees and biting brush. At one point we cut back across the river to save distance. We got to the campground after forty-five minutes of this frantic hustling.
There I grabbed food and water as my friend told the camp overseer what was happening. When I met back up it was discovered The Ogre had called 9-1-1, fearing he wasn’t going to last in the heat before we got back. This meant we didn’t have to return to him with the heavy load. The burden of his safety no longer weighed on just us. It was both a relief and a disappointment that things had come to this.
Josh and I were confused as to why emergency services were called when things didn’t seem too shitty when we left. We knew he was in bad shape. That we had to get him back before the cold prairie night set in. But that was still hours off. I guess he felt as if he wasn’t going to be able to walk the remaining distance no matter how much food and water we slopped into his system.
The next few hours we sat with EMTs and law enforcement as horses and rangers set out to scoop our friends. I felt embarrassed as they asked us questions about our hike and how things went wrong. Still, they were friendly as we passed the time.
The main EMT spoke of doing helicopter rescues and told us how he’d inject fluids into our friend to make him like new. The sheriff talked of rock climbing and let us know what O.B.A.M.A. stood for: One Big Ass Mistake America. An old dude who brought the horses knew lots about the badlands. He talked of pit traps the Sioux used to capture eagles by hand. It helped keep my mind off my waiting friends.
We received periodic updates on the progress. After a long while they reached our friends. The Ogre was put on a horse and they continued up the trail with him. We were driven by a ranger to a high overlooking cliff that allowed us to see an expanse of what felt like the entire badlands. It’d grown dark and above us was a bright belt of stars across the blackened sky. Down below were forests, valleys, and more rock formations.
There were close to a dozen people up top. One of them shone a light every now and then to approximate where the rescue party was. We joked that the horses would need new hearts and knees after lugging The Ogre. I was ready to donate a few parts for the cause.
In time the horse party came to the clifftop. The Ogre was soaked in sweat. I patted him on the back, saying I was just happy he was alive. He was now more coherent and joking about the whole ordeal.
“Mmm, caramel rolls. Ya gotta wash ’em down with lukewarm water.”
It left me annoyed as so many people were now involved in what was our private dilemma. I don’t think he realized the scope of his rescue. Or perhaps he didn’t care as he’d just been in a situation where he felt he was fucked but now was safe.
Andy was thirsty and burnt out. He had to walk the whole way and was given little water. On the way back down to camp I rode with him in a pickup. The ranger asked about our trip so far. I made small talk with anecdotes about the drugs I’d had tested on me. We said how this was our first time together as friends in years. Things hadn’t quite gone as planned.
Back at camp we heard the story of their horse trek. They’d mostly just plodded along for a couple hours until they reached us. We told them how shitty it was getting back to camp in such a hurry. The Ogre was wiped but still making light of the situation. It was retroactively decided we never should’ve made the hike attempt, especially after a night of imbibing. The Ogre passed out in the tent and snored for hours. It kept me up. I wished I could pop a wet sock in his mouth to mute the sleeping roar.
The next morning we couldn’t decide whether to head home or just take it easy at camp to salvage the trip. We were supposed to be there two or three more days. We were to play dumb games and drink beer as we caught up on the last few years of life. I was hesitant to do so as I’d been up to nothing but goofing around as they worked on relationships and careers.
The main ranger came by and took down our version of events. When he left The Ogre said it’d be best if we just went home. He was too shot to even lay in the tent all day on a drip of cold beer and homemade muffins.
We said goodbye to Andy who we wouldn’t be seeing until the wedding the next summer. We left back through the overgrown Watford City, reflecting on our nights and day in the badlands. Josh had drove all the way from Chicago. Now his vacation was cut short. But we were as okay with it as we could be. We passed the time by talking about how much Facebook stalking we’d done of our high school classmates. Sometimes we’d stop to piss along the road or gobble leftover food.
I drifted off for a bit and woke to The Ogre talking about two ladies he was trying to see. One was a thief who pretended to be from South America while the other was a paint huffer. It seemed she possessed superior attributes. “She’s actually pretty cool for a chick who huffs paint.”
And so that’s how it was for everything. The shitty was overlooked and the good made bold. I got over any annoyance I had with my ogre friend. Our trip had been a disaster but we still had some fun. We got to hang for a day and knew we’d get to make callbacks to our fucked adventure for years. It was cool to be in a car with old friends who’d joined in a communal experience before leaping back to our normal lives. Those normal lives no longer really involved each other so this was all we had. The trip would act as a sinew for jokes, Facebook posts, and stories to tell others who weren’t there.
At first I was disappointed I didn’t get to do all my badlands hiking. Things would’ve gone much smoother had I been there by myself. But in time I felt it was better to be heading back early with them than staying out there alone. Passing through all that beautiful landscape for twice as long would’ve meant half as less had it not been for an ogre whose lust for caramel rolls fucked us all.
The trip was a wreck and that was kinda neat. It seemed I should do more things with others even if that meant fewer bursts of fun and adventure. I was even ready to stay put for a while if it engendered opportunities for a more stable social life. So I figured I’d give that all a shot. Despite this resolution I felt I’d probably just curve back to my old lonely ways with ease. It took a bit of time but of course I made it there.
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This Ogre Dates a Paint Huffer is the fourth of a seven part series on loneliness, friendship, and selfish endeavors in my semi-recent life. If ya want to read about more of my fucked choices then part one can be found here:
Here’s a minute of The Ogre acting in a highly cringe inducing short I made many years ago: