Tuesday, July 4, 2006
Boise > Glacier National Park > Seattle
I have always loved traveling by motorcycle with my dad. While it may very well be a matter of agreeable genetics there is also his outstanding knowledge of great roads to travel by Dualsport motorcycle throughout the Northwest. This particular trip made me even more excited to ride with him as he was passing the Kawasaki KLR on to me. My first official motorcycle. I had been riding the KLR for years on our trips, but by the time we reached Seattle it would finally be mine. So what better way to break-in a new-to-me motorcycle than with a trip up to Glacier National Park in Montana?
Leaving Boise we headed north up through Stanley, Idaho via Highway 21. I spent several summers working just outside of Stanley as a young teen and can attest to there being few places like it on earth. The Sawtooth Mountains alone are worth the trip, and it makes for an easy day trip from Boise if you're looking to get some good riding in, lunch in Stanly, and then back by night fall. Highway 21 offers some of the best riding the Rocky Mountains have to offer on their span across Idaho.
We continued North into Montana. "Big Sky Country", and for obvious reasons:
Montana does much to offer you some perspective on just how small we really are. The terrain is massive. Dropping into the first large valley on the way to Wisdom, it took some time before I realized that that mountains surrounding our highway were actually quite some distance away. Like Montana itself is slightly flatter than the curvature of the earth yielding in a much more expansive view off to the horizon.
Shortly after dropping into the valley we stopped off at the Big Hole Battlefield for some cultural enlightenment. It's a fascinating spot located on the west end of the valley just off of Montana State Highway 43. It was the site of the largest battle between the Nez Pierce and the United States, and as far as interpretive centers it's quite well laid out to provide a deep sense of the events leading up to and during the battle. And don't worry, for those with a sad lack of interest in the cultural history of the landscape they are traversing the walking trails at least provide an excellent chance to at least stretch your legs, though I do hope you learn a little should you stop in. The bullets still lodged in the trees provide more gravity to the situation than one might first expect.
Wisdom is a small town with a big heart. There was a great spot with some huge hamburgers that we grabbed dinner at. One of those epic "you have to stop here" kind of places that I'd be telling you all about but sadly it burnt down some years after our trip. But find your own place, and report back to me. They have a great little economy worth supporting (and make some killer pie if I remember correctly). After dinner we made our way back west on Highway 43 in search of a campground. There isn't exactly a campground at that end of the valley, and with the sun setting we didn't want to push our luck in riding too far back up the canyon and encountering deer. My dad's sense of direction (and killer views) found us or own make-shift campsite. It worked out perfectly, and came with it's own bovine alarm clock.
The countryside between Wisdom and Whitefish is as impressive as you'd expect. There is more than enough dualsport riding to be had. I recommend staying on the lookout for any and all old mining towns that are just off the beaten path. The old roads heading back into them are almost always golden, though often a bit washboarded (that's a word today). About 4 miles before this photo was taken I discovered my chain-tensioner had nearly vibrated completely off the bike. Luckily the axle was still plenty tight.
We splurged and treated ourselves to a roadside motel in White Salmon. In retrospect a campsite along Lake Macdonald would have been far superior in addition to giving us a head start on all the camper vans headed up the Going to the Sun Highway first thing in the morning.
Which brings me to the pinnacle of the trip: Glacier National Park and the Going to the Sun Highway. A spectacular landscape, with a road you can't help but try and scrape pegs on, and with as fast as the climate is changing the glaciers will likely be gone within our lifetime. Several reasons to plan a trip there, and soon. Definitely hit the road early to avoid the crowds because once you're about halfway to the top there is often very very few places to pass slower moving vehicles.
We took a small hike up onto the glacier from the interpretive center at the top. It worth spending a bit of time taking it all in as the glacier itself shrinks every year its likely to disappear entirely within my lifetime. Definitely a "see it while you can" situation. Aside from the global warming bit the top is impressive in that the landscape was carved by some pretty epic forces and it truly like no place on earth.
We opted for SR-20 across the northern part of Washington into Seattle with an overnight in Republic, WA. A small town known for its gold-rush glory days of yester-year. In fact a long chat with another motorcyclist over beers on the hotel balcony told us of the hundreds of abandoned mines scattered throughout the neighboring hillsides. Many of which are un-mapped and often only found when livestock or unlucky hikers stumble into them. He was hired on to fill in as many as he could with an excavator crew. Interesting job... Another fun part about Republic is the highway eastbound out of town. Another great Northwest canyon road. Fast and smooth with all the necessary tight turns. SR-20 also winds up in a striking pass through the Cascades the further west you travel. Far less traffic, and flanked by grandious peaks it's well worth gawking on your way up and over.