Thursday, 23 September 2010

American Dream

I've been away for a while. Sorry. To make up for it this is a big blog so you may want to settle down for a long read. (Or skip the reading and just look at the pictures.)

Oh dear, that was more painful than I expected. I'd only gone in for an oil change but the guys at BMW Missoula were changing the final drive oil and discovered that the whole thing was corroded. Whilst it was still working fine that wouldn't last and I needed to get a new one. (For those with about as much mechanical know how as me the “final drive” is BMWs version of a chain and sprockets. It's all encased and bullet proof – at least that's the theory. And it's VERY expensive). Obviously they would have to order the part so that meant another day or so in Missoula. The following day they replaced the drive and final drive and did one or two other jobs that I was going to get done before I hit Mexico like new spark plugs and I needed a new rear break rotor. Total bill - $4200.

Pretty sure it's not supposed to look like that!

I headed south from Missoula trying to put the bill out of my mind. There wasn't much I could do about it, at least it had been discovered at a BMW dealers and not in the middle of the Guatamala jungle and anyway, it's only money. Hum, I kept saying it but it still hurt. Anyway, that night I camped at a small place called Darby, had a good chat with four retired Americans who spend there whole time travelling around the States and in the morning headed off on some wonderful mountain roads in the general direction of Yellowstone National Park. A fantastic day riding was only interrupted by two interesting tourist stops. First was the Big Hole Battlefield site, where the Nez Perce (pronounced Nezz Purse) were slaughter by U.S. Government troops. And then further down the road I stumbled upon Nevada City. Like a scene from a Western film Nevada city was a collection of around 50 buildings all from the mid to late 19th Century. Each building was the original but all had been uprooted, moved and lovingly restored (is there any other way to restore?) at this site. I paid my $8 and wandered around. Not only had they rebuilt the buildings but each and every one of them was crammed full of furniture, products and trinkets from the era. Another example of America treasuring its history.

Moving on the road twisted up the mountainside and spat me out ontop of the Madison Valley. 50 miles later I was pulling into a campground in the foothills of Yellowstone. The only other tent in the campground belonged to a couple on a tandem bicycle. They were flying the Union flag so I went over to say hi. Huw and Carolyn were cycling from Vancouver to Florida for charity. Raising money for Shelter Box (Disaster relief) they were covering 50 miles a day, stopping off to give talks at schools and being helped along the way by the Rotary Club. It was nice to chat with someone “from home” and as it was now getting dark at 7:30 it was also nice to break the evening up a little. Whilst I always feel a little sorry be cyclists, especially when it's raining, I soon learnt that I shouldn't. It seems that everyone takes pity on them and they have been inundated with offers of beds for the nights, food and help. The following morning, as I went over to say goodbye, they pointed out that someone had left a few quarters on their table with a note saying that as it had rained in the night they might like to use the money to dry their clothes on the laundry. Needless to say there was no such note on my table! Whilst they went to dry their clothes, I let their tyres down,cut some holes in their tent and stole their cash. That'll teach them to “cycle for charity”.

Friday morning I set off early for Yellowstone. Today was going to be an excellent day. I had all day to ride into Yellowstone, and it was going to start with a trip over the famous “BeartoothPass”. This fantastic road climbs from 7,000 feet (2300 m) to 11,947 feet (4,000 m). Infamous amongst bikers this was going to be an excellent ride. And I had fantastic weather for it. The pass had been closed for snow two weeks previously and as it was now the third week in September I was pushing my luck a little. But the sun shone and I enjoyed the ride so much I turned around and did it again.

And the best thing of all was when you have finished the beartooth pass you are in Yellowstone National Park. And for once I wasn't disappointed. The park was fantastic. Famous for its geysers and hotsprings I must admit I was more taken with the wildlife. I saw a few deer and a coyote but best of all, my first every bison. How can I explain it. Well, it's not so much what it looks like - I knew what Bison would look like. It's the way it moves. Almost prehistoric, which is apt because these beasts have been roaming around Yellowstone for Millennium. I can still remember my first giraffe in Kenya and my first Nile crocodile in Ethiopia and now I have my first bison in Yellowstone. And it wasn't as if there was only one or two. There were Bison everywhere, on their own plodding along, in pairs dust bathing and in herds grazing on the plains. Awesome.

All together now - what's the difference between a buffalo and a bison..

You don't want to hit that on a motorbike

I really enjoyed Yellowstone but the night was bitterly cold (hovering around zero) and as Yellowstone is the number one place where bears attack campers (two had been killed this year) one night was enough. I was also aware that just riding a bike around Yellowstone was dangerous. The park is so full of animals that it isn't uncommon for a biker to get hit ans seriously hurt. Just the previous day a Canadian on a Harley had hit a deer. He'd broken his leg in seven places – mind you he didn't have ANY protective gear on limiting my sympathy. 

I still had one small bike issue lingering in the back of my mind. Although the new final drive was working perfectly, because it was new, I had to change to oil after 600 miles. In my rush to leave Missoula and get back on the road I hadn't really appreciated where I would be after 600 miles. As I left Yellowstone I notched up 600 miles, and I was a long way from a BMW dealer. I had thought about this a few days earlier and had pulled into a fast food joint to hook up to their wi-fi. With time running out on my netbook battery I had just managed to find a motorbike shop in Idaho Falls and had called them up. They had said they could change the oil but there was some discussion going on as to what kind of oil they had in stock. Whatever oil I put in would stay there for 12,000 miles so I didn't want to settle for an inferior brand, but likewise I didn't want to have to ride on another 400 miles to Boise, where I knew there was a BMW shop. I got back onto the internet just before my battery died and found a Harley rental company along my route that also rented BMWs/ perhaps they would have some oil.

That's why I pulled over in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, just south of Yellowstone. I found the shop and although they didn't have a mechanic on hand as it was Saturday, they did have some BMW oil, which they happily sold to me. Again, I love it when a plan comes together. Two hours later the bike (I've started calling her Heidi, but that's between me and her) was in the capable hands of a mechanic in Idaho Falls getting the oil changed – and only 100 miles over the stipulated 600. For the first time since Gibsons, on the Sunshine coast (12 days and 1800 miles ago), everything was fixed and working properly. 

Perhaps for that reason, or because the landscape had changed, the ride west towards Sun Valley was liberating. Although I have loved very minute of every piece of scenery I have passed through I have a thing for deserts and I was pleasantly surprised to be riding west from Idaho Falls into one. Caused by volcanic eruptions and lava flows Route 20 took me past a huge Atomic research centre, through Arco (Famous as being the first town on the planet to be powered my Atomic energy in 1956), and on the the Craters of the Moon National Monument. Now, I've seen lava before and wasn't expecting to be overly impressed with this place but it would have been rude to have just passed it by, so I pulled in and took the seven mile circuit around the park. In summary several times during the past several thousand years, a parallel line of fissures erupted through volcanic buttes and cones to spread a flow of lava across the area. The last eruption was only 2,000 years ago, surprisingly recently in geological terms. This whole geological phenomenon has shifted from west to east over the millennium and the centre of the activity which was once under this area is now the cause of all the hot springs and geysers in Yellowstone.

The highlight of Crates of moon were the four or five “caves”. 2000 years ago sheets of lava ran downhill, flowed into channels and cooled. The surface hardened, formed tubes. To quote the guide book “The formation of tubes is a complex process dependent on eruption rate, topography, and the chemical and physical properties of the lava”. All I needed to know was that, with a torch and a willingness to scramble over some rocks I was allowed to explore these caves. I spent a good hour clambering through these caves and it had a great time. (Tracy – you would have loved this.)

By the time I left it was already getting dark but I wasn't concerned about where I was going to camp that night. I was heading for a friends house and a warm comfy bed.

I had first met Trent in Argentina 15 years ago and since then we had kept in touch. We spend the Millennium with Trent and his wife Candida in the Dominican Republic and they had come to our wedding. In fact, he's the one who first instilled in me a desire to go to Montana and the western half of the U.S. He currently lives near Sun Valley, Idaho with Candida and their daughter Kali. I had a wonderful, restful three days at their place out in the absolute middle of nowhere. Nothing to do but write my blog (that's why it's so long), wash the bike and relax. 

Trent's the kind of person who makes you feel inadequate about your own life. I thought I was doing something adventurous with this trip. Not so, since I last met him, seven years ago he has learnt to run sled-dogs, has completed the 1000 mile Ididerod challenge in Alaska and has 16 dogs out back training them up for this years race. He's also built his own house on land he's bought in Alaska, taken part in the 1000 mile Yukon kayak race and just last month flew to Mongolia, built a kayak, transported it over the border to Russia and spent 10 days kayaking on lake Baikal, just for fun. Don't you just hate people like that!

How many of us have 16 dogs in the yard?

Taking the dogs out

Taking the dogs out by ATV when there's no snow

Tracy, we're doing to buy some huskies!

It was hard to pull myself away from Trent's place but if I didn't move on soon it was only going to become harder and anyway, I've still got a lot do to and see. I've got four more weeks in the U.S and I think about 4,000 miles. This weekend also marks the end of my first two months on the road. 9000 miles covered for those of you counting. I left Trents heading west for the Oregon coast aware that now I was totally on my own. No more friends or cousins to stop with, two months or about 62 days until Tracy arrives in Mexico –time for yet another stage on my trip to begin. This is going to be interesting...

P.S I just had to add this. I've had the most weird 24 hours since leaving Trents. First I went to Silver City, a ghost town in south Idaho. It ws originally a mining town but closed down in the 1940s. Now only a handful of people live there (in the summer) and without electicity and 20 miles down a dirt road it shuts down totally in the winter. I turned up their, pitched my tent in the campground. I was the only person around. I wandered around town and a guy came up who was one of the 10 residents. He showed me around town (using my headtorch as there is no electricity), including into his house and upstairs in the Freemasons hall. It was all laid out for a Freemason meeting, very spooky.

After ANOTHER cold night I rode west towards the Oregon coast. For once I stopped for lunch in a dusty nothing place called Unity Oregon. I walked into the bar/diner and, honesty, as I entered everyone turned around to look at me. Scary. I went up to the bar and ordered a coffee. A minute later a guy came and sat next to me. We got chatting - he was also on a motorbike. We had a good talk; he ran a motorbike resort up the road, had lived in the UK (Leighton Buzzard!) and was an interesting guy. Just before he left he introduced himself as "I'm J. W Everitt, guitarist with Crosby, Still and Nash."  Bizarre but true.

J.W. Everitt

1 comment:

  1. Dom, your final drive splines should have been lubed with a grease called Optimoly TA paste, if the Alaskan guys were keeping up good maintaince it wouldn't have corroded - I would take it up with them to see it they can meet some of the costs...
    Glad to see you're having a great time, safe riding, Rupert
    ps remember to ride california route 36 from Eureka to Red Bluff (and then back again) - one of the best roads in the world...