Rockies 2007

Day 03

June 16


This is a day that I have really been looking forward to since I left the Holler. I walk back across the street to get some breakfast at Perkins since it's safe and close. When I walk in, I see a lady server still there from last night. I ask her -

"You still here? You must be putting in some long hours."

"Yes, I've been here all night, but my shift is about over" she says with a sigh.

She is wearing a neck brace so I'm a bit curious as to why. I ask her -

"Not trying to pry into your business, but what happened? You in an accident?"

"Yes, I was" she tells me.

"I was at a bar, and this guy I didn't know real well invited me for a bike ride. So I climbed on behind. He didn't know how to ride, and lost it on a slow speed corner. I flew over the guardrail and broke my C1 and C4 vertebrae."

I figure I knew the answer to the next question, but I thought I'd ask it anyway -

"You wearing a helmet or any protective gear?"

"No. In fact the doctor told me if I had been wearing a helmet it would have killed me."

"Well, I've seen a lot of folks have get-offs with helmets and walk away with their necks intact. As for me, I wear my gear all the time cause I figure I've only got one head and it's pretty important to me" I say with a smile.

I can't help but be a little sad as to how often that story has probably been told because it confirms a popular urban legend of the danger of helmets. She will probably always believe it because I've learned folks tend to believe what they want to believe. But I figure the next time she may not be so lucky.

Breakfast comes out and I finish up my omelet, cash out and hurry back across the street. I've got some statelines to snag today, and Wyoming will be first. It's a quick ride on I90 past Sturgis and Spearfish, and I snag my first one of the day.

  But then the weather starts to turn nasty as a massive cloud formation blusters its way across the interstate. It's pretty interesting to watch the dark, heavy clouds roll right across the way I'm headed. The temperature starts dropping quickly, so I can ride cold or I can stop and gear up - so I stop. When a man gets cold on a bike, he can really get himself in a mess from a hypothermic stupor quicker than you would think. I've got too much to see and do today and will not take that chance.
  I stretch the legs out on the SweetTreat seeing as there's not much company on the slab this morning. Before long I've cut the corner of Wyoming and quickly snag my second stateline for the day. I'm hoping that the rest of them will be as easy as these first two are.  
  One thing that just continues to amaze me out here is the length of the freight trains. Back home I guess they have to keep them sort of short due the many hills and hollers. I just keep passing this train and passing this train til I finally get ahead of it. As fast as it is moving, there is still no danger that the end will pull into sight anytime soon.  
  It's time for a fuel and bio break, so I pull off at place on the Crow Indian Reservation. It has a really nice gift shop and restaurant in additional to the fuel, so I do a quick walk through and pick up a sandwich and some chips to munch on. According to the monument, this is where the Battle of the Little Bighorn started and there's an unknown American soldier from the battle buried beneath it. I'd like to tour the actual park which is little further north, but I just bag it for another day. My time is sort of short to see the other things I want to see and you have to set limits. As I've said before, you learn on long trips you can't stop everywhere and see everything, so you make notes for a return someday.  
  As I near Billings and get closer to my exit from the slab, I see the mountains that I will be riding up shortly. I notice there is quite a bit of snow on them, but hopefully Beartooth Pass will be open.  

When I finally get to abandon the slab for highway 212, I come to the sign that says

"Pass Is Open"

and I almost let out a yell. Finally, I will get to ride the road I've been looking forward to for a long time. In all of my previous trips, the Beartooth Pass was either snowed in or closed due to landslides. Looks like today will be the day and I'm excited. On the way up I get behind a couple of folks on some sort of V-Twins but I don't hang around long enough for a good look. I just drop SweetTreat in a lower clog and leave them and their racket far behind. Then I come to Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum just barely moving along in their car. At every curve or anything that resembles a curve, the brake lights flash on in a panic and the driver secures a death grip on the wheel. I have to wonder sometimes why people who apparently are scared to death to drive in the mountains even go up there, but I guess that question will never be answered. I finally find a place that I can blast around them without scaring them to half to death and take advantage of it quickly. As I find a slight pulloff, I look back over the way that I have come. I wonder if the Alps will be a lot like this.


The thing that is so amazing about Beartooth Pass is that just when you think you are the near the top, you find out that you are not. It seems you just keep going up and up and up and up. I see the sign that points to the mountain and stop for the shot.

  While enjoying the view, I hear the sound of what I think are a million mad bumblebees. I turn around and there's a fast moving string of little sports cars obviously doing a rally up and over the pass. Car after brightly colored car with those nasty little 'can' mufflers pass by. I figure I will give them their space and wait till the coast is clear. I take it easy, figuring as cold as it is up here, there may still be some ice in spots. On four wheels it's not such a big deal, but on two wheels it can be the end of the road. I finally reach the very top of the pass and stop for a moment to take in the panorama.  

As I start down, there's a bit of gravel and dirt wash, so I take it easy. The cameraman for the rally has been trailing way behind and finally catches up to me. I wave him on around, since I know he can handle the debris a lot quicker than I want to go. Also, that leaves me pretty much to myself on the way down so I can do a bit of flower sniffing. I come down off the mountain very glad that once again I have the privilege of experiencing places that some folks will never be able to experience. I realize it is not because I am special, it is just because God has been so good to me and I stop and thank Him for it.

Soon I'm at a familiar place - the northeast entrance of Yellowstone National Park.


Since I know that I will be visiting some more national parks on this trip and when I go out West in September, I purchase an annual National Park Pass for $80. When I do that I always think of my dear friend, Dennis Ryan, who put me on to that idea. He had a golden park pass than never needed renewing. Unfortunately for me and many others, he passed away far too soon at Christmas 2003.

Once I'm in the park, I again enjoy the many sweeping views. I tell folks that if they can only visit one national park, make it Yellowstone. It has a little bit of everything - blue lakes, snow-covered mountains, massive waterfalls, sulfur hot springs, and geysers just to name a few.


The traffic is not to bad today, so I decide to take the southern loop around the park and come out at West Yellowstone. That it is, it's not too bad, until a lady coming from the other direction sees a 'brown pile of dirt' or something. She stops her car right in the middle of the road in hopes of it being a bear and blocks traffic on the two lane park road both ways. As many times as I have been through Yellowstone, I am used to the idea of folks stopping at the least little thing. But normally, they pull off the side of the road just a little bit so folks can get by. But not this sweetheart - and pretty soon she's uncaringly created quite a mess. My thought processes are quite simple at this point -

"First, I'm sitting here in a 'crush' zone if someone come plowing up behind me and gets distracted. Secondly, if it does turn out to be a momma bear with cubs, she's gonna come tearing up that embankment looking for somebody to whip. And all those those nice folks with cameras are gonna jump in their cars and lock the doors, leaving little old me out here in the open."

So I gingerly practice my 'lane splitting' techniques and get out of Dodge quickly, leaving the budding naturalists and photographers to their own misery. The rest of the park ride is a bit anti-climatic, but for that I am thankful. I come out at the West Yellowstone exit and find a convenience store so I can take a much needed break. As I walk outside with my diet coke in hand, the lady shuts and locks the door. I say to myself -

"I didn't think I was all that scary looking."

But I guess it's early closing time for her and I was just a late interruption. After stretching my legs a bit, I'm back at it on highway 20 where I snag the third of my targeted stateline signs. I notice that on the other side of the road there's a trucker and his son doing exactly the same thing - taking pictures of each other at the Montana state line and making memories. I figure they'll pull over here next so I leave it to them. I'm sure that boy will remember the time he spent with his dad in the cab of that truck long after the stuff he gets for Christmas has faded into a pile of rust and rubbish. Kids tend to remember what you do with them, not what you get for them.


Highway 87 turns off highway 20 and I know it will take me back to highway 287 then I90 and a Motel 6 room waiting for me in Butte. It turns into one of the prettiest roads of the day with a large lake and the snow covered mountains in the background. I can only imagine what joy it must be to look out your window and enjoy this kind of view on a regular basis. I wonder if you would ever get tired of it and wish for something different.


As I look for the exit where the Motel 6 is located, I pass right on through Butte. I was hoping that it would be in the city with some restaurants nearby, but I am sadly disappointed. When I finally get there, I find out that it may have Butte as a mailing address, but that's about all it's got to do with Butte. As we say in the country, it's almost on the back side of the desert, with nothing but a worn-out truck stop next to it. I am thankful that it has a nice pull through that I can park the bike under. As I am unloading, a major storm rolls in complete with bad lightening. There's a really sweet elderly lady behind the counter that checks me in. When I tell her where I left from this morning, she says -

"I used to live in Rapid City. Boy, you've come a long way!"

And in every sense of the word, she is right. Before I covered up SweetTreat I checked the odometer - exactly 2000 miles since I left the Holler.

  The room she puts me in is very nice and comfortable. I figure the only deal going for supper is the truckstop, so I grab my rain jacket and wander over there. There's a captive Arby's inside and they have a new special - hot sandwiches. Since it's pretty cool outside, that sounds like a nice change. Unfortunately, they have yet to figure out how to do it, so my 'hot' sandwich comes out a 'burnt' sandwich. I assuage my overwhelming grief at this major misfortune with a package of what I would call Little Debbies HoHos. After all, chocolate just seems to make everything better. Little do I know that this is almost my last meal.