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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Riding the scenic highways on the Road King

I just returned from a two week motorcycle trip where I toured Wyoming, Montana, Colorado, and made short excursions into Idaho and Utah. Six of us left Denver on Sunday July 10th. Mike, Jen, Dale and Sandy planned to return to Denver within a week while my friend Todd and I would continue touring for another week. As a group we planned to visit Devils Tower in Wyoming, ride the Bear Tooth Highway in Montana, and visit Red Lodge Montana. Todd and I planned to ride through Glacier National Park Montana after Red Lodge but hadn't made any other plans beyond that.

We got off to a late start Sunday. Mike and Dale were both pulling trailers behind their bikes but there were some problems with Dale's trailer. After a few miles the trailer began to bounce all over the road and nearly threw Dale off the bike. We returned to Denver where Mike and Dale extended the trailers tongue. That solved the problem but we had lost two hours and wouldn't be able to make it to Gillette. We opted to ride as far as Guernsey Wyoming where we camped overnight west of Guernsey.

We rode to Gillette Wyoming on Monday and intended to continue on to Devils Tower but our plans changed when we encountered high wind, rain and hail. We decided to make camp in Gillette and try for Devils Tower on Tuesday. We camped at the Crazy Woman campground which use to be run by a friend of my mother.

We had a good ride to Devils Tower Tuesday. There was still a lot of wind but no rain or hail. Unfortunately Dale's motocycle broke down on the way back to Gillette. Mike, who use to be a Harley mechanic, was able to get the necessary parts and tools to affect repairs Wednesday morning. This ment camping for a second night in Gillette.

Wednesday we had a long ride north on I-90 past Sheridan to Ranchester Wyoming where we turned onto US14A. US14A took us over the Big Horn mountains and Medicine Wheel Pass then dropped down into Lovel; it rejoins primary US14 in Cody Wyoming. Jen's grandparents, who live in Cody, let us stay in their guest house. We spent Wednesday and Thursday nights in Cody.

Friday we rode north from Cody then turned west onto the Chief Joseph Scenic Highway (WY-296). The Chief Joseph highway joins up with US212, the Bear Tooth Scenic Highway, just east of Cook City Montana. There were still some tall snow banks on top of the Bear Tooth and the road has a lot of tight switchbacks on it. Journalist Charles Kuralt, who did "On The Road With Charles Kuralt" for 25 years on CBS news, once called the Bear Tooth Highway the most scenic road in America. I won't argue with him but some of Colorado's highways give the Bear Tooth some stiff competition.

After descending the Bear Tooth on the north side US212 comes into Red Lodge Montana where we stopped for lunch. The Iron Horse motorcycle rally was just getting underway. The Iron Horse motorcycle rally is a much smaller and tamer version of the Sturgis motorcycle rally, held in August, in Sturgis South Dakota. After lunch we continued on to Laurel Montana where Mike and Jen had a motel room. After saying our goodbyes Todd and I met-up with my sister in Absarokee Montana where we spent the night.

We slept late on Saturday, had a leisurely breakfast and did a load of laundry. It was after 12 when we left my sisters and headed north on US89 toward Glacier passing through Big Timber, White Sulphur Springs and Great Falls Montana. We took a room at the Bella Vista motel in Choteau Montana Saturday evening.

We got an early start Sunday morning and made it to Glacier National Park by 10AM. US89 is really freaky between Choteau and Saint Mary. The road can be going along straight and narrow, then suddenly curve and plunge down and around a valley and hill, then back to the straight and narrow. Many of the tricky curves aren't marked; you discover them when you're suddenly into them! No sleeping on that road!

I'd never been to Glacier Park before and I was not disappointed. It is very beautiful. The road running through the park is called "Going To The Sun Road". The road was still snowed-in a week earlier and had only just been re-opened for the season. The road was in remarkably good condition and was not a difficult ride. The only tricky part was descending from Logan Pass on the west side. The road is quite narrow and isn't paved in some places and there was a lot of traffic but it wasn't difficult. US highway 2 doesn't go through the park but passes between Glacier National Park and the Flathead National Forest.

We stopped in Kallispell Montana, gassed up, ate lunch and washed the bugs off the motorcycles. We also stopped at the local Harley dealership so Todd could get a replacement bulb for his headlight.

We took US93 south from Kallispell. US93 skirts the west side of Flathead Lake. Flathead lake is a huge freshwater lake (about 191 square miles) and is quite beautiful. I would like to spend some time exploring the Flathead Lake area.

As we were entering Glacier we met-up with a couple of motorcyclists that had sped past us on US89. They told us about a road they had ridden the day before called Thompson Falls, so Todd and I left US93 and headed west on MT-200 to the town of Thompson Falls Montana. The road itself is actually called Prospect Creek Road (MT-471), it passes through the northern portion of Lolo National Forest. The trees there are very healthy. I didn't see any signs of Pine Beetle blight. I suspect the winters there are still cold enough to kill the pest. The trees there are some of the most beautiful I've ever seen. The road was an easy ride and took us into the state of Idaho. We took I90 east to Missoula Montana where we took a motel room. We came close to breaking the sound barrier coming down the east side of Lookout Pass.

Monday was a fairly easy day. We headed south out of Missoula on US93 to highway 43. MT43 goes into an area of Montana called "Big Hole". Big Hole is a large valley surrounded by mountains on all sides and was explored by Lewis & Clark. The valley is not suitable for farm land but it is great cattle and grass land. Big Hole is also where Chief Joseph of the Nez Percé engaged in battle against the 7th Infantry in August 1877.

Just east of Big Hole Pass is the ghost town of Bannack Montana (now a State Park). Bannack was a large gold camp in the 1860's with a population of about Ten Thousand during its heyday and at one time was the capital of the Montana Territory. We spent about an hour walking around the town. I did not see any ghosts, though I broke out in a sweat and the hair on the back of my neck stood up when I was in the school house. We took a motel room in Dillon Montana not far from Bannack.

Tuesday was a very long day. We headed east and south on US287 stopping at Nevada City and Virginia City Montana. They are only a few miles appart. They are both genuine gold camps of the old west era but now are just tourist traps. Nevada City had some cool looking old train cars and an old broken down steam engine. I didn't find Virginia City to be very interesting, well except for the cowboy.

We rode in strong winds for a couple of hours from Virginia City to reach West Yellowstone where we ate lunch and got gas before entering the park. At first it looked like we were going to get a break with the weather but the break didn't last. We got rained on before reaching Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park Wyoming. It stopped raining and the sun came out just long enough to watch the geyser erupt. We really got dumped on after leaving Old Faithful; there was even some small hail. At one point it got heavy enough we couldn't see the road and had to pull off for awhile. We almost didn't get to see the Grand Tetons because of the rain but nature gave us a break just long enough to snap a picture. We rode in rain for the rest of the day. It was nearly midnight when we pulled into Rock Springs Wyoming. The motel in Rock Springs was a real dive but the trailer park across the street provided some amusing entertainment the following morning.

Wednesday was a bit easier. It tried to rain on us Wednesday but we got lucky and were able to avoid the rain. We darted over to Green River Wyoming where we turned south on Wy-530. The highway travels down the western side of the Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area. The Flaming Gorge has a lot of interesting geologic formations and a large lake. The northern portion of Flaming Gorge has a dry desert appearance but becomes mountainous in the southern half where it crosses into Utah. The lake cuts a deep channel into the mountain exposing flaming red rock. I'm sure this is where the Flaming Gorge name comes from. We encountered a group of about 14 motorcyclists on an organized motorcycle tour. They all spoke German. The road captain was the only one that spoke english. We ate lunch at the Lucerne boat marina and spent about an hour poking around the western side of the Gorge before moving on to Vernal Utah.

From Vernal it was a long fast ride on US40 back into Colorado. We turned south at the town of Dinosaur Colorado, passed through Rangely Colorado, and continued south to Grand Junction Colorado where we stayed overnight at Todd's sisters house.

I had a little trouble on CO-139 south of Rangely. There is a section of twisty road south of Rangely where it climes over Douglas Pass. The day was getting long and the sun was getting low on the horizon. As I started up the pass the sun was just on the horizon making it very hard to see the road. That was bad enough but the roadway was deteriorating and the road kept getting worse with each twist. Between the blinding sun, trashed out road, and hair pin turns I had to slow to a crawl. I finally made it over the pass where the road improved and straightened out and the sun was out of my eyes. It was still daylight when we rolled into Grand Junction.

Thursday was a challenge. Narrow twisty roads, no guard rails, rain, Highway Patrolmen, and short tempers made for a trying day.

We went south on US50 from Grand Junction to join the Million Dollar Highway (US550). The road passes over Red Mountain Pass between Ouray and Silverton Colorado. The pass is sometimes referred to as the "Oh Shit Pass" because the road on the north side of the pass is very narrow and twisty, and doesn't have any guard rails. If you run off the edge you go straight down because there's nothing there to stop you, and passing is nearly impossible. Red Mountain Pass is aptly named. The mountain tops are a rust red because of the iron oxide in the rock. We stopped a few times to take pictures including a stop at the Idarado gold mine (now closed). While at the mine I decided it was too warm to wear a coat so I took it off. This proved to be a mistake when we got into rain at Silverton. I didn't get as wet as I did on Tuesday but Todd still had a good time with my error in judgment. We stopped in Durango Colorado for lunch. The traffic in Durango was unbelievable. Where does all that traffic come from?

We traveled east on US160 and threw Pagosa Springs where the road climbs over Wolf Creek Pass before dropping into South Fork Colorado. I had the opportunity to meet Colorado State Trooper Fenwick as I was traversing Wolf Creek Pass. The speed limit varies up and down along that stretch of road; varying anywhere from 25 to 65mph. Trooper Fenwick seems like a nice fellow. He was very polite and professional. We even chatted about the Road King and the trip. He was amazed to learn we had traveled over 3000 miles. Unfortunately, he had also clocked me on radar doing 64mph in a 45mph zone so presented me with a speeding ticket. Oh well, that's his job, I guess it is a safety issue. I'm not going to challenge the ticket, I'll just pay it.

During the trip we found some gas pumps have trouble with the combined Debit/Credit cards. We encountered another one of those in Monta Vista Colorado. Tempers began to flare when the clerk had trouble activating the pump. We did get our gas and made a quick exit out of town north to Buena Vista Colorado.

At Buena Vista we stayed at the Cottonwood Hot Springs Inn & Spa west of town. The Inn features a number of pools fed by a natural hot spring. It was 11pm when we arrived, so I was more interested in bed than I was the health benefits of the hot spring.

The motel offers a late check out that we took advantage of. It was after 1pm Friday when we started the last leg of our trip north on US285 back to Denver Colorado. It was 3:45pm when I got back to the apartment.

Over the course of the trip I traveled 3,355 miles, was in five states, stayed overnight in ten different places, got sunburned, rained on, hailed on, nearly blown off the road by wind, and received a speeding ticket. I also was at Devils Tower, Medicine Wheel Pass, rode the Bear Tooth Highway, Red Lodge, Glacier National Park, Flathead Lake, Lolo National Forest, Big Hole, Bannack, Nevada City, Virginia City, Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park, Flaming Gorge, Douglas Pass, Red Mountain Pass and Wolf Creek Pass. I really had a good time. As soon as the bike has been serviced I'll be ready to go again.

Monday, July 04, 2011

I'm so glad it's over

I haven't felt this good in a long time. The last four years were like having someone sitting on my chest; on April 29th that went away. I did have a great deal of anxiety for a couple of weeks but that's gone away too. I almost never think about the office. I'm so glad it's over.

So far I haven't had any trouble filling my days. I am a little concerned about what I'll do when the weather turns bad again. I'll deal with that when the time comes. I'm planing to take a motorcycle trip with friends through Jackson Hole, Yellowstone, Beartooth, Glacier and where ever ...