Dawn came abruptly with the sound of distant thunder, and the light plopping of gentle showers. I’m all for getting an early start on a long ride, but I prefer my showers to be heated when possible, so I went back to sleep for a few hours, hoping it would pass.
By 9:00am, the troubling skies had pushed south east, and the sun was doing its level best to shine through the clouds. I loaded up the Ural and we bid goodbye to all friends who were among the living. By the time we made it past Three Forks, the sun was shining in abundance, drying up the small puddles from the morning’s thunder-shower.
The Wheat Montana store at the intersection of 287 and I-90 is a must-stop for those who have never been there. Great pastries, burritos, sandwiches, and you can look upon the wheat fields where your meal was grown.
As I pulled into the parking lot a short, stocky, barrel of a man got out of his car and immediately started fast-walking towards me. A large bushy mustache covered half of the big grin he was wearing as he walked, so I didn’t think he wanted to beat me up and steal the rig.
“Is Russian motor-sickle? Ural?”
the barrel-man asked in a thick eastern accent.
“Sure is, a 2011 Gear Up!”, I replied while removing my riding gloves.
“I have sa-same motor-sickle in Vladivostok!”
the moustache exclaimed proudly while circling the rig, poking and prodding at several things.
“Is very good. Kahneshna!”
said the ex-russian, seemingly to himself. He then peered around me at the speedometer, noting the mileage.
“Ahh! Is not broken in yet!” laughing heartily to himself (and probably at me).
He ended the conversation and walked away just as quickly as it had begun. As he drove away, he shouted from the window “Du-sudanya!” which I think means “Good luck”.
287 into Helena is a straight, flat long ordeal. Stacked up semi-trucks, RV’s, and hoss-trucks towing large boats meant I was getting passed like Rosie O’donnell at a marathon. When a double-long trailer whips by you at 80mph on a 2-lane road, its a little unnerving.
When we gassed up in Helena, some off-leash kids wandered over (about 5 and 6) and immediately ran over to start petting Lola. Half a minute later, a very angry and distraught mother rounded the corner, yelled at the kids, and gave my own mother a run for the worst “death glare” ever. The whole interaction left Lola and I both a little confused.
Out of Helena, US 12 narrows down, and starts to wind up McDonald pass in long, obtuse curves. The trees grow a little smaller and the views near the top are pretty impressive. I pulled over to take some photos of the view, when I spotted a silver crown vic pull sharply into the turnout from the road. The turn and stop was so violent, I was sure the law had caught up to me. “Did I do something wrong officer? I -know- I wasn’t speeding.”
Nope. No impeding traffic tickets. Just a bunch of elderly ladies and a guy on their way through Montana for summer vacation. They saw Lola in the sidecar and had to stop for some pets. In a span of 45 minutes, we’d experienced diametric views on dogs. The world is a pretty cool place.
Over the pass with a slight tailwind, the Ural glided effortlessly through lush green valleys and rolling hills. Since it was all pretty interesting, Lola sat and sniffed as the world went by, rather than nap in her usual fashion.
On RT 200, some nice sweeping bends and cool air made the ride as enjoyable as it has ever been. Hard to quantify into words, there is an ethereal sensation that overcomes some motorcyclists when the joy of scenery, road and mechanical confidence intersect. Its not easy to reproduce or explain to others, but riders know when they feel it.
As we neared Seeley lake, Lola gave me the look. “Hey dude. I’m tired. Lets find somewhere to camp and poop.” I couldn’t argue with that.
Seeley lake is a pretty popular destination for Montanans and out-of-staters alike. All the “official” campgrounds booked solid, and rolling through them only reinforced the instinct that I should get as far away as I could. I found this first spot on a forest service road about 5 miles out.
After Lola rolled in some bear scat, and I had swatted about 30 mosquitos, we decided we should find a better site. Maybe something a little closer to the campers, and a little further away from the large animals with no known natural predators.
The second choice was much better. Though the access road was a little more popular (I saw three cars, instead of none), the mosquitos didn’t hang around much. Old filled-in campfire rings made it clear that other relatively responsible people had camped here before.
Almost as soon as I had the tent up, Lola hopped in and went to sleep. I clipped the bear-bells on her just in case she decided to explore later.
This was tonight’s dinner. Hot tang, freeze-dried Lasagna and a granola bar. I think people give Tang a bad rap. Its got lots of Vitamin C, is good hot or cold, and you can make a pretty good camp-screwdriver if you spill some vodka in your mug. Then again, maybe I never got over that whole “Its space orange-juice!” hype from my formative years.
Swollen clouds started to roll in, so I called it an early night around 8pm.
Days mileage: 224 miles
Total mileage: 962 miles