Days 64 – 66 Big Sky Country

Yellowstone State Park, WY – Deadwood, SD

460 miles

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Despite the cities listed above, I spent most of the day driving through the glorious Big Sky state of Montana. I woke up in my Tower Falls Campground in the Northeast Corner of Yellowstone to find less frost on my bike than the previous morning (you take the little thrills life gives you). The exit road in that section of the park is Route 212 which turns into the Beartooth Highway (more on this in sec). What surprised me most was that my last 25 miles on Yellowstone turned out to be the most beautiful of the entire park. I managed to get myself out of my cozy sleeping bag on the early side and was cruising by around 7:30am. This allowed me to capture some beautiful vistas in the morning light that you can see below.

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As the park gets closer to Montana, the ground starts to rise and gives way to magnificent cliffs and canyons. This is clearly the best part of Yellowstone from a scenic perspective. Wide, spanning prairies provide excellent viewpoints to observe the herds of bison and pronghorn deer. Everyone in Yellowstone (except me) seemed to possess these massive zoom camera lenses that allowed them to spot a beauty mark on a grizzly bear’s ass. Indeed, on my way out, I stopped to witness young male buffalo hoofing the ground and locking horns with one another. The female buffalo, like their human counterparts, remained aloof and unimpressed.

Due to my early rise, I hadn’t eaten any breakfast and felt famished pulling into Cooke City, the first post-Yellowstone town I encountered. There, I walked into the Log Cabin Cafe and proceeded to have the best breakfast I’ve enjoyed in over 1,000 miles.

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Fresh brook trout, lightly breaded along with two eggs over easy, and a big pile of well-done, well-seasoned hashbrowns. I should also include the homemade, award-winning pumpkin bread, grilled and buttered with a side of honey and a hot chocolate to take the chill out of the morning. Needless to say, I didn’t eat for the remainder of the day, and I noticed a discernable lag in my motorcycle’s performance (must have been the high altitude).

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Leaving Cooke City put me directly on the Beartooth Highway which was the most exciting drive of the entire trip. The road is shut down 6 months out of the year due to its altitude so I felt exceptionally lucky to be able to tear through this dramatic road that rose and fell beside steep ravines and showstopping views.

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The highway took me through the highest altitude of my journey, with some passes creeping over 11,000 feet. By rising into the alpine zone above the treeline, there was nothing to obscure the dramatic vistas of the Absoroka Mountain Range. Added to this was the fact that there were few guardrails on this winding road, no cars on the road, and all of sudden I had myself one HELL OF A RIDE. The hairpin turns had speed limits of 20mph, but pretty soon I got the hang of taking them at 40+mph. Glorious. Riding.

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Pretty soon, the Beartooth Highway started descending into a steep valley and leveled out through Red Lodge, MT, the entrance into Bighorn Country and Custer National Forest. As I entered the Crow and Cheyenne Indian reservations, the topography laid flat with squat buttes punctuating the far horizon.

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I can’t say that parts of the Native American reservations weren’t discouraging. Similar to what I saw when I visited the Grand Canyon, it seemed like the native population was granted exquisite scenery but no way to capitalize on it. I rode East practically never seeing another car making me feel how isolated and beautiful this stretch of country is.

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After a spirited ride through the high prairies of Montana, I finally crossed the border into South Dakota, another first for me. My intention was to make it to Sturgis to spend the night.

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But after arriving and driving through the empty (and surprisingly small) town, I quickly bailed and made my way to more populous Deadwood. Driving through Sturgis felt like walking through an empty convention center, or the guy who sweeps up after the strip joint closes. Without the right people, it just doesn’t work.

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Deadwood is a small Western-themed town that continues to try to desperately cash in on its historic legacy as a gold rush, gambling mecca. The population consists of about 80 casinos occupied exclusively by slot machines and none seemed to rise above 10% occupancy of actual human customers. Despite being Planet Earth’s mecca of $8.95 ¼ inch flatiron steaks, Deadwood does have its charms. The architecture is authentically Western without seeming manufactured and the people have been unfailingly kind. It also might be the cheapest hotel room I’ve paid for this entire trip. Hey, Deadwood’s not so bad.

Tomorrow, I’m not exactly sure where I’m headed. I definitely want to see the Badlands but from there the trip gets a little hazy. I’m generally trying to head East but lack any more specifics. Tips and Midwest travel knowledge are always appreciated.

WHAT I LEARNED / DISCOVERED TODAY:

Montana is clearly a state I wish I could have spent more time in. I have about 10 days left on my trip to make it home to New York, which sadly doesn’t leave enough time to explore some of the other Montana destinations I’ve read about. Also, Montana is a great state to learn the top end speed on your bike. 122 mph, in case you were curious 🙂

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Days 61 – 63 The Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Park

Driggs, ID – Grand Teton, WY – Yellowstone National Park

235 miles

I left Driggs this morning with a definite spring in my step. I knew I would be entering Yellowstone National Park today, one of the few major goals I had set for my big trip. I had always seen epic depictions of Yellowstone in magazines and TV shows. It seemed there was always something so primal and wild about it, as evidenced by the numerous bear attacks that have occurred this season.

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The road out of Driggs was long wind up one of the outer Teton Mountains. The road switched back and forth, and signs continuously warned trucks and heavy haulers of the steep grade and emergency run-offs. I crossed the Wyoming border just as I crested over the summit pass, giving me an unparalleled view into the Jackson Hole Valley. Wow. This is why people love Wyoming.

I entered Grand Teton National Park from the south and rode the entire length of the park to enter Yellowstone from the south. What makes the Grand Tetons so spectacular is their abrupt explosion from the floor of the golden valley to tower unadorned over the landscape.

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Their steepness allows the road to run intimately close to the base of the mountain range. This makes these majestic peaks appear to be merely a short walk away. You can see the peaks. You can see the trails. You can see the glaciers contained within the upper bowls of the mountains. You can’t help but feel connected and dwarfed by them. I’ve really never seen anything like it.

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And here’s the best part: This weekend was free admission to all National Parks!

That being said, I was a bit worried trying to find a campground in Yellowstone on a weekend, especially a free weekend. I decided to make camp a bit on the early side around 4:15pm at Lewis Lake, one of the first campgrounds on the South Drive, thus assuring me a spot.

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By setting up early, I had enough time to run up to Grant Village about 15 miles north and purchase some firewood for my campsite to enjoy with a little bit of scotch and Davidoff cigars that I’ve been saving.

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Next morning, I received the pleasant surprise of finding my motorcycle covered in frost and snow. It had dropped below 30 degrees over the course of the night as was evidenced by the soreness in all my joints.

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Getting moving is always tough when it’s that cold out, but I managed to be on the road by 8:30am ready to explore Yellowstone.

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I started out riding clockwise on the Grand Loop and made my first stop at Old Faithful. I must admit to feeling like a lemming along with the hundreds of other tourists that had gathered around to watch the geyser blow. After she blew, I continued on my journey stopping at the various hot springs and dodging the occasional bison in the road (it happened, but I couldn’t get my camera out in time!). But as the miles wore on, I was a little surprised to find that topography within Yellowstone was not as exciting as the Grand Tetons.

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Yellowstone is all about the geology and the animals. The landscape, while scenic, doesn’t hold a candle to the grandeur of the Grand Tetons.  The thermal activity and animals are the stars of the show here.

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Now in fairness, I only stayed on the roads. I brought no hiking gear, and I’m told the real Yellowstone is all about backcountry camping.

I settled on camping at the Tower Falls site in the Northeast corner of Yellowstone. When I stopped at the Mammoth convenience store in the park, the owner explained that the store near Tower Falls was closed and this would be my last chance to purchase firewood for the evening. The problem is that I had no room on my bike to strap firewood, at least not until after I camped and unloaded.

Or did I? I’m so glad I followed my own advice and purchased some extra straps in case one broke. After 20 minutes of digging, I found the aforementioned straps and proceeded to load down my bike like a Vietnamese fruit vendor.

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But despite my questionable strapping skills, both I and the firewood safely made it our campsite and enjoyed our last night in Yellowstone together.

It may seem like I’m making too big a deal about this firewood. But after being informed that it might be dropping into the teens tonight, you might understand my earnestness.

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Tomorrow, I’m going to try to make it all the way to Sturgis, SD and not get beat up.

WHAT I LEARNED / DISCOVERED TODAY:

Our National Parks are such a treasure. The more time I spend in them, the more I want to contribute to their longevity. They each exist for a specific reason because someone long ago saw something unbelievably special within them and wanted to share that wonder with generations to come. If you get a chance, you really should check one out, even if it’s just a drive through. Also, when you’re at REI and the salesperson tells you that your sleeping bag is rated to 32 degrees, that’s not good enough. It gets colder than that. Really.

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Day 60 Peaks to Craters

Ketchum, ID – Driggs, ID

240 miles

I started the day on a somber note by visiting the Hemingway Memorial in Ketchum. To be honest, I thought the entire town would be deluged with Hemingway memorabilia and tourist venues. Turns out most people in Ketchum and Sun Valley care more about skiing than they do the Great American literary tradition.

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Hemingway has always been a strong influence on me, both as a bibliographic figure and setting the tone for literary adventure and living life fully. He was a deeply flawed man and an epic genius of an author. But he sought to fill those aching gaps in his psyche with adventure, travel, war and women. He didn’t wallow in the depression that eventually overcame him but actively fought it like the Spanish bullfights he depicted in Death in the Afternoon.

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At first, I was a little surprised at how modest the memorial was. Simply a sign by the road and small path leading to a bust of Hemingway looking away, towards the peaks of the Sawtooth Mountains. And then I realized that Hemingway, who prized economy of words and despised superficial flourish, would have been quite pleased by the simplicity and weight of his memorial. Below his bust are inscribed the words he wrote in 1939 when his good friend Gene Van Guilder died in a hunting accident:

Best of all he loved the fall, 
the leaves yellow on cottonwoods, 
leaves floating on trout streams, 
and above the hills 
the high blue windless skies 
…Now he will be a part of them forever.

After reflecting for short while, I got back on the bike and headed south on Route 75. The mountain scenery was still stunning, but I started to notice that the sharp, dramatic mountains were starting to grow softer, rounder and quite a bit lower. It felt odd to be leaving the mountains that I had come to associate with “the West” and seemed to be returning to the flat farmland that I associate with the Midwest.

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Route 75 which took me south through the mountains eventually intersected with Route 20 which I took East following signs for Craters of The Moon and Rexford. Craters of the Room is this crazy lava field in the middle of the high desert plains of Idaho that makes you feel like you’re in the middle of Maui. The ground is black with volcanic soil and sharp rocks. Apparently there are crazy lava tubes and caves that are open to the public and free to explore. I could definitely see spending a bit more time there on a future ride.

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Along the way, I kept spying off-road turnouts that seemed to lead out into the horizon forever. I grew tempted to maybe abandon my plans for Driggs and explore some of these dirt roads just to see where they lead. My off-road experience in New Mexico had taken a lot out of me. But time heals all wounds, and I was feeling a small itch to get some dirt under my tires. Alas, I had no maps and not enough water to risk another off-road adventure at the time so reason prevailed and I kept heading southeast to Driggs.

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As I pressed on, the long straight roads seemed to stretch to infinity while the golden plains of the valley surrounded me on both sides. Potato fields and dairy farms dominated the even landscape. But then, far off in the distance, I could just see the tips of two massive spires rising above the horizon. My road began winding slowly towards these two mountains, and before I knew it I was staring at the impressive Teton Range, the geologically youngest part of the Rocky Mountains. Gorgeous.

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I pulled into Driggs around 5:30pm and was famished having not eaten since breakfast. I quickly made my way to the Forage Lounge for curried rice noodles with 10-spice chicken. Driggs seems to surprise you that way. The population (according to the sign) is only 1,100 but the outsized landscape seems to match the offerings in this cool mountain town. Despite living in the shadow of its larger, more cosmopolitan cousin, Jackson Hole (a few miles over the Wyoming border), Driggs has sophisticated culinary scene along with every outdoor outfitting store you could imagine.

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To top off the evening, I rolled out of dinner and into my first drive-in theater to catch Apollo 18. It was a little weird on a motorcycle, but they gave me a handheld radio tuned to the audio frequency for the movie that I could perch on my tank bag while I watched the movie, munching on fresh popcorn, under the cool night sky bursting with stars. Great way to end an unexpected day.

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Next Stop: Yellowstone National Park!

WHAT I LEARNED / DISCOVERED TODAY: The days continue to be more unexpected than I think. I thought today was going to be a routine, albeit scenic, travel day. Rather, the Hemingway Memorial hit me harder emotionally than I thought.  Then, I was surprised how quickly the mountains melted away into flat farmland. I totally stumbled upon the Craters of The Moon National Monument unexpectedly (I could just read a map, I suppose). And at the end of the day, I was treated to the epic views of the Grand Tetons, and the deluge of cultural offerings in Driggs. Also, I might just be the fattest person in the State of Idaho. I went from experiencing puma-like svelteness throughout Mississippi and Texas, to feeling like the fat girl at prom in Idaho. I’m pretty sure everybody here hikes 30 miles a day and is on an Olympic Team.

Day 59 The Sawtooth Trail

Boise, ID – Ketchum, ID

190 miles

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Today, I traversed the Sawtooth Mountain Range to get to Ketchum, ID, the home of Ernest Hemmingway. The day started well with a hearty farewell breakfast with Kipp and Signe in Boise.  I just have to say how terrific it felt to put on my motorcycle leathers again, and assume this identity of motorcycling wayfarer that has given me so much pleasure over this summer. It feels really good to be back.

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That being said, it’s clearly been a while since I’ve been back in the saddle and I discovered that I don’t really have my sea legs yet. Case in point, I pulled over to the side of the road about 10 miles outside Boise when my ‘CHECK OIL’ indicator illuminated.  I wasn’t surprised, as my bike had been sitting idle for about 7 weeks now, so I topped off the engine with 10W40 oil and sped away. I WAS surprised when hot oil started spurting out of my cylinder heads and all over my riding suit. Apparently, an important part of oil replacement is putting the oil cap back on when you’re finished. Ungh…

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After amazingly finding the oil cap along the side of the road, the next 150 miles of riding were sheer pleasure. Idaho has been astounding me through every sweeping curve of the road. The Sawtooth Mountains are aptly named as their jagged peaks reach out above the south fork of the Payette River, and loom over winding Route 75 that I took into Ketchum, Idaho.

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At one point today, I got off to stretch a few miles before Stanley, ID and walked down to the foot of rushing crystal-blue stream. I honestly considered just breaking camp right there to fall asleep listening to the babbling brook dance off the rounded river stones. But then I figured I’d probably get eaten by a bear and kept riding.

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I pulled into Ketchum around 5pm, and after sorting through TripAdvisor, settled on the Best Western at the edge of town. I’m having dinner at the Sawtooth Club this evening and hitting Whiskey Jacques for a cocktail before heading to bed. Ketchum is a beautiful town, although I thought there would be more of an emphasis on Hemmingway. Instead, most of the town is based around the local ski mountain which overlooks the entire town. I’m looking forward to exploring more  to try to find more connection to one of my favorite authors before heading to Driggs and Yellowstone Park tomorrow.

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WHAT I LEARNED/DISCOVERED TODAY:

It’s not hard. When you take the cap off Christof…put it back on. ‘Nuff said. Also, Idaho is ridiculously gorgeous. I’m moving.

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Day 58 Back In The Saddle

Boise, ID

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After 7-week hiatus, I flew back to Boise, ID to get back on Bumblebee and finish my Great American Motorcycle Trip. I was amazed at how much I missed being on the road, and the simplicity of each day. Getting to Boise meant a brief layover in Salt Lake City. It’s easy to forget how grand and diverse America is because the view of Rotary Park and the Red Butte Mountains outside the terminal brought home that I am now in the the glorious West, and things are a lot a different out here. How different? Stay with me because this gets good.

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I arrived at Boise Airport and was generously picked up by my friend Kipp and his wife Signe, who were also kind enough to let me store my motorcycle while I flew back to NYC. As you can tell, these are amazingly hospitable, kind people, and I am very lucky to know them. We quickly pulled out of the airport and Kipp turned to me with a glint in his eye and asked me how tired I was feeling after my flight. I had grabbed a quick catnap on my connection from Salt Lake City so I told him I was up for anything. Kipp then gave me a sly smile and turned his Suburban towards the private aviation area of the Boise Airport, and informed that we’d be taking out his plane for a sunset flight to Smiley Creek Lodge. Normally, this remote culinary destination would be a 5-hour drive by car or bike. But in our Cesna T-210, it would be a 20-minute flight over the stunning Sawtooth Mountains.

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Smiley Creek Lodge is this gourmet lodge nestled deep in the Payette National Forest. Most people fly in on small bush planes. And apparently Sunday mornings look like a parking lot of small aircraft along the grass runway.

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I’d like to tell you that the best part of the trip was digging into the fresh mountain trout with capers and balsamic reduction sauce (it was amazing), but I’d be lying.

I got to fly the plane!

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Flying a small plane (not that I’ve flown large planes) felt surprisingly natural, and very much like paragliding but at much faster speeds. The controls were very sensitive and responded well to small inputs, similar to the glider I fly. It was amazing to be able to feel the lofty mountain air gently translate through the controls in your hands, making the plane instantly feel like an extension of my arms. As the sun started to set lower over the National Forest, the Idaho sky was brilliantly illuminated with stretching crimson and orange colors as Kipp took over the controls and landed us gently back in Boise Airport.

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What a fantastic surprise and what an appropriate way to get back in the saddle on finish this adventure.

WHAT I LEARNED/DISCOVERED TODAY:

The obvious lesson here is that I frickin’ love airplanes and really love flying them. But that love may be the forbidden kind if I live in New York where most forms of private aviation are prohibitively expensive and generally the exclusive purvey of hedge fund managers or Hamptons divorcees. No, the deeper lesson here is about the diversity of experience within America. Kipp explained that he can get from his house to his plane within 15 minutes. House to Work in 10. 20 minutes gets him to the local watersports like to enjoy waterskiing and wakeboarding. And all of this glorious activity is framed by dramatically stunning mountains and expansive state parks to light up every direction you look. All of this for about 1/3 the cost of living in New York. Sort of makes you think. Also, playing Xbox flight simulators is a surprisingly effective training for doing the real thing.

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Day 57 The Idaho Run

Creston, BC – Boise, ID

600 miles

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In my last post, I described the kind yet slightly chatty residents of Creston, BC. This morning I reluctantly left Canada which had impressed and enthralled me for the last 4 days. But I recently discovered that I had had some personal stuff that required me to fly home to NYC for a few weeks. My plan is to leave Bumblebee with some amazing family I have in Boise, ID and fly home. But the trick is that I have only one day to cross the border and run the length of one of America’s longest (and most beautiful states).

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Crossing the border back into the US was not difficult as much as it provoked greater existential questions. Here’s what I mean:

Border Guard: How long were you out of the United States?

Me: About 4 Days.

Border Guard: What was the purpose of your trip?

Me: I’ve ben driving my motorcycle across America for the last 2 months.

Border Guard: [pause] Why are you doing that?

Me: [pause] Because it’s beautiful. One of the greatest trips I’ve ever taken.

Border Guard: [still staring]

Me: [keeping it going] Yeah, well, I have to say that the Blue Ridge Parkway was the most beautiful section roadwise, but when I got to New Mexico, ohhh the chiles….have you ever had a freshly roasted hatch chile from New Mexico? There a place outside Santa Fe that…

Border Guard: You’re free to proceed. Weclome to the United States of America.

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I crossed the border and quickly discovered that there’s pretty much just one road that serves as the North / South highway for the entire state. So much of the land is National Forest or Indian Land that it’s pretty easy to forget where you are. The landscape is stunning with beautiful mountains on each side creating a scenic corridor guiding me south.

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I was really pushed for time today as I had an early flight back to NYC in the morning. I rode all day starting at 7:30 am and finally pulled in to Boise right around 8pm. I only stopped for gas and nibbled on PowerBars. Needless to say, I was exhausted. This was one of the hardest runs of the entire trip.

I pushed hard on the bike trying to never let the needle drop below 70 and not stopping for any luring roadside attractions (FRESHLY CAUGHT SALMON!, MAPLE CANDY, TUBING TRIPS). And then, just as I thought I was making good time, just when I thought I might have enough time to enjoy a quick roadside meal at the countless charming local places I passed, I somehow crossed over the time zone, gaining an hour and putting me back behind schedule. Arrrgghhh…

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Again, the riding was simply spectacular but I was getting seriously sore.

Upon my arrival at their house in Boise, my hosts, Kipp and Signe, were unfailingly kind and whipped up some steaks on the grill and promised to take great care of the bike while I’m gone. My plan is to return in a few weeks and finish The Great American Motorcycle Trip.

It’s very hard for me to leave the trip unfinished (even temporarily). This trip has been one of the greatest adventures of my entire life, perhaps the best ever. I really wanted to complete it all in one fell swoop, but reality needs to intrude every so often. I promised my bike that I wouldn’t be gone long.

I’ll be back soon.

WHAT I LEARNED / DISCOVERED TODAY:

Idaho is enormous. This might have been my longest day of riding hour-wise. I covered more miles across Texas heading to El Paso, but the road let me ride at over 100mph and was dead straight. In Idaho, only a modest two-lane highway serves as a twisting road to get you to the more cosmopolitan southern region of the state. As a result, I was hunched over the majority of the day with no time to take a stretcher. Also, I changed my mind and now believe that Idaho is the salmon capital of the country over the Northwest. Really. It’s all river caught (as apposed to fishing boats) and fantastically delicious.

Days 54 – 56 East Bound and Down

Vancouver, BC – Kamloops, BC – Creston, BC

As I pulled out of Vancouver, I was surprised to find myself heading North as opposed to East. Audrey’s husband Chris had given me directions to Kamloops and provided me with a more scenic route that took me up through Whistler and over the Canadian Rockies. The light rainfall from yesterday hadn’t eased much. I drove into increasing precipitation, which would soon be coupled with increasing altitude which resulted in nasty dropping temperatures.

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It reminded me of this old Molson Golden commercial from the early 1990’s. It was honestly one of the best commercials I’d ever seen. It had this slow guitar solo while showing these iconic images of Canada. A lone wolf howling on a craggy cliff. High boulder-strewn mountains covered in pale mist. A cold clear river gurgling beside a snow bank. And a gravely voiced narrator begins,

“In Canada, winter comes a little sooner. The water runs a little colder. The mountains loom a little higher. Some say, you can taste it in the beer. Molson Golden.”

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I searched for an hour for this commercial on YouTube and came up with squat. I hate getting sucked into these internet search vortexes.

The point is, driving along the Burrard Inlet and Minaty Bay out of Vancouver totally made me think of this epic commercial. I kept playing it over and over in my head. Cold rain coming down. Fog hovering just above the waterline and trapped within the pine trees lining the winding road. Moody skies promising more rain and more cold. I think the photo below will do it some justice.

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Now, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. While this whole scene may have been picturesque and produced a great commercial, it was fucking miserable to drive through. I was frozen and shivering. Did I ever complain it about being too hot on this trip? I can’t remember.

When I finally got to Whistler, I downed two hot chocolates like they were tequila shots and shoved my cold hands into the linguine I ordered (it’s no biggie, I eat with my hands a lot). After warming up, I continued East, crossing over Garibaldi State Park that make up Whistler and Blackcomb. As soon I crossed over the main ridge, I entered a bright shining world of sunshine and clear skies. Apparently, each valley in the Canadian Rockies contains its own little microclimate. I was warned that while the coastal route out of Vancouver would be wet and foggy, the subsequent journey would be warm and inviting. They weren’t wrong.

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And then the magic of Canada began to unfold, but I can sum it pretty easily. There’s no one here. I drove for hours through gorgeous wilderness, beside incredible rivers and lakes, and I think I say maybe 20 cars over the next 3 hours. Astonishing.

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I even got to see my second bear! Just a little brownish guy sitting like a panda on the side of the road munching on something. I don’t like to be disturbed when I’m munching on something so I drove by without taking the photo. There is so much beauty here and amazingly, it remains so undisturbed and underpopulated. Hope it stay that way.

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Kamloops (which I had never heard of over prior to 48 hours ago) was a good size city, and clearly the center of commerce for the region. I pulled in just before dark, and after a shower and quick dinner in town, I was pretty bushed.

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The next day had me pushing south to get closer to the border before cutting east. The day’s ride seemed to fluctuate between mountain roads and long stretches of pasture. The gorgeous nature of Canada continued to reveal itself and I revealed in my new discovery of this country.

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As some of you know, I’ve now travelled close to 7,000 miles without a speeding ticket (and god knows I have a heavy wrist). Having a fleet-footed motorcycle, it seems almost instinctual to give a spirited flick of the wrist whenever you have the road to yourself. Well, for the last few hours I felt like I had the entire country to myself. Just as I crested over a hill doing about 95 mph, a Canadian State Trooper had me dead to rights coming the other way.

He gave a quick flick of his sirens and lights, indicating he got me. The jig was up, and I couldn’t complain. I’d had a good run and made some good miles. I pulled over, and promptly went about fishing out my license and registration. But that’s when things got weird. The cop never turned around. He wasn’t giving me a ticket! He just gave me a quick flash of the lights as if to say, “Hey there, slow down you hoser!”.

That’s it! No ticket! Just a little non-verbal warning. That’s so awesome! That’s so polite. That’s so…Canadian! I really really love this country.

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After a long day of riding I finally pulled into Creston, BC – a small town that is one of only two border crossings into the U.S. via Idaho. I really can’t say much about the town as I rode in on the late side and didn’t see much going on. I stayed at the Creston Hotel which was over Jimmy’s Pub so I had a quick bite, listened to some live music and went right to bed. The only thing I can say about Creston is that folks sure are friendly.

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When I got up in the morning, a woman parked her car near my bike and walked over to say hello. She asked me where I was from, After I told her New York, she then proceeded to tell me how New York seems really crowded, it might be OK, but she’d never want to live there, but Creston is a nice place, not too much crime, a little bit, mostly from young people, they don’t have jobs so that’s what they do, vandalism mainly, they put graffiti over the new supermarket, but there’s actually two supermarkets in Creston, a bank too, and a few clothing stores, an eyeglass store, a bakery, a sporting good store, no they closed, three schools, good schools, she went to school not far from here, by the way – anything I went to know about Creston I can just ask her, and on and on and on.

After 15 minutes, I tried starting the bike up to let her know that despite the fascinating history of Creston, I had a lot of miles to make today as well as a border to cross. All I got back was, a history of population growth in Creston over the past 10 years. I give the throttle a little goose. I flip down my visor. More on Creston electricity prices and which location one can obtain the best cellphone reception in town. Finally she tells me that the local middle school now has a new program for children with learning disabilities and mental / cognitive issues.

“Because, you know, I actually have some issues myself…”, the woman says.

Ahhhh…the light bulb went off. I’m not sure but the woman I was speaking with might have had a form of autism or Asberger’s Syndrome in which one frequent symptom is a complete inability to read any non-verbal cues from people. She was very kind but finally I said that I really enjoyed our conversation but I really had to get moving across the border.

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Even the people with autism in Canada are unfailingly polite.

WHAT I LEARNED / DISCOVERED TODAY:

I am completely in love with Canada. The riding was amazing. The scenery was spellbinding and haunting. And the people were every bit as polite and kind as they are rumored to be. I never planned on even entering Canada during this trip, and instead I got one of the best surprises of the Big Ride. I’m now contemplating re-entering Canada after Chicago and stopping in Montreal before heading south through the Adirondacks. Go Canada!

Days 49 – 52 Portland & Seattle

Portland, OR – Seattle, WA

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On Day 49, I awoke under the Redwoods and was off to Portland for the first time to meet Ali and also conduct an overdue tire change. I had an appointment at Portland Motorcycles on Saturday so if I didn’t get there before closing, I wouldn’t be able to pull out of Portland until late Monday. Despite having a bit of time pressure, I drove the first half of Oregon along its beautiful coastline where I saw countless stretches of rocky beach virtually uninhabited.

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But by noontime, I had still about 200 miles to ride so I cut inland and headed for the I-5 Freeway to make up some time. I arrived at Portland Motorcycle with 30 minutes to spare. The great folks at the shop threw Bumblebee on the stand and got me on my way in no time.

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So this was my first visit to the city of Portland, and man, I was impressed! What a great town! Ali and I stayed at the Kimpton (another first for me) which is a terrific quirky hotel brand that resembles a W, but is notoriously pet friendly and throws a great happy hour in the lobby where they encourage guests to mingle and get to know each other. Great location and a great hotel.

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We woke in the morning and decided to head to the region’s well-known Wilmette Valley wine country where many of the country’s best Pinot Noirs are grown. We visited the tasting rooms of Barking Frog Vineyards, Adea Vineyards, and Winter’s Hill. But by far, Monk’s Gate Vineyard was our favorite. We approached their red barn which also served as the storage shed and tasting room. We quickly met with the owners and winemakers, Ron and Linda Moore, who let us taste their Pinot Noir and Pinot Rose and play with their bloodhound who kept sniffing our shoes (we didn’t step in anything). For all the reasons I criticized Napa Valley in an earlier post, this wine trip had a feeling of discovery and building a relationship between the wine you taste and the people and place it came from. Building those connections is the entire point of wine tasting.  And the best part is that each tasting was merely $5 (or free). Go to Portland. Drink great wine. Forget Napa.

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We ended the evening back in Seattle sampling the famous Voodoo Donuts because there’s really nothing like a 1,200 calorie, sugar-laded gutbomb to help you sleep easy in your bed. Pretty fun scene at 11pm, and the freaks were definitely getting their fix on.

The next day, we made the quick hop up to Seattle, and checked into the Sheraton downtown. Ali headed into her office, and I had meetings down by the fish market with a creative team interested in creating a graphic novel for my podcast, The Leviathan Chronicles.

On our last day, I followed my typical Seattle routine by heading to Vivace Coffee that pulls this unreal expresso drink called a Café Nico. Basically, its a 4-ounce mixture of espresso, steamed half and half, orange and vanilla syrups, orange spritz and cinnamon. I’ve talked about how it’s tough to make the needle jump for me caffeine-wise, but just on taste alone, I normally drink 4 of these in a single sitting.  So delicious.

Next morning, it was time to say goodbye to Ali and to Seattle before making my final push north to Vancouver. Time to get some riding done!

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WHAT I LEARNED / DISCOVERED TODAY:

I’m done with wine tasting trips to Napa. I was so enchanted with the approachability of the Oregon Vineyards along with the outstanding quality of their wine. Also, Portland has the best food truck culture I’ve ever seen in a city. Vacant lots are used for all the trucks to congregate together selling everything from exotic fruit smoothies to Vietnamese chow to Hawaiian food to BBQ. Pure heaven. Why isn’t NYC doing this?

Days 46 – 48 The Lost Coast

San Francisco, CA – Fort Bragg, CA – Redwood National Forest

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Today, I left San Francisco in great mood with everything coming up Christof. I had a newly repaired bike that purred like a kitten and felt great due to some newly installed bar risers for improved ergonomics. I had some congee in my belly. And I was heading out to experience some of the most anticipated riding of my trip. I was finally entering the Pacific Northwest. I crossed over the Golden Gate and made my way through Stinson Beach and over to the Pacific Coast Highway. The PCH can be very slow going due to the steep switchbacks, or more often, just a slow car ahead of you. But the views of the cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean can’t be beat.  I’m also not in a rush.

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It occurred to me that despite having been on the West Coast for almost 2 weeks now – I hadn’t seen much of the Pacific Ocean. I’d seen a glimpse of it as I came down in Ojai and I saw some more in Santa Barbara, but mostly I had been riding inland in Solvang, San Luis Obispo, and San Francisco. Having the ocean on my left side gave me such a strong sense of how far I’d come.

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The riding was gorgeous and every so often a strong scent of clean salt air penetrated my helmet. One of my favorite stops is at the Tomales Bay Oyster Farms about 80 miles north of San Francisco. I stop there just about every time I come through these parts. They sell local beer in a can and sell oysters by the dozen while you sit on a wood bench enjoying the view.

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Later in the day, the skies grew overcast and a light fog was captured by the craggy hills causing traffic to slow cautiously around the hairpin turns. Riding the coast is simply exhilarating, and constantly feels like the final shot of late 70s movie right before the credits role.

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I was pushing miles to meet Ali in Portland in two days, so I made it all the way to Fort Bragg by around 8pm that evening. I was promptly told that my dining options in town were rapidly dwindling.  By the time I got to the great North Coast Brew Pub at 8:30pm, I was informed that they had just stopped serving food. Really? 8:30pm is too late for the chef to flip a burger? Yeesh, I get better service in Philly.

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Back in my hotel room that night, while I contemplated self-cannibalism to assuage my bereft stomach, I looked at the map and was surprised to see the highway veer off from the coastline 20 miles north and not return until Eureka, near the top of the state. The reason, I learned, is that the coastline in that section of California was deemed too wild and untamable to build a proper road. It was dubbed the Lost Coast and is a mecca for intense off road riding, hiking and remote camping. I REALLY wanted to check it out and get lost in what is essentially an untouched preserve. But I have too many miles to make, and I wasn’t too keen on banging up my freshly rebuilt bike. Definitely a spot to revisit through.

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I kept riding north being amazed by the beauty of the Pacific Northwest shore line. There’s an authentic, wild quality to the beaches here that’s absent on the East Coast. The rough sand is nestled in between the natural boundaries of the high cliffs and rock, as opposed to where you can find parking in the Hamptons. I stopped at one of the beaches and simply had to walk up to the surf. A little girl asked her mother why I was wearing a snowsuit on the beach.

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As I got closer to the Oregon Border, a funny thing happened. I pulled into a rest stop off the 101, and I saw two women standing beside their KTM 990 Adventure motorcycles. Now, this is weird for several reasons. First of all, the KTM bike is widely considered the best competitor to the BMW 1200GS Adventure (my bike), but it is very infrequently seen in the States. In fact, it’s damn rare. It’s also rare to see a woman riding a motorcycle by herself (not in a larger group), let alone two women by themselves. That coupled with the fact that both were riding uncommon bikes, I felt like I was supposed to say something, maybe hi, and acknowledge our mutual affinity for enduro motorcycles. From the luggage that they had strapped on, they looked like they were loaded up for adventure, and clearly so was I.  Now frankly, I’m a little shy in these circumstances, and I honestly considered the fact that they might be lesbians in which case the last thing they might want is some fluffy blond guy chatting them up.

But with the spirit of adventure motorcycling coursing between us, I approached them and wanted to find out their story. They were both very friendly and interested to hear where I was going and surprised to hear I was riding all the way from New York. One of the women was German and almost as tall as I was. She wasn’t a fan of the BMW bikes because of the weight and their reputation for being underpowered. She had ridden her bike throughout South America and Eastern Europe and sounded pretty damn accomplished for someone so friendly. I really wanted to ask them both to dinner to talk more about bikes, but I was worried that it might come off the wrong way. I sort of regret not doing it now. Damn shyness. If this trip is supposed to be about anything, it’s learning NOT to hesitate.

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We said our goodbyes, and I soon entered Redwood Country which was one of the few must-see spots I had for my trip. The trees and the thick density of the forest that surrounds them were utterly mesmerizing. I had never seen anything like it before in my life.  I mean, I know Redwoods were big and I knew they were old. But 2,000 years old? 50 stories high? It’s one of those things that needs to be seen to be believed. I felt like I was playing World of Warcraft, the 3D version. I mean, look at the scale below!

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I drove through The Valley of the Giants where the Redwoods lined each side of the small two-lane road. There’s just something about the otherworldly thickness of these mammoth trees that feels reassuring. The entrancing drive was shrouded in near darkness by the massive canopy of the Redwoods transforming the landscape into a lush emerald carpet that I wanted to stay in for weeks.

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But I got my wish met halfway! A few miles before crossing into Oregon, I entered the Redwoods National Park and managed to snag the very last campsite available. Yes, it was right next the restroom facility, but that’s not unlike the seating treatment I receive at most fine restaurants.

The best part was driving into the campgrounds – I saw my first bear!! It was a little black bear and he was hightailing it away from me, but I saw him nonetheless. Hope he doesn’t try to eat my cigars tonight!

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WHAT I LEARNED / DISCOVERED TODAY:

The Redwoods are like, older than Jesus and we should all try to protect them. Also, if I want dinner, I need to start eating earlier. Northern California isn’t exactly South American in its dining habits.

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