WORDS & IMAGES Iron & Air
Back in 2015 we decided it was time to produce an issue from the out on the road. We teamed up with our friends at Ural and got the idea to do something that we hadn’t heard of anyone doing before—ride Urals across the country and back. The result was a nearly 8,000 mile, 37 day road trip to some of the most iconic places in the United States and the production of Issue 022. Here we take a look back at the third leg of the adventure.
FIVE DAYS IN BUTTE
Butte was a town that was meant to only be a figment, a passing curiosity, a one night stand. But then the Ural cT experienced brake failure. After five days wrestling with it we suddenly we found ourselves putting down roots in what will go down in history as the longest brake job ever. No location on the trip left a deeper, unexpected imprint on our psyches than this farthest point west we reached. A mixture of wonder, curiosity, despair and even repugnance filled us as we drove the streets. This was a place like no other.
Around the turn of the century Butte’s population went from 20,000 to 100,000 in just a few short years as immigrants flocked to the town from all over the world seeking high wages working the copper mines. A melting pot of mass diversity and ambition ruled the town giving meaning to the term ‘wild west’. Anaconda, the fourth largest company in the world at the time, represented the pinnacle of greed. The owner’s, ‘Copper Kings’ they were called, cashed in to the tune of up to a million dollars a day while laborers earned a couple of pennies. This, and the lawless gambling, drinking and prostitution all added to the aggressive, barbaric culture.
Then, the copper ran out and the population dwindled as fast as it grew. The town was left looking like it had been raped by a biblical plague of starving locusts.
Butte pushed and pulled at us as we explored and learned of it’s chaotic history and bold, brassy characters. Characters like hometown Evel Knievel. Evel worked for Ananconda in the copper mines...and hated it. He preferred to ride his motorcycle rather than all this “unimportant stuff” he said. One day he was pulling surface duty where he drove an earthmover. Unable to contain himself, he performed a motorcycle-type wheelie with the earth mover. The mover crashed into Butte’s main power line knocking out power in the entire city for hours. The legend was born.
In all, we spent five days in Butte. We absorbed it’s rugged, audacious vibe. It challenged us. It asked us to examine our ideals, to take stock of what matters. It stretched our perceptions more than we could ever have anticipated. By the time we left town we were transformed and steeled for the miles ahead.
ON TO WYOMING
Second only to Alaska, Wyoming has the smallest population here in the U.S. per square mile: five. There's something you feel about that when you enter the cowboy state for the first time. Low population density ultimately means low pollution, which means clear starry night skies (and less crime).
A high pass and open-plain sanctuary, Wyoming gets you swept up in a day gone by. You're greeted with just about everything you need and nothing more. There's not much that compares to a state that holds such sights as Grand Teton National Park, Yellowstone National Park, or the mystical and majestic Devil's Tower.
Grand Teton National Park encompasses the Teton mountain range, the 4000-meter Grand Teton peak, and the valley known as Jackson Hole. It’s a popular destination for mountaineering, hiking, backcountry camping, and fishing. It is linked to nearby Yellowstone National Park by the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway.
Majestic, imposing, grandiose, or as the local saying goes, “The Tetons are what mountains should look like.” Or as French fur traders called them: “big teats." Riding south out of Yellowstone, the anticipation built until we ripped around a turn and there they were. Staggering granite peaks piercing the sky, dominating our sightline.
If there's one thing that the Urals are good at above all others, it's attracting anyone with even the most casual interest in motorcycles. Pulling into a gas station in West Yellowstone to fuel up, rest our beaten bodies, and get our fourth "travelers workout" of the day in before heading into buffalo country, we met with puzzled glances and a pair of road-weary gents in an '80s Ford Ranger, packing an abused Honda CB750 and a skull-clad Yamaha Radian 600.
"Are you guys from Iron & Air?" they asked.
They'd been following our journey on Instagram and just so happened to be on a freewheelin' adventure of their own. As fate would have it, they were headed in the same direction. So together we rode.
Edwin and Dan had been on the road for months, criss-crossing the States, relying heavily on their noses to find their way. Leaving their home in upstate New York with five-thousand bucks in their collective pockets, they set out with no real plan other than to go west until the coffer was empty. A couple of seasoned travelers, they were down for whatever the night might bring. What the night brought was an evening of drunken shenanigans. We attempted to make a few bucks by hustling some folks at the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar, enjoyed the plunking of a honky tonk band at the Silver Dollar Saloon, took an Uber ride for 14 seconds in search of pizza, and ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at our parking lot camp spot.
These two are true road dogs. They inspired us. They epitomized true adventure. They stand as a reminder to reevaluate what you seek in this world. To make sure you're on your path because it's all too easy to let someone else drive and find yourself in a place that you were never meant to be. When it's all said and done, the only thing you truly own is your experience.
Time : 11:03 am
Location : Highway 191, 75 miles north of Moab, Utah
Temperature : 95° Fahrenheit
We were making good time and looking forward to getting to Moab. Suddenly the Ural cT's motor emitted a loud clacking sound. Then a sputter, and then...nothing. Shit.
We worked for an hour or so trying to diagnose what had happened. We sought advice on the phone with Jason Michaels and Dave George from Ural. We realized we were not going to fix it out here in the middle of the desert. We needed to get to Moab - but how?
"Guys," Jason said, "I stashed a tow strap in the bottom of one of the cargo bags. Just tow it."
"What?" was our collective response. "Tow it 75 miles - with the Gear-Up? No way!"
"You can do it. I think" Jason tried to sound confident. "Besides, no matter what happens it'll make for a great story."
Out came the tow strap, Greg hitched it to the Gear-up and then we began a 3 hour tow at a top speed of 35 mph.
We arrived in Moab feeling simultaneously defeated and victorious. The shop our friend Emily suggested wasn't a motorcycle shop. It's your run of the mill, part-junk yard, part auto shop, part sweltering hot metal box. However our fears about the shop were quickly dispelled as Brent, a mechanic who's never worked on a Ural in his life, diagnosed the issue under ten minutes. It was an impressive display of logical deduction. A testament to Brent's intuitive skill as mechanic and the Ural's simplicity.
Fortunately we were able to order parts we needed early enough for Ural to overnight a new rocker arm. If there's a next time we're bringing an extra motor...
EMILY AND CASEY
All it took was a busted rocker arm and being stranded in the desert for us to become the best of friends. Already aware of one another through social media, Emily came through with a mechanic recommendation and we were back on the road celebrating with these two explorers. They took us to a little known canyon just outside of Moab where we slept out under the stars and enjoyed a spectacular sunrise.
Later in the day we said goodbye to Emily and Casey and pointed our bikes east
and headed into Colorado...
This article was originally featured in Issue 022 of Iron & Air