Iron Butt: Ennis to Jackson

This is the final part in the story of my Iron Butt. If you would like to catch up, check them out here: Part 1 Part 2, Part 3 We begin this part in Montana, roughly 500 miles and 11 hours into my trip. I was far behind schedule, and had run into so many problems, I had given up on the dream of completing the 1000 miles in 24 hours. I was exhausted, weary, and saddle sore. At this point my only goal was to get to Jackson, and find a place to sleep.

I pulled into the first (and only) gas station in Ennis and topped off. There were a few of bikes one pump over, and I smiled knowing I wasn’t the only crazy biker out in the middle of nowhere. I went inside, and grabbed something to eat, it had been about 4 hours since my lunch and I didn’t think there was much between here and Jackson, even though it was another 200 or so miles away. As I ate I pulled out my phone, it was over halfway charged and I had some texts to check. Before leaving Butte I had text my friend Brightly, who lives in Jackson, if there was any way I could stay with her. I felt terribly awkward about it, because I didn’t know Brightly well, had gotten her phone number from a mutual friend, and because it was so last-minute. When I pulled up over the hill from Norris, I had heard the text come in, but hadn’t checked it just yet. Much to my delight, the text was from Brightly. She informed me that not only was it OK for me to stay with her, but that a few of my other friends were headed to Jackson for the weekend. I let out an audible cheer. I couldn’t believe my luck, this was just the news I needed. I was invigorated, I finally had an end point, a light at the end of this exhausting tunnel. And standing there at the end cheering me on and waiting for my arrival were other like-minded travelers. I could not stop grinning, things were finally working in my favor! I called my mother to give her the news, once again while I ate. Before heading out, I updated my Snapchat story (it was pretty epic at this point) and finally was ready to leave on the last leg of my journey. It was 2:30, I’d been on the road just under 12 hours but I wasn’t exhausted, I was exhilarated. I was doing something that terrifies so many, taken off into the unknown, with little or no direction, seen almost all of my plans ruined, and at the end of it all I was OK. As I rode triumphant through rural Montana, with the Tetons.growing ever closer, I was arguably more alive than I had ever been.

There are many must-see places in this world, and Montana is rarely on such lists. I’d agree, Montana isn’t a “must-see”; it is a “must-experience”. At first glance, it’s boring, full of farms and open fields, not all that different from Kansas or Nebraska or any other handful of states. But when you spend time in Montana, spend a day or so, explore the town, experience what Montana really has to offer, it is an experience that no other state can offer. There is a taste of the “Old West”, the majesty of nature, and the raw freedom of an open, empty road. Its something I’ve found few other places, and nowhere better than in the wiles of Montana.

Wide open Montana

Gorgeous Montana- You could live here, see that house?

I rode the next stretch straight through (to Island Park), no stopping to adjust items on bike, or to check the map for the next gas stop, or to check a number of notifications on my phone. Things were finally going right, and I was eager to be back on track. I turned off of 287, onto 87 and eventually crossed into Idaho. This gorgeous stretch of road is full of gentle curves through the country side past rolling hills, forests, and alongside Lake Henry. It eventually dead ends at SR 20, which leads in one direction to West Yellowstone and Island Park in the other. I headed toward Island Park, taking note of my odometer. I had ridden roughly 70 miles, and my gas light had already come on. I wasn’t sure how much further it would be before I found a gas station. I knew Island Park was close, but I could feel the anxiety creeping up. It didn’t last long. Not far down the road it started to open up and I saw the first man-made structures in what felt like 20 miles. I stood up, threw my fist in the air, and let out a barbaric yawp; letting go with it all the negativity that had defined so much of this trip.

I pulled into the gas station, it was a gravel lot, quite large as it was also an RV park. I pulled up to the pump, and was taken aback at the cost of gas. I knew Island Park was a decent size, and that there was likely another station in Island Park, but couldn’t be sure. I rolled over to some people getting out of an RV and asked if they knew where the next gas station was. They couldn’t say exactly but said it was not more than 5-10 miles down the road. I debated stopping again versus the high likelihood of finding less expensive gas. After realizing I wasn’t on a strict schedule anymore, I chose to take the chance and ride on to the next set of gas stations. I hung my helmet one of the bungee nets, resecured my hair and headphones, set my GoPro to face me, and took off.

The feeling of the wind rushing through your hair is a unique feeling but it is coupled with wind rushing past your eyes, and ears. Without proper ear and eye protection, it can be quite unpleasant, not to mention that in the case of an accident, your risk of dying is significantly increased. All that aside though there is something to be said for the sensation. And sometimes in life it’s worth taking a few calculated risks.

Riding without a helmet

Pure Freedom, riding in Island Park

As soon as I pulled out of the parking lot, I let out a loud “wooooooo”. It was involuntary, the rush of the ride, and the fact that I was here, and things were working out. The next 5 miles were easy, more traffic than the previous 100, but straight forward and at a comfortable speed. I did miss the quiet of my helmet as the wind ripped the earbuds out of my ears, leaving only its loud, scratching roar to accompany my ride. I eventually pulled into Robin’s Roost, and filled up after waiting for a pump. I pulled into a shady spot to check the rest of the route, gear up and of course catch up my Snapstory. I only had 1 more stop before Jackson and I couldn’t wait. I hopped back on my bike and headed for the mountains.

Smiling at Robin's Roost

Can’t stop smiling.

This particular leg was a little boring, as I traveled through Caribou-Targhee National Forest, but no less beautiful than the previous one. Eventually I was dumped into Ashton, home of the “World’s Largest Elkhorn Arch”, and then on to Tetonia. Though tempting, I didn’t pull off in Ashton to take a photo of the arch, but I did take a moment in Tetonia to take a photo of the Tetons before I got too close. I was excited, but the length of the trip was starting to catch up with me. It was closing in on 6:00pm, or hour 15 of this trip. (If everything had gone correctly I would have been just about done with my Iron Butt, but I had only ridden ~650 miles.) Luckily I was only 50 miles out from Jackson. I wanted to wait a little longer to get gas, so I quickly got back on the road, and rode another 10 miles to Driggs.

I pulled into a gas station in Driggs, and filled up without removing my helmet, or gloves. It was like clockwork now, but this time as I wrote down my mileage, and stowed the receipt safely in my documentation pouch, I realized how unnecessary it was. I smiled to myself, buttoned everything up and was ready to go again. This was it, the final push. Only 30 miles, 45 minutes (and little did I know) one epic mountain pass stood between me and Jackson, my friends, and a warm bed to sleep in. I was exhausted both mentally and physically, but the end was in sight.

The road between Driggs and Jackson is cute, quaint at times. It’s a two lane road through a few small towns, and past a number of homes. Sometimes you feel as though your riding through a neighborhood and you’re not surprised when you get stuck behind a man on his tractor. As I got closer to Jackson I began to notice signs regarding the maximum weight permitted in Teton Pass. There were an almost annoying amount of them. It wasn’t long before I realized I was headed for Teton Pass; that I had to head OVER the huge mountains looming just ahead of me. I felt the now familiar surge of excitement. Living in Utah, mountain roads are where I feel at home, and the idea of riding over the Tetons was thrilling. Soon I reached the mouth of pass. As imagined, the road twisted and turned revealing beautiful vistas. Braden and I, now one being, hugged every curve nearly scraping our footpegs on every turn. It was just the thing I needed to get me through the last 40 miles.

The vistas from the top of Teton pass were intoxicating, seeing the valley spilling out in front of me fed my wanderlust. Even towards the bottom, it was quite breathtaking. Just before the bottom of the pass, there was a temporary orange caution sign that read: “Crash ahead”. I found this to be a little odd, and couldn’t imagine a situation when there would be a need for this sign. I mean when is there enough time after a crash to go 5-10 miles up the road to place this sign? I mostly shrugged it off assuming it had been placed a while back, and the crash had been cleared since there was no traffic backup. I soon found out what kind of situation would warrant the use of this sign.

As soon as the canyon opened up, I saw it. A tractor-trailer sprawled across the road, the cab on its side in my lane of travel, surrounded by emergency response vehicles. The shock of it was enough to make me jump, grab my clutch, and squeeze my brakes. I checked my GoPro was running, and readjusted it (I’d hit a bump a little to hard and it was pointing toward the sky.) Turns out the truck was well over the G.V.W., but the driver claimed he hadn’t seen the signs until it was too late, and then, of course, lost control of the vehicle. As an aside, the truck was hauling over 40,000 lbs of potatoes, all of which had to be “disposed of” (meaning given away to whomever wanted them).

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I pulled off at the gas station just past the wreck to rubberneck just a bit. I stayed at the station just long enough to take some photos and call Brightly to let her know I was close. I fueled up for good measure, set my GPS, and pulled out. It wasn’t long before I was in a part of Jackson I recognized. I turned away from town and soon was at the turn off for Brightly’s house. I turned onto her road, pulled up to what I believed was her driveway. Before I could call her to check she appeared on the back porch and waved me in. I pulled around the house, into the garage, and turned my key having finally reached the end of my epic journey. I excitedly greeted her, grabbed my overnight bag and walked into the house.

My journey was over, at least for the time being, I was ready to eat good food, have a few drinks, and pass out.

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