At 6:30 AM I get up and start packing. The sun is coming up and I want to get back to the Snake River Overlook to see the early morning light glowing off the Tetons. The ride is very cold as my thermometer reads about freezing. But the scene is striking. Iím probably about Ĺ hour too late for the really good light but itís still damn dramatic.
I rush back to the campsite to pack up my tent and I start heading north. I need to get to West Thumb back in Yellowstone before 10 AM when they close the road to Fishing Bridge. The road is closed from 10 AM to 6:00 PM for construction and repairs. At the South Entrance I show the ranger my Golden Eagle Pass. But she wants to see picture ID also. Okay, thatís what the sign says, but Iíve been through dozens of these entrances in the past 25 days and no one ever asked for ID. I struggle for my license with my gloved hands. Then she wants me to pull it out of my wallet. Whatís her problem? Iím riding a fifteen thousand-dollar motorcycle and she thinks Iím trying to stiff her out of $15 bucks! And why is there a checkpoint here anyway? There is only one road from this entrance to Grand Teton and I had to go through the checkpoint there!
I keep rushing towards West Thumb, but the traffic is thick and slow. Itís only a few more miles, I think to myself. I have plenty of time. But RVs and tour buses block my path. If only that Ranger hadnít been such a jerk.
I arrive at West Thumb at 10:05 AM. Iím screwed. I have to ride over an hour around the Loop Road, past everything I saw yesterday. Iím pissed! This sucks. Yellowstone SUCKS! Iím so pissed I donít even stop at Old Faithful to see it again. I ride right though to Canyon Village, check out the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and head up to Roosevelt Lodge for lunch. Iím still pissed when I get there.
Itís easy to spot the wildlife in Yellowstone. Itís right where all the tourists have pulled their cars over to the side of the road, blocking traffic and harassing the animals with their cameras. I see dozens of people getting out of their cars and approaching bison. They end up being statistics, gored by the 2,000-pound beasts that can run up to 30 MPH. It happens all the time. Now that would be something worth pulling over for and taking a picture of!
This is bear country, and there are many warnings about how to keep yourself safe from grizzlies. The rangers estimate there are anywhere from 280 to 610 grizzly bears in the park. While I donít see any, I do spy chipmunks, squirrels, elk, deer, bison, a moose and a black bear. The bear is being attacked by dozens of people and their cameras as they block the road while the bear climbs out of a tree. It is sickening the way the people antagonize the animal.
At Roosevelt my day starts getting better. At lunch I meet a couple from North Carolina who invite me to stay with their daughter in Los Angeles. Does she have any say in this? I head out the Northeast Entrance and the crowds disappear and the traffic thins out. Iím glad to be leaving Yellowstone, and up ahead is an amazing road: The Beartooth Highway.
The Beartooth Pass tops out at 10,974 feet. There arenít many paved roads on the planet much higher than this. Saying this road is windy is like saying the Pope is Catholic. Roads do not get windier than this. And the views from the rarefied heights of the Absaroka Range are spectacular. You wonder to yourself how and why they even attempted to build this glorious path. Actually, they have to rebuild it all the time, due to the killer frost heaves. The road is closed from mid-October to Memorial Day, but it still gets so much damage that I have ride through three construction stops.
The last stop, at around 9,000 feet takes about 20 minutes, so I get off my bike and walk up past the car in front of me. There are two sparkling Honda Gold Wings with all the gear including trailers. One bike is white and the other black and the riders and their passengers match. Theyíre two couples from Memphis and every year they take two weeks to ride out west. The black bike says "Southern Comfort" and this is what Gold Wing riding is all about. These bikes are made for touring, with very comfortable seats and windshields so big you wouldnít even know it was raining. They weight 1,000 pounds and even have a reverse gear. You would need it if you ever parked one of these beasts downhill, facing a wall.
I arrive in Red Lodge and drive through town, giving the place a once over. The Yodeler Motel looks good. My friend Kip Williams told me about this town, as he was stuck here a number of years back, waiting for parts for his vintage BMW which had valve trouble at the high elevations. And he couldnít have been happier to be stuck in a town like this.
Red Lodge is a special little place that survives mainly off the winter ski season. This is probably what Jackson Hole was like twenty years ago. There are no chain stores, no McDonalds or GAP. I see a dog running down the street, no lease or owner in sight. But things have probably changed here recently. Both the liquor store and the bakery are for sale Ė signs of people selling out and moving on.
I move on to the Montana Candy Emporium, a real old-fashioned candy store. They have just about every candy known to man here, with huge baskets of goodies filling the enormous store. Homemade fudge, too. I build a small supply and then head over to Bogartís Restaurant for dinner. When Iím done and head out on Main Street, itís quiet as Christmas Eve. At 10:30 PM on a Friday night the town is dead silent.
There are many reasons for me not to camp: It takes time to set up and then pack-up the gear, about an hour at each end. Iíd rather spend that time doing other things. The gear also covers the passenger seat, making it impossible to get to the tools or first aid kit without removing the tie down and bungee cords. It also makes it difficult to open the top case all the way as it hinges forward and hits the Seal-Line bag. Every time I stop for an extended period I think someone is going to steal the dry bag with all the gear inside. And it also crowds my seat, making it impossible to lean back, or sit back, when I want to stretch while riding. Plus, the bike looks a lot cooler without the big blue bag on the back. Also, I have a better chance of a comfortable sleep in a motel, and my rest is very important.
Okay, so there are some good reasons to camp. Actually just one: it brings you closer to nature. But Iím outside all day, everyday, anyway.
So, Iím asking for your help. Iíd like you to vote on whether I should continue to camp or just bag the whole idea. Please send a e-mail to email@example.com and simply type "YES" or "NO" in the subject field. Yes if I should keep camping, or No if I should send the gear home. Please do not type anything in the body of the message, as these e-mails will be filed automatically and I will not be reading them. The voting booth will close Wednesday, the 15th, at 12 midnight. Thank you for your support. Please keep in mind, though, that this is not a democracy.
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