Iron Butt: Idaho Falls to Butte

This is the second part in a series.The first part of this story can be found here

I sat in Jack-in-the-Box pouring over maps and routes, calculating routes, and options for travel. After about 30 minutes, I had formulated a route that would allow me to complete the Iron Butt. The next step of my trip would be the same, I was headed to Butte, but from there I would turn towards Bozeman. It was all highway so it would be faster but likely boring and surely not as breathtaking as Glacier would have been. I took a moment to mourn the loss of that experience, but knew that it would be safer and better for me in the long run. As I finished my coffee, I sighed, rose from the table and shook off my dark mood. This was exciting! There was still so much to see and experience, and no matter where I was headed it was sure to be a thrilling ride.

I walked out to my bike with a new sense of purpose. I kneeled down and examined my saddlebags, they were nylon medium-sized bags, that were slung over my back fender. They are normally secured under the seat and for ease of detachment, each had a zipper connecting them the strip that rested against the fender. My bags were well-worn, faded to a nice gray, and fraying on the top flap, having been torn  by the wind over thousands of miles not properly secured down. Over the years, the zippers had weakened, at one time or another breaking free on the wrong side of the zipper, leaving the entire weight of the bag hanging from the zipper. Occasionally they would start unzipping due to the weight of the bag, movement around turns, or the vibration of the bike. On one particularly bad occasion a few of my friends helped me zip tie around the zipper, through the cloth, after the bag on my right came undone 3 times on one trip.

Currently, I was having a combination of both problems. Both bags were awkwardly hanging, and needed to be fixed to avoid a potentially fatal situation. The bag on the left was hanging just by the zipper, and due to the awkward distribution of weight while riding was hanging lower and had rubbed against my rear tire. This had caused the bag on the right (still zip tied) to be pulled higher, and at strange angle and was coming unzipped. I wrestled with the zipper on the left until the zipper was at the starting position and I could zip it back on. Then I attempted to pull the bags back towards the right side, to even them out, but as anyone who has ever tried to move a blanket out from under all the other folded items knows, this is hard. I couldn’t get them even enough and hanging in the exact right place, but I got them evenly slung. They had slid forward on the fender which made the leading edge, slightly turned in towards the frame of the bike. I decided I would reevaluate their position in Butte.

I stood up feeling mostly satisfied, though still a little wary of their positioning, and geared up. It was now after 7 AM I had wasted more than an hour in Idaho Falls. Before taking off I did one final check to ensure that everything was secured and I had everything I had come with. I was jamming right along, I could tell that my bags had shifted yet again, and were likely rubbing against my tire and belt. I was about 40 miles outside of Butte, and exits were few and far between. I decided I should just push to Butte, but with every passing mile, I became more nervous. Was it worth risking my life to make better time? I was approaching an exit and at the last-minute I veered onto the exit ramp and brought my bike to a stop.

Sure enough, my bags had been rubbing on the belt and the friction was starting to rip the fabric on the bag. In the interest of not completely unpacking my bike on the side of the road in the middle of Montana, I resorted to pulling on bags from the other side to try to adjust them. It worked well enough, but I knew it wouldn’t hold. I gave it one final tug before hopping back on and tentatively got back on the freeway. I rode slower than I had and without music to help me stay focused on any strange noises or vibrations. I easily made the decision to buy a set of bags and brackets in Butte.

The remainder of the ride to Butte was uneventful. I pulled off at the first exit to gas up and then started looking for bike shops. There were plenty of shops around, so I rode to the closest one, excited to fit my bike with some new bags. I pulled up and first became suspicious at the empty parking lot. I pulled my bike right up to the door and read the note taped to the door. “Closed July 2, 3, and 4th for the holiday.” Sightly annoyed, I  began looking for another. There was another one close by, and I headed over intently listening to the directions in my helmet, only to find that it too was closed. Exasperated, I called two more shops, neither answered. In the interest of being thorough, I drove by one of them and not surprisingly it was closed.

I had one last resort. There was a Harley dealership on the outskirts of town. I called them and of course they were open. I explained my situation and asked if they might have anything to fit my Yamaha Bolt. The man on the phone wasn’t sure but said that they would see what could be done. Feeling heartened I headed over to Copper Canyon Harley.

The parking lot was full of newer bikes and a middle-aged men taking amongst their baggers. They were decked out in flashy clothes clearly interested in this season’s latest accessories, as they walked from bike to bike comparing dick size, by the amount of accessories on thier bikes. As I pulled in, dismounted and pulled off my silver sparkle helmet, all eyes turned to me and my ratty bags on what was clearly not a Harley. I got off my bike and examined my bags, there was now a rather large hole clear through the bag on the left from the friction of the belt and tire. I sighed a breath or relief that I had made it here without serious incident and walked into the dealership feeling rather sheepish.

Once inside I still felt a bit out place as happens from time to time as a woman who rides, but walked straight up to the counter and asked about their saddlebags. He told me he had checked and they didn’t have any throw over bags, but he that a bracket for a Sportster might fit. He grabbed a one and we walked outside. Unfortunately it didn’t fit. My spirits dropped. Here I was roughly 400 miles from home, with no options to replace the bags that were now falling apart and endangering my life. All I wanted to do was cry. I ran through what was in my bags, and how I could rearrange, pack or carry the items in them. And all the while the Iron butt clock was ticking away.

With no time to pout, and not ready to call it quits, I went inside and bought another bungee, and then went to work on the puzzle of loading everything on my fender. As a reminder I had been planning on camping for a day or two over this three-day weekend, and travelling to Glacier. So I had all of my camping gear, a few changes of clothes, my camera and GoPro, plus all their accessories, and a handful of other items that I might have needed. It didn’t take too long but with every minute counting against me it felt like hours.

I had worked up a bit of hunger and it was around 11:30 AM. I had been on this journey for 8 and half hours, for what is a 6 hour trip. I reminded myself that I had built in 6-8 hours of extra time with this new route, took a deep breath and headed to the grocery store (next door) for some lunch.

I took this opportunity to call my parents, update them on my journey and assure them that I was safe. My phone beeped on my ear to let me know it was dying. I ate while we talked to save time. The whole thing took another 1/2 hour or so. I headed back to my bike and plugged my phone into the charger I have hardwired into my bike. … Nothing happened. I checked all my connections, and tried again. Still nothing. I was prepared for such a disaster, and pulled out another cord and adaptor. I tried all the different combinations, with no result. The only conclusion I could come to, was that the part that connects to my battery was fried.

There was no way I could continue on without my phone. Not only because I was telling an awesome Snapchat story but it was my safety net. It was my only connection to help when riding through rural Montana. And of course there were many people worried about me riding and potentially camping alone. With yet another blow to the ride clock, I headed back over to Harley with a dreary outlook, for the Iron Butt, and as much hope as I could muster that they might have the part I needed.

The story continues in Part 3.


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