Four Days and 11,000 Feet.
It has been over ten years since we decided to make Beartooth Pass a destination. The last time Kris and I were astride cruisers on our way to Sturgis, South Dakota. On that trip Beartooth Pass was so crowded with the annual pilgrimage to Sturgis that we never felt like we got to enjoy the road. This year we decided we needed to return.
Four days were scheduled around a weekend to minimize time required off of work; with the exception of Ryan who started out four days before us to spend some time with family. He’d meet up with us Saturday morning in Jackson Hole.
- Chapter 1. Departure
- Chapter 2. Beartooth Pass and One Million Motorcycles
- Chapter 3. Chief Josepth Highway
- Chapter 4. Pushing for Home
- Dave – Ducati Multistrada
- Kris – Ducati 900 SS/CR
- Eric – Ducati GT100
- Dawn – Ducati GT1000 [Pillion]
- Mike – Triumph 1050 Triple
- Ryan – Ducati Multistrada S
- Jen – Kawasaki Versys
The four days preceding our departure, Ryan had enjoyed a 600-mile solo-ride day all the way up through Yellowstone, managing to include every twisty road between here and there.
The timing was perfect because the rest of my family had booked a cabin just outside of West Yellowstone for the week before the trip. While they took the direct route in the sensory deprivation chambers, I linked up every possible fun, twisty road I knew of un the ugly Ducati. It turned out to be one of the most epic riding days of my season! Traffic was almost non-existent, the weather was beautiful nd it was the beginning of a two-week vacation.
While riding in a small group is a lot of fun, riding solo has definite advantages. I was able to get an early start, stop for photos whenever I wanted, take any route I chose and streamlined the fuel stops to make better time. I also discovered that riding with my bicycle shorts under my riding pants was the way to go for long rides. Over 600 miles later I was still sad to have to shut her down for the night.Ryan
When Friday morning finally arrived, we all anxiously arrived at the regular meeting location where we could start our day off right with bagels and coffee. The Ducati’s were the first to arrive.
It’s so cute how Dave thinks the Ducati’s were first. In actuality, I had been there so long I already had breakfast, enjoyed a cup of coffee and was beginning to wonder if I had the right location and the right weekend because even after all that, I was STILL the only one there.Mike
While getting our morning fix of moto-chat we discussed the route of the day. The plan was to take every twisting road in-between Salt Lake City and Jackson Hole, Wyoming. The big discussion was do we do the front-side of Bear Lake or the backside.
Things started off right with East Canyon and we raced into the cool morning air by first tackling one of our favorite local canyons.
After several weeks without any real breaks – lots of technical corners totally trumped Hawaiian Shirt Friday at the office.
Without the need to cover lots of miles, we made our first stop a mere 60-some miles later in the town of Mountain Green. We topped off our tanks at the local moto-haunt known as the Mountain Green Sinclair.
It was while hanging out in the cool morning shade that Mike and his unique vantage point notice something was amiss with Jens’ rear axle. Apparently it was not properly aligned. Apparently the git that had changed her tires had forgotten to ensure the job was done right. Fortunately Jen forgave Dave for his sloppiness.
Of course, Mike was happy to lift a finger and assist with the corrective actions.
After repairs were made, we hopped onto Trappers Loop Road over to Huntsville, Utah where we would connect with Monte Cristo Canyon.
We stopped briefly in Woodruff so that Mike could examine the summer growth of local broam species’. After declaring them to be coming along nicely, we proceeded on towards Lunch.
We’d met up with local rider Mike, who rides with ADV-Mike quite frequently, (so many Mikes) and he joined us when we stopped for lunch at the southern tip of Bear Lake. It was extremely windy, and the food was pretty average, but we were still having a fantastic time.
Despite the less-than-awesome lunch, our eating place allowed us to stop for food while still being able to connect up with Cisco Road, the route that runs along the back-side of bear lake.
Bear Lake is known as the Mediterranean of the West because of its amazing blue color. The color comes from the amount of lime-stone that is suspended in the water. Despite the science, its a darn pretty body of water.
Crossing through the Bear Lake valley, we encountered quite the “event”. Apparently, just inside the Idaho border a police cruiser collided with a hay truck, resulting in a one-ton bail of hay landing on top of and decimating his car.
We happened on the scene immediately after the incident, and it was interesting to see a police SUV completely destroyed (the police officer suffered a broken leg). The problem with the “event” however, was that every vehicle with a light bar and sirens was racing to the scene at upwards of 100mph. Lights blaring, dust scattering in their wake, they slowed for nothing. Even though there was only one individual injured, we saw at least six ambulances racing to the scene at what we would call “excessive” rates of speed. This resulted in a very treacherous ride across the Bear Lake Valley, and just when we thought we were far enough away to be safe, yet another emergency vehicle would race past us as though we were standing still.
Fortunately, soon enough we were far away from the excitement and knowing that every police officer in three counties was now in Bear Lake, we felt a sense of relief with regards to our forward velocity.
It was a glorious afternoon and riding Tin Cup Canyon was pert-darn-near perfect. Eric thought so too and was soon rallying along at quite the “brisk” pace. Mike and I, of course, had to follow suit.
Dawn and I did our first road trip ever on a bike through Tin Cup Canyon, so it is one of my personal favorites. Rather than waiting for the rest of the group to get their gear on, Dawn and I got a jump start on the group, totally expecting them to catch up shortly after. So who knew that the GT could take two-up so briskly through a canyon?? Really guys, two-up, saddlebags and Dawn reading a book on the back seat.Eric
It was a fantastic time and it was absolutely glorious riding!
After spending most of the day JRA, I decided about a mile into Tin Cup Canyon that I was going to go ride with Dave for the first time in forever. Chasing Dave and Eric through Tin Cup was my highlight of the day. I simply love this road. Unfortunately, all the excuses I had about Eric being fast just because he knew the old 919 so well are all out the window. That guy is stupid fast on that new Ducati of his.Mike
When we all arrived at the other side, there were lots and lots of smiles to go around – apparently, Eric wasn’t the only one feeling frisky about Tin Cup Canyon.
All that remained was a quick run through Snake River Canyon to Jackson Hole!
We arrived in Jackson, and pulled into our hotel, the Anglers Inn (Don’t stay here) to discover that they changed our reservations on us and instead of giving us two rooms with two beds, they gave us two rooms with one bed. We had reservations here again in two nights on the way back, so we confirmed with the front desk that in two days time, when we returned, we would need two beds per room. They smiled, made a note and promised us they would make sure of it.
Once unpacked we headed on over Snake River Brewing Company where you can get freshly brewed beer and really good brewery food. It sounded perfect.
Mike couldn’t decide on what beer to order so he just ordered the sampler – avoiding a decision resulted in even more decision making, which to try first, then second and in what order.
Eric, having visited regularly just ordered up a pitcher of his favorite Amber.
It was a great meal, and a quick trip to the men’s room we discovered some unusual graffiti on the chalk wall…
After dinner, we had to do some tourist trap shopping, because that is just what one does while in Jackson Hole. We wandered into one shop to discover an actual sasquatch complete with plastic nipples!
Beartooth Pass and One Million Motocycles
More is Less
Waking up early the next morning, thanks in part to the lackluster sleeping accommodations, we started the walk towards the most awesome Pancake House this side of the Mississippi! Jedidiahs House of Sourdough, but first we would stop off at a coffee shop to give Ryan a chance to catch up with us.
It was a fantastic cup of coffee and the cool morning air, and dappled morning sunlight made the experience all that more pleasant.
The route of the day was pretty basic. Through “The Park” to Red Lodge via Dunraven Pass (inside the park) and Beartooth Pass.
After a nice slow week of hanging out in Yellowstone, floating the river near Mac’s Inn and playing Guitar Hero with the family, I was dreading having to actually wake up before sunrise (gasp) to make the ride to Jackson in time for breakfast. Needless to say, I got a late start.
After a somewhat lengthy explanation to an Idaho constabulary as to why my speedo was giving me feedback in kilometers, I knew there was no way I’d make it for breakfast. Which was very unfortunate because Jedadiah’s makes one killer pancake.Ryan
Ryan had planned to meet up with us at 8am for Breakfast, but we realized he was coming quite a distance to make it in time. When we hadn’t heard anything from him in a while we started to worry a bit. Ryan is not one to be late. If it was Mike who was late, we wouldn’t have batted an eye, but Ryan being late was cause for some worry. We were all relieved when we got a text message saying that it was taking longer than expected and that we should start breakfast without him.
Ryan found his way to Jackson Hole just as we were making final preparations to start out for the day. So we were all able to ride out of Jackson and past the majestic Teton Mountains together. Jen had never been to Yellowstone National Park, nor had she ever seen the Teton Mountains.
The reason why the Tetons are so impressive is their complete lack of foothills to obscure their towering height above the valley floor. So the peaks of the Teton range tower sharply, 2,000 feet above everything around them. It is said that “The Grand Tetons” got their name from early french trappers who looked at the mountains and called them “the big tits”. That’s pretty close; in actuality, the french called the range “les Trois Tétons” for “the three breasts” (not tits) because of the three prominent center peaks. However, one would think that a couple of French trappers in the bush surrounded by only other men and horses for the better part of a year would probably have been less than elegant in their conversations about breasts (or even tits).
This was Jen’s first real out-of-state adventure on her Versys, so she celebrated the event by purchasing a moose sticker. It wasn’t sticking all that well, so the same git that didn’t install her rear axle correctly tried to remedy the situation and managed to turn her moose into something that looked more like a camel. Fortunately, Jen forgave Dave when he promised to buy her another sticker.
Next up, we had to enter into the confines of Grand Teton National Park. Kris and I still had our Interagency Recreation Pass from the previous year so we would be getting in for free once again. The Parks Pass is becoming quite the deal however, the regulations state that one Pass grants access for two motorcycles, although some entrance gate attendees are not that familiar with this subtle guideline since the pass was developed to allow one four-wheeled vehicle entrance. Less astute attendees will count a motorcycle as one vehicle, so if you choose to get one of these be prepared to argue with the occasional “Parkie”.
Traffic at the entrance gate is always quite daunting, but for some reason, once into the park, traffic seems to disperse quite rapidly. most park visitors are so excited to have finally arrived that they pull off almost immediately leaving the roads relatively open.
There are lots of park cops with radar guns at the ready, so one should be prepared if one chooses to exceed the exorbitantly low posted limit of 35mph. The “helmet pat” used to warn of law enforcement was passed around frequently.
We stopped again at the entrance to Yellowstone National Park to make some minor adjustments before continuing. We were given a very informative pamphlet that had a great illustration showing that if you pet a Bison he will steal your camera. I was so impressed that I put that illustration in my tankbag to remind me to not let a Bison steal my camera.
While adjusting we noticed a tiny little boy about 3-years old who had wandered away from his parents. He was intently checking out the motorcycles, ignoring the parental pleas to return. When they realized where he was, mom came up to us and told us that he is obsessed with motorcycles. We invited him to sit on any bike he wanted to, but he was a bit timid and declined all the invitations – although his older brother took advantage of us despite clear indications that he though motorcycles were “kinda’ dumb”. I asked the moto-obsessed 3-year-old which bike was his favorite. Ryan was quick to say “If he’s a smart kid, he’ll point at Kris’ SuperSport”. The kids arm came up like a shot and he pointed directly and Mikes bright gold/orange/yellow Speed Triple. Despite the marginal choice, he won all of our hearts. He was one of us!
Ah, behold the beauty and innocence of childhood. Three-year-olds do not feel the need to lie to Ducati owners about their favorite bike to validate their existence. Three-year-olds just know a damn sexy bike when they see one, and they’ll tell you so without hesitation.Mike
Many have said the riding Yellowstone would be absolutely epic if you could get all the traffic and Parkies out of there. Lots of wildlife keeps you from wanting to go very fast but 35mph is painfully slow. Even increasing the speed by 15 – 20 miles per hour makes a world of difference. We kept trying to find gaps in traffic so that we could at least keep wind blowing through our vents.
Because Jen had never visited the park before, we made a few stops that we otherwise wouldn’t have made (remember we’ve been through Yellowstone countless times). We had to stop at one of the infamous hot-pots – mostly because of the powerful smell of sulphur that is just so aromatic! These geothermal mud volcanoes (also called a fumarole) form where there is lots of geothermal activity and not much water. What little water is available rises to the surface and mixes with volcanic ash, clay and dirt creating the viscous, bubbling slurry. If the mud pot becomes stained and colorful from iron in the soil, then its officially a “paint pot”.
Everyone seemed to enjoy the impromptu geology lesson – despite the awful smell that, well, smells like a stinky fart.
After the stop at the cleverly named “Mud Volcano” and “Sulphur Caldron” we rode north into Hayden Valley where we expected to see lots of wildlife. Hayden Valley is the most important area of the park for wildlife. Herds of Bison are to be expected and it is a favorite area for grizzly bears (although we’ve never seen one here) and for wolves as well (although we’ve never seen one here). We learned that there are two packs that still frequent the area; The Mollies Pack and Gibbon Pack. There is a fascinating website that tracks all the wolf packs, their movements and mortality. Check it out at www.ForWolves.org »
Wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park in 1995 amid intense controversy. We believe that wolves are a critical part of the ecosystem and should be in the area. A fascinating and very well-written history of the wolves that were reintroduced into the park, and their subsequent fates, is available on Ralph Maughan’s Blog Be sure to check it out!Dave
Into Hayden Valley, we did see plenty of bison, although it was pretty warm by the time we got there and most of them were just laying in the grass.
Through Hayden Valley, I got a chance to ride Kris’ SuperSport for the first time. This turned out to be a mistake for both myself and for Kris. While I rode the SuperSport I made a list of things it did perfectly and all of the ways I wish my race bike was just like that. Kris, on the other hand, made a list of all the things she missed about upright seating positions, tube handlebars, and non-suicide sidestands.Mike
On the far side of the uneventful Hayden Valley, we stopped for lunch at Canyon Village – at the foot of the newly paved Dunraven Pass. Lunch was a bit of a fiasco since we timed our arrival to after the official lunch rush. All the eateries were either slammed with tourists or shutting down to prepare for dinner.
We gassed up and rolled up Dunraven Pass. A gloriously technical route that, for now, has race-track quality asphalt!
Lots of subtle elevation changes make the route even more enjoyable as bikes carrying a little extra speed will partake in a genuine roller-coaster sensation.
The road doesn’t climb all that high from the valley floor, but near the top of the pass you come out near the timber line, where tree’s just stop growing. The road clings perilously to the side of the mountain, adjacent to glorious rock walls.
Once over the summit to the north side of the slope, the road opens into an enormous vegetation free vista where you could see for miles and miles and miles. This is where Kris and I have seen most of the predatorial wildlife with the highlight being a grizzly and her two cubs! Today we saw nothing more than tourists and fields of wildflowers.
The road is still pleasantly entertaining with plenty of downhill sweepers. Again, if there was less traffic, this fairly short road could be incredible.
Dunraven Pass now behind us, we turned north at Roosevelt Lodge. This road that takes you out to the Northeast Gate of the park is actually one of the least used routes in the park. The lack of traffic was immediately apparent.
Our wildlife highlight of the day took place here. Sadly we don’t have any photo’s to document the event, it happened fairly quickly. Riding along, I was in the lead when we came to a bridge. Traffic was stopped at the bridge and as I got there I discovered why. A coyote was using the bridge for his own personal transportation. Trotting along the yellow line all traffic ceased to move to allow him over, except for one wanker from Utah in a red minivan who was, no kidding, tail-gating the poor canine. As the scrawny guy got to the end of the bridge the mini-van dude honked the horn causing the coyote to jump and sprint to the edge of the road, disappearing into the sage brush.
The road was in fantastic condition and threw a steady supply of gradual sweepers at us. The lack of traffic and open views gave us the confidence to increase the speeds to a hooliganistic 50mph. The intense speeds were glorious!
Eventually, the road opened up to a long, narrow valley with crisp green grass swaying in the breeze. The occasional car would simply pull to the side and allow us to slip past. This is how things are supposed to work.
It was easy to imagine what this may have looked like a hundred or even a thousand years ago! Already we were starting to think that we need to try to make this route a more regular occurrence.
Coming around a corner there was a small jam-up of cars. Using my California riding skills, Mike and I immediately lane-split to the front of the line to find an enormous buffalo standing in the way, guarding a smaller female bison. As soon as I pulled up, he roared at me and I thought immediately of the aged wizard from the Lord of the Rings trilogy. It was as though Gandalf himself was bellowing “You Shall Not Pass!” I immediately shut down the motor and sat obediently.
Actually, to call him a buffalo would be wrong. There are really only two species of buffalo in the world and neither of them is in the western hemisphere. They are actually, and distinctly “bison”. Despite it all, Yellowstone National Park materials erroneously call them Buffalo. Coming in at near 2,000 lbs (that’s as much as a compact car) and standing near six feet tall at the shoulders the American Bison claims the lives of more stupid Yellowstone tourists than anything else, including motor vehicle accidents! They are not to be messed with.
Interestingly, bison have very few natural predators, one of which is the wolf, actually. Yet the wolf rarely preys on the larger male bison and instead goes for young calves and weak females.Dave
Once the bison moved on his way to continue his courtship, there were only two cars between Mike and I and a whole lot of empty road. Once passed it was as though we were the first bikes off the ferry. There was nobody around us as we left the empty expanses behind us and started into the western foothills of the Beartooth mountain range.
The rest of the group was left behind to contend with traffic and bison on their own since their reluctance to lane split left them far behind Mike and I.
Meanwhile, Mike and I were left to our own devices while we raced our way out of the park on phenomenal asphalt that cut its way between narrow swaths of tree’s. Towering mountains just beyond the tree’s felt close enough to touch. The lack of traffic and related exhaust fumes left the air without any particulates floating about and absolutely clear. I was so excited about the riding experience I would pump my fist into the air when waving at passing motorcyclists. Cruisers would just look at me with a scowl and continue the “I’m so cool” down-low wave. But the beemerphiles (from the nearby BMW rally) would often reciprocate by returning the celebration of glorious riding – sharing an experience that only us motorcyclists understand.
As soon as we hit the park border we were no longer riding on tarmac. Road construction had degraded the road to a snarled patch of dirt and gravel. We had no idea how long this construction was going to take place.
While the Multistrada handled the bumps and slippery surface with ease, Kris was creeping along on her hyper-strung SuperSport.
Before taking this trip, we had the grand idea of writing an article about touring on a superbike. After this trip, we realized that while it is possible to tour on a superbike, it kinda’ sucks.
The extreme seating position that makes a bike work brilliantly on a racetrack is quite miserable in a touring application. Replacing hard-acceleration out of every track corner for long-lonesome, straight roads and real-world slow moving traffic with lots of stopping and waiting puts immense pressure on your wrists and lower back.
In short, it takes a lot of the fun out of touring. While it can be done, it’s much better to have the right tool for the job. To quote an old saying; if your only tool is a hammer, every problem starts to look like a nail.Dave
The town of Cooke City was also overflowing with motorcycles. Motorcycles of every shape, every size and every color. Within seconds of pulling out my ear-plugs I was being approached and told stories of a bike “just like this one” that had crashed into an RV, killing the rider.
As soon as the conversations turned away from our “crotch-rockets” and towards how much alcohol had been consumed in the last several hours, I was ready to move on. Little did I know what lay ahead.
Before we move on it must be said that Beartooth Pass is probably one of our all-time favorite roads in the lower-48 states. Its beauty, technical character and overly epic qualities make it worthy of riding under any condition where you have visibility and at least some traction! It is nothing short of astonishing in every regard. However, little did we know, but we’d timed this trip over Beartooth Pass to coincide with the 14th Annual Beartooth Pass Poker Run.
Leaving Cooke City, the road quickly turned back into good ol’ lovable tarmac and we were racing off. I’d thought that we would be in front of the majority of the Poker Run attendees as we rode for 20 minutes without seeing anything more than the occasional bike that was easily and quickly passed without much fuss.
Fast sweeping corners climbed steadily into the mountains. The asphalt was in fantastic condition with very little debris to detract from the riding quality, we approached the route with eagerness.
Our leading group consisted of me, Mike and Jen. We came upon what appeared to be a small pack of bikes; perhaps twenty or thirty. I stopped to ask Mike and Jen what they wanted to do. “We just rode for 20 minutes with hardly any traffic. Do you want to wait for a moment and just ride in the clearing or start passing these guys.” Both Mike and Jen said they’d prefer to pass a few bikes. So off we went.
Within a few miles of amazing corners, we had caught back up to the pack. These guys tended to lumber their way along riding in big packs, so passing them was proving to be quite difficult. We never pass within the lane, we always use our signals and leave plenty of space. No buzzing allowed. Our motto is to slip in and out of others consciousness with as little distraction as possible.
When a safe spot presented itself, I would pass as many of the bikes as I safely could, then pop back into their group before zipping ahead at the next clearing. With the first group behind me I thought I was in the clear and for a few minutes I was. I came upon another small group of maybe 15 bikes and though to myself may as well and began working my way past them too. But as soon as I got past them another group would present itself. How many bikes could there be?
This is when it started getting interesting. As I began passing the third group of bikes, I noticed a change. As I was passing, bikes would move over the center-line into my lane effectively blocking my progress. I’d usually just slip pass them on the far left white line and keep going thinking they probably just didn’t know I was there. But then it happened again, and again with some of the blocks accompanied with inaudible yelling and hand gestures. This only encouraged me to get farther away from the offended riders.
Some would actually pick up speed dramatically when they would see me “show up” in their rear view mirror (I know, a Multistrada is so intimidating). The worst was two guys on customized choppers complete with 250+ width rear tires. One drifted wide and was sliding sideways in the oncoming lane. I normally don’t pass on the right, but I figured I’d rather have him crash behind me than in front of me. My personal favorite, however, was a couple of riders standing in a pullout on the side of the road who started throwing rocks at me as I went past. And so the story went until I reached the top and noticed that Mike and Jen were no longer anywhere to be seen.
When we first pulled into Cooke City we no sooner got off the bikes when a big group of riders started gathering and getting ready to head up over Beartooth. The rest of the group decided to try to get a jump start on them and got going right away. Dawn and I decided to hang out for a while and let the droves of bikes get a nice big head start on us instead.
After about five minutes another big group of riders started to gather and we took that as our cue. We had a few glorious miles, just the three of us, Dawn, the GT and myself, when we came upon a group of riders. But as we approached, I noticed some guys on Harleys passing this other group. Odd!! We quickly got behind the Harleys and low and behold, these guys could ride! We must have passed some fifty or more bikes with no problem.
As we approached a turn-off, I saw Ryan and Kris pulled off to the side of the road; so now I had quite the dilemma. I knew what was behind me, and if I pulled over they would soon be ahead of us again, only we would no longer have our Harley-Chaperones.
I stopped, and shortly there was this ungodly sound coming from behind us; all fifty or more bikes blared past us.Eric
I hung out overlooking the amazing view while bikes that I had passed screamed insults at me while they rode past. Fearing the worst for Mike and Jen who were still not to be seen (I thought that possibly someone pulled a gun on them) I returned to my bike and started headed back down the mountain, past more flying snowballs aimed at my head, until I at last saw Eric & Dawn, Kris and Ryan coming the other way. Still no Mike and Jen. Eric pointed up the hill as I descended. I had no idea what he meant until a mile or so later I saw Mike and Jen having a conversation with Wyoming’s finest. Despite the drunken riding, road racing and projectiles, Mike and Jen were the ones to get pulled over.
By this time, the droves of bikes had thinned a bit so we continued back up the mountain, this time much less encumbered and I was able to grab quite a few more pictures of the incredible scenery.
The tree’s had long been replaced with craggy, white rocks and ponds of snow melt puddling in any depression large enough to hold water.
I don’t know what I can say about these photo’s. While riding I was thinking the road could not possibly go any higher, then I’d see a glint of light far up the side of the mountain and realize that the road was way up there! We still had a ways to go to get to the top!
While Eric & Dawn, Kris and Ryan had ascended to the top of the mountain to wait for us, Mike, Jen and I noticed that the scraggling bikes were nothing like the hoards we had just dealt with. Perhaps they too wished to avoid the masses. Had we only known, we certainly would have sat down and had an ice cream and waited for them all to move along. Instead, we had managed to ride smack dab into the middle of the melee.
Beartooth is easily one of the most awe-inspiring roads I’ve had the pleasure of riding. The alpine environment and incredible views make it epic at any speed… and it’s a good thing too because none of us were going anywhere fast. After passing a dozen or so bikes with their brake lights blinking on and off through the corners I decided I would find a bit of clear road and just slow way down and take it all in. With this many bikes and riders of varying skill levels making pass after pass seemed a bit like attacking a forest fire with a water pistol. Next time I ride Beartooth it will be on a Tuesday morning of a non-holiday week.Ryan
We arrived at the top to find Eric and Ryan camped out on a rock outcropping just to grab this photo.
Nearing the very top, it felt as though we were on top of the world itself, with the sky just in reach. It was awe inspiring and completely overshadowed the negative motorcycle encounters we’d just had.
We arrived at the top to be greeted with Kris’ SuperSport looking smartly parked on the side of the road. It was a yellow beacon of greeting. It was also the entrance to a dirt road that took us just a little bit higher. Kris didn’t want to deal with taking the high-strung SuperSport onto loose gravel unless she had to.
The Beartooth Pass was first used by Civil War General Phillip Sheridan and 120 soldiers during an early inspection of the Yellowstone Area in 1882. Sheridan was originally going to take the much longer detour down Clarks Fork River on his way back to Billings, Montana. Sheridan had run into an old hunter named Greer who claimed to have intimate knowledge of the Beartooth Mountains and advised Sheridan of the route through the Beartooth Mountains. A mere fifty years later, in 1936, the road over Beartooth Pass was officially opened and still follows Sheridan’s (or Greer’s) original route. (click the image below for a bigger version)
After much photo taking and amazement at the pure awesomeness, we returned to the bikes for the descent into Red Lodge, Montana.
If the ascent up the southern slope was like riding in the Dolomites, the descent down the north side felt like Scotland. The craggy rocks and scrubby vegetation was replaced by a rumpled bedspread of grass draped over the terrain.
Water still formed pristine lakes in empty valleys and the rich green of the grass sharply contrasted the azure blue sky and dingy white snow that still hung onto winter in every shaded nook. If I didn’t know better, I wouldn’t believe it was the same road.
The road lazily circled precipitous drops into more rugged terrain thousands of feet below.
When the road finally began its descent back down towards more livable elevations, it did so through several glorious switchbacks that hung impossibly to the side of the mountain.
Beartooth pass feels so much less like American than it does like Europe or even Canada!
Eric, Dawn and the rest of the crew were far ahead of Mike and I, who were once again riding alone. The descent back into civilization was fantastic, and all the few motorcycles that we encountered happily waved us past.
Arriving back in town we were amazed by the sights…
Motorcycles were, literally, everywhere! They (or would it be we) had seemingly taken over the entire town. Mike and I wandered into town until Mike deferred to his GPS and turned us around and to the hotel where we’d made our reservations.
We unloaded the luggage, hoping that none that we had offended would seek retribution upon our bikes. We pulled the hard-bags hoping that would be enough to make them look different. Then we donned our flip-flops and sauntered into town for some wine, cheese and meat for dinner.
Most of the group had never experienced anything like this, but Kris and I have our moto-roots in the biker-rally world and tried to explain the cultural nuances of bikers and how to identify outlaw bikers. In any case, it was impressive.
We returned to the hotel, safe from the huddled masses, and had a delightful evening of Yeager-Bombs, Italian red wine, cheese and salami and awoke the next morning to discover that nobody had so much as turned an errant eye towards our bikes – they were completely untouched (as opposed to our experience in Libby, Montana).
Chief Joseph Highway
And the difference between Espresso and Cappuccino
While everyone was getting ready for the next day of riding, the early risers took the extra time for some impromptu maintenance and cleaning.
Of course while some of us were working, some of us were doing… other things…
Once everyone was satisfied with the condition of their bikes, we gassed up and headed out on MT-308 towards Belfry, MT. It was a cool, overcast morning and dramatically cooler than the day before. All of us had done what bundling we could, consisting mostly of sealing jacket vents.
The miniscule community of Bearcreek look like a piece of the world that time had forgotten. In retrospect we wished that we had stopped and gathered a few more photos. The overcast atmosphere created an even more nostalgic feel.
We turned right in Belfry and began riding south along a long, straight, desolate road that I swear has been used for the endings of several action movies featuring a 60’s muscle car racing off towards the distant mountains.
Eventually, we turned west and onto the fresh asphalt surface of Chief Joseph Highway.
Instantly the terrain and the scenery improved dramatically and we began a capricious ascent through endless sweeping corners.
Reverence must be observed while riding this fantastic route; Chief Joseph Scenic Byway follows the route taken by Chief Joseph as he led the Nez Perce Indians out of Yellowstone and into Montana in 1877 during their attempt to flee the U.S. Cavalry and escape into Canada. Chief Joseph eventually surrendered after fighting 13 battles and going about 1,300 miles. His plight marked the last great battle between the U.S. Government and an Indian nation. After surrendering, Chief Joseph stated his famous quote “Hear me, my chiefs, I am tired. My heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever.”
Upon arriving at the summit of the road, an understated statue marks the historic significance of the route.
We stopped and drank in the majestic views of northwestern Montana.
A few riders were milling about the parking lot and one BMW rider who was attending a National BMW Rally in Gillette approached us and stated “Salt Lake City, huh? The CanyonChasers are from Salt Lake City”. While most of us stood slackjawed, the unflappable Ryan responded “Yeah, that’s us”. The BMW rider paused “Well, when I saw all the Ducati’s I kinda’ wondered”.
Our discussion actually started with tires. Noticing the unique tread pattern on the Dunlop 616s I was running, the observant beemer rider asked how I liked them. After some discussion on tire choice, I noticed a set of Continental Road Attacks on his bike. He mentioned how he had read a review of the Conti’s on the CanyonChaser site and the connection was made. It was so very nice to encounter another motorcyclist of his caliber after having dealt with the misguided souls the entire previous day.Ryan
This led into some great conversation about great roads yet unridden and we were soon trading maps and directions to canyons and cornering opportunities. Then we gave him one of the few remaining CanyonChasers stickers.
We hung out at the overlook and took a few more photos, but this one of Dawns is probably my very favorite.
Then it was back to the bikes to ride the epic series of corners laid out before us like a pile of presents on Christmas morning.
Mike, forgot to clean his visor.
Cornering opportunities were, shall we say, ample?
The scenery and views of the distant Beartooth Mountain Range was glorious! Moments like these, while fleeting, are why we ride.
The riding was a breath of fresh air! Finally some wide open corners.Ryan
It was so great that Mike, Ryan and myself had to turn around and do it all over again!
The road continued, seemingly forever, with one long fast sweeper after another. Utopia!
There was no traffic to speak of, so our forward progress was unhampered in any way.
In the distance loomed The Bear’s Tooth, Pilot Peak, towering almost 13,000 above the ocean.
As we arrived in Cooke City, dark storm clouds were looming overhead. We stopped for lunch at a great little European eatery to see what the weather was going to do since none of us had packed any wet-weather riding gear.
Ryan taught us about the Italian tradition of finishing a meal with some cappuccino.
Dave means espresso. Italians know cappuccino is for breakfast.Ryan
While trying to increase our level of culture, the storm clouds moved off and we were basking beneath pristine blue skies.
We returned back into Yellowstone and meandered our way back towards Dunraven Pass. The traffic at the northern end of the park was quite light. But as we made our way farther south, the traffic began to increase.
When the traffic started to get really bad we stopped for Ice Cream. Ryan, too sexy for his Ice Cream shot us “the eye”.
From this point it was just a matter of getting back out of Yellowstone to make it to our hotel room in Jackson Hole. But getting out of the park on a Sunday afternoon is rarely an easy thing. We got about four corners of clear riding before we were stuck behind a very, very slow moving tour bus.
Dunraven Pass was still fun, but a whole lot less fun at 15mph – the maximum speed the tour bus could attain up the steep grades.
Because of the slow speeds and heavy traffic, it took us over an hour to go 15 miles. How fun is that?
After Dunraven Pass it didn’t get a whole lot better. Lots and lots of traffic meant more slow speeds and a lot of saddle time. But at least it gave us plenty of time to stress out over the unpredictable traffic.
Leaving the park we stopped briefly to lube the chains that had been neglected for the duration of the trip. Of course, this task is much easier when you have help.
Dave and Ryan also took the opportunity to see for themselves what the difference is between an “S” (Ohlins equipped) Multistrada and a standard Multistrada. Mike refuses to ever ride another Multistrada again because it will mean he will have to sell his Triumph.
Even after just a few miles, the differences noted were dramatic!
But more dark gray rain clouds were hovering on the horizon, so we did not dawdle for very long.
The rain clouds gave us a spectacular view of impressive God-Beams falling over the Teton Mountains.
We finally arrived, road-weary, at the Anglers Inn, only to discover more bad news…
Once again, they’d messed up our reservations and gave us rooms with only one bed. Then they lied about it.
Jen, Mike and Ryan grabbed a second room at the 4-Winds Hotel, a block away (with two beds) and we met up for Pizza and beer before returning to the 4-Winds room to drink more wine and discuss the awesomeness of the days riding.
Pushing for Home
And an Abandoned Gas Station
The last day of riding is always bitter-sweet. Excited to get home and the comfort of one’s own bed (and in our case to see the dogs), but nothing compares to life on the road.
We started the morning off with breakfast, coffee and text messaging. My, how our world has changed.
We also took care of a little last minute shopping. Dawn is always trying to visit the Jackson Hole bookstore, but they always seem to be closed. Since we had not traveled over any holiday weekend this time, it was just another Monday morning and the bookstore, much to Dawns delight, was open.
This is where we met Lucy, a very sweet and affectionate dog who is allergic to most everything including cats. Dawn could really relate, but she was also allergic to Lucy. We’ll suppose that Lucy was also allergic to Dawn so the circle will be complete.
We stopped for some photos in front of an abandoned gas station and auto-garage.
I had taken a slightly different route on my way to Idaho and stumbled across an old gas station. In need of a break after Tin Cup Canyon, I pulled over and started taking a few shots. It turned out to be a great place for a photograph.
I emailed this shot from my phone to the others stuck back in their cubicles in Salt Lake to try and make them envious of my day of riding. It was such a great spot we decided to stop on the way home with the whole group.Ryan
Ryan broke out the big guns and started taking photographs. We like having Ryan around because he does some fantastic work. Following are some of our favorites of the afternoon photo-shoot.
Totally sums up Eric and Dawn.
Kris and Dave behind the stunning SuperSport/Cafe Racer
Group Shot. We seem to only get these every four or five years. Then it was time knuckle down and push for home.
Tin Cup Canyon to Soda Springs….
Mink Creek Canyon to Bear Lake….
Then a much needed break for fresh raspberry shakes in Bear Lake.
Monte Cristo Canyon and another stop for gas in Mountain Green.
This was our last stop of the trip and after a full day of riding, we were in need of a break – but home was beckoning.
East Canyon to Salt Lake City.
And home in time to get to bed and get ready for work in the morning….