JUST KEEP ME MOVING:
Mission to Montana


SO MANY ROADS, SO LITTLE TIME

Decisions, decisions, decisions. Iím headed to Flathead Lake today, to meet Chuck, and there are at least two ways I could get there. From here in Livingston I could jump right on the interstate and be in Missoula in a few hours, then turn north up to Flathead Lake. As far as superhighways go, itís probably the best one in the country, but thereís got to be a better way.

Of course there is, and itís US-89. If youíre looking for the greatest roads in the lower 48, this one easily ranks in the top ten. US-89 cuts across the entire state, from Glacier National Park all the way down to the northeast entrance of Yellowstone. 377 miles of paradise. Actually the road starts in the Paradise Valley, at the south end, beginning near the Roosevelt Arch. Following the Yellowstone River, US-89 winds north through the Gallatin and Absaroka ranges. From Livingston, the road follows a channel between the Big Belt Moutains to the west and the Crazy Mountains to the east. Past White Sulphur Springs, US-89 winds through the Lewis and Clark National Forest as it crosses the Little Belt Mountains, spilling into Great Falls. There the route runs across the plains of Montana, through barren wheat fields and open sky into Choteau. Continuing north the road crosses the Blackfoot Indian Reservation and ends up in St. Mary at the eastern end of the Going-To-The-Sun Road.

I rode the upper half of US-89 last year, and I loved every minute of it. Since then Iíve wanted to ride more of the road, so here is my chance. I turn back up I-10 for a few miles, and then head north on this wondrous road. The scenery of the Crazy Mountains is simply spectacular. Antelope graze along the wheat fields and horses gallop beside me at full speed. There is almost no one on the road. If you are motorcycling in Montana, you owe it to yourself to ride this road.

I could go all the way up to Great Falls, but that would really be going out of my way, so after just 60 miles I turn west on US-12 and head towards Townsend, then Helena. Maybe on the way back east, Iíll ride the whole length of US-89 with Chuck, from north to south as we head to Sturgis.

Itís my fourth day on the road, and Iíve already ridden over 2,200 miles. Iím expecting to feel a little sore by now, but I donít. A matter of fact, I feel great. The R1100GS is surprisingly very comfortable. It might even be more comfortable than my R1100RS. Who would have thought that? It must be those Ohlins shock absorbers.

Iím itching for some more dirt roads and I spy a chance on the map. Suddenly Iím seeking routes I never would have seen before, my eyes blind to unpaved roads. For once I was blind, but now I can see!  A few miles north of Helena, county route 279 takes me through Canyon Creek and then I turn west on a gravel road up the Stemple Pass. At 6376 feet I cross the Continental Divide. The only traffic I encounter is a white-tailed deer and a giant blue heron. Iím loving this back roads dirt stuff, and Iím also getting more confident and comfortable on it. After 25 miles the pavement returns and Iím almost disappointed.

Route 83 takes me northwest and a couple of hours later Iím in Bigfork. My destination is the home of Larry Ashcraft on the shores of Flathead Lake. Larry is a Captain for TWA and Chuckís former roommate. They shared a place years ago in Manhattan Beach.  Fortunately for us, Larry has this wonderful place in Montana and has offered it to us as a home base of sorts. For the next two days we will plan and prepare, going over every bit of the trip ahead and reviewing all the gear. There is still much to do.

 


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