Published: June 28th 2012June 28th 2012
Road miles to date: 4,629
We spent a long first day back in the US heading South towards Seattle and then East across Washington state. We hit another storm crossing the Cascade Mountains which had us wondering if we were in for an American cousin of the disappointing British summers back home, but it served to only temporarily dampen the spirit as we rode down from the Cascades into breaking sunshine.
We stopped off in the eerily Bavarian-themed town of Leavenworth where the weather turned positively tropical. In the early sixties the town was on the brink of desertion when locals decided to transform it into a unique tourist destination and converted the entire place into a Bavarian town, road signs, shop signs and dress code included. We were told by a local in lederhosen that almost every state has one.
We continued East over miles and miles of rolling farmland where the blue sky and big fluffy clouds seemed to go on forever. We eventually called it a day in the small town of Odessa where we set up camp for the night under a 'tourist camping' sign on what was essentially a village green and got
a fitful nights sleep worrying we would be ousted by locals with pitchforks!
After setting off early we soon left Washington and entered the Northern panhandle of Idaho state. We stopped for lunch at a roadside diner where one look at the menu was all that was required to tempt Byron into ordering the Gut Buster - a dish that came with its own warning. By now, savvy to American portion sizes, Isabel steered well clear and went polar opposite with a salad. Although the dishes were equal in size, a bead of sweat trickled across Byron's brow as they were placed on the table. There was no turning back. No losing face. This was about more than macho pride. It was about not letting down Queen and Country. The ordeal that followed was an epic feat and display of true British grit. With plates empty, one waddled and the other supported him back to the car park with heads held high, albeit with one stomach in agony as his arteries began to block. Once in the car park and out of sight, a solemn promise was made to never laugh in the face of a food warning again.
Later that day, after crossing another state border and into Montana we stopped in Beavertail Hill Creek and were delighted to find that we could have a day off from pitching the tent and instead slept in a ti-pi Despite the pain of lunch, we still managed to cook more food, build a fire then retire to relative luxury in the spacious ti-pi later to find out we were sharing it with a chipmunk!
We set off in the morning making good time before it hit us that we had actually crossed time zones the day before, for the fifth time on this trip, and had lost an hour. As we pulled over for petrol we had a chance meeting with author of Motorcycling Montana who introduced himself after seeing the loaded up BMW and gave us a tip on what turned out be an amazing route heading East. Although it didn't help to regain the lost hour, it took us through some fantastic, genuine cowboy country where the skies went on for miles and miles and we got a real feel for the area that we just didn't see on the interstate highway. Later on we passed
through Virginia City and Nevada City, a couple of tiny towns that have been totally preserved as if straight from a wild west movie with clapboard fronted saloons, tiny wooden houses and a stagecoach station.
Crossing the great continental divide and entering earthquake country we passed the appropriately named Earthquake lake. The lake was formed in 1959 when an earthquake brought half a mountain tumbling down into the valley, blocking a river and burying a campsite, sadly together with its twenty plus campers. The tops of trees still sit above the surface of the lake as a dark reminder of the lake's origin.
After another long days' ride in the baking heat we arrived at Yellowstone to learn that all the park campsites were full so ended up in the aptly named Ho Hum motel just outside the park in West Yellowstone. Early the next morning we raced fifty miles through the park to successfully get to a campsite that had just opened on the edge of Yellowstone Lake.
Shortly after setting up camp, Byron disappeared into the woods and returned dragging a thirty foot lodge pole pine tree behind him. Minutes later he returned with another
one. Using his trusty hand axe, short work was made of logging the trees while other men watched on as they unloaded neat boxes of purchased firewood from their trucks.
Before arriving, all we knew of the park was that it was home to Yogi Bear and the famous geyser, Old Faithful. It was interesting to learn that it was the world's first recognised National Park, that it is situated on top of an active volcano, that most of it lies over seven thousand feet above sea level and that it has the largest concentration of geothermal activity in the world. It is also home to its own breed of stealth Mosquitoes that had a good old meal out of us, unlike the gigantic breed further North that you could at least keep your eye on.
Exploring Yellowstone was fantastic, though the throngs of families on their holidays and resulting traffic build ups around the loop road took away the element of great wilderness we were lucky to get a taste of in Denali and Jasper. We did manage to see Old Faithful blow off, the spectacular Grand Canyon of Yellowstone where the centre of the last volcanic eruption occurred 640,000 years ago, the Mammoth Hot Springs and also sunbathe beside the 136 square mile Yellowstone Lake which was so cold it hurt!
After missing the first turn off out of the park and proceeding to take an eighty mile detour, we finally left the park and made our way into Wyoming proper. As we drove out of the East park gate, the landscape changed almost immediately into real Western country with enormous craggy red rocks, dry and arid hills and hundreds of ranches. The heavy heat and the time lost on our little detour made us decide to stop early in the cowboy town of Cody, just on the other side of the Buffalo Bill Reservation.
After pitching the tent down a canyon on the edge of a creek surrounded by olive trees with the sun beating down, we knew this wasn't going to be a one night stop over. Two nights later we were feasting on a chuckwagon buffet at the Cody Cattle Company, letting out more than the occasional "yeeehaw" to the Triple C Cowboys who sure knew how to raise the honky tonk and have a good ol' time. Minus stetsons, cowboy boots, spurs, check shirts and a tin of chewin' tabacca tucked in the top pocket, we felt somewhat under-dressed but they still didn't point us out as outsiders as they did to the folks from Michigan and Oklahoma.
To top the evening off, we went to the Cody Night Rodeo and watched the impressive skills of the cowboys and cowgirls riding bucking broncos and bulls, lassoing runaway cattle. Just when we thought it couldn't get any wilder, they invited the kids from the audience down to grab ribbons from runaway calves. Good to see health and safety hasn't gone mad over here yet as tiny kids ran behind bucking calves while the stadium was hootin' and hollerin'!
Four days later we sat in the town park, beside the statue of local legend and town founder, William 'Buffalo Bill' Cody, watching a concert given by a US military band. Safe to say all the cowboy activity, local patriotism and stories of outlaws had us considering trading in the bike for a couple of sturdy steeds and going native. However, tomorrow on the fifth day of our originally intended quick stop over, we will saddle up the iron horse to continue East into the Badlands with the hope of meeting some native American Indians and spending some time learning about their culture.
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