I head north around 11 AM, donning my BMW winter gloves and heated vest. The vest is awesome, like having a heating pad wrapped around you. It radiates warmth throughout your entire body. And the gloves are excellent, keeping my hands nice and toasty. The thickness removes some of the connection between the bike and myself, but Iíd rather be able to feel my pinkies. This is the first time Iíve worn the gloves, and if I knew how good they were I would have worn them that morning at Grand Teton when I woke up at sunrise. With ambient temperature this cold, the wind chill of moving on a motorcycle becomes the big factor of the ride. If the air temperature is 30 degrees, and youíre moving at 40 MPH, the Chill Factor is minus 4 degrees. Ouch. Without all this wonderful gear I wouldnít be able to ride. I see a total of three other motorcyclists the entire day.
Passing the Boulder Mountains, I reach Galena Summit at 8,701 feet. Just pass the summit, the Sawtooth Range comes into view, with jagged pink granite peaks. I turn off the main road towards Redfish Lake, where thousands of sockeye salmon used to spawn. But theyíre not here anymore as dams on the Columbia and Snake Rivers have lead them to the brink of extinction. As a matter of fact, thereís no one here at all. Everything is closed for the season Ė the campgrounds, the lodge, and even the ranger station. Itís a ghost-land.
Just up the road in Stanley (population 69) the highway turns east to follow the swerving waters of the Salmon River. Iím flowing downstream as the water and I wind through a forested gorge lined with granite walls. Fly fisherman dot the river every few miles, wading in emerald green pools.
Past Salmon, I cut back into Montana, near Wisdom, and head over to the Big Hole National Battlefield for another stamp. In the summer of 1877, five bands of Nez Perce Indians Ė about 800 people - began a 1,300 mile journey across Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming, as they were chased by United States Army troops trying to place them on a reservation. The resulting pursuit and subsequent battles along the way became known as the Nez Perce War. The greatest loss of life, for both sides, occurred at Big Hole. The Nez Perce lost 60 to 90 members of the tribe, mostly women, children and old people.
The battles and chase continued through Yellowstone and to the Bear Paw Mountains, where the Nez Perce surrendered, more from exhaustion than from defeat. The tribe's desperation was echoed in the words of Chief Joseph as he spoke to U.S.Colonel Miles: "Hear me, my chiefs, I am tired; my heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands I will no fight no more forever."
ON THE ROAD:
Iíd venture to guess the most common cause of motorcycle accidents (besides alcohol) is a poor road surface. Gravel can be a disaster for two-wheeled vehicles, although you wouldnít even notice it in a car. You look out for it at intersections and entranceways, especially during the spring when itís still left on the road from the winter. But you donít expect it on the open road. Well, today, a little bit of gravel almost ended my ride.
Iím traveling up route 93 approaching the Lost Trail Pass, heading uphill. The road is three lanes here, two in my direction and one headed down. Iím doing about 50, turning left through a big sweeping curve, taking the inside lane. Leaning over into the turn, I get that horrible sudden sensation of the rear tire starting to slip out from underneath me! The entire roadway is covered with gravel! I pull the bike upright and now Iím heading straight off the road, into the apex of the curve. I grab the brake, and the awesome ABS system stops me just before I run off the pavement. The bike and some good reflexes have saved me. Shaken, I slowly continue up the hill. The road is covered with tiny stones for about half a mile.
I got very lucky, as there was no other traffic on the road. If there had been a vehicle next to me I would have hit it or been hit by it when I aborted the turn. If I had stayed in my lean, I would have gone down, sliding across the pavement. For this road, with these conditions, I was obviously going too fast. Without the gravel I would have been fine, but the stones eliminated most of my traction.
Why is there all this gravel here? The answer comes when I reach the pass. Thereís about 2 inches of snow in the trees and on the side of the road, left over from yesterday. Road crews must have laid down this stuff to give automobiles better traction on the hill. I guess they assume there arenít many two-wheelers out in this cold or maybe they just donít even think about it. Iím sure thinking about it, and I wonít forget that turn for a long time to come.
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