Storm clouds threatened in the skies above as I left Bozeman, Montana. I made it 26 miles before the rain began. I had just reached the neighboring town - Livingston - and ducked into a coffeeshop to wait out what I hoped would be a typical Montana storm: hard rain for an hour, then blue sky. It wasn't; it lasted all day.
I became fast friends with Kate, the owner of the coffeeshop, and she invited me to put off riding in the rain and stay the night at her house. I accepted, on the condition that I at least wash dishes for her at the coffeeshop. The next morning dawned beautiful and clear, and Kate and I got up early to open the coffeeshop and have a cup together before I set off.
There were only two possible roads east out of Livingston: I-90, or 25 miles of dirt called Old Convict Road. I had planned to take Old Convict Road, but neither Kate nor I really knew how to get to it, and after the rain it could have easily turned into impassable mud. I decided to try to find it anyway in order to stay off the interstate.
I was gathering up to go when the first customer of the day came in - a huge, burly man named Time Keeper. He was a miner and a biker, with a ponytail beard and the most gentle laughing eyes I've ever seen. His gloves were so big I could have worn one as a hat. A beast of a motorcycle, decorated with skulls, was parked outside next to my Vespa.
I asked the Time Keeper if he knew how to get to Old Convict Road. He did, and as he drank his coffee he began explaining the way. After several directions of the "turn left at the third fence post" variety, my eyes glazed over and I interrupted him to dash for a pen and paper. Amused, he asked when I was going.
"Right now," I said.
"I'll ride out there with you," he said. "I've got the morning off."
And so we zipped up our leathers and waved to Kate and must have looked like the oddest pair to anyone out that early.
I followed the Time Keeper's massive, graceful silhouette into the sunrise. He led me out of town and into the open land to the unmarked turnoff that was Old Convict Road. Before he turned back to Livingston, I gave him a hug and showed him the tiny skull decal that discreetly peered out from the back fender of my Vespa.