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Rocketbunny Rocks the Rockies


rocketbunny

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rocketbunny

I guess I’ve officially left the garage, so it’s time to start the trip report!

 

Every summer for the past three years, I’ve packed up my bike, petted the bunnies good-bye, and headed out on a grand motorcycling adventure.

 

Due to a shortage of time last year, I only had a week to spare, so I rolled out to West Virginia for the Sport-Touring.Net National Meet in Canaan Valley. To whet your appetite, my trip report from that tour is here: http://www.twtex.com/forums/showthread.php?t=10324

Or

http://rocketbunny.blogspot.com/2006/06/stn-06-national-trip-report-index-maps.html

 

This year, with a little more time at my job (or as Dad puts it: "You're not very important, are you?"), I’ll be riding for a full two weeks.

 

My itinerary starts with a quick dash north to meet up with some like-minded riders and friends from all over the country at the 2007 Sport-Touring.Net National Meet in Custer, SD.

 

Following the meet, I’ll have 1.5 weeks to make my way south through the Rocky Mountains from northern Montana all the way down to Arizona.

 

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Equipment:

 

My 2005 BMW R1200ST, purchased in Nov 2005, now has 29,000 miles on the odometer. It got a fresh set a Michelin Pilot Road tires, a valve adjust, and an oil change a few weeks ago.

 

Gearwise, I didn’t purchase anything new for this trip. My camping gear is listed here: http://www.rocketbunny.net/moto/motocamp.html

with the only change being a switch to an REI Zephyr synthetic 10 degree sleeping bag (women’s model) that was purchased before my Big Bend trip last December. I also carry an extra fleece blanket and sleeping bag liner in compression bags for those extra cold (or extra hot!) nights.

 

My gear page is almost up to date: http://www.rocketbunny.net/moto/gear.html

I recently purchased a pair of Teknic gauntlet riding gloves for general use. I’ll be bringing the Tourmaster suit, Caberg helmet, Sidi waterproof boots, my Widder electric vest, and every pair of gloves that I own.

 

I’ll be keeping my camera close. My trusty HP laptop is *reporting for trip report duty* with a built-in wireless card for those (less and less) elusive hot spots and the ability to use my cell phone as a modem in a pinch.

 

Keep an eye on this thread and my blog over the next two weeks for plenty of pictures and accounts of my travel experiences.

 

My tour started this morning when I left home, but doesn’t really get underway until I leave work today and head north to lay down a quick 200 miles.

 

No plan survives first contact with the enemy, be it road hazards, rain, or rampaging roaches. Follow along as Rocketbunny Rocks the Rockies!

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rocketbunny

Day 00

Friday, June 8, 2007

Houston, TX to Longview, TX

240 miles

 

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When I arrived at work this morning, I expected an easy day. Perhaps I’d work a little on the never-ending project that always had something in the pipeline and then tidy my disaster area of a desk for a little while. Instead, I found a barrage of emails and a surprise permit submittal that needed to be coordinated. Having hoped to leave the office early, I was disappointed to find myself still dejectedly staring at my phone waiting for the reprographics firm to call as 4pm came and went.

 

It has long been my philosophy that, when touring, valuable vacation hours should not be wasted getting out of the immediate area. There is no need to dally on roads that can be ridden any old time.

 

With this in mind, when I finally left the office at 4:45, I had only a quick 200 miles of slab in 91 degree humid heat to look forward to.

 

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I flew north on US59 through the East Texas Piney woods. The tree-covered, gently-rolling landscape has become very familiar to me over the past year. US59 has become my gateway to Arkansas and several memorable weekend rides.

 

Just south of Henderson, TX, I pulled over onto the shoulder to put away some electronics. Despite a very non-threatening radar picture (I checked before leaving work), the road was obviously wet, and I could *see* the rain on the road ahead of me.

 

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In the 90 degree heat, a little rain would have been welcome. Unfortunately, I managed to completely miss it.

 

Longview, TX, my destination for the night, owed it’s growth to the East Texas oil boom. A vivid double rainbow led me into town. I found myself wondering if there was a pot of *black gold* somewhere out there, waiting to be found.

 

Perhaps tomorrow?

 

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rocketbunny

Day 01

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Longview, TX to Sallisaw, OK

335 miles

 

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“Are you headed to California or something?”

 

Shocked, I turned from packing the bike to see a man regarding me from an open motel room door. Was my California-ness that obvious? “No, but why do you ask?” I replied.

 

“Well, you’ve got SO much stuff!”

 

I smiled and dropped into my *happy motorcycle-tourer talking to strangers* mode. “Actually, I’m headed to Montana.” (When you have no real destination, always define it as the furthest point on your route from where you are presently located. It gets the best response. )

 

His eyes bugged. “Montana! That’s pretty far. Are you riding alone? You must have a black-belt or something?”

 

I laughed a little and decided it was better not to answer those questions. After finishing my pack job, I waved goodbye to the man and continued my dash north on US259.

 

I found my first real curves of the day just after the Oklahoma border. US259 wound it’s way through farm fields and into the beginnings of the Ouachita Mountains.

 

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Lately I’ve gotten so accustomed to long mileage days that when I have a short one (and yes, 330 miles is short!) I have to force myself to pause and find things other than pounding miles to fill my time. I find that rivers are often very photogenic. Also, you usually have to park off the bridge and walk back down the road to find a good vantage point.

 

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I left US259 in Smithville to make my way into Arkansas on OK4. In planning the trip, I hadn’t thought much of this road, merely using it as a likely connector. OK4 turned out to be a fun rollercoaster with tight turns and beautiful scenery.

 

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I had a quick lunch in Mena, AR before turning onto AR88, the Talimena Parkway. The initial ascent to Queen Wilhelmina State Park is one of my favorite parts of the parkway. This segment is very twisty, with steep climbs and stunning vistas.

 

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There were lots of motorcyclists out today, including one group coming the other way consisting of a black Multistrada, maxi-scooter, and GL1800 that I recognized from passing back in Broken Bow, OK.

 

Passing back into Oklahoma, I started to get some rain drops. I considered stopping to pull out my waterproof gloves, but decided against it. It was so warm…the rain was welcome and my unlined leather gloves would survive and dry out quickly.

 

It always amazes me that, in this part of the country, it can be bright and sunny, but raining.

 

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More pictures of the Talimena parkway from my last trip there can be found here: http://rocketbunny.blogspot.com/2006/08/oklahoma-arkansas-weekend-escape-day-1.html

 

I found some serious rain during my descent into Talihina, OK. Large raindrops pounded my helmet and my hands felt like they were swimming in my gloves. I turned north on OK82 and hoped to soon outrun the storm.

 

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Fifty miles out from my destination for the night, I was still getting rained on intermittently. I had intended to try out my camping gear, but prudently decided to get a real roof over my head.

 

I laughed a little while checking into a motel at the obscenely early hour of 5:00. Not quite knowing what to do with myself, I listened to the thunder and watched TV while rain pelted the parked R1200ST. I got wet from bare head to bare toes as I walked to dinner in my Teva sandals, lightweight convertible pants, and heavy motorcycling jacket.

 

Stay tuned tomorrow as I continue to ride north, crossing the *motorcycling-mecca* state of Kansas.

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rocketbunny

Day 02

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Sallisaw, OK to Rock Port, MO

445 miles

 

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I was backtracking down the highway in Talequah, OK, happily sated from my $2.19 McDonalds Fruit’n’Yogurt parfait (160 calories!), small (but huge!) coffee, and the accomplishment of 50 miles before breakfast, when I saw it.

 

A Starbucks.

 

Somehow I had missed it, being completely focused on my goal of morning yogurt, coffee, and the known reliable supplier of such. I briefly lamented for the tall soy caramel mocha (no whip) and maple scone that could have been. Then my wallet punched me in the gut and reminded me that I had sixteen days on the road to budget for. *sigh*

 

All was forgotten soon after I turned north on Scenic OK10. Half river canyon (along the Illinois River), half foothills romp, I was very happy as I swooped along the road.

 

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The idyllic countryside felt far more “Arkansas” than “Oklahoma” to me. I guess my perceptions of the Sooner State need to change.

 

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Dropping out of the hills, I found myself back on US59. I think it might be the newest of my favorite roads.

 

Back when I was living in California, few roads made me happier than driving east on I-80. It wasn’t that I particularly love interstate riding. It’s the possibilities… knowing that I’m on a road with the potential to take me clear across the country. When driving on I-80, I was always thinking “What if….. I keep going…? What adventures lie ahead?”

 

With this trip, I’ve really realized that little US59 is one of those roads close to home with a lot of traveling potential.

 

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Approaching the state line, some weird sand dune formations caught my eye. I was in Picher, OK and the dunes were actually lead-contaminated piles of mining waste. Billboards all over town reminded people to wash their hands frequently and avoid lead contamination. Picher is a Superfund site, and with federal buyouts taking place, it’s only a matter of time before this early 20th century mining boomtown becomes a ghost town.

 

The creek alongside the road was pretty, but I wouldn’t want to touch it.

 

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I had to do a u-turn to catch the state line sign just outside Picher.

 

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On a nice day, I would consider US69 through eastern Kansas a bad choice. The road was arrow-straight and scenic in the way that an interstate is scenic. Fortunately I was in *make time* mode most of the way. Dark clouds loomed to the west and while I managed to outrun the thunderstorms, I still got pretty wet near Ft Scott, KS.

 

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I mentally waved at my friends on the I35 corridor (from Oklahoma City to San Antonio) as I passed through Kansas City.

 

Leaving the KC area, I passed the “Big Top”, the infamous United States Penitentiary in Leavenworth, KS. Completed in the 1920s, it is most well known for housing Prohibition-era gangsters and serial killers in it’s maximum security cellblocks. Today Leavenworth is a medium security federal prison.

 

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For some reason, someone thought it was a good idea to put a small herd of bison between the Leavenworth historical marker overlook and the prison. Most of them were hidden in the grassy field, but this guy was very interested in the parking lot.

 

I dunno…. Do you see a resemblance?

 

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A farm just outside Atchison, KS caught my eye.

 

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I approached Nebraska on KS7, the Glacial Hills Scenic byway. I was impressed by the relative twistiness… it totally didn’t feel like I was in Kansas anymore. (hehe)

 

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Soon after entering Nebraska, I crossed the (signless!) Missouri River and bedded down for the night near Interstate 29 in Rock Port, MO. I’m perfectly positioned to cross Nebraska tomorrow.

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Couchrocket

"Most excellent!" Your training in architecture obviously has an impact on your "photographic eye" . . . wonderful stuff.

 

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Hey.... there you are!!! California Lost Coast (that suits me fine!!!) right now... I will be... we will be in Seattle by the 23rd... let me know if near by... love to hook up again...

 

Awesonme report... as usual... my mentor!!!

 

Be well... from the both of us...

 

Ara & Spirit

 

www.theoasisofmysoul.com our Blog...

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bakerzdosen

Becca,

Glad to see you got your front wheel thing all worked out. Enjoy the ride.

 

And keep the pics/reports coming.

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rocketbunny

Day 03

Monday, June 11, 2007

Rock Port, MO to Thedford, NE

379 miles

 

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I am not an early riser. I usually don’t even get to work until 9AM or later.

 

When touring, I find it difficult to jump out of bed at the crack of dawn and get going. There is always one more chapter of a book to be read… or one more website to check. In the past, I’ve felt guilty for not getting that “early start,” especially on long days.

 

On this tour, a friend has constantly been reminding me that I am, after all, on VACATION. This break from work is not a time to feel bad about not keeping to schedule, but to enjoy the freedom from it.

 

So today I finally got checked out of my hotel room at the decadent hour of 10am. After having a quick breakfast, I found myself rolling back into Nebraska under gray cloudy skies.

 

I was taking the scenic route. In Nebraska, scenic apparently means cornfields, cattle, arrow straight roads, and 60 mph speed limits.

 

(No, I didn’t take this road.)

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Jamming along through the fields to disco on my XM radio, I was shocked to see a brown Park Service sign advertising National Park information on an AM channel. I was puzzled. A National Park? Here? I *had* to investigate.

 

Just a few miles off my intended route, north of Beatrice, NE, I found Homestead National Monument.

 

The park commemorates the 1862 Homestead Act and the over 270 million acres of land given away for free by the federal government, opening the American Dream to anyone who could carve a farm out of 160 acres of wild prairie.

 

Located at the site of one of the first homesteads claimed under the act, curators have been struggling for decades to restore a native prairie ecosystem on land ravaged by 75 years of farming.

 

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Walking around the exhibits inside, I was fascinated both by the stories of hardships endured by the pioneers and the anguish of Native Americans again displaced from land that had been formerly given to them by the government. The last homestead claimed before the act ran out was in Alaska in the mid-70s.

 

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The park was a welcome break, but after leaving, I went back to grinding across Nebraska.

 

Clouds often play a starring role in my photographs, so I was disappointed with the overcast skies of the morning. After noon, I found that the clouds were thinning out, with patches of blue showing through. The skies continued their metamorphosis throughout the day, with a brilliant blue emerging in the late afternoon. As I got closer to my evening destination, the clouds socked in again and I feared that I would hit rain.

 

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The cornfields all but disappeared heading west on Nebraska 2, the Sandhills Byway. The rolling hills with frequent exposed drifts of sand are not friendly to agriculture, so much of the north-central Nebraska region has never been plowed.

 

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The railroad tracks next to the road were busy. I passed coal train after coal train, with many being only 10 or 15 minutes apart.

 

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Back in 2004 when I was planning my first two week tour, I noticed that there was a National Forest way out in the middle of Nebraska. At the time, bad weather prevented me from visiting. Subsequent trips suffered similarly bad weather or lack of adequate time.

 

I felt a sense of triumph upon finally reaching the national forest.

 

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Over a century ago, a university professor thought that he could encourage settlement of the sand hills by providing an easy supply of timber. The original forest of Ponderosa pines planted at the time is now aging and slowly being replaced by hand planted oak trees. Because the forest is artificial and located in inhospitable grasslands, it is not self-sustaining.

 

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Getting tired, I decided that I wouldn’t try to make the additional 135 miles to my intended destination of Alliance, NE. A “vacancy” sign in Thedford, NE called and I turned in for the night.

 

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Tomorrow I reach Custer, SD and the Sport-Touring.Net meet. This trip report may be on hiatus for a day or two while I focus on being social and not holing up in my room to write for a few hours each night.

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rocketbunny

Day 04

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Thedford, NE to Custer, SD

283 miles

 

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The huge vacancy sign at my motel had advertised “Wireless Internet! Reasonable Prices! A Relaxing Night in the Sandhills!”

 

Good thing I’m a sound sleeper. I’m not sure if it could be considered false advertising, but nights tend to be more relaxing when you don’t have coal trains passing within half a football field of your window all through the night. They didn’t bother me, but I can imagine that they might bother some.

 

My day began with a continuation of the ride through the sand hills.

 

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I caught a coal train just as it crossed under an overpass.

 

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A sign notified me of my passage into “Mountain Time”. I mentally recalculated in my head, deciding not to bother changing the clock on the bike.

 

I was keeping a wary eye on the sky, worried by dark clouds ahead. I began getting drops three miles before Ellsworth and my turn off NE-2. Rain pelted my helmet as I slowly road past the general store, wondering if I should pause to wait out the storm. Looking down the road, I thought I spied lighter skies.

 

NE-27 was supposed to be my one fun road in Nebraska. It was advertised as “sweepers” on a motorcycle roads website. It might have been fun, but it was 40 miles of pouring rain with the skies ahead teasing me ever forward.

 

I love my R1200ST. When the temperature dropped to 60, a flick of my thumb turned on the grip warmers. The wind off the shield kept my visor clear without ever needing to wipe it with my gloves. The bike wasn’t phased by the gusts of wind I could see rocking the trees around me.

 

I called Mom for a radar check while stopped for lunch in Gordon, NE. She advised me to wait for a little while before continuing, but that I probably wouldn’t see any more heavy rain that day.

 

Nevertheless, I switched from my soaked summer-weight gloves to the Racer Multi-tops. It was still cool and I continued to see light misting rain past the South Dakota border.

 

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I began to get excited as the Black Hills appeared in the distance.

 

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I found it remarkable that virtually the instant US385 split off from SD-79 I was in the hills. One moment I was flattening the center of my tires, the next I was leaning hard through turns, passing RVs.

 

After passing through Hot Springs, SD, a tourist-trap horror of an old-West town, I found myself passing over a cattle-grate at the entrance to Wind Cave National Park.

 

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I didn’t fell like investigating the caves, but I did stop to enjoy the scenery and wildlife.

 

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A group of bison near the road seemed spooked by all the stopped cars and were running along the road. I slowed to watch but lack of shoulder prevented me from getting out my camera.

 

A little colony of these critters near one of the scenic overlooks provided my wildlife shots for the day. Isn’t he cute?

 

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I was very much enjoying my ride through the Black Hills. Rocky outcroppings and ranches nestled in the hills provided a teasing taste of what I will see in the next week.

 

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A sense of dread filled me as I approached the resort where the meet was to be held. A group of riders who had arrived the day before had posted that the driveway to the resort was gravel, uphill, and turning.

 

Oh, and yeah, it was raining again.

 

I stopped on the concrete shoulder at the base of the driveway and looked at it. Very uphill, very turning (at the top), very gravel, and very wet. A sign said “200 yards” to the office. I couldn’t see it.

 

I sat there with my engine running for five minutes, trying to decide what to do. Several cars came and went from the resort. A glance in my mirror showed an FJR1300 (Yamaha sport-touring bike) approaching. The rider waved at me before turning off the highway and riding up the driveway without hesitation.

 

At that moment I decided to be brave. I got myself to the other side of the highway to give myself some running room so that my clutch would be completely out before getting onto the gravel.

 

It wasn’t awful. I stayed loose on the bars and gave myself a little bit of speed to make sure that I had enough grunt to get up the hill. The tires didn’t wander at all.

 

Cresting the hill, I saw the FJR parked on a concrete pad by the office. I slid in next to him and turned off the bike. My hands were trembling, but I had done it.

 

After initial greetings, I registered at the office and found out where my cabin was. Slingshot was kind enough to take the R1200ST up the gravel road to the cabins for me (and exclaimed at the smoothness of the R12 engine next to his old R1150(?). I started a badly needed load of laundry and explored the resort.

 

The Canadians had already gotten to the welcome sign.

 

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The rest of the evening was a blur of names and faces. I saw old friends from California, people I had met at last years meet, and lots of new people.

 

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DantesDame had surprise for all of us

 

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Stargzrgrl’s new bike gathered some admirers.

 

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This guy (Spectre?) had hit a deer during his ride the meet. The bike went down, lost it’s windshield faring, and entirely ground off the highway peg. Before running off into the bushes, the deer left some hair on his gloves and clutch lever. He was advised to glue that stuff on….such a neat souvenir.

 

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Dinner was yummy, followed by birthday cake, coffee, and various beverages. People were hanging out and swapping stories around the campfire late into the night.

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rocketbunny

Day 05

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Custer, SD

0 miles

 

I decided to take a day off today. I didn’t go anywhere, didn’t see anything.

 

I slept in, finished a book, and took a long shower. Twas good.

 

We had a big potluck bbq tonight. There was way too much food and way too much fun.

 

Some pictures from the evening:

 

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rocketbunny

Day 06

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Custer, SD to Cody, WY

434 miles

 

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After lots of “Goodbye’s”, “Ride Safe’s”, and “Have Fun’s”, I rolled out of the resort and what felt like another beginning to my trip..

 

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Just outside Custer, US16 narrowed as it went through Jewel Cave National Monument. Due to traffic and lack of shoulder, I didn’t feel safe stopping for pictures.

 

It was safe enough, but I didn’t feel inspired to stop for pictures on US16 after crossing into Wyoming. (I missed the border crossing while passing some RV’s)

 

Feeling like my planned route was less than interesting, I decided on the spur of the moment to swing north to Devil’s Tower. I had been there two years ago, but the R1200ST had never seen it.

 

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US14-Alt to Devil’s Tower was fun and scenic.

 

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Next I hopped on I-90 to express back to US16 out of Buffalo.

 

There are essentially three popular routes between I90 and Cody: US14A, US14, and US16. I did US14A two years ago. Dad has always raved about US16 through Ten Sleep canyon, so I decided to give it a try.

 

I was wondering about my decision about fifty miles out from Buffalo when I started getting pelted with advertisements for US16. “Most Scenic! Shortest Route to Yellowstone! Least Grade!” All those things might be nice in a car, but to a motorcyclist they evoke thoughts of slow-moving traffic and boring roads.

 

I decided to stick to my route, figuring that I will probably be back to try US14 in the next few years anyway.

 

The Cloud Peak Skyway climbs out of Buffalo to scenic Powder River Pass at 9666 feet. The air was crisp and smelled of pine trees and wildflowers.

 

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I was stopping often for pictures. I played leapfrog with a couple of fellow travelers who were doing the same. At one point, one of the drivers asked me “Is that stuff against the fences SNOW?!?!” With car license plates from Florida, I decided to excuse him.

 

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The byway then descends into Ten Sleep Canyon where I was delighted to find colorful high rock walls and long sweeping turns.

 

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Out of the mountains, I stopped at a rest stop about fifty miles from Cody. A aviation museum, next door provided a photo op.

 

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Approaching Cody, I waffled between finding a hotel room and finally managing to use my camping gear. The KOA appeared and the driveway looked paved. I turned in and parked in front of the office next to a very recognizable Honda Blackbird. Birdrunner and his fiance were just checking in. I checked with the office to make sure it was ok, and followed them out to split a $32 campsite.

 

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Ninjagirl and her other half rolled in several hours later. Between the STNers and two cruiser riders who were also in the campground, we had quite a group roasting marshmallows over the fire and telling tales. After so much solo travel, it was admittedly very nice to have a group to chat with.

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rocketbunny

Day 07

Friday, June 15, 2007

Cody, WY to Great Falls, MT

412 miles

 

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I had a big day planned, so when I awoke (feeling surprisingly refreshed for camping) I immediately wriggled out of bed. The KOA we were staying at holds a $2 pancake breakfast every morning, so the group of us STNers went down for breakfast before showering and packing up.

 

Walking around saying goodbyes, we discovered that we were all headed to Great Falls, MT that night. We decided to meet up again in the evening at the KOA there….i.e. group incentive to camp!

 

After a quick shopping trip to get the BMW some oil, I was on my way up WY-296, the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway.

 

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Clouds were rolling over the mountaintops as I approached the summit. I worried that it would be foggy with low visibility.

 

I was pleasantly surprised when I finally crested the 8000’ Dead Indian Pass and found a valley filled with sunlight.

 

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While carefully navigating the seven switchbacks that took me down from the pass, I remembered reading up on the history of the byway back when I came through in 2005. It follows the 1877 route of Chief Joseph and about one thousand Nez Perce Indians as they tried to escape from the cavalry and reservation life.

 

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Out of the valley, I enjoyed the high elevation scenery while nervously anticipating Beartooth Highway.

 

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Beartooth Highway (US-212) is generally recognized as among the best motorcycling roads in the country. It’s also the “highest elevation highway in the north Rockies.”

 

I’ve wanted to ride it for years, but I was also a little scared. Not knowing quite what to expect, I imagined steep rocky switchbacks, snow banks melting all over the road, and high winds jostling my bike.

 

Instead, I was pleased to find easy 20mph marked curves and dry pavement as I climbed out of Cooke City to 10947’ West Summit.

 

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The treeless alpine fields of the plateau were spectacular.

 

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Having found the ascent so easy, I was fully relaxed going through the tight switchbacks on the north side of the summit. Once down, I stopped to look back at the terraced mountainside.

 

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Even at high elevations, the weather was perfect. It was in the 60s. While I was wearing all my suit liners, I never needed my heated grips. Vivid blue skies greeted me as I crossed into Montana.

 

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I stopped often during my descent into Red Lodge. Walking back to my bike at a vista point, I found Bird runner (Jeff) and his fiance (Colleen). I had assumed that they were far ahead of me, but they had stopped for lunch in Cooke City, allowing me to take the lead in our mutual drive towards Great Falls.

 

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Getting hungry, I hurried down the mountain to have lunch in Red Lodge.

 

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I proceeded to I-90 in Laurel for a 100 mile slab-o-thon west. About 50 miles into this jaunt, I began to feel tired. After stopping for gas and a snack in Big Timber, I suddenly realized that it was 5pm and I’d only covered 200 miles. I had fully half my route remaining before I reached my intended destination.

 

It was time to buckle down and eat miles. Finally leaving the interstate, I took US-89 north through more plains and valleys.

 

Just because I was hauling ass didn’t mean that I was no longer interested in the history of the region. I was stopped at a marker honoring the mountain men who explored the area when Birdrunner pulled up behind me with his Blackbird and unique Uni-go one-wheeled trailer.

 

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We decided to travel together over the remaining 135 miles to Great Falls.

 

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Close to the longest day of the year, it was still very bright out when we pulled into the KOA at almost 9pm.

 

We were negotiating for a cabin when Ninjagirl and her S.O. arrived, only 10 minutes behind us. After unpacking the bikes, it was time for another evening of camp food, burned campfire popcorn, and roasted marshmallows.

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Great report... You are about two weeks ahead of me... or two weeks... I am behind!!! Nice to see the pictures of where we will be going!

 

Stay safe... and be well...

 

Ara & Spirit

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rocketbunny

Day 08

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Great Falls, MT to Kalispell, MT

350 miles

 

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Birdrunner (Jeff & Colleen) were already on their way back to Canada by the time I finished packing the bike. Ninjagirl and her guy were still around though.

 

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Initially, it was a warm morning. However, as I approached Glacier National Park over the plains on US89, it got progressively colder. I stopped to put in my liners only an hour or so after taking them out at the campground.

 

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I had lunch in Browning, the heart of a large Blackfoot reservation, before entering the east side of Glacier at St Mary.

 

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I knew that Going to the Sun road was not yet opened all the way through, but I wanted to do a little of each side to get the full “Glacier” experience.

 

Sadly, the day was overcast, and the tops of the mountains were in the clouds.

 

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Leaving Glacier, I took little MT-49 to the town of East Glacier before continuing on US-2 toward the west side.

 

MT-49 was narrow and dirty, with very little shoulder and a 25 mph speed limit. I *probably* had too much fun on it.

 

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I stopped briefly at the Continental Divide on US-2. The clouds were lifting and I was beginning to be able to see the snow covered peaks that dominate my memories of Glacier.

 

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US-2 dipped in to Glacier at one point. I saw several cars stopped on the side of the road and decided to check out what they were looking at. Mountain goats!

 

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I went through a little rainstorm while approaching West Glacier. I strongly considered ditching the visit to West Glacier and just continuing on my way. Happily, the rain ended and the skies cleared by the time I reached the turn off. I entered the park again and was not disappointed.

 

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I’m not sure how far Going to the Sun road was opened, but I went about twenty miles in before I decided that it was getting late and I needed to move on.

 

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Reaching Kalispell, I followed my GPS to the home of a “motorcycling friend of a motorcycling friend.” Erin was a great host! We went out to dinner at a local restaurant and then spent a pleasant evening over our laptops, discussing riding, touring, gear, and various other issues of interest to riders. I did a load of laundry and then went to sleep in probably the most comfortable bed I’ve experienced this week.

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Very interesting trip, thanks for sharing. Great photos and the mountain rides look very fun. Can't say that I would want to ride through the flat states any time soon.

 

You need to get out to California where the real riding is rather than burning time in the flatslands wink.gif

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rocketbunny

Day 09

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Kalispell, MT to Bozeman, MT

500 miles

 

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When I started planning this trip, there were so many places I wanted to go and things I wanted to see. It was truly heartbreaking having to pick and choose what would fit into my limited vacation time.

 

I pulled a lot out, but one thing I couldn’t bring myself to remove was Lolo Pass.

 

I first rode US-12 between Kooskia, ID and Lolo, MT back in 2005. I remember it as having endless easy-feeling curves with no surprises in a pretty river canyon. River canyon is generally my favorite kind of road…and Lolo Pass generally makes it to near (if not) the top of motorcycle roads top ten lists.

 

But in order to ride Lolo Pass on this tour, I would have to compromise. It was kinda out of the way of my intended route. I left it in, but it meant that the rest of the day would be spent pounding miles to get positioned for the next day.

 

After Erin fed me breakfast (Thanks Again!) I headed south from Kalispell on US-93. It was at times a two-lane and at times a 4-lane highway. It always had traffic, but I entertained myself with watching Flathead Lake pass to my left.

 

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I made it to Lolo, MT around 11:00. I wasn’t yet hungry for lunch, but I knew that I would be starving by the time I finished riding the twisties, so I got a snack after filling up the gas tank.

 

I headed up the pass, roughly paralleling the route of the Lewis and Clark expedition.

 

Westbound from Lolo, the road starts out as a 70mph speed limit river canyon with wide sweepers smoothly transitioning to the next. Then it climbs to Lolo Pass on the Idaho/Montana border.

 

I bagged the all important signs at the top of the pass.

 

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After that, my picture-taking intentions kinda fell by the wayside. I was having so much fun…. And each time I saw a likely turnout, I was moving too fast to stop in time. Also, I went through cells of light rain…enough to wet my face shield, but not enough to impact visibility or traction. I saw temperatures as low as 41 degrees at the top of the pass, but I was warm and dry with my waterproof touring suit and Widder electric vest.

 

Once down the mountain, the road settled into *river canyon* mode. I swept along the Lochsa River, powering around the curves mostly in second or third gear. I think I spent more time in a hard lean than upright. No sooner did one curve end than the next began in the other direction. They seemed endless.

 

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I was throwing the R1200ST back and forth, pressing hard at the bars and enjoying the feeling of the suspension settling into each curve. There were plenty of passing opportunities and most cars quickly got out of my way as I approached.

 

I seem to remember sticking strictly to the speed limit of 50mph (on the Idaho side) last time I was through here. I don’t *quite* think I managed that this time…considering that I was almost always within 2000rpm of redline in 2nd and 3rd gear. The R1200ST loves revving.

 

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A little while later, while stopped at a historical ranger station, I looked down at my dash to see that I was at the half tank mark….after ONLY EIGHTY MILES! I decided it was probably a good idea to turn around then… in hopes of making it back to Lolo without assistance.

 

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My reserve countdown was blinking angrily at me when I finally pulled into a gas station in Missoula. I had almost completely smoked a tank of gas in 160 miles. (Normally I get 220 miles out of a tank before the countdown ends)

 

It was 4:30 and I was starving. Riding through Missoula, I found a Mongolian BBQ chain restaurant that hit the spot. The both of us fueled up, it was time to pay the price for spending so much time on Lolo Pass.

 

I put my Widder vest back on, carefully buttoned up my suit for rain, and set my glove gauntlets inside the cuffs of my jacket.

 

Missoula to Bozeman is 200 miles via I-90. I spent the first 40 miles going through rain cells. After that it cleared slightly, but I was still getting occasional drops. The suit did it’s job. I was completely dry and managed to keep warm with the extra assistance of my heated grips.

 

It was late in the day, so I wanted to just get to my destination without stopping. I successfully managed to run the entire segment without pulling off even once.

 

For an interstate, the road was surprisingly fun. The speed limit was 75mph, through several steep and winding mountain passes.

 

I finally arrived in Bozeman around 8:30. The skies were threatening more rain, so I found myself a hotel room and bedded down for the night.

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rocketbunny

Day 10

Monday, June 18, 2007

Bozeman, MT to Pinedale, WY

314 miles

 

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The big challenge today was *trying* to do justice to two national parks while getting through them in a timely manner.

 

Of course, this endeavor was not helped by my late start.

 

The first order of business was to head south on US89. Interestingly, this road (the only access road open year round) parallels several historic roads and rails into Yellowstone. In several places along the route, cuts can be seen in the hillside both above the current road and in the cliffs across the Yellowstone River.

 

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Just before entering Gardiner, MT, I stopped at a turnout to read about the preservation of Yellowstone’s winter range, where 10,000 elk, bison, and other animals migrate each winter in search of milder climate and grazing area.

 

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The northern entrance to the park is historically the most popular. In the early years, before good roads, it was very difficult to get to the park. Visitors increased dramatically in 1903 when a railroad line was completed to Gardiner. That same year, the “Roosevelt Arch” marking the north entrance was completed and dedicated by visiting President Theodore Roosevelt.

 

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Of course, the NPS sign was just behind the arch. I had to wait in line for my pictures yet again.

 

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And with a flash of my National Parks Pass, I was inside the park. It was already noon and I had a long way to go, especially with 45 mph speed limits and frequent stopping.

 

The time constraints weren’t worrying me hugely. I did not have any plans to do any hiking or sightseeing other than that possible from very close to the road.

 

I’ve been to Yellowstone several times in my life. I’m not exactly sure how many times because my memories of visiting the park go back to my youth. At some point in my visits, I’ve walked all of the major geyser basins, some many times. I remember what it was like before the fires of 1988 (in fact, I was in the park only a few weeks before the fires started). I’ve stayed in the lodges, licked ice cream cones while waiting for Old Faithful, screamed at the sight of large insects, and watched bison walk through the parking lots in the morning.

 

Just driving past places brings back memories. For example, passing “Artist Paint Pots” instantly brought back memories of the sights, sounds, and smells of walking through those particular hot springs with my cousins. Driving past a picnic grove brought memories of finishing a cold-cuts lunch before grabbing toy animals to play make-believe with around the creek.

 

So really, just being in the park was a walk down memory lane… a cascade of experiences past in only a few hours of riding through.

 

I started with Mammoth Hot Springs. The town looked just as I remembered. We stayed there many times. I think the colorful terraces there are my favorite springs in all of Yellowstone.

 

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I got my only wildlife shot of the day while riding through a parking lot trying to get a better view of the terraces. This elk was on her way to graze on a lawn.

 

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The amount of fun to be had on the slow winding roads heading south from Mammoth was amazing. Several Rvs pulled over for me, and many turns were tight enough that I wasn’t exceeding the speed limit. Much.

 

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When I came through the park two years ago, one of my major disappointments was the lack of activity at Echinus Geyser. I have fond memories of spending hours sitting around the geyser watching it fill, erupt, and empty before repeating the cycle. Back in 2005 I brought a book and sat around the geyser for two hours while absolutely nothing happened.

 

While on a “Happy Fathers Day” call with Dad last night, he suggested that I ask a ranger about the status of Echinus. I parked at Norris Geyser Basin with that intention. The ranger sadly told me that Echinus no longer erupts regularly. Once every few weeks is more likely, with the last eruption noticed by a passing visitor a few days prior.

 

I walked over to the Porcelain Basin overlook to take in the view before continuing through the park, Echinus unvisited.

 

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I saw some wildlife on the way between Norris Basin and Old Faithful. In each case, there was a lack of paved turnouts and too much traffic to stop and get my camera out. While elk were plentiful, I saw only one bison. I guess next time I should plan to drive through Hayden Valley on the eastern side of the park.

 

I did not stick around for an Old Faithful eruption. The interval is now around 90 minutes and I felt like I’d seen enough of them in my life to not be missing much.

 

The historic Inn at Old Faithful is still under construction, but I was able to walk inside while looking for stickers at the gift shop. (I’ve been stickerfying my top case with national park stickers). I love looking up to see the rough timbers that hold the dizzyingly high roof.

 

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Heading south, I crossed the Continental Divide several times. This was not the highest elevation crossing, but it’s the only one I stopped at.

 

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The sun was getting low in the sky as I entered Grand Teton National Park.

 

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Riding alongside Lake Jackson, I marveled at the jagged snow-covered peaks to the west.

 

The Teton range was formed when two fault blocks slipped vertically. Lake Jackson sits in the pit of the lower fault block while the mountains are the remains of the higher block. Grand Teton, the highest peak in the range, is almost 14,000 feet high. Several peaks in the range top 12,000 feet.

 

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I looked down at the GPS in horror as I left the park. It told me that I would get to my intended destination (Rock Springs, WY) after 11pm. Thinking that it was a supremely bad idea to ride in wildlife-infested Wyoming in the dark, I decided to ride to the next major town past Jackson (a freakishly overpriced tourist town). Pinedale, WY at 100 miles north of Rock Springs was the winner. I found a motel and vowed to get an early start to make up the 100 miles that had been added to my next day’s route.

 

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