Every now and then, you have a day that stands head and shoulders above others. A day when everything goes right, things look and smell better than usual, and all is right with the world. Today is one of those days.
We’re in the Sheridan Lake Campground in the Black Hills National Forest. I make my coffee on my single cup burner and look at maps while my 13-year-old daughter Shayla sleeps in. The next few days of our two-week summer trip to Yellowstone promise to be the most memorable.
The trip has been great so far. The shoulder that I had injured a few weeks earlier has hardly bothered me. My new-to-me 2010 Gold Wing is keeping us comfortable and running as smoothly and as well as expected. My quest to maintain close ties with my now-teenage daughter seems to be working, since we are getting along very well, enjoying each other’s company and creating new shared memories.
We take U.S Route 16A south through Custer State Park, enjoying the curves in the early morning. I wish we could spend more time in this area because the roads are so great, and are currently almost free of traffic. The refreshing, crisp morning air, the curves — including a few of the hairpin variety — make this the best road of the trip so far. We then take Route 16 west toward Wyoming. Route 16 becomes Interstate 90 for about 100 miles, but then turns back into two-lane Route 16 as we ride through the Bighorn National Forest. There we experience more great curves and beautiful vistas. It’s a hot day so we stop often for drinks and ice cream.
At the small town of Ten Sleep, Wyoming, we turn north onto Lower Norwood Road, which turns into Wyoming Highway 31. Both are small roads that roughly follow the land, making them a delight through the wide open spaces. Greybull Highway 14 into Cody is straight as an arrow with little traffic. Riding into the sun might normally be annoying but today it is somehow magical. I’m not sure if it is the wide open spaces, the almost total lack of traffic or if I’ve achieved a state of zen, but in my mind’s eye I can see us from above, riding into the sunset along this lonely stretch of road.
In Cody, we get a room at the cozy A Western Rose Motel on Sheridan Avenue, which is the main downtown street. It’s a lovely evening so we walk down to the Irma Hotel for dinner. Buffalo Bill Cody, who founded the town with his name, built the Irma in 1902 and named it after his daughter. Buffalo Bill, born in 1846, was an American soldier, bison hunter and a showman, best known for his traveling Wild West shows. The hotel menu has an appetizer called Rocky Mountain Oysters — Buffalo Bill’s Original Sack Lunch. I suggest to Shayla that we try them, but she’s disgusted at the thought and refuses. We have an enjoyable meal anyway, to cap off a perfect day.
From Cody we ride along the Chief Joseph Scenic Highway toward Beartooth Highway and enjoy the many curves and scenic views. The Gold Wing may be a big beast, but it’s still a joy on the curves. At an overlook, we meet the fattest little chipmunk we’ve ever seen, one who has obviously mastered the art of obtaining free food from tourists. Shayla succumbs to his charms and feeds him a cracker, ensuring that his battle with obesity will continue.
The last time I was on Beartooth Highway I was a much younger, more fit version of myself. The amazement and the feeling of riding on top of the world is the same this time. The weather is beautiful, the views are stunning, and the road that has been called “The Most Beautiful Drive in America” doesn’t disappoint. Shayla and I continually marvel and comment on the beauty through our headsets.
As planned, we ride from south to north, have lunch in Red Lodge, Montana, and then turn around and ride the road again. We reach heights of 10,900 feet, so at an overlook stop, Shayla makes a snow angel and we have a brief snowball fight. The views on the way back are equally stunning.
At the south end of the Beartooth, we enter Yellowstone National Park. The park is initially disappointing after the views we had experienced on the Beartooth. Then we enter the Lamar Valley and start to see bison in the fields. First bison near the road, and then on the road. We watch a giant male wander along the centerline of the road, causing all traffic to stop. Fascinating to watch — from afar.
We camp at a small campground owned by the Diamond P Ranch on U.S Route 20 outside of West Yellowstone. In the morning we do some horseback riding, then head into Yellowstone again. Yellowstone is all about geysers, so we investigate many of those, including Old Faithful. The crowds are worth it, since those geysers are impressive. We witness the eruption of the Beehive Geyser, whose eruptions are unpredictable, but it is one of the most powerful ones in the park. The eruptions average about five minutes and shoot water an incredible 200 feet into the air. We also enjoy the colorful sulfur pools that look way nicer than they smell.
In the evening, after cowering in our tent during a flash thunderstorm, we go to a rodeo a couple of miles up the road from our campsite. It is literally our “first rodeo,” and we take it all in and have a great time. We get back to our tent shortly before the rain starts again, and it continues for much of the night.
In the morning we load up the bike. Returning from the outhouse, I notice the Gold Wing is on its side! The ground, softened by the overnight rain, was not able to support the fully loaded bike, forcing us to heave it back up again. The practice we get picking the bike up will come in handy the next day in Montana.
We make our way north on U.S Route 191, west of Yellowstone park, and enjoy the scenic ride through mountainous recreation areas to Bozeman. We then take the lovely Montana Highway 86 up to U.S Route 89 and then to the deserted Montana Highway 294. The secondary highways in this area are almost traffic free, and are quite scenic at times. We hop back on the 191 up to Lewistown, Montana. At the Yogo Inn we enjoy the indoor pool, hot tub and a poolside meal from the hotel restaurant.
The next day, on a whim we decide to visit the ghost town of Kendall, outside of Lewistown off Route 191 that we’re taking to head north toward Saskatchewan. The road to the ghost town starts off as a nicely paved secondary road, but soon turns to gravel. We pass a couple ruins of old buildings, but the road continues, so we continue. The road narrows and turns into a single lane path, with big rocks and bumps. On an adventure bike it would be fun, but this is definitely not Gold Wing territory. There is no one else on this road, and as we climb the mountain to see where the road takes us, the guardrails disappear and the drops become larger.
As the bike bumps and gyrates along, Shayla expresses concern that we should probably not be on this road. Even though I tend to have a mental defect that makes me press on even when it may not be wise, I eventually have to admit that I’m pushing it too far.
The road seems narrower than the Gold Wing is long, so I get Shalya to disembark and proceed to do a multi-point U-turn. While backing up, the bike leans toward the left, my bad shoulder side, and I drop it! I’m OK, the bike is OK, and we both start laughing. I take a photo of the downed bike, which is really the only good thing about a bike being on its side.
We straighten up the bike and make our way back down the mountain. I derive a strange sort of pleasure from riding a motorcycle where it has no business being ridden, and Shayla starts getting into the absurdity of it. I’m cautious, and we bump and bounce along at 5 mph, laughing and giggling in our headsets. We don’t get to see the full ghost town, but the memory of trying to get to it will surely stay with us for a lifetime.
We head north on Route 191 and back into Canada, and eventually back home to Ottawa, Ontario. Sixteen days and 5,700 miles after leaving, we pull into our driveway, safe and sound.
I’ve heard it said how having kids is like a long, slow, painful good-bye. Kids start out being fully dependent on their parents, becoming less dependent as they grow, until they are eventually (hopefully) self-sufficient. My goal is to maintain as many ties as possible while that happens. My hope with this ride is that the shared experiences, the hours of conversation through our headsets, the challenges, the dropped bikes, the joys, the heat, the rain, and the time spent together, have contributed to that in some way. We’ll always remember the Beartooth, and we’ll always be able to laugh about the ghost town we almost visited.