Days 6-7: Yellowstone, Idaho, Oregon

Miles ridden: 921; Money Spent: $135

Before this trip, I’d only cracked 200 miles in a day once or twice and only been west of the Mississippi River a handful of miles. Touring and touring the west was an entirely new experience. That has a few advantages, mainly, I have no idea what the hell I’m doing, where I’m going, no plan and just take things as they come. I woke in the morning, still unsure if in the afternoon I’d head towards the Grand Canyon or California. Mid-day I’d decide to do neither, head north, change my mind, backtrack, lose-time and, as the sun arched towards the horizon, still be second guessing why I was going west. South! Not west! That was where the fun was at.

Like I said, I didn’t know what the hell I was doing.

It was, however, a memorable day. Yellowstone, as expected, was gorgeous. The day before I’d planned to get a campsite for two days, so I could spend a whole day exploring the area, but at $28 a night, yesterday’s plan gave away to a new goal, and with rain moving in fast from the east, I decided to do the quick loop.

There’s so many spots to see, it’s hard to decide where to stop. I started the day slowly, not yet aware of the rain, watching the waterfalls . . .

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And checking out the wildlife . . .

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Just as the day was getting started, a couple of Bison decided to lumber up the hill, kicking up dirt as they walked and ignoring all traffic.

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After a few minutes, when they were still walking up the side of the road and clearly taking their time, traffic, very slowly, began to move past them. I pulled up the ZZR, not two feet from the beast, and came to a dead stop, waiting for the car in front of me to move.

He looked at me, square in the eyes. And stared.

I wanted to reach for the camera, I could almost feel his breath, but that meant putting the bike in neutral and taking my hands off the bike. And that was a violation of my number one rule, if something that can kill you wants to engage in a staring contest, do not take your hands off the throttle.

As we pulled away, still staring me down, his lumber turned to a trot, and I watched in my mirror, waiting for the gallop, until, losing interest, he trotted back off the road, kicking up a cloud of dust.

A couple turns later, I discovered what would later make me question not going south.

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This mini-Grand Canyon was simply breathtaking and would plant the seed of doubt in my mind for the rest of the day, leaving me worried my ever changing decisions would somehow make me run out of money too soon, and I’d miss the full scale version.

Like I said, breathtaking.

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Leaving the canyon, I found one of the coolest stretches of road to date, the path from Canyon Village to Tower Falls. It twists and turns and rises and falls. But it is 35mph. There is traffic. And a bison could jump out at any time. Nevertheless, it was a total hoot. Despite the warning and signs, it was still littered with RV’s. But if they won’t let you pass, simply pull over and take a picture of the roads. Hop on the bike, play catch-up. Repeat.

 

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And this is the part of the day where my mind went haywire, deciding north, not south or west, was the way to go. I dreamed of pulling an all-nighter to Washington and headed north up towards I-90. An hour later I took a nap by the lake with the Minnesota boys and girls and dreamed, a more scary dream, of running out of money before the Grand Canyon. So I did a U-shape loop back down towards reality and decided to push towards California and forgo wasting any money on lodging.

It was dark. I was tired, and the fear of drilling a dear at 70 mph wasn’t enough to keep me awake at midnight. So I pulled over at the first rest stop in Idaho, just before Idaho Falls, and dreaming again, this time of cheesy slasher movies, crawled underneath a cement table and tried to sleep.

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I unbungeed my gear from the bike, pulled out the sleeping bag, and tennis shoes and all, slid my way in and hopped back towards the table.

I was suddenly warm, a late-night party in town was jamming honky-tonk country blues, and the stars were shining bright overhead. With horses neighing in the distance, I had my best sleep of the trip.

*****

Riding is quite peaceful. Even on a frigid cold morning, like when I left from the rest stop along I-15, the sun barely turning the black sky a dark blue, it’s peaceful–so long as you have the proper gear. Sweatshirt, jacket liner, winter gloves and neck scarf (a winter cap with a hole in the top works wonders), and I was at my maximum warmth capacity, unless you count the rain jacket, and even then there was a hint of a chill in my bones.

It gives you a chance to think, about what is up to you, sometimes nothing–a blank slate–works best, but after a long day in the saddle, eventually something must fill the void.  I hadn’t talked to anyone in days, except for the random gas station conversation. I’d spent the last few days riding through vast lands that seemed almost devoid of civilization, and last night I slept alone at a rest stop.

It was an odd sensation, feeling so alone, and I could not in the age of constant connectedness imagine living in a time or a place where news from the other side of the country could take months to reach you or not at all. I thought of the past, of generations come and gone, and how in the future we’d be those generations that had come and went.

Then I thought about television and movies and how those images are seared into, well, at least my skull, and how on this trip, from Mount Rushmore to Montana mountains, it was like seeing the image, once burned into your brain on film, again–almost like deja vu–most likely from old Hitchcock movies.

I thought about the motorcycle wave, how one guy in Oregon gave me the half-circle wave. The cruiser guys most often give the low wave, like they’re trying to pick up a quarter at 70 mph, or sometimes just the simple head nod. Or some folk only wave back, never initiate, and when two of them drive by each other, even on opposite sides of the interstate, they both give the slow head turn, waiting for the other to draw like old gun fighters, but instead simply stare.

Like I said, you have to think about something. Especially when there’s a hint of coldness slowly seeping into your bones.

I drove for awhile, taking U.S. 20 towards Oregon, most the time wondering how it could be so cold in June. Then, much to my surprise, I came across this sign. Sometimes you drive aimlessly and just get lucky.

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I reached an overlook, the cold wind blowing up from across the ancient black lava and had another one of those random conversations with a stranger walking to his truck.

“Sure is cold,” he said, rubbing his arms.

“Sure is,” I agreed.

I got to the park around 7:00 in the morning–there wasn’t even anyone at the gate–and drove through. Much like the Badlands, it’s impossible to convey in photos, you simply have to be surrounded by the jagged lava formations to appreciate it. It’s like a scene straight out of a Tim Burton movie.

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Devil’s Orchard is phenomenally cool. Creepy, yet beautiful. It definitely makes the must-see list. They had a bunch of quotes describing the park, but the one I liked best is from an 1862 emigrant: “The entire scene – molten rocks, sand and parched sage – could only remind one of the black valley of death.”

 

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I finally made it into Oregon and had a blast taking 20 all the way to Burns. The scenery really is great.

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I found a great motel, working late into the night to catch up on my work. Tomorrow will be a 500+ mile day, heading all the way to the Pacific Ocean and Gil’s house, where he and his wife have kindly invited me to stay for the night.

Begin the countdown: Pacific Ocean. T-minus 20 hours.

———-

The whole trip:
Days 1-3Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota, and the Badlands
Days 4-5Wyoming, Dinosaurs, and Yellowstone
Days 6-7: Yellowstone, Idaho, and Oregon
Days 8-10California, Dinner with Strangers, and a Pacific Sunset
Days 11-13San Francisco, Yosemite, Death Valley, and the Grand Canyon
Days 14-16Utah, the Rocky Mountains, the Great Plains, and Home