by Charlie Mikulewicz <email@example.com>
Part I: Preamble
It takes an awful lot of planning to pull together 4 friends who have all the trappings of modern life, like family and work commitments and responsibilities, for a 2-week motorcycle trip. Coordinating the 2 weeks off and getting permission from wives and jobs was only a part of it. There’s also saving for the expected and (as you’ll see) unexpected expenses, making sure the bikes are in top shape for the planned 4,000 to 5,000 miles we’ll rack up, figuring out what gear we should bring and of course the best part, the hours and hours of staring dreamily at maps. Three of the four of us work for the same company, albeit in different buildings but we do get to wander around visit each other occasionally and we all have road atlases. We planned and replanned our potential itinerary. We looked for possible routes on the most out of the way roads we could find. You’ll notice I said, ‘potential itinerary.’ As seems to be the case with most motorcycle tourists I’ve encountered the actual trip plan is often determined by the moment and the mood. It all adds to the adventure of the thing. How much fun would any trip really be if it went exactly as planned and exactly on schedule?
All the trip planning naturally leads to tons of anticipation and the night before we’re scheduled to leave I feel like a kid at Christmas. I’m going over both written and mental lists and hoping that I’ve got everything I need. As it turns out I’ll end up taking more than I need. There is a lot of extra clothing. You see, we’re leaving on June 9 for the Canadian Rockies and I’ve been monitoring The Weather Channel for a couple of weeks and (you guessed it) it’s been snowing off and on, even down into Montana. Damn! I hate being cold but I’m prepared to put up with it in exchange for the out and out fun and adventure that seems to follow you when you’re on a bike. To accommodate the extra gear we’re taking I rigged my bike with some (I thought) very cool custom saddlebags. At an Arizona Airheads Christmas gathering this past winter A.B. and I saw a R80GS pull in with surplus military ammo boxes as saddlebags. “Cool!” was the immediate and simultaneous response from the both of us. So………having been a machinist in the past, I bought some ammo cans, whipped up some custom and very bomb proof brackets and, voila! Custom saddlebags. The very square, top loading bags are actually about the same volume as the stock BMW bags but were so much easier to load. The one drawback? HEAVY !!! More on that later. Anyway, I also rigged a set up for A.B. We both loved the extremely utilitarian look of the new bags. They really did a lot for that GS look (more on that later too).
Part II: Let the fun begin.
The plan was to get to Pat’s house at 7:00a.m. Saturday and have breakfast, then hit the road. The excitement level was high. I went through my last minute list to make sure that the house was ready to be abandoned for two weeks, pushed my bike out of the garage and headed off to Pat’s. I noticed that the bike’s front end felt a little bit wobbly as I turned out of the driveway and thought to myself, “man, I’m loaded way to heavy.” I figured it would just take some getting used to and I’d just have to play it very conservatively throughout the trip. Damn. No crankin’ through the twisties. The wobble was actually the second hint that I was too damned heavy. The night before, I had loaded up and realized I didn’t have the physical strength to push the bike off the center stand. The R80GS does have an unreasonably tall center stand and I’ve always had a little trouble getting it off the stand when loaded but this was a first.
A.B. was already at Pat’s when I arrived and Larry showed up about 5 minutes later. We all busied ourselves with making last minute adjustments. Shifting some of the load, checking for film in our cameras, strapping on some last minute stuff like umbrellas and a 7 iron. “Field golf” was a whole new concept for me on this trip. I highly recommend it.
We had some pretty incredible breakfast burritos and with full bellies, headed off into the great unknown. I got a little nervous as the front wheel wobbled a bit on takeoff but it seemed just fine once I got up to 5 mph or so. I very quickly put it out of my mind.
What a gorgeous morning! The temperature was in the upper 60’s, not a cloud in the sky and nary a whisper of a breeze. I can’t speak for the others but I was grinning from ear to ear. “Oh, boy. We’re on our way!” We knocked out the first 120 miles pretty quickly, heading north from Flagstaff across the Navajo reservation to Lee’s Ferry, Arizona’s famous trophy trout water. As we turned left onto 89A I looked down at my speedometer and watched it (while I was slowing for the corner) jump to 120 mph. It started bouncing wildly and I though, “Great ! What a way to start the trip. I hope that my odometer is still reading right.” I watched closely while checking the mile markers on the highway and assured myself that it was just a speedometer issue and that I’d at least be able to keep track of my miles. We pulled in to the viewing area at Navajo Bridge for a break. Pat came over and told me it looked like my headlight was real dim in his rearview mirror. I walked over to my bike and turned on the key and only my parking light would come on. “What next! First my speedometer, now my headlight! What else could go wrong?” Little did I know at this early stage of the game.
We continued north past Jacobs Lake at 8000′ in the tall pines. It was damned hot at Lee’s Ferry and the pine country felt so nice and cool. We crossed the border into Utah and took a short break in Kanab and then north to Panguitch. This would be the final goal for our trip, Panguitch. But not for 2 weeks. The culmination of our trip would be the Red Rock Rendezvous. A very enjoyable BMW rally that Pat, Larry and I had attended the year before. We stopped to gas up in Panguitch and as we were doing so, a black, late model R1100GS went blasting by on the highway, got on the brakes hard, and did a quick U-turn to come back and check us out. He pulled up and we yacked for 5 or 10 minutes. His name was Lawrence and he was on a three or four thousand mile solo trip from Canada. He was a very interesting character with a very long beard wrapped into a tight pigtail, hair to match and large wood dowels shoved through his pierced ears. Heck of a nice guy though. He did comment, “I can’t believe how heavily you guys are loaded!” Off he went and we immediately dubbed him, “Lawrence of Canadia.” I hope he had a great trip and hope some day we cross paths again. Not an unreasonable hope, I’ve come to learn, in the tight knit BMW community.
Northward again. Somewhere north of Panguitch a Golden Eagle was sitting by the road and took off as Pat passed him. I was a couple hundred yards behind Pat and I thought, “man, he almost hit Pat!” Talking to Pat about the incident later, Pat said. “Man, I thought he was gonna hit me!” Must have been close. We went through a lot of small towns that were a little bit creepy to me. Every house, lawn and mailbox was just perfect. No flaws, no scratches, no weeds, no dirt. You really got the feeling that there were public floggings on Saturday morning in the town square for those who let their lawns get a quarter of an inch too long. It reminded me of Stepford. We went through the town of Manti where there is the most incredible Mormon temple high on a grassy hill. This thing was huge! While we were stopped taking a few photos, A.B. and Larry had a fellow walk up to them and start a conversation. This happens a lot when you’re travelling by bike and it’s usually people who used ride beemers or wish that they had one or are just curious about someone on the road on a bike. As Pat and I approached, Larry and A.B. were saying goodbye to this guy and it turns out he was trying to save their wretched souls. Off we went, ever northbound towards Nephi, and the Mt Nebo Scenic Loop where we would camp for the night. It was a long day, 460+ miles, but 1st days on trips tend to be that way. You’re just glad to be on the road and on your bikes.
Part III: Nuclear Fusion
Our campsite near Mt. Nebo was along a really pretty little cascading stream. Three of us set up tents but Pat, seeing that it was going to be a warm, clear and beautiful night opted to sleep under the stars. I was the last to wake up in the morning and as I was getting my stove going for morning coffee Pat walked over to say good morning and then he said, “check out my lip!” The right side of his upper lip was swollen like the abdomen of the spider that most likely bit him. Mental note; keep using the tent. The day ahead would be full of wonderful, twisty roads. The rest of the Mt. Nebo Scenic Loop was absolutely spectacular. Vistas that would come to spoil us by the end of our sojourn stretched in every direction. The road was deserted save for our four cycles and the ride turned into one of sheer joy.
A.B on the Mt Nebo scenic loop.
Our mission for today was to get as far as possible into Idaho without touching any interstate highway or going through Salt Lake City. The last time I went through Salt Lake it was a seething mass of people and cars and asphalt that took a couple of hours to get through. I was intent on avoiding that mess like the plague. We started veering east at Provo and stopped for Sunday brunch in Heber City after a very scenic cruise along the Provo River. After brunch our course took us to highway 150 also known as the Mirror Lake Scenic Route. Unbelievable! If the Mt. Nebo loop was one of the most spectacular roads I’d ever ridden, this one ranked a very close second. Once again, very little traffic and the scenery was as good as it gets. We were riding some passes that were close to 10,000 feet and the bikes were a bit anemic at this elevation. We were so awe struck with the scenery that none of us really wanted to go all that fast anyway.
150 dropped us into Wyoming where we stopped and had our first bit of fun with the golf clubs. A.B. had it in his head that he had to stop and drive a golf ball across the state line. We stopped. He did. Before long he and Pat were facing off across the state line driving balls at each other. You know, it’s all fun and games until somebody gets hurt. No one did so it was all fun and games. We headed through Evanston and angled back into Utah towards Bear Lake. Through Wyoming and for the rest of the day we had to deal with a pretty significant cross wind. It was incredibly fatiguing. Trying to always compensate for the wind, dealing with the huge volume of disturbed air the goes along with big tractor-trailer rigs, the sore neck muscles from the wind constantly trying to tear off your helmet. It all takes a lot out of you.
Bear Lake doesn’t look so big on the map, especially when you look at Salt Lake but riding past it, it is huge. It was a pretty lake with lots of gulls and shore birds everywhere. Halfway around Bear Lake we cross the border into Idaho. By this time our butts are getting pretty sore (anyone out there logged any serious mile on a stock R80GS saddle?) and we’re all wondering just how far is Pocatello? A couple of more hours through Montpellier and Soda Springs and, Damn! There just isn’t anyway to get to Pocatello without hitting just a few miles of interstate. The sacrifices we have to make! We’re all ready to stop for the night by Pocatello and we decide to get a motel so we can get a good nights sleep and have showers. By days end we have another 370 miles on the clock. Not big miles by most standards but they were quality miles.
Pat, Larry and me
The next morning we load up and go to the local K-Mart for more film and some munchies for the road. A quick stop to gas up and a breakfast of convenience store donuts and coffee and we’re on the road again. The plan for today is to try to get into Montana where A.B. and I are hoping to spend a layover day refining our fly fishing skills. We’re both avid fly fishermen and we brought along our pack rods just for the chance to fish some very famous trophy trout waters. Can’t think about that just yet though. Pat has a brief diversion planned for us.
He was through here on a motorcycle trip a few years back and thought we’d all enjoy a stop at the historic EBR1 site just south of Arco Idaho. So off we go to EBR1. We see a secondary road that heads in that general direction on the map that goes through Atomic City so we shoot for that. After a bit of wondering if we were anywhere close we come to the end of the pavement and a choice of two gravel roads so Pat went back a half a mile or so to ask a farmer we saw working in his yard. In a couple of minutes Pat was back and said that the gravel road that went straight ahead was the road to Atomic City. Larry took off down the road and I was next. After just a few hundred yards with my very heavily loaded bike feeling very squirrelly I stopped. Pat came up along side and asked what was up and I told him that I was feeling very uncomfortable with the way my machine was handling and that I was going to go back and take the paved road around. Pat went on and A.B. said he’d go around with me. Very kind of him to offer to ride with me. So there you have it. The two guys on GS’s opt for the pavement and the street bikes go with the dirt. It turns out that we wouldn’t hear the end of that one for the rest of the trip. It is the true beginnings of the “GS Look” ribbing that A.B. and I would have to put up with for the rest of the two weeks. In our defense I must say that A.B. and I have been on some very serious dirt road adventures on our bikes. We just weren’t loaded this heavily.
About 40 minutes later we all met up in Atomic City. A.B. went into the post office to buy a stamp as he wanted to mail a post card from there. The post office/gas station/bar was one of only a couple of buildings in town and the only people in there were in the bar a few sheets to the wind. A.B. asked if he could buy a stamp.
“Isn’t this a post office?”
“Post office closes at 11:00. (It’s about 11:15 now)”
“So, you’re not going to sell me a stamp?”
Very strange little town. We head off towards the mysterious EBR1 battling a 50 mph crosswind. At a junction in the highway where we have to stop I hear a squealing noise coming from my bike as we slow down to a point where the wind noise isn’t deafening. I cock my head and listen. Yup. Definitely an unfriendly noise. I stop and turn left and as I accelerate the noise is still there. I pull over and pull in the clutch to rev the engine. No noise. I shift into neutral and rev the engine. No noise. I shift into gear and take off. No noise. Shit! I hate intermittent problems. It’s only a few miles to the EBR1. We pull into the parking lot and I haven’t heard the noise again. Tour time!
EBR1 is the abbreviation for Experimental Breeder Reactor 1. The first attempt to build and run a nuclear breeder reactor. It was a successful attempt by the way. This was a very cool thing to tour through. It was decommissioned in the early ’50’s and was only run long enough to prove the concept. The three of us from Flagstaff are all engineers so this sort of thing was right up our alley. There was a very pretty young girl, right out of college, who was giving the tour. She said she was a communications major and she gave a very good presentation on the history of the plant and the function of it. She was eloquent and maintained her composure even when A.B. took a couple of flash photos of her. I walked away from the tour knowing and understanding a whole lot more about how a nuclear power plant works than I ever imagined I would. Next stop, Arco, about 20 miles away.
We rode through more 50 mph cross winds and a couple of dust storms to get there and by the time we did my bike was really howling. As I coasted to a stop I kept playing with combinations of clutch engagement, gear selection and engine RPM and finally deduced that it was my transmission. I stopped the bike and reached down to feel the trans case and it was blistering hot. Couldn’t even come close to keeping my hand on it. I used Larry’s bike for comparison since it is virtually identical to mine. His transmission was hot but I could keep my hand on it for a couple of seconds anyway. I decided to go get lunch and think about what to do.
A quick note on Arco is in order here. Arco has the distinction of being the first city in the world to be powered by nuclear power. It happened only for a couple of hours in (I think) 1955 but it made history. The other feature that makes Arco stand out is The Number Hill. Just to the east of town is are hill that is comprised of layers of cliffs ascending to maybe 700 feet above the town elevation and on it are the numbers of the graduating high school classes dating back to God knows when. I think I remember seeing some in the 30’s. It seems like part of the challenge is to get the number on the most dangerous cliff face you can.
After lunch I decided to use A.B.’s cell phone and I dug out the BMWMOA Anonymous book to call the closest dealer in Boise. I explained that my transmission sounded like it was starting to melt down and they explained that they were very busy and backlogged on service appointments for three weeks. I whined a little bit and got them down to maybe a week. Then I flipped the page and saw an ad for Bob’s Motorwerks in Roberts, MT. I gave him a call and he said, “If you can get it here, I’ll get right on it.” Wow. Too cool. We unloaded some of Pat’s gear and I jumped on the back of his bike and we were off to Idaho Falls to try and rent a U-Haul truck.
We found a truck, loaded Pat’s bike in the back (he said he wanted to keep me company in the truck) and headed back to Arco for my bike. We found Larry and A.B. playing golf in the city park. It was the Atoms for Peace Park if I remember correctly. We loaded up my bike and I bid my companions a fond farewell. I sent them on their way and said I’d try to catch up with them somewhere along the way depending on how long it took to get my machine repaired. I jumped in the cab and headed off to drive the 400 miles or so to Roberts.
Part IV: Diversion
I left Arco at about 5:00p.m. and figured if I drove with minimal breaks I could get to Roberts in the very wee hours of the morning. I thought, 400 miles, 8 hours, I’d be there by 1:00 a.m. I had to gas up the truck in Idaho Falls and started north towards West Yellowstone. It got dark just a little bit outside of Idaho Falls and on I drove through the night. Due to doctors orders I’ve been off caffeine for over a year now but I figured I’d need it for this drive. I also figured that my tolerance for caffeine would be extremely low by this point in time so I pounded a couple of Mtn Dews. And I drove through the night. Up and over the mountains. The U-Haul was based on a Toyota chassis with an automatic transmission and it really had problems on the hills. No power to spare. Every time I hit a bump or a pothole in the road the front end rattled and felt like it was going to literally fall off of the truck. And I drove through the night. I hit several construction zones where the road was completely torn up which slowed me down considerably. That and my piss poor night vision. I passed several of the famous trout rivers I had hoped to fish. The Gallatin, the Henry’s Fork, the Madison. It was pitch black out and all I saw were the bridges and the signs denoting the rivers presence. I was always worried about nailing a deer or an elk so I was being as attentive as I could possibly be. 11:30 and I pull into West Yellowstone for gas and a cup of strong coffee. Doctor’s orders be damned. These are desolate and lonely roads at night through some of the most beautiful country anywhere. I wish I could see it. So I drove through the night. Finally, out of the mountains and into the flats heading into Bozeman. Out of the power robbing hills and the blind corners just dying to conceal a moose itching to be a hood ornament. I pull into Bozeman and am just dead tired. It’s 1:00 and Roberts is still at least 2 hours out. I decide to bag it for the night. Bozeman is a pretty good size town, I’d guess about as big as Flagstaff, which is nearly 60,000. I find lots of motels but only 2 that still have the vacancy sign lit. I choose the seedier looking of the two figuring any money spent is only going to buy me 4 or 5 hours of sleep anyway. I wake up the night clerk and get a room for way too much money but at this point I’m beyond caring. I back the truck right up to the door to my room, go in and fall into bed. I’m a bit wound up still and maybe feeling some of the effect of the caffeine and have a fitful, brief nights sleep.
Up at 6:00, into the shower and back on the road. About 45 minutes down the road is Livingston were I stop for breakfast. I kind of like this little, old town. I have a basic bacon and eggs breakfast and then look for a pay phone to call Bob and get directions to his shop. He gave me good directions and guessed that I was still 2 hours away. He was right on the money. 2 hours later I pulled into his driveway. Bobs Motorwerks is a small independent operation. Just Bob. No employees. Bob, by the way, is Bob Clement. A longtime BMW mechanic and fellow “Airheads” member with lots of dealership experience who decided to get out of the rat race and move to beautiful, rural Montana and hang out his tile. His shop is about a 40 X 60 Butler Building next to his house on 40 acres that he keeps planted in alfalfa. There is a large BMW roundel on the side of the building and the sign on the door says open so I walk in. It was a well lit, clean and spacious shop with a dozen or so airhead beemers in a couple of rows against each wall and a few miscellaneous other bikes as well. Bob helped me unload the bike and he put it on the lift and got right to it. I spent most of the day there and we talked while Bob worked. He got into the transmission and discovered that 5th gear had worn badly and developed some serious chatter marks in the bore of the gear. The gear would start chattering on its shaft at such a frequency that it would start squealing and howling as I drove the bike. It turns out that it wouldn’t have led to a catastrophic failure but the one bearing that he showed me might have. One of the large ball bearings in the tranny was on the verge of grenading itself.
Bob pointed me at the town of Red Lodge about 15 miles south of him and even called a motel for me where he talked them into giving me a little bit of a “stranded motorcyclists” discount. I drove the U-Haul into Red Lodge and set up housekeeping for the next couple of days that it would take Bob to finish inspecting, repairing and reassembling my bike.
For the next day and a half I watched it snow! Sometimes heavily. Red Lodge is a small town of about 2000 so there’s not a whole lot to do. Some of the warmest, friendliest people I’ve met do happen to live there though. Bob pointed me at THE local bar, called The Front Bar, and recommended some of the beers from the local microbrewery. It’s a little unusual to find a microbrewery in a town that small but they have an excellent one. Red Lodge Ales is the name of the brewery and they make a killer IPA. That first evening I spent a couple of hours in the bar talking it up with the towns’ folk, quaffing a few ales and having dinner, provided by the adjoining restaurant. I slept like a log that night.
Larry, Pat & A.B. demonstrating the “missing man formation.” Note the full beer at the front of the table. It’s impossible to see but there’s a napkin taped up next to the beer. It says, “We miss you, Charlie.”
Next morning I awoke to heavy snowfall and a day that would ultimately reach a high temperature of 36 degrees. In spite of the snow I thought, “maybe I can get in a little fly fishing in the creek that runs through town.” I’ve had some incredible winter fly fishing during snowstorms. I walked in to the flyshop in town and talked to the owners for a while. They basically said, “don’t bother.” The weather had all the fish down. Too bad. Freezing and fishing would have been better than sitting in a motel room watching daytime TV. I busied myself with some small tasks. I wrote a few postcards and went to the post office where I mailed them. I also mailed the tie down straps I had to buy (to secure my bike in the truck) back to myself in Flagstaff. I didn’t want to go back out into the cold and snow so I sat and talked with the gal behind the counter at the post office for a while. I called Bob for a progress report on my bike. I returned the U-Haul truck (there was a U-Haul distributor in Red Lodge). I went to Red Lodge Ales brewery and sampled a couple more of their wares. The young woman tending bar there was very friendly and talkative. Once again I wasn’t too anxious to go outside into the snow so I sat and talked for quite a while. I then walk back through town and I bought a polypro hat and neck gaiter to fend off the cold. Eventually I managed to use up the day to the point where the bar was open again and I could go sit someplace warm and think about an early dinner. After a beer and talking with some of the folks I’d met the night before who were already starting to seem like old friends, game 3 or 4 (can’t really remember which) of the NBA finals came on. I watched a little of that and ordered a sandwich. A little while into the game the phone behind the bar rang and the bartender answered it. After a couple of minutes talking to whoever was on the other end, he turned to me and said, “It’s for you.” Talk about making me feel like a local. It was Bob and he told me that the transmission was back together and all he had left was to put it in the bike. Then he said he’d like to come down and have a beer with me if I was going to be there for a while. “Great” I said. “I don’t have anyplace else to be. See you in a while.”
Bob showed up about an hour later and we had a great time talking. Mostly about motorcycles, and Montana and places we’ve been and we had a great time in general.
This is the stuff that makes these trips memorable. It really isn’t about the destination. It’s the journey and the adventure and, for me, the people you meet along the way. In retrospect, my mechanical problems led to what became one of the best parts of my trip. Getting to spend time with great people like Bob and the wonderful people of Red Lodge made for a great mini vacation within my vacation.
Bob had to leave after a beer and some conversation and said he’d call my room when he had the bike done and then he’d come into town to pick me up. I bid him a good night and I finished my beer and walked back to my motel room for another really good nights sleep.
When I woke up in the morning it was snowing again. Damn! My bikes supposed to be ready today and I’m getting anxious to get back on the road and I really don’t want to ride in the snow. I walk to breakfast feeling a little bit worried about the weather but try to think positively. I found this little breakfast place yesterday morning. The sort of little greasy spoon place that all the locals go to and catch up on the town gossip. I see a couple of folks that have been in the bar and I say hello to them. They smile and say hi back. After breakfast I go back to my room and wait for Bob to call. He finally calls and says he’ll be in in about an hour to get me. The bike’s done and he says he’s run it through all the gears and all seems fine. I gather my things and await his arrival.
I position myself in my room where I can watch out the window for his Subaru to pull into the motel parking lot and watch The Weather Channel for any encouraging news. It does look like it’s clearing out and that it’s been clear for a while in the direction I’m headed. A.B. and I have been communicating via the voice mail system that we have at work that happens to have an 800 number access. He left a message that they’d be in East Glacier, MT tonight and I’d left a message that my bike would be done today and that I’d try to catch them there by morning. I figured I could make Great Falls by dark and then have a two hour ride from there in the morning to catch up.
I see Bob’s Subaru pull into the parking lot so I grab my things and head out the door. We get to his shop and I set about the task of putting my bags on the bike and loading them, strapping on all the crap that doesn’t fit in the bags and getting on my riding gear. I pay him in travelers’ checks, he wishes me a safe journey, we shake hands and I head off to East Glacier. It’s 1:30 in the afternoon. The weather’s cleared, it’s a bit cold and breezy and Bob gave me some road directions to keep me off the interstate all the way to Big Timber where I would turn north towards Great Falls. It felt good to be on the bike again.
Part V: Reunion
This turned out to be a really great day on the trip. I just got on the bike and rode and rode and rode. Frontage Road to Big Timber, north through Harlowton and Eddies Corner. Then east through about 30 miles of highway construction and more traffic than I’d been used to seeing in quite a while and into Great Falls. I watched it snow in the mountains just to the west of me about 20 miles distant and rode through some freezing rain on the way to Eddies Corner. There was a crosswind from Harlowton to Eddies Corner that turned into a tail wind (nice) once I turned left. It felt so good to be on the bike and just ride. I did 5 hours in the saddle to get to Great Falls and it’s now 6:30. I finally get off the bike to stretch my legs and fill the tank and wonder if I’ll ever have feeling in my butt again. I decide that with the long days I could probably make it to East Glacier tonight. That would blow those guys away if I showed up tonight. After about a 10 minute break at the gas station, I’m back on the bike headed north.
Minutes after I pulled in to the motel in East Glacier MT after a 400 mi. run to catch up with the others.
About 10 miles out of Great Falls, I run into more road construction. Traffic is crawling through the torn up highway and I begin to wonder if I should have found a motel in Great Falls. I just wanted to lay down some miles and now I’m moving at a snails pace. The construction was about 15 miles long and what traffic there was turned left on 200 towards Missoula. I stayed on 89 towards East Glacier. I had the road entirely to myself for the next two hours save for a couple of bicycle tourists who must have felt mighty alone out here literally hours and hours from anywhere. I went through a really lovely little town named Choteau and contemplated a motel room. I was starting to feel pretty fatigued after 6 and a half hours on the bike with only a 10 minute break. I was really feeling the need for a pit stop and pulled over at a rest area that appeared on the horizon just as I thought my bladder wasn’t going to take any more. I was back on the bike in two minutes and heading across the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. This was some really pretty country and some really great riding. Lots of rolling green hills and beautiful winding roads. I kept checking the map in my tank bag because I was starting to suffer from “are-we-there-yet” syndrome. By the time I got to Browning I knew I had made it. Just 12 more miles to East Glacier. I found myself hoping that it was a little bitty place where it would be easy to find my companions. The second motel I passed in East Glacier had three BMW’s in the parking lot! Yahoo! I made it! 400 miles right on the nose in seven hours. And what a test for my newly rebuilt transmission. It performed flawlessly.
I pulled in and knocked on the door of the room right in front of the bikes. No answer. I peered in the window and saw that it was their stuff in the room so I had the right place. I figured that they were in town getting dinner. I went to the motel office and found out that all three of them were sharing a room so I paid for an extra room and walked into town to find them. Within a block I saw Pat standing on the street talking to his wife on the pay phone. He was just telling her that I was expected tomorrow but he thought that if I rode hard I could get there tonight and “wait, there he is!”
We were both real happy to see each other. Pat said the other guys were inside the restaurant next door to the pay phone so I walked in to say hi. It was indeed a joyous reunion. We were all real glad to see each other and to be together again. We caught each other up on our experiences of the last three days and had a few beers and a few laughs. There’s nothing like having such good friends.
It was, all in all, a long, hard day but a very, very good one.
Part VI: Oh, Canada!
Morning arrives and after breakfast we head for the border. It’s great to be riding with my friends again. It’s about 30 miles up the road to the border crossing into the Waterton Glacier Int’l Peace Park. The girl in the booth at the border crossing seems like she’s almost asleep. She drones through her routine of questions:
“Where are you from?”
“Where are you going?”
“How long will you be staying?”
“Four of five days.”
“Do have any drugs or firearms in your possession?”
“Have a nice trip.”
She went through the exact same routing with all four of us in her half asleep monotone. We pull over just past the entry station to photo document this momentous crossing of the international boundary. Pat finds three young girls, I believe from Montana who are coming through on vacation and talks them into taking a picture of all four of us standing at the border. They were very trusting souls to be in the company of four unsavory bikers such as ourselves. They took photos of us using all four of our cameras and we returned the favor for them.
We ride on for about another hour when we pull over for a pit stop and then try to formulate a plan for the day. It is cold and sometimes rainy so we decide to head for Radium, which we assume will be lower in elevation than Banff and potentially warmer. We figure that we can find a campground there and set up for a couple of days and do day trips from a home base. Our route takes us over Crowsnest Pass. A route that we were told would be full of nice twisties. A cold rain pursued us all the way over the pass and the road was scenic but not nearly as twisty as we had hoped. Down the other side of the pass and through a couple of small towns brought us to the community of Fernie B.C. This was a pretty little town. It felt like it had a population of around 10,000 or so, but I never checked to be sure, and was surrounded by tall mountains. It’s supposed to be quite the ski resort in the winter. The people here were very friendly towards us. Pat and I went into a bank to cash a $50 travelers check and in exchange we got $75 Canadian. A favorable exchange rate for American tourists. On the way out of the bank I said to Pat, “I think we got ripped off. This looks like Monopoly money!” Down the street from the bank was a deli that made some pretty incredible sandwiches, which we all had. The woman who ran the deli gave us all kinds of misinformation on the amount of road time it would take us to get to Banff and up into Jasper. We later discovered that she greatly underestimated how long it would take.
A few hours more in the saddle brought us to Radium where we located the Redstreak Campground, just a mile or so out of town. Pat had read about this campground on the internet during the planning phase for this trip and knew that there were showers available. It was about 5:00 p.m. and was starting to sprinkle a little bit. We secured a campsite and got busy with setting up tents.
The campground was incredible. The U.S. Forest Service could take some serious lessons from the Canadians. The campground was very clean with nice tent sites, had clean dining cabanas and absolutely spotless bathrooms with hot and cold running water and showers. The fee was about $15 Canadian and for an extra $4 fire fee you could burn all the firewood you could carry to your camp. From talking to other campers in the campground this is the norm in Canada.
A.B. took his GS, outfitted with a solo seat and rack and brought back a substantial stack of firewood. Talk about enhancing the “GS Look.” We borrowed an axe from a neighboring camp and got the wood split and stacked. Pat and Larry went into town to pick up something for dinner and A.B. and I finished setting up camp and then engaged in a round of field golf. “OK, par 3 to that fire pit over there.” My first swing sent the ball on an errant mission into an adjacent campsite where a large family was busy setting up. I carried my club over and had no other choice. “Mind if I play through,” I asked? This family ended up being extremely kind to us over the next couple of days, offering us snacks and other food that they had brought in abundance. Pat and Larry came back with pizza and said, “hurry up and eat, the NBA game is on at the sports bar!” We wolfed down our dinner and jumped on the bikes for the 3 minute ride into town. We get into the sports bar and the TV is off and there is some yo-yo with a guitar and a canned rhythm section doing old top 40 stuff. We ask one of the waitresses about the game and she said, “we had to turn it off for the band.” I wanted to say, “It would be a different story if it had been a hockey game!” I held my tongue and we all sat and ordered a beer, which we drank very quickly and then left. The “band” wasn’t very good. Back at camp we built a fire and tried to warm up a bit. The rain and high humidity were keeping things on the cool side. It was amazing to note that it was still light out and my watch said it was 10:30. Tomorrow we plan to ride to Banff and possibly to Jasper.
In the morning we debate making a quick trip to the hot springs at Radium, one of our reasons for wanting to come here in the first place. We decide that if we do, we’ll end up soaking for hours and blow off riding for the day. So, on the bikes again for a ride to Banff. This country is absolutely breathtaking! Our ride takes us along the Kootenay River and up and over the continental divide. I could just as easily believe that we are riding in the Alps. Rugged, jagged peaks rise up all around us, still covered in snow and ice. It’s cold near the top of the divide and I’m reminded of what I’d been hearing from the locals ever since Montana. “Boy, this is the wrong time of year to be touring up here. June is way too unpredictable.” Considering that I’ve been awfully damn cold for three days now I probably would have figured that out for myself! In and out of light rain throughout the morning we end up in Banff in plenty of time for lunch. Banff is a lot like Vail or Aspen. Very touristy and you can tell it’s a high dollar ski resort. We go first to the Banff Springs Hotel. It is a grand old hotel that looks very European. Pat wanted to go here because his parents brought him here for a ski trip one Christmas way back when he was a teenager. It is a big, beautiful old building. We wandered back into town and found The Rose and Crown Pub where lunch and beers were ordered. When we finished we wandered around town doing tourist things. I had to buy a tee shirt and a couple of gifts for my daughter. The others did pretty much the same. It seems like we spent a couple of hours in town before we got on the bikes again.
Back towards the highway to Radium, the road forks. North towards Jasper in the rain and fog or back to Radium? By now it’s mid afternoon and Jasper is at least another two hours away. We decide to go north as far as Lake Louise.
Wow! Lake Louise is amazing. Even though it’s raining harder and we’re very cold, we are blown away by this place. The lake is formed in a glacial basin with a glacier still visible at the opposite end of the lake. The water is a milky turquoise color that can change depending on light conditions and the currents in the lake. Beautiful! We exchange picture taking favors with other tourists and marvel at the sights for a while before going into the hotel on the lakes shore. We’re cold so we seek out a cup of coffee to take the chill off. None to anxious to go back out and ride in the rain we stall for a while in the hotel but eventually realize we gotta get back to Radium.
On the drive back to Radium, along the Kootenay, we see a young moose by the side of the road. I’m bringing up the rear and decide that I need to take advantage of the photo op with “Bullwinkle,” so I hit the brakes and turn around while digging my camera out the tank bag. I pull over to take a picture and the moose gets very nervous and disappears into the forest before I can even get the camera turned on. This is just about when it hits me that I took the last shot on the roll back at Lake Louise. I turn back around and ride through the rain, chasing my companions who kept going while I had stopped. I caught up just a few miles out of Radium. Back at camp we once again debate walking down to the hot springs and decide to just stay by the fire and have a couple of beers before calling it a night.
Part VII: Back to Civilization
Finally! Hot springs day. A couple of the group were waffling a bit and thinking that they weren’t going to do the hot springs but I said I was definitely going to. I said I’d catch up if they wanted to forge ahead but I was going to enjoy the hot spring. Everyone consented (ah, solidarity) so gear was packed up and we rode down to the hot springs where we ended up spending probably three hours. The town of Radium and the associated hot springs get their name from the small amounts of radium in the water. “Totally harmless,” the sign at the springs reassures. What is it about the whole nuclear theme of this trip? And what is it about middle aged men who are 50+ pounds overweight and Speedos? Musta been a half dozen of ’em at the pool. I felt like I was missing out on a trend. Now I have a new goal. How much are Speedos anyway?
After a soak, we have lunch and finally get on the road for the day at about 3:30. It is so nice and warm today and we can see that it’s raining up in the mountains where we are headed. We just wish we could stay warm for a while. But it’s north into the mountains we go. Through Golden, “The town of opportunity,” and Canada’s Glacier Nat’l Park. It is very stunning, with jagged peaks and glaciers that we’re riding through the middle of and VERY cold with freezing rain falling on us. There are several short tunnels in the park that we have to negotiate and the first one really catches us all off guard. We’re all wearing full face helmets and sunglasses (even though it’s cloudy!) and as we enter the first tunnel we can’t see a thing except the faint taillights ahead of each of us. Pat was first through and I’m still not sure how he navigated. All I could do was focus on the taillight ahead of me and hope for the best. Subsequent tunnels found me lifting the face shield and sliding my glasses as far down my nose as I could. I sense a new Schuberth helmet with the flip up sun visor on my Christmas list this year.
As we descended the mountain towards the berg of Revelstoke B.C., we saw a family of mountain goats grazing by the side of the road. We could see into the valley and the sun was shining down there. Come on warmth!! Into the valley and into Revelstoke for gas and a break. It was so nice there that we decided to stay and get a motel for the night. I asked if there was anyplace to get beer there on a Sunday and the lady at the gas station pointed me at the state run liquor store, which was open today! Revelstoke has about 10,000 people and it was DEAD on a Sunday night. The town appeared totally deserted and there were only two restaurants open. We opted for Italian. It was pretty good and the friendly waitress was pretty liberal with some ‘sample’ shots of Canadian whiskey. We were the only customers in there.
When the sun rose we all decided it was time to do a major tech day. All of the bikes need oil changed and other fluids checked. Larry found that he had gotten some water in his final drive so I decided to check mine and I had water as well. Pat and A.B. with their R100 bikes didn’t have any. Strange that the R80s both had water. I wonder if it’s something with the breather design. Anyway, there was a NAPA store right around the corner from the motel and they were extremely helpful. They loaned us drain pans and waste oil containers and took the waste oil that we had generated.
We loaded our bikes and mine was on a slight slope to the right. I was prying the beer can out from under my rear wheel that I had used to level the bike for checking the oil, and I could sense the bike was going over. It was way too heavy and there was nothing I could do to stop it. Down it went with a loud crash. I’ve tried not to dwell too much on the fact that the bike was just way too heavily loaded but it had been a constant nagging source of frustration for the whole trip. I was so mad that I bellowed some unprintable expletive and kicked my helmet across the parking lot. I hadn’t even finished my follow through when I said, “that was stupid.” I’ve lost my temper like that probably less than a dozen times in my life. Totally gouged up my face shield. Larry, Pat and A.B. came over and helped pick up the bike (grunt). It was the crash bars and the big, heavy ammo boxes that saved the bike. There were only light scratches on saddlebags. I apologized to the others for my temper tantrum and they all agreed that no apology was necessary except for maybe not letting them know to have their cameras ready.
Pat, A.B., me and Larry riding the Ferry.
Finally got out of town at about 1:00 towards Nakusp. To get there we had to load our bikes on the Galena Bay Ferry. When we got there, we fell in line behind a half dozen cars. I looked up at the sign showing the ferry schedule and there, in bold print at the top of the sign, it said, “Motorcycles Please Pull to the Front of the Line.” Cool! The others hadn’t seen the sign yet so I pulled around the line to the front. I no sooner got off the bike when two different drivers got out of their cars to have a little talk with me about cutting in line. I politely pointed out the sign and they grumbled and went back to their cars. We met two German couples on the boat vacationing in Canada and they really appreciated our old airhead beemers. One of the women was wearing a tee shirt from some antique motorcycle club she belonged to. We talked for some time. They had been visiting some of the many hot springs in the area and one of the men told us about Canyon Hot Springs just up the road. He reached down and grabbed himself and said, “it was too hot for my eggs!” He then made some comment about his wife’s boobs while I was admiring her motorcycle tee shirt (honest, it was just the tee shirt). They were pretty funny and we enjoyed our visit with them.
Back on dry ground and we continue south towards the border. It’s early evening when we cross back into Washington but the days are long and we can still ride for several hours before we really need to find a campground. The U.S. customs agent gave us all new maps of Washington and pointed out some campgrounds in the area where we think we might want to stop for the night. Another couple of hours brought us to Colville where we stopped for some deli sandwiches and breakfast stuff and beer.
Finally. We’re back in a civilized country where one can purchase beer any time, any place. I really liked Canada and the people there but if there was one shortcoming …
Riding east on 20 brings us to the Pend Oreille Wild Life Refuge where there are a few primitive camp sites. We find a nice little spot on a small stream and set up for the night. We gather some very wet firewood and with a little concerted effort (and some 92 octane) we get a nice fire going.
Part VIII: The Palouse Country
Pat is pretty excited about the upcoming day. For a long time he has wanted to see the Palouse wheat growing country of eastern Washington. He’s a displaced Kansas boy and still has family back there who are wheat farmers.
Before we ride however, we have to get camp packed up. It is very humid and all of our gear is soaked. We can see the mist rising into the air all around us as the sun begins to warm things. Lines are strung between our bikes to hang sleeping bags and clothing out to dry. I hang my rain fly and turn my tent upside down to dry the bottom and decide to rig my fly rod and give the creek a try. I’d hate to finish a two week trip and not use the fly rod and related gear that I toted along for the whole journey. I walk through the knee deep grass over to the creek, tie on a small nymph pattern and make a few casts. Nothing. I change patterns and within a couple of casts had on a small brook trout. I quickly landed and released him. A few more casts yield nothing so I go back to see if my tent’s dry enough to pack away. At least I can go home and tell my fly fishing buddies that I did catch fish on my trip.
Once we’re all packed we head east towards the Pend Oreille River, which we ride along all morning until we hit Spokane. The ride was, as had become the norm on this trip, beautiful. We have lunch in a little sandwich shop in Spokane and then head off in search of a motorcycle shop. I need to replace the face shield that I damaged during my fit of stupidity the previous morning. We pull into the first shop that we see and they don’t carry Shoei replacement parts. I get directions to another shop where, I am told, they’ll have the right shield. Spokane is a big city. It takes us nearly an hour to wind our way across it. We’ve gotten so spoiled riding on deserted roads and through tiny towns that we all feel a bit tense and frustrated with the whole scene. On the plus side, the motorcycle shop we’re headed towards is in the direction we need to go to get to the Palouse country anyway. We get there and, yes, they do have the right replacement shield. $28 to fix my tantrum. We end up talking to the owner for a while and, before you know it, Pat has his map out and is getting directions for the best route to take and some scenic places to go.
The road south takes us through the rolling farm country of Palouse County. We ride through a half dozen picturesque farm communities on winding roads through the hills. A.B. gets ahead of us when we all need to stop for gas. We pull over and figure he’ll realize that we’re not behind him and he’ll come back. We wait a while and he doesn’t show. Pat wanted to take a particular loop through the hills and A.B. was unaware of this. I volunteer to track him down and arrange on a meeting place with Pat and Larry before I leave. I head down the road in the direction A.B. went and ride the 30 or so miles to the predetermined meeting place without so much as a sign of him. The country I was riding through was almost surreal. It was just like the ride I had trying to catch up with my three amigos in East Glacier. From Great Falls to East Glacier was very remote, hilly country with a road that twisted through the hills and almost no other traffic. This Palouse country was just like that only it’s all farmed. Oh yeah, and it’s a lot warmer here (ahhh!). I wait about 20 minutes in Oakesdale and the three of them show up. Apparently A.B. had noticed we weren’t behind him and he looped around. Pat said that he showed up just about 60 seconds after I had pulled out.
We rode another 10 or so miles to the top of Steptoe Butte. This is the tallest thing for what seems to be 100 miles in any direction. The guy at the bike shop recommended that we stop here. The road winds up and around the butte to the very top. From here you can see the literally hundreds of square miles of the Palouse country. It’s an absolutely amazing thing that this country can be farmed at all. In a book that Pat had read about this area, it said that having the old horse drawn harvesting equipment roll end over end to the bottom of a hill was not uncommon. Farming this country in the early days took its toll in the lives of both men and horses. At the top we met a man, who appeared to be in his 70’s, and his granddaughter. We swapped picture taking duties with them and then Pat started talking to them. The man was a native of the area and a retired veterinarian. His granddaughter was visiting from college. He lived a few miles away in Pullman and was very familiar with the area and a passionate student of the farming history of the Palouse. Pat must have talked with him for an hour, comparing notes on wheat farming in the Palouse versus Kansas. You could tell by the enthusiasm of their conversation that Pat was in seventh heaven. And so was the old native. After they left the mountain top Pat commented a couple of times that he couldn’t have met a more perfect person to talk to about this place he had looked so forward to seeing. I think that this was the pinnacle of the entire trip for him.
Before leaving the butte, Pat and I took a look at the map and conspired to take a slightly less direct route to Clarkston, our intended stopping place for the night. A.B. and Larry though that we’d be going through Colfax, Pullman and then into Clarkston. Pat and I had noticed a small, gray line on the map that went down through the Snake River Canyon. We found the roads in this part of the state to be poorly marked and there were a couple of times that we thought we might be a bit lost. We kept wandering in the approximate right direction and, after a short while, realized that we were heading down into a canyon. This must be it, I thought. It was. I really enjoyed the ride down through the canyon. It was rocky and brushy and felt like being back in the southwest. The river here is fairly heavily dammed so is very wide and calm. I looked ahead, up the river and saw a huge structure in the water. As we got closer to it I could see it was a gigantic barge. This thing was monstrous! Having never been to the Northwest before and not knowing much about the area I was surprised to see a river so far inland being used for commercial transport. A couple of miles further down the road we saw another barge leaving a wake a half a mile long and nearly the width of the river.
We get to Clarkston and look for a suitable motel for the night. Our plan is to spend the night in a motel, get a good nights sleep and a shower and then find the BMW dealer in the morning. We cruise the main drag and right away find three motels that look like they’ll do just fine. We pick the one that has carports thinking that covered parking for the bikes would be a cool thing. I should have known that things just weren’t right when the owner came skipping across the parking lot to greet us, altogether too eager to have a paying customer. I guess we should have realized that we were the only ones there. We really didn’t get an inkling that this place was just a bit weird until after we had paid and were unloading our bikes. A.B. and I are in our room and the owner just walks in. Just wanted to check and see if we had everything we needed. Then, outside in the carport, as we’re getting more gear off of our bikes, he starts talking to us about how he had one of these bikes when he was in Germany. He couldn’t remember the model but he was glad to get rid of it because of its electrical problems. “You know, these things are famous for electrical problems,” he said. It didn’t take us too long to figure out that this guy was a pathological liar, nor did it take us very long to figure out that he had appointed himself our new best friend. We excused ourselves and said we needed to go get some dinner and felt extremely fortunate that he didn’t invite himself along. We all had an inexplicable craving for Mexican food and there happened to be a Mexican restaurant about three blocks down the street. We had a good meal and returned to find the night clerk awaiting our arrival. And we thought the owner was strange! This gal was (being as kind as I can be here) relatively unattractive, and about half drunk. She walked up to A.B. and said, “Oh, you’re the hottie!”
“The hottie,” he replied?
“Yeah. The hottie pattottie.”
Geez! Why’d we pick this place? I took refuge in my room in front of the TV, as did Larry. Pat and A.B. sat outside and talked to this gal for a while. She told A.B. that he had a cute butt and he told her, “Sorry, I’m married.” Liar! This place had weirded me out so badly that I slept with my Maglite and my hunting knife at my side and blockaded the door with the ammo cans off of my bike. I didn’t sleep overly well that night.
We got up in the morning, all in one piece, and proceeded to load our bike and get the hell out of there. We went down to the BMW dealer where I bought a spare headlight bulb for myself plus one to replace the bulb that A.B. had given me the first night of the trip. Larry drooled over the new R1150GS in the showroom and Pat bought a new front tire and had it mounted. While they were mounting it we found a little pastry shop around the corner and had some really good, fresh pastries and coffee for breakfast. Then we returned for Pat’s front wheel, got it mounted back on the bike and we continued on the road south.
Part IX: Idaho
Right across the river from Clarkston WA is Lewiston ID. Hmmm. Lewiston? Clarkston? I wonder how they got named? I may never know. I got the distinct impression that the majority of city revenues in Lewiston are generated through traffic tickets. I’ve never seen so many cops! They were everywhere and they were all pointing their radar guns with reckless abandon. There was even one standing behind a bridge abutment pointing his gun at us. He had two of his buddies in patrol cars waiting a block away to nab anyone that he caught speeding. We were all very careful and law abiding citizens that day.
From Lewiston we rode south through the Nez Perce Indian Reservation and then along the Salmon River. There were several very cool railroad trestles spanning the canyons along the way. In the little town of Riggins, we spotted an R80ST parked along the side of the road that looked identical to Larry’s. He had to pull over and take a look. This bike was pristine. The owner came out and we talked to him for probably 15 minutes or more. He told us that there were three ST’s in Riggins. Pretty unusual for a bike with such low production numbers.
Our next stop would be McCall for lunch. Pat and Larry had been through here before on a bike trip and wanted to stop at Lardo’s, a burger joint/bar where they had eaten before. They even remembered which table they had sat at on their previous visit. It was already 4:00 as we had gotten a late start from Clarkston so it was going to be a late lunch. After lunch we gassed up the bikes and headed on towards Boise.
We rode through more scenic country along the Salmon River. It was obviously that it’s a playground for people from Boise. There were raft trips and solo kayaks all up and down the river. Cars coming north out of Boise were carrying kayaks on their roof racks. People would get off work and head up to the river for a quick run. The one thing that today brought to us was the realization that we had really been spoiled by the back roads and the remote country we had been touring for the past several days. Today there was traffic! Through most of Canada and Washington the roads were relatively void of other vehicles. Oh, we’d see cars fairly regularly but today, the traffic became a steady presence.
By the time we got to Boise it was late enough in the day that we all felt like stopping but we had put in relatively few miles and we now had a bit of a deadline in front of us. It was Wednesday and we wanted to be in Panguitch for the rally on Friday. We decided to blast our a few miles on the interstate and get within spittin’ distance of Nevada. It was about another 50 miles to Glenn’s Ferry where we finally stopped for the night.
Sitting out in front of the motel in the warm summer air, basking in the light of the nearby telephone booth, drinking whisky.
We got another cheap motel. This one was missing the strange proprietor but had kind of funny smelling rooms. Oh, well. It was late, we were tired and there were only two motels to choose from anyway. I went to find a burger for dinner and left the others at the motel. I didn’t eat much in McCall and was hungry. The others ate a pretty full meal there and weren’t. When I returned, the others were sitting out in front of the motel in the warm summer air, basking in the light of the nearby telephone booth, drinking whisky. I happily joined them and we talked the evening away and watched the teenagers of Glenn’s Ferry (all both of them) cruise up and down the main drag with their stereos thumping.
Part X: Hot and Windy
We had breakfast in Glenn’s Ferry in a little local restaurant where we opted to sit at the counter. We were discussing our route into Nevada when a couple of older gentlemen, also seated at the counter, decided to offer their two cents worth. You know the type. The crusty old codgers, wearing overalls, who come into the local coffee shop every day for years and drink a pot of coffee each before they start their day. They had overheard that we wanted to both avoid any more interstate highway and avoid going through Idaho Falls. They were in their sixties and said they had lived there all of their lives and knew all the roads. They pointed us at a frontage road that wasn’t on the map and would allow us to avoid the interstate and get us to a point where we could head south around Idaho Falls and get us to Jackpot NV. We thanked them went on our merry way.
About an hour on the road brought us to Buhl. Just north of there we saw a column of large white birds spiraling up on the breeze. It was quite an impressive sight and I had no idea what they were. Then we passed a place called 10,000 springs. To our left was an escarpment a couple of hundred feet high and a couple of miles long, out of which flowed a dozen or so very large springs. At the city limits of Buhl I stopped because I wanted a picture of myself standing in front of the sign that said “Buhl” for a friend of mine back in Flagstaff who used to live here. The others had noticed the columns of birds and A.B., who is better versed in ornithology than the rest of us said he thought that they were endangered Sandhill Cranes which are supposed to have one of their nesting grounds in the vicinity. Very cool!
A little way south of Buhl we had to stop for road construction and about a ten minute wait. Larry laid down on the road next to his bike, A.B. got out his cordless shaver and shaved, Pat walked over and talked to the gal holding the “STOP” sign and I wandered over to read the sign at the side of the road denoting a point of interest. Must not have been very interesting because I can’t remember what it said. We were about 15 miles from the Nevada border and we could tell it was going to be a scorcher. The pilot car showed up from the other direction and, once that line of traffic cleared, we followed it towards Nevada.
Nevada is unique and instantly recognizable with its hotels and casinos right at the border. We pulled into a gas station. Pat and Larry gassed up their bikes and I was content to let my engine cool down just a bit before forging ahead. I went into the gas station and bought a Nevada road map and a bottle of ice cold Gatorade, which I immediately chugged. The rest of this day was going to be no fun and we all knew it. Nevada is predominantly flat and featureless with the only scenery in isolated pockets, it’s hot and, every time I’ve been there, windy.
The next stretch was about 70 miles into Wells. I lit out ahead of the others like a man on a mission. It was hot and I didn’t really want to be riding in the desert. I’d been so spoiled by two weeks in the mountains that I just wanted to get this over with. Without a speedometer I had no idea how fast I was riding. I just settled into a pace that felt comfortable and my engine seemed pretty happy so I just cruised. When I got into Wells I needed gas so I pulled in and gassed up and waited for the others. They showed up about 7 or 8 minutes later. They said they were doing about 75 and had pulled out of Jackpot less than a minute after I had so I must have been doing 80 or a little better. It was such a straight and flat road that it just didn’t seem like it. We pulled our bikes under the shade of an abandoned gas station across the street from where I had gassed up and we walked across the street to a Burger King for lunch. Aaaagh. I broke one of my cardinal rules for travelling. No fast food. I had a chicken somethingorother and it was OK. This was the only fast food of the trip for me. After allowing our engines to cool for about 45 minutes it was back into the heat. The time and temperature sign above the Burger King said it was 104°. Yuk! Next stop, Ely. This stretch was about 140 miles. We stayed in closer formation this time. It was hot. Our engines were hot. We had a stiff crosswind that kept wanting to tear my helmet off of my head. Very fatiguing. Larry got a little bit ahead and we lost sight of him. Finally, in some little berg about 20 miles from Ely, with sore butts and boiled brains, we saw that Larry had pulled into a gas station to fill up. We pulled in for a short break. Pat got gas and I went in for an ice cream sandwich. Five minutes later and we’re back on the road. I’m hoping we can take a real break in Ely but we get there and Pat pulls over and says he wants to push on to Baker NV. It’s another 40 miles or so and our plan is to spend the night there so we keep going.
Finally, this stretch goes through some mountains and pretty country. Just east of Ely we approach a curve in the road. “What’s that,” I ask myself? I hadn’t seen anything even vaguely resembling a curve since early in the day and it kinda surprised me. We go over a couple of 6000 ft. passes and I notice that I’ve got the throttle wide open and there’s nothing left. This must be steeper than it appears, I though to myself. In comparing notes later that night in camp Pat mentions that he had the same problem. Neither of our machines had been idling worth a damn for several days either. Mine I could chalk up to a known carburetor glitch but Pat had no clue why his wouldn’t idle. We’d figure this out in a couple of days.
We rode into Baker and Pat had to stop and get his picture taken in front of the city limit sign. He’s collecting Baker’s as he travels since that’s his last name and this is his second one for this trip. The first one was Baker ID the day after I toted my broken bike off to Montana. Hey, any goal that forces more travel is a good one. We go into The Outlaw Bar and Grill for a couple of beers and some info on the campgrounds in nearby Great Basin National Park. While Pat and Larry stay for another beer, A.B. and I run the 7 miles over to the state line and the only gas station for many miles to fill our tanks. On the way back we see a small animal cross the road ahead of us. I though maybe a cat but this was pretty desolate in the middle of nowhere, so I accelerated to get a look before it disappeared into the sagebrush. It was badger! I’ve spent my whole life hiking and exploring the mountains and deserts of the southwest and this is only the 3rd one of these I have ever seen. Back at the bar, Pat and Larry were ready to go set up camp so up the road we went. And I do mean up. The road climbs from about 5000 ft. at Baker to over 7500 ft. at the Lehman Creek campground in the Great Basin Park. All this in about 5 miles. We found one of the last two or three remaining campsites in the place and got things set up. Then it was back into The Outlaw for dinner. We decided to run down the hill with engines off just for fun. Larry and I first with Pat and A.B. a minute or so behind. We hit speeds of about 45 mph on the way down and were able to pull into the parking lot for dinner without ever starting our engines. As we’re ordering our food and beers, we compare notes on the downhill run and Larry said that I had pulled away from him with some authority and A.B. said the same of Pat. Well, it sounded like we had a challenge race brewing so Pat and I got up from the table and said we’d be back in time for dinner to be served. We rode back up to the entrance to the campground, turned around and placed both of our front wheels on the edge of the cattle guard. On three now. One, two, three! We lifted our feet and struggled to keep the bikes upright until we were rolling. Soon we were both in a tight tuck behind our windshields and whispering along at speed upwards of 45 mph! I was in the lead and then, out of the corner of my eye, I could see Pat coming along side. I looked over and he was about dead even and we looked at each other grinning literally from ear to ear. What enormous fun! I started to pull ahead again and I lost sight of Pat. Periodically, I’d look in my mirror just to keep tabs on his position but I didn’t like moving out of my tuck position. I have only a very small windshield on my GS. Soon, I saw Pat again, approaching from the side. He’d pulled even again but then he’d slip back. This happened once more and by the time we hit the corner, a mere 50 yards from the Bar & Grill my front wheel was maybe two inches ahead of his. I pulled into the parking lot first and jumped off my bike totally elated! We both had smiles on that wouldn’t quit. What fun!! I called it a dead heat but Pat said I was definitely the faster bike. He said he’d have fallen far behind if he hadn’t drafted me three times. That’s why he kept falling back and then pulling ahead! We walked in to the restaurant slapping each other on the back and laughing with race tales to tell the others over dinner. They were just setting our food on the table as we walked in.
After a great dinner and a couple of beers it was back to camp and hit the sack. Even though it is the summer solstice today it gets dark a bit earlier at this latitude than it did in Canada and Washington. We all slept great, which had been the norm throughout the trip. Satisfying days make for satisfying sleep. OK, maybe a nip of whiskey at night helps a little bit too.
The next day would be a short day. A quick couple of hundred miles into Panguitch and the Red Rock Rally where we planned to do a layover day before finally heading back to Flagstaff and the end of our journey.
Part XI: Ships passing in the night.
In the morning we made coffee and had granola bars or something like that for breakfast, packed up all of our gear and headed to the top of the mountain. It was about another 10 miles up the road to the top, which puts one within day hike range of the top of Wheeler Peak. The owner at The Outlaw told us it’s the highest peak that’s fully contained within Nevada at just over 13,000′. The air was crisp and the drive well worth the time. There’s even a permanent glacier up there. Rather unexpected for Nevada. There was also an unbelievable amount of flies. We got off our bikes and walked around for a bit and when we returned our bikes were covered with flies. They were attempting to remove the two weeks bug collection that had accumulated on the fronts of our bikes. I was tempted to let them finish the job but it probably would’ve taken too long.
Back in Baker, it was time for one more cup of coffee at The Outlaw. Another BMW, an R1100RS I think, pulled in for a break. It was a couple on their way from Reno to the rally in Panguitch. After talking with them for a while they headed down the road. Then it was our turn. The next stretch was 90 miles from Baker to Milford UT. A very straight and hot and boring road complete with the crosswind we’d come to know and love. Larry and I lit out ahead on our R80s. We tucked down behind our windscreens and just flew. Through three very long valleys and over three small mountain ranges into Milford. Not an overly fun ride, we were glad to get to Milford. Larry had to gas up and I bought a quart of Gatorade and downed it. I felt pretty dehydrated. We waited for Pat and A.B. to show up. Ten minutes passed, then fifteen. Then half an hour had gone by. We were starting to get worried. Someone must’ve broken down. After 40 minutes had gone by I decided I was going to backtrack and see if they needed some help. I asked Larry if he wanted to wait and he said he’d go along with me.
Back we went. Over the first mountain range and we didn’t see any sign of them. Across the first long (15 mile) valley and nothing. On we rode and passed only a couple of cars. Where were they? Larry and I were both pretty concerned and we kept on riding. A little more than an hour later found us back in Baker with out having ever seen a sign of them. By now I needed gas so it was another seven miles to the gas station at the state line. Geez! I got gas in the same place yesterday! I sure felt like I’d ridden a lot and gotten nowhere.
Larry and I were beyond worried now. We were just flat pissed! By now we figured we’d missed them like ships passing in the night, somewhere along the road. Hell, they were probably at the rally by now. So much for our short, easy ride and hang out at the rally day. Back across the blistering, and still windy desert to Milford. We got to know this road way better than either of us ever wanted to. Larry needed to get gas again in Milford so he went to the same station he’d been to 2 1/2 hours before. Talk about feeling like you’re getting nowhere fast. It was real hard to be cheerful for the remaining 75 miles into Panguitch. We’d both been looking so forward to a nice easy couple of hours to the rally and it had turned into a 380 miler.
We rode the last stretch straight through and I can’t speak for Larry but I was beat. We pulled in and of coarse Pat and A.B. had been there for hours. Pat walked up to me and asked, “where have you guys been?”
“Looking for you,” I replied, trying hard not to sound pissed off.
“We waited for 40 minutes in Milford and when you didn’t show up we figured there’d been some problems.”
“We pulled off on that last mountain pass before Milford to check out the ghost town. Didn’t you see it?”
“No, we didn’t see it. But the way I see it you guys owe us a beer and dinner.”
Larry didn’t even make an attempt to be cordial. He grabbed his tent and gear and walked off to set up. A.B. went to the beer garden and got us both a beer. I gulped it down, unloaded some of my gear and went to the registration table to get registered for the rally. Then I went to get a badly needed shower. Man, did that feel good. I was a new person and in slightly better spirits after that. I went back and found the others and we all walked downtown for some dinner. We ate at an Italian place we’d eaten at last year that had pretty good food. Those guys didn’t offer to buy dinner for Larry and me. They must have thought I wasn’t serious.
Back at the rally for a couple of beers and then fall into my tent and sleep like a log. Things felt a little bit tense for the entire evening. Overall though, I have been very pleased with the way the group dynamics worked for the whole trip. Everyone got along great. We had a lot of laughs and good times and truly enjoyed each other’s company. We all knew that the tension of the evening would be a temporary thing. Before going to bed that night I bid farewell to Larry. He was going to get up early and head into Flagstaff a day before us to meet his wife and they were going to go back to Lake Havasu City together.
Somewhere in my deep slumber I thought I heard a motorcycle start up. The sound of the R80’s engine warming up somewhat slowly brought me to full consciousness just in time to hear the transmission click into gear and start to leave the rally grounds. It was 5:30 a.m. Bye, Larry. Ride safe.
I rolled over and went back to sleep for a couple more hours.
Today was the day to just hang out at the rally and wander around and look at bikes and talk to other riders and tell some tales of our soon to end adventure. There were several people there from last year and some I’d met at other rallies. I’ve only been into BMW’s for about 3 years but I’ve been pretty enthusiastic about it and have come to learn that it’s a fairly close knit community of people who all enjoy doing the same thing. Riding their motorcycles. Rallies are becoming places where I see familiar and friendly faces.
Pat decided that he needed to take some time and make today a serious tech day for his bike. He really wanted to get to the bottom of his idling and lack-of-power problems. I was content to just leave mine alone since it was only about 200 to home. I figured I could live with the bad idle ’til then. I knew I had some carburetor issues and I could go through them with a fine toothed comb at home. Pat busied himself with changing points and condenser and checking sparkplugs. After changing all that it still wouldn’t idle worth a damn. We checked the spark and it seemed like the spark intensity was a little bit weak on one side. We switched the plug wires to the opposite coils and the weak spark seemed to stay with the wire so we walked over to the mechanic that was set up at the other end of the rally and had him check the resistance of the wires. They both checked out OK. Hmmm. We described the symptoms to the mechanic and he said it could be a number of things and he proceeded to enumerate them. One of the possible causes was a tight valve, which would prevent the bike from developing full compression. We went back over to his bike and popped off the valve covers and sure enough the exhaust valves were very tight on both sides. A quick adjustment and, bingo, it idled beautifully. This would also explain the lack of power that he had experienced over the past couple of days. That done we could relax with a cold brew and wait for the rally dinner.
A.B. had decided to take the day and go do some fly fishing in the area streams. He had been gone all day and didn’t show up until dinner was being served. He said that he had found some really beautiful streams and the fishing had been pretty good.
After dinner we walked over to the Garfield County Activity Center, about 100 yds. from the rally site where they were having a rodeo. Now that was a great entertainment value for $6. It was a heck of a lot of fun! They had bull riding, barrel racing, mutton busting, and THE RING OF FEAR. The mutton busting event is where they get a bunch of really little tykes, say, two to seven years old, put them on the back of a sheep, one at a time, and turn the sheep loose. The critter immediately goes tearing around the arena, doing everything in its power to lose its unwelcome cargo. I guess it breaks the kids in for bull riding later in life. One poor little girl was hanging on for dear life when the sheep decided to try to go through the steel rail fence surrounding the arena. The little gal hit the steel rail with her head and you could just feel the spinal compression that she experienced. She hit the ground and was out like a light. The ambulance rushed her to the hospital and we later got the announcement that she was going to be OK. I don’t think that anybody in the audience enjoyed a moment of the rodeo until that announcement came across the PA system.
THE RING OF FEAR was a real interesting event that I’d never seen before (and I grew up in the southwest and have seen many a rodeo). They drew six or seven rings about four feet in diameter in various locations around the arena and got volunteers from the audience to stand in the rings, one person per ring. They were instructed to stay in the ring as long as they possibly could and the last one remaining in their ring was the winner. Then they released a really pissed off bull into the arena. Total pandemonium then erupted. That bull was hell bent on goring anything in its sight. A couple of the contenders ran like rats from a ship the second they knew they had been spotted. Others gave it a valiant try. One guy had a very large sumo wrestler sort of build and when the bull focused on him you could see him get angry and square off against the raging beast. You could tell by the guys’ expression that he really thought he could take this bull on. When the bull came, the guy grabbed him by the head and you could actually sense the bulls’ momentum broken, for about a half a second, and then he threw the sumo guy out of his ring. The winner ended up being some scrawny kid who just happened to be fortunate enough to be the last one that the bull noticed.
It was a fun and unexpected evening for the last day at the rally. The tension had been greatly reduced today. This was the last night of our trip. Tomorrow was Sunday and we all had to be back to work on Monday. It is the longest motorcycle trip I’ve ever taken and a part of me didn’t want it to end just yet but a part of me was ready to get back home. For the past two weeks I felt more mentally and physically healthy than I had in a very long time. Heck, this was the first time in 20 years I’ve taken two weeks off at one time. And to spend it on a motorcycle, with good friends and seeing the western US and Canada by way of secondary roads was THE way to do it.
Part XII: Last Day
We took a walk into town for breakfast before packing up. It had rained hard the night before while we were inside the arena at the rodeo and our tents and bikes were soaked. It took a while to get packed up and there was very little conversation between any of us as we tended to our chores. I think we were all contemplating the past two weeks and the inevitable end to our journey.
A.B. was loaded first and then me. Pat was getting close to finishing when A.B. and I decided that we’d go get gas and wait for Pat at the edge of town. I jumped on my bike and turned on the key and before I even hit the starter I knew that something was wrong. Maybe the idiot lights on the instrument cluster looked just a little bit dim. I hit the starter button and got click, click, click, click. Then nothing. Dead battery! I tried the kick starter, which, as anyone who has a GS with a kick starter knows, is totally worthless. With my bike in a top state of tune with everything set just right and even with the engine warmed up it’ll take 30 or 40 kicks to get it going. Still I insisted on giving it a few token kicks even though I knew it would be fruitless. I got A.B. to give me a push across the parking lot and was able to bump start the bike. I kept it running until Pat was ready to go and decided that I had enough gas to get to Kanab UT, so off we went. I figured that the 60 mile run would give the battery as good a chance as any to charge up. In Kanab I stopped and gassed up and then asked the others if they had any bets on whether or not it would start. I turned on the key and the lights were noticeably dim. Damn! I lost ground. Nothing. Nada. With a full tank and another bump start we rode the 130 or so miles to Marble Canyon AZ for lunch. This time I tried the starter as soon as I shut off the bike. Still dead. Oh well, we’re within spittin’ distance of home now so I’ll go and enjoy my lunch and then do the final 120 miles and I’ll worry about a new battery sometime next week.
This has been a favorite lunch stop for years. I come up here a lot for fly fishing trips and backpacking trips in the Grand Canyon and I always eat here when I do so, it’s very much like being home already. On the ride here from Kanab today we went through the smoldering remains of a forest fire that had just been extinguished. The Hot Shot crew that had just finished fighting the fire had walked into the restaurant at the same time we did. There were about 30 of them and I thought “I hope we get our order in first or we’ll be here for hours.” By the time our waitress got to us, the fire crew’s waitress was nearly done taking their orders. It was a race but our waitress got our order in just ahead of theirs. Whew!
After lunch and it was one final bump start with a little help from my friends and the final stretch home. We hit rain in a couple of spots but they were small storms that you could see the other side of so we didn’t bother to stop for rain gear. It was hot and we dried off within minutes after exiting the rain. Seeing the mountains around Flagstaff as we got closer to home was a welcome sight. As we came into town Pats house was first and we waved and honked and gave thumbs up as he peeled out of formation. A.B. and I continued on ’til my turnoff where we repeated the same “it’s been great” ritual and I watched him continue down the highway towards his house.
I got home, pulled the bike into the garage, a noticeable bit worse for wear, and went in for a shower. Then I grabbed a cold beer, sat in my chair and put my feet up and smiled. What a great way to add 4500 miles to the clock.