Quick update from West Yellowstone…

Woke up feeling tired and worn out. If a good night’s sleep couldn’t fix it, I really do think I need a rest day. I got to a cafe down the road and saw that the time was 8:30AM rather than 9:30AM as I had assumed, and realized that I was now in Mountain Time. I could have slept in!

Ah well, time to keep pushing. Today I head towards Missoula. I’ll try to take mostly backroads and some highways as per usual. Still trying to figure out if my rest day will be in Missoula or elsewhere, but it needs to be soon.

Update from West Yellowstone, MT

I am tired and bleary eyed. I should probably have taken off my contacts before I left the motel to go find coffee and dinner, but I didn’t think of it.

Today has been quite some day. I woke up in Ten Sleep, got breakfast at the Crazy Woman Cafe and headed out. My plan was to ride the 200 something miles to Yellowstone National Park, find a place to stay, unload all my luggage, rest a bit and then go do the loop around the park. The day turned out very differently from what I had planned though.

First off, I am glad I decided to stop at Ten Sleep because heading west, there was nothing but desert. I made good time until I pulled over at a view point to look at some unusual colored rocks in the distance. Unfortunately it was full of loose gravel and when I braked to stop, I felt the bike slip away from me and fall on its side. I cursed and got off, took my gear off and tried to heave it up. No luck. I took all the luggage off and tried again. It came up about 6 inches off the ground before slipping downhill on the gravel. This wasn’t looking good. The sun was beating down and I was getting tired and hot. I hadn’t seen a soul on the road for the past half hour and I
could see miles of emptiness in front of me. I had no cellphone reception either. I envisioned a long, thirsty wait before someone came by.

Thankfully, after about 15 minutes of waiting, I heard a car far off in the distance and ran out into the road and waved like a creature possessed. The car slowed down and the couple inside it got out and helped me pick the bike up. It wouldn’t start because the carbs had probably gotten flooded. I waited for a few minutes and tried again, hoping the gas had evaporated, and it started this time. I was soon on my way although feeling extremely stupid about the incident. Of course, I had anticipated that something like this would happen sooner or later, and it was a good thing that both the bike and I were unscathed, but it really diminished my feeling of self-sufficiency and independence. I thought of how Lois Pryce picked an XT225 for her journey across the Americas even though it was a small, slow bike without much power for the sole reason that she could pick it up if
she dropped it. There was much wisdom in that but I don’t think I could ever bring myself to do the trade off on power and comfort for a long ride like she did.

My bike hadn’t been handling very well and I was getting a bit concerned about my rear tire being worn down. The shop that did my pre-ride service had said that I had about 8000 miles on it left, and I had done maybe 4000-5000 miles so far, but I didn’t want to cut it too close. I found a Suzuki motorcycle shop in Cody and asked the guys there what they thought of the tire. The tread was still visible but it was badly squared off. One of them said that I should be able to do the 1500 miles I needed to get home, while the other one said that I had only about 100-500 miles left on it. Hmmm… I decided that it was better to be safe than sorry and asked them if they had a tire that would work and if they could replace it. They didn’t have the right size tire. I needed a 160, but they had a 170 which they said would work and even handle better because it was wider. The tire was a bit
expensive at $217, but the labor was only $60/hr. I decided to do it and, left the bike with them and walked down the street to get lunch.

As I walked to the diner, I called Jake to see if he had found a place to replace his tire and recommend this place to him and found out that co-incidentally his tire was getting replaced that very minute at a place he had found in Sturgis. :)

When I got back from lunch, the bike was ready and done and waiting outside the shop for me. Just like that! Earlier in the day I had envisioned a nightmarish scenario of hunting down a shop with the tire worn to the cords, being told that they needed to order one, waiting for an appointment, and all kinds of delays that would be typical in a Seattle shop. Instead, it was all done while I ate lunch! I was delighted and grateful that it had been so quick and painless.

On to Yellowstone! I was excited about finally hitting mountains and getting cool. About 20 miles within the east entrance though, it started getting really windy, something I have real issues with while riding and I slowed down. Pretty soon I started feeling really tired and harassed what with dealing with the cross winds that whipped my helmet around and made the front tire wobble. I don’t know if this is the aftermath of the crash in Alaska on a terribly windy day, but my brain and body seems to go into panic mode whenever I encounter winds while out riding.

I got into Yellowstone and showed the ranger my annual pass. It’s a good thing I bought it after all because the entry fee for motorcycles was $20 and I’ve paid well over $45 in total at various National Parks so far. Here I  found out that all lodgings and campsites were completely booked up. So much for my well laid plans. I kicked myself for not calling ahead and making reservations. I decided to ride west through the park and see Old Faithful, then head north through Mammoth Springs, out the park and to some small town to find lodgings.

It was already 4:00PM though and I was starting to get very tired. The distances in the loop didn’t look too long so I decided to go ride them. I couldn’t have been more wrong though. While the distances between each major stop were small, traffic crawled along at 30mph in 45mph zones with people acting like they were on a safari and acting excited and coming to a complete stop at the sight of a bison or elk. My brain all but exploded as I stood there sweltering in the heat. Not to mention, I’ve always found it completely distasteful to see humans standing and gawking at animals, whether in a zoo or in a park.

Old Faithful was yet another disappointment. After nearly 60 miles of crawling in traffic, I expected something just a little bit more spectacular. What was more fascinating than the geyser were the crowds of hundreds of people standing around and gaping, no doubt people who had spent a lot of time and money to get to see it. I said as much to the girl who sold me ice cream at the lodge and she said that it was probably a sociologist’s dream or their worst nightmare.

While stopped there, I made some calls to motels around the place. Most of them were completely booked for the night, but I got lucky and found a place in West Yellowstone for $68. All I had to do was head north to Madison and then to the west entrance of the park. Of course, it took me nearly an hour to get what would have been a 20 minute ride in the absence of traffic. The wind was back too which made the stretches where I could go fast not very much fun. :|

I guess I got Yellowstone completely wrong. I’m sure it’s the kind of place that is incredible to see if you got off the beaten path into the back country and went to where the tourists didn’t. I did see some cool vistas and rivers and lakes from the road, but the experience was completely ruined by the crowds of tourists milling all over. Also, I must be spoiled by my experience in Alaska last year, but it takes a lot to come even close to what I saw out there.

Maybe someday I’ll return to Yellowstone and do it the right way – whatever the right way might be, but riding through it on a motorcycle in full protective gear is definitely not it.

Tonight I spend the night in the town of West Yellowstone – mostly an outpost that thrives on tourist dollars. Tomorrow I have the choice to either head back into the park and go north through the Mammoth springs, or bypass it completely and take highways to Missoula. I’ll decide tomorrow but I rather think I will pick the latter.

In other news, I am in MONTANA!