It was good to get back on the road following the enforced stop-over in Bozeman, even though I was now carrying a weariness with me regarding the time spent travelling. 108 days away from home, closing on 4 months, I realised was pretty much my limit in terms of time away from the most excellent Mrs Pat. My time was running out, as were my finances, so the decision was made to skip Calgary and its world famous stampede, but to ride a more direct heading towards Alaska. Rodeo and the stampede had been one of my ´would really like to dos´ for this trip – but they were competing against my last remaining ´must do´ - and that was get to Alaska! So the game was on, sights were set firmly north, and we rolled out of Bozeman early on a clear and fresh Saturday morning.
The freshness remained with us for a while, but the clear skies seemed to disappear almost as soon as we left the town limits! Taking my usual option of avoiding the interstate, we rode alongside the 90 through some small villages as the weather darkened and rain set in. Turning north on the 287 the road was in a pretty bad state. They called it ´chip sealed´ which I took to mean a scattering of loose chippings were bedded into the road surface by some sort of tar-based sealant. However it looked just like loose stones on the road, and often it was just that. Progress was slow, and I was getting increasingly unhappy about Idris´ handling... again! I first put it down to the new rear tyre being scrubbed in on a wet day... then I thought it might be that coupled with the patches of loose stones on the road (they were very hard to spot in advance, but easy to feel once on top of them as the bike squirmed under load).
But as I pulled away from a traffic light near Helena and slipped three teeth on the rear sprocket I realised there was something more fundamental adrift. Rolling to the side of the road evidenced an extremely loose chain. Ah, thought I, poor chain adjustment when refitting the wheel after the rear tyre change. 200 meters easy riding and I was into the small car park of a convenience store, you know... the type that sells fresh coffee all day long. So a quick chat to the attendant and I was furnished with my breakfast (hot coffee and cereal bar) and readily given permission to turn his car park into a makeshift workshop. Even at moments like this, I still had the feeling of the good luck on my side... the rain had stopped and the sun was now shining. Convenient that!
Straight to it, and on getting out my tools I quickly realised that something wasamiss with the rear spindle nut – it was not showing any thread, but sitting right at the end of the bar getting ready to fall off with a few more turns! Pulling Idris up onto its centre stand confirmed the fact that the rear wheel was well and truly loose, as it wobbled on the less than finger tight spindle. It had also vibrated against the chain tensioners and caused them to slacken off, hence the slipping chain and sprocket. An easy fix... and thankfully I had not lost the nut on the road somewhere – as I was not carrying anything near that size in spares (for me or the bike!). Failing to properly tighten the rear spindle nut on replacing the rear wheel was a basic workshop error which could have gone badly wrong. But in my heart I couldn´t feel any anger at the guys in Bozeman who bust a gut during a holiday week to get me rolling again. I checked off the other nuts and bolts that might have been looked at during the service, and all were fine, and the adjustment of the rear wheel was also completed in time to sip from my still hot cup of coffee.
And then some locals rolled up for supplies, so the opportunity to chat to some real characters was not to be missed. I had a lovely sincere blessing to see me on my way from a rare old chap after an interesting conversation about Celtic music. I´m not sure I even got his name, but he sported a most impressive beard and added something to the morning´s events... and consequently added to the whole experience of this fab land.
And then Idris was back!! Well, perhaps not at 100% of its previous handling, but more than enough to return some much needed confidence in its abilities to see me through to the finish line. It is a curious way of looking at this part of the journey, when I start to talk about the finish line, but it is those exact words that I noted in my day book that day. I was counting down the days, and on a race to the finish.
The race did, however, take us through some pretty rolling plains with grass and cereal crops abound. This coupled with the very low levels of traffic was sufficient to take my mind away from the worries of the last few days, and to enjoy the ride as miles were racked up.
Rolling into the pretty town of Augusta the warmth of the day was now demanding a stop to take on fluids, and I pulled up outside a pretty wooden shop front (which was not tricky as a lot of the shops were of an oldy-worldy nature here). And it was not long before I was invited to sit on the rocking chairs set on the front porch and shoot the breeze with its owner. We didn´t literally shoot any breeze in Augusta, the wind of late not having given me cause to be aggravated, but if we wanted to this was the right place to be... I had pitched up at the town´s gun shop. A very memorable chat ensued and the time just flew by. Nice people in Montana. I was left with the growing conclusion that if I was ever faced with the situation that I might have to live in the US, I think Montana would be towards the top of the list (accepting that I had not seen the place mid-winter!).
Back on the road, and the day´s events had conspired to take the wind out of my sails. It was only mid afternoon, and I had not covered my planned distance (but nothing new there!). I was thinking about calling it a day and as I rolled through another small town and spied a campsite sign, I thought it a good moment to try and save a bit of cash and sleep under canvass before hitting bear country. The Choteau campsite looked good, so was the price, and the long roll of thunder that sounded my arrival was all that was needed to convince me to call it a day.
I should be honest and complete though, there were a couple of other things that occurred that day before my head it the pillow. With the storm still being a way off I headed into town and bagged myself one of the best steaks to date... followed by a damn fine black and blue pie (blackberry and blueberry). If you are in Choteau in northern Montana check out their local grill restaurant! Also if you are in Choteau don't park your bike on the right side of the road on chippings with the camber running away from you... and then try and get off the bike the wrong side because a truck was coming down the road. You´ll probably, like me, clip the tank with your left boot and pull the bike over on top of you as you fall over. Much to the amusement of Mr T Driver who, to his credit, did have the decency to check that I was OK before he burst out laughing. This was the forth time Idris had been dropped on this trip, and to do so from such a basic rider error brought home to me that I was indeed in need of a well earned rest! So I went to sleep with a smile and to the sound of rain drops, which was nice.
Even nicer was the clear deep blue sky that greeted us in the morning. A quick pack and the road saw us again gliding swiftly through pretty rolling plains and the Blackfeet Indian reservation as we headed towards Glacier National Park, and the sight of snow for the first time in many many days. The ride up through the park and the ´To the Sun Highway´ was well worth the slight detour west, and I would recommend its majestic peaks and stunning tree lined valleys to any biker. I didn´t see any bears though, which I took as a mixed blessing.
Columbia Falls came and went in a bit of a tourist haze, but it seemed pretty enough, and I was then shooting up the 93 for the border. Canada was calling, and I was about to answer. And what an easy conversation it was at the small crossing at Roosville, a 20 minute wait in the short line of traffic, a quick passport show to the nice lady in the booth (whom I had to ask to stamp the thing) and there I was riding Idris into my last country on the list.
The scenery around Glacier National Park was wonderful and it only got better as I got a secure wheel-hold on Canadian soil. The 93 quickly switched into the 3 and then back into the 93 as we rolled through tree lined mountainous valleys with the roads taking us on rollercoaster style dips and turns. You could do this run really quickly, and we weren´t hanging around, but why would you not want to see all that you could see when the place offered so much. Mountains, snow, forest, rivers and lakes. Almost every turn of the head was an excuse to stop and fire the camera yet again.
One of the many photo stops that afternoon saw me having a great chat with a few Harley bikers from Calgary, a 60 year old chap (who could have passed for 45!) and a couple of ladies, who were very generous with their time and advice about places to see and where to stop. Seems I´m finding that there are nice people not only in Montana, but throughout the whole of the Americas. I moved on, and settled on a quiet motel on the side of lake Windermere in the small town of the same name. A pretty spot and one which I welcomed for the night. I was chasing Alaska, but now determined to absorb as much of Canada as I could along the way.
Thought for the day
My thoughts these days saw me running from concern over the bike through to wonder (again) at the people and places that I encounter in this journey. I meet many people as I travel through and our lives touch, and I´ve been thinking on how deeply such encounters affect us.
I know that the memory of moments meeting people outside a gun shop, or in a shop car park, will remain with me for a long time. But will I be changed by such encounters? I do feel changed by some of the scenes I have seen regarding children in poverty, and I know that my actions will be different as my life progresses as a result of those. The impact of that is more immediate and more noticeably felt. But what about encounters we have as adults with people from different background, different belief systems, different viewpoints and different conclusions to the same issues... do we simply take those experiences and park them in our memories like holiday snapshots, to be pulled out from time to time as mementos of a wonderful time in days past. Or do they seep into our consciousness and help mould us in new ways, perhaps into someone more tolerant and wise?
These were my thoughts as I tucked into a most excellent oriental dinner in the quiet town of Windermere... a town comprised of different backgrounds and cultures... yet appears to succeed in harmonious beauty.