In part one, we joined Motoworks customer Juan Hernandez as he quit his job and set off on his epic cross-country journey with his sister.
With our first night behind us, the following morning we set off to the Black Hills and Custer State Park. It would be a short riding day of 100 miles and the plan was to ride up to Custer and enjoy the great twisty roads and the scenic mountain views. The weather, on the other hand, had other plans. A freak storm moved in within an hour and we got caught in what felt like a monsoon. I’ve ridden in rain before, but nothing like this. I was wearing my summer gloves and my fingers felt like I was being hit by pellet guns. Note to self: next cross country trip I will invest in hand guards and Heated Grips.
The weather situation didn’t get any better with time and there was no waiting it out. We had no choice but to ride down the mountain in near flash flood conditions. All I could do was slow down, put on my hazards and hope I didn’t loose traction. After what felt like hours, we made it safely down to Keystone and took shelter to let the storm pass. As the storm pushed on, it left an amazing formation of clouds. They looked like a pattern of giant golf balls up in the sky — truly and amazing view. The rain had gotten the best of us though, so we decided to get a hotel for the night and try again in the morning.
After a good night’s sleep, we had a long day ahead. We’d be riding from Rapid City to Yellowstone National Park and that leg of our journey would cover more than 550 miles in one shot. Yet the distance wouldn’t be our only challenge. We’d be crossing Wyoming in the middle of a heat wave. Temperatures hovered just over 105º F all day. My air-cooled Ducati Multistrada was up to the task though, with oil temps surprisingly low all day. I, on the other hand, was having a harder time staying comfortable and hydrated. I took to stopping every hundred miles or so just to drink at least a liter of water. Looking at a map of Wyoming, one would not think how barren and desert-like it is. The day before I was complaining about a rain storm but as we passed Big Horn National Forest, I was pretty much praying for rain. Despite the name, Big Horn National Forest is more desert than forest. Amazing rock formations and cliff-hugging roads make this and excellent stretch of road, I just wish it hadn’t been so hot.
Getting to Yellowstone was proving more difficult than I thought. The heat would not relent and dark clouds overhead toyed with me. I would see rain up ahead, but the road would change course and I never got a drop of that rain. We finally made it to Cody WY — a great town with a lot of history. Unfortunately, we didn’t get a chance to explore the town, as we had to make it to Yellowstone to set up camp before nightfall. So on we rode.
We made it to Yellowstone just before dusk and with just a sliver of sunlight left for setting up camp. In the urgency to make it to the campsite I’d lost track of our altitude. Just a few hours earlier, I was sweating bullets and now I had to get some layers on to warm up. As the sun went down the temperature quickly dropped into the 40s. Yellowstone is about 7,700 feet above sea level and it sure felt like it. We ate, had a couple glasses of wine, and made our way to our tents.
In planning this trip, I never thought we’d experience sub-freezing weather, but when we got up the next morning, my thermometer read 19º F. I’d been forced to sleep in my riding suit with all my warm layers, which was quite the eye-opening experience.
Yellowstone is a huge park, and I didn’t want to waste precious miles on my bike tires, so I decided to ride around the park with my sister in her car. I was a bit disappointed with Yellowstone, to be honest. Perhaps because it was so crowded. It’s still a very impressive place, but I think it’s probably best enjoyed when there are fewer tourists around. The next couple days were relaxing though, since I was being driven around in the park.
At the time I felt like we saw a good chunk of the park in those couple days. Yet in retrospect, I’ve realized that we barely scratch the surface. Apparently there are more than 200 waterfalls and rangers even keep discovering new ones. After just three days of Waterfalls, geysers and scenic hiking we decided to pack up and make our way to Montana for a visit to Glacier National Park.
Getting back on the bike, I had a little scare that morning as we were setting off to Glacier. I had been charging my tablet on the battery tender dongle and accidentally left it plugged in overnight. With the temps dropping to below freezing I hadn’t realized that this had affected my battery. I was all packed and ready to go when I pressed the starter button and I got that dreaded “click” a starter makes when there is not enough juice in the battery. I panicked for a second but waited about an hour for the temperature to rise back up above 50º. With time and temp, she started right up. My first mechanical close call, hopefully that would be the last.
Our next stop was going to be Kalispell, MT, and we had to be there by 6:00 pm, since that was when my girlfriend’s flight arrived from Chicago. The next two weeks were going to be split between Glacier National Park, Seattle, Vancouver and Olympic National Park.
The ride to Montana was breathtaking. Montana is huge, and it has this power to make you feel really small. The winding roads through its majestic mountain views make you realize why they call this place Big Sky Country. The vast, open spaces and stunning mountain peaks make this place like heaven for anyone who enjoys the outdoors. If you ask me, there’s not better way to experience that Big Sky than the back of a motorcycle. Out in the open, with the countryside wooshing by, it was easy to feel small, but that was fine. I wouldn’t have wanted to make that part of the trip any other way.
Yet once we arrived in Kalispell, it was time to give the bike a rest. For the next three days, the three of us would trade two wheels for four and use my sister’s car to enjoy even more of Montana’s scenery and hours of hiking some of the best scenery our country has to offer.
To be continued…