Life is Good...
"You're going on another trip?!?!" my neighbor exclaimed when he stopped by our typical Tuesday night before the trip tire changing party. "Yeah, headin' out to Colorado, Wyoming, up into Idaho, and we'll just figure it out from there. Wanna go??" I asked with a smile on my face, knowing full well that he wouldn't go. He thinks we're a little messed up in the head to begin with, and he's right. He just shook his head, laughed, and wished us well.
This trip really snuck up on us, and it's been "in the books" (which is to say, we've been BSing about it) since last October's Appalachia trip. Adam left a couple days early from that trip, and we told him not to worry about it and told him to start looking forward to Colorado next summer. We kept repeating those words - "wait until Colorado....wait until Colorado..." and suddenly it was here.
Initially, our thought was to head out to Colorado, and then shoot south across Monument Valley, stop by the Grand Canyon, and then hit southern Utah. Talking about the trip with Jeff, I suggested that maybe we do something different and head north instead to see Idaho. From there the thoughts expanded, maps were laid out, beer was consumed, and the bullshitting commenced. Idaho and western Montana looked great, and we decided to head up towards Banff National Park in Canada if we had time. It was 1500 miles home from Calgary, so we'd just have to figure out what day it was when we started into British Colombia and make sure we had enough days to get back home. That sounded good to all parties involved, and so it was a "plan."
My prep for the trip took me into the night before leaving, as usual. I was ripping map pages out of yet another mutilated Rand McNally Road Atlas when I thought and said "ya know what, life is good."
After showing up early to work to get those last minute things done, I found myself spending the last 45 minutes of my half-day pacing back and forth, waiting for Adam to arrive. He showed up at a couple minutes shy of noon, and we were almost immediately out the door and headed to Jeff's house. After a couple minutes that were mostly spent discussing how the "good-byes" went with the significant others, we saddled up and headed out. We had decided to make hotel reservations this night in Omaha. Last time heading out to Colorado, we had a lot of trouble finding a hotel along I-80. This gave us a reasonable target to shoot for (450 miles) and we could ride a bit into the night so that we could make it all the way past Colorado Springs the next day.
The ride across Illinois was uneventful, as usual, except for the smokie reports that Otter was picking up on his recently acquired CB radio. He'd signal that a cop was ahead, we'd slow down a bit, and bingo, there he was. Much better than a radar detector, at least for Interstate travel.
Crossing Iowa, it was evident by our first stop that we were going to get wet, and as we pulled into the truck stop, it started to rain pretty good. "Ya know," I joked "it never rains when just Jeff and I take trips." Jeff added, "Yeah, and it rained last year down to Appalachia. I think I'm seeing a pattern here Adam." Adam just shook his head and told us where to go as he started putting on his rain-gear. We had gotten so wet heading down through Kentucky last year, that this year Adam wasn't taking any chances. Over the Joe Rocket Ballistics went some nice raingear, and onward we went. The rain wasn't too bad. It would come down pretty good for a few minutes, and then we'd hit a clear patch, and then it would rain again. It was very easy rain to ride through, and after a stop at a Kum 'n' Go (do I even need to go there??) we continued through the scattered showers and patchy rain. It wasn't too bad. Then we hit Omaha.
"OK, there's a lane here somewhere," I thought to myself as I tried to see through the spray from the 18-wheeler's tires and the glare of the oncoming traffic's headlights. The rain was coming down in buckets and I literally couldn't see more than about 20 feet in front of my bike. I noticed Jeff back waaaay off from following Adam and I, and later found out that he saw Adam's tire slide a bit and didn't want to be too close and end up "picking up the spare." Luckily, there were no incidents, it was just a problem of not being able to see very well. I was also pretty wet by this point, suffering from the Aerostich "wet-crotch" problem. My faceshield also began to leak, and I had a somewhat steady stream of water dripping down my face and neck, and eventually finding it's way past the otherwise effective water-resistant collar of the Aerostich suit. Although we didn't hit as many hours or miles of rain as Appalachia last year, I think we hit as many inches in about 1/2 the time. Luckily, we had our reservation and I knew that the hotel was at the first exit after I-80 and I-680 meet back up. What I didn't know was that to get to that exit from I-80, you had to jump on I-680, and I stomped on my footpegs as I saw the exit go by. Delayed only a couple minutes, and at this point we weren't getting any wetter anyway, we made it to the hotel. Adam, being the dedicated traveler that he is, put the rain suit back on and ventured across the street to purchase some beer while I ordered pizza delivery. After inhaling a couple pizzas and drinking a few beers, we were all ready for bed.
I returned to the room after grabbing a very necessary cup of coffee from the breakfast lounge, opened the door, and was knocked a step backwards from the stench emitting from the room. Trust me when I say that pizza, beer, wet clothes, boots, and gloves combined with three guys sleeping in a room does not result in effervescent odors. We packed up pretty quickly that morning (gee, I wonder why) and continued west along I-80. Approaching Lincoln, I needed fuel, both for the CBR and for me. The CBR got about 4.6 gallons of Amoco Silver, and I got a great breakfast of ham 'n' eggs from a local family restaurant.
Fully fueled, it was back to the Interstate for the next 300 miles or so. I have taken the I-80 trip across Nebraska a number of times. It's long, it's boring, and it just plain sucks....if you let it. (clearing throat) I enjoyed the ride across Nebraska (ducking) and simply found a way to enjoy it. At first, I listened to some music (mental note: don't listen to heavy metal while on a sportbike), and after I ran down my batteries, I just sat back and thought. If there's one thing that the Interstate allows you to do, it's think. Eventually I just spaced out for a while and when I came to, I looked down and discovered I needed gas again. After another fillup, we continued on and crossed into Colorado and the high plains of the eastern part of that state. I always find it interesting that almost immediately after crossing the state line, the scenery changes. Don't get me wrong, there's still nothing there, but it's a different kind of emptiness, and I always enjoy the change. I think part of it is knowing that you're now in the same state as the Rocky Mountains. Like I said, 90% of this day of riding is mental.
With the hot weather, we were stopping at least every 100 miles for water, and looking at a map, we decided to go with out initial thought which was to get off the Interstate around Brush, CO and head south on 71. We figured, if nothing else, the town of Last Chance would produce a funny picture. As we were approaching the turnoff for 71 with Adam in the lead, I noticed a whole group of skydivers in the air, and on command removed my camera from the tank bag to snap a few pictures. "Got it....Holy Crap! There's the exit!!" I thought as I saw Adam's bike lean...and lean...and lean...."OK, this is gonna be fun." After the initial shock of actually having to turn the bike, we continued down 71 towards Last Chance. Upon arrival, heads were turning looking for a Welcome to Last Chance sign or something to snap a picture by. They should re-name the town No Chance because there's absolutely nothing there. We stopped anyway to take in some more water and figure out where we were.
About 1/2 hour down the road, and approaching our next turn that would take us into Colorado Springs, I again found myself enjoying the desolation of eastern Colorado. There really was nothing around except for the occasional cattle ranch, and some of the views were just incredible. We came over a rise and I looked down the road to see the next town, which had to be another 10 miles away. I then thought "I wonder if we can see the mountains..." and before I finished that thought, my finger was extended and pointing frantically towards the west to alert the other two riders that the mountains were in clear view. The first view of the mountains is a moment that I always look forward to.
We made it to Colorado Springs in no time at all and headed up into the mountains on route 24. Rut row...here come some twisties....what do I do? I haven't had to turn the bike in about 1000 miles. Well, needless to say, I figured it out. The ride up towards Woodland Park was nice, and the view of Pikes Peak was great. It was getting late, so we stopped at a food store, scored some cheddarwurst, snacks, water for the morning coffee, and of course a 12-pack of Coors (hey, we're in the Rockies) and headed towards a state park to camp for the night. Fortunately, the campground was full, and I say fortunately because this was one of the times that I learned something new on this trip. Adam had mentioned that all National Forest land is available to camp on. Pack it in, pack it out - or ride it in, in our case. So, we followed Adam, a little skeptically at first, as he turned off the state highway onto a dirt road that headed up into the National Forest. About three miles up the road, and after some absolutely fantastic, and scary, drop-offs and views, we found a clearing and setup camp. There were some people around, but we really were camping - not sleeping on the ground in a state park. There is a difference, and until tonight, I hadn't realized it. I'm not saying one is better than the other, just different.
I started to setup camp, with the assistance of a cold Coors, and I noticed something that made me smile. There was Adam, beer in one hand, cigarette in another, just copin-a-squat underneath a big tree gazing out into the forest. I remember looking at him and just thinking "cool." It was great to see him in a state like that. We stood around this beautiful place, watched the sun go down, exchanged the stories of the day, and boiled our cheddarwursts (there was a "no campfires" sign posted due to the recent forest fires). Boiled cheddarwursts leave something to be desired, and I stopped after one. Adam ventured on and ate a second one. The stars began to come out, and after a few more beers, we all turned in for the night. For me, it was short lived, as about 20 minutes later I realized that I had to use the facilities. I unzipped the tent, and blammo!! There were the stars. I gazed up at them as I relieved myself before really turning in for the night.
Crossing into Colorado, it's time to look at a map
Our campsite in the high elevations of the Rockies
I awoke to the sounds of a running mountain stream, birds chirping, and water boiling....COFFEE!! That's all the motivation I need to emerge from my sleeping bag and brave the world. Adam and Jeff were already up and enjoying their first cup, and I soon joined them. Seems not everyone slept as well as I did that night. The second cheddarwurst didn't agree with Adam, and his body rejected it sometime in the middle of the night. After packing up camp, we ventured back down the dirt road, anticipating the ride through the mountains today up towards Rocky Mountain National. After about 1/2 hour or so, we stopped at a roadside restaurant for coffee and breakfast....and in that order. I had some great ham & eggs that morning, and after a conversation with a local rider, we continued west into the heart of the mountains.
The morning air was brisk, but not cold, and the roads and scenery were great. The snow-capped mountains off in the distance were a perfect backdrop for the morning's ride. Seeing as we were going to be on route 24 for a while, we all went our own pace and observed the stop when you want to stop and we'll meet at the next intersection guideline. I stopped and snapped a few pictures, and found myself just kinda cruising along taking in all the beauty of the surrounding mountains. I passed Jeff and Adam stopped roadside, and were it not for the fact that I was passing a car at the time, I would have stopped too, but instead I continued on a couple miles and pulled off the road. The temps were rising a bit, and I took in some water while Jeff and Adam passed me by. I caught up to them at the next town, and we started to head north towards Independence Pass.
Heading north, I was reminded by the incredible number of motorcycles that there was a rally going on in Avon this week. I had talked with Gawain, a friend from the CBR list, and knew he was in the area. Since I didn't know where we would end up, I told him that the best place to attempt to meet would be Independence Pass. Before I knew it, we were turning left onto route 82 and heading up to Independence Pass. Immediately, my thoughts drifted to last year and my trip through the area. The ride up 82 is just simply peaceful. The road is tree-lined, and the views of the surrounding mountains are surreal, and have almost a majestic aura about them. The road continues up the side of the mountain via a couple of switchbacks, and as the road climbs, the shoulder disappears. It's a fun road to ride up, but one to take cautiously. Better to just sit back and enjoy the views here.
We made it to the top, and it was here that another trip theme would start to emerge. Learning from past experience, we were doing a great job of keeping ourselves hydrated. Actually, we were doing too good of a job, and it seemed like every hour on the hour that little alarm rang. Well, it rang for me at the summit of Independence Pass....and there is no bathroom, nor are there any trees (it's above the treeline). I had no choice, and shielded in one direction from the bikes, but in clear view of traffic from another direction, I...ummm, took care of business, and was much happier afterwards. Jeff and Adam were not as daring, so we headed down the road a couple miles to a more suitable area where they could....ummm, you know. As we were parked there, a guy on a TL1000R pulled up and asked if we had run across his buddies. With all the bikes in the area, I couldn't tell him for sure if we had seen his particular group of friends, and we started talking for a while. Before he took off, he was nice enough to snap a picture of the three of us, and we listened as the big V-twin powerplant headed down the mountain. Much grunting ensued.
We turned around and headed back across the summit, down the side of the mountain, and back through the heavily wooded section of route 82. Just then, I saw a group of bikes approaching. "Hey, there's an RC-51. Hey, there's an XX with a Givi....That's Gawain!! No Way!!!" I thought to myself as I signaled to Adam to keep going. I turned around and Gawain did the same. We met roadside, and he pulled up and said "Tad??" "Yeah, Gawain! How's it going?" I replied. We met the rest of the group at a turnout, and neither of us, nor the rest of the group, could believe that we actually met up. It was great to run across Gawain again (we crossed paths a couple years ago in Tennessee) and great to meet another CBR lister, Mark. We exchanged a few stories, and snapped a few pictures before I had to saddle back up and catch Jeff and Adam. It was again an all too short meeting, yet it was amazing that we met up in the first place.
As I got near the end of route 82, I saw Adam approaching and I waved him down to explain what happened. We all continued into Leadville where we stopped for a quick burger before heading up to Gore Pass. As we were eating, the rain started to come down again, and after more "It never rains when just Jeff and I take trips" razzing, we headed north again. We hit a great twisty road, but it was raining pretty damn hard. After crossing I-70, the rain started to die down, and after a roadside stop to, ummm...you know..., we continued up towards Gore pass. The weather had finally turned sunny, and after gassing up, we headed east across Gore pass towards Rocky Mountain National Park, where we planned to stop short and camp for the night. We finally hit a good set of twisties, and after having had Adam all over my tail during the rain, I finally started to get my confidence back, and I hit them pretty hard. Adam wisely took his own pace, but I never lost him. We were all riding very well, but sadly the twisties ended for the day.
Jeff had mentioned that there was a great campground about 20 miles short of the park, so we made that our destination for the night. When we arrived, we found a nice campground nestled in the mountains right next to a beautiful mountain lake. We grabbed a campsite and made a quick run into town for food. We got back, setup camp, started in on the 3.2 beer (don't ask), and I again noticed Adam, this time sitting on a log, looking out over the calm water, reflecting on the events of the day. "I think he's meditating," Jeff joked as we continued to setup camp. As darkness fell, I started up a white-man's fire, and we proceeded to cook up hotdogs and beans, but it was simply meat on a stick for Adam, since he was afraid of any "tubed" meat products after the cheddarwurst incident. As the sun went down, I found myself standing on the shoreline. The colors in the sky appeared, as did their reflections in the lake's water, and it was a sight to behold. I certainly had a moment of peace there as I stood on the shoreline watching the seagulls sail effortlessly above the water as the colors changed from red to orange and purple. It wasn't the best sunset I've ever seen, but it was one I will never forget..
Before it got too dark, Adam and I walked back over to the camp host's RV to get some more wood. He had run out of bundles, and told me to just c'mon by and grab an armful. I think he and his wife just wanted someone to talk to for a few minutes. We talked about our trip, and we found out that they were from Texas and were camping here for the summer - from May to September. "Wow, that's a nice backyard you have there," I commented, as I pointed towards the mountains of Rocky Mountain National. After talking to them for a while, we returned to camp where Jeff had almost let the fire go out. After re-stoking the fire, we finished eating, and continued in on the beer. Adam and Jeff hit the sack earlier than I did, so I stayed up a while, watched the fire burn and the stars appear before heading to bed myself. Not a bad day of riding, not a bad end of the day either.
A view of the Colorado Rockies heading inland on Route 24
The road near the beginning of Independence Pass
A view of the road below as the grade continues into the elevations
Another view of the road
The bikes at Independence Pass
A shot of Tad, Adam, and Otter roadside on Route 82
A quick meeting with Gawain and some other CBR listers
Tad and Gawain....we've gotta keep meeting up like this
Heading back down towards Leadville, a quick roadside picture stop
A stop in the Colorado countryside
The view from our campsite - the sun setting over a mountain lake
Camp coffee rocks. I woke up last again and the coffee was already brewing. It was a bit chilly this morning, but nowhere near how cold it was the night before in the elevations. We packed up camp pretty quickly, and the idea today was to get through the park early before the traffic. We were at the park gate by 8:00 or so, paid our $5 each (thanks Adam) and started in.
Immediately upon entering the park, I took my camera out of the tankbag and slung it around my neck. The park is absolutely beautiful, and I was sure that I was going to go through some film here. About a mile down the road, the first glimpse of the park caught me - there were the 2 VFRs ahead of me on the road with a nice view of the mountains. I snapped a quick picture and then noticed both VFR brake lights on. I wasn't sure what they were stopping for, but a second later I saw it - a big old bull Elk with a huge rack was standing about 20 feet off the road. He stood there while we approached, and Adam and Jeff both thought he was a statue for a minute, because this guy was really big. We all stopped on the road, and he just stood there staring us down. After a few seconds, which seemed like an eternity, he gave a quick exhale that we all heard, turned, and galloped off into the woods. What I didn't realize is that the first picture I took captured him standing there - I hadn't even seen him yet. What a great way to start the park, but that certainly wouldn't be the last elk we saw. About a mile down the road, a few cars were stopped, and we saw a small herd of elk feeding along a brook. We stopped again to take some more pictures, and about a mile after that, there was a clearing with about 20 elk grazing off in the distance. It was a great idea to hit the park first thing in the morning before all the people arrived and scared off the wildlife.
We continued through the park, spotting more and more elk along the way, and then the road started heading up towards the pass. The sun was shining, and some of the views are just breathtaking. As we got higher and higher into the elevations (and after another quick roadside relief stop) the air became colder and crisper. I don't know what it is about the elevations or the park, but everything we saw was so vivid and colorful. Some of the scenery is so incredible, it's almost beyond belief, and I rode through just trying to take it all in. Near the summit, I pulled into an overlook to just sit and admire the view for a while. We were above the tree line, and above the clouds at about 11,000 feet or so. I really wish I could describe in words what it feels like to be standing in a place like that, and then turning and seeing your motorcycle sitting there and staring back at you. I always imagine what early explorers must have thought when they happened upon places like this. The beauty of some national parks, and Rocky Mountain National is one of them, is that it really is preserved in a natural state. Besides the road, there is little else interfering with nature, and as I wrote in my Four Corners Tour report from last year, I felt very lucky to be able to stand there and enjoy this impressive place. I certainly wasn't the only one, as I caught Adam having another of his moments - sitting on a rock, staring out into the mountain peaks that were bursting through the clouds. The three of us talked for a few minutes there, and I thanked each of them for being there with me. We had been talking about "going to Colorado" for a while, and I think standing there, gazing out at the majestic peaks surrounding us, it hit each of us in our own way that we had actually made it, and that we were in fact on the trip. I'm not sure it really hit any of us before that moment, but it certainly hit me then. This was a great early trip moment for each of us.
We continued east through the park, and as we descended into the valley through the thick, pillowy, white clouds, the raindrops started to fall. We hit a few minutes of rain, which luckily wasn't snow as the temperatures were not much above 40 degrees, before making it through the ranger's station and exiting into Estes Park. We had been on the road for a bit, and my stomach was growling, so we stopped at a mom 'n' pop restaurant for breakfast. I don't remember the name of the place, but I remember the over-abundance of Marilyn Monroe photographs and posters hanging on the walls - even in the men's bathroom. As we ate our breakfast, we kept going back to the bull elk. "Man, I can't believe how big he was!" someone would say. "Yeah, I thought he was a statue because he was just sitting there." This conversation basically repeated itself throughout breakfast. We were all definitely in awe.
After a gas stop/GF phone call stop, we headed towards Fort Collins so that we could head north and take route 14, a Jeff finding from last year, back west across northern Colorado. After a blown turn by Otter, who relinquished the lead at that point, we got turned around and made it through the light rain to Fort Collins. Back into suburbia now, it was amazing to me what a difference an hour's time made. We got stuck in traffic, and the only scenery was mini-malls, outlet stores, and fast food chains. There were so many buildings that you couldn't even see the mountains off in the distance. Luckily, we made it through there pretty quickly and got away from that hell, and before I knew it, we were back heading into the mountains. Unfortunately, the rain started up, again, right about the time that the road was getting really really fun. If nothing else, this abundance of rain was helping my wet-riding confidence quite a bit, and I was taking smooth lines through the corners without a problem. Around every corner I was looking for clear blue skies, but it just didn't look like they were coming. Near the summit, the rain was coming down pretty good - not a hard rain, but a blowing annoying rain. I spotted a turnout with a shelter, which I hoped was a bathroom (but it really didn't matter anyway), so I turned in. A minute later, and before I could see them, I heard two VFRs downshifting and they turned in as well. We decided to wait out the rain just a bit, so we took shelter and talked for a while. We were in no hurry, and didn't really have anyplace to be. About 1/2 hour later, the rain wasn't letting up, and it didn't look like it was clearing to the west, so we reluctantly saddled back up. We turned back onto the road and continued through the rain for...ohhh, let's see, about 1/2 mile. We were then greeted with sunny skies and dry roads. I threw my arms up as if to say "What the hell is this??" It was raining 1/2 mile back and it didn't look like it rained a drop in this area. Leave it to us to stop and wait out a rainstorm that's isolated in one area.
We continued on towards Steamboat Springs, and as the road swept down into the mountain valley, I found myself slowing down and getting "out there." Next thing I know, about 90% of my brain has shut-down, and I'm just putzing along at 65 mph staring off into the distance. These are the moments that I really look forward to during a trip - those times where you just let go of everything. It's kinda like those wall-paintings where you have to unfocus your eyes to see the hidden image in the barrage of random colors. Some people, no matter how hard they try, just can't see the hidden image in those paintings. Along the same lines, this was the type of road, that with the wrong mindset, would result in being described as boring or uninteresting. I can't always see the images in those paintings, but this was one of those times on the road where everything just kinda made sense. There I was, riding my CBR in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by snow-capped mountains off in the distance, following the road as it winded through the valley with seas of wildflowers inundating the roadside. At a quick glimpse, it's a pretty non-descript road through a flat mountain valley. Look deeper, though and it's the type of place where you can forget your name.
At the next intersection, we all met back up. We were all enjoying the relaxed pace of the afternoon and the cool breeze that was blowing through. We decided to head into Steamboat, and then continue on just a few miles west of there to the town of Craig. The downhill run into Steamboat is really nice, and you can see the entire valley as the road twists and winds along the mountain. I remember being here as a kid to go skiing, and we'd always look forward to that view because it meant that we were finally there. A car trip to Steamboat from Chicago really sucks, and it's amazing how different the journey was getting here this time by motorcycle. Traveling by motorcycle the way we do, I tend not to look at it as having a destination. If you do, you're more likely to miss all the good stuff in between, and I wouldn't have experienced the hidden treasure of the road we just traveled for example. So while this was a return to a place I had been before, it was really the first time that I had journeyed there. It was strange being in Steamboat again, even though it had been at least 15 years since I had been there. I remember it being a beautiful valley in the winter, but I hadn't ever been there in the summer. I looked across the street and saw the gondola that takes you to the top of the first peak, and for a minute, I remembered how it looked in the winter. Damn that would be cold riding though. :-)
At any rate, we continued west on 40 towards Craig. I could tell that there was a lot of livestock in the area, and this was definitely cowboy country. The road followed a river for a while, and then we passed countless ranches and a power station before reaching Craig. Along the way, I saw a sign for a Ramada that read "indoor and outdoor spa" and I think my bouncing on the footpegs told the others that I was headed there. A hot-tub sounded really good at that point, but try as we might (and believe me, we tried) we couldn't find the Ramada in town, so we headed back to the Best Western, which looked like an old no-name motel that had been converted. Per the clerk's suggestion, we decided to head into town for some local BBQ. So, dressed in our squiddlyest attire, including sandals for Otter, we rode the 6 blocks (which for the record, I was ready to walk, but that idea got vetoed) to the restaurant where we enjoyed BBQ beef and pork along with beans, potatoes, and a few cold beers. We don't make it a regular habit to have beers and then ride, and we did limit our consumption at the restaurant to two each. Upon returning back to the motel though, we made a quick run across to the convenient mart for some more 3.2 beer. After a little TV, I realized that Jeff and Adam were already asleep, so I thought it was a good time to let the snoring commence. I think I was asleep by the time my head hit the pillow.
Heading into Rocky Mountain National Park - notice the Elk on the left
A view of the bull Elk before he stomped off into the forest
A closer look at the bull Elk
A mile down the road, another Elk grazing near a river
The CBR in Rocky Mountain National Park
Me and the CBR
The VFRs at the lookout in Rocky Mountain National
Adam taking a moment to take it all in
Above the clouds in Rocky Mountain National Park
After a great night's sleep and some motel coffee, we packed up quickly and continued heading west through Colorado. On the way out of town, waaay on the western outskirts, we passed the Ramada, and I thought "Ehh, oh well." The night before, we took a look at a few maps, and got an idea of where we'd head towards, and this morning, we continued west on route 40. As the miles went by, the surroundings became more and more desolate, and with that, speeds increased. There are times to do the speed limit, and there are times not to do the speed limit. This was one of the latter, as there was literally nothing around. I had no idea that this part of Colorado was so baron - it reminded me of the desert in northern Arizona, but not as hot. There were only a few times where we could see livestock, and the rest of the time, there literally was nothing around. We made incredible time from Craig to Dinosaur, where we stopped for breakfast. We were all smiles after the little speed run, and we sat down to a really great breakfast at the only cafe in town. The eggs benedict were exquisite.
After breakfast, we only had a couple minutes until the Utah border, and another 30 miles or so until the next town, so Adam and I decided to switch bikes. After gassing up, I hopped on the VFR and the fuel-injected beast sprung to life. Adam had been commenting on how the elevation hadn't affected his VFR, while Jeff and I complained on how much power loss we had on our older carburated bikes. I accelerated out of town and immediately agreed with Adam. I love VFRs....."I oughta buy one one of these" I thought as my speed continued to increase. We were back into the middle of nowhere, and we started cruising at around 90 mph or so. I came upon a camper, pulled back on the throttle, the VFR grunted and pulled hard as I easily got around the camper. I looked down, and the speedo registered somewhere over 100mph, looked up, and saw 2 antelope standing roadside about 150 yards up the road. "Time to check the VFR's brakes," I thought (OK, I really thought "Oh crap, I really don't want to dump Adam's bike"). I was also concerned about the camper running up my ass, so as I braked hard, I looked in the rear view mirror to make sure that the camper was going to stop. I then saw Adam passing on the CBR and when he realized what was up ahead, he braked, the antelope scurried across the road, and we continued on unscathed. I decided to ease up on the throttle a bit, and found out later that Jeff was wondering why I had slowed down. He thought it was because of the lack of wind protection on the VFR, but I actually was just starting to enjoy the desolation of the ride, while also wanting to be a little more cautious. We crossed into Utah, and when we got to the next town, we switched bikes back after laughing just a bit. "I saw the antelope," Adam said, "and thought - oh great. There goes my VFR."
Next, we started heading north on route 191, and I saw a road sign that made me smile, just as it did last year. "10 switchbacks, next 3 miles." Yeee-haaaaww!!! I remember this road being very clean and having good visibility, so I downshifted a couple times in anticipation of the corners. I decided not to hang off the bike and instead concentrate on lines and leaning. "OK, here comes the corner, alright, setup wide, hang on.....late apex, lean lean lean.....power on, try to keep the sun's reflection off your teeth through your grin from blinding oncoming traffic... REPEAT!" Either my confidence wasn't quite there, or the rear Ohlins shock has helped with my cornering clearance because I took those corners just like last year. Unlike last year though, when I left about half of my peg-feelers imbedded in the pavement, this year nothing touched. I could have easily put a knee down, but I wanted to see how my cornering clearance was, and it has definitely improved. A lean angle from last year that would have resulted in a spark-show resulted in nothing this year, and the feel of the rear Ohlins shock under acceleration was incredible - much more feedback than before. I couldn't force myself to go any harder though, as the memory of my lowside from last year is still sometimes difficult to escape. No worries though, it was a great run up the mountain, and the twisties continued for the next 20 minutes or so as the road ascended into the national forest. I hadn't seen either VFR in my rear view mirror for some time, so when the road straightened out, I slowed to 55 for a bit until I saw signs of life from behind me. Just a minute later, Jeff comes roaring up behind me. We cruised for a few minutes before I pulled off roadside to enjoy the view and take a break. Adam showed up a few minutes later (he had to take a necessary roadside break again - you know, 45 minutes after breakfast), and we looked at the big roadside map of the upcoming road. It looked like there were more twisties, so we rode on.
We entered Flaming Gorge National Area, and turned left onto route 44. I slowed down and took out my camera as Jeff and Adam disappeared into the distance. The ride through here was great, and the road casually twisted and turned through the rock cutouts, occasionally offering up a great view of the gorge. Then, like flipping a light switch, the road got tight and I was immersed in 25 and 30 mph corners, feeling great, riding hard, but riding at a safe level. Everything felt perfect once again, but unlike yesterday when I forgot my name in the mountain valley, today I became one with the machine. Everything was just natural - blip a downshift, lean through a corner, re-correct the line with your knee into the tank, see your exit and power on....it was just happening, and I wasn't consciously thinking about each aspect of it. The day was going great, and I forgot completely about reality, but again in a different way than yesterday. That's a good way to put it - different. I was expecting it to start raining any time now, as for the last couple of days, once the road got twisty, like clockwork it would start raining again. Not today though - nothing would interrupt this nice stretch of blacktop, and as the road straightened out again, I saw the VFRs up in the distance and caught back up with them as we crossed into Wyoming.
I took the lead again here, as I'm usually the one with both the map and the ability to navigate turns - and no Jeff, that's not a rip on you. We continued heading north and west through Wyoming, and every time I ride through this state, I continue to prove my theory of "if you don't like the scenery in Wyoming, wait about 30 minutes or so....it will change." Today was no different. As we snaked our way north towards Kemmerer, we rode through some very different terrain. At times, it looked like the Badlands in South Dakota, at times it was as desolate as our morning ride through Colorado, and at times it was like Texas hill country. As we had been without rain so far this day, the motorcycle gods decided to give us a quick reminder of who's in charge. I appreciated them holding off until this point, as there weren't any twisty sections to get ruined by wetness, but GEEZ! - Did you have to rain so hard that the drops literally stung me as they hit my arms? "Ouch! Ouch! Oww, quit it! That hurts," I said out loud to nobody but me. Luckily, the rain only lasted in short spurts, and after about 30 minutes of off and on rain, the sun came back out. Unfortunately, the wind came with it, and in a big way. It wasn't a headwind, and it wasn't a crosswind, and it was very gusty. Up the road just about another 30 miles or so was Kemmerer, and I stopped for a break, as the wind was beating me up pretty good, along with Adam and Jeff. This is all part of it though, and you do have to take the good with the bad.
We started the ride up towards Grand Teton National park. Initially, we found ourselves crossing over into Idaho for a whole 1/2 mile before heading back through the mountains of Wyoming. The scenery had changed again, and I knew that Jeff would be happier through this section because of all the green. It's not that he hadn't enjoyed the earlier ride, but he kept reminding us that he liked green. "Well, here you go," I thought as we rode through a couple hours of forest. The only unfortunate part is that we started to hit some park traffic, and some pretty good road construction. That's what you have to expect though when you're heading towards national parks, and the thought of the Tetons kept my spirits high as we fought the mini-vans and construction. As we approached Jackson Hole, Jeff caught a glimpse of the Tetons and pointed them out to us. We made it through the traffic of Jackson Hole, and started the trek into Grand Teton National Park, which by the way, does not have a vehicle fee. The views of the Tetons were incredible, and even though it was a little overcast, I was a million miles away from the traffic and congestion that we just rode through. I had to force myself to not get lost staring up at those amazing mountain peaks. Unfortunately for me, the hot dog that I ate at the last gas stop wasn't agreeing with me (yeah, I know, who in their right mind eats a hot dog from a gas station). We pulled into an overlook area and snapped a few pictures while I tried to delay the inevitable. We decided to try to grab a campground here in the park. The wind and rain of the day had taken it's toll on us, and it was just about time to call it a day. Also, the allure of waking up and having the Tetons as our first view tomorrow was enticing. Unfortunately, the "good" campgrounds were all full, and the tent-only campground wasn't open. We ended up with a fairly decent site and made a run into town to grab a deli sandwich and some beers. I ate about half of my huge deli sandwich, and even tried unsuccessfully to enjoy a beer. I decided it would be best to just put the ear-plugs in and go to sleep. The idea caught on, and all three of us turned in early.
The route through Flaming Gorge National Rec Area
A great view of Flaming Gorge
Heading across Wyoming...
...where the road scenery changes about every 1/2 hour
A view of the Tetons late in the day
The bikes in Teton National Park
Tad and the CBR at the Tetons
Up again at the crack of dawn....kinda. The late-nighters of the campground are still fast asleep as we enjoy our coffee and pack up camp. Apparently they were pretty loud for a while last night, but I didn't hear a thing. You gotta love earplugs. We fired up the bikes, and as discussed last night, headed back into the park to try to catch a morning view of the herd of buffalo that graze nearby. We came around a corner, and boom - there they were, right on the road. By the way, buffalo are pretty big and those horns are a bit intimidating, especially when the only thing between you and the horns is a cordura suit. Eventually the buffalo decided to move off the road, and we continued on, snapping pictures all the way. It was a really cool site to look out into the field and see a hundred buffalo grazing with the Grand Teton Mountains off in the distance - especially after Adam's "there were only 10 buffalo left in the world" story of last night.
After a quick run through Jackson Hole, where thankfully we didn't encounter the traffic of yesterday, we were heading west on route 22 into Idaho across a nice mountain pass. It wasn't especially warm when we awoke this morning, and as we climbed in altitude, it of course got colder. As I flipped my heated grips to the "high" setting, I chuckled, knowing that when it's cold enough for me to switch to high, Jeff is really cold....and for some reason I take a little pleasure in knowing that. "Sleep through the night in the Rockies when I'm freezin my ass off, will ya?" (long story). Anyway, after a short run up to the pass, I pulled over at the state line to stretch a bit, figuring both Adam and Jeff would need a quick break - and did they. I'm surprised that Adam even got his helmet off! Jeff joked about riding up the pass and being cold - so he'd crouch down under the windscreen (if you can call the VFR's windscreen a windscreen), but that would make him have to pee more, so he'd sit up, get cold, and repeat the process, which was a losing battle. As Adam and Jeff took care of business, I just stood and laughed....and snapped a picture.
We continued on and headed up the back side of the Tetons, which was new for all of us. I had heard good and bad about this side of the mountain range, and I was pleasantly surprised. No, it's not nearly as dramatic as the east side, but it's cool to see the highest of the Grand Tetons protrude upwards and dwarf the mountain range to the west. We rode on, and about every five minutes I'd turn and check if the Tetons were still visible, and they were - for at least an hour. When they finally made it out of sight, we stopped at Me N' Stan's restaurant for breakfast in Rexburg, Idaho. Jeff and Adam wanted a smoke first, so I went inside to get a table and some much needed coffee. For some reason, the waitress decided to seat our table of three in the back room....it might have been the stench, but who knows. I grab a seat, reply "Yes, coffee. Three." and then one of those moments happened that I just can't ever explain. As I sat there, I caught the lyrics of the song playing out of the ceiling speakers..."it seems to me some fine things have been laid upon your table, but you only want the ones that you can't get..." What are the odds of Desperado being played just as I entered the restaurant? Well, actually they're pretty good, as this type of thing always seems to happen on a trip at least once, and always when I least expect it. So I sat back, sipped my coffee that the waitress had just brought, and enjoyed the moment. It's one of my favorite songs, and as I listened to the lyrics, I recalled the events of the last couple days in my head. Jeff and Adam entered the restaurant just as the song ended, and I just sat there for a minute, completely gone and smiling ear to ear. I love it when that happens.
After breakfast, and a quick gas and oil fill-up for the whale (she was down almost a quart), we continued off into the Idaho countryside, where potato farms and government test sites dominate the landscape. There's not a whole lot out there, and the entire middle of the state is baron of all but the smallest of towns. Somewhere along the road I knew we'd be passing Craters of the Moon National Monument, and I had no idea what to expect. The consensus during breakfast talk was that a meteor hit there. Man, we were way off. Next thing I know, the desert-like landscape turns to black lava rock, and I pull into the first overlook. Jeff, who was leading, wasn't there, as usual, and Adam turned in after me. Apparently, a volcano had erupted there spewing lava over a pretty decent sized area. It was eerie, and I could see why it was named as it was. Jeff pulled up a few minutes later, and he had been waiting at the visitor's center for us. After downing the rest of the water that I was carrying, we continued down the road. The lava didn't stop though, and for about the next 10 miles, there were huge piles of it all over the place. It was a neat break from the baron high-plains of Idaho, which we saw a whole lot more of for the next hour. Like during the morning run, the mountains off in the distance kept getting closer and closer, but the road would wind around them instead of going through them.....except for the dirt roads...."Man, I need a dual-sport bike," I kept thinking as I'd see the dirt roads wind through the mountain passes. If my mind wasn't already made up, which it was and is, I was more determined than ever to buy that KLR650 come springtime. I just hope I can wait until then.
After a gas-stop in Ketchum, where we had an interesting conversation with a drunk-ass local loser, we continued north on 75 into the mountains. Finally the road went into the mountains, and not around them, and I was amazed at the different landscapes. There were tree-lined peaks and a number of rocky peaks as well. Plus, the traffic had lightened up significantly, as we were past the last of the bigger towns, and there really wasn't much else out here except for national forest. The road started to wind a bit, then we got into some sweepers, and gradually the road tightened up and I found myself starting to push it pretty good. Long gone was Adam in my rear view mirror, and a million miles from nowhere was my mind. I started pushing a little harder each turn, gaining confidence quickly, and then I came upon a nice left-hander with an uphill exit. I set it up, blipped a downshift, stuck the knee out, and proceeded to inflict more damage to my knee pucks. "Aaaahhhhh, that's better," I thought as I continued up the pass, dragging a knee here and there. "Whoa!!" I said out loud to myself. "All I can see is sky around this right hander....time to ease up a bit." There was a fantastic view from this turn and it was so uphill that approaching it, all you could see was blue sky. A bit intimidating to say the least. After that though the road continued on with a rhythmic pattern of turns that was very easy to predict with clean pavement and good visibility. It was a great place to wick it up just a bit, and I could feel my heart racing as the adrenaline pumped throughout my body until the point that I realized I was shaking just a bit. I was having an absolute blast and after most of the downhill run from the pass, I flew past a beautiful overlook, and seeing that the road was ending soon, I turned around and parked there to wait for the others. I was all smiles when they showed up and we exchanged stories of the run through the pass, including "Adam Corner" - apparently, Jeff had been following Adam at a really spirited pace. Adam, self-admittedly, was riding very very well and not thinking too much. "I finally let go," Adam said through an ear-to-ear grin. Then he came upon the sky corner that I described, and all Jeff saw were VFR brakelights. "Hell, I don't blame him," I said, hands still shaking from the adrenaline."That was a scary corner." We all got a good laugh out of the stories, and stood there admiring the view for a while before continuing on up the road.
Next came the Ponderosa Pine Scenic Highway. All I can say about this road is wow. It wasn't twisty, it wasn't technical, but it was spectacular. It seemed like we were on a downhill run forever as the road swept through the thick, tall, pine and aspen forest. It reminded me a bit of the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State, but with a lot more elevation change. With the exception of the jerk in the SUV pulling a trailer (with a motorcycle on it) who wouldn't let Jeff and Adam pass easily, and who gave me a little difficulty (man, I hate people like that), it was a quiet, peaceful, sit back and take it all in type of ride - the exact opposite of the last road. Near the end, I slowed and Adam and Jeff caught up, so I waved them past as we turned off at Lowman to head west towards Banks. Out of nowhere, the road turned twisty again as it cut through the bluffs and followed the meandering river. The pace picked up, and I was behind Adam. Out of one corner, I think I got a little too close to him, and freaked him out so he waved me by. So Jeff and I went at it a bit, but my sunglasses work better than his (i.e. I tend to ignore occasional gravel more than Jeff) and after a while, he waved me by and followed for a bit. We had a nice run through the twisties, and it was fun to ride a bit with Jeff. I always feel like I'm in a video game when I'm following him, and I love seeing the lean angles of the VFR in my rear view mirror when I'm leading (and when he decides to keep up, and believe me that with his riding skill, it's a decision not to).
We approached a little town and I was looking around for a gas station and WHACK! Something smacked me in the neck. "Ow (explicative removed)! That hurt," I said. Next thing I know, I'm instinctively beating the hell out of my chest and stomach trying to kill the bee that had fallen down there. Talk about pain! I immediately pulled over and continued the beating process until he was dead, but not before he got me at least 5 times. Jeff and Adam had stopped as the gas station about a block up the road, and I pulled in, took off the helmet, and said "Dude, I'm sorry I laughed at you that time that bee fell into your shirt." Jeff started laughing hilariously (as did I when it happened to him) and it only got worse when I pulled up my shirt to expose the big red marks that Mr. Bee had left.
We were stopped a while at that gas station, which gave Jeff and Adam a chance to call home, figuring that we were camping that night since we were surrounded by national forest. We continued up the road a bit and stopped at the last town before our "let's see if we can find a campground around here" area to grab food and beer. Adam took the lead out of town, as he's good at spotting national forest access roads. We're crusing along at about 70 or so when I see a white Blazer approaching. "I wonder if that's a cop..." I thought as my hand instinctively let go of the throttle. On went the cherries, and we, like the good law abiding citizens that we are, immediately pulled over. He gave us the standard speech, blah blah blah, asked for our licenses and registrations (which Jeff and I had to go digging for, and which Adam didn't have with him), and went back to his truck. He returned a few minutes later, and let us go. We thanked him, and asked him if there was a good place to camp up the road. He pointed to a sign about 100 yards up the road, so we saddled back up and turned onto a dirt road that took us up into the national forest. There were people at the first clearing that we came to, so we continued up the road just a bit and found another clearing where we setup camp for the night. What a beautiful place this was, and this time, Adam wasn't the only one to take a minute to sit back and take it all in. I look over, and Jeff is sitting on a huge boulder gazing out into the pines and the mountain stream below (we were near the edge of a cliff/bluff). I setup camp, cracked a beer, and started gathering some firewood. As the sun went down, I started up a nice fire, and we sat around the fire for a while, drinking beer and telling stories. When the bats came out, I remembered my Boy Scout days, picked up a rock, threw it into the air, and we all laughed when the bat tracked and dove towards it. Adam turned in early, and I threw a few more logs on the fire and waited for the stars to come out a little more before turning in myself. Jeff and I talked a bit around the campfire before taking in the stars, and then turning in. It was the perfect way to end a perfect day of riding.
The next morning, a herd of buffalo at the Tetons
A quick, and necessary stop at the Idaho State line
Arriving at Craters of the Moon National Monument
Adam at Craters of the Moon
The CBR in Craters of the Moon
Heading across the Idaho countryside
Starting to get back into the mountains, heading north in Idaho
A view of the mountains heading north in Idaho
Some rugged mountains in Idaho
After a great mountain pass road, a nice relaxing view of the mountains
Otter enjoying the view....and a smoke
Heading down the Ponderosa Pine Scenic Highway
...and enjoying the continuous downhill run
Ahhh, another morning of camp coffee. The sun had risen some time ago, but we were shielded from it's rays by the mountain to the east of us. Only the tops of the pines were getting hit by the sunlight, while the sounds of the flowing mountain stream emanated towards us. Those same sounds kept me sleeping all night long. I would wake up only occasionally, and take a second to check out the stars before falling back asleep. Back on the road, we were treated to a great morning ride. The road, on the right side of the river this morning, traced the path of the river as it wound and meandered through the mountains. We continued up the seemingly endless river and road, enjoying the views and smelling the fresh morning scent of the pine forest. Passing the town of Lucille, I got a Kenny Rogers song stuck in my head, and after a while, we stopped at a roadside cafe for breakfast. We ate breakfast and stared out the big window that overlooked the river and surrounding hills. It's not often that you get a chance to see places like this, let alone see this much of it.
After breakfast, the road continued north, winding through the Idaho mountain valley. After a few miles, the road broke away from the river, and we had just a few miles up towards Grangeville, where we would turn off on route 13 and head over to US 12....or at least, that was the plan. I stopped at the turnoff to route 13, but Adam, who was in the lead, wasn't there. I walked over towards a Goldwing rider, who told me "Yeah, your buddy just went that way," as he pointed east on route 13. "Great, now if I can just get the guy behind me to make.....the....awwww (insert bad word here)." "Have fun," the Goldwing rider yelled to me, as I saddled up to catch Jeff and inform him of his missed turn (yes, this is a recurring theme, but that's just Jeff). Luckily, I was able to get around traffic quickly, and after about 5 miles, I caught up to him, passed him, and gave the "you idiot, turn around" hand signal. We made it back to 13, made the turn, and continued on. Once again, out of nowhere, we were immersed in twisties, much to our delight. The pavement wasn't as good as yesterday, but we were still going at a pretty good pace. We caught up to Adam in the next town who had a confused look on his face. "Jeff blew the turn and I had to go catch him," I explained. "Aahh, I figured as much" Adam replied with a smile.
We only made fun of Jeff for a little while before saddling back up and heading east on US 12 towards Lolo Pass. More of the same followed on this road, except this time, the road was on the left side of the river. Like we always do, we got a little distance between the three bikes so that we could all go our own pace and enjoy the ride. Plus, I didn't have to worry about Jeff blowing another turn, since we'd be on 12 for a good two hours. Just kidding dude. The ride continued to impress, and I was more and more glad that we decided to head up into Idaho. There is so much of nothing out there, especially in the middle of the state, and it's a great place to just sit back and enjoy. Unfortunately, about an hour up the road, we hit construction, and were at a standstill for about 1/2 hour while they worked on a bridge. We tried to keep cool and keep hydrated, but standing out there in the sun took it's toll on us. By the time we got through the construction and got to the next town, we were all feeling just a little worn out - Adam especially. We grabbed our typical gas station lunch, and decided to sit for a while. Three bicycles pulled in, and we struck up a conversation with the riders - a group of high-schoolers from New England who were on a cross country trip. For a minute, I think we all wished we could trade places - us, so that we could be on the road for an entire summer, and them so they could ride motorcycles. There was a little admiration in both directions, and I hope that they had a safe and fun trip.
After an extended stop, we decided to ride about two more hours and grab a hotel for the night. We headed east out into the Montana countryside to take what looked to be a nice route north towards Glacier National. Unfortunately, we hit more construction traffic, but fortunately for us, we were shaded by trees, and the construction only lasted a few miles. Heading north on Montana route 83, I found myself behind Jeff and Adam on the road. I was enjoying watching the 2 VFRs sweep through the corners, and the scenery was really nice. The road was tree lined, and occasionally the trees would open us and give you a view of the mountains in the distance or a blue water lake. We stopped roadside, and decided to keep going up to the town of Whitefish, which was only another 30 miles or so.
Arriving in Whitefish, we made a quick scout of the town, looking for a motel with a restaurant within walking distance. We checked in, and after a lengthy phone call home for Adam, we walked across the street to an Italian restaurant for our one good meal of the trip. We dined on the outdoor patio, enjoying veal parmigana, and various pasta dishes as well as an assortment of local micro-brewed beers. After a good meal, it was like playing Monopoly and landing on Chance: "Go to bed. Go directly to bed. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200."
Morning Coffee in the National Forest somewhere in Idaho
A morning view of a scenic river road, Route 95, heading north in Idaho
Continuing along the river on Route 12 towards Lolo Pass
The tree-lined road and the 2 VFRs heading north in Montana
A blue lake heading north on route 83 in Montana
A view of the mountains as seen from Route 83 in Montana
Bright sunshine and not a cloud in the sky this morning - a nice way to wake up and do the Frankenstein walk to the motel lobby for some fine gourmet coffee. Adam took a walk to the drive-thru coffee shop just across the road from the motel, and tempting as that was, I found a lawnchair with my name on it. As I sat there, sipping my coffee and staring out into the mountains, I anticipated the day ahead of us. Today we were crossing into Canada and heading up towards Banff. I had heard so many stories about the area, yet I really didn't know what to expect. Were the stories blown out of proportion, or was this really where the Rocky Mountains came into their own? With ideas and thoughts in my head, we headed out towards the border. Heading north, Glacier National Park was visible to our right, and the surrounding mountains were blocking most of the sunlight, but luckily it wasn't too cold. I remember coming through here a couple years ago in the bitter cold morning air, and I was sure that Jeff was happy that today's weather was a little more pleasant. After just a short ride, we stopped south of the Canadian border for breakfast at the Sunshine Cafe, a neat little yellow roadside cafe tucked away in the northwestern Montana mountains. Seems some of the locals were concerned/confused at our appearance, as we got a number of looks from them as we entered. "You boys ain't from around here, is ya?"
After a great breakfast, we were a whole 10 minutes from the Canadian border. The mountain range that we were traveling through continued north and it looked as if we would be in the mountains for the foreseeable future. We crossed the border without a problem, and seeing as we were going to be on the same road for the next 100 miles, we all split up and took our own pace. Through the crisp morning air we rode along this heavily tree-lined road, and around every corner our jaws dropped as the mountains seemed to appear out of nowhere. Crest a hill, see another mountain, say to yourself "wow!" and repeat. The landscape was fantastic to say the least, and it seemed as if my ideas of what was in store for today were dramatically underestimated. Sounds good so far, huh?
A couple hours later we met up at a gas station in the town of Radium Hot Springs. We were all a little awestruck by the constant barrage of mountains, and the mountains to the northeast, right where we were heading, looked incredible. It was here when I first said the phrase "Hey, I think someone forgot to turn off the mountains" but as great as the ride up was, I still had no clue what was in store for the day. I was about to find out.
We entered Banff National Park and started to head east on route 93. Initially, we were riding through a canyon wide enough for a 2-lane road and a mountain stream, with 200 foot bluffs on either side of the road. As the canyon disappeared and we rode into the valley, we were hit with overwhelming green colors. It was a little overcast and there was some patchy rain, but it was almost as if the rain and dew had a cleansing effect on the trees allowing their true deep colors to appear. We hit a little bit of traffic, and I decided to pull over to the side of the road and let them get ahead of me, rather than try to pass and then fear pulling over to look at something and let the cars get by me again. I watched the cars disappear around the next bend while I just sat there and looked around. Mountains, evergreen forests, and a mountain stream was all that was visible. There was no need to unfocus your eyes to see hidden image here. I continued on, cruising at about the speed limit (I certainly wasn't in a hurry to get anywhere), and then I started snapping pictures. I couldn't stop. Everything was so incredible that I couldn't help myself, and that hasn't happened in a long time. I was reminded of the first time I crossed into Canada on a motorcycle, and that feeling of complete peace and serenity that I felt riding up to Wawa along the shoreline of Lake Superior. I've said many times and to many people, don't try to get back to the place you found the first time that you ever took a motorcycle trip and it hit you for the first time, because you'll only be disappointed. Stop looking long enough though, and sometimes you'll be surprised, and this was one of those times. I rode through Banff in complete awe, and as the road began to rise into the higher elevations, the mountains changed to snowcaps from the treelined mountains that had been visible to this point. I came upon Adam stopped roadside, and slowed to make sure he was OK. I saw him putting his camera away, so I continued on, and Adam caught up to me again, so we rode on for a bit. There were just too many places to look: ahead, to the sides, and in the rear-view mirror. Sometimes, some of the greatest views can be seen by looking in the rear view mirror, and this was no exception. Along with the snowcaps came waterfalls, and it seemed that along the side of each mountain was a spectacular cascade of water cutting through the rock. I was experiencing information overload, so I pulled over to stop for a minute and watched Adam disappear over the horizon. After a couple minutes, I continued on, and the scenery didn't let up. I saw Adam's bike parked in an roadside stop, and I continued along, throttle lock on, sitting back, really enjoying the scenery, and just relaxing. I had nothing on my mind and just rode along watching the miles go by. At this point, I figured that this day would never end, and neither would the endless stretch of mountains.
After some time, I reached the end of this road, and pulled over at the intersection of 93 and Route 1. To the south was Banff, and to the north, Lake Louise. Otter was nowhere to be found, and after a couple minutes, Adam arrived and began taking the off-ramp to head down to Banff. I waved him down and he turned around and pulled into the lot. Neither of us had seen Jeff, and neither of us had a clue as to where he was. The intersection of 1A was just a mile down the road, and knowing the "don't turn off one road until everyone meets up" rule, I thought for sure that Jeff would be sitting waiting just a mile down the road. He wasn't. Adam and I tried to figure out what Jeff would have been thinking, and where he would have gone, but that's kinda like trying to fit a round peg into a square hole. Adam thought we were heading towards Banff, and seeing as that was to the south, we headed down there. Upon arrival, we came to the first gas station, and there was no sign of Jeff. "OK, there's 2 roads up to Lake Louise. I'll take this one, you take the other, and no matter what, I'll be waiting for you in Lake Louise," I told Adam. We departed for Lake Louise. About 30 minutes later I arrived in Lake Louise, and began the search for Otter. He was nowhere to be found, so I pulled into a parking lot leaving my bike in clear sight of the intersection so that Adam would see it. A few minutes later, Adam showed up without Otter. We weren't sure if we were going to find him again, and I turned on my cell phone just in case to check voicemail. After a couple minutes of trying to decide what to do, here comes Otter down from the mountain. I waved him down, and he pulled into the parking lot with a confused look on his face. I smacked him upside his helmet, and said "What the hell are you thinking?" "What?!?! I'm on the same road," he replied only like Otter can. After spending the last hour looking for him, I honestly wasn't in any mood for his shit, so I walked away towards a shop to get a hat and t-shirt. I'm not sure if I was more pissed at him being an idiot, or me not being able to figure out where he'd be. Sure, he was technically on the same road, as 93 and 1 merge for a time, but with as many corners as he has blown over the years, I had to error on the side of caution. I think Adam explained to him that we had been looking for him for a while, because he apologized when I returned to the bikes. At that point, it really wasn't a big deal, and I quickly forgot about it. I was just glad that we ran across him again, because otherwise Adam was heading home, and I was going to re-trace 93 to try and find him.
We rode up the mountain to Lake Louise, parked the bikes, and began walking towards the lake. I caught a glimpse of Lake Louise, and my mind went blank. Here was an incredible crystal-clear blue lake surrounded by snowcapped peaks, and it took a minute for it to sink in. We walked down to the lake, and the three of us stood there silently for a few minutes, just trying to take it all in. Standing there along the shoreline, I realized just where I was, just how I had made it there, and just who had made it there with me. When I was able to formulate words, I turned to Jeff and Adam, shook each of their hands, and simply said "Thanks for being here with me." That was all I had to say at that point, and everything else that had happened was a distant memory. Each of us tried talking a couple times, and I could see in everyone's eyes what this place meant. We had experienced an incredible week of riding, and this was the absolute pinnacle of our trip. I can't imagine a more perfect place to experience a feeling like this - we had arrived. That's about the best I can put it. We stood there a few more minutes, and I said "I've gotta do it." With that, I knelt down on the rocks, removed my hat, and let the cool water drip off my hand and run through my hair and down my face. Sure, it was about 50 degrees, and the water was even colder than that, but it was a necessity at that point. "I was just thinking that," Adam replied, and both he and Jeff took a minute to do the same. After taking a couple pictures, we stood there again, in silence, as the wind kicked up and the mist off the water shooed away the tourists, until it was just Jeff, Adam, and I standing there. Sure, there may have been a few people around, but there was nobody else there. At one point, I tried to say something like "I can't think of a better pinnacle for our trip" but I have no idea if I made sense at all, and even Jeff said something like "you don't have to say a thing." We were all there, all on the same wavelength, all realizing where we were and where we'd been. None of us were ready to leave yet, even as the wind picked up and the mist off the water hit us in the face. Adam walked back and sat down on a parkbench, and that left just Jeff and I standing there. There were too many things going through my head, and this was just another incredible place that Jeff and I had found, and I felt honored to be able to stand there that day and enjoy it. After a few more minutes, I felt content in having seen this place. Realizing that if I didn't leave soon I never would, I turned, patted Jeff on the back once, and didn't look back at the lake. I wanted my last memory and view of Lake Louise to be that last minute of clarity, confidence, peace, solitude, and friendship. Yes, it was perfect.
I made my way back to my motorcycle, fighting off the tears just a bit, wondering how in the hell I happened upon this whole thing - not necessarily this one place, but this way of life. Adam and Jeff were right behind me, and as Jeff approached, he said, "Well? Ya wanna go home?" The time had come to start back, and I wasn't the least bit sad about that. There was nothing left, no stones unturned, nothing unanswered, and no way that I was ever going to forget about this place. "Yep," I quietly replied, and without another word, we were back on the road.
We decided to take 1A down to Banff, and try to find a campground somewhere south on route 40. The ride down 1A was great, but my mind was still somewhere else. I wasn't really paying attention to the road or the scenery, although occasionally something would catch my eye for a minute and bring me back. Before I knew it though, I was back out there again, just trying to realize the magnitude of this trip. We merged back with route 1 and made it through Banff towards route 40. A little while later, I looked at my fuel gauge, and that brought me back to reality a little bit. Somehow we were in the middle of nowhere heading south on 40, and I hit reserve. "Rut row," I thought, as I looked at the map to find no towns ahead. We came upon an information sign, and gas was only about 25 miles away, which I know I can make, so I relaxed a bit. At the next gas station, we filled up and stocked up on food for camping, but were told that all the campgrounds in the area we full. We had passed a few of them that were full, but had hoped that one along the way would have a vacancy. The storekeeper told us that there were a couple after the pass that had room, so we decided to head that way. As we stood around eating whatever we could find in the gas station, we started talking about the prairie dogs and other wildlife that we had been seeing. Jeff said, "Yeah, but I still haven't seen a bear." He'd been saying that all week long, and I thought nothing of it. "I know, and someone still forgot to turn off the mountains."
The ride down route 40 was incredible, and the mountains continued as they had all day long. These truly were the Rockies. Some of the peaks were just incredible, as if they were huge ice cubes split in half by an ice-pick. The thing is, they continued on all day long - there was no let up, there was no time where the mountains were in the distance. We were in them all day long, and I wasn't getting tired of it. I was following the 2 VFRs when I saw Adam and Jeff's brake lights go on, so I naturally braked and pulled into the oncoming lane to get a glimpse of what had spooked them. "Wow, that's a big boulder in the road," I thought. "Ummm, the boulder is moving, that's a...that's a bear!" I pointed to the bear and then to Jeff, and he just bounced in his Corbin seat, happy to have seen the bear. It was pretty cool to watch the bear just stroll along the center-line of the road. There was one problem though - we were not moving another inch closer to him, and would have to wait for him to move. Just then, a mini-van pulled up next to us, pointing to the bear and taking pictures. I looked at the driver, he looked at me, and I shrugged my shoulders as if to say "There's no way in hell I'm going up there." After a minute, he crept up there and passed the bear while driving on the shoulder. The bear stopped, looked over at the mini-van, shook his head, and thought "damn humans." He turned, looked at us, looked at the oncoming traffic, and methodically strolled off the road and up the hill towards the forest. As we rode by, I apologized to him for ruining his walk, but he wanted no part of us humans....luckily.
We took off, re-passed the mini van, and continued on riding in staggered formation. About 2 miles down the road, we come around a corner, and all three of us (at about the same time) spotted three large elk/moose looking things standing roadside, and we jammed on the brakes....again. The minivan pulled up next to us, again, and the three huge elk scurried across the road so that we could continue on. About two miles down the road (seriously, I'm not joking around) we come around a corner and there's a herd of about 20 cattle on the road. Brakes, mini-van, and wait....again. I pointed to one of the cattle that had horns, and said to Jeff "Go ahead!" knowing his fear of bulls chasing his red bike (yeah, we both know that they're colorblind, but it's a fear nonetheless). I figured it was a steer and could scare it off with my muffler, so I crept forward a couple feet and revved the engine. I then noticed an udder, and thought "Oh crap, where's it's calf" knowing that mother cows will charge if you get between them and their young. The cow just stared me down, so naturally, I backed up....while Jeff and Adam laughed. Finally the cattle decided to move off the road, so we continued on, wondering what we would run into next. Luckily, what we found was a campground with a couple open sites. We setup camp, broke out the LaBatts Blue, and talked about the events of the day. We were still all kinda awestruck by the day, the endless mountains, Lake Louise, all the wildlife, and the fact that we were on motorcycles somewhere in Canada. I walked up to the road to watch the sun go down over the mountains, and when I returned, it was time to turn in. As I laid down in my tent, and drifted off to sleep, I honestly couldn't believe what a great day of riding we had experienced. If I hadn't been there myself, I never would have believed it.
A breakfast stop before crossing the border into Canada
Heading north into British Colombia
Another view of the ride up route 93
The views kept improving all morning long
and somebody forgot to turn off the mountains
Arriving in Banff National Park, the views just kept on getting better
and don't forget to look in your rear view mirror - the views are great there too!!
The CBR roadside in Banff National Park
Tad at Lake Louise in Banff National Park
Adam at Lake Louise
A proud Otter at Lake Louise
Adam and Otter enjoying the magnificent view
Otter, Adam, and Tad at Lake Louise
Heading from Lake Louise towards Banff on Route 1A
Another view of Route 1A heading south
A view of the Canadian Rockies from Route 1A
Heading south on Route 40 in Alberta
The view of the snow capped mountains heading south on 40
Coming around a corner, Yogi was waiting for us
A closer look at the Grizzly
We drank the last of the camp coffee this morning before heading back to the road. Today was really the start of the long trek home. We had talked about when we would turn back and head home over the past couple days, knowing that it was about 1500 miles home from Calgary. We had done what we had wanted, seen more than we expected, and learned more than I imagined along the way. It was time to head home, and we were all aware of the long days ahead. Plus, this was a great way to earn some brownie points from the significant others who were not expecting us home for a couple more days. With our iron-butts prepped, we set out early to start putting on the miles.
The crisp morning air took over where the coffee left off, requiring mild use of electrics for me (and full power for Jeff). We were still in the mountains, but I knew that soon we'd be saying goodbye as they disappeared in our rear view mirrors. I didn't have any expectations for the day other than miles, but just minutes into the day, we were treated to a rare sight, and a continuation of yesterday's wildlife adventure. Around a corner on route 40, there was a silhouette in the road that I never imagined we'd see. A mountain lion, who obviously was taking lessons from the grizzly that we ran across yesterday, was strolling down the road in our lane - an incredibly rare sight, and another one that I wouldn't believe unless I saw it with my own eyes. Before we could even think, he darted off into the woods. As we rode on, I started thinking about all the wildlife we viewed on this trip - the antelope in the high plains, all the elk, the bear, a couple eagles, and so on. I can't remember ever seeing this much wildlife while on the road. A couple miles down the road, we pass a sign for the oncoming traffic and I turn to take a look. Apparently we rode right through a wildlife refuge. Hmm, that makes sense.
At the town of Fort McLeod, we were ready for gas and breakfast. We must have been in cowboy country, because there were rodeo postings all over the place, including something about a 3-man wild cow milking competition. There was absolutely nothing around this area, and as we continued east on route 3, we passed nothing but a few small towns. As we rode along, I caught my last glimpse of the Rocky Mountains off to my right. As I always do, I threw them a little salute, with a promise to return. Finally, someone remembered to turn off the mountains. We made it to the US border pretty quickly, and soon were on the superslab heading south. Being in Montana, our speeds increased as my gas mileage diminished. I fell back from Jeff and Adam at one point needing to conserve a little gas (it's amazing on the 1000F what a difference 8 to 10 miles per hour makes in mileage). At the next town, Jeff was waiting at the top of the off-ramp right on cue. The gas station right off the interstate was closed, so we went to the only other station in town, which was also closed (at noon on a Saturday - what's up with that) but the pay at the pump was working. It worked out well though, as there was a pop machine outside. Your choice: Mt. Dew or Mt. Dew. "Perfect!!" Jeff exclaimed. During our break there, we looked up and down the town's main street, seeing from one end to the other. "Hey, they've got a bar, a hardware store, gas station, and a grain elevator," I said. "What else do you need?" I don't think that Adam realized that I was serious.
We got back in the saddle and took off to empty another tank. After about another hour of Interstate, we were back on a two-lane heading east. Then the prairie dogs made their appearance. We're cruising along, and I spot one straddling the double-yellow line. "Oh great," I thought. "I got one the other day, and I don't want to get another one today." He stood on his hind legs, and just watched us go by, turning his head towards us as if to say "Hey. Where ya goin? Whatcha doin?" Of course, being the comedians that we are, Otter and I both sat up straight and started mocking the prairie dogs. I saw Adam's helmet nodding as he was getting a good chuckle out of that. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Whatever you have to do to keep the ride interesting.
Continuing on, the wind had really picked up, making the ride a little more challenging, and riding directly into the headwind made my mileage even worse. Luckily, the next small town had a gas station where we could fill up. There were at least 10 Goldwings in the parking lot, and I remember the couple we met up with at Craters of the Moon saying something about WingDing going on this week. After the 500 miles that we had already done by this point, we took a little bit of an extended break before continuing on, Adam in the lead, Jeff next, and me bringing up the rear. Our speeds were not excessive by Montana standards, especially since there is NOTHING in eastern Montana, but we were easily cruising at an average of 80. We came up to a group of campers, three I think, and Adam hesitated in the pass....I got anxious, looked into the oncoming lane after it was evident that Adam was going to wait a minute to pass, dropped a couple gears, and pinned the throttle. I was past them in an instant, but I forgot to take my hand off the throttle. 100 came and went, as did 110. Cruising along at a buck-twenty, with the wind now behind us, I still saw my fuel gauge dropping as quickly as my speedo was rising. I did see that the next town was only a short 60 miles away, so onward I went. We weren't scheduled to stop for gas until the next town, another 50 miles, but there was no way I was making that leg at this speed. I kept looking for Otter to appear in my rear view, but I saw nothing but empty highway. "Hmmm, maybe I can get away with it, " I thought of my quick gas stop. The 60 miles were over in a mere 35 minutes, and still no sign of the guys behind me. I pulled into the gas station, removed the gloves only, and threw the tankbag on the seat. $4.00 in gas later, I ran into the store, ran back to the bike, turned her over, put on the gloves, and popped her into 1st gear. Just then, Otter comes ridin up the road shaking his head. "Damn, almost," I yelled as I pulled back onto the road and proceeded to fly past him. We kept up a really good pace for the next 40 miles or so, and when I checked the average speed on my Sigma about 10 miles into it, it registered in triple digits. Now that's a good way to make up time. We made it to the next town in no time at all, and pulled into a gas station. "I can't believe you had to stop and fill up," Jeff yelled to me. "Hey, ya gotta know your limits," I laughed back, as we filled up and waited for Adam. "So, how long do you give him?" Jeff asked. "I dunno, about 10 minutes. We were averaging close to 100 for a while there." About five minutes later Adam pulled up. Having made great time over that last stretch, we took a couple minutes to re-fuel, re-hydrate, grab a bite to eat, and make a couple phone calls. Seems all the women were happy to hear that we were heading back. They would have thought differently if their sense of smell worked over the phone.
We kept a pretty sane pace for the next hour before we merged up with I-94. A couple miles before, Jeff signaled to me "say bye to the 2-lane" which (after a minute of going, "What? What the hell are you trying to say?? Ooohhh, I get it.") I pointed to, and waved bye-bye. The rest of the way home was I-94 to I-90. We crossed over into North Dakota, and were immediately riding through Theodore Roosevelt National Park, which looked a lot like the Badlands of South Dakota. It was pretty nice looking, and I'd like to return there someday, but alas, we were putting on the miles today and kept going - out of necessity, not preference. Dusk was upon us, and other than the owl sitting on the mileage sign, it was an uneventful next hour. At the next big town, we pulled off to grab a hotel only to find that the rodeo was in town, and there wasn't a room to be found for the next 100 miles "But if you've got camping gear, there's a state park just down the road," the hotel clerk told us. So, we made it to the state park filled with campers and within earshot of the main stage of the rodeo (who were playing some really excellent 80's metal) and setup camp before making a quick food and beer run. We sat around for a couple minutes, and sarcastically Adam joked "So, you think we'll see the stars tonight?" as we shielded ourselves from the porch lights of the numerous campers. Nope, just some ear-plugs and a pillow. After 800 miles, that's all any of us needed at that point.
Seeing as we drank the last of the camp coffee yesterday morning, this morning we had to pack up camp and run into town before we could enjoy any go-go juice. To say that we packed up camp in record time would be putting it lightly. "Man," Jeff said, "we should have made the no coffee until camp is packed up rule, and we would have gotten going a lot earlier each morning." I don't think so....this was another example of action by necessity, not preference. So, after some really bad gas station coffee and a blueberry muffin, we were back on I-94 heading east. After a couple hours, we stopped for breakfast. After what seemed like an eternity, the one waitress on duty brought us a pot of coffee, which was gone quickly. My eggs over easy showed over over easy, as the server dropped the plate and the eggs splashed all over my 'Stich. During breakfast I commented, "You know you're in a small town when they have pictures of show cows on the wall." The picture of the albino buffalo looked interesting as well.
After breakfast, we got back on the Interstate, figuring we could get to Minnesota on this tank of gas. I looked to the left, and there was the albino buffalo standing there. That was the extent of the excitement for the remainder of North Dakota. That's not to say I wasn't enjoying the ride, because it was nice - very peaceful and mind numbing. We even passed a Morton Building factory. The other thing that's worth mentioning is the number of Goldwings that we saw. A couple years ago, Jeff and I were heading out to Colorado around the same time as Sturgis, and I was disgusted by the number of bikes being trailered (see, sometimes I can say that word), and I'm not just talking about the custom Harleys - they big 'uns weren't being ridden either. That year, for the entire trip across Iowa, we only saw one Harley being ridden. Conversely, of the thousand Wings that we saw today, only one WASN'T being ridden. My hat is off to those riders, and I hope they had a great event.
Most of this day is just a blurr though. We were sitting in the saddle for three hours at a time, and rather than watch the miles, you're better off thinking about other things, or if possible, not thinking at all. Again, necessity, not preference, but it still was a good ride. We stopped for gas a couple times, and just put on the miles. Crossing into Wisconsin, we decided to learn from the mistakes of others and keep our speed down. Wisconsin cops tend to increase revenue for the state by picking off travelers, and they are especially happy to ticket us FIBs. They are typically rude and direct about it, and that's what we've come to expect from law enforcement in that state. To serve and protect? I think not. At one point, we see a car parked roadside and a tow truck starting to hook it up....and a 1/2 mile down the road, there's a cop with his radar gun. Why help direct traffic around the stopped car? That doesn't help our quota.
Still in Wisconsin, it had now turned dark and it looked a little stormy up ahead. We stopped just short of Madison to fill up just as the local shop was shutting down for the night. Ironically, this was the same place last year where I stopped when I had a flat tire. I remembered the big pink dinosaur. We stopped there for a few minutes talking about the last part of the journey, and decided to stop at the Belvidere oasis to say our final so-longs. After a double-bird directed at the Welcome to Illinois sign, we made it through the rain to the Belvidere Oasis and took shelter under an awning for a few minutes. We had done close to 880 miles so far, and we were all tired and ready to get home, and the rain wasn't helping. Surprisingly though, our spirits were good, and after just a few minutes, Adam saddled back up to make it home. "Well, whaddya say," I asked Jeff. "Ready to go home?" I think the answer was obvious. Back into the rain we rode, sliding the tires here and there, passing the cars who had pulled over to wait it out, and thinking "man, I thought we left this is Omaha."
Over the years, I've come to expect certain things from a trip, and I'm always looking for ways to experience things in a different light. I look forward to the different things that will be experienced on each trip, and as much as I try to anticipate what part of the trip is going to be the most memorable, I am usually way off in my guesstimates. This one was no different. The Canadian Rockies were incredible, Idaho was absolutely beautiful, and the variety of landscapes that we saw were a constant reminder of how diverse the west really is. I had notions of what Idaho would look like, as I've read many articles about it's hundreds of miles or river roads. The pictures just don't do the area justice, as usual. All the stories I've heard about the Canadian Rockies are dead-on accurate. They really are as spectacular and rugged as everyone says they are. I really enjoyed the time we spent in Colorado, and I think we all did. However, I also can see that the adventure of exploring new areas was what really interested us, and I'm glad that we decided to head north and do some exploring. We hit some incredible twisty roads, dragged hard parts and knees, yet none of these places are the clearest memories in my head as I write this. That's not to say that these aren't all incredible memories. Riding an entire day through the Canadian Rockies wondering if the mountains are ever going to end is hard to beat, and as far as the best scenery I've ever seen on two-wheels, that takes it hands down.
However, there were a couple times on this trip when I truly was at peace with everything. Riding across Colorado after waiting out the rain on Route 14, I can't explain what happened, but it was incredible. It was almost like each one of my senses was heightened, because I saw and felt things that I have never felt before. I know that part of it was the desolation, and that leads me to another memory. Riding across Wyoming, in the middle of nowhere, I was just sitting back and relaxing - nowhere near what I felt in Colorado though. All of a sudden, we come up to an intersection (I have no idea where) and for one instant, everything was just right. For some reason coming up to that intersection, I looked at the stop sign. I've seen thousands of them in my life, and most of the time, the car/bike doesn't stop completely, as you're on the way somewhere or in a hurry. Behind the stop sign was nothing - a desert-looking mountain valley with the peaks way off in the distance, and the road . That was one stop sign that I made a complete stop at, and took just a second to realize where I was, and where I wasn't. I was, as Jeff recently put it, in a hurry to get nowhere.
At the Belvidere Oasis, with the rain pouring out it's fury behind us, Adam, as he was getting ready to saddle back up, said something that truly came from the heart. "Guys," he said. "Thank you. I hope that ten years from now somebody can help you get back into something you used to do." I had seen a different side of Adam on this trip, the Adam who will go cop-a-squat and take a minute to let everything set in. When he said this to us, I realize what I really did for him. He's in a much different place in his life now than he was when he used to take these trips with us - and different is the operative word. I don't think he ever forgot what taking trips was about, as that would be hard to do. He just needed a little help getting back there, and I was glad I could help.
But what Adam probably doesn't realize is that he showed me an awful lot on this trip. He introduced Jeff and I to National Forest camping for starters, which I had no clue about before. That's not what I'm talking about though. Watching Adam through this trip, I saw something that really helped to solidify my own thoughts and feelings about trips like this: Make the most out of every moment of every day. If that means you take a couple minutes before setting up camp to sit back and relax, or spend a few more minutes at an overlook to just take it all in, or make an unexpected stop to take a look at something you don't see every day, do it. Also, nighttime during these trips with Adam tends to lead to lots of talk about life. We exchanged lots of stories about the trips we've all taken, and those stories are great. Listening to him talk about how different things are now made me realize that even though things change, they can still be the same. Different isn't bad, and change is both necessary and a good thing. I could tell talking to Adam that he is a very happy guy, and as much as he enjoyed the trip, he knows that it's just a small journey and life itself is so much more. I can see the differences in Jeff over the past couple years as well (they're pretty damn obvious) and as much crap as I give him about baskets and potpourri, I know that different is also good for him and a key to his happiness. Why shouldn't it be? Life too for me is much different than the last time I was in the Rocky Mountains, and I'm glad that the differences in my life over the past year have come about. There are different things in each of our lives that bring us happiness, and it was letting those things in that brought us to where we are now. I don't ever want to stop letting new and different things influence my life. Without those, you're not growing as a person. I think it's OK to fear the unknown, but to avoid the unknown is to deny yourself the possibility for happiness, and that's what life is all about.
Life is good. But life is also different, and that's what makes it good.