WanderlustBy Sam Lepore

Subject: WanderRockies 8 - Big Sky, Montana
Date: Tue, 25 Jul 2000 21:57:51 -0700

    Now THAT'S what I call Rockies!

    What a difference a day makes, or in this case, 54,725 days. Yesterday I crossed and followed for a while both the Overland Trail and the Oregon Trail. One hundred and fifty years ago, the migrating settlers would have greatly preferred not to have to cross the mountains. Thanks to today's technology, I seek those mountains to play.

    Trick question: What river runs through the Wind River Canyon? Obvious, no? No. The Big Horn River. (Not the Little Big Horn, by the way, the big Big Horn.) Izzat clear? Ok, then through what mountains is the canyon carved? Strange, but the Wind River Range is about 60 miles away. So how did the Owl Creek Mountains get that canyon? Such mysteries of seemingly unrelated naming can be found on almost any Indian reservation, as in fact this is.
    Whatever its name, the canyon is magnificent. The view and the road rank on the scale of the Feather River Canyon in Northern California. Thirty two miles of sheer (as in cliff) beauty cavort between rock and road and railroad from Shoshoni to Thermopolis. This *is* worth going out of your way to see.
    And as long as you are out of your way already, you may as well stop and see the world's largest mineral hot spring in aptly named Thermopolis. The spring cascades down a hill and forms a multi-hued stalactite cliff into the river. You can lay in different pools as the water perks downward. The pools are labeled with their temperature, starting at well above scalding. Occasionally someone ignores a sign and spectators are treated to the thrash dance of the human lobster.
    All along the Wind River Canyon are signs naming the outcrops of rocks by their archaeologic age, starting from 500-600 million years down to the mere babies of 200 million years. Kinda gives another view of the adage "this too shall pass".

    It is easy to become philosophical in the presence of such visual wonders. I am tempted to ask myself, as you have no doubt already done, why do I do this? Why do I spend days and days just riding. It is not about 'freedom', for I am free to do it. It is not 'escape' because there is nothing to get away from. It is not to be in 'control', because there is no one to control but me. Some people believe if you are not doing something useful, then you are wasting time. I think the end answer is that by putting you into the environment, riding makes you experience through motion the passing of the time you are using. Traveling is useful for where it gets you. Riding is useful for how you get there. Especially when "there" is just the starting point for the next ride. A Volkswagen commercial says "In life there are passengers and there are drivers." Little do they realize. There are vehicle occupants and there are riders. I ride.

    The view from Dead Indian Pass is stunning. Wave after wave of the Absaroka Range of mountains ripple off into the distance to form the east flank of Yellowstone. Squint your eyes to edge out the green valley below, and you can imagine the waves moving like terrestrial ocean breakers. In a sense, they are the 'storm surge' of a tectonic tide.
    Now open your eyes and follow the amazing WY296 (incredibly, *not* marked scenic on AAA maps!) down what could honestly be called the American Grossglockner. This is the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway, following the trail the Nez Perce used to try to escape to Canada. How they made it over this pass on foot "in secret" to elude the cavalry, I'll never understand. The paved road, safe for a neighborhood on wheels (RV), is treacherous enough. (By the way, the sign just before the summit says: Grizzly Area. Special Rules Apply.)
    But sigh. It ends, as all roads must. But where does it end? At the bottom of the Beartooth Scenic Byway, perhaps the longest alpine passage above the treeline I've ever ridden. On this clear and bright day, at 2 pm at the top it is cold enough to need a heavy jacket (and I consider using the electrics even after roasting on the plains way back there at noon). Wildflowers in the alpine meadows, racing to spend themselves in the short summer, veritably shriek their colors to the sky. Yellow, pink, purple, orange, and red highlight every corner, like the frantic highlighting in a textbook by a student cramming to study every significant item of wisdom. If this test is for beauty, the flowers pass! (pun: with flying colors :)

    Just a few miles beyond Red Lodge I detour to try to find Bob's MotorWorks in Roberts, Montana. Bob has been active on the motorcycle mailing lists and since I'm "in the area" I thought to say hello. Unfortunately, the girl in the one gas station in town has never heard of Bob. When I stepped outside to the bike, I met Terry Funk, a member of the Montana BMW Riders, who happened to see my bike and came over. We performed the appropriate secret handshakes and rituals of biker meeting biker (i.e. chatted about rides in the area), then he told me Bob's was indeed only a couple miles distant. Meaning, 3 miles up a dirt road. Sorry, Bob. I've had my fill of dirt for this trip.
    So instead I head off toward Bozeman on a wonderful little side road with the attention stealing visage of the Beartooth Mountains as window dressing. Tempting as the view was, I've learned that's when you can't afford to be distracted. Had I not been diligently doing my SIPDE before and after glancing at a Farm For Sale sign, I might have 'bought the farm' in a different way. A medium brown fur moved in the brush. Day deer. A buck jumped on the road from behind a tree. Not even close - but it was because I was paying attention.

    Montana's motto may be the 'last best place', but it is also the land of convolution. I tried to buy a drink and pre-pay for gas with a card at a station, but they did not have pre-authorization - you have to pump before paying to add anything to the total. Then I stopped at a cafe where the menu (seriously!) said: T-bone 2.95 (with meat 8.75). And at one motel the big sign outside said "Smokers Welcome" but the office door was marked "ALL rooms non smoking". This same place had another sign "NO cats, but tell us if you have a dog. We have special rooms for them."

    And yes, Virginia, there really is a Big Sky, Montana.

426 miles
Riverton WY789 WY120 WY296 US212 MT78 I-90 US191 Big Sky
Sam Lepore, San Francisco

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