I am southbound.
Sweetgrass. Great Falls. Helena. Through Montana I pass over the Continental Divide twice, north and then south of Butte.
Stops for gas are fast and furious, for when I am fresh is when I must make good time. I like knowing that on this run all the pumps I find will accept plastic. I save time by not having to walk into the building. Gas and go in five minutes, max.
Into Idaho. I have spent time in Idaho. Parts of it remind me of where I grew up, although there are no mountains back east. Idaho Falls, Pocatello, Twin Falls — all of them are a blur to me this time.
Experience tells me to take breaks when I need them at rest areas during daylight hours. I get two respites from the wind and the weather — the first when I gas, the second at the rest stop.
South on US93 now, to the border with Nevada. A few miles south there is a rest stop on the west side of the highway. It fronts on Salmon Creek, a tributary of the Snake River. Running water, green grass and trees and high rock walls on both banks make it a welcome break. I rest here for a short time, listening to the fast water. Then, realizing that I have somewhere to be, I mount up and get back out on the highway.
Years of long distance riding have taught me to eat light to avoid becoming drowsy and complacent. Drinking plenty of water is important to avoid dehydration — even more important in the desert that I know will be coming up soon enough.
On through Wells in Nevada. Burning daylight and miles, I make good time in the cool mountain air.
Not too long ago, while on a similar ride, I fell asleep in the saddle. When I woke up, I found myself on the wrong side of the yellow line. Two times. Experience is a good teacher. Living to tell about it is an added bonus.
My decker doesn’t skip a beat, although I am running fast to be clear of the mountains and the deer before late afternoon and early evening, when the deer like to come out onto the road. If I clip one, this trip will come to a sudden end. I have ridden for too many miles to be fooled into thinking that it can’t happen to me.
Once the night comes I will avoid rest areas entirely and leave the bike running by the side of the road. There is no need to waste time securing my ride when I’m only a foot away.
I pass Ely and head southwest, and the downhill run begins. I take the 318 cutoff to save time and many miles, although I still won’t get past the night without riding through it. Slowly the headlight cuts a swath through the early night. To me it always seems as though dusk is harder to light up than the blackness of dark.
Each gas station takes on an eerie pall bathed in the white or yellow light of the tall lamps — an oasis in the night. Sometimes there’s a cluster of them, sometimes not.
As it gets later there are more trucks than cars on the road. Sensible people have pulled off for the night. Only the insensible remain: long distance truckers, people on the move cross-country, locals coming back from the bars.
The city that never sleeps glimmers in the distance. The last time I rode through Vegas, it was hotter than blazes. Not this time though. I pass by in the dark, and am thankful for that.
There are twelve hundred miles behind me.
This night, my path is traced by a shadow chasing me in the midnight wind. It is only a few days shy of a full moon, and the dark desert night is muted by its silver light. As with thoughts of you, it too is my company on this night ride.
Three hours to go.
Soon I will see you one more time.