I learned very early in my stint with the Marine Corps the phrase "remember the nine P's: Proper Prior Planning, Preparation, and Practice Prevent Piss Poor Performance". Since then I have attempted to use that concept as much as possible. It has saved me considerable headaches and money over the years.
In September of 2005, I attended a seminar given by Clement Salvadori of Rider Magazine at South Sound BMW, the subject of which was riding the Continental Divide from Canada to Mexico on a dirt bike. The concept intrigued me for a number of reasons: 1) I had purchased a 2002 R1150GS for the purpose of opening up a great many new roads to ride, 2) I had spent a fair amount of time in the Colorado and Wyoming back country in previous years, 3) it sounded like a ride that would not encounter many other motorcycles, and 4) it sounded like a very interesting challenge for someone who was not all that familiar with riding off pavement.
The concept was essentially forgotten for several years, until late 2013, when it came to me that a) at 69, I might not have a lot more off pavement rides left in me, b) I wanted to get a number of my old riding buddies together again, and c) the GCDR included a lot of roads I had not ridden before which were likely to be very interesting.
My brother showed some interest in it, as did several other riding buddies in the Puget Sound area, so I began to investigate what it would take to do the ride.
Very soon it became evident that the logistics of getting to the start point and getting home afterward were going to be a major part of the effort. Eureka MT is 550 miles from my home and about the same from Jim's home in Kersey, CO. Steamboat Springs was to be the end point the first year, and it was 1350 miles from my home. 1350 miles on a dirt-bike saddle can be a fairly torturous experience, so several other options were explored.
Having someone deliver us to the start and retrieve us from the end point was certainly an option, but also required a lot of time, effort, and cost on the part of non-participants. This was eventually thrown out as an option.
With one exception, all of the riders were in their sixties. This presented another interesting nuance to the planning. What if someone had a heart-attack or crashed and broke a leg? The "penalty clause" for such an event would be pretty severe, probably entailing cancellation of the remainder of the ride.
It also occurred to us that to search for a motel at the end of a long riding day was not going to be very enjoyable, so we decided to make motel reservations at specific points along the way and deal with extra riding time or extra relaxation time as we got to it.
Preparation included purchasing larger tanks, and various guards to prevent rocks from damaging critical items on the bikes, upgrading some riding gear, copying maps of the route, converting the route into GPS coordinates, making motel reservations, making sure we had spares of critical parts that were likely to break in a "get-off", and one rider even purchasing a set of tires ahead of time and having them shipped to the end point for the ride home.
Since several of us were going to ride a motorcycle that we did not have much experience on, we made some trial runs ahead of time on local routes with complete luggage and gear to make sure everything was going to ride well, not fall off, and not upset the balance of the machine on steep hills.
The ride went off essentially without a hitch. In fact it could easily be considered a text-book event. There were no real break-downs, no injuries, several tip-overs with no consequences other than damaged egos, and mostly excellent weather. The worst incidents were getting twenty feet of baling wire wrapped around a rear axle, getting doused thoroughly in a water crossing, running up some dead-end roads and having to turn around, and a couple instances of running out of gas. In all cases the problem was rectified in short order and the ride continued on with little or no delay.
We all met at the home of a friend of Jim Canfield in Marion, MT a day before we were to start the ride. It was a wonderful way to relax for a few hours before undertaking the journey. The next day we rode through Whitefish and Eureka to the Canadian border in order to say we had started there. We then rode back to the Ksanka motel in Eureka, where we overnighted.
Ksanka Motel, Eureka, MT
Breakfast in Eureka
DAY ONE, August 11: Eureka to Big Fork
The first day of "the ride" we took Grave Creek road starting a few miles south of Eureka, and headed east into the back country. At first the road was a real nice paved, narrow road with no lane markings, then it turned into a typical mountain gravel road, and eventually became a fairly rough, rocky back country road before we dropped down into the Tuchuck creek area, and came out at Trail Creek. From there we paralleled the Flathead River, along a wide, wash-boarded, very dusty gravel road. There were occasional signs along the road "20 Miles per hour limit when dust present." If we had not had handkerchiefs over our nose and mouth we would have been choking the whole time. The dust was amazing! All the while we were in and out of residential areas withhomes and cabins along the Glacier National Park boundary until we ran out of dirt.
Along the way we passed Red Meadow road, which was on our original itinerary, but realized we could continue eating dust and ride straight into the Columbia Falls area, so we did that. Once in Columbia Falls, we took paved roads to Big Fork, MT., where we took one look at the place where we had reservations and decided it was not going to work. After some calling around and a short ride, we stayed at the Timbers Motel. They were very accommodating and provided a couple of roll-away beds. The town of Big Fork was interesting to walk through and look at tourist attractions.
One of the coolest comments I heard on the trip was Charlie, who at one of the stops in breath-taking scenery, said "This is what I came for!"
Timbers Motel, Big Fork MT
DAY TWO - August 12: Big Fork to Seeley Lake
Next day we rode south along dirt roads that paralleled the pavement, occasionally getting a glimpse of the mountain range across the way, and again, in a fair amount of dust. At one point a dump truck appeared, with what amounted to no room to pass. However I had no choice, so just squeezed between the truck and the brush over on the right side. Apparently everyone else did the same thing, as no one had a problem. Eventually we got back onto pavement and burned south toward the Seeley Lake area. Being in the lead I had to make some interesting decisions. With five riders behind me, I had to be thinking about them all the time. At one point we came up on a car that was running a little under the speed limit, so naturally we all bunched up behind it, and now we also had an RV behind us. I decided that we needed to get around the car, to when it was safe to pass, turned the wick up and went by him about ten over the speed limit. Afterwards I slowed down to about five over, thinking that we would slowly pull away from him and the RV most likely would not pass him. WRONG!
Batting along down the highway between tall trees on both sides, I noticed a motel on the right which I realized as I went past was ours. Without thinking I put on the brakes and pulled over on a very narrow shoulder, and immediately stacked up all the bikes, the RV, the car, and another pickup behind us, very narrowly avoiding an accident. Needless to say, I was chastised for my sudden stop, and rightfully so. It did make me wonder though, what would have happened had a deer jumped out right in front of me causing me to make a panic stop. It probably would have been gruesome! The motel where we stayed was the Montana Outback motel, which was essentially renting a box to sleep in for the night. Nothing fancy, but served the purpose.
One of several dead-ends we encountered.
Lunch at a wayside real estate/grocery/gas/eating establishment.
Montana Pines Motel/RV Park, Seeley Lake, MT
DAY THREE - August 13:Seeley Lake to Helena
Leaving Seeley Lake we took NF road 477 the back way into the Minture Creek area and came out onto Hwy 200 at Ovando. From there we rode a short loop south and then northeast again back to Hwy 200, which we crossed into the Kleinschmidt Flat area. Gorgeous country here, and we then climbed out of the area and rode over Huckleberry Pass on NF road 4106. More gorgeous country! We arrived back on Hwy 200 at Lincoln, where we had a scrumptious lunch.
Out of Lincoln we took 4135 and crossed the Divide at Stemple Pass, made a wrong turn onto Gravelly Range road and came out at Canyon Creek. Not wanting to ride pavement, we got back onto dirt at Canyon Creek and rode into Marysville. Heading back up onto the Divide we stopped to admire the view while Rick and Charlie rode up onto Mt. Belmont to check out a tower installation. From there we rode down a 4WD track that had us clearing a tree to get through, after which we rode right up onto a herd of at least 50 cow elk, with two younger bulls, no doubt enjoying their harem priveleges!
Next was Mullan pass and a quick ride down 1805 to Birdseye, followed by pavement into Helena. Helena was wild, with the Montana drivers and immediate highway culture shock after doing dirt all day!
What wouldn't we do for a fly-fishing outfit right now!
Huckleberry Pass road.
Jim C on the Continental Divide
Jim R. adjusting a farkle.
Day Four - August 14: Helena to Dillon
Leaving Helena, we took Grizzly Gulch road up into the foothills, while it started to rain. The road looked like it might get too slick, but we had plenty of time, so continued upward through Unionville and down into Lump Gulch, then pavement into Clancy. At Clancy we again turned upward along Clancy Creek until the road became a two-track, then a fork in the road. Rick, Charlie, Phil, and Jim C took the left fork, so we followed, and the road got worse and worse until I decided to stop, even though Rick, Jim C, Charlie, and Phil were well out of site. I struggled to turn around, then started back downhill, only to find Jim R., parked in the road, struggling to remove about fifteen feet of baling wire from his rear axle and chain. He obviously could use some help, so I bailed off and assisted him in extricating the wire from the axle, sprocket, and chain. Whatta mess! Fortunately no damage was apparent, so the two of us continued back down to the fork in the road and waited for the rest of the crew. Eventually they showed up and announce that there was a sign up there that said the ground was unstable and no one was to pass through there.
At that point the group decided to take the right fork, so we immediately crossed a creek and started up a grade. It was obvious to me very quickly that I had no business going up that grade, since it was steep, rocky, and rutted. As I shook my head, Rick and Charlie rode around the group and blasted up the hill to the top while we watched. They disappeared, and made it look fairly easy, so I figured they were now in the lead and maybe I could make it. Very soon after I started up I saw a big rut in the road and of course got stuck in it, then the rut stopped, but was too deep for me to ride out of it, so I was stuck! The remaining riders walked up to help me extricate myself and the bike without falling down, and we all went back down the hill.
At that point I was pretty worn out, kinda bent out of shape because those two guys seemed to just ride off and leave us, and somewhat embarrassed that I was unable to follow them. When they eventually returned I was kinda short with Rick and asked why they took off. A short argument ensued, after which we all calmed down and turned around to head back down and toward the Interstate. Later in the day we both apologized, and as far as I know, there have been no hard feelings since.
Not wanting to take the superslab, we started south on a paved frontage road, but after about five miles came to the end, with no way to get through the barbed wire fence onto the interstate, so we rode back to Jefferson City where we got on I-15 and headed for Butte, where we had lunch at a Wendy's.
Leaving Butte, we rode I-16 south, over the Divide, through Deer Lodge and into Divide, where we turned west on pavement and rode to Wise Creek. South out of Wise Creek was a wonderful twisty paved road that was a joy to negotiate. It was so much fun we eventually stopped at a hairpin curve to have Jim C take a video of the group riding up the road and around the curve.
We eventually came out onto Hwy 278 and Harrison Ranch, where we stopped for a breather. Heading east on 278, it started to rain on us, and fairly soon Charlie pulled over, saying he was running out of gas. I gave him my extra quart of gas, which we figured would get him into Dillon. After that we pulled back out on the highway to catch up with the gang, which we did very quickly, since Jim R was now alongside the road, out of gas. this even though he has one of the biggest tanks of the group. Turned out his reserve stop-cock was not working properly, so we gave him enough gas to get into town. By this time it was raining pretty hard, and we were all wanting to find the motel as fast as possible to reduce the amount of water in our luggage. First we had to get gas though, which fortunately put us under a canopy, while we waited for a local rancher to move his rig and 6-horse trailer out of the way. He was in no hurry, so eventually another pump opened up and we all got fuel. The motel had a nice canopy out front, which was very convenient, but we had to park our motorcycles in the rain overnight. Probably good, because they had a fair amount of mud on them after the morning's ride in the mountains.
Sure looks like rain is coming!
Ah, another dead-end!
Refueling in the rain after running out in the rain!
Day Five - August 15:Dillon to Island Park
Leaving Dillon, we headed west on 278 to the Bannack State Park turnoff. From here south was gravel and dirt, through some absolutely beautiful low foothills and some mountains in the background. We eventually hit highway 324 and headed east on pavement to the turn off for Medicine Lodge road. Again heading south, we passed between two scenic mountain ranges, coming to a tee at Bannack Pass road. There we turned left onto the Big Sheep Gulch National Scenic Byway, and headed east, coming out at Dell, where we took the frontage road south to Lima. Being lunch time and essentially only one place to eat, we parked in front of Jan's Cafe and walked inside to get something to eat.
Jan's place was quite the tourist spot in a totally out-of-the-way place. There were souvenirs, tee shirts, postcards, and a waitress that looked like she had been supporting the local cosmetician and tanning salon for years, run hard, and put away wet. She had eyelashes and fingernails about a foot long, a quarter of an inch of makeup on her face, a large wad of hair on her head, and a tight dress. I was so taken aback I couldn't keep my eyes off this spectacle! I had to have a picture, so waited until she was taking Rick's order to do so. I asked her name and how long she had worked there. 30 years I think she said, and her husband was the owner and cook. She was working the restaurant all by herself, and doing a very efficient job of it. She served the food promptly, and except for a short wait to pay, everything went quite efficiently.
Leaving that place, we ran east on gravel, passing Lima reservoir, then out across cropland for a ways, to a hard right turn to the south, eventually crossing Lyon's Bridge and running into Red Rocks Pass Road. There we turned east and ran about 35 miles, spoiling an antelope hunt for a couple of bowhunters, and crossing the Divide again at Red Rock Pass. As we passed Meadow Vue ranch, we encountered a herd of cattle being moved along the highway between the barbed wire fences. There were a couple of cowboys riding herd, with a pickup and horse trailer following them. The pickup was being driven by a young boy about ten years old, and doing a good job at that! Soon after that we got back on pavement, turned right onto Hwy 20 and rode south into Island Park.