We were back in the USA!
We drove down to oh-so-very-swanky WhiteFish, and I turned on my phone again at long last -- no service in Canada, unfortunately (stupid Tracfone) -- and sent a quick micro blog. It was September 12, and we were now halfway through our trip. We had had many "wow" moments, and were hoping for many more in the USA.
We continued on to the Western Entrance to Glacier National Park. It was after 6 in the evening and, ofcourse, the entrance to the park was long closed, despite the long line of people wanting into the park. And were we greeted by a big, detailed sign telling us how to pay even though no one was there? Or a big stack of informative brochures? No: we were greeted by a big computer screen with a computer error message on it (thanks, Microsoft!). Nothing else. I was FURIOUS. We pulled past the entrance and over to the side of the road where there was space to park the bikes, then walked back to try to figure out how to pay. There was one small small sign, one small metal box with a slit in it, and a few envelopes, all for two lines of traffic to try to figure out. I used my last check to pay. I was ticked off hugely as I stood there trying to fill out my last check and the envelope while people kept asking me questions and trying to pay ME -- my green vest made people think I worked there, despite the biker clothes. I was getting mad because I was hungry and because PEOPLE ARE IDIOTS. I should have just started taking people's money. We drove on and found the Apgar information center was also closed, and there was NO information outside it whatsoever regarding camp sites. Attention Glacier National Park visitors: Go Eff Yourselves.
We went to Apgar camp site and got the LAST camp site available, sliding in with a long line of cars behind us.
Our long list of complaints about Glacier National Park was growing. Listen up, national park service:
You get THREE kudos:
A yet-another-good-thing about our equipment that I had discovered: our Therm-a-Rest mattresses really are self-inflating! They never fill up completely but, indeed, if you stretch them out and leave the valves open for at least 30 minutes, they blow up at least 50% themselves! Made setting up camp a whole lot easier...
The next day, we got up at 6:45 a.m., way earlier than we usually did. We needed plenty of time for Stefan to fix my motorcycle. I cooked a big breakfast of scrambled eggs, we drank a lot of coffee and hot chocolate, I watched a a beautiful wood pecker right at our camp site and chipmunk sift through the fire pit, and Stefan got to work on my bike (note in the photo that, by the time Stefan began working on the bike, almost all the other campers were gone). I was determined to be in a better mood than I had been the night before.
We spent almost the entire day driving the Going to the Sun road through Glacier National Park. We thought it would take two hours. It took all day, because it's something that really MUST be savored. This was our very first view. And the views just didn't stop! There are waterfalls everywhere. It's a very narrow road with spectacular views. There is a lot of construction on the road (stimulus money is making long-overdue improvements to it), so that some small stretches are now just packed down dirt, and there are two or three times you have to sit and wait about 15 minutes before you get to go, which is actually a great time to chat with other bikers. I'm so glad we took our time. I'm also so glad we were visiting after Labor Day; the road must be a parking lot at other times. If you go to Glacier National park, and you are going to stay in the park for two nights, forget your car and, instead, take a hop-on-hop-off bus on the Going to the Sun; you get to enjoy the views, take all the time you want taking photos (you can hike from stop to stop if you want), and your car won't clog up the road! Even though Montana doesn't require helmets, we were ATGATT, ofcourse!
At the top of the road, we met an adventure motorcycle rider from Switzerland. He'd been in Asia and was now touring the USA. Here is Glenn's web site. After our trip, I emailed him info for Gail and Eric, because ALL world motorcycle travelers must stay at Gail and Eric's at some point. And, yes, a couple of weeks later, he did!
The work of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) is everywhere in Glacier National Park, just as it is all over the USA in state parks, national parks, federal buildings and so many other places. I wish there was a smart phone app that would tell me where all the nearest CCC projects are wherever I am standing in the USA -- THEN I would buy a smart phone! I so love the CCC. Even my Republican Dad loved the CCC. What a legacy those people left us.
A sad thing we found out during our visit is that all of the glaciers in Glacier National Park will be gone by 2030. Some are already gone, and all have shrunk back severely. We met two older gentlemen who had visited 25 and 30 years ago, and they told us how every glacier they had seen then is melted significantly or entirely. There are a lot of photos on display showing you what glaciers looked like then and now. Once they are gone, it will adversely affect the ecosystems immediately and significantly. So sad. But don't forget: global warming is a lie.
As we neared the end of the road and we had a very late lunch at Two Dog Flats restaurant. We had an AMAZING meal: I had a buffalo burger that was to DIE for. We watched two deer forage outside our window, and two hardcore minimalist bicycle travelers load up and head out. We had a nice discussion with our server, who will be going to Europe soon (I could not have gushed more than I did). They were also playing a CD by the Horton Brothers, who I don't think I have ever heard of, but was all over (what a not surprise, they're from Austin). The camp ground there was closed (ofcourse!) so we pushed on. By the time we got on the other side of the park, it was late afternoon/early evening. We discussed pushing on to the Many Glaciers entrance and trying to stay at the camp site there, but I felt strongly that we should stay at the St. Mary's camp ground at the Eastern Glacier entrance and do Many Glaciers in the morning. So Stefan headed to the village of St. Mary's for cigarettes and beer, and I put up the tent. He brought back Moose Drool beer, which we both fell in love with! He also again foraged more semi-used campfire wood from the empty camp sites around us, and with enough kindling and tender, and Stefan's expertise, we had a terrific fire for most of the evening. After dark, a fully-outfitted bicycle traveler showed up to camp. He was in such stark contrast to the bicyclists we had seen early, who barely had anything on their bikes and what they did wasn't at all "official" bicycle gear. By contrast, he had it ALL, down to the color coordination! He also had the same stove as us.
It rained in the night, and the next day, we woke to very low clouds. It was an entirely gray day. We packed up and stopped first at the Eastern Glacier information booth, then headed up to the Many Glaciers road. The spectacular views we had been promised were entirely cloud-covered. We stopped at the village at the end of the road, had a bathroom break, then headed back down the road. There were several people parked on the side of the road, looking at something up in the mountains, and I thought, oh, great, another freakin' goat or sheep or elk. Nope. It was a BEAR. I could not have been more excited if the Beatles had been on the side of that mountain. It was rather far away, but the photos make it look like it's even farther; I could see it with the nekkid eye, no problem. It didn't give a damn about us -- just kept foraging for berries. I almost cried. It was the first time I've ever seen a bear in the wild. I had been waiting for this since I started hiking and camping in the wild back in 1991!
We headed out of the park and down US Highway 89, which was actually quite a nice ride (just watch out for the free range cattle and horses) but really, really cold. A misreading of the map landed us in Browning, the largest community on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. It was sadder than any city we saw in Eastern Europe. It's a city with citizens who have given up. The only well-kept building we saw was the casino. It depressed me beyond measure. I was also colder than I had been on the trip, by far, and we stopped at a Subway in Browning to grab some lunch and warm up, since we couldn't find a locally-run restaurant anywhere in town. The Subway employee wouldn't make a fresh pot of coffee and was underwhelmed by her job responsibilities, standing at the side of the serving area smoking (yes, indoors) and playing on her cell phone while heavy metal music played loudly. They've given up even inside of one of the only non-Casino businesses in town. They could learn so much from Bulgaria... or Poland...
As we had entered town, I had seen an Asian couple -- yes, one was female -- each on very well-stocked BMW GSs. I would so loved to have met them! I bet they were from Japan. They were heading to Glacier National Park on US Highway 2. We did likewise after lunch. A non-Rez resident in the Subway had said that, when he left Kalispell, it was oh-so-sunny. So we were eager to get back to the West side of the park. We were not disappointed; the sun soon came out as we proceeded West on US 2 and the scenery became gorgeous again, with tidily-kept small villages ready to present a welcoming image to tourist that I wish Browning would learn from (angry email from someone living in Browning in 5, 4, 3, 2...). We switched to state road 35, then to state road 83. Actually, at the convenience store and gas station at the intersection of state highways 35 and 83, a guy walked up to Stefan's bike and said, "Wow. I've never seen one of these in real life!" Turns out he had only just learned about the existence of the Honda Africa Twin motorcycle. He dreams of taking an adventure tour by motorcycle, but is under the impression that one has to be rich -- a lawyer or a doctor -- to do so. I really hope he checks out Stefan's web site and joins ADVRider and subscribes to RoadRunner magazine and learns the truth!
Highway 83, along Swan Lake, was lovely, if mostly straight. We took it slow, heeding a warning about deer and elk out on the road so late in the day. We camped at Swan Lake camp ground in Flathead National Forest. We were thrilled to learn just how big a wood bundle is in the opinion of the camp hosts who were selling such for five bucks. We were not so thrilled when the camp host said, "Hmmm... I guess those boxes on your bike will be good enough bear boxes" and proceeded to tell us all the bear activity in the area, including the very fresh bear tracks just a few steps away from the park entrance. He assured us the bears had been interested in breaking into the houses around and had stayed away from the camp sites, which was good to hear, since Swan Lake camp ground has no bear boxes (WTF?!?). Otherwise, it's a lovely camp ground! I had been really worried about the availability of camp sites, since all the national parks had decided the season was over, but learned that national forest and state park camp grounds stay open much longer, at least until October 1 and even longer. Sometimes its to accommodate hunters and sometimes its because they know there ARE people camping year round.
Next day, a couple stopped by to chat. The guy turned out to be a former Honda motorcycle spokesperson! He was thrilled to have a close up look at the Honda Africa Twin. It was a beautiful day! I demanded a walk about the camp site -- my mind and body needed it. Our mistake on this trip was not putting in one day to camp twice in the same camp site and spend a day just hiking and enjoying and relaxing. The walk in the warm sun felt fantastic, and I felt renewed to ride. We had three pristine, untouched pieces of wood left from our massive bundle, and just couldn't imagine leaving them behind. Since I was doubtful we'd make the Idaho border, we decided to take them with us, which is not an easy thing to do on motorcycles.
So we headed out, continuing down State Highway 83 through Flathead National Forest, which was turning into an unexpected treat. It's very pretty and has great mountain and lake views all around. We stopped at the National Forest Service work station at Condon, which had all of the information outside of it about surrounding camp sites that Apgar Visitor's Center in Glacier National Park should have had about its surrounding area! Inside, there was even more great information. Turns out it's not just a service center; it's an interpretive center packed with information and displays and helpful staff. They get student groups frequently. The woman on staff at the front desk (using an adorable green iMac) regaled us with her story of her first-ever wolf sighting, something that had happened just the night before. Chills. I also learned that bears are not attracted to menstruating women (I have the brochure just on that subject) and that the entire dandelion plant is edible.
We pushed on, lunching at a place that is a gas station, convenience store, restaurant and Ace Hardware, all in one, in a town called Seeley Lake.
We continued down 83 on the beautiful day, then headed West on state highway 200. And then I saw a sign for Garnet ghost town. We had just been talking the day before about how unfortunate it was that we didn't do more planning for this trip, to see what might be around our route, like ghost towns. Ofcourse we turned onto the road! There is a large information sign and a parking lot, and an encouragement for you to not take the road that goes from the town to US Highway 90 if you are pulling a trailer or are in a bus. But nothing about the condition of the road surface itself. It was paved where we were at that moment, but would it continue? We were suspicious. Stefan asked if I was game and I said yes, most definitely -- a ghost town! We love those! My heart was pounding. Off we went. It was 11 miles to the town, and there were mile markers to show our progress. And I was fine for two mile markers. And then came the sign, "pavement ends." And Stefan was stunned to watch me drive passed it and on to the gravel. I was terrified. But it was still early afternoon, and it just felt like it was time for me to try gravel -- not just a little bit of gravel for a few yards, but for a mile or two -- or nine.
I never stopped. I was too scared to stop on gravel, let alone on a hill. I didn't stop for any of the information signs that came here and there because, hello, I WAS ON GRAVEL. When I came to the washboards, I was not happy. My bike rattled like mad as I went over them. I was actually happy when my windshield was knocked loose, because it settled on top of my head light and stopped making the horrible rattling noise. After what seemed like an eternity, we finally came to the parking lot for the Ghost Town, which is a bit of a walk away. I was shaking, but triumphant!
We were really impressed with the picnic sites around the parking lot -- are they going to turn this into a camp site eventually? I hope so!
We parked the bikes, took off several layers of clothes and walked over to the Ghost town, which we adored. We got some terrific shots of us enjoying the site. You most definitely have to go upstairs at the hotel and to stop at the visitor's center. Stefan asked about Bear Gulch Road, the road heading to I 90, the road that buses are advised to not even think about, and the park service guy got a "don't do it" look on his face and said, "It's pretty tough." But then he said two Harleys had done it. And I think Stefan was hungry for a bit of a challenge. So we decided to give it a try. At first, we almost turned back: imagine a cobblestone road where the cobblestone have all been dug up and left lying around. Stefan drove his bike down it, disappeared, and a minute later came walking back to tell me it didn't last long and that he would drive my bike down it. I was only happy to hand it over. Then the road became a mix of dirt and rock for several yards. And then we came to a steep decline with a hairpin turn down at the end. I stopped. And stared at it. Stefan pulled beside me.
I raised my helmet visor and said, "Do you think I can do it?"
Stefan said, "Sure!"
So, down the hill I went, heart beat in my ears.
It was terrifying. I knew there was no stopping except for crashing.
The first two miles continued to be an incredible challenge of downhill dirt and sharp turns and me-in-terror. But then it got smoother, and I did fine and calmed down significantly. I just kept thinking that Stefan was back there, ready to help no matter what happened. Also, packed down dirt, with rocks here and there, is a LOT easier than gravel! But I remained oh-so-cautious and slow. I almost did a dance at the end of the road. We continued on the frontage road along I 90, waving at two rafters loaded down with as much gear as us, floating down the Blackfoot River towards Missoula. So many great ways to travel... It was a breathtaking day -- beautiful sun, amazing colors everywhere.
We drove through Missoula -- which Stefan and I have decided we would be HAPPY to move to -- and then followed Highway 12 to Lolo Creek Campground (wouldn't you think a place called Traveler's Rest State Park would have a camp site?!). We had camped at Lolo Creek Campground before, back in 2009 when we were moving across country. I felt very nostalgic about being there again, and missed Albi terribly, as she'd been there with us last time.
We woke up to rain. Ugh. Granted, we had bought a tarp in Canada so that we could cook in the rain, since most camp sites in the USA don't have cooking shelters. But I decided, no, it was time to substitute breakfast in a restaurant for lunch in a restaurant. We deserved it! So we stopped for a hearty, delicious breakfast at the restaurant in Lolo Hot Springs. Geesh but it was delicious. Yes, I had biscuits and gravy. A little surreal moment was the guy who came in and sat down at our table for about half our meal, wanting to talk about motorcycle traveling. Didn't ask -- just did it. It's funny now, but it was a little weird at the time.
. It was still raining when we got to the border of Montana and Idaho, where Stefan had been now THREE times. I had made it mandatory to stop at the Lolo Pass Visitor Center and Rest Area (Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center), because I had never seen inside. I was not disappointed! Best National Forest/National Park visitor center ever: it's perfectly placed, just where travelers need it, it has an outside shelter where we could have cooked outside had we chosen to, the inside has excellent books for sale, tons of great information, Internet access, couches to sit and relax, and free coffee! As we stood outside, an elder with a group of Indians/native Americans started calling to the children in their native language; I was so glad Stefan got to hear an American native language. It's a fascinating thing to hear.
As we suited up, we commented at all the motorcyclists blowing by, how they were really missing a wonderful stop. And just as we were about to mount up, a couple two-up on their bike came in and parked next to us -- they had been one of the bikers who had blown by. They turned out to be from Seattle, on their first real motorcycle trip, and were desperate for gas. He's a professional photographer, and she's a new rider herself (like me!). He took a lot of photos of Stefan's bike, which I really hope we get to see. He's on ADVRider, and Stefan gave him a card; hope he gets in touch! Wish they had sought some gear advice before they started though -- they weren't prepared for the weather.
I still have slept a night in Idaho. I love the state so much! I need to sleep there some time and have Idaho dreams...
We pushed on westerly on Highway 12, with the weather getting drier and the scenery just as lovely as I remembered from when we were there in 2009. I so love that area. We got gas at Cougar Canyon and met a couple from Tasmania two up on a motorcycle. They had been traveling for four months in the USA. I was impressed - so many international adventure motorcycle tourists just tour the West Coast on the way from Canada to Mexico; it was refreshing to find someone who was taking the time to actually see the middle part of the USA. We stopped again in Lewiston for gas, and I went in to check out the food selection. $3.69 for one can of Chunky Soup? Kiss my ass! I refuse.
Highway 12 goes from weaving through forests to weaving through ranch land, and it's usually running along side a river. I was really enjoying the riding. We had to stop on the Nez Pierce rez so we could strip off layers; it was really warming up. This was one of the longest rides of the day, and I really don't like riding more than 250 miles in a day -- we did more than 300 -- but I knew that every mile we did that day was one we wouldn't have to do the next day, our last day on the road. We had skipped a stop near Yellowstone earlier in the trip because the friend we were going to visit had to rush off to Alaska for a job interview (I'm happy to say she got the job! Now we have someone to stay with in Juneau!), so we were already a day ahead of schedule, but the idea of getting home a day earlier than planned sounded oh-so-good. So we pushed it.
A sign I saw this day:
For Sale: Pop, eggs, Rhubarb, rabbit friers
For some reason, it made me laugh. We are in the country!
We passed through the oh-so-charming town of Dayton, Washington, where we would be happy to move (not kidding). We stopped at the grocery for dinner that night and I bought discount fried chicken (it goes half price at the deli after 6, and it was 6:02!) and instant mashed potatoes. But I learned later why Stefan doesn't like fried chicken: he doesn't know what parts are edible, and gets frustrated trying to figure it out. He's not a guy that likes to think while he eats. But, really, do any of us like to think while we eat? I wasn't being culturally-sensitive. I forget that, unlike Kentuckians, the rest of the world doesn't learn to eat fried chicken starting at about 2 years old.
We pushed on to the Lewis and Clark Trail State Park in Washington state, where we had stayed a year before. This time, no fabulous doggie with us, no fabulous Coleman two-burner stove with us either. This time, two fabulous motorcycles! I was sooooo mentally and physically exhausted from the day that I stopped talking around 8 and went to bed at 9. Yes, at 9. And I slept for 10 hours! I stopped talking for even longer! This was the first time we were in a camp site with other bikers: we met two guys on motorcycles from Canada. In fact, all the motorcyclists we met in the USA were from Canada. In fact, most of the other campers we met in Glacier National Park, from there and to here were Canadians!
I'm upgrading my opinion of Lewis and Clark Trail State Park since we were there last, not because anything has changed, but because I've realized just how good it is. The facilities are old, yes, but they are complete: there are showers. The camp sites have dense, high foliage around them that makes you feel more secluded than you really are from other campers. There's also "primitive" camping that is actually camping for hikers and bicyclists, isolated from everyone else, and it comes with picnic tables and fire pits, and keeps the RVs and motorized vehicles away. In the back of the bathrooms is a fading board that directs you to a very short hike meant to show you edible plants of the area. It really needs an update; what a wonderful project that would be for someone's Girl Scout Gold Award!
The only complaint Stefan has is for the very loud chanting critters in the night -- insects? Frogs? Whatever they were, one of their numbers got right behind the tent and started singing. Stefan got out in the night to try to find it and kill it, whatever it was. He couldn't find it. It would stop singing when he came out, then start chanting again as soon as he settled back down.
That morning, I poured over Stefan's road map, looking desperately for a reasonable alternative to US Highway 84 through the gorge along the Columbia River in Oregon. I hate that road with a passion. I HATE IT. Let me say it again: the wind is relentless, the traffic flies at least 20 miles over the speed limit, no one cares about motorcycles, and there's always a threat of rain. The alternative we chose added probably an hour to our trip home: 395 from Pendleton to 74 through Heppner, Lexington and Ione. All I wanted was a less-stressful alternative route. What we got was some of the best riding of the ENTIRE trip! We loved it! Wow! I was in an amazing mood during the ride, just totally drinking it up and feeling great on my own motorcycle.
Sadly, we had to get on 84 eventually. And the gorge met all of our expectations, as usual, with the added bonus of pouring down rain. It was more terrifying than the ride from Garnet ghost town to I 90. It was insane. And the rain came down even worse once we got on 205 South. I can't believe I didn't cry. I just went into this mode of not wanting to die and hating Oregon. Stefan sped on ahead and was just finishing a cigarette at the Willamette river overlook in Oregon City on 99E when I finally came by. He had easily caught up with me before Canby.
We were home at last. Albi was her usual timid, submissive, oh-why-did-you-leave-me self. I not only had Hair by Honda, I had unwashed hair by Honda. Stefan and I were gross beyond gross. We literally pealed off our biker clothes, drenched from the rain (we hadn't bothered with the rain gear since we were so near home). Darkness was falling.
Nothing feels better than your own bed after a trip. We were so happy to be home. We spent the weekend downloading photos from our cameras and then uploading them to Flickr, scanning our emails and looking for critical messages, and emailing folks and letting them know we were home.
My first international trip riding my own motorcycle trip is done. I'm feeling really good about my motorcycling skills. I've still got a lot to learn, and I intend to take an advanced riders course in the Spring of next year, to further improve. In the meantime, Stefan is going to do some work on my bike, to see if he can get it to suck up less oil, and I'll do some small day trips around, weather permitting.
My only regret? That I waited until I was 45 to do this. But that said, let's face it: I would never have done this without Stefan. I would have talked about it, but never done it.
Next international trip on my own motorcycle? Could be Canada again. Could be Mexico. Ultimately, I want to work up to my dream motorcycle trip on my own bike: Chile. After that? Somewhere in Europe. If Australia and New Zealand show up in that mix, well, cool! And I won't say that I'm not dreaming about a Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda trip, because I am.
And after that? Um... let's get through just THAT, and then we'll see...
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