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Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by Ikeya-Seki, May 30, 2019.
Oh man. North of San Fran is SOO much better. And Oregon!! Yeah, you need to go back
Dude, don't rub it in. i'm kicking myself enough already.
These emojis are, me, to me-
Literally shooting myself. While literally carrying the sign for being an asshat, and sitting on my own head with my own generously sized bum. I couldn't find the hiding my face in shame one.
Gives you a reason for another journey!
Cease. You're a bad influence sir.
Got a friend in Seattle and friends in Portland. My brother is in Los Angeles, cousin in San Francisco. Doc says I must stay off the bike though, the killjoy.
Days 42-44 in the books.
Yellow jackets feast on the remains of insects splattered on my bike. Over the past couple few thousand miles Dirty Gerty’s headlight guard, windscreen, auxiliary lights and radiator grills have become a hard landing zone for some pretty big and juicy. bugs. Apparently it makes for a yellow jacket jamboree picnic. It’s an unavoidable component to motorcycle riding - insect impact - and while some collisions are harder and wetter than others, it is the one that somehow makes it over the windscreen, through the smallest slit in the visor and onto the single square centimeter of exposed face that always gets me. How? How in all this volume of space and air does this one tiny, hard shelled juice pellet find my forehead? Never ceases to amaze me.
The yellow jackets may have well been feasting on my spine, cause it’s been heating up lately. I am not going into a diatribe on lumbago, but if you suffer, you have an idea. That’s all. The road out of Tok was tough.
After some coffee and conversation with GS riders John and Glen from Colorado and Washington, I rolled out of the Nugget Cabins and Campground and started north to the ALCAN border crossing. There were stretches of long roadway with mountain vistas and plenty to see, steep 8% grades both up and down and plenty of passing zones to get around all the trucks and RVs. The riding was fairly easy, temps in the low 60’s and plenty of sunshine. I hadn’t planned to ride that far but I wound up tacking on a few extra miles in pursuit of gasoline. About 650 for the day.
Rural Canadian gas is often 87 octane at best and their supply probably doesn’t get refreshed as often and as a result, I was getting poorer performance and was ready for fresh gas. Old reliable (not always) GPS claimed there was a filing station just a couple miles past the ALCAN border crossing. The Butler map I had suggest the same so I went into fuel management mode and puttered my way to the customs staton where the border agent promptly informed me that, “Nope. They closed that two years ago. Next gas is 42 miles.”
“I got 52 in range. Is it open?” I asked, seeing it was almost 9 p.m. on my watch.
“It’s a 24 hour pay staton, I believe.”
I did buy exactly two liters at the last Canada gas stop and the attendant there looked at me and said, “Next gas is a...” then gave me a scary number and added, “It will probably be closed by the time you get there.” There was a warning in her eye. I saw it. I didn’t heed. Two more liters wouldn’t have hurt.
Now I was in both fuel and time management mode. I had to feather the throttle enough to stretch the gas but not so lightly to lose too much time. The Canadian gas station attendant seemed more confident than the border agent. I wasn’t especially concerned as I had everything to make a night it, but running out of gas just sucks.
In all the 12500 miles I’ve ridden so far, those 42 plus miles were the longest. And when I finally crested the hill with the fueling junction in sight, it was not only closed, it was abandoned, run down and bordered up. What the? How? I even circled back to be sure what I was seeing was real. Yup. That place hadn’t pumped gas in years. Maybe it’s further on? I thought. And just when I thought it was time to find a campsite, there it was: the next gas station and the pumps were on. Only it wasn’t a 24 hr station and despite following all the prompts to a T three separate times..... same dead end result: See Attendant. Only problem was the lights were off and the sign read closed. I decided to take a peek in the window anyhow and there was a woman at the register counting cash.
My eyes must have conveyed my sense of desperation because we worked out a deal and she lit the pump back up for me and I was able to fill up. It was still 87 octane (I’m guessing case it was a single grade pump), but it was gas and I was on my way.
Not long after I found the Tok River State Park where a row of campsites sits just above the river’s bank in a shaded little pine glade. It was eleven p.m. and the sun was still on the horizon making for some nice photos. The color of the rivers here are worth mentioning. It’s kind of a combination of clay and coffee and at times you can visually distinguish the confluence of two separate sources and their respective hue changes. It’s pretty interesting. The campground was fairly empty, just a few RVs and me, the solo camper. Well water, dug toilets and no shower, but it was visually appealing and suited the purpose. I was out early in the morning.
The road from Tok toward Anchorage is rough. The winters have there way with roadways around these parts and this was no exception. Rough sections with folded asphalt, wheel swallowing pot holes, bumps, jumps and drop offs are common. You get warning, but no help otherwise. I had little difficulty picking my way though, but the unpredictable nature of it keeps your eyes on the road, stealing them form the view. I took the bumps, drops and jumps and Dirty Gerty was fine with it all. My back not so much and by the time I found the next campsite at the Finger Lakes State Park, I had had it and all the usual crap that comes came. I set up my tent, got flat, and passed out.
The campground hosts here are awesome. Gary and Mary. He and his wife are from Minnesota and campground host in Alaska in summer, Arizona in winter. Kinda nice. Anyway, he informed me that disabled veterans with proper ID can get a pass for free camping at all Alaska State Parks and this particular park was on of only three places in Alaska you can walk in and get the pass. Only problems was it was Saturday and the office was not open until Monday morning. He suggested we speak with the ranger and see what we could do and later while I was resting in my tent, he came by and put a DAV tag on my reservation post. What a guy. I’ll be visiting the ranger station later this morning to see about that pass.
On Gary’s suggestion, I took a day ride down to Whittier, an old sub base and now seaport that sits on the other end of a single lane, two mile long rail tunnel that accepts traffic on the half hour. Motorcycles are dispatched last though the tunnel (lest one wipe out and cause delay) and aside from crossing the tracks at the beginning and end, the ride is no problem. Wet, grooved concrete, a slight slope change at the middle, and target fixation are about all that require effort. Still it’s a pretty cool tunnel.
Whittier is a one way destination, unless you have a boat or airplane I suppose. On the way, you will pass through the Chugach National Forrest and between a set of railroad tracks and the sound - Prince William? - which is basically the hydraulic causeway left behind from glaciers. The remaining glaciers sit atop and between the mountains and from all accounts are on the melt. Each and every person I spoke with who is from the area remarks that they have witnessed them shrinking in recent years. Global warming is real folks. You can debate the causes all you want, but the fact is glaciers are on the melt. Seen it.
The town itself is tiny with a few shops, hotels, eateries and a very active seaport and harbor. Lots of folks were trailering boats and as many more where already there ready to catch fish, mover cargo or tour the area. Show capped mountains, cobalt blue waters, hard grey shoreline and a green velour of pine hillsides make up most of the view. Pepper in a bunch of sea birds, fishing boats, the odd hotel, a wooden seaside shack or two and some tourists and you have Whittier. Nice place to have a look around.
The return trip to the campground was slow going with a steady line of cars and no reason to pass. I stopped for gas and supplies and then set about cooking a tasty meal. I put together a red bell pepper, small white onion and cut up a steak to mix it. The Jetboil heating system burns hot so I got a good sear then tempered it with some Stone IPA. The results were tasty and the store bought coleslaw not bad either. Nice that the sun stays up so late.
Today, I am going to break camp and head toward Fairbanks. Time to get moving.
Cooking with good beer, nice touch!
Great write-up bro... even though you told me about the trip across
Great write-up bro... even though I heard some of the details when you were here, going back and reading it was like being there. Keep rollin’!
View attachment 1799446
Forgot to include this tunnel pic.
Days 45 & 46 in the books.
Monday’s departure out of the Finger Lake State Park was the latest I’ve set out for the day. I took my time packing up, took a walk along the shoreline, chatted some more with Gary, did some writing and then stopped at the ranger station to pick up a state park pass. I even drank a beer left over from the night before cause I had no place to stow it. It was fully noon before I set off in the direction of Fairbanks via Hatcher Pass.
Hatcher is as summer only pass that climbs to an altitude of 38XX feet. Not super high, but starting at sea level, it makes for some stellar views. The gravel road up is mostly hard packed, considerably steep in a few spots and has a switch back or two, but on a scale of 1-10, I’d give it a 3.5 for difficulty and maybe a touch higher if heights aren’t your thing. If you’re already familiar with gravel, it’s easy. For the next 3o miles or so pass follows the Hatcher River as it runs west before joining the Parks Highway en route to Fairbanks. Unlike most glacial run offs, the Hatcher is clear with yellow and brown stone bottom, probably owing to a few collection ponds along the way. It’s 100 percent worth the effort.
Warm to natives, but just about right to me the temps hung in the low 80’s all morning and made the ride to Fairbanks enjoyable. Still no whiff of smoke in the air. That would change. The roadway is framed by pine most of the ride keeping much of the view from, well, view. The standout of course is Denali.
From the south, the range appears on the left of the highway and at first, for me anyhow, it was impressive but I wasn’t amazed. I expected more. After all, at 20,3210 feet Denali is the tallest mountain in North America. Trees broke up the view making if somewhat difficult to make out what was there and then, along a protracted clearing I focused on the unusual cloud sitting atop the dark colored range below. Only it wasn’t a cloud at all, it was the snow covered peak of Denali and man is it big. It towers over the other peaks surrounding it and is wholly worth of its lore.
After a lunch of a couple excellent grilled halibut tacos at a cafe just before the park, I took the Denali National Park road in as far as I could go. The sun was at about 10 o’clock in the sky and aroma of meadow and pine permeated the air. The landscape is pristine and lead me to expect a grizzly, moose or elk to trot out at any moment. Windy but not twisty and smooth, but not too long, the road was perfect for a helmet off soak in the scenery.
Back at the state park, Gary had given me a MSR dromedary someone had left behind and while I did put to used as a makeshift solar shower, but it’s not the same. After four days of camping, I was ready for a shower and bed. I booked an inexpensive hotel room and got some much needed rest.
In the morning I fueled up and set off for Prudhoe Bay with a planned stop in Coldfoot, possibly spending the night. There was a pilot truck construction zone to get past, but after that the remaining obstacles were road surface changes and smoke. Asphalt yields to packed dirt and gravel in places and rises, ripples and breaks in the road come along in places. But the major player that morning was the smoke that had settled in the valley. Visibility was about a quarter mile, no appreciable horizon and breathing was not especially difficult. I just couldn’t see much, silhouettes maybe. Luckily after about 120 miles, it broke and it was all sun from there on.
The thermometer on the building wall in Coldfoot read 85 degrees. I’m sure it was against the steel, but the air was a bit cooler and my bike read 77 most of the day. Coldfoot Camp is an Alaskan truck stop where you can get fuel, foot, a shower and someplace to sleep. I drank a beer with my burger on the porch and talked with a group of South African riders who had rented KTM’s in Texas and were spending a few weeks touring the US and Canada. They were staying a few miles up the road in Wiseman and a couple of them raised eyebrows when I told them I planned to continue to Prudhoe Bay.
There are about 9 different kinds of road surface between Fairbanks and Prudhoe Bay and you will find a good sampling of them from Coldfoot north. Hard packed dirt, gravel patch, loose, round gravel, smooth asphalt, potholed asphalt, dry loose flat gravel, wet gravel, and then there is the calcium carbonated slurry. The latter being the most challenging in my opinion. Picking a line through each of these surfaces is the key to my mind. I aimed for the shallowest path forward and maintained a steady speed appropriate for each condition. In the calcified slurry which was about a 10 mile stretch (maybe less) north of the pass, I proceeded the slowest working to keep in the truck tracks ahead. Some slippery moments, but really, nothing like slick mud in Utah.
I skirted a few rain showers, avoided a front and rode along in a serene state of treeless and green meandering landscape.
At 9:15 or so I rolled into the parking lot of the Arctic Oilfield Hotel and secured a room for 2 nights. It’s a fantastic facility, feels new and clean with a small but comfortable room (single 155$) with private shower. All meals, in fact as much as you want, are included in the price and I tried everything from quiche & poached eggs to grilled chicken and NY strip steak. Not bad.
I booked a tour for the shuttle ride to the leased property and an opportunity to take a dip in the ocean. Sign up require a 24 hr advance reservation and 69$. It was worth it. Our driver, Mark, was informative and knowledgeable and shed a great deal of light on the day to day and big picture operations of the oil industry at Prudhoe Bay. The water was cold, but not painful and several of us on the tour took the plunge and earned out certificates.
I’ll end here and include a few photos and possibly follow up with a part two when I can. I am headed to Coldfoot and hope to make it there before 8:30 p.m., which means I got to hustle a bit to get out of here. One more lunch before I go.
Days 47-51 in the books.
Due to rain, reception or mosquitos (Yukon), I have not been able to write until now.
Nuts & Bolts: 15,513 miles total. 400 mile daily avg. WIldlife: 15 black bear. 2 moose. 3 Bald eagles. 1 Golden eagle. 10+ caribou. 3 porcupine. 100+ bison. 2 elk. 20+ musk ox. and..... one....
Grizzly! - but I’m getting a little ahead of my self.....
The ride back from Prudhoe Bay on Thursday proved to be much easer going than the way up with a couple of exceptions. The sky was silver-white most of the day and I got wet a few times from passing showers, but the Alaskan road genies had been hard at work patching holes, smoothing out surfaces, and wrapping up the calcium carbonate work. One result it seems of treating the roads this way is much like sweating a tomato with salt, the calcium carbonate draws moisture out of the soil creating a slurry, which then self levels and hardens. That’s my take on it anyhow. The riding was better.
I should mention that while still stunning, the Atigun Pass at the north end of the Dalton Highway is more impressive coming from the south. For one, I could see it coming from a greater distance and the approach is more gradual and steady building anticipation, with some climbing turns for suspense. And once at the peak (3800 feet giver or take), you get a great view of the decent below with ribbons of roadway draped on the mountain folds. The sides are steep with avalanche warnings and on the way through, you ride against that impressively sharp side. It’s definitely the gem of the drive and my only regret is not stopping to grab some drone footage on the way up when the light was great. Weather kept me saddled on the way back and I motored past.
I spent the night at Marion Creek Campground, a BLM managed site that’s a little on the wild side. Only a few other campers in were in and it seemed the perfect kind of place to see a bear: lots of elk droppings, dense pine and brush. It was closing in on 7:00 p.m. when I set up my tent and decided to take the five mile ride south to Coldfoot Camp to fill up my tank, grab a bite and a beer before bed. Many of the campsites in these parts provide firewood so I took it upon my self to light a fire and kicked back for a while before calling it a night. No bears - just a rabbit.
A dry tent in the morning makes for a snappy departure. This was one of those mornings. The weather on the ride from Coldfoot to Fairbanks was similar to the day before with solid cloud cover and temps in the 50’s, intermittent rain and occasional breaks in the sky. The riding was brisk and quick with good traction since the surface was more damp than wet, although the closer to Fairbanks, the wetter it got and by the time I got to the 7 mile long stretch of road construction, the roads were saturated.
Unlike every other time, the flagger had me (the motorcycle) go last and it was easy to figure out why. The going was tough due to 2-4 inches of slick mud that really challenged my balding rear tire and also my balance. I set the bike in “rain mode” and the traction control was working overtime to get me through. It’s harder too because of how slow the line of cars moves although faster could easy send you flying too. It was slick, but I made it. No dabs.
The other exception to the ride was fire smoke. Much thicker this time around made the going more difficult and in many spots visibility dropped to 50-75 feet. All in all it was one of those days where you just hope for better weather on the other end. The next several days would be like that.
I put Dirty Gerty through the pressure washer in Fairbanks to get most or some of the mud off of her and headed southwest on the Richardson Highway (2) eventually stopping by the Tok River in the same state park as before, in the same campsite. I made another fire, cooked pasta, made sauce, ate and went to sleep. Some travelers set up camp next to me at around 1:45 in the morning but they were remarkably quiet about it and I fell back to sleep. A few light shower fell during the night, but the tent was still dry in morning.
The next day I rode to Chicken, Alaska where I had a breakfast sandwich and coffee on the cafe porch. It’s an eclectic and somewhat cartoonish place as if drawn up in the imagination and musings of the Wild West. A row of box buildings, a few gigantic plywood cut-out chickens and a bevy of off beat campers is what I found. Some where wearing Santa hats and putting up Christmas lights, others were setting up for corn hole. Chicken, Alaska - what can I say.
The road from Chicken to Dawson City, Yukon is 90 percent gravel. It rained off and on, but the going was fine with only a minor slip here and there. I am sure glad I went with the more aggressive Anakee Wild up front as they were finding the grip when needed. The road climbs and twists, hugging the mountainside and running the ridge, which alternated the views. I was a little surprised to find a fair amount of truck traffic and a handful of cars on the road especially considering the crappy weather, but they helped make it interesting.
I camped again that night in a campground along the Yukon River, but I forget the name. Again I found very few campers and again I made a small fire. I like it when they wood is stacked by the ring and ready to go. I left it the same way. I tried to do some writing after heating and eating a can of chili, but the mosquitos where out for blood and I hid in my tent and fell asleep. In the morning I dried off the ground cloths on the picnic table - the biggest I’d ever seen. I probably could have pitched my tent on top - ok, not the Redverze, but a two man tent anyhow.
The riding the next day was similar with colder temps and the clouds and sun duked it out all day, one throwing beaming rays and a few degrees of heat, the other deluges of rain and wind. The wildlife sightings made for up for a day that you more get through than indulge in. Moose took top billing... until about 20 miles before Liard River Provincial Park & Hot Springs. That’s when I saw my first grizzly.
Black bear and bison began appearing around what would be dusk. I think I counted four bear and two bison herds and some straggler bulls when I caught sight of a much differently looking bear off to my left foraging in top clover I’d guess. This bear wore a brown coat of much thicker fur with a lighter band running along its back. If I had to guess, it was a cub with its mother last season or at most the one before at best. Not so lanky as its black furred cousins, this bear even though a juvenile, had a form that more resembled a cement mixer. He chomped away furiously as I rolled by as slowly I as could without stopping, I’m afraid I have missed this one on my GoPro as my hands never left the throttle, small as he was, he was a grizzly.
I spent the night in the overflow camping lot across from the main grounds with about 15 other campes or more. The hot springs are a favorite and “if you’re not in by noon,” the park ranger told me, “you usually don’t get a spot.” It wasn’t bad at all, just a walk across the roadway. I set up next to a KTM 1290 rider named Mike. We chatted it up for a while discovering a similar interest in gear - same tent, same bags and an appreciation for each other’s bikes as well. We’d pass each other twice more heading south util I saw him stop to take some pic of mountain goats.
Admission to the hot spring is included in the 23$ camping fee - yes, full price in the overflow - but worth it in my mind. The walk out to the hot springs follows a planked pathway wide enough for a golf cart for about 700 meters until a couple of changing cabins flank a stairway to the pools above. The pools flow progressively from quite hot to warm across thee separate but large chambers. A cooler current runs along the bottom fed by a cold spring next to the thermal at the top. The pools are stone and plant lined with gravel bottoms and there are underwater benches for relaxing. They accommodate a lot of people and did not feel crowded at all. I went again in the morning.
I left Liard Springs late that morning shoving off around 11:30 in the direction of Charlie Lake and rode from gloomy weather to pretty decent and set my tent up in clear light. After grabbing some quick grub at the local market, I wrapped it up pretty fast and got to sleep. So here I am now with some sun and cell service again trying to get caught up. I’m taking what these solar panels will give through the filtered light and then making my way back to Prince George then on to Banff. It’s raining now in P.G. but supposed to clear up this afternoon, fitting in well with my slow roll this morning.
Day 52 & 53 in the books.
The ride to Prince George was not without some rain, but not too heavy. Still, my starboard side pannier is less than water tight and things get wet. There’s not much either I can do about it before I get home.
Like much of this part of Canada, the scenery is great. The roads are in fair condition for the most part and aside from a ton of logging and tanker trucks, it’s pretty wide open riding. The weather though seems to temper even the best locations and that was pretty much the same with me. Glad to be out doing what I am doing, but at the same time wishing on better climate. I was tired when I got to P.G. and after a meal at a semi-swanky local bistro, I called it a night.
So Canada is a beautiful place and the people are friendly, but I was getting itchy to get back on home turf so I set my sights on the border but not before a ride through Jasper and Banff National Parks, and I am so glad I did. Visually breathtaking, the ranges, river and glacial landscape arrested any sense of hurry I’d been feeling and put me at ease. On top of that the sun was now beginning to to win the battle for the sky and for the first time in weeks, I saw temps approaching eighty.
Jasper from the north seems to gradually build. The mountains in some places resemble a stack of cards frozen in the midst of a shuffle as thin sedimentary layers heave upward. The coloring in these layers varies from light to dark, reflecting eons of passing time. It’s hard really to figure out where to begin making sense of it all, but once you get a better hold of just how much time and energy had to be at play, the big picture comes into better focus, just ramping up the awe.
While the glaciers are surely on the melt there, they are still significant in spots and the blue hues of ice do draw the eye. Tourist too. The main glacier site was pretty packed so I opted for my own spots for viewing and let the GoPro catch a record as I pass. I have limited storage on my iPad, so much of that footage will have to wait to be seen. Should be some nuggets.
In contrast to Jasper, the mountains in Banff stand immediately at attention, less layered and beautifully snow capped. Predominately pine, the trees too range in color from deep greens to maroons to many shades of rust. The results are amazing. The river (sorry the name escapes me) carries that same pale glacial blue-green color and the pools and ponds concentrated examples of that. I took some time to go for walk along that banks and get a few shots in. Time well spent.
That time though would cost me any chance of making the border, not that there was much of that really. You just have to put the brakes on in these parkways. Just the smell of clover alone is cause to pause.
By 7 p.m. I had made it as far as Radium Springs and although there were only two more hours to the border, attempting it would mean hunting for camping in the dark. Besides, my body is in revolt and I felt more fatigued than at any point along this journey. I had dinner at a German restaurant of all places and learning from the waitress that the springs were.....”nice”..... “chlorinated”..... I decided Liard would stand as my memory, took a pass and got a room in a local motel.
The room was adequate and clean, but waiting around for the 8:00 a.m. breakfast was kinda annoying. I started up my bike about 60 seconds after my plate hit the dish counter.
Overdue for an oil change and running on a slick in the rear, I decided to alter my plans and for forgo the Eastport Idaho border crossing and head strait to Big Sky Powersports in Missoula, Montana. I made a call just after nine and the folks there said they could take care of me if I made it in before 3 p.m., which I did. I booked the 360 miles that took me through the Flathead National Forest, provides some great views and led me to the shop just in time. I PAID for some new tires and rear brake pads, which were surprisingly cooked in just 16.5k miles, but I needed them. The guys at the shop where helpful and accommodating, allowing me to change fluids in the parking lot and lending a filter wrench (the one I got at Autozone was shit).
So Dirty Gerty and I sit here in our first KOA nearly wrapped up and ready to roll east. I am thinking of passing through Bozeman en route the the Teddy Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota. First though I got finish up eating this rabbit, or bunny or whatever. This KOA is crawling with them and there are no signs saying “Don’t Eat The Bunnies.” When in Rome.....
Days 54 & 55 in the books.
I grew up a Converse sneaker kid. Chuck Taylor’s got me around, in and out of the local ponds, along the trails and through tall grasses. They were everything. But in fourth or fifth grade my mother took me down to Chet Rowe’s shoe store in downtown Exeter, N.H. to pick out my first set of track shoes. They were blue Adidas with three white stripes down the side and man were they fast. I believe I ran like Forrest Gump for the whole summer and without a doubt, 50 mph faster.
Well, that kinda happened again. Dirty Gerty got her fist pair of track shoes and don’t she like to go. They are silent, smooth and sticky, sticky. Michelin Pilot 5 Trail, is what I believe the name is and they are a 90% road tire. Sooooo smooth and did I mention quiet? They are great. Pick a line on a curve and just hold, they get around. I’ve run them too up a few gravel roads - maybe 25 miles in all - and they seem fine. Not gonna tell you they wouldn’t be hell in wet dirty, but on dry, packed gravel they work. I’d only ridden the thee miles from Big Sky Motorsport to the K.O.A. so I had no sense of what the ride would be like. Me like. It’s like putting on slippers after living in hiking boots.
From the K.O.A warren in Missoula, I headed southeast in the direction of Bozeman with the idea of enjoying some mountain scenery before I bend north again to the Theodore Roosevelt National Park in N.D. For a few days I’d been flirting with the idea of dropping in on the motorcycle rally Sturgis, S.D. With a group of friends or a riding buddy it would be a no-brained. But solo, and the nature of this particular ride, I’d only want to pass through and the idea of a couple hundred thousand bikers - many riding in packs - the jam for parking, inflated prices - I couldn’t get past the imagined crowds and, well, shitty riding. Not so much the terrain, I’d been through the Black Hills, Spearfish, and Needles before...and Sturgis, but the clutch work, the restrained tempo, and lets be honest, getting behind a single modified exhaust just stinks, never mind dozens and dozens you can’t get past. I began to think of another route.
For much of the day I just couldn’t settle on where to go. I kept altering my destination, ignoring my GPS and turning up whatever road caught my eye. The campgrounds I had contacted in Bozeman where booked and with little promise other than “there might be some open campgrounds on the way to Big Sky Mountain,” I continued on.
The sun was hot, around 90 or better and there were a fair amount of summer tourists on the roads, fewer big rigs. I tooled along for a while before stopping for lunch in Great Falls. I munched on some dry rub pork ribs and had a beer while getting some local intel from the server who turned out to be a big outdoors kinda dude who gave me a bunch of tips and ideas of where to go and what to do. He was planning to begin a 6 week fishing journey up the waterways to Flathead country and seemed to appreciate the nature of my ride as well. He made sure I left with a few stickers and a 40 0z IPA, which I stashed in my homemade cooler for later.
I stopped at Sluice Boxes as he had suggested, but as impressive as it was, the trail down to the river was steep and would take me far from my bike. The trail was a bit canted and ran along the cliff’s edge. No place to be scampering along in motorcycle boots, maybe Chuck Taylors or Adidas. I grabbed some shots and pressed on. I’d get my line wet in due time.
My GPS was telling me it would be 777 miles to Roosevelt via Big Sky Mountain so I knew a one day ride for all of that was out of the question. I started flipping coins again in my head and after passing two Lewis & Clark National Forest campgrounds, I pulled into the next one - Many Pines - and pitched my tent. Fairly empty at first, it was nearly full by dusk and I was glad I made the stop.
I was low on supplies, but had one can of soup, a pack of peanut M&M’s, oatmeal and..... I had almost forgot, the 40 of IPA. I shelved the oatmeal, cooked up the soup, munched down the M&M’s and drank nearly all of the beer. I slept off and on during the night, awakened once by a patter of rain and several times to work out leg spasms, but in the morning I was please again to find a dry tent and gear. I was on the road a little past 8 a.m.
For much of the day I rode with a directionless feel. I still felt the pull to ride toward Big Sky, but not only have I been there before, every time I bucked my GPS and began to explore, the distances to North Dakota just kept growing. I think that’s part of Montana’s dilemma. Sure, big sky - fantastic views, but that also leaves you thinking you can just go there or there or there, never really appreciating the vastness of distance....and fuel availability.
Long straits, big views and cruise control allow for some headspace and after a while I decided to just let things flow in a new direction and explore new territory. I abandoned my plans for Big Sky Mountain and instead set off in the direction of Fort Peck Lake, the starting gate of the Missouri River. From there I would ride east to N.D.
I stopped around 2:30 - 3:00 at a place called the Hell Creek Bar & Grill and got a burger and fries. The bartender suggested camping up at Fort Peck would be a good idea, but warned the roads were in poor condition, especially route 34. I filled up my tank and started off on the last 90 miles of the day.
(Sluice Boxes Canyon)
I don’t really get it, but the roads to my mind were fine. Maybe a little bumpy and maybe a few patches of fresh asphalt, but the were far from bad. Maybe it was Gerty’s new sneakers, but I found the ride up quite enjoyable. The terrain is markedly different than most of the rolling hills and grassy prairie I’d been in most of the day.
Gradually the landscape begins crack and buckle, seeming to rise in spots as if a cake still in the process of baking. It reminded me much of the Badlands, erosion exposing the sides of these hills, revealing the grey, sand and maroon colored layers beneath. The further north, the more abundant and abrupt these formations became and the straw colored grasses gave way to deeper shades of green - all signs of groundwater.
I turned the corner and crossed the spillway to Fort Peck Lake around 7:00 or a little after and went in search of this campground I’d read about. Well, it turned out a bunch of people must have read about it because the shoreline was crawling with folks (not having seem many all day, it was a bit unexpected), and sure enough, the campground was full. The sign at the gatehouse said it was full at 5:00, tent sites included.
I revisited the waypoint I dropped 25 miles back in my mind as I tooled around the small town of Glasgow, looking for alternatives. I spotted a few clusters of campers and tents in dry, lakeside parking lots. I noted a few suitable picnic tables I could easily set up on and I meandered through the oddly routed side streets, past the old theater and around again two more times before I settled on the idea that I would just go back to the full campground and ask for water and a maybe a tip as to where to go.
(Photo above is of evening sky at Many Pines campground in Lewis & Clark N.F. - threatened but did not rain)
I pulled Leslie, the campground host, away from her office keyboard and I am not sure if it was the look of despair on my face or the sordid state of my & Gerty’s appearance, but she opened her angle wings and took us in. Her husband Jim insisted I pick a spot behind their camper - any spot - and then even went so far as rolling out an extension cord and box fan to help cool things down. What luck. Nice sometimes to be a veteran as I know it helps as nearly everyone has one or has lost one in their lives.
I tell you, chief among what I am learning along this trip is that the world is full of good people. Americans - and Canadians too are fine, helpful, considerate, funny and engaging. Not once has the topic of politics come into play. Not once has religion been a factor beyond a “God bless you” and at no time have I had the feeling the world is quite as bad as how it is portrayed on television or in the media. I’m not so naive to think everything is fine and dandy - there is obviously some bad shit going down in places, I’m just saying it’s not been my experience and that most people I meet, I’d be glad to call a neighbor or a friend.
North Dakota here I come.
Day 57 & 58 in the books.
So I just visited my calendar and counted the days again. I lost two days somehow. Today is actually day 60 so I am gun-decking the numbers cause I can.
Gerty and I left Fort Peck Lake solidly headed east. Not only was I staring directly into the rising sun, but the roads are compass straight and rarely deviate, until of course you reach a turn, then it’s 90 degrees. I was squarely on the grid. No doubt road design in this part of the country comes straight off the engineer’s desk. It makes sense too, there’s not a whole lot you have to go around. There are however exceptions.
After crossing into North Dakota, my 50th state, I took a couple of those 90 degree turns from route 2 and found myself at the entrance to Theodore Roosevelt National Park (North). Advised of it’s eminent closing by the ranger at the gatehouse, I stopped in at the visitor center to find out if there was potable water at the campground five miles in. I learned that not only yes, there is potable water, but also that the campground was not yet full, with a hint of suggestion underneath.
The park is set in a section of North Dakota canyon land that in many ways resembles a mini version of it’s southern twin’s Badlands, only brushed by a different set of paints. Unlike the pinks, mauves, and purples and lighter shades of gray found down south, Teddy’s park has more greens, golds, whites, and darker shades of grays (maybe 50?). Earth movements have thrust sections of this county upward, bringing the top soils along for the ride with patches of grasses and trees still growing on the tops. The sides are mostly bare stone, their shapes resembling melted candle wax or sand castles at the beach. In some places petrified trees and spherical nodules of iron ore or some such matrix can be seem suspended in the layers, exposed by wind and water erosion. The larger effect is a kaleidoscopic maze of twisted valley and slope one could easily lose their way in, much like the Badlands.
The one way meandering park road is 14 or 15 miles in length with several overlooks along the way. The speed limit is 25 - a bit sluggish in spots - and since it was warm and kind of amazing, I rode with my camera around my neck and left the helmet and jacket on the back. There were other visitors, but the road did not feel crowded as it begins at valley level and climes to the tops of the open plain. The campground is five miles in and I took the ride in to scope it out, even stopping to temporarily occupy a site for 20 mins. It was kinda funny that I felt I needed to claim one, because I knew I wasn’t going to stay. I’d just been beat so many times by full campgrounds that I was feeling a wee bit territorial, I guess. I didn’t stay long, but long enough to relish the three RV’s that must just have read “move along” sign flashing in my eyes.
I took my time riding the rest of the way, stopping to snap some shots at the turnouts. The lot at the end leaves plenty of parking and features panoramic vistas of canyon carvings and river below. It’s easy to marvel at the layering of color, the twisting and seemingly melted stone, all along keeping one’s eyes pealed for wildlife. I saw a few deer, one with a mighty rack, but not much else until I was well on my way back out.
I reached a section of rising and curving road that gives an open look to the south. There I saw a lone bull bison scaling the cliff side in a downward direction. It seemed impossible at first, this huge bulwark of top heavy mass deftly picking its way down such a steep and precarious slope, but there it was, big ass buffalo coming down the mountain. I squeeze my clutch and was just about to stop for a photo when a pair of loaded mini vans appeared on the scene, side doors sliding open and 6 cameras popping out. This kinda tainted the moment for me and I rode on, saving the image to the memory file.
After the park and returning to route 2 east, I soon got a face full of today’s western oil boom. It wasn’t as ripped up as Carlsbad, or as industrially stripped as parts of Texas, but the landscaped is marked by oil derricks, well heads, rental equipment and supply stores, some temporary housing and extended stay hotels. In between are stretches of grassy carpet, farmland, ranches and the occasional state park. I turned in to one of these parks with the idea of making camp, but I wasn’t able to get past the unpleasant odor of natural gas. Not for me. I moved on.
Moving east the landscape eventually shed itself of the oil and gas operations and and begins to return to green, and blue. Lots of blue. Hundreds, probably thousands of little factional acre ponds begin to appear on all sides, girdled by reeds and marsh grass. It’s as if the land was blasted by celestial buckshot and then water rising up, filling the holes. My neck is sore from being on the swivel, stretching to take it all in. Where there were oil rigs, now there were windmills. Where there were open and bare swaths of land, now there were crops and pasture. The notion that there exist many forms of profit kept rebounding in my mind.
I spent the night in Minot and opted for a room, which it turns out was dumb luck on my part. My only excuse for not finding a tent site was cause I was road weary and the rooms were cheap. I was stone cold asleep when a band of thunderstorms passed in the night, some reportedly with baseball-sized hail. I caught the morning weather report and according to my radar app, the band of nasty weather was a head of me and moving slightly south. I felt lucky to have ducked that one and felt I could ride behind it heading east.
The surface of route 2 in the part of North Dakota is pretty impressive. It’s like a concrete bowling alley. It’s so smooth, flat and straight that you could start a ball rolling and chase it for miles before it slowed down. Gerty liked it too and might have got a little carried away at one point. I had to check her throttle at 121 mph but she still wanted to stretch. Bad girl.
Minnesota tries. As far as the roads go anyhow. Route 2 in Minnesota is not all together different than it’s western neighbor, but they are not on par. One long section I road on was asphalt over concrete and unlike the silky smooth surface of N.D., the train track effect of segmented roadway clicks every few seconds rhythmically disrupting the ride. With nothing much to do about it, I set my suspension on soft mode, put my feet up on the highway pegs, laid back, and let the Airhawk seat massage my balls. Sunshine and smiles.
Later, I stopped for coffee at the Liquid Bean and jabbered with some folks in there about travels, the size of Devil’s Lake and stuff in general. After, I continued on making a few more pit stops than usual until late afternoon when I came upon the Chippewa National Forest. I pulled into the first lakeside campground and found an unreserved site to claim for the night. As I set up, I met my camp neighbors, Alex and Amanda who are visiting from Manitoba, Canada. They’ve been coming to the same spot for a number of years and put me on the right path for supplies and beer.
I made myself a pasta and protein dinner and then sat around the campfire with my two new acquaintances and their sweet little dogs. We talked for an hour or so, sipped on some beers and munched a few slices of so-so watermelon I’d picked up at the market. It was precut, which most likely accounted for its mediocrity. I have no business buying a whole watermelon. As we watched the fire, we circled around the usual conversation, sharing some details about our travel experiences, where we are from and a few shared insights on the current state of things. We agreed that more focus on what unites us bears more fruit than parsing our differences.
Today, I am headed off in the direction of Michigan with the aim of tuning south and then to Kentucky. Dirty Gerty is running fine, needs a bath maybe, but still loving the new sneakers.
When we went to Teddy Roosevelt National park, with the presence of all the green vegetation, we dubbed it the "good badlands".
Days 60 - 63 in the books. (GD)
Three hundred and sixty or was it two hundred and sixty miles that I rode that day? I can’t remember, but I can remember the bacon, hash brown & egg breakfast Alex and Amanda invited me to just before I left last Tuesday. Unexpected breakfasts are extra delicious and theirs was no exception. I left camp later than normal but pleased to have run into good folks from Canada, A.
Continuing along route 2, I rode until I crossed over into Michigan and eventually came upon the Ottawa National Forest where I made camp for the night. Most notable about the campground is that the roadways were freshly paved. Route 2 was not. Although, they are working on it in some sections. The other thing about the campground, or this Upper Peninsula of Michigan is that the “M” in Michigan should stand for mosquitos, They are as bad or worse than the Yukon. I don’t know why or how but mozzi’s seem to always know when your hands are occupied and then the go in for the ankles, ears and eyes. Thanks Michigan. Deployed some DEET for only the second time on the trip.
The next day’s ride was really more of the same: long, tree flanked two lane with passing zones and rest areas, except now a few tuns were starting to come. Like most motorcycle riders, I am no fan of straight line riding. Cruise control, catch up, pass, return. Trees, trees, trees, a lake, abandoned building, gas station, trees, trees, rest stop, car, pass, trees, trees trees. But you do get places when straight line riding and so it serves its purpose.
Seeing The Great Lakes - Superior, Michigan and a glimpse of Huron - I found my self impressed by their sheer enormity. I mean, I grew up near and around some pretty nice lakes in New England like Newfound Lake and Winnepesaukee in N.H. or Lake Champlain between New York and Vermont, but these bodies of water may as well be oceans or inland seas. Endless horizons, shoreline surf, and weather makers each, it was hard to get my head around their greatness, let alone ride around them. Lake Michigan essentially took me three days to fully get past.
Before I would though, I would pass through or stay in the Chequamegon Nicolet, Ottawa, Hiawatha and Huron Manistee National Forests. I camped along the Pine River in the latter, where thunderstorms and lightning shows carried on through out the night. Having seen it coming, I took the unusual extra step of parking Dirty Gerty in the garage portion of the tent, which worked out for the better as my kit remained dry though out the storms and made for a fairly early departure. Being less than a week out from my intended return date affords a little more leeway for kit care at the moment. I’ll be overhauling everything when I get home.
As I am coming closer to the end of this ride, I find myself similarly focused. Part of my thinking has gone ahead of me and I find myself busy sorting things at home. While I recognize this as a normal phase of this kind of journey, I also recognize the ride risks it can introduce. Obviously rider focus is one, but also the risk of rushing the finish. There are still more than a third of the country to cross, a thousand curves to take and scores of sights to be seen, not to mention one more visit with a friend.
The ride through Indiana felt both familiar and new. I’ve been through these parts before and seen a fair deal of the gain belt and farming communities. I know the corn fields, the grid and “S” turns in between farms. I recognize the tall grasses, the soy crops and the ferns, broad leafed plants and trees. The roadways too are familiar with their long stretches, slight crowns, gravel connectors and frequent farm equipment, some as big as buildings. So the ride south toward Kentucky, sweeping through towns, criss crossing the grid and traversing the banks of the Wabash River into Illinois all smacked of home in a way, but also different, in a somewhat unsettling way.
I remember years back riding in this area and noticing how the quiet and peaceful yet vibrant this part of the country and its farmland seemed to be. The sequence was aways the same. Cruise in along the 55 mph limit until the town line, then down to 45 mph, then 35 to the center, and finally 25 through Main Street. Along would be tractors working the fields, small farm stands and the occasional produce markets. Then came hardware stores, feed and grain depots, clothing and retail shops and aways a diner, cafe or two could be counted on. Some would have liquor stores, credit unions, movie theaters, auto repair, and all the things needed for daily life. Of course I’m being nostalgic to a point, but also not entirely off the mark.
Now, even though the same progression of speed zones signal an upcoming community, the lead in is marked by commercial seed signs, until an exit oasis of fast food joints, big name chain stores and box retail appears near the new highway. All of it drawing vital energy away from the traditional town center where boarded up windows, bank owned buildings, dry gas pumps and struggling pizza shops are all too common. I rode through thee towns chasing phantom breakfast joints only to find a for sale sign instead of open. Sure, this isn’t going on everywhere, and my numb GPS may also be complicit, but with four dead ends in a row and all the other signals, for sure some things have not changed for the better.
Even though sun was pouring in from the west, ahead black sky and heavy clouds blocked my path. As I began to calculate the probable intersection with the weather ahead, I suddenly came up upon a mink or weasel in hot pursuit of a garden snake. I stopped my bike for a better look. The snake had no chance and was quickly dragged off into the tall grass leaving me there to better consider the sky. My radar app was showing disc of bright red moving west to east across my proposed camp site. Instead I grabbed a room in the outskirts of the next town - in one of those chains - and called it a night.
I left early the next morning toward Kentucky and stopped around 10:30 or so at one of the local diners I’d been looking for. I ordered steak & eggs, hash browns and a dry English muffin, which I buttered. Before I could take a bite, a man with a ten day white whisker beard and ball cap approached my table. He wore a plaid shirt and blue jeans and thin gold rim glasses on his outdoor face.
“Is that your B-BMW outside?” he asked, in either a slight stammer or semi-embarrassed way or......neither.
After I told him it was my bike, he told me in a somewhat choked-up voice that he used to have a BMW and that he.... and he hesitated. I could tell something was wrong so I invited him to sit and tell me. It turns out he wanted to tell me - or maybe anyone - that he had just come from the Dr. where he learned he can no longer ride a motorcycle. He went on to tell me about the first of many Harley’s he’d bought in 1961, how he had ridden his fist BMW all across Canada and swaths of the U.S.. He asked me about my ride, how many miles did I have on her. He came back three or four times to not ever being able to ride again and every time he choked up, holding back tears.
I told him not to be surprise if he finds himself with a leg over his bike again, if only to start it and hear it run.... maybe just down the driveway and to the neighbors house.
He was pretty broken up about it and I wasn’t sure what I could do. I thanked him for sharing his story with me, I told him he could follow my trip online and I bought breakfast for him and his wife. This all upset me somehow. Yes, I was humbled by his openness, yes I felt bad for his crushing news, but it was none of that really. What it was was me feeling sorry for myself knowing one day I will find myself on the other side of the booth.
"Yes, I was humbled by his openness, yes I felt bad for his crushing news, but it was none of that really. What it was was me feeling sorry for myself knowing one day I will find myself on the other side of the booth."
We all will find ourselves there one day. Sitting across from our former selves, looking ourselves in the eye, wiser from experience, sorrowful for the things we miss. The best we can do is exactly what you did. Sit and listen when "that guy" needs a shoulder to lean on.
Pay it forward.
Good for you. And so well expressed!
Have you ever wondered why it was that you ended up in that place, at that moment, when he was there? Fates converging, for some reason.
Greetings from the Milford police officer you encountered last night in Wilton, NH at the traffic detail for road marking! I looked up your ride report as soon as you pulled away and bookmarked it. I've read the first 2 pages so far, and I'm sold. What a great chance meeting on the road. And I wasn't even on my bike! Well, it was lucky for me. Now I've got some good reading to do.
Hope to run into you again around NH or at some rally. Next up for me is Dirt Dayz, then Cromag in September.
Day 66: Four Corners & a Stinger Complete.
Nuts & Bolts: 33 States, 53 National Parks/Forests, 3 oceans, 3 oil changes, 3 tire changes. 3 tons of rivers, dams and bridges. Total Mileage: 20,666.7 Dirty Gerty passed 71k.
Naturally, I was squeezing the last bit of gas out of the tank as I made the final approach into Paducah, KY and naturally my GPS led me to the Brookport bridge, which was naturally closed bridge. Luckily however, the 24 crosses the Ohio River at nearby Metropolis and I made it to my destination with a few miles in reserve. I spent the next two days visiting Ted, a Navy buddy, his wife Kathy and their family. We took a ride to the top of the Land Between the Lakes, had lunch by the lake and otherwise just took it easy catching up and kicking back roasting marshmallows on the patio. They are good people, fun to be with and a pleasure to visit. They've kindly hosted me every other year on my big rides. Southern hospitality is a real thing.
My youngest daughter was set to leave for college on the west coast mid week and it was important to be there to see her off. Her major school events this summer - graduation and beginning college - to my delight have bookended my ride. However, at 1279 miles away, I was looking at a solid three days of riding to make it home. I made it in two. Sometimes motivation helps the wheels go round.
I knew from experience that some of the best riding is found in Kentucky, West Virginia and Pennsylvania. My two day blitz up western Appalachia did not disappoint. I road across tight twisting mountain roads, long valley straights, two lane and some four lane mountain highway, through mellow cruising farmland, along lakeside and small town communities.
Most of the speed limits are in the 50-55 camp, perfect in my mind for those types of conditions. I made time by limiting my stops, somehow catching lots of green lights and taking advantage of the long travel and truck passing lanes - not to mention long days.
I stopped the fist night in Clarksburg, W.V. and continued on the next morning through Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont and then finally New Hampshire.
Even though much of W.V. was met in darkness, stoping where I had was a lucky for me as the last stretch over the mountain in the morning lived up to its reputation for tight mountain riding. The smell of truck brake dust was in the air. Maryland kinda made me laugh though with its multitude of enormous warning sighs, twice the size of barn doors. I’ve never witnessed such an overkill of signage. It only left me disappointed when the curve was.... meh. When Kentucky, West Virginia or Tennessee put a warning arrow up, you better pay attention, cause they mean it.
On the last day I let my GPS and phone duke it out for direction and I rode pretty hard. I really wanted to see my family and to finally sleep in my own bed. I knew I was pushing a bit and maybe passing by some stops I’d otherwise like to make, but really the riding was excellent. The weather was absolutely perfect with bright blue skies and white cotton clouds. I saw plenty of wildlife, lots of farming activity including the horse powered valleys of the Amish and often had the road all to myself. I stopped too at a couple produce stands and had some great peaches & brought some veggies home. I found at least two diners that were pretty good too.
As much as the trip was incredible, it was an equally satisfying feeling to be home with my family.
I plan to take 10 days or so to let this experience settle in and then I’ll conclude this ride report with a short reflection and a few shots that didn't make the cut. In the meantime, please feel free to ask any questions, offer any comments or share your similar experiences particular to this ride and I’ll do my best to address or comment on them. Thank you all for “riding along” with me and allowing me to share my Four Corners & a Stinger experience.
That was one hell of a trip! Thanks for taking us along. In your final summary, please include what worked and what did not work so well?