Saturday, 7 July 2012

Motorcycling round cowboy country!

Bikes rented: BMW F650GS (with low seat!) for me, V-Strom 650 for Alistair.
Company used: (Contact: Kevin Smith)

Very highly recommended. Very helpful, friendly,  and he has  few low seat bikes, ideal for short riders and/or women. And then you will get to ride the roads around Gunnison! An experience not to be missed!

It had been over 10 years since we last visited the USA. We were put off by the obnoxious immigration officers we dealt with last time, and the long hours queuing. But now that we are living in Brazil, we thought it could be a good opportunity.

Getting passed the Rottweilers that populate the immigration department, and after being pulled for “further questioning”, I was allowed in!

I mean, Come On! I have a French passport!  They asked me if I had ever been denied a visa into the US! French do not need a visa! Duhhh. Maybe I was not helped by my very Spanish maiden name (French passports show both maiden and married names for women).

Maybe I had a similar name than some dangerous Mexican girl on the run? Somehow I managed not to get deported to Guantanamo Bay, and after lots of checking in their computers, they let me go! Which was lucky, as I had planned a fantastic holiday!

We arrived at Gunnison, Colorado, after 3 flights and over 18h trip.
WE visited the town and the local shops. When we got to a big outdoor shop, we walked through the usual stuff: shoes, T-shirts, camping gear, fishing gear… until … our jaws dropped to the floor! A full wall full of riffles, guns, ammos, and archery stuff too in case you get bored of your gun! We truly were in America!

There were lots of bikers in town, mainly travellers, as they carried lots of luggage, sometimes even a trailer with them. First I thought there was some sort of Harley Davidson event in town, but after few days on the road it became evident that American riders have totally embraced motorcycle travelling! Most ride Harleys, but you can see lots of Japanese bikes too with the usual BMW GSs.

After a day rest, Kevin brought us the bikes as planned, to our hotel.

I had been nervous that the bike would be too tall for me. As I'm not tall, I have always had to modify my bikes in order to touch the ground with my feet! But when I sat on the 650GS with its custom low seat, it was perfect, I had comfortably both ball of my feet down.

The next day, we were off. Kevin recommended we rode the Black Canyon off Gunnison and he was right, it was an amazing road.

The bike felt strange. After having owned a Versys, and now an Er-6n, both Kawasaki twin engines, going back to a thumper was hard! I have been spoiled with my Kwaks!

 I used to have a 650GS. I was in love with it! Until the nasty bugger let me down so many times I came close to set fire to it! But this is another story. If you followed our adventures around south America, you know what I am talking about!

After a couple of days on the road, via places like Flaming Gorges (stunning) and Green River (one of the rare “crap” town we came across!) we reached Grand Teton national Park. Lots of french names in that area. I wonder if our American friends realise that Grand Teton in french means Big Nipple (or  big boobs in slang)!?

After 2 days in the very pleasant town of Alpine, we rode to West Yellowstone, where I had booked a motel for 2 nights. Finding accommodation in Yellowstone at this time of year can be tricky, so this was the only booking we had on our entire trip (with the exception of our Gunnison’s motel on arrival and departure).
We rode all around and explored the park, seeing lots of wildlife on the way, but although it was a nice place, it was not biker paradise. That was to come soon.

Leaving West Yellowstone, we crossed the huge park and exited by Cook City. From there we took the Bear Tooth highway! Now you’re talking. This was biker paradise. The sharp never ending climb, with tight turns, followed by a high plateau and a massive descent into Red Lodge…. It was breathtaking.
Unfortunately, by then, my helmet camera, specially bought for this trip, stopped recording. So no filming guys! Only photos.

We were in Montana! At a fuel station we saw what it meant. We stopped for fuel. Inside, among the usual petrol station stuff, there was a massive selection of riffles, guns, ammos, even guns for kids, pink for girls etc… further along you would have a nice selection of alcohol to buy in case you got thirsty…. After few fuel stops it became evident that this was how it was in Montana. You can refuel, buy a gun and have a drink…. interesting combination! When you think that in the UK (or also Europe?) you cannot even buy toys that look like fire arms these days, thanks to the nanny state….

Another thing that struck me, since we got in the US, was that pretty much everyone had a massive, but I mean MASSIVE, SUV. The kind of car/truck that drinks gallons of fuel per mile, and would need the Place de la Concorde space to park! No way you would get that through the narrow streets of Paris or London!
At a petrol station we got talking to an old guy. He was still in the army, as he showed us his card, despite his age, and claimed he carried a gun everywhere, as well as his wife. He then proceeded to show us the said gun and made us hold it (thankfully after removing the ammo!).

We were riding toward Glacier National Park. After a very long boring and blazing hot day on the bikes we got to Great Falls. From there it was a short ride to Glacier. SO far the section we saw of Montana, since Red lodge, seemed flat and boring, but that was about to change as we continued to ride  North West.
From Great Falls we made it almost to Glacier by lunch time. But the weather had changed for the worst, it got very cold, with massive rain and hail further north. We stopped at Brownings, the heart of the Blackfeet Indian reservation, for some food and to wait. As several other bikers arrived from various directions, we all waited for the hail to calm down.

Initially we had planned to camp few days in Glacier National park and do some walks. The weather ruled that out. We decided to ride to the nearest entrance and find a motel. We would not be going anywhere much further that day. East Glacier was only 12 miles and we decided to get there. Any other entry point would mean a long ride, and we did not want to chance it with the weather.

After 12 miles of dreadful wind, fighting to get the bike on a straight line, we got a small place with few shops, a couple of motels and place to eat. More than enough considering the weather!
This was really bear country. A woman at the motel told me that just earlier in the week, one bear had to be put down, near the motel, as it was venturing into town!

I was concerned of what to do if we came across a bear on the bikes! I mean on a car, you are safe, but on a bike, you are very vulnerable! You are out there, with the bear! I must ask some of my friends who crossed Africa on bikes. There are big hungry cats in Africa. What do you do in that case?????

Anyhow, settled in our Motel, it was time for a beer. I wandered to the local shop, only to be told that it was Tribal Election day and no alcohol was allowed to be sold on that day! Damn! Lucky enough, there was a shop 2 miles down the road, conveniently located outside the Indian reservation, where you could buy booze. It was making a fantastic trade on that day, I can tell you that, despite its overinflated prices!

The next day, we decided to ride to the East entrance and see what was happening there. The weather was still very cold. When we got to the East entrance, we bumped into one of the bikers we spoke to, the day before.

He had planned to get into Canada, but was turned down at the border, because he had a criminal offence 30 years earlier. The only way to get into Canada was for him to go to Washington get some docs sorted. Anyway, he turned down and attempted to cross Glacier through the Going-to-the-Sun road, which is the only road that goes across the Park. But there was snow and the road was closed.

There was nothing much for us to do, considering the weather but find a motel and wait. The weather was supposed to get warmer the following day.

After checking in at a pleasant motel, overlooking the East Entrance, we rode to the Many Glacier entrance, few miles north of the East Entrance. There is a 12 miles road in teh park that ends in cul-de-sac. It was a great road. After that, we rode to the Canadian border to have a look. We did not dare to try get into Canada, as we had rented bikes and were too scared we would not be allowed to get back in the US…

The next day was cold but sunny! At last. We rode across the Park. It was stunning. It’s a shame we did not have much time to spend there. It would have been awesome to have few walks in the mountains and observe wildlife….

We then headed south to Missoula, through beautiful valleys and mountains. This part of Montana is amazing! We even took few gravel roads for fun...

The next day we were determined to make some progress as we had to get back to Gunnison.
Unfortunately, by mid-afternoon, as we were about to stop for some food, my engine light turned on. We checked the oil, it was a bit low so we added some. But the light was still stubbornly on. That was worrying. After testing for few miles, it seemed, checking the oil, that it was circulating, as it looked slightly foamy. The 
temperature was fine, nothing else. As we were in the middle of nowhere, we decided to continue slowly to Three Forks, the next town, and find accommodation before investigating.

The bike was running fine, just the oil light was on, although sometimes it was flickering. It was unlikely that it was serious but we called Kevin to discuss. No easy to find a workshop on a Friday evening though. After investigation, it appeared it was probably electric. Alistair found the cable, and indeed, when touching it, the light would switch off.
It was a relief.

Next to our room was a retired couple on a Gold Wing. They had just done 600 miles that day! We discussed with them for a while. Everywhere we went, all motels would have few shiny Harleys or Gold Wings parked outside. So many bikers travelling! Although it seemed most were in their 40 or 50s at least!

The next day we had a lot of ground to cover. We got back toward Red Lodge and rode the Bear Tooth highway from Montana to Wyoming. Once again, I was very impressed by how beautiful this road is. The views, the tight corners, the lights, the sky…. It has to be done!

We were leaving Montana and we were very sad. We loved the state. The people we met had been exceptionally friendly, but then, almost everywhere we went during this trip it was the case. On top of that the landscape was stunning: open spaces, big mountains, valleys, rivers and lakes…. We could spend a lot of time exploring Montana. We will have to come back!

At the end of the Bear Tooth Highway we turned left, away from Yellowstone Park, toward Cody: Buffalo Bill city. This was truly the Far West as we see in Cowboys movies, no mistake there!

We visited the Buffalo Bill Museum, which holds 5 big exhibits: one on Buffalo Bill, one on Yellowstone wildlife, one about the Plains’ Indians, one on Western Art, and obviously one on guns and riffles.
To visit the museum you are asked to leave your firearms outside though! Not sure why:

The exhibit on fire arms had lots of stuffed bears and other wildlife so we got some got photos there!

In the evening we assisted to a Rodeo. Kevin had advised us to do so if we had the opportunity. It was certainly great fun.
The start of the rodeo was an interesting insight into American culture.

The compere, on his horseback, asked first that anyone serving the country to get up, and we applauded them.
Then it followed a prayer, for the people performing in the rodeo but also for the troops abroad. This was then followed by a little blind girl singing the national anthem.
American are so nationalists, so proud of who they are, it give them such a sense of belonging, of identity. We have lost that in Europe.

 Through the great European Union Experiment, and in order to stop Germany from starting a 3rd World War, European technocrats, for the last 50 years, have tried hard to root out nationalism in Europe.
To be nationalist in Europe these days, is almost synonymous of being a racist. It brings with it the image of Nazis, walking down the Champs Elysees, of ethnic cleansing… The Front national in France, or the British National Party in the UK, extreme far right and racist political parties, claim to be nationalists.  So by association, if someone claims to be nationalist…

By contrast, the US attitude was so refreshing, they have such strong sense of identity. 

The rodeo was everything you can see on TV, but it was awesome to see if for real!

The following day we left early and made it to Rock Springs. This was really crap town! Dreadfully ugly place. The only redeeming feature was that we had one of our best meals of the trip in a local restaurant. If you really have to stop overnight at Rock Springs, make sure to get to the Shopstix and get the California Paradise (with crab, scallops, shrimps, salmon, and a sauce to die for!). Fantastic!

We only had 2 days to get to Gunnison from there. We decided to have a long day and make it to Aspen, and from there it would be a shorter ride to Gunnison.

As usual, our day did not go to plan. About 10 miles before Aspen, we got stuck in awful traffic. It seemsed the whole world and its mum wanted to get to Aspen after all! By 3:30 / 4pm, we got finally into town. The place was mobbed. It was awful. We decided to get the hell out of there. Unfortunately, riding south, there would be not much in term of accommodation on the road.

We managed to get out of town, and suddenly, on this little mountain road, there was hardly any traffic. Most cars we saw were going toward Aspen. However it was slow going and it took us a long time to get to Leadville, a nice ski resort. We made almost 400 miles that day, we were exhausted.

The following morning was 4th of July, and we were fairly close to Gunnison. We decided to take a shortcut through the mountains and over the Cottonwood Pass, using a well surfaced dirt road. We even met a biker on a Harley going the other way!  It had stunning views. Which shows that Colorado has nothing to envy to Montana.

We got to Gunnison early afternoon and had a rest before going for dinner and see the fireworks. After all, it was 4th of July! Independence Day!

We still had the bikes for the next day and Kevin advised us, by email, of a nice ride for our last day. We rode up to Crested Butte and then over the Kebler Pass, toward Somerset through a fantastic dirt road, and down south through the Black Canyon.

It was a stunning ride.

The dirt road was twisty, sometimes narrow,  and going through beautiful wooden area, with deer running around, cows and sheep…and then back to mountain views. It was fantastic.

The Black Canyon was even more impressive riding toward Gunnison as we were on the outside lane, the one next to the precipice. And boy was that a big precipice. With the wet surface (due to an incoming storm)  and often no rail or safety feature on the edge of the road, next to the precipice, every narrow turn was exciting and terrifying at the same time.

For our last ride in the US, it was a fantastic one.

That was it. It was time to get back and wait for Kevin to come pick up the bikes. And share few beers and stories with him.

We had a fantastic time in Colorado, Wyoming and Montana and loved every minute of it. As usual on our motorcycle trips, what makes our view of a country is not the landscape (Bolivia is out of this world stunning!) but it is the attitude of the locals toward us. I won’t rush back to Bolivia, as I described in my website, when I got there, but I will definitely go back to the US for a ride. With the Colombians, the American must be the friendliest people we have met, of all the countries we have visited. I also love their positive attitude and optimism. We tend to be so blasé and cynical in good old Europe these days. 

We were sad to leave. There are so many stunning roads still to ride, trail to follow... we will come back.

In any case, if you fancy renting bikes, get a couple of V-strom from Kevin. I tried the V-Strom fitted with the lowering link, and I was actually fine with it. Next time I will get that one as it makes sense for both of us to have the same bike: same performance, same fuel tank size... :)

I hope you enjoyed the read!!!! 


  1. I swear, you guys live the greatest life ever!... If you pass through texas I'll buy you all a drink.

  2. Well, you never know! We may take you on that offer! I'd quite like to tour the US for few months! :)