In part because of my attraction to the north, shortly after college I left Texas and settled in Minnesota, which at the time seemed “way up there.” I recall the first couple of years, when my mother would call up on cold winter days, “I saw the forecast, the high is supposed to be well below freezing. Are you okay?” And the year my grandmother gifted me a pair of camo-colored mittens for the holidays.
Anyway, Minnesota is a fine place to call home, but the more interesting riding destinations require some hundreds of miles of flatland. So I decided to cut a few days off my trip time by riding out to Seattle over a long weekend a few weeks before the Yukon ride itself. And as good luck would have it, my old friend Darkrider
would be able to do this stretch with me.
- We cut out of Minneapolis with the late afternoon traffic on a Wednesday in July, eventually zipping up I-94. Neither of us is a fan of the super-slab, but it felt good to get decent miles under our belt before the day was out. We made it over the border to North Dakota and spent the night in a Valley City hotel.
- Thursday morning we ate a breakfast of hotel waffles and quickly routed up to US Hwy 2 across the northern edge of North Dakota. It was a hot day of a hot summer. Hot enough the twice that day I bought gallon jugs of refrigerated water, drank a quart, and poured the remainder over my head.
If you haven’t been there yet, I encourage a visit to Williston, North Dakota. Just don’t plan to stay overnight. Williston sits in the heart of the Bakken Shale
. Recent increases in oil prices and advances in hydro-fracturing or “fracking”
technology means that quite suddenly, the Bakken is a hot place to be if you’re in the oil drilling business. (Yes, oil. Fracking may be associated with natural gas, but in the Bakken it’s used to access oil. Incidental natural gas is flared off
.) One result, the once sleepy ranching town of Williston has become a literal boom-town, surrounded by modular “man camps”
and choked with traffic and commerce.
Taking a break in Williston, drinking my refrigerated quart of water, a guy (let’s call him “Don,”) stepped up and greeted us. After some polite chat about motorcycles, I asked if he was in oil. “Nope, I’m from Salt Lake City. I build houses. Moved up here four months ago and it was just me. Now I’ve got fourteen guys working for me. I got lucky and a friend is renting me his house, but all my guys are living in the man camps.”
Don told us for $165 a day you can rent a small, spare bedroom and get three meals a day in the man camps. “You can’t get a room in the Super 8 for less than $250 a night. Funny thing is, the motels are half empty most nights. The big companies rent them all out long-term and just use ‘em as they need ‘em.”
He warned us to be careful riding the first 75 miles out of town. The big trucks own the roads, and those narrow, rural two-lanes are hard-pressed even as the crews work furiously to repair and widen them. Still we made it out fine that afternoon, and got as far as Havre, Montana – far enough from the Bakken to get a reasonably priced room.
Rural central North Dakota
Darkrider, looking all bad-ass
I guess Darkrider would rather make tracks then sample the local wines, err car wash...
– With more than 600 miles under our wheels yesterday, we had less than 200 to cover to reach our destination in Glacier National Park, and we covered them quickly.
It’s amazing what getting a bit off the beaten track will do for you. I figured – mid-summer, Friday, there’s no way we’ll get a decent campsite. Sure enough, the big campgrounds with hookups and paved access were well-filled. But, the Cut Bank Campground didn’t have paved access or hookups. What it did have was an incredible meadow and a pleasant, shaded stream where Darkrider and I could drink cold beer and practice casting our fly rods.
In the early evening some showers passed over us. Afterwards I went for a short walk down the meadow. The rain-fresh air, pine trees and wildflowers smelled like heaven.
Public art - Eastern Montana
Darkrider likes Glacier N.P.
Check it, I so nearly pegged him with this cast...
It didn't just smell like heaven that evening
– After the previous evening I was fully in vacation mind-set. Unfortunately, this was the transit leg and I had three weeks of intense work ahead of me starting Monday morning in San Francisco. So, Darkrider and I packed bags and headed over the Going-to-the-Sun Road. The traffic was manageable and the vistas dramatic. So, we poked along, stopping regularly for pictures, or just to take off a helmet and enjoy a beautiful day.
By mid-afternoon we were in West Glacier, and after a quick lunch we parted ways. For Darkrider there was another 10 days of riding, camping, and meandering ahead. For me, a not-quite-beeline to Seattle along US-2.
Leaving Cut Bank Campground
Some Going-to-the-Sun Road images
NW Montana billboard
Coeur D'Alene River
– I woke up in a Spokane hotel. I needed to be in Seattle by 4pm to secure my storage locker and get my bike locked up for the next three weeks. Hrm…I-90 or US-2…speed or scenery.
Duh – scenery.
Highway 2 ended up being pretty damned cool, with golden fields, winding canyon roads, rushing rivers and Stevens Pass over the Cascades. I didn’t have a lot of time to stop and smell the roses, but once again I was reminded that it always pays to avoid the super-slab.
The bike and gear safely stowed away, I closed the day at an airport hotel sipping a glass of scotch and re-adjusting my frame of mind. “Get yourself focused, do good work, and in three weeks you’ll be heading north.”
Eastern Washington scene
Stevens Pass vista
Minneapolis to Seattle