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Old 09-11-2012, 03:39 PM   #1
Snowkarver OP
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In The Footsteps of Lewis & Clark

I just got back from a solo trip to ride some of the most famous highways in the northwest. The plan was to work my way along US and state routes, roughly follow in the footsteps of Lewis and Clark, and string together a few of the AMA’s “best roads” including OR-3/WA-123 through the Rattlesnake Grade (#15), US-12 over the Lolo Pass (#9), and the infamous US-212 Beartooth Highway (#1).

This was a trip of many firsts for me – first overnight, first solo tour, first 500 mile day, first time riding in the US – so I was a little anxious heading out.

With only a week to cover 3,000 miles and plans to stop often, do some sightseeing, and enjoy some early evenings and good meals, I planned to keep my typical daily mileage to about 400, which seemed like a good number. This is what I originally mapped out, and it mostly worked well with only a few detours:

Google Maps: Actual route, days 1-3
Google Maps: Actual route, days 4-7

Day One – Vancouver, BC to Coeur D’Alene, ID – 698km/434mi

Headed out early from Vancouver and got to the US border at Sumas before 8:00am. Although I am a frequent transborder traveler, this was my first crossing by bike, and it turned out to be a pleasant experience. The officer was more interested in talking about my 2012 Wee as another patroller had just bought one.

After a quick gas and breakfast in Sedro-Woolley, it was off to hit my first destination highway, WA-20 through North Cascades National Park.

Inspired by a few similar photos, I tried to capture the feeling of a roadside stop along with the tools of the trade:

The North Cascades Highway is one of the “local favorites” for riders from Vancouver, but even in the middle of a long weekend, the road wasn’t that busy. The town of Winthrop, however, was thronged with day trippers, so I gave it a miss.

In Omak, I picked up WA-155 which has some nice curves as it descends to Grand Coulee. I was looking forward to visiting the dam there, but found it a little disappointing compared to the Hoover Dam – it’s big and imposing but not really that attractive.

After a brief stop, I booted along US-2 and I-90 east to Coeur D’Alene to put some distance between me and the coast and set myself up for an early dinner and the next day of riding.

Day Two –Coeur D’Alene, ID to Darby, MT– 629km/391mi

I spent an hour noodling around CDA (including a visit to the world’s longest floating boardwalk!) before taking ID-97 southbound out of town. This byway serves the cottage country along Lake Coeur D’Alene, but early on a holiday morning it was empty and very enjoyable as it twisted madly around the coastline.

In St Maries, I hit my first unplanned detour when all the town streets were closed for a festival. I somehow found myself in heavy traffic heading west on ID-5 instead of south on ID-3 with no way to turn around, so I just went with the flow and took a big loop on US-95 to get me back on track to Old Idaho Route 7, also known as County Road P1. This is a fantastic little connector with some serious curves as the grade winds down towards Orofino and the Clearwater River.

After lunch was the main attraction, US-12 to Lolo, MT, which is #9 on the AMA’s best roads list. I personally think it deserves the ranking, and loved the wide-open 5th and 6th gear sweepers with great sightlines, easy passing, and nice views of the water:

160 miles and one mountain pass later the fun ended on US-93 in the Bitterroot Valley, which is a busy arterial highway all the way down to Darby. Unfortunately it was also very smoky from all the nearby wildfires. I stayed at a lovely B&B there with great views of the open range, and the air cleared a bit overnight:

Day Three –Darby, MT to Mammoth Hot Springs, WY – 523km/325mi

US-93 gets pretty south of Darby as it winds up to the Lost Trail and Chief Joseph passes. From there, I turned south on an empty, desolate MT-278 and wound up the V-Strom for her first taste of triple-digit speeds. Yes, with a lightweight rider she will go there quite easily, but with a full set of luggage she gets a bit squirrely, so I let off and found a sweet spot at around 85mph (indicated) that I could hold comfortably.

I always wanted to park the bike on its center stand in the middle of a highway and take one of these:

My destination for the morning was the ghost town of Bannack, which I found out about in the Montana Visitors’ Guide right before I left. I love photographing old historical sites, and this one was very much worth the stop on my way to Yellowstone:

After a longer than expected stop for lunch and shopping in Dillon (there’s a Patagonia outlet there!) I spent most of the afternoon barreling along MT-41 and I-90 to make up some time and ground, as it was getting late.

By the time I got to US-89, which is a pretty road that curves gently along the Yellowstone River to the north entrance of the park, most of the day’s tourist traffic was gone, and I was rewarded with the perfect light for more pictures:

2012 Suzuki DL650 V-Strom
Ride Report: In The Footsteps of Lewis & Clark

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Old 09-11-2012, 03:40 PM   #2
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In The Footsteps of Lewis & Clark

Day Four – Yellowstone and Beartooth Loop – 603km/375mi

A busy day started before dawn with quick a trip to some of Yellowstone’s most famous sights. It was just below freezing (32 degrees) at sunrise, but heading out this early meant I had great dawn light, and the Grand Loop Road all to myself.

As the day warmed up, the local residents started to get more active. Heading up the east side of the loop on my way to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, I came across this family grazing along the highway:

The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, with its Upper and Lower Falls, is very scenic. But by this time late in the morning, all the tourists were out in force, and I spent way too much time dodging minivans and looking for parking, so I just wanted to get on with my big ride.

Right after a quick lunch, it was time for the literal highlight of the trip – the furthest point from home, the highest altitude, and the AMA's #1 motorcycling road in America. I have to say that US-212 didn’t disappoint:

Winding almost 11,000 feet into the alpine, I actually got a bit short of breath up there from the altitude. Beartooth has a nice mix of fast sweepers and more technical riding with jaw-dropping views, but the most remarkable thing is the 65-70 mph speed limit on most of it. I certainly did not have the brass to attempt such a thing on some of the blind curves with no guardrails and 3000 foot drops.

I had really wanted to try the Chief Joseph Byway on the return trip, and so made a long and boring run along MT-308, MT-72, and WY-120 to set myself up for it. Unfortunately, the Chief is in bad repair, with all of the good parts plastered with slick tar snakes, and many long, boring uphill straights. If I were to do it again, I’d just grab a cold drink in Red Lodge, turn around, and do the Beartooth again in reverse.

This was really a day of ups and downs:

Day Five – Mammoth Hot Springs, WY to Stanley, ID – 726km/451mi

I took advantage of an early start to wander around the Mammoth area, taking pictures of all the steaming geothermal activity.

By the time I hit the road again, traffic had picked up considerably on US-189 connecting Yellowstone to Grand Teton, so it was a long, painful, stop-and-go ride to my next destination. After more than one single-lane traffic delay, I finally turned off the main road for a short, sweet, 15 minute ascent of Signal Mountain Drive to see views of the Teton Range.

In Jackson, WY, I picked up WY-22 over the Teton Pass and started my long journey home. Up until this point, I had been blessed with almost perfect motorcycling weather, with cold crisp mornings and dry days in the 70s and 80s. Today, I found myself riding through the Tetons in heavy overcast with gusty winds and a light drizzle. Fortunately, my Klim gear and the relatively good protection of the V-Strom meant that I barely noticed the change.

That is until I got to the long, straight, and windy stretch of US-20 across eastern Idaho. Riding in the sheltered valleys of British Columbia, I never really got why bad crosswinds were so hated by motorcyclists until I spent the next two hours battling them, just trying to keep my bike upright and pointed in the right direction. For most of the ride, I didn’t even dare to take pictures, for fear that the wind would just knock my parked bike over.

Once I got a bit closer to the protection of the Sawtooth Mountains, the weather eased up a bit, and I decided to stop and take some “middle of nowhere” photos outside Craters of the Moon National Monument:

I had originally planned to take US-93 up to Challis, and then ride southwest on ID-75 along the Salmon River to Stanley, but the Halstead wildfire had triggered road restrictions, so I decided to continue on to Hailey and Ketchum, and ride north on ID-75 instead.

The first part was agonizing, as I arrived in the busy valley just in time for rush hour, but once in the National Forest, I literally didn’t see another vehicle until I got to Stanley. Between Ketchum and Smiley Creek, ID-75 is terrific for a good 30 miles as it climbs up the Sawtooths to Galena Summit, and then descends a little into the high plateau on the other side.

This was definitely the most tiring day of the trip, so I was happy to check into the Sawtooth Hotel, take a hot shower, and then relax downstairs in the restaurant with my book, some good food, and a microbrew.

2012 Suzuki DL650 V-Strom
Ride Report: In The Footsteps of Lewis & Clark
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Old 09-11-2012, 03:41 PM   #3
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In The Footsteps of Lewis & Clark

Day Six –Stanley, ID to Clarkston, WA – 667km/414mi

Stanley is a cool little town with gravel streets and funky accommodations. At more than 7,000 feet in elevation however, it can be a little too cool in the morning!

After breakfast at the Stanley Baking Company, I headed out on what would become one of my most epic days ever, with consistently amazing roads from sunrise until sunset. First up was ID-21 westbound along the Payette River, which is a great warmup with pretty forest scenery and easy sweepers. At Lowman, the valley tightens up and so do the curves as the highway becomes the Banks-Lowman Road.

Enjoying myself, I decided to get heavier with the throttle, and was immediately surprised by two Idaho State Police bikes screaming the other way as I rounded the next corner. But they were obviously either focused on someone else or enjoying their own ride, as they just gave me a big friendly wave as they tore past. If only every police encounter could be like that.

The Banks-Lowman Road dumps you out at Garden Valley onto the arterial ID-55 which connects the towns of Cascade, McCall, and New Meadows, where I stopped for lunch with a nice couple from the other Vancouver (WA) on his-and-hers Tiger 800s. Cool stuff.

From there, a short connection on US-95 led to ID-71/OR-86 which is a phenomenal road that twists and turns along the Snake River and Oxbow Reservoir. It features dozens of perfect technical esses, steep drops, brand new pavement, and very little traffic. Not six hours after taking the frozen bike picture in Stanley, I’m down from the mountains and into the high Oregon desert, where the mercury is rapidly climbing past 90 degrees in the shade.

There’s no rest for the next 150 miles as OR-86 leads to the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area and NF-39, the Wallowa Mountain Loop - a paved, twisty, and shaded Forest Service Road that seems to be a favorite day ride for the folks from Lewiston and Boise. I fell in with a couple of local adventure riders who ran slightly faster than my usual pace, and experienced another first – scraping my peg feelers on a few of the uphill corners.

The late afternoon was reserved for the final AMA “best road” of the trip – OR-3/WA-129 through the Rattlesnake Grade, which turned out to be one of my very favorite pieces of pavement.

The really good part is relatively short – just under 20 miles as the highway drops down to the Snake River and climbs the plateau on the other side, but what a twenty miles it is. Perfect curves lined up one after the other with no respite, great pavement, jaw-dropping exposure, and no traffic or enforcement. A truly memorable highlight of the trip.

Day Seven –Clarkston, WA to Vancouver, BC – 812km/505mi

In contrast to the other places I visited on this trip, Clarkston wasn't that quaint or scenic, so I was happy to leave town early. But before heading home, I stopped to sample one more of those legendary northwest grades, the Old Spiral Highway above the city. Although it does have nice curves, I prefer remote and desolate roads, so its proximity to homes, farms, and local businesses put me off, and I didn't think it was all that great. Still, I checked it off my list and took the photo:

Finally, it was time to head back to Vancouver. I took one last picture of my bike above Lewiston, and pointed her home.

Rather than slab it for 450 miles, I cobbled together what I thought would be a more interesting route through the Palouse and over Stevens Pass from other ride reports, taking US-12, WA-261, WA-26, the old Vantage Highway to Ellensburg, US-97, and then US-2 through Leavenworth and over the Cascades. All worked out very nicely until I hit the weekend traffic from Skykomish all the way along WA-9 to Canada, but by this time I was done with spirited riding, and was content to motor home in traffic, dreaming of the wide open curves and grades of Oregon, Idaho, and Montana.

  • US-12 from Orofino, ID to Lolo, MT
  • US-212 from Cooke City to Red Lodge, MT
  • ID-75 from Ketchum to Smiley Creek, ID
  • Banks-Lowman Road, ID
  • ID-71 from Cambridge, ID to Hells Canyon
  • OR-3/WA-129 through the Rattlesnake Grade
  • Coeur D’Alene, Lake Coeur D’Alene, and ID-97
  • Bannack State Park, MT
  • Yellowstone National Park at dawn
  • Stanley, ID and the Sawtooth Mountains
  • My 2012 DL650, which worked perfectly
2012 Suzuki DL650 V-Strom
Ride Report: In The Footsteps of Lewis & Clark
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Old 09-14-2012, 12:49 PM   #4
Sleepy John
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Thanks for the report. Some great scenery there.

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Old 09-14-2012, 01:00 PM   #5
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Very nice!!
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Old 09-14-2012, 08:48 PM   #6
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Thanks for sharing. Great pictures. You were doing some great country there.

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