Over the River and Into the Wild

(Click here for Part 1 of this story: Ride to Carter's Ferry Crossing)

I soon found a hand painted plywood sign that read, "To cross, push button for 5 seconds." I pushed the button below the text and slowly counted to five. I released the button, and waited. Did this button do anything? Maybe I should press it again...

Behind me, a gruff male voice called out, "Are you going across?" I turned as a man approached. He strode passed me without waiting for my answer. He headed toward the river and I guessed he was the ferry operator. I said, "Yes, I want to go across, explore a little and take some pictures."

He turned toward me and in a very surly tone said, "I don't care what you do over there." Then he dropped the cargo net that allowed entry to his "boat" and motioned me to ride on to the platform. I did so, but was a little taken aback by his abrasive tone and behavior. What was up with this guy? 

He fastened the cargo net behind me and busied himself in a little shack to the side of the platform. I parked my bike and got off to start taking pictures. This was my first ferry trip and I had looked forward to it. An engine started and the ferry slowly pulled out into the river.

I moved to the rail with my camera and the Operator loudly barked at me, "You are supposed to stay in your vehicle!" Maybe he wanted to ensure I heard him over the engine, but I suspected he wanted to assert his authority as the "Captain" of this floating platform. I apologized and started to get on the bike. Then he said, "It's all right, don't worry about it." Then why make an issue of it, Captain Ahab?

The shore slowly receded and the Captain paced the deck. He gave my bike a thorough inspection and paused at the license plate, "You come all the way from North Dakota?"

This was my chance to crack his grouchy exterior. I replied that I was indeed, from North Dakota and had ridden to Butte for Evel Knievel Days, then pressed on to this ferry crossing. His silence and sour look told me that he not impressed.

I quickly changed the subject, "What's on the other side of the river?"

"Nothing," he answered gruffly, "the same thing that's on this side. In 18 years I was over there once and never went back."

My map showed a twisted gravel road over there. The road eventually connected to a state highway. I asked, "How far to the highway from the other side of the river?"

He thought a moment and answered, "Twenty miles, maybe a little more." He looked at my bike then added, "A four wheel drive truck can do it, you can make it on that." He paused and then continued, "I used to have a bike like this, but it was smaller - back in the 70's." I waited for him to continue, but he turned, walked to the rail and stared out at the river as if I wasn't there. I guessed that he was not a "people person."

The far shore neared and soon the exit ramp gently ground against the sand and gravel river bank. I was on my bike and ready to depart when the Captain called loudly, "If want to come back, push the button again." I nodded, he dropped the cargo net and I rode on to dry land.

A short distance up the shore was another hand painted plywood sign with a push button in the center. I rolled by, anxious to see what lay on this side of the river. Ahead, was at least 20 miles of unknown road before I reached civilization again.

But, it was soon clear the Captain was correct, there was nothing on this side of the river. More rugged, empty land with a few abandoned shacks and dilapidated  houses. I admired those hardy souls who settled here (100 years ago?) in almost complete isolation. Could I have made it, living out here in those days?

In many places the road became more of a trail. The ruts, washouts, and loose gravel provided a great ride. The road easily made up for any disappointment that lingered over the less-than-expected ferry boat and its crotchety captain.

This was a memorable ride without a safety net - no cell service, no quick and easy rescue if something went wrong.  It was just me, the bike, and a road to overcome. It felt real, and I loved every minute of it.

It's probably not the safest way to ride, but if safety was our main concern, we would not ride at all.