Every year a group of my friends take a trip up to Yellowstone, it is normally a 3 day venture, but this year it was extended a day so we could travel up Beartooth Pass. This is a detailed account of day 2 which starts in West Yellowstone. I have excluded Beartooth Pass choosing to dedicate one whole post to that. If you’d like to start a the beginning, go back and read Day 1.
It was 6:30 AM and I was (finally) sleeping cozily curled up between the edge of the bed and the small mound blanket that had accumulated between Aron and I. It had taken some time but I was finally warm and comfortable. Suddenly, I was jarred awake by the sound of my alarm. “I’m sorry! I’m sorry!” I said in a loud but hushed voice. I lunged at my phone, rolling off the bed and almost smacking my head on the bedside table. We didn’t have to be up for hours but I had forgotten to turn off my alarm for work. I silenced it and turned off the rest of my alarms. As I turned to get back in bed I realized my head was throbbing and my stomach ached, a startling reminder of the hi-jinks the night before. I turned to get back in bed and slowly resigned to the fact that I was never going get comfortable again. There were hours before we had to be up so I pulled up my blanket and did my best to fall back asleep.
The alarm had woken all three of us up and I was not the only having trouble falling back asleep. After another 30 minutes or so, Brandon decided to just get out of bed and get ready for the day. While Brandon showered, Aron and I tried to get back to sleep. It wasn’t long before I too abandoned the quest for sleep; I got up and dressed while Aron slept and before Brandon got out of the shower. I was thankful that most of my things were packed, as I was tired and feeling queasy. Eventually, Aron accepted it was time to get up and soon we were packing up our bikes. We rode down to the Three Bears Restaurant; not surprisingly we were the first ones there. We headed in and gave them a heads up on the size of our group (19) and then walked around town. Aron and Brandon headed back to the hotel to turn in the keys to the room and I wandered into some of my favorite stores.
I walked past the place where Yellowstone Motorhed used to be, and into Smith and Chandler, the gift shop just to the west, full of handmade jewelry, bags and unique clothing. The also sell housewares and huckleberry everything. I found many items I adored, but bought nothing and quickly moved on. I visited the “The T-shirt shop”, though only their “patch annex” a small room that used to be full of funny, though off-putting patches. They also carry a smattering of other gifts, more directed at bikers but not exclusively. This year I found the usual patches, flags, military, and emergency service, but very few with any sayings. Disappointed, I looked over a few of the other items, wallets, leather hair wraps, and oddly enough a pocket breathalyzer. Again I left empty-handed. It was almost time for breakfast but my head was still spinning and I was weary of joining the 18 others for breakfast.
On my way back I passed the small coffee place on the corner. I stopped in my tracks, and took a few step backs to the window. I smiled at the girl behind the counter and ordered a small caramel latte not forgetting that I was heading to breakfast. I felt silly ordering coffee being only minutes from the Three Bears, but I knew it was what I needed to steady my head and settle my stomach before facing the smiling and mostly cheery group of friends I was about to encounter. I made small talk with the barista while she made my latte. Once she handed it to me, I thanked her and was on my way. Upon the first sip I knew I’d made the right choice. I walked to the Three Bears intoxicated by the rich bouquet of my latte, the subtle hint of caramel and enjoying the clear, clean air; the promise of an incredible day ahead.
Upon arriving at the Three Bears restaurant, I was greeted by the mass of bikes. Inside most everyone had settled down at a table; I found my spot at a table with Aron, Jed and Sam. Breakfast was full of chatter and laughter, we were all in high spirits, ready for the day. We left breakfast in small groups, agreeing to meet just inside the park in about 30 minutes. Some had to check out, others needed to pick up their bags and the rest went to top off our tanks. Aron, Och and I stopped at Eagle’s store for gas, and some supplies for the day. Not long after that we were rolling through the entry gate of Yellowstone National Park, and pulled off to wait for everyone else.
Once everyone had gathered just inside the park entrance, we were ready. The mood was palpable, this year was exciting for many of us because for the first time, we were heading to Tower Falls and then on to Beartooth Highway, consistently named one of the top 10 motorcycle roads in the country. Once everyone was settled on their bikes, we pulled onto the road cautious of cars entering the park and we were off. We had one car in front (Rita our navigator), and one in back with all 16 bikes in between. Our caravan snaked through the curves and familiar road from the west entrance of the park. It was a beautiful day for a ride familiar or not, the sky was clear and the sun was out, and though I knew this stretch of road is always gorgeous. I let some focus shift to my surroundings seduced by the way the sun played with the surface of the river and flickered through the trees. I looked for animals along the tree line, or at the water’s edge forever hopeful but experience has taught it is unlikely. I took a deep breath of the cool mountain air, it was slightly chilly in just my t-shirt, but felt great after the heat of the day before. We rode along this stretch all the way out to Canyon Village before heading north since there was construction on the road between Norris and Tower. At the Canyon intersection, James and Cindy road to the front, and pulled out into either lane signaling to us that we could now pull through and make our left turn as a group.
Now on unfamiliar roads, the scenery flipped between forests and open grasslands, and the day warmed as we rode. We came upon a herd of bison peppered in the trees on either side of us. We slowed as we approached leery of the stopped traffic but kept moving due to the proximity of the bison. There was one in the ditch on our side and he was only about a foot from the road. Bradley was in front of me, clearly excited; he slowed more than the rest of the group, basically to a stop and leaned toward the bison. I had no intention of stopping knowing the temperament of bison. As I passed I saw the bison begin to move and heard the BRRRAAAPPPPP of Bradley’s bike as he hightailed it before the bison could attack. Having watched the bison’s interaction with Bradley, the rest of the group skated past quickly, giving the bison a wide berth. He let the rest of the group pass, having successfully asserted his dominance.
We finally arrived at Tower Falls and pulled into the parking lot lining up 3-4 bikes in a row to be as compact as possible. We’d been riding for a little over an hour and needed to stretch. We wandered first into the gift store, many of us grabbing ice cream or something to drink. Our group trickled down the path toward the overlook along with hoards of other tourists. It’s a short hike from the parking lot, and well worth it. If you’ve never been to Tower Falls, you might be perplexed upon reaching the end of the path as there is no waterfall in front of you. But as you turn back toward the visitor center the 132-foot fall comes into view. It is truly breathtaking, the river flowing past “towers” of stone, then pouring over the grey-yellow stone, all surrounded by vibrant green trees. It is also fascinating to watch the cars and tourists travel along the road just above the falls, unable to see the spectacle from anywhere but the viewpoint where we were.
We all eventually meandered back to the bikes, and waited for the rest of the group to join us. Having taken a decent break and stretched our legs, we were ready to head on up road and get to Beartooth. We stopped at Tower Junction for a few minutes and were finally on our way. The Northeastern Entrance road travels along the Lamar River which creates a truly gorgeous setting. The water is dark, but fast-moving indicated by the white caps as the water ebbs and flows. It is truly what you think of when you think of a perfect wilderness and you just expect to see wildlife gingerly walking through the trees, or bathing in the water. Unfortunately, today there was no wildlife to be seen, but we had our own type of excitement. Somewhere along the way one of Sam’s bag came loose and started swinging along the side of his bike. Aron and I had been chatting on our Senas when he noticed. I was on the outside of the lane, so I started to pull ahead to let Sam know when Jed (who was in front of Sam) noticed and signaled for him to pull off. It was too late though, just as he finally realized what Jed was waving about the strap that had been holding the bag broke, and the bag went flying.
It was less eventful than when Angie’s bag went sailing. It was a smaller bag, and it just rolled along the road, but must have been open because items went flying. Those of us behind him pulled off behind him and helped gather his items. This time though it wasn’t as simple as strapping it back on to the bike; we found that an item of clothing had become entrenched in his chain. At first we attempted to pull the item out but it had bound up the chain, and just began to shred. Soon Aron, Och, Bradley and Sam were all working on getting the cloth out.Even Brandon joined in using his knife to cut the thread and cloth wrapped around the chain. The clothing (which turned out to be a pair of underwear) had been sucked into the chain and around the hub of the wheel which had melted the fabric into a large hard chunk of plastic. After more than an hour, the chain was seemingly clear of any foreign object but the axle adjuster was bent. The chain seemed to be tight enough, but we weren’t sure how it would ride. Sam rolled it a little ways down the road and everything seemed to be working so we were finally on the way.
We rolled into Cooke City feeling tired and hungry Sam’s bike had made it without issue, but once we stopped we noticed his chain had become dangerously loose. As he backed in to park, we could see it hanging stretched out and swaying sickly with the movement of the bike. There was no way that bike was making it over Beartooth, let alone all the way home. We had been on the road for much longer than anticipated and the excitement of the pass had drained from us. Most of us headed into to eat, and relax. It was a quieter meal than breakfast, all of us needing to recharge, and many of the us were contemplating how we could fix Sam’s bike. We were hopeful that bending axle adjuster back into place would be enough of a fix to get him over the pass and home safely. After ordering, Bradley and Brandon, headed back outside to see what they could scrounge up to fix it.
They walked to the business next door, and asked to borrow a hammer. The woman at the store looked at them and said, “I have a hammer, but I’m not sure I should give it to you…” And after a long pause where neither Bradley or Brandon knew what to say, she said, “just tell me is it for a dog or a person?” They laughed and assured her it was not, they just needed to fix a bike. She relinquished the hammer and they walked out chuckling. They came back in and told us the story and sat down to eat lunch. Och was mostly done with his so he headed out to work on the bike. He straightened out the axle adjuster, and tightened the chain before the rest of us were done. We were surprised at the speed at which he had completed the job. The chain was tight and didn’t seem to be loosening when Sam rode. Having eaten and the problem in front of us having been solved, the excitement had returned to us. We were jaunty, loud and joking as we trickled out to the two gas stations in town to fill up before heading up the pass. Finally we were ready to go.