September 21, 2012 – View my route for the day: Day 14 Track
I woke up this morning to frost on the ground and had to poop really badly. I took the bike back over to the cemetery and went to “my outhouse.” (I neglected to write yesterday that there was no running water at the Zinn cabin. While visiting my great uncle/aunt gravestones, I saw an outhouse in the distance and seemed to be a fitting place to do my business. I’m sure you’re glad I shared that…). I also had the chance to wash the bike again after riding on those dirt roads yesterday looking for the elusive peak.
Yesterday, I shared with some of the people that I met what my plans were for today, which was to head to Yellowstone. “Be careful! Watch out!” They warned me. I was confused. Were there serial killers lurking about in that area or something? “Oh, why, because of the wildfires?” I asked them. “No, no – there’s just lots of deer and wildlife on the road to Yellowstone. So be careful. It’s mostly open range out there. You don’t want to hit a buffalo, especially on a motorcycle.”
I’m from “upstate” new york and am used to deer, so I kind of shrugged this off. Well, I was going 100mph at one point, looked to my right, and saw a herd of antelope running beside me. I thought it was pretty cool and felt safe enough that they weren’t going to turn in my direction and stampede me. Just then, all of a sudden a family of 8 deer ran from behind some bush on the side of the road and directly in front of me. Lucky, I’m riding a Sportster 1200R. The “R” version came with duel front disk brakes, meaning I can stop almost twice as fast as other models. This probably saved my life. This also snapped me out of my hubris, especially since I knew the closer to Yellowstone I got, the more wildlife there would be.
I may have learned that lesson, but after 4500 miles, one true break down and countless other close calls, I still hadn’t learned how to keep from running out of gas. I saw a sign for Jeffersontown that told me it was 30 miles away. I had only clocked 50 miles since my last fill-up and figured Jeffersontown would be a good place to stop to make sure I was safe for a while. Unfortunately, when I got to Jeffersontown I quickly saw it for what it was — a ghost town. There was an old Texaco station that probably hadn’t been used in 20 years, a motel that was all boarded up, and a liquor store with neons in the window that hadn’t been visited by the resident drunk in at least 5 years. I had no choice but to keep going, and unfortunately the next town, Laredo, was 59 miles away, meaning I would be at least at 140 miles with no gas – and I knew that would be really pushing it. At 118, I ran out of gas and threw on the reserve. I had never gone more than 130 miles on a single fill up, so instead of traveling at 90 miles an hour I started going 50 to save on gas. I was worried Laredo would be another ghost town, which would have absolutely left me stranded, so one way or another Laredo would have to come through for me. When I finally saw the sign for Laredo, it said the population was over 7,000 and that was a signal that I would definitely find some gas. And sure enough I did, thankfully before I ran out yet again.
Well, that was all well and good, but I guess gas was the least of my problems. At the next gas stop, about 40 miles from Yellowstone, I found myself stranded. Not for lack of gas, but for lack of power. Yesterday I had some issues with the bike starting back up, but the battery miraculously kicked back on and I had no more issues for the rest of the day. Today I wasn’t so lucky. I again waited a good 30 minutes to see if I would hear the battery come back to life, and occasionally it would, but each time I would try to start the engine I would get a “clank, clank, claaaank, capoot” sound and would kill it again.
I rolled it over to a garage next door and the technician there was the complete opposite of the NAPA guys. He was more than happy to help, but didn’t know anything about bikes. He called a friend of his who built motorcycles, and the friend told him it was probably a dead battery. The manual says never to use jumper cables unless absolutely necessary. I felt in this instance it was absolutely necessary. We hooked the cables up and sure enough, “vroooom,” the H-D roared back to life. My only hope was that the ride to Yellowstone would charge it enough to get it to start again. If not, hopefully someone had some jumper cables where I broke down next.
I entered the Grand Tetons and found them to be absolutely incredible. It was also all open range, and I happened to pass a cow standing on the shoulder of the road. A little scary. But this place out there was, wow. There’s no other word for it. I began ascending into the mountains and the more I went, the nicer the roads got, the windier they got, and the cooler the ride became. This was something I had never seen before and am happy I got a chance to live and breath it.
As I continued to ride, the beauty of the landscape put me into a trance of sorts. It got me thinking. I looked around at all the trees around me – the giant spruce trees (I think). I looked at these trees and realized that from the moment they were born and sprouted, they have stayed in that same spot and will remain there until the day they die. They are never going to move. Ever. Now us, we’re lucky. We can choose what we want to do. We can explore. We’re not just born into our place in life; we’re not stuck with whatever we were born into; we can change. We can move. Even when we do settle down and “sink our roots into the ground,” that’s not necessarily forever. You can have a family. You can have a house. To use another metaphor, you can build a foundation but you can always choose to go somewhere else. You don’t have to be in the same place your entire life. Now, does it make sense to? Would it be nice to? I don’t know. I guess if you enjoy where you are then why not? But maybe, because of our ability to wander, maybe we’re not meant to be in the same place our entire lives. Maybe we’re supposed to continue to explore, continue to search and find different places to keep us on our toes. To keep us from being too comfortable. To keep the soil new and fresh and raw.
I was snapped out of my trance when I finally crossed into Yellowstone National Park. There was a little town near the campground (Grant Village) with a gas station. I figured it would be easier to fill up then rather than waiting for the morning, so I stopped the bike, filled up, crossed my fingers, and… Nothing. It wouldn’t start. There was a pick-up truck of guys at the pump behind me, so I asked them if they had any jumper cables on them. They apologized because the truck was only a rental, so they had nothing on them.
The service station was open, but they wouldn’t help me without charging me $40, even just for a jump. Ridiculous. I went back out, not sure exactly what to do, when the guys in the truck pulled up along side me and asked me if I had ever “bump started” the bike before. I had heard of this, but wasn’t sure if it was really something people could do. I sure had no idea how it would be done, but was happy to learn. I took them up on their offer to help, and the three of them got beside me and explained the fundamentals.
“OK, when we start pushing, you drop it into neutral. We’ll give you a running start, then you need to jump onto it – hard — putting as much weight on the bike as you can to keep the rear tire from slipping. Kkick it up into second gear, then throw out the clutch as fast as you can while also slamming on the throttle.”
Sounded easy enough…
On the count of three we pushed and pushed and pushed, went faster and faster. I jumped onto the seat, put it in 2nd, let out the clutch, and bingo, we were in business! I turned around, gave them a thumbs up, and drove off into the wilderness (aka the campground).
After setting up the camp, I decided I would go in search of Old Faithful. I had no idea what to expect and thought that it erupted every 10 minutes or so. Turns out, that’s not the case at all. Apparently, it goes off every 90 minutes (give or take 10 minutes). I ended up showing up at quarter to 6 and saw that the next eruption was at 6. I didn’t think anything of it and casually strolled on down to the geyser figuring that if I missed it I would just catch the next one. Nope! But thankfully I have some good “Dan Luck” on my side (as Jason would say) and caught it right at the right time.
For the 10 minutes leading up to the top of the hour, people were noticeably antsy. There were small eruptions and everyone would hold their breath before letting out a big sigh when nothing more happened. At 6 on the dot a jet of water shot into the air and everyone thought that was it — the mythical Old Fathful eruption. People were noticeably disappointed, some saying how anti-climactic it was. I heard others in the distance making fun of it for having a “premature eruption.” As the minutes ticked away, some people even started to leave. Then, at 7 after 6, the steam grew thicker and the super-heated water exploded into the sky, 100 feet above the ground. It lasted for about a minute before settling down and slowly suffocating itself back down to a whimper. For someone who really knew nothing about what to expect, it definitely surpassed my expectations!
After buying some supplies for the night and rolling the bike down a hill to get it started, I began the 17-mile journey back to the campground. 10 miles in, I noticed about 50 cars pulled over on the side of the road and asked a nearby park ranger what was going on. Turns out, there was a black bear in the woods nearby. I would have been one of the ones to stop as well if I wasn’t afraid of looking like a fool to get the bike started back up. But the concept kind of hit me and made me pretty sad. If people get that excited over a little black bear (that was deep in the woods and hardly visible), what does that mean for what is left out there in our country these days? It’s kind of like being at the zoo. You’re excited to see the animals until you realize how terrible of an existence they have, cooped up in little cages their entire lives for your amusement. This is like a giant version of that. Sure, it’s an amazing park that is beautiful beyond belief, so don’t get me wrong, but it does seem a little sad that we need places like this to begin with. Without the protection of parks around the country, we likely couldn’t see most wildlife in their “natural” habitat at all.
The sun set quickly in the park and with the dark came the cold. To keep warm, I attempted to build a fire. In the camp next to me was a newly married couple from Canada out enjoying their anniversary (I briefly overheard their conversation). The girl was cooking up some soup over a propane stove while the guy was collecting wood to start a fire. Prior to checking out Old Faithful, I had gone to the general store and bought a bundle of wood and kindling. So picture this: A burly, Canadian man wielding an axe and smashing it down over 12-inch thick tree trunks right next to an American guy kneeling over a fire pit and breaking pre-made twigs with his hands. Quite the juxtaposition, huh? Now take it one step further: The Canadian burly man shattering the tree trunks he had gathered into manageable logs with no more than a few grunts, spits, and muscles flexing in the cold September air while the American guy snapping twigs next to him cries out in pain and anguish as one of the twigs splinters and cuts a deep gash in his right fore-finger. Made me feel quite manly, I gotta tell ya!
After cleaning and bandaging the wound, I rounded up a long branch and whittled it to a fine point. I stuck some of the hot dogs I had purchased at the general store earlier in the day onto the end and roasted them in the fire. For dessert, I thought it would be a good idea to roast some gummy worms as well. Turned out to be not so bad!
The next thing I knew, the guys across the way came by to talk. I’m pretty sure they just wanted to see if I had any pot (I didn’t. I don’t smoke), but it was nice to talk to them anyway. They were taking a vacation from their work in the gold industry. They came from Alaska, mined for gold for 3 months of the year and spent the remaining time traveling the world. After they went to bed, I stood by the fire for an hour to get warm until finally curling up in my sleeping bag in the tent, shivering uncontrollably from the cold.
Random Riding Realizations (and Thoughts) of the Day:
12:32am – It’s kind of a shame. You can’t see much of the beauty out here. I guess probably the reason why Denver was so cloudy too. The fires. You can see the smoke everywhere. And you can smell it. You can smell the burning. Unless that’s my bike. I do need an oil change very bad… But no, you can see, smell, and taste the fires and the smoke is ruining the air. It reminds me of China. Hopefully they are able to put them out soon and this will all clear up a bit.
2:36pm – My windshield is #$%^ing dirty! It is painted white, yellow, and red from bug goo.