For those younger in years, the title of this little adventure is a take-off of an old late 1950s-early 1960s TV series, Have Gun Will Travel, in which the main character, Paladin, travels the West using his quick draw abilities to make wrong right. I’ve substituted the word GPS for Gun, as I now have a Garmin Zumo 660 to help guide me on my way (I hope).
This trip begins with much planning and packing, trying to decide what to take and what to leave behind. This isn’t as easy as it would seem. I’ve decided to camp most of the time which requires additional items, but I’ve decided not to cook, so that eliminates a bunch of stuff. The new GPS allows me to sit at my home computer and plot my route from Northwest Missouri to Seattle. The late CBS News commentator Charles Kuralt observed, “It is now possible to travel from coast to coast without seeing anything.” Since I wanted to see America, the route I have chosen only has two short stretches of interstate highway.
I have also tried to break the trip up by looking for some Geocaches along the way. Geocaching is a hide and seek game where people hide things and others find them using the GPS coordinates and then log their finds on the Geocaching web site. Yes, this is sort of geeky but if the shoe fits… It’s also a good way to get you off the path and find out about interesting places and things that you would normally just drive past. It also gets me off the bike at regular intervals to help stave off the dreaded monkey butt.
I headed out on a cloudy 76° morning hoping it wouldn’t rain. Passing some big wind farms, that this morning weren’t making much power, I came to a little roadside shop my GPS indicated contained a geocache. I quickly located it logged my first find and was on my way. Crossing the border into Iowa and onto the Loess Hills Scenic Byway I had three other caches to find before I left Iowa, but I couldn’t find any of them. The Loess Hills Scenic Byway sounds sound much better than saying you’re riding through the land of blown silt or loess. This is rural America and I pass some hay bales arranged to look like an old locomotive, sort of.
Turning north on Interstate 29 and fighting the traffic on I-80 through Omaha, I found that rain I was hoping to miss. West out of Omaha picking up on Hwy 275 brought back that 2-lane bliss and leaving the rain behind. There are many patriots in this part of the country as displayed by the many buildings that are painted in the American Flag theme.
Since I was on a BMW, I had to get that vacation snapshot of the bike in front of the Village of Beemer sign. Other than when in or close to a city, traffic is light and the road belongs to me. Three hundred and eighty miles since leaving home I arrived at O’Neill Nebraska around 6:30 p.m. After a quick pass through the main street in town I stop and use one of the GPS’s features to locate a restaurant with Mexican cuisine. Backing the bike up to the curb, a gentleman comes over (like happens so many times while traveling by motorcycle) to inquire about my journey and relate what bike he owns. He says this is a good choice for dinner. Just as we are finishing our conversation a couple of guys on bicycles ride up. They ask about camping, and the guy directs them to the city park about 4 blocks away. The park has free camping and bathrooms with showers, and lots of mosquitoes which many die when a city truck comes through and fogs them with poison. After dinner I join them at the campsite and find out they are on an across-the-country ride and had left Portland about a month and a half ago.
I woke up with the sun, showered, packed up camp and was on the road headed west by 7:30 a.m. After a quick stop for breakfast at Sunny’s truck stop the scenery began to change. The hills became hillier and trees more abundant. The Bridges to Buttes Scenic Byway provides some long straight sections of road, so I plug in my ear phones and play some mp3’s I had loaded into the GPS. This section of road gives me plenty of time to listen to Frank Zappa’s Joe’s Garage, Acts 1, 2 & 3. I pass a sign that says “Nebraska National Forrest 5 miles” but I guess I can’t see the forest for the lack of trees.
Arriving in Casper I begin to look for signs for campgrounds. On the far side of town I gas up and have a buffet dinner while looking in my AAA camping book for campgrounds in the area. I find a couple, but the rates are outrageous and the nearest camp ground listed farther on down the road is another 100 miles. For the difference in money between a campground and a hotel, I get a room at the Super 8.
Up at 5:30 I pack and check my tire pressures. I had bought this nifty electronic pressure gauge that has a voice that says what the pressure is. Now I don’t have to put on my reading glasses to check my tire pressure. The front tire was low, so I stopped and put 75¢ in the machine and pumped it up to the correct pressure. On my way out of Casper on Hwy 20/26 I find another geocache. This one was well hidden. It consisted of a small vial about the size of a pencil and was inserted into a walnut and placed in a pine tree.
Next I find myself on the Sand Creek Massacre Trail. The trail recounts the history of the massacre and the migration of members of the Northern Arapaho tribe through Wyoming. Turning north at Shoshoni, Wyoming the scenery begins to change to a more rocky area with welcome curves in the road. The next city is Thermopolis, Wyoming whose claim to fame is the home of the world’s largest mineral hot spring, but since the temperatures are in the 90’s I decide to pass on taking a dip. The city also sports some scary dinosaurs.
Traffic is increasing as I get closer to Cody, Wyoming and nearer to Yellowstone National Park, but that’s not where I’m headed, at least not yet. I continue heading north on Hwy 120 crossing into Montana, then while looking for bats in Belfry, Montana, I turn west on Hwy 308 to Red Lodge, Montana. This is where I pick up one of my basket list sections of scenic twisty roads, the Beartooth Road.
This road was constructed in 1936 as a scenic route to Yellowstone, and boy is it ever. Topping out at 11,000 feet, snow is still just off the road way in July. The 90+ degree temperatures of the lower elevations have now been replaced with temperatures in the 50’s. The road winds its way down into Wyoming then back up into Montana and then again back into Wyoming just as it enters the Northeast gate at Yellowstone. I whip out my park pass and ask the guard about travel time across the park to West Yellowstone. The answer is 3 hours or more depending on construction delays. It’s getting late, and I need to make time, but it is difficult with 45mph speed limits, traffic, construction delays and stoppages for animal sightings. Two hours and 45 minutes later I’m in a café in West Yellowstone having buffalo ribs for dinner and looking over my AAA camping book for a camp ground to spend the night. About 5 miles down a gravel road I pay $26 for the privilege to set up my tent, but they do have a shower the size of a phone booth.
It was 36°F as I rode out of the campground the next morning. About 8 miles down the road I found my first geocache in Idaho at a roadside stop. Traveling through the Caribou Targee National Forest, the thick pine forests line the road. The air has the fresh smell of ozone. A couple of other times I’ve encountered this smell. Once, north of here near Big Sky and once in Chile. The sky ahead has that look of rain and I can see it coming down in the vast expanses of sky. I’m not looking forward to being cold and wet both at the same time. The road begins to drop out of the cold high forest down into the warmer valley where I stop in St. Anthony, Idaho for breakfast and to see what the weather will bring. I run onto some wet pavement, but luckily a few miles down the road I turn west on the Sacajawea Historic Byway (Hwy 33) and the clouds continue making their way east.
The pine forests are now gone and the valley has turned into thirsty hayfields being irrigated with sprinkling systems that create a plethora of small flowing rainbows in the early morning sun. The road comes to a tee and ahead is a big sign that says “No Admittance.” This road leads to Idaho National Laboratories, so I do the right thing and take a right. Soon I’m in Arco, Idaho, the first city in the world to be lit by Atomic Power and the home to the Atomic Burger served at Pickle’s Place. Traffic picks up in the high desert foothills as Hwy 26, the Peaks to Craters Scenic Byway, from Pocatello dumps its travelers onto my route. The road clips the northern boundary of Craters of the Moon National Monument. It contains a huge concentration of volcanic landforms and structures along the more than 50-mile zone of fractures and eruptions. A composite field made up of about 60 lava flows and 25 cones, the Craters of the Moon Lava Field is the largest of its type in the lower 48 states (and it is a virtual geocache site as well).
As you’ve probably guessed by now, I’m not taking the most direct route to my destination so now it takes me north again through the Sawtooth Mountains and Sun Valley. In my planning stages this looked like an out of the way route. Boy, was I wrong. Traffic, tourists and the highest concentration of small, medium and large private jets I’ve ever seen filled the airport at Hailey. And, nothing like some cold mountain showers to cool things off as I wind my way through traffic. Once north of Ketchum, the traffic thins out some but it’s still too crowded for my taste.
Once I hit Stanley I changed from Hwy 75 to Hwy 21 and traffic thins even more. The scenery has improved and the road has gotten twisty again as it winds its way through the mountains. Here is where another feature on my new GPS helps. It has a 3D mode which lets you see an animation of the road ahead. The trees don’t allow you to see whether the road ahead is a hairpin or just a wiggle but the GPS gives you that info with a quick glance so you can set up for the upcoming turn. I like it.
About 7:30 p.m. I arrived in Boise at a friend’s house who was out of town but a quick phone call got me the code to his shop where I set up for the night. This isn’t an ordinary shop either. It has 3 big overhead doors on one end, one which is large enough to drive a semi in. You could eat off the floor. It has a bathroom with a shower, AC, well stocked refrigerator and a whole row of bikes overshadowed by a Snap-On tool box so big that its gravity probably affects the ocean tides and the orbits of nearby planets. Tomorrow he would be back and three other friends would be riding in from Santa Fe. After 14 hours on the road today going from 36°F to 97°F, I was beat. With his well-stocked refrigerator a little less well stocked now, I crashed beside bunch of bikes and tools. This is about as good as it gets.
Doug arrives the next morning on one of his Harleys and we go to town for breakfast and some supplies for a cookout to celebrate the arrival of a few other riding comrades. Tales of old riding adventures flow, and I’m sure they weren’t exaggerated any more than the fish that got away.
The next morning four of us head west on Oregon Hwy 26 towards Redmond. We’ve all been warned that the ridiculously slow speed limits of 55 mph are strictly enforced, so we do our best to comply. We stop in John Day, Oregon for a quick lunch and to refuel as we were told to expect no gas after this town. John Day was a famous trapper that lived in the area around 1800. On down the Journey Through Time scenic byway we cross the John Day River and then through the town of Dayville. Seems everything around this area is related to Mr. Day. The temperature is comfortable and the scenery and road both are interesting so the 55 mph speed limit isn’t that much of an inconvenience. We arrive early afternoon at the Redmond Fairgrounds where in a couple of days the BMW International Rally will be held. Camp is set up and quick run into town secures us food and a cooler full of liquids to rehydrate our tired bodies.
The next two days we spend with other riders exploring the surrounding mountains and lakes via forest service roads that have been pre ridden and the routes mapped out for us. Again this new GPS comes in handy as the trip organizers connect our GPS’s to a laptop computer and in seconds download all the routes for us. We drive about 20 miles west to Sisters, Oregon where we pick up the first forest road. The Sisters are volcanoes that have been inactive for an estimated 100,000 years.
The first several miles are a challenge even though the vistas are spectacular. We find out after we get back that after this route was pre-ridden the forest service had come in and seemingly just
for us, laid down 2-3 inches of fresh loose gravel. Every once in a while you could see tracks where someone had gotten squirrely and crashed. After a while though, you just get used to your front wheel dancing back and forth to its own music and let it do its thing hoping the music doesn’t have any big cymbal notes that results in a crash. You can let some air out of the tires to improve handling but I had paid 75¢ for that air and I wasn’t going to throw any of it away. Now these roads are best or more easily done on dual sport bikes; however, one talented rider who was camped next to us did it on his Harley. Needless to say we were in awe. Just goes to show it isn’t the bike; it’s the man (or woman to be politically correct). The next day we did pretty much the same thing only went south to Bend before we picked up the first forest service road.
After the rally I head north to my brother’s in Portland where I’ll meet up with my wife. At my brother’s I change the oil and filter and put on new tires and then drive the bike to Seattle where it will be shipped off to its next adventure.
Since the title of this story is “Have GPS Will Travel” I have to let you know that my brother and I found the very first geocache ever placed. It’s just south of Portland.
By Jeff Hower