Thursday, June 29, 2006

A Tour of the Northern Rockies on Video


The land of the Free. Open ranges. Big Mountains. Not be found near the Chicago area. My riding buddies and I have ridden quite a bit of the Mid-West and it's good fun, actually a really good time is had whenever we venture out. However, we were all entranced by the big mountains of the Rockies and the stunning scenery we had seen many times in coffee table books and through other riders' ride reports. And so it was decided last winter (when the big trips for the upcoming year are planned) that we head Out West. The 'West' was slowly defined over agonizing days on Microsoft Streets & Trips (actually, you couldn't tear me away from there). We decided the best way to maximize our trip with limited days off was to do it over the July 4th weekend. A 10 day trip was taking its form.

I had recently made a solo 10 day trip to Canada the previous Fall; however it was going to be the first multi-day trip for most of the group. Riders in the pack would be Rick (Ducati ST3), Andy (BMW K1200S), Tim (Honda VFR800), Steven (Kawasaki ZR1200) and moi on the Suzuki GSX-R600.

Since we would not have ridden as a group before our trip, we made it a point to join Anna on her Flat 4 Tour of the Mid-West to get some experience in group cohesion and to study each other's riding characteristics. It was great that we all had the same frame of mind and comparable riding skills. There would be some days of never-ending slab and other days of non-stop twisties. It was good to see everyone in good physical health as endurance would certainly be tested.

Our departure would be only ten days after Rick's and my return from the STN Nationals in West Virginia. It would have been nicer to have had a bigger gap in-between, but the dates were set. After coming back from that intense 3000 miles in 6 days, all the aching muscles were cringing at the 4800 miles that we had planned for the 10 days. With a little reorganizing of the mileage on certain days, I felt confident that our group (including myself) could handle it.

To help us enjoy the trip more: I bought a beaded-seat cover, Steven bought a gel pad, Andy bought his Anti-Monkey Butt powder and Rick and Tim simply brought along their sport-touring bikes. Also, to add to the comfort for the predicted high temperature days on the plains, we all got cooling-vests. Rick had to be his weird self and choose the Lime Green vest, which was back-ordered and wouldn't arrive in time. Diane, his wife, to the rescue, inspected our blue cooling vests and went out and bought the materials and made Rick a very cool cooling vest.

Total planned mileage was around 4600 miles with us heading through Mt. Rushmore, Devils Tower, Beartooth Pass, Lolo Pass, Hells Canyon and then Glacier National Park. Everyone did their oil changes before the trip and a few of us short-changed tires (about half used) so that we'd be starting the trip with new tires. Having to worry about tires in the middle of trip is just a big bummer. Initially, Andy was requesting a maintenance day or a break in the trip to relax. But, how would we hit everything we planned? Some clever route planning got us all on the same boat; decreasing mileage on some days to relax and increasing mileage on others.

We were all getting very excited leading up to the departure date; drooling over pictures of Beartooth Pass, or Going to the Sun Highway or that "Winding Road next 77 miles" sign. And to help capture this trip in another dimension or medium, I finally went out and got a camcorder as I've been thinking lately that video is a better medium compared to photos to convey what you actually experienced while on the road.

A note on the videos - most of the clips show some good action but not all of them are us railing through twisties. Some clips were used to portray what the road and surrounding area looked like. All the videos can be viewed separately on this YouTube playlist.

Overall route map. 4600 miles over 10 and a half days.

Day 1
Thursday, June 29, 2006
Start: Barrington, IL, 8:30 pm
End: Sparta, WI, 12:30 am
Mileage: 234

The route for Day 1: Barrington, IL to Sparta, WI

Instead of doing 700 miles of slab the first day, we decided to leave the night before and put away 200 miles or so. This would also reduce our fatigue at the start of the trip. I usually don't prefer this method as I'm generally tired after work, but this time the excitement of the trip was enough to keep us energized. Andy, the crazy guy that he is, was suggesting we just do an Iron Butt and burn through the 1000 miles of slab in one day. And where would that leave us for Day 2 and Day 3?? Crazy Kentucky folk.

The crew: Steven, me, Andy, Tim and Rick all set to go, in front of Rick's house. Manufacturers represented: Kawasaki, Suzuki, BMW, Honda and Ducati. Clearly we're not friends because we ride the same bikes. It must be the black riding gear. Oh wait, that leaves out Rick :p (Picture courtesy Rick)

The plan was leave from Rick's house after rush hour would have died down, around 7 pm or so. Andy and Tim called at 7 pm from downtown, saying they had some technical difficulties. Yeah, they were technically lazy and didn't get their butts on their bikes. After a light dinner at Rick's, we rolled out at 8:30 pm heading for Sparta, about 230 miles away. Traffic was light and things were going smoothly with good weather. A crescent moon was also out, showing us the route away from the big city.

Motels in downtowns of small towns are the best bet. We slept five of us for $70 in three rooms at the Scottish Inn/Downton Motel.

Day 2
Friday, June 30, 2006
Start: Sparta, WI, 9:30 am
End: Murdo, SD, 7:30 pm
Mileage: 530

Day 2 morning in Sparta, WI. (Picture courtesy Andy)

Maybe they invented the bicycle in Sparta?... (Picture courtesy Andy)

This would be the only full day of slab riding on the way out. For Rick, Andy and I, this wasn't an issue; however it would be the first such day for Steven and Tim. The best way to get through such a day is to just think about the next gas stop. It doesn't help to think that there's 450 miles left. It's much better to think that it's only 50 miles or 40 minutes to the next stop, where we'd chat up a bit, get something to drink and bitch about some crazy cager on the highway. Bike-to-bike communication would have certainly helped in these boring parts of the trip, but we couldn't get it set-up in time.

We used the cooling vest from TechNiche for the first time as the sun grew closer to noon. It felt a bit funny walking out of the bathroom with a big plastic bag filled with cold water. If Rick had his Lime Green vest, and if it lost a bit of color to the water, it would be hilarious if he walked out of a bathroom with a bag full of yellow liquid. The cooling vests are made out of nylon and it’s quilted to hold water after being soaked in the plastic bag for a few minutes. The rider puts it on under a vented jacket and as the air blows through, it evaporates the water that causes your surface temperature to drop, keeping your core cool. It worked pretty well and required a rewetting every two hours or so in intense heat.

Steven applying Anti-Monkey Butt powder to his nether regions. You might laugh, but this greatly added to comfort.

Southern Minnesota didn't offer any exciting scenery and we knew it would be the same across South Dakota too. The fist third of South Dakota was expected, mindless highway with nothing to look at to pass the time. My music and singing did help a lot along with my meandering thoughts of how I could break away from the corporate world and setup a motorcycle touring company, or how I could be a ski bum or what my next trip to China would be like...

And then BAM, we see a sign for a dropping hill and we plunging away into the valley caused by the Missouri River. The change was very drastic and in front of us was quite a sight of this expansive river and the gentles hills that lay on the other side. It would definitely be nothing compared to what we would see in Montana, but the change from boring straight flats to rivers and hills was very welcomed by us all. From there, the highway snaked over the hills and one could only see maybe a mile ahead, instead of the 7 or 8 miles that Andy counted that he could see before.

The few corners on I-90 through South Dakota.

We saw storms forming to our right and to our left. There was a clear passage in between them and we hoped that the highway was allowed through that passage. The worst we encountered was heavy winds and a short burst of massive rain drops. That's not too bad by itself, but throw in some construction with oncoming semi-trailers blasting water-filled wind just a few feet next to you and it makes the riding interesting. Luckily none of us got blown into the on-coming traffic with the gusty winds on that slick new tarmac.

All of us felt that the 500 miles of slab went by quite quickly and it wasn't that bad of a day. I guess the companionship really helped out and kept the spirits high. Also, on the highway, we changed group formation positions often to reduce the repetitiveness of the riding.

We pulled into Murdo at dusk and after some showers sat down for our first real meal of the trip. We had decided to forgo lunches and just snack during the day. Breakfast would be big to give us that good energy and then dinner would be nice and relaxing. This worked great throughout the trip.

Sunset in Murdo, SD, end of Day 2. (Picture courtesy Andy)

Day 3
Saturday, July 1, 2006
Start: Murdo, SD, 8:30 am CDT
End: Moorcroft, WY, 7:00 pm MDT
Mileage: 417

The route for Day 3: Murdo, SD to Moorcroft, WY

Today, the fun would already be starting. We would be doing a lot of sight-seeing. Since South Dakota's interstate is pretty boring, the local businesses had decided to keep us entertained with non-stop bill boards. The most famous of course is the Wall Drug Store in Wall, SD. This was the little store that became famous for offering free ice water to passing drivers. Its fame grew and now it's spread all over the world. As soon as you enter South Dakota, you start seeing signs for the Wall Drug Store. And then you see them every mile or so. There must have been at least 400 signs for that store. All were advertising different things that were sold in the store or mini mall, from local paintings, to animal skins, to all kinds of crazy souvenirs. After 10 miles of signs, I'm sure most people decide to stop at this store anyways, but oh no, you have another 400 miles of signs left. It drives you crazy. Oh, they've also been offering 5 cents coffee for the longest time. Rick and Andy were all excited about that. Tim, a true city boy, felt Starbucks was the only great coffee and he tried to find the nearest Starbucks along our route to keep him sane.

Straight-as-an-arrow freeway. Andy calculated that he could see about 7 miles ahead at some places.

Along the way to Wall, we noticed many more road-side attractions that had 'tacky' written all over them. First, there was the Corn Palace, a palace built entirely with corn and then some metal dinosaur park, then the 19th century Western ghost town, then the one-eyed Cyclops from outer space. I felt this harked back to the days when the Interstate system was first built. Road-side attractions popped up to entertain the masses as they traversed the great country. It looks like the present hasn't caught up here in South Dakota, but maybe that's a good thing.

When we pulled up to the Wall Drug Store, the best feeling was knowing that we wouldn't be seeing any more sign boards for this store. It looks small from the outside, but it's pretty cavernous on the inside, hosting quite a few souvenir shops (where Steven and I bought some Fox tails), outdoor stores, art galleries and who knows what else. We had breakfast along with the 5 cents coffee at the cafeteria and then hit the road.

The famous Wall Drug Store in Wall, SD. All the signs on the highway force you to stop to see what it's all about.

Coffee junkies happy with glee at the famous 5 cents coffee. The store also advertised Free Ice Water to lure travelers to stop by.

The main street inside the store. It was like a mini mall with lots of small stores inside.

3D depiction of an old western carriage pulled by oxen.

Native American statue holding a Bison's skull.

While I was hitting on the parlor girls...

...Rick was giving old cowboys a lap dance!

We finally got off the Interstate at Rapid City to head towards Mt. Rushmore. It was a July 4th weekend, so we were prepared for heavy crowds and slow traffic. The roads looked interesting as this was the start of the Black Hills, but due to the traffic, they were also patrolled quite frequently. The shoulders on the road right before Mt. Rushmore were closed maybe to prevent people from pulling over and getting a shot of the faces without actually having to pay the mandatory $8 parking fee ("Greatest Free Attraction in America," yeah right). We tried to negotiate with the rangers at the gate to give us a discounted rate as we would all be taking up only one spot, but no dice. The presidents' faces looked really small from the parking lot and I was hoping we would get close enough to see them in detail. It was definitely worth it to see the faces up close. A little trivia: the presidents were chosen on what each of them symbolized. George Washington represents the struggle for independence, Thomas Jefferson the idea of government by the people, Theodore Roosevelt for the 20th century role of the United States in world affairs and Abraham Lincoln for his ideas on equality and the permanent union of the states.

Rick and Andy at Mt. Rushmore in Keystone, SD. I was happy that I managed to get a bike in the picture with the famous rock sculptures.

Rick and a friend in the Mt. Rushmore parking lot. They had met earlier in year at the Moonshine Run in Central Illinois, where 300 riders from places afar met up for a barbeque. It's a small world, but then again, it is Mt. Rushmore. (Picture courtesy Rick)

A local Native American band entertaining the masses.

The crew: Tim, Rick, Andy, me and Steven with...

... George, Tom, Teddy and Abe.

Next stop was the Crazy Horse monument, but instead of taking the direct route there, I thought it was about time that we hit some real twisties in the trip. We took US-16 Alternate down into Custer State Park and although the layout of the road was fantastic, the cagers doing the speed limit in the corners was not. We're talking 20 mph throughout that whole road. What was interesting were the pig tail turns, where the road made a u-turn right above your head and kept climbing. It would have been so much fun if we could have gone just a little faster than 15 mph. It was a good dense forest and there were a few places to stop for pictures of Mt. Rushmore and other scenery, but we just wanted to get out of the traffic mess. At some points, the two-lane road would spilt and meander by itself for a while before joining up with the other side. It felt like a trail in a park. The road opened up a little but there was debris and more traffic in the corners.

The twisties in and around Custer State Park in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Wild Asses blocking the road on US-16A through Custer State Park.

At the Southern entrance to Custer State Park. My Japanese steed with an American Bison.

City boys out in the wilderness. Steven couldn't resist pulling on its tail and humping it...

I had planned to take the twisty-looking SD-87 through Custer State Park, but it was a pay road since it was through a state park and that also meant that it would be filled with traffic, so we shot for Custer to head up to Crazy Horse. In the end, it would have been better to just have gone straight from Mt. Rushmore to Crazy Horse and be done with it.

Proper research on the status of Crazy Horse wasn't done before the trip and as we pulled up to the gate, we could see that only the head was finished of the proposed Native American rider on a horse sculpture. It was another $5 per person to enter and what really is $5 when we've come all the way from Chicago, but we decided it wasn't worth it and turned around. Some critics have said that this sculpture and its size are defacing a side of a mountain for a monument and it isn't justified.

The next stop was Devils Tower, but we needed to ride some of the awesome roads of the Black Hills first. US-385 North had little traffic and gentle sweepers and we thought of heading into downtown Sturgis, but we were running behind and no one really wanted to do it. In Spearfish, we started heading south on US-14A towards US-85 and it was real beautiful river-valley-riding with the rising Black Hills surrounding us. The whole group took off to rail on the twisties and then I noticed the speed limit; it was 35 mph. That explained all the terribly slow moving cagers. It was a fun road but with that speed limit through a state park, getting a ticket would be hefty.

The Black Hills, tightly protected by the Lakota Indians against possible gold mining in the 19th century.

We were now due to cross over into Wyoming and head over to Devils Tower. I'm a sucker for all these state signs and if possible, I like to stop and take a picture of when we entered a new state. It's probably more significant out West, since the states are much bigger than the east. I braked just past the Welcome to Wyoming sign and it was out of my picture frame. So, to not waste too much time, I started backing up the bike up a little hill and woopsy, my right foot caught some gravel and bang, I just had my first bike tip-over, ever. I knew this moment would come, so wasn't too bummed about it. I got out from under her easily and Steven came over to help me get the shiny side up. Frame sliders did their job in keeping the frame off the ground and besides a few scratches on the muffler, there was no other damage to the bike. Nice. Rick was pissed that my tip-over lead to no fairing scratches, unlike his tip-overs. All for the stupid picture. It was worth it. A few laughs later, we were off into Wyoming, Brokeback country, I mean Yellowstone country. Damn that Andy.

Everyone having a good laugh after my first incident of dropping the bike. And all for... (Picture courtesy Andy)

... this picture with the state sign. You can see the little mess I made in the gravel. No harm done.

The little shortcut that Streets&Trips showed us was a 10 mile gravel road and Tim, being a former dirt-bike rider was all excited about it, but we twisted his arm to riding the tarmac with us. We hopped on WY-585 and found it to be one of those high-speed sweeper kind-of roads. There were some gusting winds and a little drizzle, but our average was well into the triple digits on that stretch. It was to be the first of many top-speed runs on this trip, in the wide open West. The strong headwinds were making it very difficult from my little 600 to reach 135. This is where more horsepower could have come in handy, but how often am I up here anyways. We soon lost Tim and Rick and did what every group ride does: wait at the next turn off. In Sundance, past I-90, we waited at the gas station at the corner. Twenty minutes went by and we figured Rick and Tim hopped on I-90 and went straight to the motel. Oh well, we were still off to Devils Tower. In the time that we were waiting in Sundance, the eager little police officer pulled over two people right in front of us. We slithered out of town. US-14 was a good twisty road but we toned it down a bit since it might be patrolled as it was close to a tourist site.

Seeing Devils Tower off in the distance was quite a sight. On this relatively flat terrain, this stump of a rock arises with unnatural markings on its side. It's plain to see why this monument was chosen for the movie, Close Encounters of the Third Kind. That's all that everyone was thinking about. You only need to pay to enter the park if you want to hike or climb around. To just marvel in its awesome sight, great views can be had from just outside the entrance to the monument. Also, there's great ice cream at the KOA general store right at the entrance. The campsite looked to be packed on this weekend. Maybe they were hanging around for some close encounters of the third kind...

The outcrop of Devil's Tower visible from miles away.

Devil's Tower National Monument. Made famous by the Spielberg movie: Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Seems like there's an opening in the clouds, right above the tower. Interesting...

US-14 heading into Moorcroft, WY. Guess what we did on this road... with no traffic, no people and no animals...

Rick was all flustered that we didn't wait for him and he didn't know where we were staying, etc, etc... His GPS routing took him a different route than us who were following old paper maps. It was all good in the end.

Tim went to college in Wyoming and knew the area pretty well. He got talking to some cowboys at the local watering hole and found out that they worked for a friend of his in college. Small world. On the wall of this bar, they had hunting trophies, like deer, pronghorn, etc. And they also had a jackalope, which I knew was a hoax, where they put some small antlers on a jackrabbit. I mentioned this to Tim and he got almost the whole bar to convince me that they really did exist. I stuck to my guns but I was really pressured into believing they were real. I'm so gullible, don't take advantage of me.

A drive-through liquor store in Moorcroft, WY. Wow. Just what are they suggesting...

Day 4
Sunday, July 2, 2006
Start: Moorcroft, WY, 7:00 am
End: Columbus, MT, 7:15 pm
Mileage: 452

The route for Day 4: Moorcroft, WY to Columbus, MT

Our morning routines were pretty smooth actually. Instead of splitting up in two or three rooms, some nights all five of us would be in a suite of sorts (two attached bedrooms) with only one bathroom. We moved in and out of there pretty quickly and everyone was pretty great about keeping the bathrooms clean and no one also complained about sharing beds or anything else. What a great group.

The highlight for today was riding Beartooth pass, the highest paved highway in the US that peaks around 11,000 ft between Wyoming and Montana. But before that, Tim needed to make a very important pit stop at Starbucks.

Before setting out on the trip, Tim tried to find the nearest Starbucks along the route as he couldn't possibly go 10 days without having some of their black water. He found one attached to an Albertson's grocery store in Gillette. It wouldn't have the Starbucks atmosphere, but it would do. Slabbing a bit on I-90 got us there and also was part of our plan to get up and ride a bit before stopping for breakfast. It makes the less interesting miles of the day go by faster.

From there, we hoped on US-14, which was wide open road resulting in many top-speed runs. Tim was now up front as opposed to earlier on WY-585. We ran into about 11 miles of gravel road, which we decided to ride through instead of turning back and getting on the highway. Some of the chunks were pretty massive and there was lots of sideways bike movement, however, no one had any pooper moments.

High speed cruising on US-14, west of Gillette, WY
Musik: DJ Tiesto - Trance Energie (4:17)

The unexpected 11 miles of gravel on US-14 west of Gillette.

Pronghorn by the bunches on the road side. (Picture courtesy Rick)

The Red Dawg liquor store in Clearmont, WY. (Picture courtesy Tim)

In Sheridan, we ran into our first of many encounters of Illinoisan (peoples from Illinois, Illini are the Native American tribe) who were escaping the Mid-West. All throughout the trip, in gas stations we would meet people from Illinois and Wisconsin. I guess they didn't like the scenery back home that much, as well.

The very fun US-14, west of Sheridan, WY taken partly in the rain.

After Sheridan, the real fun began with some genuine mountain twisties. Alas, the skies were just opening up as we hit the foothills. The uphill portion of US-14 was taken at a moderate pace due to the slick surface. Lots of passing was still in order as cruisers and other touring bikes were limping through there, along with the cagers and their massive trailers.

Doing what motorcyclists do best - piss on the side of the road. There was no town for another 70 miles and besides all the animals do it. (Picture courtesy Tim)

The rapidly descending US-14A.

We re-grouped at the bottom and split-off for US-14 Alternate, which took us through Big Horn National Forest, so named for the jutting peaks in the scenery. The climb up to the summit was kind of mellow, but all the fun was reserved for the coming down part. It was such stunning scenery to be able to see the plains below us a few thousand feet. The mountain was very arid along with the desert down below and the cliffs were quite steep that our road was twisting around. The thought of over shooting a corner and taking a short-cut to the bottom was not pleasant. What made it worse was having cattle guards in the middle of corners. These are metal bars spaced across a 3 feet hole in the ground to prevent cattle from crossing there. That's all good, but what cattle were there in the middle of a corner on a dry mountain? The rain had passed through here, so the surface was a little slick and the cattle guards were very slick. It was quite tricky trying to take the cattle guards with the bike as straight up as possible.

In a few minutes, we had descended about 5000 ft and gained about 40 degrees F in temperature. It was a cool 60 degrees at the summit and now we were frying. From here, it was dull roads getting us to Cody and onwards to the start of US-212 across Beartooth Pass. There was a storm brewing out west and we tried to ride around it, but in the end, we just put on our rain gear and went through it.

Losing elevation quickly on US-14A with slick metal cattle gaurds in middle of corners and cliffhanger switch-backs.
Musik: Alice Deejay vs Rozalla - Everybody's Free to Feel Good (4:28 )

At the Bald Mountain peak in the Big Horn area on US-14A. (Picture courtesy Rick)

Beautiful meadows leading to the desert below. (Picture courtesy Andy)

The desert 5000 ft below and 40 degress warmer than the 60 F it was at the peak. It would only take a few minutes to get down. (Picture courtesy Andy)

The previous winter, a massive land slide had damaged significant portions of the Beartooth Pass Road. $13 million later, it was back to pristine conditions. I tried to get an update on the road conditions from the gas station clerk at Cody, but she didn't have a clue. We had to stop asking the clerks for road information. They weren't really road ambassadors.

From WY-120, we caught WY-296 that would take us to US-212. Just as we hit the twisties on WY-296, officer friendly goes whizzing by. Luckily most of us were just accelerating into twisty mode at that point. Tim saved the day by pulling over, running around his bike, lighting a cigarette and looking like he was in the middle of a smoke break when the cop pulled over and asked if he was part of those other bikers. Tim coolly said it was his second cigarette and he didn't have a clue who they were. Cop turned around and went away. Quick thinking by the Wyoming local kid. We all thought Tim took one for the team. And what was a cop doing on a seriously twisty road in the mountains. Rick said he was out there to catch all the motorcyclists who were bound to be on this road. Such a pessimist.

The serpentine route of WY-296 taking us down. Alas, rain just moved in as we set off down.

Heading down WY-296 in the rain / Rick, solo
Musik: Enigma - Push The Limits (ATB Remix) (3:34)

On WY-296, north of Cody, heading towards Beartooth Pass.

Looks like scenery that would fit in a Lord of the Rings movie.

The Rockies. Here we come.

From the summit of WY-296, the views were amazing and we could tell why the nearby land was named a national park. The downhill switchbacks looked very enticing; however some rain with massive rain drops was rolling through right then and ruined the fun. But fun was still had in the rain. We got split up when I stopped to take pictures and I thought the group would wait at the US-212 turn off. A black curtain of rain was crossing my path and finally forced me to put on all the rain gear. At the turn-off, it was raining jackalope and pronghorn (like cats and dogs) and no one was in sight. It was quite disheartening to see that I was riding away from beautiful sunshine into this terrible weather system. Near the summit, the rain suddenly stopped and the roads were dry and the skies were blue.

Beartooth Pass Road from WY into Montana.

Yeah, but Mother Nature wanted to spoil the fun with a fast moving thunderstorm (the black stuff), just as we made the turn onto the highly anticipated US-212. Rick, just about finished with putting on his rain gear. (Picture courtesy Andy)

Going uphill (and climbing fast) on rain-slicked switch-backs with steep rocky drop-offs. Just what we rode from Chicago for.

Looking out at the pine forests covered in a fine mist.

Looking back at brighter moments (that's how drastic the climate was; sunny behind us, rainy in front). Why did we have to head into the dark stuff?

There's Sno in them dar hills.

And just like that, the rain disappeared and the sun was out in full force. Close to the peak.

Wisps of rain still in the valley. (Picture courtesy Andy)

A nice example of the road on the uphill side.

Mountains up ahead and all around.

Heading Uphill on Beartooth Pass Road / solo
Musik: Snap - Rhythm is the Dancer (Run DMC Remix) (4:46)

The group was waiting at Beartooth summit and said they could hear my second gear high-revving machine a few minutes before I emerged. They just exaggerate. The view from the summit was just breath-taking. Our breath was also taken away at this high altitude, as we had gained elevation quite rapidly.

The Beartooth Mountains gets it name from a peak, which resembles a bear's tooth. This area is also the largest contiguous area that is over 10,000 ft in the US. After enjoying the scenery that we rode about 1500 miles for, we headed off down the mountain into Montana.

Beartooth Pass at 10,947 ft. (Picture courtesy Tim)

Steven, relishing a solitary moment, looking ahead at the Beartooth Mountains.

Rick and Steven with the peak that resembles a bear's tooth, which gave this region its name.

The road just seems to stick out over the cliff.

Group picture at Beartooth Pass.

Putting on our rain gear to keep us warm from the cold winds.

A shot of Tim's GPS. Note the elevation and the max speed. Those crazy Honda riders. (Picture courtesy Tim)

Some parts of the road didn't have side-rails and to prevent drivers from going over the cliff at night, they had wooden sticks on the shoulder with reflective tape on them that would guide the drivers around the corners. Who would be crazy enough to drive through here at night? I'm sure some motorcyclists have done it.

I wanted to capture the whole group together riding down the mountain as it would make for some awesome video. Rick was up ahead and in doing so, bunched up the group and lead to some great footage. We were still overtaking here and there, but being very reasonable about it. That's of course very relative. Some cruisers were pulling over to the inside shoulder of a hair-pin to let us pass in their lane. In the video, I go into a hair-pin with a cruiser in front of me and come out with him behind me. Other corners had gravel in them, which made it quite hairy especially with on-coming traffic. The scenery was fantastic on the Montana side, but I saved seeing that for the video. This allowed me to totally concentrate on the road itself.

Beartooth Pass Road from the Summit to the Montana Border / group
Musik: Don Mclean - American Pie (5:31)

Finally entering Montana, the great state of motorcycle riding... (Picture courtesy Tim)

Downhill on the Montana side of Beartooth Pass Rd / Rick
Musik: ATB - Fields of Love (6:24)

Still coming down Beartooth Pass Rd, there was just so much good footage and check out the scenery... / solo
Musik: Martin Solveig - Jealousy (3:51)

Tim gets the most improved award of the trip as he was just ripping through the downhill switchbacks. A few pointers here and there and his skill level was climbing fast. However, we always do preach to keep a level head and no one during the trip rode irrationally at any point; that is only compared to the rest of us, though. What someone else might think might be different.

The riders up front passed two Harleys and then couldn't shake them loose. These guys really knew how to ride their bikes. It was very impressive. And that reminded us that most Harley riders and other touring riders out here really knew how to ride. It was the folk who just putz around the city from bar to bar or rally to rally who really need some riding lessons. All the cruiser riders that we met along the way were very friendly and interested in our trip and of course mentioned how uncomfortable it must be to ride our bikes. When you come across another motorcyclist in the middle of the nowhere riding any kind of bike, there's a bond formed. When you ride across a similar rider in the city, stereotypes come into play and waves are not returned and bonds do not form.

We wanted to spend the night in Red Lodge, MT as it's the center for Beartooth riding. However, no rooms were available in our budget price range. We pushed on to Columbus and again rode through miles and miles of construction. We had the option of taking a big detour around it, but that option was tossed out.

Having fun on a pretty empty MT-78 heading from Red Lodge to Columbus / Steven, Andy
Musik: Orgy - Blue Monday (2:15)

We pulled into Git's Big Sky Motel where I thought the owner/receptionist was the least friendly of all motel personnel that I came across on this trip. Other motel owners were quite friendly and willing to best accommodate us five for the cheapest price. It was hard to get much information from this guy, but the rooms were adequate. The two Harley riders that gave chase to our group were staying in the same motel and we did some parking lot chatting with them. They were from Seattle and one of them, the older looking gentleman rode to Sturgis in one shot and after partying for a week, rode back in one shot. The funny thing was seeing these guys the next morning cleaning their bikes and polishing them with Plexus. We just observed and laughed at our dirt covered repli-racers. So, that's how all Harleys look so clean wherever they are. I wish Rick would carry some bike cleaning supplies in his saddle bags. He's got just about everything else in there.

Day 5
Monday, July 3, 2006
Start: Columbus, MT, 7:30 am
End: Missoula, MT, 3:15 pm
Mileage: 352

The route for Day 5: Columbus, MT to Missoula, MT

Today was considered a 'destinator' (I probably made-up that word) kind of day, meaning that we were just getting from point A to point B. The point B would put us at the east end of Lolo Pass Road. This is the famed road with signs at each end reading "Winding Road Next 77 miles." Deals Gap is probably in the wet dreams of most sport bike riders, but Lolo Pass and its enchanting sign is definitely in the wet dreams of all sport tourers.

This day was also planned as a low mileage day to allow us to rest before the crazy fun up ahead. Some non-sport tourers reading this might wonder how 350 miles on a bike might be considered low mileage. It's all about perspective. When I did my first 200 mile trip, I was pretty elated at achieving that. But, after doing some 700 mile days, 350 is a breather. This was also evident in the new sport-tourers in our group, Tim and Steven. After having ridden 500 miles of slab and a couple of 400 mile days of twisties, they also considered 300 to be a cinch.

There weren't any exciting roads or amazing scenery planned for today, but that's also the best way to enjoy surprises. We got on I-90 for a bit to get to Big Timber where we would be heading North West to Missoula. The reason for doing bits and pieces of Interstate on this trip is because out west, there are fewer big connecting roads and sometimes the Interstate is the only option. But, it's not that bad of an option out here. Traffic is less, sometimes the road is winding and sometimes the scenery is outstanding.

After a hearty breakfast at a local diner in Big Timber, where we again looked totally out of place in all our colorful gear compared to the local patrons, we headed north on US-191 and then on US-12. There were mountains to our left and right, but we were stuck riding in the valley. I kept hoping that the roads up ahead would take us into these mountains and make the day interesting.

We took a small short-cut on MT-294, which turned out to be immense fun. For one thing, it was empty and then it had a healthy dose of twisting tarmac. The characteristic about this road that sticks was the ability to see turns far in advance, as foliage was lacking on these gently rolling hills. Andy and I were up ahead, being in our element, tearing up the corners. By this time, I was very comfortable being wing-man to Andy as I understood his riding behavior and could predict his line through a corner and thus make sure that my close following would not lead to any contact. Rick and Tim mentioned how it was real cool for them to come around a corner and see us at the next bend on the other side of the hill, sweeping the corner in close formation. It was quite thrilling.

Railing on MT-294, east of Helena / Andy
Musik: Teriyaki Boyz - The Fast and The Furious Tokyo Drift (1:33)

We continued on US-12 towards Townsend and I was hoping to take MT-284 around Canyon Ferry Lake and also take the little ferry across the river. It would have added to the day's fun and motorcycles on ferries are always fun. But alas, we were told by GPS and our eyes that it was all gravel. Oh well, we straight-shot it into Helena on US-12.

Steven had on a sport tire on his ZX-1200, as opposed to sport-touring tires and he was getting worried that the tread would not last much longer. It had about 3000 miles on it. In Helena, he spotted a motorcycle shop on the way in and wanted to see if they would have a tire handy. At the same time, we passed our first real Starbucks and we were all happy to point it out to Tim. The day was easy, so we waited at the Starbucks, where Tim treated us all, while Steven checked out the shop. They were closed, so we decided to try in Missoula. The mountains in the background gave Helena a real nice feel. It wasn't a big city, but more like a big town.

Stopping at a Starbucks in Helena, MT so that Tim could get his fix. Not sure why Rick is flexing... (Picture courtesy Tim)

A short hop on I-15 and we got on MT-279. Our aim was to ride Stemple Pass Road as it looked very interesting on the map. The first half of MT-279 turned out to be a real hoot with twisting corners and dense forest in a shallow valley. The group stayed together and I got some good footage. We found out that Stemple Pass Road was all gravel, along with some other sport-tourers on beemers and continued on MT-279. We were gifted with switch backs to get up and over through Flesher Pass. This turned out to be one of the highlights of the day.

MT-279 in the Lewis and Clark National Forest, west of Helena / group
Musik: Bon Jovi - Living in a Prayer (soundtrack was Andy's recommendation) (3:44)

The unexpected good fun of Flesher Pass on MT-279 near Lincoln.

Up and over Flesher Pass on MT-279 / solo, Rick, Andy
Musik: Aqualab - Journey into Trance (3:11)

Then we hit the big connecting road between Missoula and Great Falls, MT-200 which was full of sweepers and brought out the self-control in us for restraining our speed on this very public road. Last stop for the day was in Lincoln, which had a high number of beautiful looking women. We just hung around for a while longer to continue admiring the local fare. All of us were very much enjoying the "sights" in Wyoming and Montana. It's probably all this clean mountain air and outdoorsy environment that's keeping people fit and away from the television, which I believe has a direct relation to weight gain, haha. Back in the Mid-West, if you saw somebody white-water rafting on TV and it was exhilarating, then why bother going out and doing it. Maybe out here, there isn’t that much TV coverage, so if somebody told you about white-water rafting, you would probably have to go do it yourself to experience it. Just a theory...

Our roads were taking us through the Lewis and Clark area, which is just about the whole of Montana and Idaho. These two explorers spent a lot of time exploring these states on foot and probably creating the paths that we would be traversing on, such as Lolo Pass Road.

The very smooth and flowing MT-200, heading into Missoula / Andy
Musik: Canadian Brass - Canon in D Major (2:29)

Just as we pulled into our motel in Missoula around 3 pm, there was a power outage and it was a pretty hot day. We bummed on the curb outside to keep from frying up in our room and watched the police woman directing traffic, due to the loss of power to the traffic lights. She looked a bit tense as this probably wasn't a normal event in Missoula. With the power back on, we showered up and called a cab to take us to downtown for dinner. The cabbie was very friendly and dropped us off at a supper club (a proper sit-down restaurant, probably not very common around here since it has a separate name). The food was most excellent, but what was even better about this place were the waitresses. In one word, all of them were just hot! Not all of them very sexy per sey, but there was something about all of them that was intriguing. We had a long dinner, followed by dessert and coffee and if they had cigars, we probably would have lit up just to hang around some more. Another reason for this recent increase in gawking at beautiful women was probably being away from our significant others for five days already, but I'm still single and have no reason to stop looking.

Being a Monday, none of the bars were open and the Iron Horse, where we lounged after dinner was closing at 8 pm. It was also the day before July 4th, so people probably wanted to get home. But you would think that being a holiday weekend the locals would want to eat out. Oh well...

I forget to mention, Tim lost his cell phone as we entered Minnesota on Day 2. It was in his tank bag and I think the zipper was left open a bit and it slipped out. He told us around half an hour later and thus gave up to turning back to try and find it, figuring that is must be destroyed by now. It was a Motorola Razr and I ensured him that with the testing that phone goes through, there probably was a slim chance that at least the SIM card was retrievable to thrown in a spare phone that I was carrying. But, we pushed on and he had his carrier send him a new phone through UPS for him to pick up a few days later. He had an important real estate deal where it was imperative that he had his cell phone. With July 4th in the middle, the shipping company could not guarantee a date of arrival and with us being on the move everyday, that wasn't going to work out. So, he decided to turn around and head back to Chicago. Steven was going to stay and get his tire changed and head back with Tim. We would still ride Lolo Pass the next morning together, before we split.

Day 6
Tuesday, July 4, 2006
Start: Missoula, MT, 7:45 am
End: Cambridge, ID, 3:30 pm
Mileage: 310

The route for Day 6: Missoula, MT to Cambridge, ID

When we started planning this trip, it was all about Beartooth Pass and Lolo Pass. Anything else we found in-between would be a bonus. On one of my first multi-day trips to Arkansas, I had found a sign saying "Winding Road Next 23 miles" and was quite thrilled to have found a mini-Lolo Pass.

Lolo Pass itself is at the east end of the road where there's a visitor's center, probably with information about Lewis and Clark. We didn't bother going in and after snapping a picture of the Idaho state welcome sign, we set about railing on this limited access road with no major intersections for the next 77 miles or so.

Entering another great state of motorcycling, Idaho. Also entering the Pacific Time Zone, first time on the bike. The time zone line through this area is very haywire and we repeatedly crossed back and forth into Mountain Time Zone. I was having serious jet lag :p

Looking back the way we came up to Lolo Summit.

We should've put up our own sign board noting that "The Rick, Tim, Steven, Andy and Jay Party railed through here on July 4th, 2006, after a long detour to nowhere. (Picture courtesy Tim)

I had my eyes peeled for the famous sign and found it on a downhill, amidst some heavy gravel. But, the picture had to be taken and then I realized the better picture of the sign is at the other end, where you can see the road winding away. Andy and I got left behind to take the pictures and then continued with the railing. The speed was 50 mph through the entire section and guess who was there to enforce it. We came around a corner to find a trooper in a big white Ford Expedition with two beemer riders pulled over. He pointed at Andy, indicating he wanted to chat with us. I didn't get near him, but was told that we got a scolding and should keep to the speed limit. We found out later that the beemer guys got a ticket for 62 in a 50. That dampened my spirit and we slowed it down after that. I had wanted to rail on this road for the longest time and Johnny friendly just spoilt all that. Oh well, we still had fun in the corners and slowed it down on the straights.

Lolo Pass Road. Caution: Winding Road next 77 miles and they weren't kidding.

The infamous road sign. I saw pictures of this sign last year for the first time on the net and said, I must go. So, I went.

The road follows the Lochsa River and is very predictable in its layout. There would be long left-hand sweepers in the open with views of the river, followed by tight right-handers through some foliage. It was very beautiful in the morning light. The water looked very fresh and untouched. It was however, quite low as there wasn't enough rains in the area. This river is also known for its white water rafting rapids. Even though we had slowed it down a bit, it was very soothing to be gently taking those sweepers.

Flowing through the graceful turns of Lolo Pass Rd / Andy
Musik: U2 - With or Without You (4:46)

Myra, Andy and Eris with a typical sweeping left-hander through Lolo Pass Rd. It wasn't very technical, but gentle endless sweepers. There are no turn off or roads that join up in 77 miles. It's pure bliss, that too with the river running right there. They've lowered the speed limit to 50 mph and were pretty strictly enforcing it.

Me on Andy's K1200S through Lolo Pass. Most probable next bike...
Musik: Telepopmusik - Breathe (3:24)

This shot seems to portray the bikes flying along by themselves...

The clean air with the pristine forests and clear water along with some exhaust... just perfect.

We pit-stopped at the first town along the way in Lowell where Steven chatted up the store attendant, that too without any shirt on. It was very hot and we were cooling down. That's the story and we're sticking to it. They also were an outfitter for white-water rafting trips and she showed us pictures on her computer of recent trips they had done. It reminded me of the one time I did the rapids in West Virginia.

Steven and the store attendant at Lowell. This was also a white-water rafting outfit and she showed us pictures from their previous trips. Was Steven feeling hot or just enjoying the glowing admiration...

Either someone left or someone died. (Picture courtesy Rick)

A little while later, Steven and Tim turned around to run Lolo Pass again into Missoula and then head back home.

The great thing about this road was that US-12 runs right next to my suburb in Chicago and here I am on the same road having such tremendous fun. I believe US highways were the old Interstates, connecting the country until the limited access freeways from Germany came ashore here, courtesy of Roosevelt.

Rick, Andy and I set off for Cambridge, the southern most point of our trip, from where we would ride through the Hells Canyon Area. ID-13 was a good-fun kind of road; twisties and switch backs with decent scenery. From there, we got on US-95 to lead us to our destination. The area was quite arid as we had turned into the Hells Canyon area. All though this wasn't the actual park, it was all part of Hells Canyon. We stopped at a little road-side shop to enjoy some smoothies in the nicely decorated store. The owners were engaged in some pretty heavy political talk and we left without adding to the conversation to prevent us from saying the wrong thing and getting in trouble. While all that was going on, I was enjoying the local "sights" in the store. We then rode up to the road side information stands about the Nez Perce war, where this group of Native Americans fought a bloody war and were pushed back into Canada.

ID-13 with enjoyable switch-backs.

Finding more and more fun roads in Idaho. The scenery varied quite a bit, from river runs to forests to barren moutains... / Andy
Musik: Mijangos - Voices from Rio (Wawa Mix) (1:29)

Going uphill on the switchbacks (my favorite), near Grangeville, ID / solo
Musik: Guns N' Roses - Sweet Child O' Mine (2:22)

US-95 heading south towards Cambridge.

Looking over the Hells Canyon Area in Idaho with a view of the Nez Perce Trail (an old Native American war story).

A typical picture that Rick takes - where his head or helmet must be in the shot. The only reason this was used was the cool reflection in his glasses of a corner. Plus, note the zig-zag of a road behind him. (Picture courtesy Rick)

Heading south on US-95 towards Cambridge, ID / Rick, Andy
Musik: Steely Dan - Do it again (1:35)

US-95 offered some interesting scenery of dry mountains with a full river running in the valley. We were soaking our cooling vests at every stop and I think the temperature was around 100 F. There were plenty of boats and watercraft being towed as that seems the logical way to keep sane in this arid area.

Salmon River along US-95.

We rolled into Cambridge and enquired about where the fireworks for July 4th would be held. It was about a 10 minute walk away and being lazy, we decided to skip it and watch it from the motel, if we could see it. The population was quoted as 300 and we didn't think it would be as desolate as it was after passing through the happening town of Council, which was also quoted as having around 300 residents. Cambridge was just plain dead. There was only one restaurant open, which was a good dinner, so no complaints and very few locals ventured out. Council looks like it would have been a nice town to spend the 4th of July in with many restaurants with outside seating and a lively atmosphere. We enjoyed our TV in our rooms and promptly fell asleep.

I've noted that my riding buddies and I tend to watch more TV when we're touring than if we were at home. Something about being in a strange little town and probably finding comfort in connecting to something we are familiar with. But, then again, we're all the extroverted adventurous type, who look forward to meeting new people. I guess being exhausted makes us want to veg on the bed and just catch up on missed TV.

Since we had pulled into town pretty early, we thought about taking a short cruise up to Hells Canyon Dam, since it was a one way road and we wouldn't be taking that road the next morning. However, since it was a cool 100 miles round trip, we skipped that.

Day 7
Wednesday, July 5, 2006
Start: Cambridge, ID, 7:15 am MDT
End: Wallace, ID, 6:00 pm PDT
Mileage: 445

The route for Day 7: Cambridge, ID to Wallace, ID

Today could also be considered a destinator day, as after Hells Canyon, we were basically heading north for our last major attraction on this trip: Glacier National Park. I just figured out where I got the "destinator" word from. In the airline industry, the term "terminator" flight is used for flights that are basically point-to-point as opposed to a flight that has a stop along the way, like a Singapore Airlines flight that stops in Frankfurt before continuing on to New York. Ok, back to motorcycling.

Getting ready to leave the sleepy town of Cambridge, ID for the Hells Canyon Area in nearby Oregon.

We went Right.

Hells Canyon became a point of interest as Rick had heard it offered outstanding views and resembled the Grand Canyon. And then right before the trip, I saw a Discovery Channel show about Hells Canyon and all the outdoorsy type of fun that was to be had here. That's where it gets its full name of Hells Canyon National Recreation Area, as opposed to a National Park. The famed Snake River cuts through the canyon and also adds to the area's reputation.

As I said earlier, the really fun roads are the ones you weren't expecting. ID-71 turned out that way. On the map, it looked kind of boring, but turned out to be immense fun and quite memorable. It was composed of 25 to 45 mph corners and the real kicker was the close foliage, which greatly added to the sense of speed. Of course, it also limited sight-distance through the corners. When we got to the river, the road became very tight as it hugged the barren hill side. Last summer, I was dreading these kind of extremely tight roads, but now I'm come to relish them. It's probably partly due to the increase in my confidence level in my riding ability.

Unexpected twisties are the best. ID-71 looked like mostly sweepers on the map, yet it was nice technical twisties.

The unexpected fun of ID-71 in Hells Canyon. The proximity of the foliage added greatly to the sense of speed / solo
Musik: Nalin & Kane - Beachball (Judge Jules Remix) (4:59)

At Snake River in the Hells Canyon area. After seeing a documenty on this region on TV and deciding to check it out, here we are.

Snake River with the barren Hells Canyon mountains. Something still beautiful about this.

The stillness of the river reflecting the arid hills was quite a sight. We missed our planned turn off into the park and continued onwards towards the dam. After turning around, we found out our road was all gravel and thus headed further south to pick up a piece of tarmac instead. National Forest Road 39, which runs through the park, is a delightful little road. It was generally very small with no shoulders and rough patches of pavement here and there. The abundance of pine trees and other thick foliage didn't really fit well with the name of the park, though. But I think the dry canyons made up for that.

Our jaunt through Hells Canyon National Recreation Area.

Entering the park, which is actually called a National Recreation Area. This is usually a protected area focusing on large reservoirs, which sees lots of water-based recreation.

We took the Outlook road to head towards the canyon rim for some views. The road leading to the outlook was twisting and loads of fun. The last section was truly eye-catching. The road zigzagged in and out of this hillside in perfect rhythm. Sometimes I don't understand road construction. For this set of twisties, it looked like a straight road could have been built, but maybe it's twisting to keep the speeds down. I'm not complaining, just wondering. I with they'd do this through the suburbs.

Taking the road to go to the rim of the canyon

Myra at Hells Canyon

I don't think motorized vehicles were allowed here, but no one was around and I just wanted a pretty picture...

Andy with a Martian looking landscape behind him (Picture courtesy Rick)

Surrounding flora (Picture courtesy Rick)

Reading the info signs, I always find this kind of stuff interesting. (Picture courtesy Rick)

Now wasn't this just perfectly laid out for motorcycles... heaven...

Compilation of our morning ride through the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area / Andy, solo
Musik: Yanni - Acroyali (Standing in Motion) (7:21)

The views from the Outlook were well worth the trip to Hells Canyon. It didn't really conjure the notion of Hell, but it was an interesting landscape.

The great thing about our morning ride was that there was no traffic, being a Wednesday morning. We passed about three cars through the whole park.

After we left the park, we entered our first town in Oregon of Joseph, which was bordered by snow-capped mountains. The sight was very pleasing. A colleague from work called while I was at the gas station asking if I was coming in today, I said nope, I'm in Oregon. It felt real good to say that.

We were only in the state for a few hours, but I felt we had ridden some of its better roads.

View of the Eagle Cap Wilderness near Joseph, OR.

Oregon Scenic Byway, Rt-82 into Joseph, OR.

The little town of Joseph with some awesome mountains surrounding the area.

OR-3 was a pretty open road with steady traffic as it is the major road connecting Enterprise in Oregon with Washington and Lewiston in Idaho, where we were heading. It is however an Oregon Scenic Byway due to its pleasing views of snow-capped mountains and pine-lined roads. There were also vista points along the way of Hells Canyon.

Another view point of Hells Canyon from further up on OR-3.

Andy demonstrating how to take a proper picture of some nice scenery as opposed to Rick, who's checking to see if his ugly helmet covered most of the picture as desired.

Oh wait, no, Andy being easily influenced by above offender.

There was a squirly part on the map as the road reached the state of Washington and by now, we figured it was switch backs and we weren't disappointed. OR-3 becomes WA-129 in the middle of some beautifully laid out mountain-descending turns. We took a break at the bottom and Rick finally let me take his ST3 for a spin. Andy got on the Gix to film my dancing with the Italian lady. It was most fun. The torque of that motor makes uphill climbs a lot of fun. I was surprised I had to use the brakes on the way down in second gear, as I didn't find enough engine braking compared to my Suzuki, when I was expecting the opposite. And does that v-twin motor vibrate like crazy or what? I really do prefer the smoothness of the inline-4, regardless if it has soul or not.

The incredibly fun OR-3 and WA-129. We did this section about three times.

OR-3 from thick forests to dry canyons... / Andy
Musik: Mijangos - Acariciame Otra Vez (6:34)

Entering the state of Washington on WA-129. Next step is to hit the 'other' Washington. I wonder if they have a welcome sign board...

My turn on Rick's Ducati with Andy on the camera bike
Musik: Shakira feat. Wyclef Jean - Hips Don't Lie (3:36)

At the cafe, where we took a break, the owner informed us that the next section of road was called Rattle Snake Road and had about 300 turns in about 9 miles or so. Now, why does that sound familiar? And the road number was 129, as well. Talk about a coincidence across the continent. I'm referring to the Tail of Dragon in Deals Gap in Tennessee, where on US-129; the road has about 318 corners in 11 miles and is considered a Mecca for motorcyclists.

Rattle Sanke Road, WA-129 near the Oregon border.

Rattle Snake Road, WA-129 - 300 turns in about 9 miles... / solo
Musik: Jerry C - Canon Rock (4:33)

It was a slow climb uphill, but the road was tremendously fun. This was already turning out to be an enjoyable and tiring day, and we still had over 200 miles left to Wallace, ID. After reaching the plateau, I was waiting for the downhill switch backs and was getting disappointed when we were slowing dropping altitude with no fun turns in sight. There also wasn’t much to admire in terms of scenery. And then, as we got near Asotin, we got our switch backs, which was very fun to ride with Andy. We were probably a little tired at this point, but throw some tight corners in front of us and we become alert and chew them up.

Heading downhill from the plateau into Asotin on WA-129 / Andy
Musik: DJ Quicksilver - Heart of Asia (3:22)

From here, we were heading to the Old Spiral Highway in Lewiston, ID. It's a series of tight switchbacks up a mountain for which they've built a more open easy road around for all the heavy traffic heading north. And as we hoped, the road was empty, as who would really want to take a tight, attention-demanding road as opposed to the easy alternate. Well, there was one RV that made its way down, and of course, your friendly sport-tourers. The Old Spiral Highway is definitely worth a ride. It was freshly paved and clean of any gravel or debris. The turns are also pretty uniform, which makes for setting nice lines through there. When we got to the summit, our knees were killing us and we actually thought about going down the easy alternate, but that would have been sacrilegious to our world of sport-touring, so we railed down the way we came. It's funny, but you don't feel the pain while you're riding; it only reappears when you've stopped. So, we kept going.

Old Spiral Highway and the new boring alternative US-95 next to it, near Lewiston, ID.

The Old Spiral Highway near Lewiston, ID. 7 miles of pure bliss.

Uphill on the Old Spiral Highway near Lewiston, ID / solo
Musik: Delirium - Innocente (DJ Tiesto Mix) (6:34)

Look how beautiful that tarmac is and how nicely laid out those turns are. It's right next to the city and is considered 'old', since they've built a more straight-forward way of going up the mountain, which meant no traffic on this road.

Heading back down the way we came. Check out the views... / Andy
Musik: Eyes Cream - Fly Away (5:55)

After this bit of fun, our goal was to get to Wallace to spend the night. ID-3 took us north through logging country and into St. Maries, which was suffering under terrible construction. Then, there was an option of just continuing on ID-3 towards I-90 or taking ID-97, which followed the shores of Coeur d'Alene Lake. I felt it was worth the detour and would be a great way to end the day. There wasn't much resistance from the troops. ID-97 was a beautiful road around the lake. It was marked between 25 to 45 mph and was covered with thick trees and lined with driveways to beautiful lake-front houses. Glimmers of the lake shown through the trees and really added to the relaxing environment of the ride. We just flowed through there and didn't feel hurried. There was a nicely decorated Citgo gas station just before we got on the highway and it was a beautiful camp-site as well. Andy was having notions of staying there.

Heading north on ID-3 / Andy
Musik: Blue Oyster Cult - Dont Fear the Reaper (3:08)

The relaxing ID-97 around Coeur d'Alene Lake with the interesting parts of I-90.

Taking a break along Coeur d'Alene Lake on Rt-97

The Lake, with the road hugging its winding shoreline, was an excellent way to whine down the most intense day of twisties of the whole trip.

Myra, at home near a water body.

The relaxing end-of-day scenic ride around Coeur d'Alene Lake / solo
Musik: Bobby Darin - Beyond The Sea (2:48)

This stretch of I-90 through the mountains was actually quite enjoyable. It first ran along the river, then climbed into the mountains and offered very pleasing views. I was just cruising at 65 mph, enjoying the views and reflecting on how this had turned out to the toughest day of the trip, with the most intense roads. A majority of them were unexpected fun and what good fun they were.

Taking the Interstate through these areas isn't really a bad option / solo
Musik: Beatles - Baby It's You (1:18)

The town of Wallace had a nice easy-going feel about it. The thick forests came right into the town and the Interstate was elevated and painted beige to add to the beauty of the town. We caught dinner at a local diner and Andy has his usual: pork chops, which he had three nights in row, in as many different states. The Brooks Hotel turned out to be the fanciest hotel of the trip and its building was in the National Register of Historic Places.

The Brooks Hotel in Wallace, ID, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Also being the fanciest lodging of the entire trip.

The wide streets of Wallace, ID with the painted, elevated I-90 in the background.

Day 8
Thursday, July 6, 2006
Start: Wallace, ID, 6:30 am PDT
End: Great Falls, MT, 8:30 pm MDT
Mileage: 464

The route for Day 8: Wallace, ID to Great Falls, MT

We woke up to a beautiful morning and were infused with great anticipation of riding the Going to the Sun Road through Glacier National Park. In the attached restaurant, we had breakfast along with many other town locals. Two elderly gentlemen there guessed that we three were the riders of the horses parked outside and after some chit-chat, they told us that they were the Sheriff and Deputy for Wallace and the surrounding area. Great, just like in the movie "Heat," where the opposing parties are sitting face-to-face in a diner.

The Sheriff noted that the K1200S had a speedometer that went to 190 mph and asked how fast Andy had taken it. Noticing Mr. Glock, I think Andy said, "Nothing more than the speed limit, Officer." Good boy. Then, we got joking and they asked us about our route for the day. It got better, as they started telling us where we could open it up and where we should take it easy, and confirmed that we would seeing some nice twisties up ahead. One of them said he likes to take his Camaro out for a drive sometimes. Now, these were great cops. Could it have been a setup? Nah, not in such a friendly place.

The morning ride through Beaver Creek Rd and Thompson Pass into Montana.

We took off to ride over Thompson Pass into Montana. The roads were very empty, but the road surface wasn't the greatest. It was heavily wooded in pine and the morning light bursting through added a sparkling effect. Into Montana, the twisties were quite wide allowing for some wheel-showing action with Andy. Us two were railing down at a good clip and enjoying the morning forest roads. In one left-hander, Andy overshot it a bit and straightened up, pushing me onto the shoulder. All in good fun, we got right back into it, after Andy let off some steam.

Morning ride through the Coeur d'Alene National Forest and Thompson Pass / solo, Andy
Musik: Eric Clapton - Forever man (1:58)

Views from Beaver Creek Road (NF-456), north of Wallace, ID, heading towards Thompson Pass into Montana.

A couple of cows on the almost empty roads. They were staring pretty intensely while I snapped a few pictures. And what's the one in the middle about to do...

This one just stared me down while it crossed the road. I felt they were going to charge me.

The Coeur d'Alene River in the Coeur d'Alene National Forest.

Rick taking the first picture of his bike on a tour with some beautiful scenery. And he did it all by himself. And not a bad shot, I say. (Picture courtesy Rick)

It then flattened out as we came into the town of Thompson Falls and joined MT-200. The views of the Clark Fork in the valley were outstanding. It looked like a shot straight out of a movie, maybe one depicting a pre-historic landscape. From here we were heading north to Flathead Lake. But first, we had to make a 10 mile detour south to get gas and ended up riding through some terrible construction, mud, rocks and all, both ways.

The scenery before this was kind of flat and all of a sudden, these rocky mountains rose out of the ground. Looked quite amazing in person.

This shot looks like it could fit in a pre-historic movie set, if you remove the telephone wires. The river running through this deep valley conjured up a great oneness with the surrounding area. The lack of traffic also aided in this feeling.

As a small bonus, we went through the National Bison Range, but alas motorcycles were not allowed into the range, since we're not as adequately protected from the bison as cagers are - the one time that cagers have the upper-hand. Riding east towards US-93 was quite a sight, as we were heading from the plains straight at a massive, rocky Mission Range.

At the National Bison Range in the Flathead Indian Reservation.

A sculpture of antlers at the National Bison Range with the Rockies in the background. (Picture courtesy Rick)

The mountains jutting out of the ground looked they were a road block.

At Flathead Lake, we were advised against taking the boring westerly route around the lake by other motorcyclists on ST-N and thus continued North on the eastern side; MT-35. The views of massive blue lake from the road were great and it offered a pleasant ride. We chugged up through Columbia Falls and finally arrived at West Glacier. There was a nice little gas station at the entrance to the park and it had some local souvenirs, which Rick the tourist grabbed up.

Flathead Lake on MT-35, heading up to...

... Glacier National Park and the Going To The Sun Road.

As we entered the park, after a $12 fee, it felt like we were riding through an amusement park. There were that many families and kids running around with RVs parked here and there. I hoped the actual park would be less crowded. It was a Thursday, but it was the July 4th week, so no luck there.

Going To The Sun Road through Glacier National Park, near the Canadian border.

We got going on the Going to the Sun Road that wandered around Lake McDonald. Traffic was constant and moving slowly, as everyone, including us were looking in awe at the awesome mountains around us. It was hard to concentrate on the riding, what with all the looking left and right and up. It would have definitely been better in an open top convertible. We stopped frequently at the many pull-outs and were thoroughly enjoying the sights. Definitely, money well spent. And this was even before we started to climb.

As soon as we entered the park, we were greeted with amazing views that didn't stop till be left.

Mount Stanton

Rick and Andy with the thickly covered Going To The Sun Road, which opened in 1932.

Nice. A little bit of mountain, a little forest and a nice raging water fall.

Crystal clear water from the mountain top

Nature that needs admiring

Not again!

Andy and I with the mountain that we would be climbing soon (Picture courtesy Rick)

The greenery and the barren rock formed a nice contrast

Looking back at Huckleberry Mountain

Rick splashing some fresh icy water on his face

This whole area was carved by pre-historic ice rivers, in other words... glaciers

The amazing Going To The Sun Road through Glacier National Park. Well worth the visit... / Rick, Andy
Musik: Fleetwood Mac - You Make Loving Fun & Dreams (4:54)

The climb up was very slow, but this wouldn't have been a place to rail if there had been no traffic, anyways. The barrier to the steep drop over the side was just a foot high stone wall. As we got close to Logan Pass, traffic stopped as an old Jaguar XJ was being brought down the mountain in reverse. Something to do with the vacuum created inside the piston chambers, at this high altitude that prevented ignition. Those old British cars...

I think this is Longfellow Peak

This is me at the top of Longfellow Peak... (Picture courtesy Rick)

An excellent way to admire the beauty of Glacier National Park, with the roof rolled back.

Modern sportbikes with ancient rock formations

And I think this is Mount Jackson at 10,052 ft

The narrow and winding road with frequent pull outs. Notice the layered rocks.

Looking down at the western entrance of the park, the way we came.

We couldn't stop at the Weeping Wall, so this will have to do.

Nature creating some awesome rock sculptures

On top of the world! Well, at least the Continental Divide.

Amphitheater Mountain and Jackon Glacier

Looking back at the Going to the Sun Road heading West

Talk about erosion.

The Logan Pass Visitor Center had a massive parking lot which was quite full. There was specific motorcycle parking, which was also full. We just hit the can and then hit the road as a big storm seemed to be moving in at the other end.

At Logan Pass Visitor Center, on the Continental Divide.

Rick and Andy took off, but I couldn't pass up the sight of St. Mary Lake, which has this turquoise touch to its water. It provided for some awesome photos. At this time, the wind was picking up and causing decent waves on the lake. One could even see the black clouds moving in and then the rain started.

The beautiful turquoise St. Mary Lake at the eastern end of the park

Going to the Sun Road on the eastern side

Notice how the right side of the picture is darker and the waves on the lake are moving to the left. My natural instincts tell me that...

...a massive storm is moving in fast and get out of here. Not before snapping a few more pictures.

St. Mary Lake with some choppy waves

Outside the park, we re-grouped and donned our rain gear for the expected down pour. US-89 looked like such a fun road on the map and in person, but alas it was drenched. The corners were marked 25 - 45 mph with gently rolling hills and little traffic. If it was dry, we wanted to ride the recommended MT-49, which hugged the eastern border of the park.

Doning our rain gear before entering the storm, on US-89 heading South to Great Falls, MT

We chugged on through Browning and the Blackfeet Indian Reservation through some light drizzle. Just as we got out of the reservation area, the black storm appeared dead ahead. I was behind Andy and Rick, as I had to adjust something, as usual and contemplated taking MT-44 east and getting on I-15 for Great Falls, our stop for the night. But, not wanting to split from the group, I continued ahead and entered the lighting and heavy-winded storm. There was no traffic present, which was good when I got blown across into the other lane. And seeing the heavy lighting was not pleasant, especially after hearing that a motorcyclist died just recently after being struck by lightning. Oh well, what to do.

The blackend lightning storm awaiting us. Andy got blown over into the opposite lane when we decided to pull over and wait till the winds died down a bit. Luckily, traffic was sparse.

I found Rick and Andy holed up at a road-side rest area and they were taking shelter from the beating wind by the bathrooms - that too in the women's bathroom, not like anyone was around. Soon, a couple on a Goldwing going the other way joined us. The winds had died down a bit and we pushed on. We had rain all the way into Great Falls. And wouldn't you know it, the rain stopped as we got settled into our motel room. And what would a motorcycle trip be without Rick dropping his ST3. After riding hours in the rain, Rick slipped up on the kick stand and she went down slowly. Andy was there to aid in the recovery. No harm done. It would be pizza tonight - Papa Johns and an early jump into bed, with everything laid out to dry.

Day 9
Friday, July 7, 2006
Start: Great Falls, MT, 8:30 am MDT
End: Bismarck, ND, 6:30 pm CDT
Mileage: 558

The route for Day 9: Great Falls, MT to Bismarck, ND

We woke up to a bright fresh morning and got going early as we would be covering a lot of miles today, heading towards Bismarck. I easily lost Rick and Andy through town, but continued ahead, not knowing if I was behind or ahead. It would be MT-200 all the way across this great state until we hit I-94.

Isn't it nice that it's always clear the next morning. MT-200 heading east. It was so hard trying to keep the front end down doing triple digits on this road...

Around the town of Blythe, I pulled up into a gas station where the office was closed and it was pay-at-the-pump only. As I was finishing up, a young rider on a Buell XB-12 pulled up and soon realized that his cash was no good at this pump and asked if I could swipe my card for him and he would pay me in cash. No problem, he filled up for $5 and handed me cash. Good Samaritan deed done for the day, now to tear up these empty roads.

The road was almost empty with gentle corners over rolling hills. What did I do to pass the time until I met up with the other two... the usual, high-speed cruising, in the 120, 130 range. There's something about cruising at a high speed. I didn't see a single piece of fauna, be it four-legged or two-legged and thoroughly enjoyed the morning. I realized at a gas station that I got ahead of the other two. At Circle, MT, we heading south on MT-200S for the last bit of side-roads before getting on the slab. Previous high-speed attempts on the trip only resulted in 150, but this time, with a little tail wind and a near empty gas tank, 160 was achieved. Yes, it was only indicated, but good enough for me. My low fuel light came on as I was hovering at 160 and I wondered what my current fuel consumption would have been. Maybe 20 mpg?... The worst thing about high-speed cruising is the effect of velocitization. Coming down to a 100 felt like doing 30.

High speed runs on the empty MT-200 in the middle of nowhere. 6th gear roll-on and 0-145-70 / solo
Musik: Ron Hagen / Pascal M - Take You There (2:12)

At another gas station, I had an interesting conversation with someone just as I was getting ready to leave as the other two had already taken off. This gentle-mannered middle-aged white man walks over and seeing the dark skin of my face through my open visor, asks me what my ethnicity is. I say Indian. I figure he's never seen a non-white person on a bike, fair enough. Then he starts asking what tribe I'm from. I was confused here. I said we don't have tribes anymore, maybe only in the wilderness, but we do have an old caste system for name sake and I said I'm from the warrior caste (ancient Hindu stuff). He then asked where I was headed, I said Chicago. He looked confused and said, I didn't know there were Indians in Chicago. I was like, are you kidding me, have you been to Schaumburg, haha. No, I just thought that and reassured him that there were many Indians in Chicago. He said he wasn't familiar with any Indian tribes still in the Chicago area. That's when it hit me. I noticed where I was right now, in North Dakota, where Native American tribes still have a presence and this gentelman thought I was an "Indian" Indian, as in a Christopher Columbus "Indian". Whoever gave that goof the right to call Native Americans "Indians" just because he was heading to India?... The gentleman looked very sheepish when I confessed that I was from India, itself. Fun little episode.

After filling up in Forest Park, we jumped on the good old slab for the long haul home. I had gotten over my speed itch and was planning on just cruising about 10-15 over the posted 75 mph limit in the last stretch of Montana. And what do you know; I got pulled over for doing 87 mph. My detector busted out on me and I was too far behind Rick or Andy to benefit from their detectors. I thought, this being the state of Montana (with all its high-speed glory and even no speed limits in recent past), the most I would get would be a warning. However, the very polite officer insisted that I'd be getting a ticket, since it wouldn't be fair as he gave others tickets as well for doing 87 in his zone. The best part was when he said, "87 mph is awfully fast on a motorcycle." And I thought to myself, "Nope, not actually. I was doing about twice that speed just an hour ago." I kept me mouth shut and the best part was when he actually handed me the ticket. The fine was only $40. I asked if I'd be getting a bigger ticket in the mail or something where I would need to be paying more money. He said, nope, if I failed to appear in court the $40 would be forfeited. That was perfectly fine with me. I just hoped Montana wouldn't share this info with Illinois.

What ticked me off slightly was that I was only about 5 miles from the North Dakota border and who gets pulled over for doing 12 over. Well, I guess it was long overdue, since most of my riding buddies have been itching for me to get pulled over, thinking it would have some effect on slowing me down or something.

I chugged along at under 10 over the limit and was enjoying the beautiful scenery of the Painted Canyon and decided to stop at the Roosevelt National Park to learn a bit more about the area and also take a break. It seemed everyone on that road had that same idea, since there's nothing for a long ways in both directions and this offered a great point of interest.

The Painted Canyon in North Dakota along I-94.

With scenery like this, the interstate ain't so bad.

Stopping at the Roosevelt National Park to admire more of the Painted Canyons and try and see some wild bison.

Interesting paint job there. Alas, no bison were spotted.

One of the best things about an empty and boring ride on the slab was that I was able to concentrate on my Chinese language tapes, which were on the iPod. At 85 mph, the wind noise was such that I could clearly hear myself repeat the Chinese phrases and get in some good practice. I was trying to learn Chinese, as I would be heading there for a month in August for work. The time flew by and the instructions worked. I'm going to pick up Spanish on the next trip.

We pulled up into the Super 8 in Bismarck and didn't enjoy the fact that we were back in Central Time and pretty soon, the actual Mid-West.

Day 10
Saturday, July 8, 2006
Start: Bismarck, ND, 8:15 am
End: Menomonie, WI, 4:45 pm
Mileage: 502

The route for Day 10: Bismarch, ND to Menomonie, WI

Today would be the most boring of all days, since we wouldn't even be changing roads even one time. It was I-94 all the way. Traffic was quite heavy throughout the day and maybe it was a sign that we were headed into more densely populated areas of civilization, compared to where we were for the past week.

I thought riding through upper Minnesota would offer some nice views of all the lakes shown on the map. But, nope, it wasn't interesting one bit as we didn't get to see anything from the highway. Riding through Minneapolis was probably the most exciting thing and surprisingly, I was tense riding through the city, not being used to so much traffic and so much concrete around. I want to go back!

We pulled into Menomonie and had supper at the usual Perkins.

Day 11
Sunday, July 9, 2006
Start: Menomonie, WI, 8:00 am
End: Grayslake, IL, 4:30 pm
Mileage: 349

The route for Day 11: Menomonie, WI to Grayslake, IL

From here, it would be familiar territory home. Nobody was hurting too much and the morale was still pretty high. One option would have been to not take any more slab and back-road it the whole way home. Well, at least for us suburbanites. That Andy doesn't have any back roads in the city. But, we all did want to get back home and relax for a bit, instead of riding another full day. So, we slabbed it to Mauston and then got off the slab. Some of this was new territory and the roads were not bad. We were just cruising in the morning sunshine.

Once we hit Spring Green, it was home ground and there was no need for directions. A few of the regulars livened up the spirits before we entered Janesville. Rick took off on US-14 heading to Barrington and quickly lost me and Andy. I was wallowing in my thoughts about what an awesome 11 days it had been, with no major incidents or really big fines to spoil the fun. I knew I should have saved those thoughts for after I got home, as my electronics started to freak out on me, just south of Harvard.

The usual Spring Green twisties. What a way to end a phenomenal trip.

The tachometer needle was flying up and down the tach and my LCD display kept flashing off and on, along with the other lights on the dash. The bike was running smoothly, but I figured something was shorting and I didn't want the bike to explode with me on it, so I pulled over and turned it off. Wrong decision. I couldn't get her started back up and then started pulling fuses to no avail. I even tried a running start, but I didn't have too much of an incline. I called a good friend, Chris to help me out. He trailered me home and I felt it was a grand style to be ending a long trip, meeting good friends and being driven in an A/C car. Did I mention it was hot waiting outside in the leathers?

Being towed home by Chris and Sandy after Myra decided to call it quits just 20 miles from home. The battery just died and thus wouldn't start up again. But on the brighter side of things, what a way to be welcomed back: sharing stories and pictures of the trip with friends... in an A/C car.

After some diagnosis, it was root-caused to a dead battery. It wouldn't hold a charge anymore. I was just very grateful that it happened 20 miles from home, instead of 2000 miles up on a mountain.

This trip was in the making since last winter and countless hours have been spent drooling on Streets&Trips and other maps as the route was hashed out. Some riders (a girl) left the ride (due to fancy boys in faraway lands) and others joined the ride. I was very happy when Steven and Tim decided to come along, as these two city slickers would be venturing out for their longest motorcycle ride. They weren't regular sport-tourers, but I'm sure now the seed has been planted. This was also Andy's first big more than 3 day trip. Rick, I don't think has done a 10 day trip in quite a few years, so I think it was definitely fun for everyone. My last 10 day trip was a solo one and this was much better with such great company.

There were no real upsets, besides Tim losing his cell phone and having to head back home for important business and Steven's rear tire taking a dive. Rick laid down his ST3, but that's expected, so not really an upset, haha. I managed to drop my bike for the first time ever at that blasted South Dakota/Wyoming border. Luckily, the saddle bags and the frame sliderprevented any damage, besides that to my ego. I also managed to get my first speeding ticket on a motorcycle tour (all previous tickets were within 5 miles of home, those Lake Country officers...). That's something we'll label as a first-and-never-again kind of thing. This trip also introduced video to our sport-touring, which is such an excellent medium for capturing what the moment feels like whilst railing through some mountainous twisties. A better mount and perhaps a helmet camera will be used on the next ride.

Cost wise, I don’t have the full break down, but lodging for 11 nights for all 5 of us was around $800. That's about $15 per person per night. Gas would have averaged around $400 per person for the whole trip. And food would have averaged about $300. We paid about $20 to enter various sites and parks and then there are the miscellaneous expenses. Overall, not bad for the vacation we got.

There's some beautiful country out there along the Rockies and it's much better appreciated on two wheels...

No comments: