Iron Butt: The First 200 (SLC –> Idaho Falls)

I spent this summer travelling everywhere on my motorcycle. Every chance I got I would pack up with a change of clothes and my camping gear and take off to somewhere new. I even attempted an Iron Butt (1000 miles in 24 hours or less.) As with any trip, this one was not without its problems.

Over July 4th weekend, I decided to add another National Park to my jacket. (I have a leather jacket covered in patches from all the places I’ve been.) Some friends had recently gone up to Glacier National Park and it looked amazing. It was a perfect time, during the small window that the “Going to the Sun” road, which runs through the park, is open. Glacier isn’t too far, about 1400 miles and I figured I could easily do over the three-day July 4th weekend, After some planning, I decided that I should just make the trip an Iron Butt. I did lots of preparation (much more than usual); I made sure I knew where to get gas, packed for quick and easy access and ensured that I would be able to complete the 1000 miles with plenty of time to spare. My ending point was in Bozeman, MT. Bozeman was over 400 miles away from home, but if I was going to ride through Glacier, it was the best stopping point, for finding an end witness and finding a place to sleep.

I left home at 3:00AM. 3:06 to be exact. This was strategic, it allowed me to go home and sleep after work, ensured I would avoid any traffic, and maximized my 3 day weekend. I met with two of my friends, who had just gotten off work, at a gas station. They signed the witness forms and wished me luck as I filled up with gas. My first stop was Malad, Idaho, a little over 100 miles away. I felt good, not too tired, and felt incredibly prepared.

Everything was going smoothly, I was cruising along down the highway jamming along to my music excited for the trip that lay ahead. I kept reviewing my route and my gas station procedure (to avoid wasting time at the gas pump) My fuel light came one about 25 miles before the Utah-Idaho border, which was earlier than I had anticipated. I had only gone about 75 miles, and Malad was still 30 miles away (also the next town along the highway). I contemplated turning around and heading a few miles back to Tremonton, but decided that it would be fine, my bike regularly got 120 miles to a tank. So, I kept riding, fairly confident I could make it to the gas stop. Soon enough, I crossed the border, still going strong. The gas station was just over 3 miles away.

Suddenly I felt my bike jolt forward, and knew I was out of gas. I cursed as I pulled onto the shoulder. I slowed and restarted my bike knowing I could run it a bit further at lower speeds, and I hoped it could get me the few miles I had to go. I cruised about another mile around 45, but the bike started to put-putt along, so I gave in and cut the engine. Defeated, I brought the bike to a stop. Malad is a very small town mostly know for being the first gas station in Idaho after crossing the border and therefore, a popular place to buy lottery tickets. Lucky (or not) for me this means there isn’t much traffic at 4 in the morning. Unfortunately that also means there are no street lights, or buildings around to illuminate the highway, so the only light I had was that of my headlight.

I hopped off my bike feeling relatively safe due to the low traffic and the light of my headlight spilling across the lanes and my tailight to alert oncoming traffic that I existed. I walked around to the rear of my bike an unclipped my MSR gas bottle, checked for any oncoming traffic and walked up to my gas tank. It was then I remembered I had to turn off my bike to fill the gas. As I leaned across the tank and turned off my bike. Now in complete darkness, without even the moon to assist me,  I felt nervous. I felt for the keyhole in the gas cap, and was able to remove it. Then came the hard part. My gas bottle looks like one of those metal water bottles, so there is no way to ease the gas into the tank. I tried propping my phone up to use the flashlight, I even tried holding it in my mouth, but nothing worked. I turned off the flashlight and was once again left in pitch dark. I put my index finger in the hole of my gas tank and made my best approximation of where to pour. Luckily I’m pretty coordinated and I had estimated pretty well. I felt gas spill over my finger and soon was emptying the entire bottle into my tank. I closed up everything, put my gloves back on and started my bike again. As my lights illuminated the road, I could see that I had spilled a minimal amount of gas and I felt proud.

I reached the gas station within minutes. All I could think about was how much time I had wasted, and was determined to make this a quick stop. I filled both my tank and the bottle, and as I was attaching the fuel bottle, I saw my hair fall in front of me. My hair (which is VERY long) had come completely undone and was now free-flowing. I groaned in frustration, and reluctantly took off my helmet. (I would like to note that in 3 years of riding this has NEVER happened to me before. NOT. ONCE.) It took at least 20 minutes to untangle the mess that had become my hair, but I finally got it restrained and (hopefully) locked in. I had also checked the map for gas stations before my next stop, Idaho Falls, which was roughly another 110 miles. There seemed to be plenty, so I pulled on my helmet and gloves, hopped back on my bike and headed back to the freeway, determined to make better time.

As predicted the gas light came on much earlier than anticipated when planning the trip. Before I got to Idaho Falls, I found a place to top off. This time I was in and out, no issues, and I wasn’t too upset about the extra time. The sun had started to come up which was lucky because I had started to get very tired, my body and mind having been so clued into the time and darkness. Watching the sunrise though, not only gave me the shot of energy I needed, it was one of those moments that makes you appreciate life. I was in the middle of nowhere, not a building in sight and the only other vehicles I saw were truckers trying to make their deadlines. As the sun rose it highlighted the colors of the “desert”, yellows, grays, browns, and most magnificent the purples. Though there was really nothing of note, it was truly breathtaking. These kinds of moments always get me thinking about my life, and what I’m grateful for, so I let my mind wander as I rode this stretch, though always aware of the road ahead of me.

I reached Idaho Falls around 6AM, I was a little behind schedule, but was feeling extremely serene about the whole thing. I cruised into the gas station having only ridden about 50 or so miles since my last fill up, but wanted to top off at all my planned gas stops since in some places they were the only place to get gas for many MANY miles, and I couldn’t remember which ones were which. I pulled up, and noticed that my saddlebags which zip on, had begun to sag as the zippers came undone. I sighed, reassured myself this would be a quick and simple fix, and began filling up. I placed the nozzle in the tank, and turned to watch the meter. I started reading one of their ads through the bug splattered shield of my helmet. I began to register a strange noise, and started to turn toward my bike. Before I turned enough of the way around, I felt something cold in my boot. Simultaneously I realized what the sound was and turned enough to see my bike. THE GAS WAS OVERFLOWING.

The pump’s auto shutoff hadn’t worked and gas was spilling everywhere. I grabbed the handle and turned off the gas. Guiltily, I went inside to alert the attendant. He apologized to me and grabbed the supplies to clean up. I squished all the way back to my bike and sighed. The tank had been covered in gas, and I had taped a pouch containing a map and all of my Iron Butt documents and receipts right in the middle. The documents had stayed dry but the electrical tape I had used to tape the pouch to my tank was melting. The attendant attempted to help me clean the tank but the residue from the tape proved difficult. Eventually I called it quits, thanked him, and then hopped on my bike to move it out of the puddle of gas. However, as I learned,  gas is incredibly slick and I couldn’t get any traction. He had to give me a push to get going. After that I just gathered my gear, secured the document pouch in a bag, cleaned the tank a little more, and slowly rolled next door to Jack-in-the-Box.

My serene mood had all but disappeared. I was frustrated that I’d been on the road for over 3 hours, and was only in Idaho Falls. This trip was quickly turning into a disaster. I had wasted an inordinate amount of time, and traveled less than 200 miles; Glacier seemed so far.I thought about calling it quits, but I am a forever optimist (and honestly, quite stubborn). I got a small coffee and some breakfast and decided I needed to change my route.

The story continues in Part 2.


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