This is the third installment of my Iron Butt attempt over July 4th weekend 2016. The first two installments can be found here: Part 1, Part 2. I begin this installment stranded in Butte, MT about 400 miles and 9 hours into my trip, having just discovered charger for my phone was broken.
I returned to the Harley dealership feeling more than dumb walking back in. I went back to the counter and asked if they had the part for my charger. I was hoping it was just the piece that connected to the part that was hard-wired in. That would be the easiest fix. We attached another connector, and (to no one’s surprise at this point) it didn’t work. The part that was broken turned out to be the piece that was hard-wired into my battery. This meant I would have to take apart my bike; I’d have to remove my seat, and unscrew my battery. I had all the tools but the idea of tearing my bike apart in their parking lot was miserable. It was one of the few times I have wished I had a Harley.
I took a chance and asked the guy if there was any chance they could “install” the part for me. He said they could certainly do it, and went to ask how much they would charge. He came back and said the manager said it would be no charge. I was so happy, I felt like crying. I paid for the part and took my bike over to the garage. I unpacked a few of the items, so they could easily access my battery. It was a little busy and I could tell this was going to take a while, so I piled my stuff in the grass near the garage door, and laid down to take a nap. I have no idea how long I was there since my phone was basically dead the entire time. I never really did fall asleep, maybe because it was the middle of the day, or because the shop was rather loud, or more likely because I was stressing about whether I was going to finish, and if not, where I was going to sleep that night.
Eventually they brought Braeden back out, with the new battery tender nub hanging out from just under the seat. I jumped up and graciously took control of my bike. I thanked them WAY too many times and took to carefully strapping all my items back onto the back fender. Finally, I plugged in my adapter and with it my phone started charging and I began dressing for the ride. Even though it was the middle of the day in July, with the recently limited space, I was forced to wear all protective gear I had packed, so “gearing up” took a few minutes. Before scooting out I turned on my phone, plotted the new route (from Butte to Jackson) and plugged in my headphones. Finally, after losing four hours stranded in Butte, I was ready to go. As I exited the parking lot, I let out a victorious yell.
As I merged onto the freeway, finally back in the saddle, everything everything started to come together. It was one of those times on a bike where you feel completely free, the roar of the engine, the passing scenery and the wind all come together to create this euphoric bubble. Nothing else matters, you’re 100% in the moment, it’s just you and the road. I felt invincible flying down the freeway sinking into the curves of Copper Canyon. Vast open fields loomed to the right while on my left a wall of earth threatened to hurl loose rocks into the road. The mountains were looming ever-closer in the foreground, Braden and I were one, shifting together with every twist and turn. I had gotten all of the bad things out-of-the-way, and there was nothing that could stop me now.
I rode I-90 for about another 30 minutes, before I realized I was approaching a literal fork in the road. I had planned to make it to Bozeman and to make the final decision on whether I was going to attempt to finish or just head to Jackson, where I had a bed waiting for me. As I rode though, there were a number of signs for Yellowstone and Jackson. The closer I got to the exit the louder the voice in my head telling me to take the adventure, the road into the unknown. I still had a fair amount of gas, only having traveled about 40 miles on my current tank but there’s no guarantee of a gas station in places like rural Montana. I went back on forth until at the last-minute I threw what was left of my caution to the wind and decided I wanted an adventure and the unknown road embodied the spirit of the moment of the trip, and veered off the freeway on to the exit ramp.
I felt a surge of excitement and elation. I was heading to Jackson not relying on anything other than the signs on the highway, relying on them to get me where I was going essentially blind to the road ahead. It is truly my favorite way of travelling, seeing a road, wondering where it goes, and then choosing to find out. There is also a bit of romanticism to travelling “blindly”. It is reminiscent of the days before GPS, when all you had a was a map, a general idea of where you’re going, but had to rely on your innate sense of direction and the local Department of Transportation to get you there. I let go of my schedule, felt the pressure of the time constraints melt away; I was ready to get lost.
I never did find a moment to regret this decision, the vistas were breathtaking, the roads were in good condition and there were just enough other vehicles to feel confident I was on the right path without ever being congested. Eventually, I did start to closely watch my odometer, calculating the mileage to the next town with how many I’d travel, and watching for my gas light. Luckily, Norris wasn’t too far, a total of about 60 miles from my last fill-up, well within my tank limits. But there was nothing indicating there was a gas station there, and the next town, Ennis, was an additional 30 miles.
I eventually reached Norris, and as expected it was a very small town. within 1/2 a mile I saw the gas pump. I also saw the building or what was left of it.The front of it was recently built or repaired, covered in new plywood, but there wasn’t much behind that. As approached the turn in, I saw chain link fence and caution tape were surrounding the building and blocking all but one pump, at which there were 2 vehicles waiting. I pulled in, and tried to pull up the next gas stop along my route of travel. However there is almost no service in the town of Norris so I was forced to continue travelling as I would have in the days before GPS. I took off my helmet and asked the man waiting to use the pump how far the next station was after Ennis. He told me the next one was in Ennis, but past that he wasn’t sure. He told me there was service about a mile down the road, at the top of the hill so I could check. We talked for a bit, and he told me that this station had burned down a few months prior, gave me a pretty route to Jackson, and as happens when you’re on a bike, he shared stories from his past on the road.
I took this time to set up my GoPro and fill up. Eventually I said my goodbyes and was on my way. I pulled off at the top of the hill to search for the location of a gas station following Ennis. It was pretty far, but I knew I could probably make it on one tank, but definitely with the extra gas from my MSR.
There is a really awesome canyon between the two towns, full of sharp curves, rock walls and severe drop offs. I was about halfway through it when I realized I wasn’t wearing my sunglasses. I pat my chest and all my pockets trying to find them, but to no avail. I began looking for a place to turn around, but as is typical in these types of canyons, there was no place to pull off, so I had to wait until I got to the other side. By the time I turned around I had travelled 10 miles. I rode back and retrieved them, but I had added 20 miles to this tank, that I already wasn’t sure would make it to the next stop. So I decided to top off in Ennis.