The Packer’s Roost (Day 15: Yellowstone to Glacier, Montana [Daily miles – 458; Total miles – 4955])

September 22, 2012 – View my route for the day: Day 15 Track

So cold.  Can’t move.  Don’t want to get out of the sleeping bag.  Can’t feel feet.

Unzip bag.  Pile on layers of clothes.  Brush teeth. Cold sink water hits hand.  Cringe.  See fire next door.  Want to jump in fire.

That was my early morning sequence of events.  The fire next door belonged to the burly Canadian man from last night.  He saw me coming back and walked over to introduce himself.

“Hey man, how’s it going?  I’m Marty and this is my wife, Courtney.  We’ve got lots of extra food.  Could we interest you in a portabella and egg sandwich for breakfast?”

“I was going to ask you guys if I could spend 5 minutes warming up by your fire, but I think a portabella sandwich trumps that.  I’d love to join you guys, thanks so much!”

I’ve found that when you’re traveling alone, people tend to be extra generous towards you.  This was certainly the case this morning.  Turns out Marty and Courtney were from Calgary and had never been to the US before.  They were taking a 3-week vacation to celebrate both Marty’s 30th birthday (which happened to be today) and their two-year wedding anniversary.

Marty works for the Alberta Healthcare System doing cancer research to attempt to find out the causes of certain types of cancer – be it genetic or from exposure to certain elements – and understand who might be more susceptible.  Courtney works for Earl’s Restaurant as a chef (that’s how they met – he had worked there previously but found they treated the employees very poorly).

We got to talking and I was surprised to hear their take on how cheap everything is in America.  To me, things seem expensive.  You can get today for $5 what was $1 when I was growing up (“back in my day…”).    But to them, it’s like an all you can eat buffet.  They went to the store to get provisions and thought they were just giving things away to people.

Courtney brewed up some hot coffee that I enjoyed more for its hand-warming abilities than anything else.  They then fried up the eggs and bacon, grilled the portabellas, heated some hamburger buns, cut up some avocado, and finally garnished the sandwich with sprouts.  The first bite was a smorgasbord of flavor: the hot egg yolk ran out into my mouth like a lava flow from St. Helens and immediately warmed me up inside.  The portabella was soft and smooth and the sprouts gave the whole thing a little extra crunch.  In the second bite, I bit into the chewy fat center of the Canadian Bacon, giving a strong kick to the pallet.  In the third bite, well… There wasn’t a third bite.  I was so hungry it was gone after the second.  But I was more than thankful.  Not only had it served to give me a much-needed boost of energy, but the conversation and warmth fired me up and got me ready to go for the day – off to Montana!

Or so I thought…

In my last two posts, I wrote about how there were some issues with starting the bike.  Possibly a dead battery (I’m an optimist, hopefully that’s all it is…).  Well, this morning proved to be a bit of a challenge.  It took me 15 minutes to get the bike started.  I guess this was to be expected, since it was a completely cold start, though I was naïve enough to think that maybe the long rest of the night would allow the battery to come back to life.  Stupidly, I had forgotten to pull out the choke during the first 10 minutes of trying.  It’s nearly impossible to get the bike started when it’s actually working without the choke after a cold night like last night, so trying to do so without a working starter was not such a smart idea.  When I figured this out, things went somewhat smoother.  After just about using up all of my portabella energy, she finally decided to cooperate and I got the engine to roar to life.

Until it stalled on me all of 20 seconds later.

After 4 or 5 more tries and some whispering of sweet nothings to her, we were in business.  I was now really headed for the North Entrance of the park and then to Montana and hopefully Glacier National Park, if I could manage to get that far.  I didn’t realize how far north it was when my friend, Yagr, told me I should go there the other day (he had called me during one of my pit stops).  It’s all the way up at the Canadian border.  But I’ll see how far I get and will try to find somewhere to camp once it starts getting dark.

One thing I am starting to feel more and more is that my bike has truly become my home.  I feel much more comfortable on the road when I’m free to go wherever I want than I do when I’m at any particular place.   When I’m stopped for the day, it’s good to be able to talk to people and sit down and relax, but I’m constantly thinking about where I’m going next and when I’m getting back on the road.  I think it’s just the mentality you get when you’re traveling so far for two weeks and you’ve seen all these amazing things, you want to keep going and see more and more and more.  I think that’s why I haven’t been taking any rest days.  I was going to take a second day in Yellowstone, but I just want to keep going.  I want to see what else is out there.

I don’t mean to sound negative because it is beautiful here in Yellowstone; it’s just as incredible as I would have thought, and I love the national parks in general.  With that said, it feels a little touristy.  It’s touristy for a national park, at least.  They have walkways around the geysers you have to stay on.  They have roads that take you everywhere.  Now, I didn’t get to go out and explore as much as I would have liked.  I was only in the park for 15 hours or so.  One day I would love to come back and spend a week backpacking through the park and see the remote areas not accessible to the RVs and buses and other mechanical beasts that litter the main areas.

By the time I made it to Montana, I needed a little bit of a break.  I stopped in Livingston for some roadside burgers and fries.  When trying to get the bike started again, I knew I was in trouble.  Not only would it not start, but there was absolutely no hill in sight to roll it down to get some speed.  This was starting to become a good workout.  Eventually, an ambulance coming the other way slowed down and asked if I needed any help.  When they said they didn’t have any jumper cables, I asked them if they would mind giving me a push.  “Not at all.  Let’s go, Buck,” the driver yelled to the passenger.  They hopped out of the truck and gave me a solid push down the road to get me going again.  At this point, I knew this was going to be a common theme.  I also knew I should stop and have it looked at, but I was so close to being in Seattle and just wanted to hold out until then to get everything looked at all at once.  So bump starting it was on the agenda for the next couple of days.

At the next gas stop, I finally got smart, or so I thought – though it might end up biting me in the butt down the line.  I checked my oil, and it was below the Low line.  Essentially, I had none.  I knew I needed oil but I didn’t know what I needed, so I called a nearby Harley Davidson dealership and they told me that I needed to use 20w-50.  The gas station had some, luckily, but there were two problems: (1) It wasn’t Harley brand, which I’m sure doesn’t matter; and (2) I think the guy I bought the bike from had used synthetic oil.  Therefore, I’m now mixing non-synthetic in with synthetic, which I’m pretty sure is not the best thing to do.  Regardless, I did it, I now had oil, and I figured that having the wrong oil is better than having no oil at all.

I then stopped at the next town, Townsend, MT to fill up just because stations are so few and far between out here that I didn’t know when the next town would be where I could fill up.  Well, what do you know, I couldn’t get the bike started.  I saw a high school football team getting on a bus and asked a few of them to help push me.  They were happy to.  But then something new happened.  I got going, but the bike didn’t quite get going.  The bike started turning on and off, on and off, on and off, repeatedly.  It was like there was a short in the battery or something and it was cutting the power every few seconds.  This resulted in my gauges flopping back and forth and lots and lots of jerking due to the constant start and stop of the flow of gas to the engine.  My thoughts turned to horror stories and I started thinking that it wasn’t the battery that was the problem.  Maybe it’s because of the oil?  Maybe a lose connection or something?  Maybe there are bigger electronic problems? I really didn’t know, but I certainly couldn’t get anywhere like this.  The dials were flashing, it wasn’t registering speed or RPM; it just wasn’t working.

I was going to just stay there the night and have someone look at it in the morning, but tomorrow is Sunday and Sunday nobody would be open, so I’d have to wait until Monday.  Even more, when they did open I didn’t know if they could help me at all.  Just like the last two places I broke down at, nobody seems to know how to fix bikes around these parts.  There was a NAPA Autoparts store nearby, but I had no confidence in them after the last encounter in Wyoming.

A gas station I pulled into told me there was a Ford dealership that might still be open down the road and that maybe they could still help me out tonight (it was already after 5 on a Saturday).  I thanked them and figured I’d try starting the bike once more to get it to the Ford dealership.  I got it going and it seemed to be acting all right, so I kept driving past the dealership and decided to ride on to Helena, which was 30 miles away.  At least in Helena I could stay somewhere if need be and I’d likely be able to find a body shop.  But of course, I didn’t want to stop.  Once I got to Helena, here’s what my actual thought process was at the time, as recorded by my helmet microphone:

“I just got through Helena and I stopped again and got it started, so I’m gonna just try to keep going to Glacier National Park in the middle of nowhere.  Literally, in the middle of nowhere.  There are no towns on the map that I can even see!  So I’m going with a bike that’s breaking down more and more every mile I ride into uncharted wilderness.  If I was smart, I’d stop in Helena for the night, I’d stay somewhere and tomorrow take a look at the bike.  But I have to get to Seattle.  I have an appointment to take the bike in.  Once I get to Seattle I’m good; I’m so close yet so far.  I’m just trying to eek this thing out to get me there.  Maybe it’s because I don’t have a name yet for my bike yet.  I don’t have any thoughts on a name, I really don’t know.  I have no idea what name she should be.  You know, it’s bad luck not to have a name on a boat; maybe it’s the same on a motorcycle?  Maybe that’s why this is starting to happen to me?  Or maybe it’s because I don’t know anything about bikes, I’ve already ridden 6000 miles, and I’m now just pushing my luck.  I’m in the deep water with no floatation device when I should have swimmies on and be in the shallow end.  Oops, I was supposed to turn right.  Fuck.  Bye.”

By 6:30 I started to get a little nervous.  I felt like Forest Gump when he was running through the desert.  I hadn’t passed a car in 20 minutes and I was going 90 miles and hour.  I hadn’t passed a house in 20 minutes and I was going 90 miles an hour.  All I could see were pastures, cows, mountains, and a red orange sun glistening on the horizon, threatening to go to sleep at any moment and take away the only thing that was continuing to keep me feeling safe and sane.

“When the sun goes down, I’m all on my own.  All bets are off,” I said to myself.  “Just hope my baby can get me to where I’m going safely and soundly.”  I’m OK with something going wrong and having to camp on the side of the road if it comes to it just as long as it’s not the end of the trip due to the bike giving out completely and just as long as nothing happens that ends up scarring me for the rest of my life.  I’m open to new experiences, I’m open to challenges with open arms, I just have no idea what kind of people I would come across if I ended up camping on the side of the road in Midwest Montana.

For about 30 minutes, I drove only 15-20 miles away from a wildfire burning up in the mountains to the east of me.  I stopped at a Sinclaire gas station and met someone else filling up their tank.  His name was Bill and I asked him how long the fire had been burning.  I was expecting him to either say, “What?! What fire?!  Let’s call 911,” or “Oh, that started yesterday from some stupid kids playing with matches.  You should be careful riding through here.”  But no, that’s not what he said at all.  “It’s been burning since July 28.  They brought in reinforcements to fight it yesterday – you may have seen those heavy-duty choppers down the road a bit.  They expect to have it out by mid-October, but we’ll see.”  I guess that’s just how the year has gone.  I don’t quite understand it.  It’s been burning for 2 months, but I guess it’s slow moving and difficult to put out.

Wildfires in Montana

By 9:30pm, I saw a local bar about 5 miles away from West Glacier Park and I figured why not slide on in, get something to eat, and then head to Glacier for the night to camp.  I entered Packers Roost to find two guys fighting at the bar, one throwing the other ones cell phone across the room.  An interesting start to the night…

I didn’t know what the fight was about, so I casually leaned towards a girl who was sitting near me, Sharron, and asked her if she knew what was going on.  She didn’t seem to have all her wits about her, and she never really answered the question, but apparently she took it as an invitation to come over and sit next to me.   The next thing I knew it was 11pm, she had eaten all of my french fries out of my chicken fingers meal, and she was still talking to me.  Around that time, more people started to show up and some kids from the area came in and challenged me to some pool.  I ended up winning $5 off one guy named Jason.  He was a real good player, so I’m not sure how I beat him.  I think he may have been trying to hustle me and I just didn’t take the bait.

When that was done, I went back to my seat at the bar and found Sharron still sitting there.  Thankfully, another somewhat older woman, Janelle, came over and started talking to Sharron.  They were surprised because they both lived in the area for many years and for such a small town had never run into each other before.  Secretly listening to their conversation, I heard Janelle mention that she was going to go out back to sit by the bonfire.  I didn’t realize there was a fire out there.  It seemed a little careless seeing as there were wildfires roaring through the countryside, but nonetheless I figured I would check it out later.

At around 12am Sharron said to me for the 5th time, “Well, I think I’m going to head home and get a good night sleep.”  This was after she went on for an hour telling me about all of her recent sexual conquests since breaking up with her previous boyfriend.  I really enjoyed hearing about that, let me tell you.  I guess she finally took the hint that I wasn’t interested and eventually sauntered out the door.

At this time, I was getting ready to pack up and asked the bar tender if she knew of a good place to camp at the park.

Bar Tender: “Sure I do, you can camp right here in the backyard.”

I was flabbergasted.

Me: “What do you mean?  Like right here behind the bar?”

BT: “Well sure, roll your bike around back, set up your tent.  We’ve got the bonfire going back there.  You’ll be nice and warm.”

Me: “Wait, wait, let me just see if I heard this right.  You want me to bring my bike around back and sleep there for the night?”

BT: “Yeah, sure, why not?”

Me: “Good point. OK, let’s do it!”

I figured that if I was staying there, I might as well get a few more drinks.  Around this time, Janelle came back in and I challenged her to a game of darts.  She wasn’t half bad, but of course I won.  It’s just my game.

The bar closed at 2am.  Last call for alcohol.  Coincidentally enough, George Thorogood’s One bourbon, one scotch, and one beer was playing on the jukebox in the background.  I considered ordering exactly that to commemorate the occasion, but I decided I’d take it somewhat easy and just order one beer before wheeling my bike around back.  The bar tender gave me a beer, I pulled my stuff around back, and the bar tender closed and locked the gate behind me and left me to my own devices.  Then I noticed Janelle standing by the fire.

Turned out she had just lost her stepmother and had gone to the funeral earlier in the day.  Although she claimed not to have liked her stepmother very much, it obviously wasn’t a very good day for her.  An interesting conversation came up where she said she was talking to a 24 year old about it earlier in the night and told him that she had gone to a funeral.  Supposedly, he didn’t know what that word meant.  I don’t know how true this is, but apparently at least around these parts they stopped using the word “funeral” and instead refer to it as a “celebration of life.”  When she told him she had gone to a celebration of life, he understood what she meant.

Anyway, as we continued talking, I thought she had some interesting perspectives on life, many of which I share myself.  We ended up staying up until about 4am running theories by each other and arguing over life, death, religion, global warming – you name it.  I think she’s a minority out here, as it sounds to me like they’re still living pretty far in the past.  Her father has ostracized her because she went to school and got an education.  I guess around here women aren’t meant for that.  They’re meant for staying at home and raising the kids.

The night was extremely cold, so a big thank you to Janelle for the beautiful afghan she had knitted that was in her car that she gave to me.  A little memento from Montana that helped to keep me nice and warm for the night.  Well, kind of.  At least it kept me warmer than it would have been without it, but the northern Montana air definitely had a strong chill to it.  And with that, the day ended as it had begun:

So cold.  Can’t move.  Don’t want to get out of the sleeping bag.  Can’t feel feet.

At least I had my afghan this time…

Random Riding Realizations (and Thoughts) of the Day:

  • 10:22am – Ouch!  I just got hit in the eye by a fly.  I guess this is why you’re supposed to wear your shield down.
  • 11:13am – I saw a buffalo.  Just a single buffalo.  Off the side of the road in the woods, it was standing there and rubbing its horns against a pine tree.  The buffalo was huge.  I can only imagine what the settlers would have felt like to have seen millions of those out roaming the plains.  Must have been a fantastic, spectacular sight.
  • 11:38am – There was a 10-minute rubber necking situation getting out of the park because there was supposedly a family of bears playing around on the rocks by a lake.  It turns out it was people playing a prank and wearing bear suits.  This goes back to my statement yesterday about the bears.  People can take advantage of the curiosity of others since things that used to be commonplace are now so rare.
  • 11:56am – Just passed by the real-life Agrocrag

    Yellowstone vs Nickelodeon Aggro Crag

  • 2:47pm – I just passed a car and heard what sounded like someone banging a metal spoon on a pot.  I turned my head to the right, and it was a Rottweiler barking at me and practically jumping out the window.  Scared me almost enough to fall off the bike.  Love you and miss you, Rocky!
  • 3:11pm – When I’m in 5th gear, between 50 and 65 is really smooth.  I can’t put it into 5th until I’m going at least 50 (when the RPMs get above 2000).  From 65 to 75 it shakes, vibrates, and buckles constantly as I accelerate through that range.  After 70mph (3000-3250 RPM) it’s smooth as silk.  So my theory is this: The H-D manufacturers either want you to go the speed limit or ride the hell out of it.  It doesn’t want you to be going just a couple miles an hour over the limit.
  • 5:41pm – Sorry Montana.  I didn’t give you quite the fair shot.  I haven’t been paying much attention to you.  I’ve been so worried about what’s going on with my bike all day long and I just want to get out of here to be honest.  Just get to Seattle.  It’s all I can think about.  I want to get out of here.  But I do need to blame some of the blame on you because my whole life I had been told there were no speed limits in you.  Yet, that’s not the case.  It’s 70mph everywhere it seems.  Now, I don’t know if the police care much, but still there are speed limits.  Anyway, I do need to apologize to you, Montana.  I’m not giving you your fair share of “oohs and ahhs” and enjoying your scenery as much as I should be.  I’ll try to put my bike woes in the back of my mind and see how it goes, though it’s kind of difficult to do.  You are a gorgeous part of the country, I’ll give you that.
  • 6:23pm – No matter where I am, I love passing another motorcycle.  If I’m on the freeway, it makes me feel like “Oh, OK, at least I’m not the only one that’s cheaping out and going on the interstate.”  If I’m on a road like I am right now, where there’s no cars for 20 minutes, I just passed a motorcycle and it makes me feel good because it means I’m not the only idiot out here on a bike in the middle of nowhere as it’s getting dark.
  • 6:31pm – So right now, I am doing everything I have done in the last 2 weeks all at once.  In the last two weeks, I have driven along coast lines, I’ve driven in the mountains, driven along lakes and rivers.  I’ve driven on extremely curvy, windy, serpentine roads, I’ve driven across the Great Plains and through immense farms. I’ve driven over a hundred miles an hour.  Well, put all of that together and at this very moment I’m doing it.  I’m currently going 94mph around twisty, turny roads through a river valley in the middle of the mountains with the giant plains stretching out as far as they can go to the mountains on the other sides, with lakes popping up here and there.  There is nothing in sight other than me and the open right and America and its finest.  I’m speechless. I’m utterly and completely speechless right now.  “Ugh. Ugh.”  That’s the only word I can produce.  I don’t know how to write that word out, but it’s a guttural sound of astonishment and awe.
  • 6:45pm – As I’m driving, I realize that every gas station, restaurant, motel, rest stop – everything – has a casino in it.

    “The interesting spots are the desperate pleas for any sort of attention in town. For example: Lucky Lil’s Casino, Tavern, Carwash and McDonald’s. But no right turn”
    Photo and caption courtesy of

  • 7:37pm – It is amazing how social of a creature we are.  I’m currently riding on Montana Route 209 heading north towards Glacier National Park.  I’m riding through Flathead National Forest right now along Lake Alva and I’ve been following a Toyota Highlander for the last 30 miles.  It makes me feel warm inside because I’ve got a friend.  I feel like we’ve connected and formed a strong bond.  They’re going kind of slow, I could pass them, but I don’t want to.  I feel like we’ve formed this friendship and who knows, they might be going all the way to Glacier as well.  Wouldn’t that be nice to join them all the way there.  Ahh, friendships.  And family.  In the end, I guess that’s what it all comes down to, doesn’t it?  It’s like they say in the song The Story: “Cause this story won’t mean anything if you got no one to tell it to.  It’s true…”

    (Link to The Story on YouTube)

    Without friends and family to share it with, sure it stays with you, but that’s about the end of it.  You need to allow other people to experience it with you as well.  This is why I’m so thrilled with Join the Ride.  So thank you for joining me, on the ride, so I can share it with you, my friends and family.


4 thoughts on “The Packer’s Roost (Day 15: Yellowstone to Glacier, Montana [Daily miles – 458; Total miles – 4955])

  1. Dan – great writing here – a vivid retelling of your trip to the north – you are a great author and you weave the story in a wonderful way. So, if you feel the need to be connected through the telling of the tale, you are succeeding.

    Of course, not for a moment do I believe that you told the entire story of Janelle, but for that I can only complement you on your good judgement!

    Keep the bike in working order – that is one worry you need not experience going forward. Get it serviced every 5000 miles…for sure. And name her…

  2. What a day Dan Zinn! Told you you shouldn’t miss out on Montana too. That was definitely one of my favorite states. So desolate but also such incredible, breath-taking scenery. Also by far the coldest night of sleep and morning of riding I’ve ever experienced in my life. But yeah, you had a crazy day it seems like. Definitely get that electrical system checked out. I was having the same problems with the dials going crazy and things shutting on and off. In my case it meant that my charging system (the rectifier) had broken and thus I was only running off of what juice I had left in the battery. Once that was gone, not even a push start was working.

    And yes… name her 🙂

  3. Pingback: Coast to Coast (Day 16: Montana to Seattle, WA [Daily miles – 583; Total miles – 5538]) | Hi, My Name is Dan

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