Yellowstone 2017: Day 1

A few weeks ago I went on our annual Yellowstone run. But this year my friends wanted to ride Bear tooth Pass so we added an extra day to our trip, and it made this year’s trip one of the more memorable.

It was just after 9 AM the morning of our trip and I was wandering through WalMart. In the chaos of packing for my trip while in the middle of a move, I forgot to put pajama pants and any accessories for my GoPro in my travel bag. So now I found myself here in the middle of the Ogden Wal-Mart. I had to hurry as I was meeting a few friends for breakfast before the we headed out to meet the rest of the group. Luckily it didn’t take long to find what I needed and checkout. By 10:00, I had strapped all my gear, including my new purchases, back onto my bike and headed down the road for breakfast.

When I arrived, I found my two friends, Aron and Och (pronounced Oh-ch) standing next to their bikes, looking more as though they were ready to leave than stay for breakfast. I pulled up next to them and cut my engine, “We have to go,” my friend Aron said as he made a gesture for me to leave my helmet on. “They’re almost ready to leave.” He was referring to the rest of our group who were meeting in Salt Lake and travelling northward to meet us. They had planned to leave between 10 and 10:30, but after 10 years of this ride, we were used to them running late. This year though the group had actually assembled on time. Honestly, this was a great start to the trip, but I was hungry.

The three of mounted our bikes and rode to the meeting place, a gas station in Willard. We filled up and parked while we waited for the group. We took this time to mull around the gas station, and each managed to find something for breakfast. We had enough time to eat and set up my Sena SMH-10 on Aron’s helmet. The group showed up after a while, though really right on schedule. After they filled up, they came and parked with our bikes, and the greetings began. Some of us hadn’t seen each other since the last trip to Yellowstone so there was plenty to catch up on. We checked out the new bikes, and became acquainted with Sam, Jed’s friend who was joining us this year. We waited for Bradley to arrive and finally everyone was ready to get on the road and start this year’s adventure.

There were 16 bikes and 2 chase vehicles in all. It can be hard to ride with such a big group but we’ve gotten it down to an art. Over the years, we’ve learned certain strategies that allow us to stay together as one group. One of the more helpful things is having a couple of bikes that ride sweep (in the back) that are wiling to ride up to the front of the group and block the road when we approach an intersection. That way we can safely ride through. We also stay in basically the same order, so that there isn’t any hesitation, or jockeying for position when leaving a gas stop. Also, in case the group gets split up or can’t stay together for some reason there are 3 “ride captains” that know the route. Each person has a smaller group within the group they are responsible for. It’s a little structured for my taste (as is riding with 15 other bikes) but when riding with that many people it really does help the ride go much smoother.

From Willard, we headed to Logan veering off I-15 to avoid construction and the boring scenery of the freeway. On the road between Brigham City and Logan there’s a little canyon (Sardine Canyon) that is fun to ride if you’re not stuck behind a semi… which we were for quite a while. Finally there was an opening and we ducked into the right lane (that was closed for construction) and around the truck. About a mile or so down the road there was highway patrol on the side of the road. As we approached it became clear he’d pulled over a motorcycle. As we passed by I realized it was Bradley, who had pulled ahead so he could ride at his own pace (faster) than the group.  As I pulled back on the throttle, I chuckled and shook my head knowing he had probably been clocked at 100+, and anticipated what was sure to be a great tale.

We finally reached Logan, gassed up and then waited for the arrival of our “speedy” friend. Eventually, he arrived and was in surprisingly good spirits. We waited for him to fuel up before asking questions. Not surprisingly he had received a ticket. He had been clocked at 96 MPH but since he hadn’t seen the cop behind him he reached 130+ before actually pulling over. He also snuck between the semi that we’d been stuck behind and another car. Bradley can be quite charming though, so he hadn’t been arrested, and received a ticket for only 96MPH but also one for “not staying in his own lane” (aka lane splitting) which carries a pretty hefty fine. He also lamented having to go the speed limit from the point where he’d been pulled over to here. We laughed with him and prepared to hit the road again.

The road from Logan was hot, boring and slow. By the time we got to the next gas station, I was in a foul mood. Hot, tired and with a wicked case of “swass” I was ready to attack anyone that got in my way. I made a beeline into the gas station, chugged a cup of ice water and headed to the bathroom. I felt better after cooling off, but was still annoyed, and anxious to get to the next stop. Luckily, it seemed I wasn’t the only one who was ready to get to Idaho Falls and stop for lunch, so it wasn’t long before we got back on the road.

Every year we stop in Idaho Falls and eat at Jack-in-the-Box; this year was no different. We headed for I-15 and were soon on a direct path for Idaho Falls.  As we approached our exit I started to get excited for lunch. All of a sudden, up ahead there was a large object in the air. I jerked my head up to watch its trajectory and saw everyone in front of me scatter to their respective sides. As I approached and it dropped out of the sky I realized it was someone’s pack. It landed just after I passed it and I navigated to the shoulder joining those in front of me. Luckily, the rest of our group successfully navigated around it. The bag was intact as the tail-end of our group headed to retrieve it. They were almost to it when a pick-up truck merged into the lane without realizing the bag was there and hit it full force. The contents of the bag exploded outward and were dispersed in two lanes. Our group scurried and scattered to pick up everything they could, strapped it to the back of bike so we could go the 2 more miles to our lunch destination.

Those of us that had stopped headed on to Jack in the Box to find George and Angie sitting in the parking lot. They hadn’t realized that Angie’s bag had yard sailed on the freeway until Brandon had called to inform them why the group had stopped. We all laughed as the story was told from multiple points of view. I was beginning to get hangry and was desperate for a break from the hot, dry air so I left the group and headed into Jack-in-the-Box first. I ordered my food and then sat in the corner. Thankfully, I started to feel better even before I finished my food and was ready to be social again. Before we left Bradley caught up with us (he had been waiting for us at the Jack in the Box in Pocatello)  and we told him the story of Angie’s bag. After lunch we filled up and got back on the road. Only the Caribou-Targhee National Forest and one gas stop stood between us and West Yellowstone, where we would be staying for the night.

The ride through the National Forest is always pretty, and usually a bit cooler. I can never ride through it without flashing back to my very first ride to Yellowstone where we ran into hail as we entered the forest. This year the cool air was welcome and I even let out a squeal of joy. As we twisted through the trees, I thought ahead to what tonight would bring. I knew most of the group would want to head to Beartooth Barbecue, but I wanted to take a shower and wasn’t really in the mood for something so heavy. I wasn’t sure where to eat otherwise, and so I turned my mind to later that evening. We always go out to the Wild West Pizzeria and Saloon and celebrate another year of the Yellowstone Run. It’s always a good time to spend time with people away from work, and some of us party pretty hard; it is my favorite night of the entire year.

I was ripped from my reverie by the sudden flash of brake lights ahead of me. We were braking hard and fast. I pumped my front brake, trying to alert those behind me and then grabbed and stomped hard bringing my bike to a jolting stop. The RV that was travelling in front of us had slowed and stopped in the middle of the road. He finally turned onto a dirt road and we continued on. After a mile or so I noticed that there was only one headlight behind me. I intercomed Aron, and we pulled off. Another minute or so went by and a car stopped to let us know that one of us had gone down, but seemed OK. George headed back to check on the situation but since we had all found a safe place to pull off the rest of us stayed. Eventually we saw the group approaching so we saddled up and fell in behind them.

It was only a few miles to our next stop, a gas station in Island Park, so we didn’t have to wait long to hear the story of what had happened. James, one of our sweep riders, at the end of the groups accordion-like stop, had locked up his brakes and gone down. He was lucky though, sliding on his back and shoulder and since he was wearing a vest he fared with just a few scratches. There was minimal damage to his bike, a broken turn signal and some damage to his throttle, but the bike was still rideable. We were all a little shaken, but eager to get to West Yellowstone, so after a bit of time, some jokes and for some of us, Red Bulls, we pressed on.

West Yellowstone is a short 30 miles from Island Park, in fact the only reason we stop in Island Park is for people with tiny little tanks (like me!), so it wasn’t long before we were rolling into town. We had finally arrived, all of us pulled into a parking lot near the hotel most of us were staying and made a plan for the night. As predicted, the plan was to meet at Beartooth Barbecue in about 30 minutes. So I soon settled in, prepped my things for the morning knowing I would not be in the right state of mind to do it later and waited for Brandon and Aron to leave for dinner so I could shower. The shower was luxurious, I was finally able to relax. I took time getting dressed, drying my hair, and putting on some makeup. I left the room at twilight and wandered through the town I’ve come to know so well.

West Yellowstone is one of those tiny “western” towns. Most things are “wood cabin” style, there is not a lot there, and nothing’s too fancy.  It is on a grid so it’s fairly easy to navigate and the commercial area is concentrated to the west side of town. The town has been serving tourists visiting the park for over 100 years. So it makes sense that the east side seems to be half hotels half shopping/dining and that some of the signs are in Mandarin. The town does have permanent residents though, according to the last census just over 1,200 people and only has 1 school serving K-12.


Gas station we go to in West Yellowstone– “Eagle’s Store in 1939”, photo by George A Grant, NPS

I called my mother to let her know I had arrived alive and the plans for the rest of the trip as I headed towards Wild West. The night was perfect the heat of the day having dissipated. I said goodbye to my mother about one block away and as I walked the rest of the way, I thought back on previous years, and wondered what shenanigans we would get into this year and where the night would take me. I won’t go into the details of the night, but I will say this. We didn’t get as wild as other years but there was plenty of nonsense and we found our fair share of trouble. I have no idea what time we stumbled out of the bar, but I was ready to go, and happy to walk with the group of us that remained. The walk home was pretty tame in comparison to other years, though there was some fence climbing involved. I was afraid I lacked the coordination to make it over the fence so Aron, Brandon and I walked around the block to the front of the hotel and it wasn’t long before we were ready for bed. Thankfully. we were all a little drunk because the room only had one king sized bed, and while we’re all friends it had the potential to be awkward. There is plenty of room for 3 people but we gave each other plenty of space and we each had our own blanket. I was feeling pretty happy by the time I laid down. I pulled up my blanket, snuggled in and closed my eyes excited for Beartooth Pass the next day.



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