Ya know working sucks your soul dry and oft time the drudgery of must do's in life such as keeping a farm going, working, house chores, cooking, etc...makes one feel like a hamster on treadmill. With a wedding and family reunion coming up in North Dakota on my boyfriend Dan's side of the family, we decided a mere 400 miles to Yellowstone was a much needed jaunt to replenish ourselves despite a tight budget and Dan being laid off for the 7 months. We squeezed out the cash to set aside and headed out anyways. Looking at the weather just prior to leaving set our plans askew. Snow, 20 something temps at night and the thought of tenting it there under those conditions didn't seem very vacation like and relaxing. Fleeting thoughts of being trapped in the mountains andthe Donner party came into my mind. So, at the last minute, we decided to pull the mats from the faded, old red 3 horse stock trailer. Dan threw in 2 motorcycle chocks and I pulled the gear from the pull behind motorcycle trailer and restocked the dressing room/ tack area of the trailer, feeling like a bit of a motorcycle riding woosie. It kept going through my head that real bikers would be tenting it and not worrying about getting stuck up in the mountains on bikes with snowy road conditions and bears sniffing thier tents at night. Would we be RUBS or just look like Michigan rednecks in this old rig with all our Coleman camping gear? Bikers tend to judge each other more than horsepeople do and I decided not to care. We would still going and we could ride our hearts out when we got there, with a sound back up plan in case of inclement weather.
The first stop was Bismarck, N.D. Dan's sister put us to work as soon as our feet hit the ground, food, putting up chairs, decorating for the wedding and pulling everything down again. We did get to sneak away with a Dan's niece and his wife the morning of the wedding to ride the rolling hills of the plains which were dressed out in verdant green, bright spring flowers and topped by an azure clear blue sky that I felt I would just take off and soar right into as I rode upward torward on each hill top. No bugs mind you and a melody of spring flower scent carried on wafts of sharp, clean, cool artic air still felt at times in the day's ever warming breeze.
Euphoria. I could have easily blown off the wedding and ridden all day. Warm sun, no helmet, perfect temperature, and lots of new road to be discovered, winding out into the vastness of the plains.
Family obligation called however and we dutifully slipped our bikes around and headed back for the afternoon's wedding ceremony. We camped two day's with Dan's son Josh, heard his music and his dreams for his life,sipping homebrewed beer around blazing campfire. Pulled up stakes and headed for Billings, MT.
We toured Pictograph Caves, the homesite of General Custer where Dan had hand made part of the stairway bannister in the restored replica of his house, but had never seen it up and completed before. On to the Custer Battlefield where Custer and his soldiers fell with the retelling of the story from a young Crow indian who let us know that he was the great , great nephew of Curley, Custer's personal scout. Stories of the event had been passed down in his family. Hearing it all was incredible. Packing up again, we headed to Yellowstone taking the east entrance in at evening. Tunnels through mountain face, long shadows cast by evening sun, a snow runoff engorged river below us rushing through the cannon, bison grazing on hillsides and the site of three lazily ambling grizzly bear at seperate points filled us with awe. We got to Bridge Bay Campground as the lowsetting sun added golden hues to the intense blue of Yellowstone Lake. We unpacked enough to cook some dinner and settled in for the night. A black bear and her cub huffed and softly barked alarm when I peered out the trailer window to see the she bear peering back up at me around 2:00 am. I was glad then for the metal of the trailer around us.
In the morning after cooking a big breakfast, we mounted up and took to the roads of Yellowstone. The park is like of microcosm of the terrain of the United States. Sharp peaked mountains with narrow two lane roads hugging into the mountainside, no guard rails, riding the top of the burned out tree line, in upward billowing mist anda 6 foot wall of snow banking the mountianside partially hanging overtop, looking like it was going to let loose and slip off carrying the bikes and us with it. Turns up there as tight as the Dragon at Deal's Gap and in places, thin patches of black ice that I could feel my back wheel slip on a bit despite the measured slow speed we were proceeding at , at that point. Coming off Mt. Washburn, we came back into sun and a rich green valley filled with hundred's of grazing bison. Mountain rock changes in a mere 50 yards there from rich red to granite grey. From the valleys we rode through rolling hills with hairpin switchbacks that reminded me of pictures I have seen of Ireland. Geyser's, mud pots, bubbly, rotten egg smelling, cream grey sulfur cauldrons and turquiose colored hotsprings make the land unique. I could spend a summer there just riding and hiking and still not see enough. Riding up on a buffalo and having one young bull shake his head playfully, leave the herd and start galloping parralel to my bike was pretty exciting and unerving. As he came closer, I pulled down to full stop and he crossed the road and started coming torward me, snorting. Thank GOD, he took interest in rubbing on a pulled over minivan across from me and got distracted. We had elk, a moose and her calf, coyote, also run out into the road around us. Good thing for the slow speed limit. Whew.
Going in June despite the wide variances in weather and temperature afforded us relatively tourist free riding.26 degrees at night and warming to 60's in the day riding in and out of patches of rain. Biking goes at 35 to 40 mph but allowed us to drink in the incredible scenery.
We stayed 5 days and rode the park each day, then headed out for the Grand Tetons.
Riding in the Grand Tetons was not all that whow. Since they rise up so steeply there are a hikers paradise but bikers see little variance in altitude, having to be confined to the tar roads of the valleys. Sort of boring after the hilly roads of the Yellowstone but much to see. Soft moss colored sage and brilliant deep purple lupine in bloom against honey gold and black rock mountain ridges. We could see a rainstorm building and coming in with plenty of time to don raingear. A group of 15 riders ahead of us on the highway to Jackson Hole weren't prepared for the high winds and torrents of rain streaming down and quickly looked like hapless sodden sewer rats within minutes of the storm's assualt. There was no place to get away and seek shelter on that open road. Lightening cracked in thick wide yellow bolts and the ground beneath us trembled. As more rain was on the way for the next few days, we headed for the Black Hills, SD as we turned for home.
Sun and warmth felt good after 2 weeks in the mountains. The black hills are riding bliss. Long country tar roads, hardly any traffice, stop lights, irritating cars and trucks, just rolling along. We only could stay 4 days, but got in Needles highway, the pigtails, Deadwood,and alot of loops. A big storm building and letting loose kept us from rolling into Sturgis. But there always is a next time. Now I am wishing the West was not so far away distance wise. Idaho calls as does the West Coast Pacific highway...... My soul is replenished and I am decent to be around again. Got the hay in and looking at how many more vacation days I have left for one more summer adventure. My wish for you all is that your summer be as good as this.
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