It was a late ride out of Hamilton and we barely made it across the Big Hole ranch land before dark. After all the sun and bike work, we made camp early down a dirt road in the middle of the woods. It was a long day over mountain passes and through valleys, yet we woke up at 6am ready to take on the next leg of our trip; out of Montana and into Wyoming, winding through Yellowstone on the way. But if we had known what was to come, perhaps we’d have slept in just a bit longer.
Following the advice of a mechanic in Hamilton, we cruised down I-15, skirting the Idaho border, and enjoying the serenity of a long, empty highway early in the morning. We were told that the best, or perhaps most scenic, way from Hamilton to Yellowstone was through the Big Hole, down I-15, across South Valley road, through Red Rocks Wildlife Reserve, and into Western Yellowstone on Highway 20. The exit we took to get to South Valley Road and Red Rocks was, fittingly, called Exit Zero. The exit stood right on the continental divide and the border between Idaho and Montana. It was the sole road into the town of Monida, a small town of 13 residents on the map that everyone bar the locals thinks of as a ghost town.
We stood on the Exit Zero off ramp, staring down the winding dirt road, watching it snake up into the hills and out of sight, wondering if any of us had enough gas to make the crossing. But with the nearest town 70 miles back the way we’d come and the crisp morning sun rising hot above our helmets, we tossed a coin and put our faith in heads or tails. We were to make the crossing.
What was supposed to be a paved road through a wildlife reserve turned out to be a grueling 50 mile dirt road through sun baked ranch land without towns, services, or a drop of water. On top of that, Brant’s bike was running one cylinder down and leaking from the petcock, cutting his gas mileage to about 30 miles a gallon. After buying a gallon of gas of one of the town’s residents, we began the slow ride up into nowhere, hoping we had enough fuel and water for the trip. It was Wyatt’s first time off-roading on a motorcycle, but he soon found that there’s no quicker way to learn than taking an 1100cc bike with fifty pounds of gear out into the Montana wilderness.
Most people would think of Exit Zero as the end of the line, skid row, the place where there’s no coming back. Once we hit that gravel and rode up into the hills, there indeed was no turning back. But that first hill was just the beginning. It took hours to make the crossing, but the wildlife we saw, the adventure we had, and the dark goggle tans we took with us made the whole experience worth it. We were little more than dust clouds upon exiting the other side near Yellowstone, and although we did run out of gas the moment we hit asphalt, the the day’s journey taught us that the dustiest, dreariest, and most hellish roads are not always the worst. Though we could have spent just as much time comfortably on asphalt and concrete, too much of America’s soul still exists in the wild to ignore it. When we turned down Exit Zero and headed up that gravel road, we found that sometimes Main Street is in the middle of nowhere.