From Montana to Idaho, and back again


As we ride out of Lima, I note the time as around 5:30pm. We’ve hatched a loose plan to ride 40 miles-ish east to a primitive campsite just past Lima Reservoir.  We ride through Lima to Third Avenue and turn east, bump over the railroad tracks and out into the river basin.  At first golden evening sunlight blankets the landscape around us. But clouds are quickly rolling in from the west carried on gusty winds. 

We ride along the Red Rock River and past herds of grazing horses. The road takes us past the dam and damkeepers house and then dissolves slightly to a simple backwater dirt road which has deep dried ruts in places from previous traffic that came through during rainy times. 

   

  

  

  

At a T, we turn south into the wetlands that surrounds the river basin and reservoir and start watching for a sign for our campground, but see nothing. I stop where my gps shows we should see something and Tammy spies a sign on a gate that says something about maintaining campsites. So this must be it. She opens the gate for Molly and me, and we venture into the scrubby draw ahead, motoring up the overgrown trail. Not far in, we come to the remains of an old house and debate for a minute or two. This doesn’t quite look right, but we decide to carry on. The two tire tracks start to climb up a grassy hill and then dig themselves deeper into the hillside, forcing my front wheel to bounce around like a bowling ball in a gutter a time or two. We come out above the draw and keep puttering along, the trail worsening as we go, until finally we turn back. It’s windy and exposed up here, and not appealing to any of us. So we double back, get back on the road, and ride east toward the small community of Lakeview. 

  
  
Low, gray clouds have obscured what little daylight there is left, leaving the washboards and holes in the road harder to spot. As we ride into Lakeview, it’s nearly completely dark.

Lakeview turns out to not be a town, as I had thought it would be from the looks of the map, but is instead a collection of cabins that form a remote university campus of some sort. Several cabins soft warm glowing light onto the road, but all the doors are closed. This isn’t really a place for visitors. Everyone is tucked in for the night. 

Molly knocks on a door and a young man inside says there’s a campsite just a few more miles up the road at Upper Red Rocks Lake, on the left side of the road. Off we go, bound for what we hope will be our home for the night. 

Those last few miles of bumpy, damp track seem the longest, especially when ridden after dark. As we pull into the campground, it’s pitch black. Clouds have blocked any moonlight that may have been out tonight. 

Warning signs instruct us to be “bear aware” and hang food up and away from our tent site, as this area is known for bear activity.  Molly leads us to a spot near the trees and just below the level of the road, which is nicely tucked in out of the cool breeze. 

We quickly set to work setting up our tents and I light my stove and start boiling a liter of water for a hot tea for each of us. And I boil another for Molly’s hot water bottle.  She says Nalgene bottles are perfect for that and keep the foot of your sleeping bag warm all night. Think I’m gonna steal that idea someday.

As I open my gear bag, I catch a big waft of apple from one that had been riding there among the soft padding of clothing for the day. Perfect for attracting bears, ugh. So I dig out my hatchet and bear spray to keep next to me in the tent. 

 

Two other adventure riders who we waved at about twenty miles back are already settled in just around the corner and I say hi on my way back to camp from the outhouse, as Molly sparks up a conversation with them. I’m hopeful I’m not ride, but I’m tired, and I’m off to my bag. Doesn’t feel like it will freeze tonight, but it certainly will rain. I double check my gear bags and kickstand one last time before I crawl in to be sure everything is prepared for rain.

Sure enough, shortly after I crawl in, it starts to rain and does so, on and off, all night. The next morning, Molly mixes up a batch of her magical oatmeal for us.  We pack up our wet tents, and load up to carry on east toward Idaho. 

   

Our easterly path along this road follows the south shore of the lake and then curves north before turning east again. We spy hunters, fishermen and ranchers at work, all along the ride this morning. 

      

As we ride further east, the clouds settle even lower and it starts to most now and then. On the high ridges around us I can see fresh snow. 

The road gets rockier and climbs up the shoulder of Mount Jefferson as we cross into Idaho and stop at a Continental Divide marker at just over 7000 feet. 

      

Chill settles into the valleys and, eventually into my bones. I’m looking forward to a cup of hot tea somewhere up ahead. 

The trail should deliver us to Macks Inn before we carry on south and east around the southern edge of Yellowstone National Park. But at a roadside stop Tammy mentions she hasn’t ever been to the park, so a new plan is hatched instead. We are headed for Jackson, Wyoming so Molly can hopefully see an old friend, and it’s an easy change to add Yellowstone to our route on the way to Jackson. 

As we reach Highway 20, the temperature continues to drop, and just south of Henry’s Lake State Park, it starts to snow. We turn north, riding to West Yellowstone, and hope now to find a room for the night. 
  

Highway speeds and wet gloves make riding miserable, and apparently not just for me. After less than ten miles we pull off the road at a gas station for fuel and a warmup. Big snowflakes swirl in clouds around us. The guy at the station suggests a hotel just over Targhee Pass and back into Montana, and after we warm up, we head that way.

  
Molly turns into the Super 8 and we splurge for one of the last rooms left in the area tonight.  It’s a much-appreciated luxury. 

In turn, we each empty our bikes into our room, which makes it look like some sort of Moto-explosion just happened. Our bikes are tucked in under the shelter of the carport out front and we are cozy in our room. Nothing makes you appreciate the indoors as much as having some quality time in the great outdoors.

   
 
Weather reports come in and it sounds like is there snow piling up in Yellowstone.  A fire closed the south entrance to Yellowstone a couple of weeks ago and may be blocking our Continental Divide path, so we hope the moisture will put it out and the road will open for us. But reports in the morning say the road is still closed. We decide to ride back into Idaho and carry on toward Jackson on the highway.  

 Just before we leave I notice a billboard in the field next to the hotel supporting seeking adventure. Who am I to argue? 

A man carves a totem with his chainsaw in a light rain. I love Montana.  

  


  

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