Google+ Two-Wheeled Tourist: Day 11: Beartooth Pass, Chief Joseph Highway, and (Re)Conquering US-16


Day 11: Beartooth Pass, Chief Joseph Highway, and (Re)Conquering US-16

**This series of posts recap my two-week trip to Billings, MT and back from July 1-16, 2013. For the entire list of my featured rides, click here.**

Stick a fork in me, I'm done.

Pretty much wiped after the last few days of running with my hair on fire (for a good cause, might I add) I slept in a bit and took my time leaving the hotel, saying goodbye to the friends and fellow riders who didn't leave at the crack of dawn to return home. That actually worked out quite well because, frankly, I didn't have much of a plan in place on my return route back. My strategy was more of the "keep heading east until Ohio shows up." Not a bad plan, but it wouldn't have been as fun as tagging along with my friend Rebecca for a few miles. Okay, fine...more like 1200 miles.

It turns out that she needed to return home to Massachusetts by Tuesday for work and was heading in the same direction as me. She also likes scenic roads and was cool with splitting costs on a hotel room for the night, so it was very much a win-win situation for both of us.

We headed out of Billings around 11AM and headed to the Beartooth Highway with the plan to connect to the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway. As soon as we made it out of civilization, that's when the fun really started.

That's a different Columbus, but eastbound is the general direction I'm heading.
This was pretty much the situation for 1200 miles. Gas, ride, eat, sleep, repeat.
I could spend all day talking about these roads, but it would be like asking me to describe the intricacies of a Rembrandt painting. To many, this is often referred to "God's Country," and with the beauty and technical difficulty of these roads, I am thoroughly convinced that God is a huge motorcycle fan.

At the beginning of the roads, I followed Rebecca's 2008 Honda Goldwing GL1800 that pulled a trailer to get an idea of the curves. And then she let me loose to crank Eleanor through the twisties. At one point, a straightaway allowed me to clear the chambers and open her up to 103 MPH (GPS measured) before slowing down for the next series of turns and uphill switchbacks. For an old bird of an FJR1300, that wasn't too shabby for an engine with over 140k original miles.

We stopped to eat sandwiches for lunch at the Dead Indian Pass on the Chief Joseph Highway (Rebecca had a cooler attached to her trailer for food storage) and continued toward US Highway 16, passing through Cody and eventually reaching Buffalo, WY.

Pictures do this place absolutely no justice. Click this photo for the full-sized panorama.

We were stopped at a construction site as traffic was reduced to one lane for both directions. It did offer some nice scenery and a stretch break.
With that being said, I have a bit of a past with US-16 going back to 2007 during my first Ride-In journey to Springfield, MO. Back when I was young, single, and stupid (now I'm just young, married divorced, and slightly less stupid), I was caught on that highway traveling eastbound toward Cody, WY at sundown and did this road in its entirety in the pitch black, deer-ridden darkness. To this day, I still consider that 165-mile journey to be the scariest moment of my motorcycle life. Rebecca gave me that chance to right a wrong from those many years ago as we traveled that highway westbound, in the daylight, flying down the road and taking in the geological wonders and dense forests of this gateway highway that leads to Yellowstone National Park. After seeing how technical this road was in some parts, I am still astonished that I even survived this in the pitch black of night.

Just for fun, here is the exact excerpt from my trip log in 2007 describing that same journey. Ah, the joy of youth and inexperience...
I cross into Wyoming and get back onto I-90 and see another sign leading to Devil's Tower, the first national monument of the U.S. So I have to go and see that as well. Lots of photo opportunites and riding. The only problem about this whole thing is that I cut off so much sunlight time from my schedule that it was going to screw me over later.

I make it to the I-90/US 16 junction at sunset. It wasn't looking good for me in terms of getting to Cody, WY at a decent time, but with my room almost 180 miles away and nothing else in between, I didn't have much of a choice. An SD lady on a Honda Shadow who was filling gas at the same stop I was (ironically grew up in Orange, CA) told me that taking it slow would get me through and to avoid the critters. Try doing that for 165 miles in pitch black, because I'm about to tell you about that right now.

I enter US 16 near sunset, and everything just went dark on me (complete sun disappearance is around 9:30PM). Temperatures varied in the hills anywhere from 54-77 degrees depending on tree cover, elevation, and wind gusts. I continued down these roads going no faster than 45MPH in bursts and simply scared out of my wits, not because of the dark, but because of the possibly of hitting an animal as big as my bike. I'm going down the highway blasting my horn every few hundred yards to make sure that, at the minimum, the wildlife would freeze in confusion until I passed through. My high beams remained on and I continued to duck under my windshield to avoid the cold, dry gusts.

What I almost hit...
(4) deer (one of them was a young stag who decided to dart in front of me - the stupid f*cker)
(1) fox
(quite a few) bunnies
(lots of) rodent-like sh*ts with and without tails - the ones I would'nt have minded hitting

I continued on through "scenic" US 16 (translation to some twisties in pitch black conditions) until I hit the little town of Ten Sleeep which had one inn and a camping ground with cabins. The lady at the inn didn't want to charge me for the room and told me to go to the camping ground two blocks down. Big mistake. I enter and there's nothing but gravel on the ground. I had to fight to keep my bike upright, mainting a steady throttle while sliding through the entire park before making my way out in one piece. That was the scariest minute of my life on a bike, and I was out of Ten Sleep before I could count to eleven. Hey, at least I realized that I have mad motorcycling skills!

I continued on for another fifty miles until I hit another town with lights and a 24-hour mini mart about 52 miles from Cody. After taking a break, I power it through the night, two more miles of extremely loose gravel, and more stupid animals and make to Cody in one piece. I am so glad that I did make a reservation. This would've been even more of a mess if I didn't do that.

I flipped off every mile sign I saw while honking my horn. I sang through Celine Dion and Drowing Pool. I listened to Robin Williams make fun of the quirkiness of the penis and turned it up. Just get me through...

A piece of advice for all you travelers out there. Whatever you do,ABSOLUTELY NO traveling after dark in Wyoming. I don't care if you're in a bike or a cage. Wyoming doesn't have enough people in this damn state to justify lights anywhere. Everything that's Bambi or related to it walks around at night. And they're quite stupid. That doesn't help.

As a result of that shake-up, and the fact that I didn't get into Cody until 1:30AM, I've decided to stay over today and leave ultra early tomorrow for Yellowstone and eventually, Boise, ID which is about 550 miles away from my current location. I always have to get my scare at least once per trip. This one will last for at least another few days...

On a bright note, I heard they have a miniature golf course down the street.
Next stop...Pierre, South Dakota!