2011 MC Trip, Day 6, Idaho Falls Idaho to Devils Tower Wyoming, 555.4 mi:
I was up and ready to go early. It was Monday morning and I was hoping for little to no traffic in Yellowstone since it was a weekday. My Mom made me breakfast and supervised packing up. We chatted a bit before I lifted the kickstand and brought Burtha to life. I was really looking forward to the day’s ride because I was to be retracing a route I took on my 2001 Sportster, Suzanne, in 2003 on my way to Sturgis. I also decided that Devils Tower was to be stopping point for the evening in keeping with my “Alien” theme of this trip.
I hit the gas station to top off, and stock up on water. I then made my way to U.S. Route 20 which would be my route into Yellowstone – my first “destination” of the day. U.S. Route 20 is a coast-to-coast route which spans 3,365 miles (5,415 km), and is the longest road in the United States. I hadn’t a clue until I started this post – see – you learn valuable shit reading my adventures. Anyway, I have travelled this route many times, and while it is a very beautiful route to those who have not travelled it, I really pay it no mind save the view of the Grand Tetons around Rexburg, Idaho. On a clear summer day it is nice to see.
Before too long I was getting back into the mountain country which would take me to Island Park, and then to West Yellowstone. Island Park is a nice “vacation” area where I spent a lot of time camping and fishing as a teenager. At eighteen I had the opportunity to purchase land there for about $1200 an acre, and my parents encouraged me to do so. I didn’t, and now there are million dollar homes on those same acres. Lesson learned. While I always enjoy this ride, my main goal was to get through Yellowstone and out of the East Gate as fast as possible. I had many miles to cover today and this part of the route I have seen so many times that I was not interested in “sightseeing”. Shameful.
Welcome to Yellowstone.
I felt that I might be in for a rude awakening when the line to get into Yellowstone was about ¼ mile out from each booth. I remember thinking, “It’s fucking Monday morning! What are all these people doing inconveniencing me at this early hour? On a Monday no less! Do they not know who I am! That I am in a hurry to get to nowhere in particular!?!? The gall!”
I carried this attitude throughout the park and out the East Gate. Upon reflection, this was really a learning opportunity for me to analyze. I was on “vacation” with no deadline to get to my destination. Devils Tower was not going anywhere and my tent reservation was not going to be forfeit if I showed up early or late. However, I was in a hurry and because of that, I could not bring myself to just be in the moment and enjoy one of the most beautiful places on the planet. I was, instead, a douche. I have since decided that while on vacation, I should endeavor to leave the bullshit and shitty thinking in the “real world” and enjoy the moments as they come. It is not easy, but I think I am getting better with each trip.
The parks speed limit is slow – 35 mph – so it took me some time to get through. If you have not been to Yellowstone then you wouldn’t understand that everyone stops at the sight of any wild animal, gets out of their cars, approaches the wild animals though they shouldn’t, and takes pictures – while leaving their cars in the road so no one can get by. If you are in a hurry, acting like a douche, and not enjoying the moment…..well, you get the picture. I was pretty angry by the time I got to the U.S. Route 14 which leads to the East Gate of Yellowstone.
U.S. Route 14 follows Yellowstone Lake and is part of my favorite section of the park. Once I began my way out of the park, I realized what a waste my attitude had been and that I should just mellow out and enjoy the journey. This would not be the last time I had this talk with myself on this trip. The animal gawkers all but disappeared once I arrived on U.S. Route 14 which is what I was hoping for. This route is scenic, steep, narrow, and made of awesome. Sylvan Pass was what I was really looking forward to. In 2003 I took this route while in a severe thunderstorm on a sportster; it was a bit intimidating then. This time, it was amazing! I really took my time to soak up the experience that I missed earlier, and it was well worth it.
After leaving the park, I stumbled upon what I dubbed the “Apocalypse House”. It was located just west of Wapiti, Wyoming. Later investigation would reveal that this house is called The Smith Mansion, which is also known as The Crazy House to locals. This house reminded me of one of my favorite series called Dies the Fire. I had to sit and look at it for a while and could not get over that I felt like this was Dun Juniper from the series. Or rather, what my mind’s eye would picture it to be if it was actually a real place instead of a place in a sci-fi novel. I also felt that if finished it would make an excellent Zombie defense fort. I still think that…
Apocalypse house outside Yellowstone East Gate somewhere
After my brief stop and hydration break, I headed into Cody, Wyoming. This was to be a gas stop before pressing on. However, I did want to share that in 2003 I spent the night at a local hotel here. That experience, in and of itself, is not too interesting, but the story behind it is, at least to me, so here goes.
2003 Sturgis MC Rally, I digress:
In 2003 I was in the middle of a nasty separation and the divorce with my practice wife. The final divorce decision had been decided just prior to the trip to Sturgis I was on. My former riding buddy and close friend, Cory, was on this trip with me to the Sturgis motorcycle Rally and this was the first time we had been on a major ride that took us outside of a few hundred miles of home. What people did not realize was that I was also chronically sick at the time and in an awful lot of pain. I was in so much pain that I was on “painkillers” just so I could sit, walk, or even work. Not only was this trip challenging mentally, because of the pending divorce, it was also excruciatingly painful to do physically, because I could not take “painkillers” while I was riding and be safe. Not to mention that I was hiding this from everyone due to my own embarrassment of having to use them to function. I thought I would be judged because of giving into pain while living my life as a clean and sober person. Which is bullshit, if you have a medical need, it is not the same as abuse and addiction. It just isn’t. I am VERY aware of my mortality and only ride when I’m mentally in the game, for obvious reasons. If you hit a tree on a motorcycle, you die, if you hit a tree in a car, you bruise. You get the picture.
We were on day two of our trek to Sturgis and were on this same highway making our way east. We spent the day in Yellowstone and saw a baby bear which was larger than our bikes and we were the only ones not in cars – interesting. Anyway, we came into Cody, Wyoming tired, hot, wet, and needing food and a safe place to park the bikes for the night. We checked a few of the chain hotels and they were “summer rates” which means they were brutally raping our wallets because they can. Supply and demand, yay capitalism and all that blah, blah, blah. However, we found a place that was relatively reasonable and fit our budgets. The guy in the front desk was literally out of the TV show Deadwood complete with attitude, handlebar mustache, and gun at the hip. Me, being who I am, gave not two shits about that. It does not shock or bother me as I fit right in. I expressed my concerns around safety of our motorcycles in a strange town and he looked at me as if I had two heads.
Deadwood guy at front desk: Boy, where are you from?
Me: I live in Seattle.
Deadwood guy at front desk: I used to live in Seattle, too. However, I moved here because of too many liberals.
Me: Seattle is a liberal town.
Deadwood guy at front desk: Listen, we don’t put up with that kind of bullshit around here.
Me: The Liberals or the bikes being messed with?
Deadwood guy at front desk: The liberals let that type of crime happen in their towns, but in Wyoming, we just shoot the fuckers and take care of it ourselves.
Me: I guess that means both then….
Deadwood guy at front desk: Yeah, your bikes are safe here; you don’t worry about a damn thing at this hotel, we deal with our problems.
Me: Cool man, if it’s just the same to you, can we have a room where we can park the bikes at the door?
Deadwood guy at front desk: You can do that in your room but if anyone comes around just shoot them, or let us know and we will.
We finished up, got our key and went to our “room”, or what we were told was a room. What it actually was, was a “remodeled” 1960’s travel trailer turned into an outbuilding and called a “hotel room”. It had wood siding and a deck built around it, was lopsided, and smelled funny. However, it was relatively clean with no roaches or blood, and had running water. For spending $20-30 for each of us, we could not complain really. Besides, we have this funny road story for the future, or at least I think it is funny. Obviously it isn’t verbatim, but it’s pretty damn close, and it’s my blog, so whatever.
End of digress:
My mission was to find the route Cory and I took to Sturgis in 2003 which ended up being amazing. I had my GPS so I felt it would be easy, but I was not 100% sure. It was past midday at this point and getting warm. I had many miles left so I decided to press on. I continued East on U.S. Route 14 which was called Greybull Highway for this next section. Around 52 miles later I arrived at Greybull, Wyoming, where I found myself extremely hungry, and extremely hot. I found a place to gas up and a small local diner to get some food, cool down, and drink a few pitchers of ice water. The good news is that I could see the beginning of the route over the The Bighorn Mountains and all I needed to do is find the right route. A little research on my “smart phone” pointed me in the direction. Luckily for me, all I had to do is continue on U.S. Route 14 which would take me through the heart of The Bighorn Mountains and the exact route I took in 2003.
I know I have said this a few times over the course of this series of posts, however, The Bighorn Mountains are one of the most beautiful places I have ever ridden on a Harley Davidson, twice… Anything that I write could not do it justice and would not accurately reflect my experience while there, being in the moment. Some experiences cannot be explained or understood without experiencing them yourself, so I sometimes will not bother trying. The motivation for hyper linking each highway and location is to encourage you, to explore the route, too. Perhaps live the journey vicariously through me, and maybe motivate you to visit and experience it for yourself someday. Was that another digression? Probably.
The 80 miles I travelled between Greybull, Wyoming and Ranchester, Wyoming through the The Bighorn Mountains was what I was waiting for! I took it slow, I detached, I was in the moment, and I lived! It was beautiful!!
After reaching Ranchester, Wyoming it was a “short” 150 miles to Moorcroft, Wyoming which was my next waypoint and turnoff to my destination of Devils Tower. The 150 miles to Moorcroft were fast and uneventful, thankfully. Once I arrived, I found a gas station, which wasn’t very easy, filled up, hydrated, and began my last 35 miles to my tent site at the Devils Tower KOA . These last miles were a fitting and very scenic ending to my long day of riding. By this time I was on the very last minutes of A Dance of Dragons which I started at the beginning of the trip, the ending was unexpected and I LOVED it.
I checked in, found a spot close to a power plug and set up camp.
Camping at Devils Tower KOA.
Once I was done with that, I made some dinner, cleaned up, and hit the shower. Luckily, this KOA has private showers, which are what I prefer. The showers however, were inundated with creepy crawlers so I was not alone, but then again, you never are at a KOA are you? Other than the loud couple in the next shower room over, it was uneventful though entertaining. I finished just in time for sunset and the camp screening of Close Encounters of the Third Kind which is apparently a summer tradition there and was why I chose this as a destination.
Sunset at Devils Tower.