Why So Beautiful, Part 1: Wyoming, Montana, and some Tetons edition. August 6-10, 2014.
This post is all about the scenery. I feel like a changed person; there was the me before Wyoming, Montana, and Beartooth Pass, and now there’s a person who is ruined for this world. Okay, that’s a bit dramatic. I was simply lost in the scenic beauty in this part of the US. Prepare your monitors, this is a photo-heavy post.
There was no way I could miss Devil’s Tower National Monument. I didn’t believe it was a real place in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (hey, I was a kid), since then I wanted to see it in person.
The only break from the vast openness was a sign warning of construction ahead, and advising motorcyclists to “seek alternate route”. Pshah! I’ve ridden in all sorts of stuff, and I don’t want to drive a zillion miles out of my way, I thought. The tarmac was smooth under me, foreshadowing nothing of what was ahead.
Maybe 40 miles in I reached the aforementioned construction, with only the road behind and “road” ahead. I use quotes here to indicate that it wasn’t so much a road, as much as a ruptured dirt-brown slash through the land, teeming with construction vehicles.
I lost the pilot car early, the majority of my resources allocated to dodging industrial scale ruts, grapefruit sized rocks, and holes as big as my wheel. In some places, the uneven dirt, sand, and gravel was wet so it turned to mud. Every time I chanced a look up from the ground, there was just more of the same stretching into the distance. Finally, an intersection appeared, after which the road turned to a less punishing packed dirt. A small train of motorcycles from the other direction sat waiting. I can only imagine how I looked to them, bumping along on a bright blue plastic toy, picking a drunkard’s line through the ruined road, loaded down with what would appear to be a sad attempt to survive a Russian winter (I had a box of Triscuits bungeed right to the passenger seat, I was snacking while waiting for the pilot car). There was just enough pavement at the intersection for me to take my hand off the bars and give them a thumbs up. Every single rider waved and smiled in return.
In the end, the section of construction was only about 8 miles long. If I can make it, you certainly can.
Bear warnings were generously posted around Bighorn National Forest, and I had a bit of a fitful night’s sleep wondering if the underseat was a safe hiding place for my Triscuits. Trying to force slumber, I told myself bear claw marks would be pretty badass. Gladly, I awoke to find to my scooter un-molested.
I was excited to be in Ten Sleep, because I had set up a time to meet Shreve Stockton, of Vespa Vagabond! Years ago I read her blog (among others) and I knew I wanted to make a trip of my own. It was inspiring to meet her, yet another fantastic individual.
Also, while waiting in line for coffee, the girl in front of me turned around and asked, “Are you Stephanie?” It turns out my reputation precedes me, Elena was friends with Jose and Karen. They had mentioned my Vespa, and were going to meet up with Elena to climb the canyon. So exciting! We ended up sharing a most awesome table with Shreve.
I chatted with Kathy and Justin for a while, and found out the Germans I had camped next to at Bandcamp, Motorliebe, had overnighted on the brewery lawn too. Ten Sleep is suffering a plague of scooter tourists, ha!
I rode into Red Lodge, MT on Rt 308. I was amped from all the cool people I met, spruced from the shower, and the road was a marvel of smooth, gently winding tarmac. The beginning of the Rocky mountain range rose in front of me, deep blue and magnificently backlit by the setting sun. Not a car was in sight, only the slowly climbing road and a clear view to the growing mountains. They waited for me tomorrow. It was the end of the day, and I was quite literally riding into the sunset.
At the Klock Werks party, I was introduced to Bean’re. He holds the world record for distance riding on a 50cc minibike, in additional to being a super fun guy who tours by (full sized) motorcycle. At one point, he said to me, “You and I, we’re ruint. That’s my word, ‘ruint’ with a ‘t’. Because we’ve ridden solo and you know what… it’s fucking awesome.”
I knew exactly what he meant. There is nothing like solo riding, except maybe growing wings and flying (can’t say yet, I’m still waiting on a radioactive bird to uh, peck me?). I even wonder if the part of me that’s driven to share the world in writing and drawing would be squashed by having easy access to a person to share with. Perhaps I need to ride alone.
But in the mountains then, gliding on a gold-tinged road into hills thrown in sharp relief, I suddenly recognized the ache: I felt lonely. I wished so much I could take photos with my eyes, record the wind on my skin, capture the smell of the air, and the feel of miles of moving road. I wished I could record the experience like in sci-fi stories in which neural signals can be reproduced, to give to someone else so they could understand exactly the translucent blue the mountains reflected. I longed terribly for another human being to take it all in with me.
But I knew from this point forward, trapped on the axis of time, this preposterously beautiful moment would only ever truly belong to me. Me, the mountains, the clouds, and the grass.
Okay, and maybe some bugs, too. The ones that escaped getting wiped out of existence with my face.
So, another time, maybe. I know it wouldn’t be the same sunset, but that’s okay.
The evening doesn’t end quite so melancholy. I’d picked a free campground just past Red Lodge (a fairytale of a town nestled in the mountains), but upon arrival all the spots were full. I asked a family nearby on their opinion on camping in what looked like a communal area. They asked if I was on my own, and then just invited me to camp with them. Caveat from Bobbie: “We’re locals and I haven’t had a vacation in months, we maaay be loud and up late with some drinks.”
“No problem, I have some drinks of my own.” And with that, I was in. The kids showed me a clearing over the creek just big enough for a tent.
It was an excellent evening sharing stories, playing games, listening to music, and looking at stars. I don’t know if it was the soothing trickle of the stream by my tent, or the vodka from a plastic bottle, or maybe…maybe just the warmth that comes from crazy but kind strangers adopting you for a day. I don’t know, but I had a fantastic sleep.
Bobbie must have forgotten her plans to murder me in my sleep for my awesome boots.
Many otherwise reserved people got a fanatical glint in their eyes when they told me I have to ride Beartooth Pass Highway. Only a few followed that with, “Wait, can the scooter do that?” (Answer: No doubt.) Today was the day I’d see what they were all talking about.
I’m sort of glad I didn’t look it up too much before, because no words or pictures could do it justice. Of course, that wouldn’t stop me from trying.
I was still buzzing from the ride when I hit Yellowstone National Park. Destination: Alice and Mike’s in West Yellowstone, MT. She’s the sister of a scooterist friend, Fred, in Boston. It’s amazing the connections people make on a trip like this.
West Yellowstone is at 6,667 ft above sea level – roughly the same as Mt Mitchell (6,683), the highest point east of the Mississippi. On the way in I hit some of that unnervingly localized rain, and by the time I greeted Mike and their two dogs I was shivering uncontrollably. Still better than Florida.
It turns out Alice is incredibly knowledgable about the national parks. The next day, she took me on a driving tour of some of Yellowstone’s waterfalls and geothermal activity.
Alice explained that before conservation and safety was a thing, this spring was an attraction for being Yellowstone’s own Chinese laundromat. Tourists would put their laundry in the boiling water of the spring. When powdered detergent was added, it exploded and threw clothing everywhere. This was entertainment.
Chinaman has erupted 20-30 feet high, but all known eruptions were man-induced. The first incident of a known eruption occurred in the 1880s when a Chinese laundryman pitched his tent over the spring and used the hot water as a clothes boiler. The clothes were suspended in the boiling water by a wicker basket. When laundry soap was added the spring erupted for the first time and a column of water ejected the laundry and collapsed the tent.
MYTH CONFIRMED. “Ancient Chinese secret, huh?”
It was great touring with Alice. She knows all the secrets of the park – the spots with the least tourists but still a great view, which roads will be jammed up and when, plus she’s like a walking information stand on park facts and trivia. We checked Old Faithful’s twitter for an eruption schedule, and she filled me in on the difference between springs, geysers, steam vents, and mud pots while we waited.
It’s been nice to hear from some readers that they like the wanderings in thought as much as the ride report. Often, solo riding is as much a journey into your own head as a journey through the outside world. They sort of lend themselves to each other, like the musings on Quality in Zen & The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance…except I’m more likely to be musing about dinner. There are a lot of miles in Montana though, so I sometimes get around to other thoughts.
And if you don’t care for musings, well…there’s no shortage of pictures. Whoops.
Wonderful photos! And the musings are as entertaining as the photos.
I'm with Richard. Stephanie that post was a gift.
I think you could have used some better cold weather gear. Hypothermia is unforgiving. I recomend a Termoscud, large OEM screen cut down to nose height, and some Gerbing gloves. The Termoscud would easily ride along in the bottom of a dry bag until needed. The larger screen would keep your hands warmer and send the bugs over your helmet, and would have been fine even in Florida.
Ride on, write on, you rock!
Oh… and you met Shreve. Wow.
I actually have all of the above… in storage in RI. The butterfly windscreen is a bit ridiculous to ship out and my apron is quite bulky (also, my legs are warm enough with layers, thanks to leg shield), but I may ask my friend to send my Gerbing G3s.