Racing North

Getting the warm gear on. Roadside.

It gets harder to write the closer you are to home. Part of me feels like it’s denial – that if we just hold off a little longer on the writing the trip won’t actually be over. Another part of me feels like the mood changes when you know you’re heading home. Everything begins to become familiar and you cross paths with places you’ve been before. Still, we were on our bikes travelling through some wonderful land and still meeting some great people along the way.

Our evening at Baker Street Pub in Boulder had left us needing a day off in Boulder – which wasn’t a bad thing. Boulder’s a great town with lots of good energy, food and coffee shops. A perfect stop for the day. There were a few iconic restaurants on the road that we’d tried to hit on previous trips just to say we’d been – you know, Applebees, IHOP, Cracker Barrel – the bad stuff. We’d managed Applebees a couple of times but IHOP and Cracker Barrell we’d never done. As we stepped out from the motel, we saw the shining lights of IHOP next door. Surely this was destiny. We stepped in, sat down and I swear I’ve never seen more food on a plate than I did that morning. I think we both ate about a third of the food presented to us and we were more than ready for a day of walking.

The next day we planned to stop in Casper, Wyoming followed by Billings, Montana. The weather was good in Boulder but there were reports of snow in Yellowstone. During last years Transamerican Adventure, Yellowstone had been a highlight of the trip and we’d wanted to get Nita’s wheels into the park on the way home. It seemed, however, that our luck with mother nature was running out. We were late into the season and travel through the mountains was becoming hit or miss. Besides, the breeze was now always cool and any change in elevation brought with it cold fingers and toes.

We started that morning with the usual routine of packing up, clearing the room and checking out. Then we cleaned and lubed Nita’s chain on the centre stand. The centre stand on Nita’s F650GS was always harder to set than my R1200GS – and not by a little. Fully loaded I have to rock her bike on level ground two or three times to get it onto the stand. When I came out from the room with my bags Nita had already managed to get the bike up onto the stand which, in my opinion, was pretty awesome. I kicked the side stand up and put it into first and Nita worked away on the chain. Unfortunately I forgot to tell her the side stand was up and, while I packed up my bike, I suddenly heard a thunderous crash behind me. I turned around and saw the bike laying on the ground pinned against the rail and (thankfully) Nita on the other side. Aside from a cut on her knee and some bruises Nita was fine. She’d tried to save the bike but there’s just no way to do that once it reaches a certain point. The bike suffered only a minor bruising – the right indicator switch had been the main point of contact on the rail and snapped clean off. Well, the first tumble for Nita’s bike was out of the way!

It's broken.

We gather our composure, returned to calm and then set out. North to Casper.

Onto Casper

The next couple of days would be spent on wide-open highway. It was a world apart from the roads on which we’d started the trip. Still, it wasn’t so bad. There was plenty of time to reflect on the past weeks on the road and all that we’d seen. During our Transamerican, Wyoming had been such a highlight for us – especially after the hours and hours of cornfields in Nebraska. This was a different road into Wyoming for us and it definitely didn’t hold the same grand views. It was more like the prairies back home. Still, it’s beautiful land and, much like home, the mountains rose from the west and stayed with us all the way.

We spent the night in Casper at a hotel called C’mon Inn and honestly it was like someone left us a key to Cabela’s. Lot’s of wood and rock, ponds with fish in them and a few examples of taxidermy on the walls. The main hall was lined with rock and nooks that contained hot-tubs which wasn’t so bad! Nita had been having some trouble hitting the (now missing) right indicator and wanted to fashion a fix. So, in the parking lot using folded cardboard and duct tape a new button was fabricated that worked well. Then we rewarded ourselves with a quick hot-tub before dinner and we were asleep in no time.

The fix

Another day on the slab. The weather was in a fighting spirit. It wanted to storm but couldn’t so instead ran incredible winds off of the mountains to the west that rushed towards us like a jet. The whole day. Our necks we’re screaming for relief and our bodies tired from hours of buffeting. Looking to the west bought some relief from the wind but also reminded us of the fact that we weren’t in Yellowstone. Still, our decision not to do Yellowstone was the right one as thick, black clouds had closed in and the white stuff was covering everything to the valley floor. Soon we wouldn’t be able to see the mountains at all.

Into Billings

We pulled into Billings just as the temperatures dropped and the clouds closed in. We were at another C’mon Inn and the little hot-tub was a welcome relief to our tired and sore bodies.

Since we’d not done Yellowstone and we’d spent two days on highways I was feeling pretty adamant about doing something more interesting on the way to Great Falls. There were some secondary roads that took us through Lewis and Clark National Forest and we needed some turns. Amazingly we found the last of our “Roadside Americana Restaurants” – Cracker Barrel – across the street. If you’ve never been you need to go. Once. Having experienced hordes of people and the pretty cool candy shop we set off on what started out as a nice day in Billings. We headed north on HWY 3 then west on HWY 12 which turned into a lonely road with stunning scenery. To the north we could see the range we’d have to cross and the clouds were already moving in, settling down low, and turning very dark. Hmmm. As we got closer to our turn-off that would lead us north into Lewis and Clark National Forest, the temperature kept on dropping. We were once again frozen. By the time we’d reached the turn-off to HWY 89 we blew past it for a stop in White Sulphur Springs for fuel and a bowl of chicken noodle soup. The temperature outside was just about freezing – 1C (33F) and it had been raining for a while. I was worried about the pass. At nearly 7400ft Kings Hill Pass was certainly high enough for snow and, in these conditions, I worried that it could deteriorate quickly.

Out of Billings

Warmed up we headed out and, at first, the conditions had seemed to improve. It wasn’t long before we were in the rain. Still, the views and the road were spectacular! The colour in the valley was turning and we were flanked with reds, yellow, oranges and greens. The road itself was in great shape and the wet didn’t bother us. We started to climb towards the pass and the rain once again turned to snow. The sides of the road were white and our fingers and toes were again getting cold. We should have bought the Gerbings in Denver :) Still, there were lots of smiles in our helmets.

The road to the pass was fine, the snow was still unable to accumulate on the tarmac and soon enough we were heading down into valley. The rain was still intermittent and the temperatures still hovered just above freezing. For the last twenty minutes mother nature decided to top it off with some more jet-like cross-winds. When we made it to the hotel in Great Falls we were happy, frozen and excited for another hot-tub. We’d earned it. We felt proud.

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