The journey begins...


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7/28/2007  Beartooth Highway

Although we both felt we could spend weeks exploring Yellowstone, we also knew that we had a long trip ahead of us and the weather would only continue to grow harsher as we head north.  So we agreed to head to the northeast entrance of the park toward the Beartooth Scenic Highway.  Motorcyclist we have encountered from the last few states have all informed us that this is a ride that we cannot miss.  The Beartooth (highway 212) seems to hold a similar reputation to Deal’s Gap for motorcyclists – a must-do.  We stopped a few miles outside Yellowstone for lunch at a picturesque picnic area along a river.  As we approached Beartooth Pass and the switchbacks leading over the glacier-spotted mountains (at 10,947 ft), Darren was shocked at how much this scenery and the roadway reminded him of riding through the Alps in Europe.  We stopped to photograph glacial lakes and the spectacular riding.  Just as we were leaving one spot, we were lucky to notice a mountain goat on the hillside.

On the opposite side of Beartooth pass is the town of Red Lodge.  Since it was Saturday night, we decided that we would start looking for accommodations early.  We rode through the town, noticing the quaintness of the town and that there was a Fiddler contest being conducted in the town.  We stopped at the grocery store to pick up dinner and met a friendly couple that recommended a camping spot just outside of town.  We went to investigate, following a few dirt roads that led to a free national forest campground called Palisades.  We were the only campers there! 

After an early dinner, we rode back to town.  There was an art auction being held behind the town hall, but that did not hold our attention for very long.  The fiddler contest was being held in the gymnasium of the high school and neither of us was interested in spending the evening there, so we walked through town for a while to evaluate our options.  We ended up at the Snag Bar, a locals spot with heavy drinkers and loud rock music.  It had been a long time since we had been in a real pub (rather than restaurant-type places) and we enjoyed letting out hair down.  We ended up sitting with a group of locals on the patio who were so super-friendly that it felt like we could have known them for years.  We had both had a few drinks and knew we had to ride the bikes back to camp – about a 3-mile mostly-dirt ride.  We made the decision that we should probably leave before we found ourselves too intoxicated to ride – although we both would have preferred to stay!  Just as we were walking out the door, a very excited blond woman popped out in front of us and asks Darren in a loud, Australian accent if he was an Australian.  She pulled him back into the bar and began announcing to everyone that she had found another Australian.  She yelled, ‘Aussie! Aussie! Aussie!’ to her group of friends and they all returned the chant – “Oy! Oy! Oy!” (This is a common chant at Australian sporting events)  She then continued to drag Darren back to the patio where she repeated the display of Australian pride.  Darren was clearly embarrassed.  She told us that she had married an American and had been in the states for less than a year.  We declined her offer of a drink and carefully made our way back out onto the street. 

Riding back to camp after having a few drinks in the pub was a dangerous thing to do - especially along a dirt road in a national forest.  We both regretted taking such risks and agreed not to repeat it in the future.  We both knew we had pushed the limits. 

7/29/2007  Red Lodge

The Palisades was a beautiful camp spot with a bubbling, rushing river passing around it.  We agreed to stay another night.  I spent the morning relaxing by the river and reading while Darren took the laptop to a café in town to use the Internet. 

While in Yellowstone, our tent had started having more continuous problems with the zippers.  Every time it rained, it would leak.  We felt cramped with the inwardly sloping ceilings and wished for more vestibule space for our gear.  Our decision-making to purchase the tent in Atlanta was a combination of not wanting to spend much money and not really knowing what would be most important to us.  So we ended up buying a cheap 3-person tent with a substantial-looking fly.  After nearly 3 months of traveling with it, we agreed to upgrade to a tent that would better meet our needs (and wants!).  We also needed a new tarp, since some strong winds in Colorado and the rains in Yellowstone had wrecked many of the grommets.  We wanted to be careful and make this a wise purchase, since it would essentially be our home for quite some time.  Darren really wanted a 3-season convertible (which means it can convert to a 4-season tent with zip-in walls over the windows).  I was very interested in having a large vestibule space and good ventilation. 

We spent some time in the camping store where the owner was extremely patient and very helpful, even after we let him know that we were only researching options and not yet ready to make a purchasing decision.  We had an early dinner at a Mexican restaurant before visiting the local Best Western hotel where they have always been kind enough to allow us to use their WIFI in the lobby.  We spent a few hours there researching tents and tarps until it had gotten dark outside and our heads were swimming with the details of each tent option.  We rode back to camp in the dark again. 

7/30/2007  Big Sky Country

It was late in the morning before we had packed up and we then we stopped to use the Internet at Best Western.  We decided to have breakfast at a local spot that had advertised it’s all-day breakfast in the lobby of the hotel.  Now, not everyone knows that Darren is a fan of the television series, Twin Peaks.   An element of the plot of the show revolved around the existence of two mystical realms known as White Lodge and Black Lodge and also included a mysterious one-armed man who appears in the main character’s dreams.   As we sat in the diner in Red Lodge, a one-armed man walked in and Darren could hardly control himself.  I think he was having illusions of finding a third dimensional world within Twin Peaks…

We traveled north through rolling hills of green and yellow, swirled like icecream and dotted with black cows like chocolate chips – perfectly smooth hills! Gone were the jagged rocks of the mountains, as far as the eye could see.  Eventually we began to realize that there were actually views in the distance, but burning forest fires were restricting our view.  They made what would be a glorious mountain into a fog of white blending into the sky – with an occasional glimpse of the outline of a mountain – letting you know what you are missing…

As we rode along I-90 west, both of our bikes were performing badly in heat.  They were jerking along and seemed unable to gain power.  It was frustrating for both of us.  We both noticed an improvement as we passed through a slight sprinkling rain & cool crosswinds, which brought us to the conclusion that the problem was heat-related. 

We stopped in Bozeman to continue our research on tents by visiting every camping store in town.  We ate some bland pizza in a pub that was recommended by one of the store attendants before we headed north on hwy 86 through Gallatin National Forest to find free camping.  The camping area was in need of a mower, but otherwise it was a very comfortable campground with a picnic table and fire ring.  Unfortunately we were unable to enjoy a fire because of an ongoing fire ban, which was understandable after seeing the results of the nearby forest fire.  Looking through the forest toward the road, the sky looked enormous – larger than the land below.  I could see why they call this ‘Big Sky Country’.  There were only a couple of other campers, which came by to say hello.  They were two recent college graduates who were traveling around the United States.  They were on separate trips, but had just met up to travel together for a while.  The lady was traveling in a car, while the guy was on an old motorbike.  We stayed up way too late chatting around the picnic table. 

7/31/2007  Hospitality with the Ryders

We traveled north up hwy 86 to hwy 89, passing huge ranch lands with cattle and horses.  We searched for a gas station along the way with no success and decided to divert 8 miles east to White Sulphur Springs for gas, where we ate a couple of hot dogs for lunch.   After lunch we returned west on Lewis and Clark Highway (hwy 12) toward Townsend.  The highway passed through national forest with winding roads and lovely scenery.  We stopped at camp stores in Townsend with no luck.  We wanted to see the tents that we had chosen online as potential picks, but most of the small stores carried mainly 2-person tents or very light, small 3-person backpacking tents.  We agreed not to make any purchases until after we had visited Missoula, since there was an REI there and they tend to have a good selection. 

From Townsend we headed north to Helena where we were to meet up with Bill Ryder.   Bill was kind enough to answer my Adventure Rider request for a mailing address in Montana.  We sent some of our gear ahead to him and then met him personally at the Horizons Unlimited meeting in Colorado.  It was quickly obvious that Bill loved to help people.  Bill runs a motorcycle workshop from his large garage and also helps people buy and sell bikes.  He and his wife, Julie, opened their home to us as a common practice for any travelers and we could see that he was genuine when he mentioned that he once had an idea of opening a hostel.   He set up a huge tent for us in the back yard and outfitted it with a lamp and extension cord from the house. 

Also staying with Bill and Julie was an Assiniboine Native American elder named Harry and his son, Harry III.  Harry III cooked us some tasty burgers on the grill for dinner.  We enjoyed one another’s company as the sun went down.  There was immense smoke pouring from the far distance in two directions.  The smoke from both forest fires was meeting in the middle of the sky and caused the moon to appear a creepy blood red as it rose into the sky.  You could actually see the red glow of the fire reflecting on the white smoke in the night sky.  It was quite unlike anything I have ever seen before.  

8/1/07  Darren the artist meets Mario

We took the day off from riding and Darren changed the oil in both of the bikes in Bill’s shop while I took care of the laundry and enjoyed some relaxed reading and writing.  After completing the motorcycle maintenance, Bill gave Darren a lesson in welding and he created a masterpiece that will surely be worth millions one day…

In the afternoon, another traveler stopped in to enjoy the Ryder’s hospitality.  Mario was traveling south on a BMW GS1200 from Canada back to his home in Costa Rico, but planned on taking a diversion to visit the Sturgis Rally with Bill.  We all went to dinner at a typical western, county-cooking type restaurant.  We really enjoyed Mario’s company and hope to see him again in Central America. 

8/2/07  Hospitality with the Ryders  Meeting JN Roberts

Julie treated us all to a pancake breakfast before she headed off for work – an effort we really appreciated!  We packed up to leave and followed Bill to meet the well-known motorcyclist, JN Roberts.  JN won the very first Baja race.  He and his son were featured in the movie ‘Dust to Glory’.  He was very close friends with Steve McQueen and had a 30-year career as a stuntman in the motion picture industry.  He and his wife lived in a modest home on a huge piece of property.  JN and his wife were truly wonderful people – very down to earth and modest about their accomplishments.  We comfortably spent a couple of hours chatting with them and hope to have the opportunity to see them again one day. 

On the ride toward Missoula, we stopped for a snack on hwy 200 beside an 18-wheeler.  The truck driver walked up from down the road and explained that he had two blown tires and needed to get some help.  Frustrating for the stranded trucker, most the passing cars were not stopping to help him, but I knew that I would have a better chance of getting help.  So I took off my motorcycle jacket and waved for help at a couple of passing cars.  The first car that passed went up the road and came back to see if he could help.  He only looked mildly disappointed as we explained that we didn’t actually need help, but the truck driver did!  He agreed to give the driver a ride into the next town where he could telephone for assistance. 

We visited the REI and a few other camp stores in Missoula.  I finally broke down and purchased a second pair of pants! Knowing we were headed toward Canada, we also got some bear spray and invested in some waterproof socks.  We camped near the intersection of highway 200 and 83 at a public campground near a popular fishing stream. 

8/3/07  Reuniting with Wayne in Kalispell

We rode north up 83 past Seeley Lake.  The road was more forested and the smoke from the nearby forest fires was not as bad.  It was nice to be able to take in the great views of the passing mountains and lakes.  We rode into Kalispell about lunchtime and enjoyed lunch at a Thai restaurant and visited the local camp stores.  We located the tattoo studio of our new friend Wayne and he escorted us to his home only a few blocks away.  We were amazed at the size of his two dogs.  One looked like a huge version of the dog Benji from the television show and the other was a massive Alaskan malamute.  His wife and three children had taken a trip to visit their homeland in Ireland, so he had the house to himself.  Kalispell is a fair sized city with all the chain stores and fast food joints you could want.  It is also the gateway city to the west entrance of Glacier National Park only about an hour away.  We all shared a pizza at a nearby wine and blues bar before retiring back to Wayne’s place where he and Darren worked on the bikes in the garage while I enjoyed some quiet downtime. 

8/4/07 – 8/11/07  Kalispell

We ended up staying for over a week with Wayne in Kalispell.  We both sincerely appreciate him opening his home to us for so long.  During our stay Wayne’s two oldest children returned from Ireland.  They were great kids.  Some of the highlights included going for a spin in his Russian Ural sidecar and celebrating Wayne’s birthday with an ice cream cake.  We generally had a good time and enjoyed lots of rest and relaxation.  The guys went on a couple of evening rides together and spent a lot of time working on the motorcycles in the garage while I was able to finally get the travelogues updated and put some photos on the website.  We ordered our new tent (MSR Superfusion3) from the local camp store and we were thrilled when it arrived. 

8/12/2007  Glacier National Park

Wayne treated us to a late breakfast at a local diner that was located inside a pharmacy/general store - it was truly a nostalgic spot with obvious local history.  We discussed our options for reaching Alaska and agreed to pick up our pace in order to make it up there before the weather turned ugly.  We hope to see Wayne again soon – possibly in Mexico later this year. 

After running a few errands in Kalispell, we headed toward Glacier National Park about an hour northeast.  It was already into the afternoon when we arrived at the West Entrance at Apgar Village and we knew we would need some extra time to get used to setting up our new tent.  We headed along Going-to-the-Sun Road, the only paved road leading across the entire park.  We stopped early in the evening to camp at Avalanche Creek. 

8/13/2007  Glacier National Park

We awoke later than intended, but headed off with excitement to check out the park.  As we passed Bird Woman Falls and the Weeping Wall (a waterfall that flows down the side of the mountain onto the roadway), we were disappointed to find the lack of water flowing.  It was truly a non-event.  This area is meant to be spectacular in Spring, but was not so impressive.  We stopped for a break at Logan Pass and took the short trail to admire the views – passing loads of groundhogs that seemed to be very vain about posing for their photos.  At the overlook point there were several mountain goats hanging around.  

Due to global warming, many of the glaciers that could once be seen year-round were gone and only a few remained.  We stopped for a break at Rising Sun before exiting the park at the East Entrance.  Although we were very disappointed with Glacier NP, we do realize that this is due to a combination of getting spoiled by the scenery we have already experienced and a result of being there in the wrong season.  I would definitely be willing to return to see the park properly in Spring.