Friday, June 15, 2007
Cody, WY to Great Falls, MT
I had a big day planned, so when I awoke (feeling surprisingly refreshed for camping) I immediately wriggled out of bed. The KOA we were staying at holds a $2 pancake breakfast every morning, so the group of us STNers went down for breakfast before showering and packing up.
Walking around saying goodbyes, we discovered that we were all headed to Great Falls, MT that night. We decided to meet up again in the evening at the KOA there….i.e. group incentive to camp!
After a quick shopping trip to get the BMW some oil, I was on my way up WY-296, the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway.
Clouds were rolling over the mountaintops as I approached the summit. I worried that it would be foggy with low visibility.
I was pleasantly surprised when I finally crested the 8000’ Dead Indian Pass and found a valley filled with sunlight.
While carefully navigating the seven switchbacks that took me down from the pass, I remembered reading up on the history of the byway back when I came through in 2005. It follows the 1877 route of Chief Joseph and about one thousand Nez Perce Indians as they tried to escape from the cavalry and reservation life.
Out of the valley, I enjoyed the high elevation scenery while nervously anticipating Beartooth Highway.
Beartooth Highway (US-212) is generally recognized as among the best motorcycling roads in the country. It’s also the “highest elevation highway in the north Rockies.”
I’ve wanted to ride it for years, but I was also a little scared. Not knowing quite what to expect, I imagined steep rocky switchbacks, snow banks melting all over the road, and high winds jostling my bike.
Instead, I was pleased to find easy 20mph marked curves and dry pavement as I climbed out of Cooke City to 10947’ West Summit.
The treeless alpine fields of the plateau were spectacular.
Having found the ascent so easy, I was fully relaxed going through the tight switchbacks on the north side of the summit. Once down, I stopped to look back at the terraced mountainside.
Even at high elevations, the weather was perfect. It was in the 60s. While I was wearing all my suit liners, I never needed my heated grips. Vivid blue skies greeted me as I crossed into Montana.
I stopped often during my descent into Red Lodge. Walking back to my bike at a vista point, I found Bird runner (Jeff) and his fiance (Colleen). I had assumed that they were far ahead of me, but they had stopped for lunch in Cooke City, allowing me to take the lead in our mutual drive towards Great Falls.
Getting hungry, I hurried down the mountain to have lunch in Red Lodge.
I proceeded to I-90 in Laurel for a 100 mile slab-o-thon west. About 50 miles into this jaunt, I began to feel tired. After stopping for gas and a snack in Big Timber, I suddenly realized that it was 5pm and I’d only covered 200 miles. I had fully half my route remaining before I reached my intended destination.
It was time to buckle down and eat miles. Finally leaving the interstate, I took US-89 north through more plains and valleys.
Just because I was hauling ass didn’t mean that I was no longer interested in the history of the region. I was stopped at a marker honoring the mountain men who explored the area when Birdrunner pulled up behind me with his Blackbird and unique Uni-go one-wheeled trailer.
We decided to travel together over the remaining 135 miles to Great Falls.
Close to the longest day of the year, it was still very bright out when we pulled into the KOA at almost 9pm.
We were negotiating for a cabin when Ninjagirl and her S.O. arrived, only 10 minutes behind us. After unpacking the bikes, it was time for another evening of camp food, burned campfire popcorn, and roasted marshmallows.