West 2002

Day 04

July 28

  We get up after a great night's sleep - at least for me anyway, and walk over to Granny's for another good breakfast.  

I love to get a big breakfast, stop for peanuts and a diet Pepsi for lunch, then ride until dinner. We finish up, walk back over and get ready to ride. I again thank the motel manager for letting us use his garage –

“Did you get any sleep last night?”

“Yeah, I feel a whole lot better this morning!” he tells me.

I replied “I bet you do. Thanks again for the garage and have a great day!”

We mount up and pull out, headed for Gallatin Forest on highway 14 and then into Yellowstone. I have managed to fuss with the MP3 player and got some of my favorite instrumental music playing. This won't last long, but it's nice for a while. The sun is shining and the music accentuates the incredible scenery with all of it's early morning shadows. As we ascend into the mountains, we stop to take some pictures. The rugged terrain seems to glow as the sunshine reveals more and more of the colors of the land.
  When we finally pass the campground where we were originally headed the previous night, I note a sign warning about bears. That old house and garage was an even better idea than I realized. Finally we enter the Gallatin National Forest and the peacefulness of the woods surrounds me.  

But my daydreaming is short-lived as we round another corner. Up ahead there's a car stopped in the middle of the road and I wonder what's up. Then we see the rest of the story (to borrow from Paul Harvey a bit) – a big momma bear followed by her cub ambling across the road. I speak out to no one in particular -

“I hope those folks in that car don't get out – I sure don't feel like being bear bait today!”

One of the most dangerous things in the world is a momma bear who thinks someone is messing with her youngins. She finally gets on across and the little one follows her in short order. Then just as the car gets ready to move, out of the bush comes tearing another little cub. Guess he was playing when he should have been listening. With the procession finally gone far into the woods, the folks in the car decide to move on and we do also – very quickly. We are at the eastern gate of Yellowstone faster than you can pull out your wallet. As I pull up to the gate, that's exactly what I do. The park ranger lady asks -

“Would you like our newspaper?” as she prepares to hand me a bundle of papers, maps, and notices.

I smile my best ‘no' smile and say -

“No ma'am, much obliged but I'll just take the map.”

I will find as the trip goes on that most national parks have newspapers along with a small bundle of paper they pass out at the entrance gates. I guess they do that to make you feel better about the entrance fee. If I collected them all, I would have had to pull a trailer behind me just carry them. Doug and Coop make it through and we talk a bit about where we are headed. Of all the parks I have visited, Yellowstone is still my favorite with an unbelievable variety of natural terrain and wonders - magnificent waterfalls, snow covered mountain ranges, deep canyons, crystal blue lakes, hot springs bubbling into clear rivers, and geysers like Old Faithful. We won't have time to explore today, but I know of a great place to see on our way north. Having explored the park a few years ago, I am somewhat familiar with the way we are going and suggest we stop at the Mammoth Hot Springs near the original Yellowstone entrance. We ease along the park roads, pleasantly surprised that the traffic is no worse that it is. I remember much of the roads and scenery as we float along. When we arrive at Mammoth Hot Springs, we all find a good place to park and commence the long walk up to the top viewing platform. When we finally arrive at the top I remember – if we had been a little smarter, we could have parked at the top lot and not had to negotiate all those steps in motorcycle boots and gear. I came to the same conclusion the last time I was here but I guess those who do not remember history are doomed to repeat it.
  The hot springs and mineral deposits are quite fascinating, but time is passing quickly. We make all those steps back down and ride to the north gate to take a few shots.  
  It was the original entrance to the park and a small town has grown up around it. We make a quick stop at the town then we're off on highway 89 that will carry us across Montana from the south border almost to the north border. As we hit the open spaces, the crosswinds pick up considerable velocity. Again, it is very interesting to watch a motorcycle traveling down the road straight and be leaning at a 45 degree angle against the wind - or at least it seems that way. Trying to get a shot of Doug leaning against the wind, I run out of film in my 35mm camera. My next trick is to change the film without stopping. I pull it off, and finally get a shot, only to have the folks at Wal-Mart not print it when I get back. I reckon the best laid plans of mice and men go oft astray, or something like that. We finally get to Great Falls and whip it into FuddRuckers for supper. They serve up a great hamburger, but we get more than one stare as we begin to take off some of our riding gear. With a good supper behind us, we press on toward St. Mary's and the KOA site that Coop has graciously reserved for us. Pulling into Browning, we stop at the first set of gas pumps we see. As I pull off my helmet and begin to pump gas, I notice a good sized member of the local tribe headed for me – young, poorly dressed, and close to being drunk. His first question –

“Why ain't you riding a Harley?”

“Cause I'd rather ride than work on them” I reply with a grin.

I'm waiting, for what I know all of this is leading up to.

“Where you from?” he asks.

“Tennessee, Nashville, Tennessee, headed for Oregon then San Francisco” I reply..

He shakes his head in disbelief and then gives me a high five. I sadly note that if I lit a match close to his mouth, we'd both blow up. I finish fueling up and head for the storefront. He follows me and springs the inevitable question –

“Say, can you lend me a dollar?”

I look him dead in the eye and answer -

“No sir, don't reckon I can. I ain't a bank.”

As he stands there dumbfounded, I sadly walk into the store, thinking what ‘civilization' has done for many of the Native Americans stuck on the reservations. In many cases, young men who once upon a time would have brought honor to their tribes are now no more than drunks bumming dollars for their next drink. It's all about choices and we are all responsible for the ones we make, but still it leaves my heart heavy. We pay up, and head out, leaving him and his partner still searching for money to quench their never-ending thirst.


The road is nicely winding now around some blind turns, which I take carefully. By painful experience, I try never to ride past what I can see. Suddenly I round a turn and that bit of wisdom pays major dividends. Lounging in the middle of the road, just out of sight around the curve are a few range cows. I scrub off my speed quickly, being in the lead and come to a complete stop. In front of me stands a young heifer balefully staring at me, not knowing quite what to do. Suddenly it occurs to her that she needs to get out of harm's way. As she begins her panic filled exit, she can't seem to get any traction. It's almost like watching some cartoon character with their feet spinning in a mad circle. Finally she connects and is off like a mad dragster. It's all I can do to keep from falling of the bike, I'm laughing so hard. Oh well, I guess it's better to be able to laugh about her instead of burying my ST in her guts. We move along a bit more carefully and finally arrive at the KOA. We get a nice site with trees that block the ever-blowing wind and pitch our gear, ever mindful not to leave food out that would attract bears.


Coop and I wander up to the company store to see what they have. Two ladies behind the counter, apparently sisters, are having some sort of animated discussion. Coop notices the ice cream and orders a milk shake. Not wanting him to feel lonesome, I feel it is my duty to follow suit. They whip us up some mean shakes as they carry on their conversation and we wait and browse. I get a couple of shirts and a Montana kiss for my ever patient wife, Sharyn, and have them shipped to her. After devouring the shakes, we wander back down to our camp and settle down for a good night's rest. We know we've got to leave out early to beat the RVer's up to the Road to the Sun. What I don't know is that tomorrow I will face one of the toughest challenges of my riding career in a place that I least expect it.