Doug Grosjean's
Alaska Trip Report

June 1999

Day 4; Tuesday, June 1st, 1999
Start: Five Springs Falls USFS Campground, Wyoming
End: Arco, Idaho
455 Miles



We are definitely on vacation now! To wake up in this place, along a creek in the Rocky Mountains, well, we sure aren't in Ohio anymore. The morning feels good, the air smells good, there's a carefree feeling that didn't exist in the first three days of this ride.

It was cold last night, Joe's thermometer got down to 35F.

Joe tells me he walked to the falls while I was still asleep, and that it's a pretty nice way to start the morning. I suppose it is, but I'd rather eat. We make a simple breakfast, and then take off.

We ride west on US Route 14A through several small towns, past many ranches and such, and into Powell, Wyoming. It's pleasant, but not like the scenery and curves behind us. Many farms, and lots of irrigation canals bringing the water down to the farms.

We stop at a department store to pick up some things, and a little old man starts telling us about the Indians (motorcycles) that he had as a younger man. Does the love of motorcycling ever leave those who are infected with it? Not judging by this gentleman.

We leave Powell, head west on 14A, and about 10 miles outside town we turn north on Wyoming 120 along the Clark's Fork of the Yellowstone River. Wyoming 120 becomes Montana 72. We take that up to Belfry, Montana; and then head west to Red Lodge.

We get to the base of Beartooth Pass in Red Lodge, Montana; and there's road construction and a sign saying that the pass is closed. Shoot! So Joe motors up to a construction worker and asks why. Snow; is the answer, but they've just about got it cleared. Then the worker says: “those motorcycles you’re on fall down in the snow, don't they?” Well, yeah; sorta... "Well", says the construction worker; "we'll let you go, you'll probably be alright but if you get into a spot that's bad, just hang out for an hour or so and we'll either clear it or it will melt." So off we go.

We start up Beartooth Pass, I'm in the lead, and it's wet and rainy but not slippery. It's a gray day, but the visibility is good. We're soon up into the heavy snowpack, but the road itself is clear and just wet. We continue up, but I'm a bit nervous as I don't know the exact temperature.

Now the snow begins to fall, and it's starting to stick, but just a few patches here and there. We continue up.

Travel books tell of all the wildlife and scenery visible in Beartooth Pass. We don't see anything like that, as we have our hands full just paying attention to the road.

Now it's starting to blow and drift a little, sometimes covering half the road, but we simply go around in those spots. We continue onward and upward. This is a huge contrast to the honeymoon trip, with it's perfect weather through Beartooth - this is the flip side of the coin.

At the summit, the snow is falling heavily, lots of wind and the snow is blowing every which way, visibility’s very poor, the road is completely covered edge to edge with snow at the top, and thinking it's just a powdery covering I head into it. Uh-oh, feels about like hitting a speed bump; I don't like abrupt moves in snow - the snow covers a layer of ice, the bars go full lock to the left and I'm down on the left and sliding through the snow......

Damn!!!

I open my eyes, and the first thing that I see is "TOYOTA" on the grill of the purple pickup truck behind me, with the young kid driving it bearing a horrified expression on his face. Dad always told me this would happen someday if I kept riding "that bike" in the winter. But this is the first day of June! I get up, nothing on me is hurt (am starting to really love my ‘Stich), look around and the people in the oncoming cars are also absolutely horrified at what they've just seen. Must have looked pretty bad. I hit the kill switch, not even sure if the engine was running or if my heart is pounding with the ear plugs in....

Joe rides over (slowly) and says: "You alright? Ready to roll?" then blocks oncoming traffic for me. The Toyota driver, a young kid, jumps out of his truck behind me, and we get the bike back on it's wheels. Joe decides to lead the way, which is fine by me.

The comedy is getting rolling again - how many reading this have ever had to get a loaded sport-touring bike going again in the snow? Clutch technique is a joke, you just sort of point the bike in the right direction, let the clutch out, the back end slithers all over the place as you paddle along with your feet, and then you're rolling and “enjoying” the scenery once again....

As we head through the snow, the thought occurs to me that Joe is the perfect partner for this misadventure. Lots of riders would’ve freaked about the crash in the snow, or maybe even freaked about the snow before the crash, but it doesn't seem to bother Joe in the least and so I’m getting over it pretty quick myself. Defective genetic programming, perhaps?

Joe’s a faster rider than me, and as we head down the other side of the pass the road is wet with snow covered areas that we can go around, then slushy areas, then just wet areas that we motor through. We go about 10 miles before we find a pull-off where I can stop and check the bike for damage. Expecting the worst, and there’s not a scratch on it!!! Can’t believe it, but it’s true. Wow; talk about luck!! I plug back into the vest controller, had forgotten after the crash in the excitement to be rolling again. Ahh, much, much better.

The rest of the way down could be a BMW ad, with Joe and his GS getting a big lead on me, as I’d be coming down into a switchback turn he’d be powering out of the same corner, just below me on the next level down. What a vivid picture in my mind, with heavy snow cover on all the surrounding peaks, and accumulation measured in feet on both sides of the road, with the heated grips and the vest just oozing heat - all is well again.

We grab gasoline and supper in Cooke City, Montana; and continue on into Yellowstone.

The first and last time I’d been there was in 1991, on my honeymoon, aboard my old BMW R100s. Since the fires had been in 1988, the fire damage was still very obvious at that time.

Now, what was fire damaged is lush and bright green, almost psychedelic, with young pines and lots of ferns. Beautiful!!

Lots of road construction, i.e., dirt and gravel; we figure it’s good practice for what may lie ahead in Alaska, and adapt. Typical, beautiful, Yellowstone scenery. Buffalo wandering around. Mud pots bubbling. Wild rivers running high with spring snowmelt. Lots of traffic. And the thought that by just passing through, we aren't paying proper homage to the natural beauty of the place.

We head out of Yellowstone at the west entrance, and into Idaho. Looking at a map, if we take a dirt county road to Killgore we should be able to go in the most direct manner to I-15. So off we go, yippee, more dirt road practice. Lots of gravel, and washboard surfaces, and while Joe and his GS are cool with that I’m not. I keep thinking of the soft rims on my RS, and wishing for the stronger spoked wheels off the GS.

Leading, and I take a wrong turn at Killgore, and so we don’t pick up pavement as soon as expected. Joe tells me later that he saw the paved road but didn’t care whether we took it or not (darned GS guys ;);) ), and so we spend another 20 miles or so on ranch roads through rolling grasslands, while only seeing a couple pickup trucks the whole time.

Lesson: maybe the bike with GPS should lead.

Eventually, the ranch roads intersect I-15. We stop, and since Joe's been following me in the dust he looks like a cowboy just off the trail, with a thick coating of dust all over him, head to toe! It's hard not to laugh as he literally shakes the dust off...... Some water, and we head south to Dubois, Idaho for fuel.

At Dubois, Joe’s GS turns in 56 mpg, my RS around 51 mpg. Interesting contrast, since on pavement running a steady 80 mph my RS gets about 44 mpg and his GS about 40 mpg.

We leave Dubois westbound on Idaho 22, and it’s getting dark, but the temperature is pleasant. We hit rain, not a downpour but enough to bring out the high desert smells of sagebrush and other desert plants. Then the weather clears, and we are gliding through the black night with the lights of ranches and small towns scattered all around us off in the distance, mixed with the smells of the wet desert drifting through our helmets. Fantastic; a wonderful night to be riding a motorcycle in Idaho!

We spend the night at a motel in Arco, Idaho.


Doug Grosjean
Pemberville, Ohio