Friday, June 18, 2010

Day 10: Mound City, MO to St. Louis, MO

Another really HOT day today. The average temp from the time we started was 93 degrees. Since we're now in the Midwest the humidity is up there as well. All in all it makes for some uncomfortable moments sitting on the bike. It's not bad when you're moving - the airflow keeps you pretty cool - but anytime spent sitting in traffic is miserable.

Despite all the fun with the heat, I still love getting on the bike and moving. Motorcycles are addictive. I can't wait to spend some offroad time with the bike - soon.

Sean: We departed Mound City, still unsure why it was named such. Heading south along I-29 we passed thru St. Joseph, with little view of it from the interstate, and headed into Kansas City where we discovered their propensity for reconstructing bridges starting with the middle lane. After significant stop and go, once with a pack of bikes around us, we cleared KC and headed east. We rapidly left the other bikes on their pleasure cruises behind us as we were on a mission to book miles. We ran straight for 150 miles and pulled off just as the Triumph's reserve light came on. We took a break got gas and got back on for another 150. We peeled off Outside Columbia, MO as the traffic began to ramp up, got gas & gatorade and rejoined the fray. Stopped again around 60 miles from St Louis, seriously hot, for more gatorade and gas and back out again. over the last two stops I discovered the joy of evaporative cooling, at first drenching a bandanna in water and tying it 'round my neck and later drenching both the bandanna and shirt and jacket for an even better effect. We closed in on St. Louis and met up with rush hour, we hung on to the left lane where an open shoulder and speed were our best defense along with a very loud Triumph ridden by a glowstick. (Liz Note: Sean's jacket is fluorescent yellow)

We were successful in dodging the storms that are all around the Midwest. There was a storm system following us that we stayed ahead of, though we could see the giant anvil-shaped cloud off to our right as we got into St. Louis.

All day we crossed rivers that were overflowing their banks, roads that led into the water, and trees submerged to their tops. I didn't have an appreciation for exactly how much rain this area has had over the past few weeks - I do now. Sean and I were both determined to get some decent miles today, and we did get around 375 total. But we didn't get quite as far as we thought we would.

As we came into St. Louis at around 600pm, the Arch was right in front of us. Sean was leading and gave me a "should we exit?" signal. I was up for it and we jumped off the interstate to the Arch and the park that surrounds it right along the Mississippi River. After parking the bikes we walked to the Arch and took a few pictures. It's hard to understand the scale of the Arch until you stand directly under it looking up.
You can't really see it in the picture but that's me standing on the bench in the lower left hand corner. There is a museum right under the arch that is really cool, literally the airconditioning was appreciated. We took some pictures including the only bear we saw on the trip. I was somewhat disappointed that we didn't see a real bear, Sean not so much.

After we came out of the museum, fully prepared to get back on the bikes, we noticed the Hyatt two blocks away. I have a Diamond membership with Hyatt, and lots of points good for free rooms. Hmm, maybe they had something available. After all, we wouldn't want to push too hard now would we?

Turns out they had a room that's not bad for a free room and is cheaper than the Motel6/Super8 genre we've been staying at. We are really going to pick up speed tomorrow.

Day 9: Ogallala, NE to Mound City, MO

This will be a short post - even though it was a long day. 400 miles through HOT weather. It was mid-90's the whole way and we need to make some time so we are on the Interstate. Interstates are flat, and straight, and pretty boring other than all the other cars trying to kill you. Suffice it to say that certain products are extremely valuable on a hot motorcycle ride.

Interstate driving on a bike is scary - there are LOTS of trucks and they all want to go 80-85 minimum. The wind blast as the pass you or you pass them is pretty extreme. My whole bike shakes from the buffeting. There all also lots of tornados in the area that we've been lucky enough to miss, though the cross winds have been steady at around 30mph. After 8 hours you get tired.

The area we're passing through is farmland. Corn, lots and lots of corn. All kinds of farm equipment, much of which I can't identify. Did I mention all the corn?

We got pictures coming into Iowa and Missouri, and some of the sunset last night.
We were supposed to camp last night at a place called Big Lake State Park. When we pulled in there were about 6 state cops, ambulances, and fire trucks in the parking lot. Turns out the river was flooding and the park was closed. It crested at 8 feet over the high water level. According to the fireman in lobby of the motel this morning the park is underwater.
We are heading East and South this morning, trying to stay away from the storms and tornados that are throughout the midwest. With luck we'll stay between the fronts.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Day 8: Caspar, WY to Olgallala, NE

June 16th.

We actually got on the road pretty early today, we were moving by 915. Which was good since we needed to make up time. We hit I80 for about 50 miles before heading into Nebraska.

As we rode we gradually started losing altitude from 5500 feet down to around 4000. The lower we got the happier the Triumph was. The landscape started gradually changing from sage and scrubland to real farmland. The road was straight to the point that Sean and I decided we needed some kind of throttle lock to help with the hand cramps we were both getting as we rode.

We stopped in Guernsey, WY to mail some postcards (population 1072) and got a recommendation for a cycle shop in Scotts Bluff, NE. We headed over on route 26E and crossed into Nebraska around 1pm.
We found Celli's cycle shop and got the throttle locks, and admired the CanAm trikes they had. I wanted to take a demo ride but we ran out of time.

We stopped at Chimney Rock to take some pictures. Really interesting rock formations were everywhere - and rattlesnakes as well.

The whole day we spent skirting two major cold fronts that promised high winds, rain and tornadoes. Not something we wanted to deal with so we ended up taking a more circuitous route. We missed the fronts but spent the last part of the day dealing with headwinds that were gusting up to 40mph on the interstate. They were bad enough that you could see the wear on the tires when we stopped in Ogalla for the night. 330 miles today. On to Omaha and toward St. Louis tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Day 7: Yellowstone to Grand Teton to Caspar, WY

June 15th.

We survived the night and got the fire re-started early the next morning. Made coffee using the stove, Sean gathered kindling from the nearby woods and after “checking” the depth of the gas in the tank of the Triumph with a clean stick combined with a lighter we soon had a fast burning fire to warm up in front of. Yellowstone park has the campground shower setup done in true high volume fashion – $4.75 gets you entry to the showers and a clean towel and facecloth to boot;you get as much hot water as you can use and lots of room to complete the task. The shower completed and feeling significantly more human we got ready to move on through Yellowstone south to Grand Teton park and through Wyoming.

I noted before that Yellowstone is huge. It’s got a different feel than Glacier, it’s drier and the areas we saw were more open. The landscape includes not only the classic high mountain meadows/forest/lakes but all the hot springs and geysers. It’s also got a lot of wildlife and the wildlife is not shy.

Fortunately for most people, if the wildlife gets a little too close they can roll up the windows in the car. At least for the ones on the road – backcountry hikers I hope you have the bear spray handy. Anyway, we spent the morning taking pictures of the “Grand Canyon of Yellowstone” then took the park road (all 40 miles of it) to the south entrance that leads to Grand Teton National Park and ultimately for us the rest of Wyoming.

As we started toward the South entrance we passed a number of signs saying “Do Not Approach Bison! Bison have gored visitors to Death! “ This is a good, though I think somewhat obvious warning. It became a more interesting warning as we came up to a narrowing of the road with the lake on one side and a cliff face on the other - maybe 10 feet of room to either side of the road, and 2 bison just walking down the road next to each other in the right hand lane. Lots of cars were passing them, and as we came up directly behind them it was obvious just how big a fully grown bison is. And we weren’t in a car. And I don’t know how a motorcycle looks to a bison. And are they going to let us go by without swinging that head at us? It was a little scary, and kudo’s to Sean who kept taking pictures through the whole encounter, at what we hoped was a relatively safe distance.

We ran into a coyote a little later, she was obviously bored by all the tourists. As she trotted

by Sean she looked over with what could best be described as disdain on her face.

We stopped at the West Geyser Basin at the west side of Yellowstone lake. It was cool and as you walked around the air was at least 15 degrees warmer thanks to the multiple hot springs and steam.

The road out of Yellowstone from the South Entrance leads directly to Grand Teton National park. We got stuck in a traffic jam as we entered Grand Teton, but made friends with a Budweiser truck driver and UPS driver while we waited. Unfortunately we couldn’t talk the Budweiser driver into breaking out any of his wares.

We started climbing up through 9500 feet as we came over Huckleberry Mountain and ran into some rain. It got really cold, really fast over the pass as we went through the rain. Coming down the mountains around Jackson Lake gave us some great views of the Tetons. They are probably the most foreboding of all the mountain ranges we've seen so far. All sharp edges and unforgiving angles (with snow!).

Sean: I had stuffed the camera into the front of my jacket in the shot above - so I am not, in fact, quite so round.

The rain cleared up as we headed over Tagwater pass at almost 9700 feet. The Triumph was not happy, running really rich, at this altitude though it did keep running. When we passed through the snowfields over the pass the temperature was down to 43 degrees.

We headed East toward Riverton, WY and ultimately to Caspar, WY (where we spent the night) coming out of Riverton the road turned straight. Like a ruler straight. Through miles and miles of nothing but sagebrush and antelope. Lots of little towns "Welcome to Hiland! Population 10. Altitude 5400 feet." There was a stretch of road about 40 miles before Casper that is as forlorn a place as one can imagine. No tree dots the landscape, no reference point is visible sans the road. If a layer of snow coated the area and you had no compass you would be impossibly lost. The sight of Casper's airport in the distance was a welcome return to civilization. It got pretty late coming into Caspar and we had done almost 350 miles when we stopped for the night. Long day. Tomorrow we should get to Nebraska.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Day 6: Three Forks to Yellowstone

Day 6: Three Forks, MT to Yellowstone.

June 14th. It was a short ride today to Yellowstone from Three Forks. As I predicted we got a fairly late start – but all our clothes were clean!

As an aside, I like small towns. We showed up at the Laundromat and were greeted by the sign “Laundry closed – water main leak.” When we talked to the owner of the laundry, she asked us how much we had to do, called the town water service and asked for Steve. Steve agreed to wait for half an hour until we were done before he started the repair. Not something that would happen in DC.

While I was doing laundry, Sean was attempting to find a set of Metric allen wrenches to adjust the chain on the Triumph. Unfortunately, the only wrenches the auto parts store had were SAE. However, they did have a grinder in the back and a set of calipers. So Sean made his own set of allen wrenches - he was smiling all morning. And he got to do his fix the motorcycle thing, in all the years I’ve known Sean, he is never happier than when he is fixing something.

Once we go on the road it was a 143 mile trip down route 287 following the Madison River valley and through mountain passes to West Yellowstone and the entrance to the Park. As a note, most folks in Montana consider the 70mph speed limit to be a polite suggestion rather than any kind of hard limit.

We’re on bikes that really like to go fast (note the title of the blog), and we were getting blown past by grandma pulling the trailer. We stopped at Raynold’s pass to snap a picture before heading into West Yellowstone.

Sean: I had the opportunity to challenge my intuition as I thought about stopping for gas at the one station we passed as we climbed out of Reynolds’ pass, I found that the bike started to sputter shortly after the reserve light came on at 143 miles and I switched to reserve, by mile 164 I was getting concerned and glad that we had the siphon with us. Luck held out and we pulled into West Yellowstone a mile later and I since then if my gut says we need fuel, we stop for fuel.

Liz again: West Yellowstone is at around 7000 feet and the combination of a long run from Three Forks and the Triumph running just a bit rich due to the altitude led Sean into basically coasting the last few miles into town. We needed a little excitement.

Fortunately he was able to make it and we got to the park right after lunch. We stopped to eat and walk around a little bit. I tried to talk Sean into buying a Buffalo hide for his wife, but he wasn’t convinced it was something we could carry on the bike. I do have the card of the guy from the shop though, in case he ever changes his mind.

We wanted to get into the park early, since we were actually going to camp out and figured we needed the time to set up.

Entering Yellowstone was interesting from the first. We needed to get to Canyon campground, 26 miles inside the park. That’s right 26 miles into the park. The scale of Yellowstone is amazing.

As we entered the park, a bunch of people were taking photos of the bald eagles nesting. We were more interested in the bison that were everywhere. They’re big. Really big.

As we drove toward Canyon we passed lots of road construction (Yellowstone is really high and major road repairs happen all the time). As we turned a corner into some traffic I saw lots of steam on the side of the road which I assumed was from a construction vehicle, until I realized it was a thermal spring. Oh yeah, it’s a caldera, a really big one...duh. Lots of beautiful mountain meadows, streams, and wildlife. One female elk was five feet from the side of the road, just hanging out and paying no attention to anyone.

The campground was really nice and we got the tent set up and fire going quickly(we were in E-loop). It was late and the temperature was dropping pretty fast.

Ultimately it got down to 35 degrees that night, but we were pretty warm between the fire and good gear. It was very dark and the stars late were clearer and brighter than any you see nearer to “civilization.” As you can see in the picture of the campground map there was nothing resembling civilization east of our campsite for at least 50 miles. It was comforting to have the bear patrol come through shortly after nightfall (most likely just to make you feel secure…).

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Day 5: Glacier to Three Forks, MT (Almost to Yellowstone)

Note: Delayed post - Lack of connectivity at Glacier and Yellowstone impacted our ability to post for a few days.

Day 5 (June 13): Glacier to Three Forks, MT

Our hope for Day 5 was to get to Yellowstone, but we didn’t. Somewhat typically we got a late start. We ran into some deer right before we left.They were just walking around the lake.


Sean got a couple of good pictures inside the lodge, next time we’re here we will try and stay there. The fireplace is perfect in the morning, especially since it was averaging around 35 degrees when we got up.

After loading up we finally got on the road at 1100 – stopping in West Glacier to update the blog. It felt slightly strange, but good, to have connectivity after two days without it. Both Sean and I were a little weirded out by being off the grid. I think it would be easier if our families had been with us, but without them there it just felt strange. Of course, it could just be our Type A need to always be in touch….

Sean: In a nod to Maintenance, I took out the WD40 soaked a rag and cleaned the chains on Zen and Artie, nasty black gook removed that job was done. I then encouraged Liza, across the street, online, to hurry the F$%@ up by honking the horn at her along with various other forms of sign language in the hope that we might hit the road before the multiple layers I was wearing caused me to melt.

We came took route 83 down through Seeley Lake, MT. Stopped to have lunch on the lake at a little burger stand called Lindey’s. It was really warm, not a cloud in the sky. A nice change from being rained on.

Sean: This place was obscenely pretty, a hillside lawn leading down to a level acre dotted with shade trees at the edge of Seeley Lake where a trailer lunch wagon/burger stand and picnic tables marked the eatery/dock/floatplane base including the orange wind sock rising 20 ft above the trailer. Shortly outside of Seeley Lake we passed Salmon lake with the house on the island in the mountain lake surrounded by waterskiers and cabins dotting the far shore. We followed the road tracing the lakeshore until it transformed into Blackfoot Creek which we ran along and above for miles. Soon the landscape switched again and the tree cover lessened replaced by green brown felt hills sparsely treed to our left and a narrow meandering creek to our left, itself ensconced in dark green grasses with horse and cattle farther off and the occasional farmhouse every few miles.

The road began to rise and with another shift the water was gone replaced by hills irregularly corrugated as far as the eye could see with the road carved through the most level path it could follow. Next was another rise and the ground leveled. You could easily imagine the now gently rolling hills covered by Buffalo sometime past. We passed the single homestead with the obligatory wooden arch over the drive reading “HOME ON THE RANGE”.

We passed through Helena on our way to stopping at Three Forks for the night. Three Forks was pretty well closed down when we got there. It felt like the classic sleepy Western town. Fortunately the Frontier Club was still open, where over a beer we got a recommendation to stay at the Broken Spur Motel for the night. We checked into the motel, meeting Roger the proprietor who is a font of knowledge about Montana in general and Yellowstone and the Three Forks area in particular. We spent close to half an hour chatting with him last night and more this morning. As an aside, if he ever decides to get out of motel ownership he should consider voiceover work. He has that deep, rolling commanding voice that professional announcers/newscasters/preachers have. Think James Earl Jones with a slight Western accent.

We ended up back at the Frontier Club for dinner, it was pretty well packed for a Sunday night. They served the biggest burgers I’ve ever seen. Apparently they are kind of famous in the area, the owner of the Frontier Club is a former butcher who is particular about his beef. Thanks to a round of free drinks from another bar owner from Great Falls, we had a late night. So I guess we’re not getting out too early this morning. Surprise!

Day 4: Glacier National Park

Note: Delayed post - Lack of connectivity at Glacier and Yellowstone impacted our ability to post for a few days.

Day 4 (June 12): Glacier National Park

Since Sean and I only have about 10 days to get across the country, we only planned one non-travel day at Glacier. It was good to not pack up the bikes, even though we’re getting pretty good at it.

We decided to go on a trail ride in the morning – the first time I’ve been on a horse in 12 years, Sean longer than that. It was cool riding through the forest, eerie quiet though, and really muddy. The rain at Glacier has been pretty steady over the past few weeks, we had the best weather so far this season.

Sean: Liza was on Rex and I was on Mick (these are the horses), Rex was very noisy through much of the ride and Mick seemed concerned about something off to the right of us, as horses are prey animals perhaps it was something carnivorous. The ride was sloppy but very pretty passing through the hemlock, pine and larch forest – I pointed out “The Larch” to Liza but the Monty Python reference was lost on the guide Taylor aka “Mule”. But to be fair he spoke of a west Texas meat pie form neither of us had ever heard of before, nor apparently any of the riders that Mule had raised the question to prior.

Liz: Though next time I’m in Waco, TX I will probably be looking for strange meat pies.

After the ride we took the bikes around the lake to see if we how far we could go on Going-to-the-Sun road. Not very far as it turns out, the road is scheduled to open on June 18th. Right now the clearing process for the 60-foot snowdrifts blocking the road is ongoing. Every time they clear a drift another avalanche blocks the road again. We did get some great pictures of a moose on the side of the road - no bears though.
We spent the rest of the day just walking around taking pictures. It was a spectacular day.