Something seemed different as I was motoring down the road from Edmonton toward Calgary and then on into Montana. Part of riding a motorcycle is the habit one develops to periodically glance in your rear view mirrors and to take a quick peek at your bike pack (called a T-bag) and saddle bags to make sure everything continues to be fastened onto the bike the way it should be. In addition, when I stop for gas I always try to walk around the bike and make sure that things are the way they are supposed to be. Each time I went through this exercise during this phase of my journey I found myself feeling that my Harley was a bit naked in the rear based upon the fact that my saddle bags, along with all my tools, were sitting on a UPS truck headed for Belgrade, Montana. Being a bit of a perfectionist, feelings would come over me each time that my bike was not complete and my pride was less than totally intact. Oh well, that is part of the sport.
In riding, anticipating the unexpected is part of the game and thrill that I get out of the motorcycling. As mentioned previously, I always try to put on my rain gear before the storm hits. Trying to do so after the rains comes, especially if it is a thunder storm, simply does not work. For some reason it is much harder to put it on then and you usually get totally soaked by the time you finally do. In addition, during this mad scramble everything else often gets wet as well. Putting on the rain gear too early, especially if it does not rain, can make you feel like you are in a sauna and you end up looking like a dork! What I am trying to say is; you end up a goat or a hero!
Well my friends, I decided to push past Calgary in the late afternoon since the Calgary Stampede was going to be starting that weekend and most of the hotels seemed to have no vacancy signs already hanging in their windows by 4PM. I decided to push on for another 100+ miles and spend the night in Fort Macleod, Alberta. As I passed through the center of Calgary I noticed that thunder clouds were forming, but I felt I had plenty of time to strap on the rain gear if I needed to. “Mr Cool" made another wrong decision! Within 30 minutes what started out to be a few thunder clouds developed into a totally black sky with buckets of water falling from the sky. The good news was my rain gear was safely tucked away in my T-bag where it would stay nice and dry. The bad news was that I soon looked like a fire hose had been turned on me from about 20 feet away. In case you don’t know, most rain hurts when you are going 70 MPH and not wearing a face mask. Going slower does not really seem to help either because you are just prolonging the agony.
By the time I got to Fort Macleod I was soaked to the bone and my ego was once again bruised. I always say to myself that I will never let this happen again, but inevitably it does... I think it must be a “male macho thing!” The town was quite small, but quaint. I ended up staying in a small motel in the center of this one horse town. As I checked in I noticed posters for Brokeback Mountain everywhere in the lobby along with autographed pictures of Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal were hanging behind the desk. As it turned out, both actors and much of the crew from the movie stayed at this motel for 3 months as they were filming nearby. Rumour had it that they both were really cool guys.
The next morning as I was loading up Captain America I noticed a very shiny ¼ inch wide fresh wear mark on the outside of my rear tire. I immediately knew that the inside part of the bolt that had sheared off (the saddle bag problem) no doubt was now rubbing on the tire. Needless to say, I needed to resolve this ASAP. I called the Harley dealer in Lethbridge which was about 30 miles away and thank goodness they had a new tire and time to put it on for me. I finished packing my bike and never rode over 45 or 50 MPH as I nursed my ride into the dealer. Within three or four hours after arriving they had me back out on the road headed for Montana with a renewed sense of confidence in my equipment and a swagger that would make John Wayne jealous.
As I was approaching the US border and the state I was lucky enough to be born in, I could not help but think about John Denver’s classic tune, “Country Roads”. As I was rolling down the road I even started to sing. It was so embarrassing because I had never seen prairie dogs put their paws over their ears before!
Although I left Montana as a young boy, I have always had a real sense of pride regarding the fact that I was born in such a beautiful state (so long as you are west of Billings), even though the city of Butte where I was born is considered the “hell hole of the world” by most folks in Montana. For me Montana is that special place that gives me an incredible feeling of great memories, heritage, tranquillity, familiarity, and comfort.
As I cross the border into “Big Sky Country” I know I will witness some of the most scenic views found anywhere in America, see more wildlife than one could ever imagine, and interact with some of the most genuine and down to earth people found anywhere. I decided to stay overnight just outside of Glacier National Park in Babb Montana. It was not that I was that tired, but I wanted to ride through this scenic wonderland first thing in the morning when all the animals would be more active and I would enjoy the ride more versus at the end of a long day.
This trip into Montana was even more special this trip due to the fact that I had just completed the first leg of my Cruising for the Cure journey (about 8,500 miles) and now I was back in the lower 48 and getting ready to spend two weeks with my family on the Gallatin River just 10 minutes from the entrance to the Big Sky Ski Area. Interesting fact... Big Sky was conceived and built by Chet Huntley of NBC’s Huntley-Brinkley fame back in the early 70’s.
The great thing about this two week break in my journey was that Doreen, Brendon and Denise (his fiancée) and Kelly and Ted (her boyfriend) all came up and we just relaxed and kicked around. The frosting on the cake is that my dear cousin Sharon Holtzman and her great husband (Jon) live about 15 minutes north of where we were staying. In addition their super cool daughter (Heidi) and husband (Eric) along with their two children (Will and John Jr.) were also visiting from Atlanta. We even got to know a great couple (Terry and Caroline) who we rented the cabin from. It was a great reunion and we laughed and enjoyed one another the entire time we were together. We spent our time river rafting, hiking, visiting Yellowstone, barbequing, and just cruising around the mountains. It could not have been better!
During our day tour of Yellowstone we had great weather and saw more animals that you could shake a stick at….except no bear. I could “bearly” stand it! We saw moose, elk, deer, bald eagle, bison, and as you can see from the photo, I even got a great picture of “Bambi”.
Last Saturday morning at about 8:00AM I said good bye to Doreen and jumped on Captain America and headed down the Highway 191 toward Wyoming. I could not help but reflect about the adventure that I encountered during phase one of my journey and now phase two was just beginning. Although the roads should be better and the weather warmer, my mind continued to wander to thoughts about what lies ahead during the coming days and weeks. No doubt I still have a lot of ground to cover and the summer heat is definitely building. Remember, expect the unexpected!
The first day it was sunny, but very cool in the morning. I had my trustee electric vest on high in the morning as I headed toward West Yellowstone and the western entrance to the park. Things changed for the better as I headed into Yellowstone for the second time in a week. The park was a bit more crowded this time due to it being on a weekend and it was a little later in the day than when we toured it with the family. I saw more cars and fewer animals this time, but the beauty of Yellowstone could not again be denied. Even the portion of the park that was burned heavily in the 1988 fire is stunning with the tall dead trunks sticking out of the ground like toothpicks and all the much smaller emerald green trees starting to reach for the sky. Thank goodness that our forefathers were intelligent enough to protect this incredible resource as the world’s first national park way back in 1872!
That night I made it as far as Casper, Wyoming which turned out to be about a 370 mile ride. The hotel, meal, and evening were all totally uneventful. In addition, I tossed and turned all night trying to determine my best route choice for the next few days due to the huge rain storms that are due to hit much of the mid west this week. In the end, I opted to head toward Colorado, a state that I know well based upon my having lived just outside of Aspen (in Basalt) for the 72 ski season and my numerous motorcycle trips through the entire Rocky Mountain region over the past 15 years.
Last Sunday, it finally got hot for me, which I love. As I rode through Denver the temperature reached 95 degrees. I made it as far as Colorado Springs and knocked off early so that I could do some work. I did find that during this trip the drivers in Colorado all seem to think they are NASCAR professionals and the traffic coming into Denver was bumper to bumper for about 20 miles due to four major wrecks that I saw along the way. I thought I was in LA!
Colorado Springs is the home of the Air Force Academy and the town appears to be a bit more laid back than Denver. As I was checking into the motel, I found out that the manager is a 16 year survivor of breast cancer. She was over the moon about the idea of Cruising for the Cure. She was a lady about my age, so professional in her demeanour and adorable. In addition, as I was leaving the next day a young lady in a car next to me rolled down the window and wanted to know what the heck I was doing. I briefly told her and then made a couple of turns trying to find the UPS local store. I noticed in my rear view mirror that every time I made a turn so did she. The long and the short of it as I pulled into UPS she stopped got out of her car and asked me if we could talk. I said sure. She was a university student studying to be an oncologist and was in the middle of a creative writing class and felt my story would be perfect for both her major and for the writing assignment to complete the class. We spent about 15 minutes talking about the trip, the reasons for it, and I left her with my Cruising for the Cure business card so she can obtain more info. I sensed that my trip was now going to solve her summer creative writing class paper problem. Why did she want to become an oncologist you ask? Because her younger sister some years ago experienced a rare type of cancer and she decided at that time that this would be her career so that she could help others fighting this terrible disease.
No question that weather will remain a key factor in my directional route during the coming weeks. It will either be hot as hell, thunder storms or both, but compared to phase one this should be much easier…..famous last words! Captain American is purring like a new born kitten again, my saddle bags are now back on the bike, and I found myself trying to figure out what stuff can I send home via UPS due to the extreme heat that is headed my way. No doubt I will be riding in just jeans and tee shirts as the mercury starts to climb toward 100 degrees and possibly beyond.
This means the chaps, electric vest, and leather jacket now have to be tucked away on the bike at this point. Bottom-line, I am currently carting too much cold weather gear. But, rule number 47 in motorcycle riding, the weather can and will change, so sending the above three items home is not an option. I thought a lot about my options and decided to jettison things like extra tee shirts and even my camping gear… that’s right camping gear! I know some of you are laughing … especially Doreen who has watched me buy over the years: two tents, two ground mattresses, and numerous other camping gear only to have me camp only two nights during the last 15 years. I know I am going to take some heat over this decision, but my attitude is “bring it on!” Reasonably priced hotels and motels are too plentiful and easy to find, while finding camping sites that offer food service are not as plentiful. Bottom line, my motorcycle camping days are now a distant memory, just like worrying about getting asked for my ID at the liquor store before turning 21.
So my friends, it is now going on 10:00 PM and I am headed to bed. I am beat after doing a lot of work in the AM and then putting in another 300+ mile day. I have a bunch of calls to make in the morning and e-mails to get out, but after that, it is “varooom time”.
I have some other stuff to share with you and promise to update the blog again within the next 72 hours, so please stay tuned.
Enjoy your week and one another.