Warning – this is going to be a long post. I planned to update along the way but just didn’t find the time, so here it is, all at once 🙂
6,287 miles – that’s the final number. About 1,500 of that was for the rally, the rest was spent exploring. If you discount the rally miles, and account for the 2 days I did no riding, then I averaged about 480 miles a day. Not bad for a flower sniffing, picture taking ride.
I visited 21 Tour of Honor memorials along the way and now have a total of 49 sites visited in 10 states (I have visited all 7 in 5 states – Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho and Wyoming).
Monday (August 12th) – Denver, Colorado
The first day after the rally, and I want to make sure I ride along without feeling the stress of being “on the clock”. I purposefully set this day up as a relatively low mileage day that ended with a visit with friends near Denver. You really can’t go wrong in Colorado, so picking a route was not too difficult. I chose to cross Monarch Pass via US-50. High points included a visit to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park (I know, I never heard of it either) and a stop at 11,000+ feet.
Black Canyon is a real gem. The park sets above 8,000 feet. I discovered it is best viewed in the afternoon because the sun tends to make any canyon shots tough to capture in the mornings. The best views were looking towards the east…into the sun in the morning. Totally worth the trip!
A quick stop near Blue Mesa dam was a nice treat and then I was off for the most anticipated point of the day – at least for a motorcycle rider – Monarch Pass. At 11,312 feet, it was the highest pass of my entire trip. I was fortunate and did not encounter much traffic on the way up. Without traffic, this road is a motorcycle delight. With traffic, it would be tedious because there were not many passing areas.
My final stop before arriving at my friends’ house was a Tour of Honor memorial in Colorado Springs. This stop turned out to be special as I bumped in to a couple also chasing TOH memorials. This was the first time I have met another rider at a memorial in the 3 years I have participated in TOH.
A quick trip north on the interstate and I arrived for the night, just ahead of some thunder storms (a common theme over the next several days).
Tuesday (August 13th) – Sidney, Nebraska
Rain, rain, keep away…that was my theme for Tuesday afternoon. I had already altered my plans to skip a site in eastern Colorado and now decided to drop a location in western Nebraska. I was riding towards a major storm on the plains and made the decision to call it a day and head towards my hotel early. Turned out to be a good decision since that storm had produced severe thunder storms, large hail (like baseball sized!) and tornado activity. Crazy! I did visit 3 Colorado TOH sites and 1 Wyoming TOH site before making my way to my hotel.
Wednesday (August 14th) – Badlands and Rapid City
More storms, more rain. I needed to head north to get to my planned stops in Badlands National Park and, eventually, Rapid City. After looking over the weather reports, I decided to pick up one of the Nebraska stops before turning north. I picked my way around several smaller systems and did some riding in the rain, but by the time I made it to Badlands National Park the rain had stopped and the sun was out!
Badlands was awesome! The road through the park is in great shape and there are plenty of places to pull over and enjoy the views. I made my way east to west and exited the park near Wall, South Dakota. A short ride on the interstate and I arrived for my TOH stop in Sturgis – my first time there, and thankfully after the rally had wrapped up. You could still see the signs of the rally everywhere, but most of the bikers were gone.
Thursday (August 15th) – Wyoming Highways and Memorials
Another weather system changed my plans to ride through the Black Hills, so I made my way south and east of the hills and avoided most of the rain. I was disappointed, but mostly dry. One of the sections of road I had most anticipated was US-14 and US-14A through the Bighorn National Forest.
This road did not disappoint! I think I may have taken a good 1,000 miles off my tire’s remaining life 🙂
The rest of the day was spent visiting Wyoming TOH memorials in small towns all over the central part of the state and playing a game of chicken with a thunder storm as I approached my hotel. I guessed (correctly) that I could make it to my hotel without finding shelter as the very dark clouds approached. At this point I have become pretty good at interpreting my radar display. I rolled into my hotel under the canopy and within minutes the wind rain and lightning hit with a vengeance! I enjoyed the show from the safety of a dry hotel lobby and marveled at my luck in finding the one protected spot under the canopy 🙂
Friday & Saturday – Rigby, Idaho
Friday was the first day that I left my hotel in the morning with no threat of rain or storm activity. I was making my way through Wyoming to Idaho to make a stop and visit friends in Rigby. I stopped at my final Wyoming memorial and also visited 2 Idaho memorials. We spent Saturday relaxing, going to a car show and catching up.
Sunday (August 18th) – Yellowstone National Park
To say I was excited about Sunday’s destination would be an understatement of historical proportions! I was eagerly watching the weather for signs of thunder storms and hoping that everything would work out. It turned out to be a fantastic day.
My initial plan was to leave Rigby pretty early and catch some breakfast on the way. I wanted to get to the park early because it was a Sunday and I knew crowds would be heavier. I took off before the sun came up and headed north on US-26 towards West Yellowstone. I had time for a quick stop at an Idaho TOH memorial in Ashton and breakfast at a little cafe near the highway. It was well times since the temperatures were a bit cool – in fact, this was the first (and only) time the entire trip I needed my heated gear.
My early start meant arriving at the park around 8am, and crowds were pretty light as hoped. I entered the West Yellowstone entrance and made my way across the park through Norris towards Canyon Village. I had decided to ride the north loop since I had never seen this part of the park before. After several stops I made it to Canyon Village and decided it was time for some food – I didn’t know where the next meal would be. They were still serving breakfast, so I scored twice in one day with my favorite meal 🙂
I continued north from Canyon Village and made my way towards the north end of the park. At this point I am thinking I have seen very little in the way of wildlife. No sooner had this thought settled in my head then the traffic ahead of me stopped in both directions – in Yellowstone this can only mean one thing…wildlife! I have made trips to a number of national parks and seen lots of wildlife, but aside from one distant view of a bear in Mt Rainier a few years ago, I have never seen a bear close enough to make out any detail. This was an adult black bear and it was just looking for food near the roadway.
I enjoyed seeing the bear but was mindful of the warnings to not get too close, and as the bear made its way along the line of cars I started getting a little nervous about my lack of protection! About the time I was ready to start splitting between the cars we all started moving and I survived 🙂
Mammoth Springs was another highlight, even though it was very busy. I figured out that you could drive to the upper section of the area and there were fewer people and better views. I spent a little time walking around and enjoying the sights before heading out of the park to the north, and eventually to my hotel in Bozeman, Montana.
Monday & Tuesday – The Final Days
The last few days of riding to get home were uneventful and familiar. The only real excitement came on Monday morning as I picked my way west using Montana highways to avoid the interstate. I wanted to meet up with US-93 at the top of the Lost Trail Pass and used this little Montana highway, MT-569, to go from Anaconda to Wisdom. It turned out to be little more than a goat path with rough pavement and a stretch of about 10 miles of road construction that was mostly mud from recent rain showers. The traffic control person told me that motorcycles were invited to go to the head of the line because the road was in pretty bad shape and it would be “safer” for me to go first. “Safer”? What the hell? Just how bad is the road, I wondered? I asked her if it was safe for me to go, or if I should just turn around, and her response was “most bikes don’t have any problems”. Hmmm…I guess I’ll give it a try because turning back would make an already long day a lot longer. It turned out OK, but my bike is covered in mud now 😦
I eventually made my way to US-93 and headed down the pass to US-12 and Lolo Pass. US-12 is famous for its 100 miles of curves, and I seldom pass up an opportunity to enjoy it.
My only TOH stop for the day was my final Idaho memorial location in Riggins. My ride plan had me arriving at the hottest part of the day in an area known for heat (it is called Hell’s Canyon, after all). It was still a nice ride and it only hit 106F…
My hotel in Clarkston, Washington was a welcome respite from the heat of the day.
By the time Tuesday arrived I really just wanted to beat the heat and get home, so I opted for I-90 and made it home by early afternoon.
It was a fantastic 2 weeks and I enjoyed almost every minute of it. It was also a good primer for next year and the 2 weeks I will spend traveling to/from and participating in the Butt Lite X rally in Kansas.