California to Montana: Day 6 – get me out of Dodge!

After a full wasted day, spent watching TV, scrounging up “lunch” and “dinner” from the town supermarket, and being bored out of my skull, I had lost a day of progress in going anywhere.

So, when the following morning came, and I had left my alarm off to try and “sleep in” to avoid the boredom of the morning. I awoke at 07:15, got up showered, made sure I was packed, and sat around being bored stupid by 07:30.

I must have sat by the window for a good hour and a half looking out every time I head a diesel engine go by, only to see Paw Kettle drive by, since EVERY pickup and working vehicle is a diesel out in Wyoming.

9 AM came.

10 AM. It was getting close to my checkout time of 11AM, and the front office had told me UPS came “between 11 and 1PM ” I was trying to psych myself up for 3 hours of sitting in the motel office bored to tears.

10:50, I went to the front office, dropped my key off, and pointlessly checked out the UPS tracking number: Out for Delivery.

11:03, I hear a rumbling, and a familiar metal on metal mashing. I look up, it’s UPS! I grab my stuff, go outside and sign for my package. I couldn’t walk the mile to Ding’s shop from the motel fast enough, but I did have time to notice how heavy all my shit was, when it had no proper way of being carried.

I get to Ding’s shop, take out my awesome, unbroken stock clutch and had it on 5 minutes later. Took the bike out for a short spin to make sure everything was OK, and went back to the shop to load my bike. Ding charged me for the towing, and the welding, I rode to get gas, and couldn’t get the fuck out of Dubois fast enough.

I cruised along US-287, and encountered the road I’d gone down on, now hard packed, dry soil. My mind played tricks with me for the 10 miles of construction, until I finally touched proper tarmac again. There were a few big ruts and bumps where the GPS marked I had stopped moving on that road, and I wondered if any of those had contributed to me going down, hidden under the mud, but I could only speculate.

US-287 branched off between Yellowstone, and Jackson, but I’d heard there was more construction in Jackson, and didn’t want to deal with more shit roads (lol) so I headed north, seeing the Grand Teton range off in the distance.

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Continued a little further north, and stopped at Jackson Lake overlook. Awesome. I’m just amazed by how nature works the land with colliding tectonic plates, volcanic rifts in the crust, wind, water, sediment.. the whole deal. Just awesome.

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I encountered ANOTHER 8 miles of torn up road on US-287 just before the entrance to Yellowstone, and was getting fed up with Wyoming’s fucked up roads, but finally, after a day and a half delay, I’d made it to Yellowstone.

Riding through the south end of the park was somewhat uneventful. There was a river that had cut a shallow canyon alongside the road, but there was a thick patch of pine trees blocking the view, and I saw nothing extraordinarily exciting. Part of the giant loop that you can drive in Yellowstone had been closed for the season for, you guessed it, road construction, so I figured only riding to Red Lodge in Montana for the night, doubling back through the park to start heading home.

Stopped for gas, and a small Yellowstone sticker from the General Store as a memento, and had a disgusting, dry “ham and cheese” sandwich as my first morsel of the day (at 2PM)

Continued heading north on the east side of Yellowstone’s Grand Loop, and the land opened up, leaving wide prairies and mountains off in the distance.

It was here I finally saw the Buffalo Crud and Fuzzy had told me about. They were pretty cool. Completely indifferent to cars, they just walked straight down the middle of the road, sashaying as slow as they pleased.

Traffic was stopped in BOTH directions several times because of them, and I guess when you’re the same size as anything but an SUV, why would you care about everything else around you? :) The buffalo fully expected YOU to stop for THEM. One even stopped IN the lane to graze on a little bit of grass.

Heading north, I eventually hit a limestone canyon, that had been cut away by a river, Tower Falls were nearby, but I couldn’t catch a glimpse of them. I could however, see the sun starting it’s descent in the sky so I decided to keep moving. With luck, I would be able to take Beartooth Pass to Red Lodge for the night, and come back through Chief Joseph Highway, and take a little while longer coming back through Yellowstone on my way south towards home.

The road eventually branched off, to the northeastern exit of Yellowstone on US-212, the Beartooth Highway. This road had been one of my trip goals all along, Yellowstone had just been the route to get to it. I was excited. The highway opened up to the Lamar Valley, this must be quite the gateway to go through when heading INTO Yellowstone this way, which I realized must have been how Crudmop and Fuzzy had ridden into Yellowstone when they came through a couple of years back.

You could definitely feel the “Wild West” and big open plains that the Native Americans had before civilization came along.

When I finally reached the park exit, there were a trio of Harleys just checking into the park, I swung around to ask them the road conditions. Not surprisingly, they told me it was fücked up, just like all the other roads in Wyoming. I thanked them by using my Park Pass for all 3 of them, saving them each 25.00 and already having gotten my money’s worth for that pass.

Crossed the border into Montana, as US-212 zigs and zags between MT and WY several times, and encountered nothing but dirt and gravel road for about 5 miles. Kept on 212 heading east, slowly climbing elevation through coniferous forests, to where the road branched off to Beartooth Pass, and Chief Joseph Highway. I was planning on staying at Red Lodge in Montana, doubling back to Chief Joseph the next morning, and riding through Yellowstone to exit in Idaho towards home.

Beartooth pass presented itself with tight switchbacks climbing a mountain, then an idiotic break of 500 yards of road scraped away, 500 yards of tarmac. Little bit of asphalt, little bit of road, and not all on one side. It was like a retard had tried to make a checkerboard pattern with the road, seemingly for no reason. If you’re going to tear up the road, why only tear up tiny little sections of it? Just stupid, but then again, I WAS in Wyoming, and I had come to realize that this was the land of piss-poor tarmac and gravel.

As Beartooth Pass climbed up to 11,000 feet, I found myself in an Alpine environment again, with gnarled trees, bald on one side, branches pointed uphill on the other. I wondered just HOW brutal the weather must get up in this pass during the wintertime. It was relatively cold, and I was wearing my Gerbings, plugged in, and it was summertime.

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I finally hit the summit of Beartooth Pass. What an incredible view.

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I continued on, only to find traffic stopped at what else, but road construction. I asked the woman with three teeth who was manning the Stop/Slow sign person how much further to asphalt, she said it was “at the Montana border.” The GPS said 18 miles. Did I mention how much I love Wyoming’s POS roads?  :)

Carrying on, the road going from hard packed gravel, to much deeper sections where I could feel the front end sinking in a bit, I nervously carried on, my mind screwing with me again every time the bars twitched just like they had before I’d dumped it. A good 15 minutes later (yeah, I was riding like a giant puss) I saw the Montana welcome sign, and tarmac! Excellent! Fuck you Wyoming and your goddamned roads!

The Montana Welcome sign neared, and I smiled, and felt my left clipon snap off right in my hand. Oh, W T F. I looked down, and there it was, broken off just past the weld, everything from the controls and grip, right there in my hand. I guess Ding wasn’t kidding when he said he was a shitty Tig welder. Unbelievable. My spirits, which had been slowly building back up during the day, tanked again, and my frustration peaked. I immediately decided on scrapping Chief Joseph and returning through Yellowstone from my route and slabbing it home on the interstate. I wasn’t about to try another 30 miles of gravel with one handlebar. Annoyed to maximum, I was willing to just get home and deal with the busted clipon properly, rather than pissing away more money and time on an improper fix.

I decided to stop anyway and collect the Welcome sign, one handlebar and all, since I wasn’t coming back.

I pulled out my zip ties and secured the bar to my upper triple, with the controls facing up, so I could still use the horn, brights, and signal, which was now signal right to go left, and vice versa, as the controls sat backwards on the triple.

I began the ascent down Beartooth Pass, and had to chuckle at the fact I had to do it one handed. Thankfully I was no stranger to riding along one handed. I’d been doing it the whole trip so far to take pictures while on the go.

The road down from the pass looked fun, if I had daylight and warmer tarmac to play with.

As I finally reached the bottom of the pass, the sun was all but gone behind the horizon, and my mind began to concern itself with deer coming out of the treelines, so I backed off the throttle, and squinted through the dead bugs on my visor to look for any signs of movement.

About 20 minutes later, I finally reached Red Lodge, where I saw several motels with cruisers parked out front, and looked for the motel that had that “one-star dive” quality to it. I pulled up to one ratty looking motel, and was told it was $95 a night. I moved on to another one that was $110. Unbelievable. A quick search on the Zumo found a couple of motels a few miles outside of Billings, 50 miles northeast, and I called one up and was told it was $39 a night with wifi. It was a go.

As I rode the last section towards the motel in the dark, I came upon a casino that unexpectedly had a cowboy muffler man. Score!

I finally made it to Laurel, where I looked for the motel, and couldn’t find it, so I stopped at a gas station/truck stop and called the motel to ask them where they were.

“We ARE the gas station.” Lovely. I looked around and the only thing I could see was a portable bungalow on one corner of the lot. I checked the GPS for alternative places to stay, but it was either Billings, 10 miles away, or something “closer” to home, 60 miles away. I finally opted for the truck stop bungalow, which thankfully turned out to be no worse than any 1 star dump I’d already stayed at. Gave the RSV one dissapointed, sad look out the window, from the room, with it’s one bar, and went to bed, preparing myself to just hammer it to get home.

California to Montana: Day 5 – Riding the slop

I awoke the following morning at my standard time of 6AM, and was getting pretty good at leaving myself completely packed before I went to sleep, save for the phone and ipod chargers, one for my alarm, the other to keep the tunes going for the minimum requisite of 12 hours a day in the saddle.

It had been raining all night, and the air had quite a chill to it, so I made sure to dress warm, loaded up the bike, filled the tank and slowly headed out of town.

The air was in the low 30′s range, my chin already quite cold as I headed up US 287 towards Yosemite. I checked the elevation, it was over 9,000 feet, and the road kept climbing uphill.

My surroundings began to have a white dusting to them, which got thicker as I went.

Now, this wasn’t by any means a heavy winter snowing, and I was glad at least the road was clear.

I began to see the signs warning of the road construction I’d heard about, and sure enough, the pavement soon ended, with a sign informing the next 10 miles had road work on them.

The tarmac became a glistening layer of wet mud, and I was none too happy. I had been following a Forrester in front of me, keeping my wheels in its tracks, but the car soon pulled away, as I kept my speed between 20 and 25, feeling the front wheel wobble around.

Feeling even more wobble out of the front wheel, I very gently eased the throttle back to about 15mph in second gear to keep the RPM’s down to lessen any chance of wheelspin.

Though I tried to be careful, even fully upright, as I drifted my line a bit to avoid a huge mound of mud, my bars went full lock in one direction, then the other, and I was already aware of what was in store for me.
The bike slid sideways for about 5 feet before fully washing out under me, and I cursed myself for letting the bike get away from me, as I slid for 10 feet in the mud, hoping the slide wouldn’t eat away at the mesh jacket.

The bike, having far more weight and momentum, continued sliding for another 30 feet, doing a full 360 spin on its side, before coming to a stop, rear wheel still spinning.

Fucking fuck. FUCK!!!  Of all places to dump the bike, 1000 miles from home. Perfect. I got up and felt no rash on the side of my jacket, and went over to turn the bike off. I looked down, hoping the clipon had held, but unfortunately, no luck.
I saw the bar dangling from the cable attached to the hand controls. Goddamn brittle aluminum. What the fuck was I going to do now? I tried to pick up the bike but my hands were just slipping off of everything since it was completely caked in mud, and I wasn’t about to go for the stock exhausts since those things hold tons of heat for hours. Luckily, an older gentleman came along in a sedan coming the opposite way, as well as part of the road construction crew in his 4WD duelly, who helped me get the bike up.
I thanked them both and I asked the road crew guy if there was someone in Dubois who could possibly Tig weld, since the bar and clutch lever were busted off, the peg off my rearsets had come off, and the exhaust bracket was bent. He told me my lack of options, saying no one in Jackson that he knew of, MAYBE back in Dubois, and he knew for sure there was a tow truck back in Dubois that could come and get me. He offered to give me a lift to a stop up ahead where there was somewhere I could call for the tow. I unloaded the bike, put my bags, still caked in mud in the bed of his truck, and took off my rain coat to lay over his seat so I wouldn’t ruin it since I was also covered in mud.

“Man, we weren’t expecting this weather, we didn’t have time to lay down anything on the road, and we’re not running a pilot car today.” he told me, as he drove ahead, his truck sporadically losing traction on the road.

He dropped me off at a lodge that wasn’t a MILE ahead, where the asphalt had begun. I was even MORE pissed off that I’d just about made it back to tarmac before dumping the bike. What shit. What an idiot. Goddamn luck.

He dropped me off, and I called a tow, waited 45 minutes for him to arrive, already loaded with an Explorer in the flatbed. He told me he was heading to Jackson, and he recommended a guy in Dubois who did custom cycles and had a trailer. He called him up, gave him my whereabouts, mentioned the road was “a fucking disaster,” and headed off.

Waiting outside, a guy came out to load his Goldwing, noticed I was in leathers and caked in mud, and asked me if I’d gone down. I said yes, and he informed me he’d gone down the night before in the same stuff, and had to stop at the lodge for the night. His ‘wing had crash bars and all, so he’d only broken off his brake lever, and was using his linked ABS with the rear pedal to stop himself. His wife came out, obviously sore from the crash, and we both helped her up into the passenger seat of the ‘wing. I let him know I had zip ties and electrical tape if he wanted to see if we could fix his lever, and in about 10 minutes he had a huge bukly bundle of zip ties and tape holding his lever back on. He was grateful, and said this would surely get him to Jackson, or somewhere he could get the lever replaced properly. I wished them well and they motored on.

An hour and a half later, the guy with the trailer showed up. Tall, medium build, bushy mustache, and a dog in his truck. Said his name was Don, but everyone called him Ding. I thought he must have just come off the set of No Country for Old Men.

He drove me back to the bike, where we loaded it into his trailer, and headed back to Dubois. As we trundled back towards town, I couldn’t help but notice that the road was pretty much dry, with some damp spots. Ding said “yea, if you’d gone maybe an hour later, the road wouldn’t have been as bad as before.” Fuck me.

Turns out he’s also local EMT/SAR for the town, and there was a call about a woman rider with a possible broken ankle at the next gas station about 5 miles up the road over his CB radio. He heard first responder was there already, and he mentioned that was his uncle. We got to the station, where the woman was lying on a picnic bench with lots of people around her, sounding in good spirits, joking about the whole situation. I noticed three people caked in the same mud I was covered in, and 2 bikes also covered in mud.
Turns out they’d gone down too in the same shit road, only their cruisers had front and rear crash bars, so they were only sporting broken turn signals. At least misfortune had company.

The woman was treated, and got on the tricycle one of her friends had, and headed off towards the nearest hospital – 70 miles away, to get her ankle looked at.

While waiting for the girl to be treated, I’d been talking to Crud and Fuzz on the phone, who were already trying to figure out how to get me mobile again. Crud was looking up aprilia dealers “nearby” for me, and they both let me know they’d do whatever it took to get me moving again. Awesome pair, those two. :)   Fuzz commented that I was in awfully good spirits for someone who just dumped their bike, but the truth was I’d already dumped it HOURS ago and had time to be pissed off and frustrated, and really had nothing else to do but suck it up and deal with it.

We eventually got back to Ding’s shop, where “we” (I say we because really I did like 80 percent of the work taking my bike apart since I was much more familiar on how to do so) took the upper triple off, got the bar off, and I took to getting my rearset peg back on, which had just been popped off and not broken, but the aluminum was stressed a little bit.

Ding admittedly told me he wasn’t very skilled with Tig welding, and I told him as long as it all holds, that’s the important part. He took a few tries, and finally managed to get the bar to hold together, and that was put on, along with the upper triple. He then took a spare clutch lever off a harley, and using a band saw, drill press, and a dremel, tried to work it out to the same cuts and dimensions as what was left of my brembo lever. It must have taken him a good 45 minutes to an hour to work it basically into the same shape, as best he could.

He fit the worked lever onto my master, said it looked pretty good, and with the first pull, snapped the whole thing in half. He looked as let down as I was.

Ding got out a sportbike catalog to see if he could find a suitable lever, but I knew those Parts Unlimited catalogues wouldn’t have anything to fit the billet radial master I had on my bar. Fed up with the whole ordeal, I told Ding we’d deal with it Monday, and I’d call Yoyodyne to see how quick they could get a lever out, and went back to the same motel I’d just checked out of that morning.

After getting back into a room, I took my cloth that I’d been using to clean my faceshield and cleaned the mud off my riding pants as best I could, as well as my boots. I’d deal with the jackets and bags which were still covered in dry mud tomorrow.

I finally decided to call home, as I knew my mom would probably overreact, even though the first thing I said was I wasn’t hurt, she asked if I was hurt. Moms. :)

I gave her some info as to where, if maybe I hadn’t sold it, she might be able to find my OEM clutch master and lever. She called back an hour later saying she’d found it. Bingo. I asked her to please overnight it so I could get the hell out of dodge.

California to Montana Day 4: Heading Further North

I awoke the next morning, having already heard the spatter of rain on the motel roof, and on the asphalt outside, glad my bike was parked directly outside my door under the eaves, since I’d run the battery tender cable out through a window to recharge the battery just in case. I got dressed, prepared for rain, went outside to pack the bike, and noticed the 2 harleys had been put away in their precious little trailer. What wankers.
Left the motel, went to get gas at the corner, and headed north along US-34 towards Rocky Mountain National Park, under a light rain. Rode along the edge of a lake, until I reached the park entrance, where I was waved through, and noticed multiple speed limit warnings in a row, followed by one telling you speeding kills wildlife. I figured I’d comply since the ground looked like this, and I’d just cruise at the mellow 45mph limit to take in the sights.

At first, I didn’t really fathom what the big deal was about this National Park, as the woods were scenic enough, and the granite mountains off in the distance were nice, but didn’t have that “zing” to it that makes you stop and be in awe. Wonderful scenery to be sure, but not “wow”

I motored through the park, climbing back up to 10,000 feet, realizing my rain gloves, though waterproof, didn’t insulate at ALL, and I was getting sick of having my fingertips be numb from the cold temperatures.

The road slowly began to wind a bit more, and finally came around a hill where I could see a valley, with a small river flowing through it. The wow factor was finally presenting itself. I stopped to take a picture, thinking it all looked so “Sound of Music” below.

I continued to climb further up, until I came to a bend in the road that presented a huge ridge of mountains in the park. Yeah, that was the wow factor I was looking for. It was pretty cool :)

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The road began it’s tighter, curvier descent down the mountain, and the sun had already broken through the sky, presenting dry asphalt on the northeast side of the mountain, showing the valley below. You could already see the little town of Estes Park below.

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I rode down the rest of the way, and stopped at a sporting goods store to see if they had any insulating gloves that were water “resistant” at least, or some thermasilk liners. They only had basic winter gloves, the kind you only wear in the snow for 10 minutes before your hands are soaked, but like I said, I was tired of my fingers being cold.

I went across the street to have a quick breakfast, where this uptight old hag just stared me down from the table next to me while I sat quietly eating my food and punching in a new route into the Zumo. I had originally planned to make a complete loop around Rocky Mountain NP, but realizing I’d have to do the traffic filled switchbacks just off I-70, and go through a bunch of areas I didn’t want to go through again, I decided on a route heading out towards I-25 and the doubling back west to go into Wyoming. I finished my breakfast, and gave the woman at the other table a “WTF you lookin’ at” gesture, and she hid her face in her bowl of oatmeal.

I finally decided on heading out towards Fort Collins, and then doubling back across CO SR-14 (which was AWESOME – 90 miles of 2 lane road following a river) to Walden, which was my portal out of Colorado and up into Wyoming.

The section between Estes Park and Fort Collins was your typical suburbian commute, dull and boring, sadly with almost nothing to photograph. I crossed back West over SR-14, which follows a river for about 80 miles,although it had a good number of cars to get around, before you climb up to 9,000 feet, and then drop into a valley that leads into Walden.

As I dropped out of the mountain pass, the landscape began to flatten out, opening up into wide plains, which only meant one thing; pesky wind that began buffeting me lightly around in my lane.

At least the winds weren’t TOO strong and I was only being made to wander around in my half of the lane.

As I reached Walden, I wondered where Thoreau was, and if he could tell me what the big deal was about his pond.

I stopped for gas, checking the Zumo, and I could hear the tuba going “WAH WAH” as I was informed I had 304 miles to go, and it all looked like wide open, straight roads of Wyoming’s plains.

I looked up, and saw a pair of sportbikes across the street with saddlebags, and idled over to them, and said how nice it was to see something other than a Harley that was actually getting used for touring.

“Actually, we’re from Chicago… we trailered in, we’re about 50 miles down the road.” one guy told me. I had to shake my head. Chicago is far and all, but jeez. Doesn’t anyone ride their damn bike anywhere?

I wished them a good ride, recommended SR-14 to them, and told them there were spots where it was raining on the road, and to be careful.

I motored out of town heading north, and I wasn’t even 1/4 mile out of town when it began to rain. I pulled over to don my rain suit, and headed up towards Wyoming.
No sooner did I crest a hill about 2 miles later, when I was literally hit with a wall of wind. The clouds in front were thick and heavy, and the rain had been picking up, but that ridge must have been holding back all the wind from the clouds because it just slammed right into me. 70 felt like 120 with my helmet being pushed back, and I just stayed in a tuck as best I could, and dealt with the buffeting.
Of course the road would turn, and it would go from a headwind to a crosswind, and I’d be riding sideways just to track straight in the road. Priceless. I checked the Zumo, and it merrily gave me the finger, as it informed me there were 270 miles to go.

I finally reached the Wyoming border, cold, wet and shivering,  and pulled over for a picture so the wind was blowing AT my bike, so it would at least dig the stand into the ground, and not blow it over instead.

I motored on, heading up to Rawlings, and from there, Muddy Gap, Wyoming. By now I was about 100 miles into Wyoming, and I’d only gotten welcome with wind and rain. The section between Rawlings and Muddy Gap just cranked it up a notch, heavier winds, more rain, and I was crouched in a tuck trying to hide behind my windscreen, wearing 5 layers, with my Gerbings ON, and still shivering. I remembered Kenny saying there’s no such thing as waterproof, as I moved my arms and upper body around a little bit trying to feel for any water that had soaked through, though I seemed to be dry. I was reaching a low point, cold, shivering, neck sore from the wind, and trying to ride in a full tuck to get SOME cover from my windscreen. And nothing but straight roads, to boot.

Stopped for gas in Muddy Gap, where 2 riders, one on a GS, the other on a Harley informed me it was only raining a little bit on the way to Yellowstone, and I told them about the conditions to expect heading down to Rawlings.

Thankfully they were right, and the skies began to open up, and the wind subsided by about 80% giving me a welcome respite from being knocked around. I looked to my left and saw the system I had just ridden through, and was glad to be out of it. In front of me, the sun illuminated clouds ahead, but at least there WAS some sun, and I was heading towards it.

I love how you can see the speedo readout on the Zumo in this picture :)

I love how you can see the speedo readout on the Zumo in this picture :)

Seemingly hours later (maybe just 100 miles) I began to see the finish line, as the trip meter counted under 200 miles to go, and I was riding through patches of sunshine.

No sooner did I stop for gas, and headed on my way again, when the road slowly curved north, and I blinked a couple of times, thinking the road couldn’t be taking me where it looked like it was headed.

I groaned as I checked the Zumo and saw it was indeed taking me right to that system in front of me. I gritted my teeth and decided there was no other way through.

At the very least, I took time to be amazed at how quick, and how dark the clouds blanketed the land in front of me. Those clouds couldn’t be more than 5-600 feet above my head. I was amazed, there’s no weather like this in CA.

As I began to ride under the clouds, rain started to spatter on my helmet again, faster and faster, until I was getting a strong, heavy rain on me again. I began to see lightning off to my right, where the clouds were the thickest, and the frequency of the lightning increased until I was able to see the bolts of lightning themselves hitting the ground, first on one side, then on the other. I actually laughed at the stupidity of the situation.

Thankfully, the road and weather took pity on me, curving to the West, away from the storm. The lightning quickly subsided first, then the rain, until finally I was out from under the dark clouds, and even saw a faint rainbow trying to show itself from under the storm I had gotten out of.

The rest of the road continued along for the last 100 miles, with a rabbit presenting itself in the form of a big Mercury sedan going 90, allowing me to chase it at 85, and cover those last miles quicker, without the fear of a trooper lighting me up.

As I finally rolled the last 15 miles into Dubois, Wyoming (I’d been wondering how the F you pronounced it, was it Doo-Bwah, like in French? Dew-boys? Who settled this place that gave the town its name?)
I began to follow the Great Wind River, which had cut away some familiar formations, reminiscent of Utah.

Finally got into town, checked into a motel, had dinner, and ran across some Goldwing riders that told me it had been snowing further up the road to Yellowstone, and the road construction ahead had made the trip quite sketchy.

I took heed, went back to my motel, finally warmed up with a hot shower, and went to bed.

California to Montana: Day 3 – Five Digit Elevations

My apologies for the long delay in the write-ups… it’s been a great, busy holiday season, so without ado, here goes the next part of the trip

As morning broke on Colorado, I stepped outside of the motel to find a light drizzle coming down, put my rain gear on and headed off. Stopped to refuel, and headed East on I-70 for a short while to get off on US-6, which made a loop heading southwest, and down towards Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.
I noticed the weather just got worse with more dense clouds, and colder and colder temperatures, finally checking the GPS to see what my altitude was, and I found I’d already crested 10,000 feet elevation, before 7AM. No wonder I was so cold.

The road led me back down in elevation, through several charming little towns going about their mid-week business, all quiet and charming. I followed several highways down along Colorado State Route 50, which turned into US-50, chasing a duelly truck for miles, figuring he was a local, and since he was going a TAD bit faster than me, he’d sweep up any possible cops up ahead, waiting in the drizzling morning. Eventually I branched off towards Gunnison National Park, where the hillsides sheltered somewhat from the low-lying clouds.

Turning off US-50 onto SR-92, my fuel light came back on, and I checked for the nearest gas station, which said 37 miles away, so I put it in, figuring I could make it no problem. Once routed, it was 46 miles away going through the windy road that went across the mountain. I dropped a gear or two, and putted through the damp windy road at 3500 RPM in order to milk more mileage out of the tank. I didn’t stop for pictures here as the mountain was blanketed with thick clouds, so my visibility was limited, though I was able to see a whole group of young deer grazing just off the side of the road – thankfully they didn’t move when I went by.
Finally making it to the next town, and gas, (I’d been sweating bullets for the past hour wondering if I’d be able to make it to the gas station) I ended up putting 4.42 gallons in my tank. The manual states the bike holds 4.3. Pretty sure I made it there on fumes, and not wanting to risk running out again, I decided to fill up the 1 gal can of gas I had strapped to the bike in case I came that close to running out again.

The road next took me along SR-133, which lazily followed a river, and where most of the locals were out for their weekend ride. This was the first time since I’d left home that I’d even seen sportbikes, and almost all of them were riding without helmets. Just can’t get over the fact people let all the road debris hit their face.

SR-133 branched at SR-82, towards Independence Pass. The road led me through Aspen, and I couldn’t believe my eyes. The town greets you with an airport filled with private jets, no less than three local cops parked on the road enforcing the town’s 25mph speed limit and “no cruising” law. Downtown Aspen was even worse; clogged with spotless Land Rovers and Mercedez G-Wagons, I figured they were the locals who had driven their “utility vehicles” out of the garage to go preen downtown. You couldn’t even smell the mountain air anymore over the cologne and perfume of the douches walking along the streets. It was like the pretentiousness of the west side of Los Angeles, all over again. I hated it.

Passing through the three blocks of downtown Aspen cemented my conclusion to never bother snowboarding in Colorado. Utah has plenty of places with epic snow to go to.

As I pulled out of town, the road wound through a few more houses, before finally going right into a little forest, before the tarmac ended altogether, and the road was packed gravel. I figured it had to be easier for the CO DOT to maintain a gravel road than deal with the thaw and freeze of winter at these elevations.

I kept getting right on the tail of the GS1200 who I found along this road, and he’d wave me by, since he was going a staggering 20mph, but since we were both stopping to take pictures, we ended up leapfrogging each over about a dozen times. I found it pretty amazing to be riding through a forest of these aspen trees. I’d only seen them in Ansel Adams photographs, but never in person. Just beautiful.

The road eventually climbed from about 9000′ around Aspen, to about 12,000′ as it headed towards Independence Pass. I stopped to take a picture of the valley I had just come through, with a small river snaking through it.

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Peaking at Independence Pass, I stopped to take a picture at the mandatory sign, and had an elderly couple ask me to take their picture with the sign. They were wearing thin polos and khaki shorts, both shivering uncontrollably. I think I saw them sprint like gazelles back to their RV as soon as I handed the camera back. I hopped back on the bike and began descending in elevation, down towards I-70 below.

The road finally branched off at US-24, then SR-9 heading up towards the interstate, as the road followed yet another river, through several coal mines, loading rail cars right along the highway, and finally these giant sentinels, welcoming and saying goodbye from the mountain pass.

Finally reaching I-70, I jumped on it for about 30-40 miles heading East, as my destination now was Idaho Springs, CO, and towards Mount Evans. I stopped for a picture at the Eisenhower Tunnel, which is supposed to be the highest elevation vehicle tunnel in the world.

It was a good 20 degrees warmer inside the tunnel than it was outside. I enjoyed the temporary warmth, and was happy to see the sun was breaking through the clouds onto the interstate on the other side of the tunnel.
It was here I hit a traffic jam, with all the lanes stopped. I was about to say “screw it” and just lane split like back in CA, but decided not to, and not 2 seconds later, I see a Sheriff’s car 2 vehicles in front of me. Come to think of it, what could he have really done to try and follow me? Oh well, better safe than sorry.

10 miles later, I exited to Idaho Springs, which looked like a charming little town, complete with brewery and little boutique shops. Too bad I didn’t have time to stop and look around. I headed up the road to Echo Lake, and jumped onto SR-5 towards the summit of Mount Evans. The whiteboard at the entrance to the road mentioned it was 36F at the top of the road. I put on my rain coat just for an extra layer to have on.

14 miles later, and several great views later, I crested to the top of the road, at 14,168 feet, passing alpine lakes and meadows along the way. It was indeed, quite cold and quite windy up at the top of Mt Evans. You could even see Denver, 60 miles away off in the distance. I laughed as I took pictures off the side of the road while moving up SR-5, since Kenny had joked in California how I was doing it “off the side of a cliff” when really it was just a lazy slope. This hillside was more applicable to his exaggerations.

The view from the highest road in North America

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Heading off once more, the bike hesitated to start for a moment, but a small blip of the throttle gave the mixture enough oomph to fire the engine up in the thinner air. I’d hate to think how poorly a carburated bike would perform at that altitude.

I descended SR-5 again, back through Idaho Springs, and a short jump West on I-70 again to US-40, which on the map, had an awesome section of switchbacks, which I wanted to take a picture of, but found they were actually too big to take a picture of from the top. I did find this aerial picture of the road to illustrate what it was like:

I had several cars attempt to “keep up” with me, since I was going maybe 5-10mph faster than everyone else (the uphill section was 2-lane, downhill was one lane) but I kept losing them since they couldn’t maneuver around traffic as easily as I could. There’s nothing at all redeeming about cars, is there?

Cresting at 11,000 feet, the road started to come back down, and led through a few towns, one which was having a War Veteran’s rally, and the main drag was choked full of Harleys and slow moving everything. Luckily I saw on the GPS there was a road behind the main drag where I could bypass everything, and it got me through that town quick and without issue. I suddenly wondered if there would be rooms available where I wanted to stay, but as the road listed it 20 miles away I figured I’d be OK since most rally types wouldn’t ride as far as 20 miles to go barhopping.

Finally reaching Granby, CO, I pulled into what looked like a decent motel, asked the clerk the rate, and got a room. As I was turning to leave the office I asked him “you guys have wifi, right?”
He chuckled. “Hell, we ‘aint even got telephones.”

So I unpacked my stuff, went to dinner where I shivered all through it, and when I came back, 2 harley guys were lounging outside their room.

“Bike’s kinda dirty, isn’t it?” they said gesturing to the RSV.
“Yeah, three 500 plus mile days of rain, off and on. I notice your bikes didn’t get dirty coming all the way from that trailer over there.” I said gesturing to the enclosed trailer 20 feet away with “Chopper This” and “Custom That” on the side.

They both looked into their beers for a witty reply, but found none.

Went inside, where I finally warmed up with a nice hot shower, checked over the next day’s route, and went to bed.

California to Montana Day 2: Discovering Utah

Hello again, hope you all enjoyed Day 1 of my Ride Report,  so I’ll continue on!

On the morning of day 2 of my trip, I woke up to a planned “short” day of 492 miles. The morning brought cool, crisp temperatures at 7200 feet, so I put on 2 layers under the Gerbings, and set off into the morning sunrise, which was already creating a light show on the hills around me.

Heading East on Utah SR-24, I headed towards the Dixie National Forest again, and was once again greeted by high canyon walls, this time in the form of Meeks Mesa

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I had to stop and gawk for a minute, before continuing East towards Hanksville, passing through terrain features that if you told me I was on the moon, I would have believed you.

I stopped for a quick fill up of gas, and branched off the road heading southeast on Utah SR-95, towards Glen Canyon and Lake Powell. As soon as the road approached Glen Canyon, I was once again amazed by the topography, and saw deep gorges right next to the side of the road, cut away by flowing water. It was all such amazing stuff to see.

Since making my turnoff at Hanksville, I had seen a couple of trucks pulling boats, which seemed odd to me, being in the middle of the desert, but everything became clear once I started seeing signs for Lake Powell, which finally revealed itself off in the distance.

It was AMAZING, to say the least. High cliff walls, topaz water, and that was way off in the distance. I couldn’t believe my eyes, and couldn’t  pass up the chance to divert off the road onto a vista point. The view that followed was absolutely mind-blowing.

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The whole vista just seemed to be made all the better by the low ceiling of clouds overhead. The sky being closed in made the massive scale of everything in front of me just a little bit more comprehensible. Just a little bit. And Glen Canyon had no shortage of stunning sights, and the road just flowed like poetry through the landscape.

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While stopping to take a few pictures, save for the ones on the move, I noticed I had passed the same big rig hauling a crane about a half dozen times. I wondered if I was more annoying or amusing to the guy.

The road slowly led out of the deep canyons through smaller rolling hills, surrounded by coniferous trees, in stark contrast to the landscape that was just nearby. Turning off on SR-261, the rolling hills eased, and a sign appeared that the pavement ended in half a mile, and there were narrow roads and tight turns ahead. I figured it was just more road construction, but I had no idea I had been riding on top of a massive butte for the past hour, and had abruptly come to the edge of it.

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The road continued visibly below, and the only way down was a section of tight switchbacks that dropped you to the valley below in a short section. Good thing I was prepared with Road 2′s on the RSV, because I remember reading something about them being dual-sport, or something.

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The road finally met up with the pavement again, and I was off, headed towards the southern tip of Utah, and Monument Valley. Stopping for gas in Mexican Hat (which is actually just a rock chimney on top of a small butte, surrounded by construction trucks, apparently) I rode past a toasted redneck doing his best Peter Fonda, with American flag bandana and ape hangers on his Harley. With the amount of insects on my shield, I imagined he was sporting a winning smile under his mullet.

A few miles further down the road, Monument Valley began to appear. Now, maybe it’s because I had just come through the magnitude of Glen Canyon, and I’d been seeing buttes of many, many scales all over souther Utah, but Monument Valley didn’t blow my mind the way Glen Canyon did. It seemed to me that Monument Valley just had the largest, most glaring examples of how wind and water erode the rock, but have left some of the highest standing islands of stone in the desert.

The road turnoff into Monument Valley finally appeared, next to a cheezy casino/kitsch shop, and I turned onto the Indian reservation, where the signs said it was $5 to enter. I slowed down to 30 to rummage through my tank bag and check to see if I even had any cash on me (because in this age of plastic and the debit card, who actually CARRIES cash?) and luckily I had a whopping $7 in my pocket.

Turns out, Monument Valley is really small-ish parking lot with a restaurant/gift shop that was under construction at the time, filled with many a worker shouting profanities in Spanish. It made me chuckle, as I stared out at the vista, and noticed a dog lying on the ground at the edge of the parking lot. I didn’t know if it was dead or injured, but it let me know when I got closer as it growled and scampered off, that it had been just in fact, taking a nap.
Just below the parking lot, at Monument Valley, there’s a dirt “road” that leads into the valley itself, where tourists can traverse foxhole sized craters and random rocks the size of basketballs jutting out of the dirt, in order to get a closer look at the vistas. I had already done some packed ground, so I figured I’d ride down to take a closer look.

I made it down as far as a small clearing where there were some card tables set up to sell foolish tourists garbage and jewelry that they don’t really need (I’m sure it’s finely crafted and all, but I’m a cynical bastard.) The path down there was filled with Volvos and rented RV’s going 5mph as all the occupants bounced around inside with the uneven road surface. I hit a downhill section of deep sand, and feathered the rear brake only, deciding that packed gravel was fine, but traversing sand on the Michelins was just shitty, and I wasn’t about to go much further.

Thankfully the view where I stopped was worth it.

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On my way back up towards tarmac, the downhill section of sand had an RV starting to go up, and I could tell the driver was hesitant to get up it, and I didn’t want to get myself buried having to stop behind him, so I went around the RV which was creeping forward at a glacial pace, made it 3/4 of the way up, tried to avoid a huge dome of sand, and went right into a hole as deep as that pile was tall. The front wheel made it through, but I felt the bike lose momentum and dropped my feet as soon as I felt the rear sink into the hole and stop. I feathered out the clutch and felt the rear spin, so I hopped off the bike, rocked it back and forth at a 45 degree angle to the incline of the road to get the bike out of the hole, and walked the last 50 feet next to the bike giving it a touch of gas and clutch to help me move it up through the sand. As I climbed back on, I looked behind me and saw the RV shooting a huge rooster tail of sand as the back corner of it sank even deeper into the road. Poor guy was probably going to be there awhile…

Back on US-163 I headed down a half mile to the Arizona border, and as I snapped the picture of the Welcome sign, I realized I was “close” to the four corners, and I may as well be a touristy dumbass and go there as well.

Stopping for gas and a disgusting lunch of fried chicken strips in Arizona, I punched the location of Four Corners into the GPS, and realized I was actually 70 miles from where it was, which was a little further than I had anticipated. I figured I may as well, and set off on US-160 heading East. It was boring, flat, and dull with little to look at. Why was I going to the Four Corners again?

Finally, about an hour later, I crossed into the tip of New Mexico, and headed up the road leading to Four Corners.

Finally arriving at Four Corners, it turned out to be another section of Reservation, wanting another $5 for an entry fee. It took me about half a second to decide that for another $5 in cash I didn’t have, I didn’t really give a shít about seeing a metal plaque on the ground marking a political boundary, with other people milling about holding hands in four different states.
I motored on into Colorado.

Now the sign says “colorful Colorado” but the southwest corner of Colorado greets you with these small, grey domes of rock that make it look more like a pit mine than a scenic state. I soon stopped for gas again, filled up my camelbak as the weather was in the low 90′s now, and continued up US/SR-491 back into Utah, into a little town called Monticello. Now the only thing that town and the mansion Jefferson built for himself share is that they both have f’d up streets, wet from rain, and torn up by bulldozers. (Thomas Jefferson had bulldozers, look it up.)

US-191 heading north out of Monticello was pretty scenic still, with buttes off in the distance, and some close to the road. There was even another natural arch right off the road, with a housing tract behind it (an extravagant $130K buys you a home here!

This rock formation on US-191 looked like a giant, fat, stone woman

I crossed back into Colorado, through a nice flowing road that lead into La Sal National Forest, and was a welcome change from the 200-something miles I’d just done of straight highway roads. A quick detour south led me to the nearest gas station the GPS was able to find, where again I topped over 4.2 gallons, well past the safe point of the “reserve” in the tank.

After refueling I headed north again where the road branched off north to Colorado SR-141, and was easily the best road of the day, certainly ranking amongst the best of the trip. The road leads you from slow rolling forests, right along a river, right into another massive canyon, where the river widens, and the road flows right alongside it. You soon find yourself surrounded by 100 foot vertical cliffs, riding amongst giant stone monoliths, ancient and silent. I truly felt humbled by the scale and beauty of the surroundings. It’s hard to show in pictures, but there were about 30 miles of riding alongside the river that had carved out these canyon walls. I’d go back and ride it again in a heartbeat.

SR-141 eventually wound down, as it neared Grand Junction, Colorado, where everybody drives 40mph, despite the posted limit is 50, and the cop that was taking a nap 5 seconds ago won’t hesitate to pull into the street and follow that “rice rocket” with the bags on it that just rolled by him (still below the speed limit)

After stopping at a motel in a quiet suburb of Grand Junction and asking Agnes (she was old and crabby, I assumed she had a name like that) how much the single was (85+ tax, and they’re ALL smoking rooms) I decided to head back west on I-70 towards the airport at Grand Junction where I knew there were motels and stuff available.

Settled on the Motel 6, which sported a cool 44.95 price on the sign, got checked in, somehow got bumped up to 50-something with bullshít fees, AND had to pay $3 for 24 hours of internet.Awesome. One star fleabags offer free internet and the cocks at Motel 6 still charge you for internet like it’s 2002 and wireless is something new and cutting edge? See if I ever stay at your crap locations again. In fact, I urge everyone to avoid staying there if at all possible.

I unpacked my stuff, checked the odometer and somehow ended up with 631 miles in 11 hours. The Four Corners had been more or less a needless detour that resulted in nothing more than the amusement of tagging the New Mexico welcome sign.
Had dinner at Cocos (finest quality meal I’d had thus far) went to Home Depot to get some WD-40 to lube my chain, and went to bed. Decided to ruin a towel from the motel cleaning my chain for charging me for wifi. Bastards.