Montana certainly lives up to it’s subtitles - Big Sky Country and The Last Best Place. Coming up from the Southeast corner we encountered a landscape charred by the recent fires, newly sprung grass bright green against blackened trunks, an impending storm lingering ironically in the distance, serving as a dramatic backdrop.
We stopped to talk with volunteer firefighters from the Reservation, resting from the month-long fight to protect their 38,000 acres from destruction.
A magnificent ride into the mountains towards Bozeman, our hosts for the evening at Missouri Headwaters State Park introduced us to their Bulldog named Hippo, who immediately stole John’s heart!
At last we reached Missoula, where Julia Galloway - an incredible potter, educator, and John’s friend, fed us mojitos and salmon and put us up for the night in her ceramic art-filled bungalow. Julia is the Chair for the Art Department at University of Montana, the same University that Rudy Autio managed to procure a pool for Ceramics and run the department out of.
Amazing experience on Orcas Island shooting this lovely three-day wedding weekend! See my blog for more images!
From Idaho, Highway 20 became a motorcycling mecca - twisting roads, mountain passes, unique and ever-changing scenery, getting into Eastern Washington was a real delight, rewarded by our mid-state stop over, the unique towns of Twisp and Winthrop. I’d liken Winthrop as the Deadwood of Washington State. Best gas station EVER award goes to…
Up and over the Northern Cascades, scenery that rivaled Glacier, and riding that trumped it!
Back down to sea level, the air thickening with the approaching Sound, and into Anacortes to catch the ferry to Orcas.
…morale at camp was awaiting coffee and yet to be determined…” —from the Tales of Piper Watson
It’s getting increasingly difficult to leave these wonderful people and places, but we needed to get on to Anacortes in order to catch the ferry to Orcas for the wedding. Going through the Northernmost part of Montana and stopping in Libby, we stumbled across the coolest guy in town. Jack owns Indian Head Motorsports and just so happens to have a pretty stellar collection of old Hondas - a hot commodity in the custom cafe racer trend. GOLDMINE!
That night we camped near the lovely lake town of Sandpoint Idaho.
The infamous Glacier National Park…. sans bags… bikes were stoked.
A peacefully pink rest back in the Honeymoon Suite…
Leaving Missoula, we wound our way through Butte and Cherry country into Coram, Montana - the gateway to Glacier National Park. Coram was home to Victor, a long-time friend of John’s dad, and part-time home to their mutual cohort in motorcycling days of yore, Fingers. We didn’t have an exact address for Victor and Fingers, but figured we could roll into Coram, pop. 337, find the closest bar and look for Fingers’ recognizable motorcycle - complete with cane bungeed to the handlebars (knee replacements.)
Instead, we neared Coram from Hungry Horse (gotta love these names) and see a man on a motorcycle rumble down the pipeline towards us, white hair ‘a flyin’. John and Fingers locked eyes and Fingers peeled his well-loved hunk of metal around and came to a screeching and well-practiced halt next to us on the side of the road.
“I gotta go pick up some ice cream, wait here!” Fingers he tore off back down the road.
The most magnificent of hosts, Fingers, Victor, and Victor’s better half Lynette, and Maggie and Sam the dogs took incredibly good care of us as we acclimated to Bear Country.
Having heard all of the tales of Victor and Fingers from John’s dad, it was nice to finally be in the company of family and those akin to life on the road.
We even got to stay in the “Honeymoon Suite,” a little camper in the meadow - take a dog with you if you have to take a leak outside in the morning (again… Bear Country…. and mountain lions.)
Still no super dramatic changes in landscape, nonetheless it was still so gratifying to be in the West, and Wyoming greeted us warmly with dramatic skies, kooky small towns, gregarious people and tales of aliens!
Passing Devils Tower, we entered the town of Hulette and were immediately taken with it’s small, frontier town setting. Stopping into The Ponderosa for dinner, it wasn’t hard to befriend nearly everyone in the joint by the time we left, including a volunteer firefighting husband/wife team that were enjoying their first night off in a month!
Two too many beers and fresh caught, fried, and free catfish later, we raced plastic yard ponies.
Venturing on from Hulette the next day we found our obligatory daily swim spot - a canyon that had been filled, a prime cliff diving spot. As always, John was a hit with the locals.
Once we reached The Badlands of South Dakota, we knew instantly that we had reached The West. Prairies that wound through windswept hills began to reveal a sort of desolation that could only be found on Indian Reservations like Pine Ridge and Rosebud. I had spent time teaching photography on Pine Ridge and was a little anxious knowing the melancholy stretch of land that awaited us. You can see more of those images HERE.
Instead we were met with the pleasant experience of riding undulating and empty roads, the wind at our backs, and the temperature still manageable.
Once we had reached the point of entry for Badlands National Park in Interior, South Dakota, we decided to take a refreshment break at The Wagon Wheel, the proprietor of which made a mean pizza and drove a chuck wagon. He talked about the “Motorcycle People” being like modern cowboys … we agreed.
Leaving the Wagon Wheel during the heat of the day made the short hop to Rapid City a little brutal, so we ended up hanging out at Cabela’s. Four hours, $200, a fishing pole, a GoPro LCD back, and a bottomless cup of coffee later we emerged from the air conditioned wonderland to an ominous storm brewing on the horizon, impeding any further movement into The Black Hills. A burger and a beer later, we were finally entering the Hills, painted pink with the setting sun… see video from next post!
Meanwhile, John’s bike was getting increasingly worse sounding despite having stopped at the Omaha Ducati to have it “fixed.” Pulling into the town of Deadwood we were greeted by a cast of characters that make this Wild West town a unique destination. Deciding to spend a few days here to get John’s bike up to speed, wash underwear, take a load off.. we took in the sights and sounds of the Black Hills… ps, amazing cliff jumping at Horsethief Lake and free camping right next to Mt. Rushmore!
FINALLY, someone who knew how to fix John’s bike … a custom shop in Spearfish - Dakota V Twin - WOOT! These guys were fantastic and really knew their shit, thank god we were there before Sturgis started!
Nearing the halfway point in our escapade across the US, about 150 miles from Anacortes, WA…
It’s been a wonderful experience, without a doubt, yet sort of strange to process the variations of personalities and landscapes as we roll across the country. The landscape changes and mornphs into the various plains, foothills, and mountains that make up the Rockies - the lyrics to “America the Beautiful” punctuating my thoughts, the sort of catchy yet annoying tune that gets stuck in your head for weeks on end. Yet those words aptly describing the sheer vastness of this country and all of the variety it encompasses.
John and I swap starring roles against a gradually changing backdrop, the sun decidedly painting it and setting the tone of the moment. The push to the West was some of the most difficult riding. Northern Nebraska’s unrelenting winds and dry prairie dust; the land’s spat, tiny pins to the face. That, coupled with record breaking heat - God’s WalMart hair dryer on full tilt - somehow we were still able to remain open to life’s happy accidents.
John’s mer-man instincts, his natural pull towards all bodies of water, brought him and his Italian iron steed to a halt on a small bridge to peer over the side in hopes of discovering a swimming hole. From below, a family waved hello and splashed around in crystal clear waters - like harpies to pirates seeking respite. A constant 64 degree spring fed creek awaited our overcooked bodies and brains, this was the “local’s hole” and the saving grace to this brutal land - Long Pine, Nebraska.
The people of the Midwest are amazing, open, friendly. John’s bike began acting up in Iowa, no better place to be broken down than Iowa Falls. Iowa in July - dairy farmers and truck drivers on vacation, rv-ing at the lake and nice as could be as John had his carbuerator in pieces on our picnic table.
Nearby, the county fair kicked off each evening - hours of entertainment - 4H shows, chuck wagon races, and calf roping. While the noted Gateway to the West still awaited in South Dakota, this felt like the true West. Country music may have taken on a techno beat and auto tune, but these kids were outside working land and animals seemingly more than surfing YouTube. Or maybe not … but I like to imagine their search terms being vastly different than those of a city kid’s.
Encircling the rodeo ring, young men clad in cutoff sleeveless Class of 2011 tees, giant belt buckles, and Busch Lite’s in hand, touted their accomplishments in 4-wheeling pagentry and epic hospitalizations while girls in cutoff shorts, cowboy boots, and bedazzled belts listened dutifully, the smart ones rolling their eyes.
The beginning of an adventure is always the hardest …the adversity you face is, in hindsight, small; gradually thickening your skin with every bug and needle-like rain drop drilled into your face. And thus, ours begins, the forgotten treasures of this lovely and vast country await our discovery… such as Purple Cow, VA.
Packing each day gets faster, easier. Riding each day hurts the bum less, the hours seem more tolerable - enjoyable really. The scenery changes, the accents ebb through the constant soundtrack of wind and desmo engines hammering through our eardrums.
Yup, Piper tipped her bike over while stopping to try and take a picture of this sign. Now this photographic record will remind me and the interwebs for years to come to just heed the damn signs.
Heat waves and East Coast riding took it out of both the bikes and our bodies, thankfully Bud at Bud’s Motorcycle R&R (a moto genius!!) and a splurge on a cheap motel gave us the respite we needed for the push to Tennessee where family and the lake house awaited us!