I was packed up and on the road (191) out of Rock Springs by 5, and boy was I glad I hit the black stuff early. The road north was taking us up through the Wind River Valley, and with a name like that and with a landscape that was predominantly flat open scrubland, I had no doubt that this would be an uncomfortable ride once the heat of the day had stirred up the wind. Also it was so great to feel a nip in the air, and actually to have to put on the heated grips after so long. As we rode along at a good pace I, again, couldn´t help thinking how similar this route was to the Ruta 3 on Argentina´s Atlantic seaboard – only this stretch of the 191 did bend from time to time! Oh, and there were wild horse herds. I have no doubt that someone owned them, but so fantastic to see horses just doing what comes naturally in a space large enough to allow that.
Then we were closing on small town Bondurant (189) with the landscape growing greener, literally. And then there was an elk... right in the middle of town... stood between a couple of cars in the car park! Doing a double take, and Idris´ grumble growing closer, we gave the beast a start and off it trotted further into the residential area. A great sight, but so bizarre... it was like a scene from Northern Lights (for those who remember that series about life in Alaska).
We were heading towards Yellowstone and as soon as we had put the town behind us the road started winding through forest countryside. Beautiful, and with it still being pretty early, we were able to really enjoy the open road. Dropping a gear, picking our line through the bend, leaning in, power on, and out the other side, only to repeat seconds later. Bike riding as it should be, and despite Idris feeling a bit twitchy on the bends, I was soon into the groove... so much so that it was only after the fact did my near miss fully register. On a blind right hand bend with a beautiful river to my right we leaned in only to have the handlebars narrowly miss a deer´s backside as it stood on the side of the road feeding on the steep grassy bank. Idris had its usual impact, and the startled animal leaped majestically up the steep slope in my rear view mirror. Boy that was close, and a healthy reminder of all the tales I had read about the wildlife on the road as you got further up in the world.
Jackson (89) was lovely and a great place to stop for my morning coffee... it was still only breakfast time! The only problem was that joining the 89 meant that we had also linked up with all the tourist traffic heading to Yellowstone from the south. But first we had to ride through the most excellent Teton National Park ($20 entry to both from the lovely lady in the booth), so that was exactly what we did.
Arriving in Yellowstone you could still see some of the fire damaged areas from this year and previous wildfires the park has had to deal with, so my initial impressions left me a little disappointed. This was my fifth and penultimate ´must do´ for my trip, and I was hoping for more. And, thankfully, it was more that I got. Much, much more. This park is spectacular, and aside from the Old Faithful Geyser feeling more like a Disney show than a natural wonder given the crowds and commercialism around that spot, it has so much to offer. I spent a little while watching some of the other geysers in the area along the faultline, with less people and being so spread out there were some wondrous sights.
And as the heat of the afternoon sun started to seep through my bike suit, we headed on up towards the Madison camp site ($23 for the night) to kick back and relax. The relatively short ride was through lovely hills, but by now I had stopped enjoying handling the bike. Something was wrong. The landscape was such that wind off the mountains was channelled through and across some valleys and the wind was causing havoc with Idris. We´d been through worse... a lot worse. What was the problem here?
Bison deciding to cross the road just before the campsite destracted me from my worries, and I was soon thinking more about pitching the tent as quickly as possible and wandering over to the nearby river to get some shots of the herd. It is hard to imagine the scale of the herds that once roamed this land, but easy to understand why earlier peoples depended so heavily on that resource. The campsite was not cheap, but fab. Having had our compulsory ´bear briefing´ we were visited almost immediately by some of the smaller inhabitants keen to see what was going on.
Ground squirrels I later learned, which hibernate so (much like the bears) have to eat as much as possible in the short summer season. There must have been thousands of the beggars in the area. Much time was spent that evening watching the lumbering bison from the safety of the other side of the small river... what a place!
The next morning I awoke to a distinct chill... yes! At long last it seems we had put the unseasonable heat behind us. The early morning start saw us rolling out of the campsite with misty hills, wonderful fast flowing rivers and hot springs, but again I was not enjoying the ride. There really was something wrong. When loading the bike at the crack of dawn that morning I had noticed how easily Idris´ suspension was moving. One hand was all that was needed to push the bike right down on the rear shock absorber. And when I got on the loaded bike and the suspension grounded I knew I had lost all damping on the back. It was not going to be a fun day, but perhaps we would make it to Calgary in Canada to get that sorted.
The ride north out of the park (89) was relatively easy, but at every imperfection on the road the bike seemed to skit and bounce. Progress was slow as we headed into Paradise Valley and were hit by scenes on this wide green river valley that fitted exactly what I had hoped Montana would look like. I couldn´t help stopping a few times for coffee and just take in the views. Well, OK, not just to take in the views, but also to look the bike over... as if staring at the shock was going to convince it to give me back my much needed handling!
I limped into Livingston and quickly found the local Yamaha dealer who, sucking his teeth, suggested it was better off I took the bike somewhere else. Somewhere 35 miles away from him in fact. Somewhere in Bozeman to be exact, which had a more bike oriented Yamaha dealer and a bigger workshop. A couple of hours in the internet at a local diner, and chatting to a great bunch of old guys, I came to the same conclusion. They furnished me with a route that would get me there without the need to ride the interstate (I was not able to get the thing up beyond 40mph without it scaring me to death). Nice people in Montana. And a nice ride too, which would have been well worth doing even if the bike was in good health.
Bozeman was upon us in early afternoon and I headed direct to the dealers to discuss options. The next day was the forth of July – so it looked like this was where I would be spending the holiday. First class service from Luke saw the bike checked in and agreement on what to do (oil and filter change, plus new rear tyre, in addition to the work on the shock). Much research from Luke confirmed that no parts would be available from Yamaha in north America, so the first option was to see if it could be rebuilt. That had to wait until after the hols, so he rang around local hotels and got me a good deal for a few days. And then drove me over there and made sure I was checked in safe and sound. Nice people in Montana.
I liked Bozeman right away. It looked just like I expected a small Montana town to look. You had great views of nearby hills, and plenty of bars including a local brewery! But you´ll have to wait until next time to hear about my drunken exploits in the land of the horse whisperer!
Thought for the day
Riding from Rock Springs I wasn´t able to shrug a thought from my mind, despite the growing worries over Idris´ state. While checking out the forecast I picked up the news report of a mother who had beaten her child to death with a hammer. What the *$%&.!! Beat her own child... with a hammer... to death!! I had seen some sights in the developing nations where children were deprived of their childhood through cultural (in)difference and/or economic necessity. But here in the wealthiest country in the world, children are still at risk. This child had been deprived of its childhood... permanently! I was reminded of statements issued by Unicef noting that violence against children was not the sole province of poor countries. I also recalled reports that one fifth of children in the US are living below the poverty line. Tough facts to take in. And tough measures are needed to address them.
When Unicef talks about the rights of the child, I don´t see that as overly empowering children to be able to dictate to parents what they should and should not do, but more about developing our societies across the whole of this marvellous globe in such a way that protects the basics of that childhood. Children have the right to an upbringing that provides a safe, healthy and loving environment – where all of them have the opportunity to develop, gain an education, and reach their life potential. A mother beating her own child to death with a hammer really hit home to me that the job is far from over, that more needs to be done, and that more needs to be done in every country of the world. Unicef does this, so please help me help them help all of those that need it... and think seriously about giving a small (or large) donation to take that forward. See the links on the top right of this website for more information and how to donate. The price of a beer or two can change a life. Think about it... then act!