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. 

The Ride to Carter's Ferry Crossing

(From July 28, 2013 during my ride through Montana)

You can't see it from here, but the Missouri River flows through west central Montana in the hazy distance. Remove the power poles and barbed wire fences and it's easy to imagine a herd of buffalo out there. This wide open country is near the small town of Carter's Ferry, about 25 miles north of Great Falls. From here, I headed for Carter's Ferry Crossing where the Montana DOT operates one of several ferry boats on the Missouri River.

Five miles of rough gravel road led down to the ferry crossing. My bike was loaded down like a pack animal and when I saw the condition of the road, I paused to reconsider this trip. But, I had not came this far to turn back now. I throttled ahead and stood on the pegs as the KLR rolled off the pavement and plowed into the loose gravel that led down to the river.  

It was soon clear that my apprehensions were needless. Despite the heavy load and stock suspension, the KLR handled the ruts, pot holes, and loose gravel without any problems. My trust in the bike was rewarded with some awesome views of the Missouri River valley.

This was a desolate area with no other people or vehicles in sight and even more disturbing, no cell phone service. I was totally alone and noticed how quiet it was out here. The only sounds were the grass rustled by the breeze and a few crows somewhere in the distance. I confess, it felt a bit strange and a little lonely. 

While stopped to shoot some photos, the thought hit me, if this bike does not start, I will have a long walk to find help. I thought it best not to dwell on that, and to just enjoy the moment and the adventure of  "the road less traveled."  

I enjoyed the quiet and the view, but I was looking forward to the river crossing. I guided the bike back on to the gravel road and soon reached the Missouri River without any difficulty. But, what I found at the ferry crossing was both more and less, than what I had expected.

The wide Missouri River flowed quietly onward. Its surface was as smooth and reflective as a mirror. Across the river, the hills and bluffs were a beautiful sight and despite the gloomy, dark, and cloudy sky, I had avoided any rain so far. Things were going just as I had planned - almost.

I had expected to find people here, but aside from a couple of distant fishermen downstream, nobody was around. The ferry "boat" I was expecting was actually a floating platform attached to a steel cable stretched across the river. I don't know why, but for some reason I had expected more.

Regardless, I was glad to have reached my destination, and pleased with my bike. After many miles of highway, the KLR easily handled an ugly gravel road to bring me here. Now, before I could cross the river, I needed to find whoever was in charge of running the ferry and get a ride across the river.

To be continued in my next post...

Road Trip: My KLR650 Touring Bike

After several thousand miles on paved and unpaved roads, I can say the KLR650 is a competent touring bike. This post will cover a few modifications that I feel have most improved my KLR's touring ability. This post will also tie together several previous posts and I have linked to those below.

Even on stock suspension, the KLR can haul the gear needed for a long road trip. Here is my bike before starting a week long 1,800 mile road trip. It is loaded down with tools, tent, sleeping bag, camping gear, clothes, and everything I would need. I later discovered that I had forgotten a few items, but that is another post.

I like soft baggage for several reasons. A few of these include, the bags' light weight, no need for additional racks, and if the bike goes down they will not bend or dent. I formerly ran a tail bag but removed in favor of the waterproof, lockable, Pelican case.

The bike's handling on the Interstate was greatly improved when I installed a fork brace. The brace helps to eliminate flex and stabilize the front forks. There is some debate in the KLR community on the effectiveness of the fork brace, but I like what it does for my bike and would buy it again.

For improved handling, especially in strong winds or when stuck behind a semi truck on the highway, I replaced the stock plastic hand guards with a set of Western Power Sports guards. These work fine, but installation was a real pain and I would not buy them again. I also replaced the stock front fender with a smaller fender from Acerbis. Together, these reduced front wheel "wander" in strong, gusty cross winds. I have ridden on many windy days with this setup and the bike handles very well at highway speed.

I normally run a highway speed of  75mph with my tach just under 5k. The bike will go faster, I have gone over 80mph while passing a semi, but try to avoid it. This summer I ran at 75mph for hundreds of miles on Interstate highways and the bike performed perfectly. At this speed I keep up with traffic and pass quite a few other vehicles. I credit this to the 16 tooth drive sprocket , an essential upgrade for touring on the KLR.

Many KLR owners complain that the bike needs a 6th gear and for me, the extra tooth gives you that gear. The gear trades a bit of lower end torque for top end speed, but it works for me.  That extra tooth lets the bike run at highway speeds without pushing the tach beyond my comfort zone. The lower RPMs also reduces vibration on the highway.

Finally to improve comfort I modded the stock seat with a new Seat Concepts kit. This made the seat wider and cushier for improved comfort on long stretches. When my butt gets sore, I can still slide back or forward and keep on riding. 

The KLR is not the best touring bike on the market, but it works for me. Still, there are a few changes I will be making before next year. Those will be covered in a later post. But, I would not hesitate to take the KLR on a cross country touring trip. When properly configured, the bike has the speed and range to take me anywhere I wish to travel.