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Western States Ride - Part 1

By Colleen First

June 17 th ~ July 3 rd 2005

Total Miles: 5,491 miles, 17 days
Seattle, WA to Montrose, CO and return
Tickets: 1
Mishaps: 0
Puckers: 0

Day 1 � 203 miles

Quitting time was officially 5 p.m., but my coworkers were sympathetic to my plight and encouraged me to leave early. I was about to embark on a journey through the western states, as well as attend the 2005 Sport-Touring.net (STN) National Meet in Montrose, Colorado, and I was eager to get started. By 4 p.m. I was geared up and the bike, which I had ridden to work fully packed, was waiting for me in the parking lot. Goodbyes were said, a couple of pictures were snapped and I was soon making my way east through Seattle's quaint neighborhoods. I was on the road and feeling good! I had managed to travel about 3 miles when my journey stopped abruptly: I had hit Seattle's "rush hour" traffic. Sigh. I slowly made my way through the city, weaving through cars and trucks, suffering in the heat in my full gear. I knew that this would be temporary and sure enough, I was soon rolling east on I-90 toward the beauty and cooler temperatures of the Cascade mountain range.  

I was surprised at the amount of traffic over the mountains, but it was light enough not to impede me and I was able to enjoy the ride, feeling the power of the BMW 1150GS beneath me. It handled well even fully packed and with a full tank of gas. My new Aerostitch was comfortable and I felt ready for anything, including the rain that started to spit down on me as I crested the pass. The rain was hard but brief and I was drying out shortly afterward, but not after being quite chilled by the precipitation. I considered stopping to put on a sweater but was too lazy (a common trend you'll see) and just braved the chill, figuring that things would warm up as I neared my night's destination: Prosser, Washington. This was to be a very short day, covering only 200 miles in 3 � hours. But it would give me a great head start on the next day's ride, getting me further east earlier in the day on my not-quite-planned route to the STN National Meet and through all but two of the western states. 

Mark, a fellow STNer, was kind enough to put me up for the night and I easily found his house in the quiet town of Prosser. It was after 8 p.m. by the time I pulled into the driveway but both he and his wife and two of his kids were there to greet me. Some delicious chips and hot salsa was offered and the conversations ran on late into the night. We all eventually headed for our prospective beds and I soon fell asleep to the sound of wind in the eaves and crickets in the lawn. 

Day 2 � 605 miles

Mark and I discussed my day's route over our non-breakfast and I decided not to go over Lolo Pass but instead to take an unknown route through Idaho and visit Craters of the Moon National Park, a place I had been curious about. It didn't take long to pack the bike up and I was waving good-bye to Mark by 8 a.m. I took the easy way east through the metropolis of the Kennewick/Pasco area and finally found peace in the secondary roads of southeastern Washington. Here the landscape undulates with vast stretches of wheat fields, some green in their newness and others golden with heavy ripe seed heads. There were fluffy clouds overhead and traffic was light. I was starting my first full day of what was going to be a 5,500-mile, 17-day trip through every western state except Montana and New Mexico. Life is good! 

Then I got nailed for speeding. A State Patrol car, just outside of Dayton, Washington, crested the rise coming toward me and reported that I was doing 74 in a 60. Personally I thought I was going faster, but I felt it prudent not to argue with him. He handed me the ticket to sign and stated that I had 15 days to respond. I informed him that I would not be back within 15 days, when he politely told me that as long as I contacted them, one way or another, within 15 days it would be okay. I tried to be calm, thinking of the countless times I hadn't been stopped, but this really put a damper on the beginning of my trip. I felt hunted, as though a State Patrol lay around each bend and behind each bush waiting to snare me again. It took almost a full day to get over that feeling. 

Riding through the Hell's Canyon Recreation Area in Idaho helped a lot. It hadn't taken me long to put the rolling hills of the Palouse behind me and enter the deep canyons and lush tree-covered hills of the Clearwater, Payette, Boise and Challis National Forests in Idaho. The road, Route 95, turned south shortly after crossing into Nez Perce country in Idaho, where it followed the merry course of the Salmon River. Roads that follow rivers are always good choices. They have lots of turns and good scenery, although this combination can often make for bad traffic situations where it's difficult to pass. Fortunately, traffic was very light and I was able to stretch out the legs of the GS in brief spurts. What held me back most on this section was the weather. Remember those fluffy clouds back in Washington? Well here in Idaho those innocent-looking clouds were taking turns dumping rain onto the road. Every so often I'd come around a bend and find the rain coming down in sheets and a cold wind whipping it across the road in visible waves. I almost felt bad for the cruisers heading the other way, their exposed faces scrunched up in grimaces of discomfort, holding onto their handle bars as though trying to absorb any heat from the bike itself into their own unprotected bodies. 

Hell's Canyon is a fairly well-respected recreation area but I was still surprised by the number of little touristy towns along the way, ready to cater to the outdoor enthusiast and river rafter. I saw many trailers loaded with commercial river rafts and hip young people walking along the streets of towns that appeared to serve no other purpose than the tourists' pleasure. I saw very few bikes parked in town and most of the bikes I saw on the road were those of helmet-less, unhappy looking cruisers. I had the road to myself. Along one stretch there was a large grassy area to my right where numerous small personal aircraft were parked. Underneath their wings huddled tents and tarps while people mingled on the airstrip. I imagine it was some type of fly-in and I smiled at the fun that they must have, flying into different areas and camping out beneath their winged steeds, chatting with like-minded souls who shared their passion. They were like the airborne version of an STN meet. 

As I turned east at New Meadow to follow Route 55 along the east side of Lake Cascade, I crested a pass that surprised me with hail. At first I thought it was just another hard rain, but then I saw the small white balls of cold bounce off my tank bag and sleeves and realized that it was hail. No sooner had I come to this conclusion than the hail became sleet and large patches of my vision were blurred as the wet snow-like substance stuck to the visor. This would be a good time to mention the beauty that is known as a Gerbing heated jacket. My BMW came equipped with an outlet that allowed me to plug in the equivalent of a heated blanket. Heat radiated from the jacket under my 'Stitch, enveloping me in a dry warmth that made me smile and tingle with pleasure. Let it snow, dammit � I was ready for it! Just as quickly as it started, the precipitation stopped and I admit to feeling an inkling of disappointment. To compensate, I stopped in McCall for soup and salad. There were two fully-loaded KTMs in the parking lot and while the owners gave me a brief smile when I walked in, neither appeared interested in conversation. I ate alone, wrote in my journal a bit and was soon back on the road. 

Before leaving Prosser, Mark had suggested that I take a detour through the Sawtooth Mountain Range. Again, not having any real route planned, I had agreed and was now on my way to the snowy peaks that pierced the clouds. The road followed another river, this one the South Fork of the Payette. The river had carved a nice canyon and I was gaining elevation quickly as I rode through infrequent towns. The Sawtooths were indeed beautiful, but I confess that I am spoiled. Many times a year I ride through the North Cascades in Washington State, where I am presented with high peaks, jagged cliffs and lush trees whose spires compete with the mountains for the skies. The Sawtooths, while beautiful, were competing against some spectacular ranges, and I think that the Cascades won. This isn't to say that I didn't enjoy the ride. On the contrary, it was pleasant to ride through unknown territory, never quite sure what the next bend would present me. The weather was fickle and cool until I started to come down out of the mountains and entered the flat lands of southern Idaho. It was getting late, and I could see my shadow falling further across the road with each mile. I was hoping to reach Craters of the Moon that night for camping, but the dusk that was falling made me question whether or not I'd make it. I wasn't sure what type of road led there, nor exactly how long it would take. And setting up camp in the dark isn't exactly fun. Add to that the possibility that the campground could be full, and I decided to take the next spot I found for my tent.

That turned out to be Carrey, Idaho. I had passed a sign that read "Motel/RV parking." I circled back after realizing that I had essentially already ridden through the town and there were no other options. The "motel" was actually three small rooms facing a gravel parking lot next to a bar, and the "RV parking" was a chain linked fenced-in grassy area behind the motel. There were some derelict trailers there, and one man was playing with his dog outside of his. I asked him who was in charge of the "RV parking" and he directed me to the bar. I wheeled the GS back out to the street, and after carefully parking it on the gravel, I walked into the bar. There were a few locals inside and the TV was playing mindlessly in the corner. The waitress finally responded to my summons and informed me that camping was $15 for the night. It seemed steep for a patch of grass, but it was late, and I was ready to stop. I asked about bathrooms and she motioned to the restrooms at the back of the barroom. I then asked how early they'd be available in the morning, and she said that the bar opened at 11am. I must have looked dismayed, because she then pointed to the convenience store across the street and said that they open at 6 or 6:30 in the morning. Satisfied, I went outside, circled back to the "RV Parking" and selected my spot. The tent went up quickly and after listening to the town's dogs bark at every shadow, I eventually fell asleep. 

Day 3 � 567 miles

The first plane took off from the local airstrip at 6:30 a.m. Not to be deterred, I stayed in my tent for another 15 minutes before I realized that the rising sun was going to bake me unless I got up and got moving. I walked across the street to the convenience store only to find it conveniently not open. I had to pee and nothing else was around so I ducked behind one of the empty trailers and took care of things. The bike was packed and I was soon heading into the sun. Destination: Craters of the Moon. 

I have always seen Craters of the Moon National Monument on maps and wondered just what it would look like. It looked like nothing I expected. One minute I'm riding along, surrounded by the arid vegetation of southern Idaho and the next minute there's nothing but rocks. Dark, jagged rocks scattered as far as I could see. I came upon the entrance to the Monument and saw a pleasant campground full of trailers, RVs and tents. The entrance booth was still empty (it was before 8 a.m.) so I rode past and began my own tour of the park. Wildflowers abounded in the seemingly desolate ground and plaques marked important historical and geographical locations. After taking pictures that would not do the flowers or the harsh landscape justice I exited the park. By then the park ranger was there to check my National Parks Pass and cheerfully gave me the standard issue map of the park before I left.

It should be mentioned that my route was not entirely unplanned. I had made arrangements to meet with Jean-Francois, an STNer from Ottawa, Ontario, on Monday in Custer, South Dakota. Therefore, I had two days to cross two states and enter the third. No problem. I decided to gas up in Arco, Idaho, and was pleased to learn that Arco is known not only for being the first city to be powered entirely by atomic power, but it is also the home of the Glow In The Dark Toilet Seat! I was sorely tempted to buy one (there was one hanging behind the counter at the gas station) but the prospect of hauling around a toilet seat for the next 12 days did not appeal to me, although I'm sure it would have made for some interesting conversations. 

After chatting with the locals in Arco, I made a beeline for the Wyoming border. This is not a difficult thing to accomplish, as there's very little to get in the way except for the city of Idaho Falls. I somehow managed to miss the turn off for the side road I intended to take, and I spent a bit of time meandering other side roads in search of it. Being in no hurry, this caused no problems other than the fact that it was getting warm out. I eventually made it to Swan Valley, Idaho, where I chose the northern route to Jackson, Wyoming, and crossed over Teton Pass. At the pass, I stopped for a photo of the back of the Grand Tetons and talked casually with some cruisers who were on a grand tour of their own, coming back to Missouri from a trip to California. After taking my leave, I passed through the bustling town of Jackson and continued north. The road runs parallel to the massive Tetons, whose snowy peaks reflected the brilliant sun of a warm June day. Crowds of vehicles were trapped behind RVs as tourists stared at the extensive and seemingly perfect line of the mountain range. I had hoped to make it to Yellowstone on this trip, but seeing this line of traffic and knowing that it would only get worse once I entered the park (and on a weekend, no less) I was pleased with my decision to instead explore the inner sanctum of Wyoming. I've seen Yellowstone before and someday I'll see it again.

At Morton Junction I turned away from the hoards and the sentinel range that guarded the horizon and headed southeast. I wandered through graceful curves and tree-covered hills. The occasional rock formation would appear from behind a nearby ridgeline, startling me with its bareness and colorful rock layers. I stopped in Dubois for a bite to eat and found two other riders that had just arrived. Like the KTM riders in Idaho, they smiled at me but invited no conversation. I ate alone again while pouring over maps and my journal, content with my own thoughts and plans. After lunch I continued southeast until I reached Riverton where a bank sign was kind enough to inform me that it was now 96 degrees. I turned north to examine the Wind River Canyon, a road and place that had been suggested by others as "not to be missed." And it wasn't! Amazing geological history, high canyon walls displaying various layers of rock types and colors, a fast, sweeping road that followed the rushing Wind River; it was all there. It was also hot. By now it was after 5 p.m. and I kept waiting for the sun's powerful rays to diminish, but they wouldn't. I pulled off at a small park to wait out the heat but to no avail. It was actually a good excuse to relax and enjoy the beauty around me, and I wasn't really that concerned about the heat.

In due time I geared back up and finished the last of the canyon's curves before breaking out of the gouge in the earth and returning to a relatively flat landscape. I had been over Big Horn Pass a couple of years ago and decided to take a new route toward South Dakota. I turned right at Worland (now 99 degrees at 6:30 p.m.) and followed Route 16 through a charming town called Ten Sleep. There are a couple of versions of how the town got its name, the most interesting being how many nights, or "sleeps," an Indian party stayed at this spot after a hunting and raiding party returned. After passing through Ten Sleep the road climbed quickly through a deep canyon and into high tree-filled mountains. It was a welcome chill that came over me as I crossed over Powder Horn Pass and I continued to put the GS through its paces in the corners. The road first climbed up one side and down the other of the Big Horn Mountains, eventually bringing me to Buffalo, Wyoming. The sun was setting as I pulled into town and found a welcome sign of cabins and tent space. The proprietor was extremely friendly: she called me by name after our introductions, offered me route suggestions in Colorado (she used to live there) and welcomed me to hot chocolate in the morning. There were laundry facilities and limitless hot showers on site as well. It was a very cozy atmosphere and I felt immediately at home. The clouds caught the sunset just as I finished setting up the tent and I couldn't resist taking pictures of the amazing shapes and colors. I slept very well that night, with only the neighbor's puppy whining to be let in disturbing the silence.

...Continue to Part 2


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