July 22 - August 10, 2009
What a ride!! The afternoon of July 22, I left Holland (Michigan, N42 47.206 W86 06.890 ) with my riding buddy and fellow M.E.A.T. Club (Men Eating Animals Together) member, Barry Bandstra, to ride our motorcycles to the Canadian border in Montana. We were heading to the starting point of The Continental Divide Trail (CDT) in Roosville (MT) and looked forward to reaching Antelope Wells (NM). All-in-all, the CDT (also called the The Great Divide) is 2497 miles long, the vast majority of the trail (almost 90%) logging roads, mountain roads, and gravel. What an off-road adventure! Following maps drafted by the Adventure Cycling Association and our trusty GPs's we covered great sections of Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico. Barry on his 1999 Kawasaki KLR and I on my '05 BMW R1200GS parted ways in Albuquerque (NM), a story that will unfold on this page. It was an amazing, beautiful, challenging, life-giving ride. I'll repeat the ride tomorrow, but maybe not with a bike as large and heavy as mine.
Due to a heavier than usual workload this semester, I was somewhat less-prepared for this ride, though I knew that the preparations required were no different from the ones I did for the Alaska ride of 2006. My bike, with new oil, was ride-ready.
I read Michael McCoy's Cycling the Great Divide: From Canada to Mexico on America's Premier Long Distance Mountain Bike Route and got the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route map set from the Adventure Cycling Association. I also peaked at the CDT Society site. The maps and book are great, and despite both of us having GPS's we got lost MANY times. Find a map of the CDT here.
Barry kept a blog about the ride. Do check out his page for statistics and graphs.
Day 1 — Wednesday July 22, 2009
Barry and I left Holland while Michelle was watching a big trench being dug in our yard as a new sewer line was installed. I married a kind and gracious person, allowing me to follow dreams and desires. All day I was anxious to get on the road. Jami and Michaela hovered around me, anticipating the farewell.
We arrived at Pinotage, our cottage on Upper Silver Lake dodging a storm and bbq-ed Boerewors (South African sausage), made for me by Montello Meat Market in Holland. Barry and I turned in early in anticipation of taking The Badger from Ludington to Manitowoc, WI.
Day 2 — Thursday July 23, 2009
Thick fog off Lake Michigan greeted us as we made way to Ludington. The first two hours of the ferry ride was fog-filled as well. We had our first of many conversations with strangers who first think we're crazy and then express their envy. It seems everyone wants to ride the CDT! We arrived in Manitowoc around 12:15 and hit the road, calling it a day in St. Cloud, MN around 6:45pm. We called an AmericaInn our home and after a dip in the pool ate dinner at the RJ Grill nearby. Today we did a total of 400 miles driving plus 60 miles across the lake (which took 4 hours plus.)
Lined up to load onto the SS Badger:
We left St. Cloud, MN, after a thunder storm cleared the air for us. No pictures as we ran down 650 miles to tent in Williston, ND. Barry disappeared while I set up camp and came back with a chicken dinner, wine, and even desert. Next to our tents were a cat mom with a litter of kittens. One took a liking to us and we wondered how they survived. We also shared our site with many large trucks of folks working in the oil industry. Obviously there's much oil activity in this area.
Having been to Glacier National Park on the Alaska ride, I looked forward to visiting again. We left Williston following Route 2 to Glacier. It was 450 HOT miles, with temperatures going above 100F a few times. Along the road everyone was making hay. It seems to me as if the local authorities allow ranchers to make hay along the side of the road. We also passed a rider on a horse, shotgun across the neck of the horse, with his dog. Sadly we did not stop to compare horses! We also passed through the Blackfeet Indian Reservation and saw hundreds of white crosses marking road-side fatalities. Almost on cue we came upon a crash that happened earlier in the morning. We arrived in St. Mary outside Glacier and tented in the KOA campground. Dinner was bbq ribs at a restaurant in St. Mary.
Barry updating his blog. All along the way we tethered my BlackBerry, which worked like a charm!
Deep thoughts about what lies ahead.
The night and morning brought rain. A bottomless pancake breakfast could not be denied, and we were lucky to be the first two orders, for the poor cooks were either new to the job or just slow. Six pancakes with eggs for $5. What a deal! Then we entered Glacier and after watching the welcome movie, we took the Going to the Sun Highway--arguably the most beautiful road in all of the lower States. We saw a moose and a cayote--sorry, no pictures.
We came upon a cycling couple from Ann Arbor. They burn 7000+ calories a day as they traverse the Rockies. I was SO glad I'm on my BMW with its AirHawk seat and not on a narrow little saddle! Of course we came across many other bikers, mostly Harleys.
We had appointments for our motorbikes at Big Sky Motorsports in Missoula to put on knobblies, and made our way from Glacier to Missoula following the eastern shore of the Flathead Lake. Lots of boaters and summer revelers. Also some awesome home sites with small vineyards and orchards on the slopes. Having located the shop, we stayed at a Days Inn nearby, eating a great dinner at a local micro brewery.
We shared the hotel with a group of guys, mostly on BMWs, who planned on riding the vicinity. We compared notes and equipment.
Near the top of Logan's pass.
Day 6 — Monday July 27, 2009
We got helped in good time by Big Sky Motorsports and around 11:30am we headed due north to Roosville and the Canadian border. Clear skies and the west side of Flathead Lake took us up RT93 to Roosville. We bought fresh produce for the evening and headed for the border crossing, parking our bikes between the USA and Canada. For a brief while I thought I led us into trouble. We passed the US Immigration Office and suddenly it hit me that both of us decided not to bring passports. To my relief it turned out that we can head back south as we took the CDT. We followed the coordinates we got of ADVRider.com and other sites. I felt for Barry, for we kept our rhythm of me leading us. Now being on gravel, Barry ate lots of dust.
Reaching Red Meadow Lake early evening, we decided to camp. It is a pristine lake with grayling and lake trout. We could see the grayling jump. A few fly fishermen were around. Of course, we had plenty mosquitoes to deal with. I was more concerned about the bear warning we saw everywhere. We spoke with a guy who was camping on the back of his open truck. He came to scout for moose, having received a license after who know how many years of playing the hunting lottery. Dinner was pasta stroganoff, cantaloupe, beer, and a little bit of Scotch! It was truly an amazing campsite.
For a minute I thought we're stuck without passports. Red Meadow Lake below.
Day 7 — Tuesday July 28, 2009
Our campground in Ovando next to the river that nearly froze us into ice cubes.
Day 8 — Wednesday July 29, 2009
Leaving Ovando on a cold 40F morning, we were heading back into the Rockies as we came upon a heard of horses in a beautiful field. It reminded me of Marlboro country. Barry appreciated the rain that fell, since that took care of the dust. We soon hit an obstacle when the trail was closed for motorized transport. Good citizens we are, we turned around to seek a way back to the CDT.
Back on the CDT, but we were still not sure, we came to a section that was very wet. We continued as the trail turned uphill. Up on the pegs I enjoyed the throttle and ran up the hill. The terrain got steeper with deep ruts and large rocks. There was no gravel to speak of and soon I recognized that if I stop, I'm going to fall. A few times I ventures close to the drop off on my left as that was the best line, but recognizing that if I go down there I'll never get the bike up to the trail, I ventured back towards the middle. It was then that I convinced myself that stopping is the wisest option. I could see how I shred the tires to pieces with the sharp rocks underneath. As I reached near zero speed, I sat my foot down which promptly slipped on the rocks. Down I went. In the adrenaline rush I tried to pick my bike back up, but no luck doing that against the slope of the hill. I turned around and shouted at Barry, who was nowhere to be seen. The reason: he too laid down his bike on what we now refer to as "Disaster Hill." Unlike me, Barry could pick up his bike.
After some discernment we concluded that going up is not a good choice. Now we have to go downhill on a nasty slope. With MUCH effort I turned the bike around and headed downhill, jumping ruts and dodging rocks bigger than footballs. At the bottom of he hill just before the wet section, I look up and about 30 yards ahead of me is a biggish grizzly cub, seeking food in a cabin's garbage bin. Not knowing what to do, since the trail passed within a few yards of the bear, I honked, and the bear ran off. Barry soon joined me and honked too, thinking that I am celebrating getting off Disaster Hill. Only then did I tell him of the bear.
Trying to find our way around Disaster Hill we stopped for a snack, not finding ourselves on our GPS's or on our maps. It was then that we were joined by a guy on a 250cc Kawasaki KLR. Brad, from Fargo. He was also lost, but came from a totally different direction we came from. He joined us for a while as we sought the trail. We jointly decided to hit the pavement to make some time, and we parted with him. We camped on the Wise River in a US Forest; the 4th of July Campground. Beautiful! Having had rain every day on the trail, we could dry out our tents.
Disaster hill after I spun out.
Brad from Fargo.
4th of July Campground and Barry updating his notes on his trusty netbook.
Day 9 — Thursday July 30, 2009
Leaving the Wise River, we entered some beautiful high country. Evidence that the trail could be a monster when wet were everywhere. We had sunny skies and dry gravel, which suited us just fine. Today we did not get lost, but knowingly we left the trail.
While eating at a restaurant in Lima, MT, I spoke with two guys at the table next to us while Barry was updating his blog. We laughed at me wanting to pronounce towns with a French accent when they are plain American English towns. It was then that I discovered we are miles away from Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons. The CDT goes through the latter but not Yellowstone, so Barry kindly allowed us to go off trail so that I could visit Yellowstone, a National Park I never visited before. The sixty odd miles of gravel off Monida to West Yellowstone was a challenge at times. I discovered my bike does best with washboard at 55-60mph. Hitting RT20, we headed to Yellowstone. We found a hotel, did some laundry, and headed into town for dinner.
Just west of Lima, MT
It must be the 2920 miles since we left Holland that made me do it, but I set the alarm for 5am and not 6am as planned. None of us looked at our watches and as we packed our bikes, we discovered it is pretty dark out there. Being a good Calvinist, I felt guilty and offered Barry breakfast, with McDonalds the only restaurant open at 5:30am. It was a Godsend, since we entered Yellowstone well ahead of the regular tourists. We saw elk, bison, and of course many geysers and Old Faithful. We arrived just in time to see Old Faithful perform and I took way too many pictures of the geyser. What a place!
By now the crowds have come out and we fought them and construction as we headed to the Tetons. Stopping to take pictures, Barry discovered that his water bottle emptied in his Pelican case, his dust proof and waterproof pannier! No harm done, he dried his electronics and off we went. On the next photo op a woman came to us, asked us whether we are on the CDT, and continued to tell us of a guy who crashed out horribly on the trail. Then she walked off. That evening I shared with Barry that I wondered what would happen if I walk up to a woman, ask her if she has breasts, then tell her of someone I knew who died of breast cancer and then walk off. It was good that I listened to Robert Pirsig's "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" on the ride out to Roosville. People do engage motorcyclists in strange ways...
Having enjoyed Yellowstone and the Tetons, we headed up Union Pass and camped near Mosquito Lake amongst thousands of cow paddies. Less mosquitoes than expected. Our meals always go down well with a snack before, a not-so-cold beer, and an instant dinner. We had a cold night in the upper twenties.
Yellowstone; Barry intrigued by a geyser
Old Faithful and traffic construction
Barry's electronics all wet; the Tetons as backdrop
The Grand Tetons
Barry heading into Mosquito Lake off Union Pass. We pitched tents in the rain, but ended with blue skies and a cold night ahead...
It's 27F at Mosquito Lake. Barry took a great image as my bike and I sought the sun.
John walking his way along the CDT.
Day 12 — Sunday August 2, 2009
We had an exciting day passing through awesome terrain. We headed south east from Rawlins, a mere truck stop on RT80, and headed through Medicine Bow National Forest to Colorado. It was great ride, with elk, dear, and cows along the way and passing through the famous Aspen Alley. I never would have guest that this would be a very exciting day, with me discovering an impulsive streak I never new I had.
After about 5 hours of gravel we came to Steamboat Springs, CO, as lunchtime reminded us that we needed a good meal. A great salad at the Cantina on Main Street brought many curious looks at our bikes and a few phone calls home. We followed a narrow path along the Yampa river leaving Steamboat, heading to Kremmling. First we were greeted by a runaway bull. I had visions of it chasing my red bike, but we passed it without incident. At times the trail was so narrow what I wondered how 4X4s can manage the road. The trail told us to go over the dam wall of a reservoir, but it was not open to motorized traffic. We found a way around and headed towards Kremmling. A dirt trail took us to a trout stream that was flowing healthily.
There were 4X4s this side of the stream and 4X4s that side. Nobody tried to cross. With me leading, I looked at the stream and thought my bike can make it. Mistake #1. Instead of walking, I plowed right into the stream, even as Barry said that maybe we should turn around. I made it about three quarters through the stream when my bike died. Immediately I knew that there must be water in the oil/engine. After the obligatory photo, Barry waded in and we pushed out the bike. I cranked the engine as we got to the other side of the stream and the bike started right up. I though, man, BMW make sturdy bikes. I road the bike out of the stream and only now did we walk the stream. A mere 3 yards downstream from my line, Barry crossed without a problem. We got back on our bikes and as we pulled off, every warning light on my bike flared up. I knew immediately: water in my oil/crankcase. Only, we were in the middle of nowhere on a Sunday afternoon with no oil between us to do an oil change. I stopped, telling Barry the bad news. It so happened that I stopped at a ranch gate. Always an optimist, I said to Barry that ranchers must have oil, and walked to the homestead.
Enter Maurice. When he opened the door, he said he knew that happened to me... To make a long story short, Maurice was a Samaritan. Not only did he gave me oil, he helped me change the oil and then took the muddy, foamy oil I gave him. Without him I would have been in deep trouble. That I forgot the BMW's oil drain plug is a story for another day... With fresh oil, we made it to Silverthorne, CO. It was an eventful day! But more adventure is upon us!!
Aspen Alley in Medicine Bow National Forest
I'm stuck in the stream and Barry rides through without any hassle.
Changing oil with Maurice supervising.
Day 13 — Monday August 3, 2009
Wanting to make sure that the engine was free of water, I performed another oil change in the parking lot of the Silver Inn in Silverthorne. This time I remembered the drain plug and in no time I was ready to head into Breckenridge. Not skiers or wealthy, we made no attempt at stopping in Breckenridge and headed for Boreas Pass. The gravel road was right in line for the dual sports and we has beautiful vistas. The road to Hartsell was beautiful, with someone's development that never came through. Roads everywhere, even a playground with a baseball diamond, but no home or people. In Hartsell we sat out a thunder storm and continued south. Passing through the San Isabel National Forest, I passed Nick from New Zealand, riding the CDT solo. We talked rugby and cricket, and then I moved on.
We came to a stream and I stopped. Once burnt, twice shy, they say. As Barry caught up with me, Nick, peddling his way and pulling a bicycle trailer, mozied right through the stream. It was a few inches deep!
A great lunch and walk through in Salida told me we are getting close to Mexico. We continued on to the fertile Rio Grande Valley and camped in Del Norte, a few yards from the famous river.
The second oil change in 2 days!
Heading up Boreas Pass. Towards Hartsell we were on open plains, where we met Nick from New Zealand.
Day 14 — Tuesday August 4, 2009
On this day, disaster struck. We left Del Norte and went up Indiana Pass. About 30 miles into the ride and near the top of the pass, we ran into a "Road Closed" sign. Near the highest pass on the CDT at 11,910 ft, we had to either turn around or find another way. Our maps showed another route, RT 329 over Blow Out Pass and below Bennette's Peak (13,203 ft). We decided to take this route. After taking a wrong turn we got on another trail and before we knew it we were on top of a ridge, way above the tree line. To summit was difficult, but going uphill is always easier than going downhill. Getting to the ridge below Bennette's Peak, the trail down looked ominous. We looked around for a way out and found Trail 700. Off we went, but within yards I spun out in a lengthy muddy session. We got my bike back up and looked ahead. The trail has a steep incline and both of us recognized that following Trail 700 is not possible. We turned around and Barry lost balance trying to get a short-cut over the alpine tundra. We picked up his bike and now have to go down Blow Out Pass on a track MUCH worse than Disaster Hill.
Leading us off the mountain, I stopped after a few minutes, perspiring heavily, and not because it was hot. Barry stopped next to me and said: "Jaco, there is oil leaking from your bike!" This was bad news, for it means the final drive went or my rear brake cable got loose. The terrain was so uneven and sloped that I could not get off the bike to look. It turned out the steal braided rear brake line pulled out of his housing. This is what I wrote in a book I am working on:
On this day, my ride of the CDT basically ended as I became a resident of the Drury Inn for the next 4 nights. Too late to overnight the parts my bike needs, we have to wait two days before the bike can be repaired (which soon became four days...).
Trail 700 after I spun out. Sadly, no photos of the descent or the smoke.
The Samaritan family and the culprit.
A burnt out clutch and a bike torn apart. Barry is probably wondering what I am thinking:
The push rod of the clutch that failed, along with the clutch's slave cylinder.
The dog my girls gave me looking sad being indoors and stranded.
Day 15-19 — Wednesday August 5-8, 2009
Through a relationship between Sandia BMW Motorcycles and The Drury Inn and Suites, we stay in a hotel with a two-drink Happy Hour accompanied by enough snacks to make dinner. The next morning you get a full breakfast, buffet style. Not a bad place to stay for $90 a night.
Having the day ahead of us, with the vehicle that Jared offered us, we saw the sites of Albuquerque, visiting a museum, the planetarium, watching an iMax movie ("The Enchanted Sky: The Digital Universe"), and exploring the historic downtown. Barry broke a mirror laying his bike down on Blow Out Pass, and we found a replacement at the local Kawasaki shop.
The next day we returned. With a promise of a two day return on the bike, Barry said he'll wait with me. Around 2:30pm we were eager to get on the road, but when the technician started the bike up, the clutch made a clatter I've never heard before. He took it for a test ride, so too the service managers, and soon it was discovered that BMW installed the wrong parts!! I was disappointed, for now we missed the next day delivery option yet again. There was very little I could do as they cracked open the BMW again, this time removing the parts they've just installed.
Barry and I spoke and not knowing how long I might end up in Albuquerque, we decided that he will continue his ride to Antelope Wells. We parted ways with Barry heading for the CDT again and I headed back to the Drury Inn.
Saturday morning came and I was anxious, for if the parts did not arrive, I will be stuck until Tuesday. Sandia BMW is open full day on Saturdays, but closed on Mondays. Around 10am the FEDEX truck brought the boxes and 3 hours later my motorcycle was ready to go. This time there was no clatter and the bike tested true. I said my good-byes to a crew I got to know well, paid my large bill, and decided I'll make my way to Antelope Wells and finish my ride before heading back to Michigan. I continued south and slept in Deming, NM, about 2 hours from Antelope Wells.
Barry made it to Antelope Wells on Friday the 7th.
Day 20 — Sunday August 9, 2009
Last night I wondered whether I can do the last two hours to the border, and I'm glad I did not continue then. LOTS of jackrabbits, pronghorn antelope, and cows in the road. The road was my own, the only vehicles I came across were Border Patrol vehicles. I loved the "Beware of poisonous snakes" signs around the border crossing with signs of rattlers about to attack.
I missed out on all the off-road sections of the CDT in New Mexico, and one day will have to return to do those. But I'm glad I decided to end the ride at Antelope Wells.
Day 21-23 — Sunday-Tuesday August 9-11, 2009
The ride back to Holland was uneventful. Roswell was MUCH more of a town than I ever imagined. Somehow I had a small, alien crazy town in mind. It was large with all the chain stores you can imagine. Once on I40, I had to sit out a torrential thunder storm in Amarillo, Texas, one that blew over a few trucks and caravans. As I was sitting out the storm, a Harley rider and his partner flew by the rest stop I had as shelter. I only shook my head, for I could not keep my bike in the road as the wind blew me all over. I made it all the way to Shamrock and stayed in the same hotel as last year's Route 66 ride. Since they had me in the computer, checking in was a breeze.
Monday I made it to just south of Chicago when heavy mist made early evening riding dangerous. I decided to stop 4 hours from home. The mist was still present on Tuesday morning, but the ride home was uneventful. 11am on August 11, I arrived to be with my girls.
Barry was an amazing riding partner and stood by me through oil changes in the middle of nowhere and a bike without a rear brake or a clutch. Anticipating a ride to Tierra Del Fuego a few years from now, I do hope that Barry can join me. I think both of us will be on Kawasaki KLRs ;-)
I made it to Antelope Wells!
(All photos by JH or BB, maps from http://www.cdtsociety.org/)