I had a week to spare and a motorcycle just waiting to be ridden. What else could I do but ride to Yellowstone National Park?
In This Motorcycle Travel Article You Will Discover:
- Riding Routes to Yellowstone
- Small Town Americana
- Why Camping Alone is Creepy
It is the first morning on the road when adventure truly begins. For me, on my solo motorcycle trip to Wyoming, this meant waking up at a fleabag motel in Coeur d’Lane, Idaho. Three Harley Davidsons — brethren in ethos, if not in steed — work well as an alarm clock when fired-up simultaneously outside your window.
I had left Vancouver yesterday; Labour Day. I carved up Washington State’s scenic North Cascades Highway, zipped past massive hydroelectric dams and motored through character townsites like Wild West-themed Winthrop while I basically just tried to put as many kilometres between myself and my home before nightfall. A lovely ride, sure, and one full with fellow motorcyclists as well. But it is when you awaken in a strange bed that you truly feel gone.
My destination is Yellowstone National Park, in the northwest corner of Wyoming. Having visited Colorado just a month earlier, Wyoming remained the only Western State I had not yet visited. This, along with my special affinity for hot springs and that I had always wanted to see Old Faithful seemed like more than enough reasons to head southeast for a week.
Leaving the lovely lakeside town of Coeur D’Lane, I know today is all about miles and lots of them. My set destination is Gardiner, Montana — the gateway to Yellowstone, some 800 km off. I blast east on Interstate 90. Normally I eschew highways that start with “I” — they offer nothing for the motorcyclist but dull-straight super-slab and aggressive traffic, but this time it’s the only logical route to cut across the skinny north end of Idaho and into the Great Plains of Montana.
Now, on a fancy BMW touring bike, 800 km is peanuts. On my rough-and-tumble KLR650, it’s a grind. Thankfully, I had installed a 16-tooth front sprocket on my bike earlier in the year; raising the overall gear ratio and allowing for easy 125 km/h cruising. If you’ve ever been on an American Interstate — you know to at least keep pace with the 18-wheelers.
An hour into Montana, I begin to regret my decision to ride the Interstate today. The scenery is lackluster. The crosswinds are brutal. And I’m burning a lot of gas at these speeds. I pull over to a roadside cantina — The Nut Shack — for a burger and fuel. Their specialty is Prairie Oysters — that is, deep fried bull testicles. Normally I immerse myself in local culture and cuisine, but I just can’t do it. Nothing about Prairie Oysters sounds appealing. Nor can I get gas — the pump looks like it hasn’t been serviced since the Eisenhower administration. I trust not what flows from within.
My decision to pass gas almost turns foul — my KLR650 runs onto its reserve tank earlier than I expect, thanks to the headwind I’m now facing, and I ride for nearly 60 km before I find a service station in Deer Lodge, MT. I had never put 20 litres of fuel into my tank before — until today.
Livingston, MT, some 700 km from where I started this morning, represents a coup. I am officially turning off the Interstate and am now dead in-line with Gardiner. Sure, the crosswinds pick up and the temperature begins to drop as my elevation increases, but I don’t care. Tetons and freestone streams break up the scenery. The dinner hour approaches and I enter Gardiner, grab a riverside campsite at Rocky Mountain Campground and wash a medium ham-and-pineapple down with a Shock Top Ale at Outlaw Pizza. Good night.
The sun has been up for less than two hours by the time I finish my cheesy-eggy-fatty breakfast burrito, ride under the Roosevelt Arch and enter Yellowstone. I require yet another campsite, yes, but my number-one mission of the day is to find the elusive Boiling River Hot Springs and have a soak.
Hot springs are my favourite natural phenomenon — the more au natural the better. Liard River Hot Springs, in Northern BC, had previously ranked as my fave outdoor bathtub — but Boiling River takes the crown. Here, superheated water seeps from the Earth and mixes perfectly with the frigid Gardiner River — you find your perfect temperature and let your cares evaporate. (Which I do, for some unknown amount of time…)
Mammoth Springs Campsite appears some three kilometres further into the park. It’s rustic, and apparently frequented by grizzly bears, but it’s as good as any. I set up, upload my bike and set out for a park-tour.
It seems many times that I have pictured Yellowstone in my head, I was actually picturing Yosemite in Northern California. Rather than the high mountains and shear cliffs, Yellowstone is 9,000 sq-km expanse of tetons, wind-swept alpine plains, canyons, rivers and volcanic activity. In fact, it is the latter that really gives Yellowstone its character. Everywhere you look, a new boiling pit of water, bubbling pot of mud or steaming geyser pops up. Old Faithful isn’t the main attraction, it’s just a voice in the symphony.
Old Faithful was actually a bit of a disappointment. No, not the geyser itself — perhaps the only thing as impressive as the 30-metre violent aqua-eruption is that seismologists can predict every occurrence to within about 10 minutes. Yup, no guessing. Just check the “Old Faithful Forecast.”
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