Morning came to me with the sound of Wayne and Zina stirring about camp. My decision to finally get up was only made when I heard the soft whisper of their JetBoil stove light up. Coffee, Coffee, Coffee. I winced slightly as I un-entombed myself from the sleeping bag. One day of (easy) dirt on the sidecar and things already hurt.
The lower elevation of our camp, and its proximity to a wetlands refuge area left everything with a good layer of dew over it. The trees blocked any good line of sun, so most of our gear was getting packed wet. I leave the ends of my dry bag unclipped to help dry some of the kit when riding.
One additional benefit to traveling by Ural, is a built in bear locker. No more climbing up precarious trees to hang your food and waste! Just throw everything in the trunk, and park the rig a safe distance from your tent. Those Russians think of everything.
Just as we were readying up to start the bikes, a bicyclist rode up and gave us an enthusiastic greeting. Pascal hails from Switzerland and had recently started out on the GDR route too. He's ridden through many lands (including the Sahara desert) in a very laid-back, no-frills frame of mind.
He spoke of his job(s) as a software programmer, that he only works at for 6-12 months before leaving to pursue another adventure. I was struck by the nomadic nature of his work, compared with the `long-term-relationship' culture that somehow became popular here in America. Life is short and uncertain. Why wait for retirement (presuming you make it there) to enjoy life?
After wishing Pascal good luck on his trip, we didn't get to far before dismounting again. Crews were busy replacing this culvert that washed away with the spring melt.
When we walked up to the edge, they didn't even look up from their work. It would appear all the dedicated road crews work in the woods. Most of the crews I usually see on the side of I-25 are standing in a circle smoking cigarettes while one guy rakes gravel aimlessly.
With the best penmanship of the three of us, Zina wrote up a sign for Pascal to prevent four miles of rocky uphill biking. Hopefully he got it and is still grinning out there on the trail.
Unfortunately there was no dirt bypass around the closed road, so we figured out that we had to scoot down 83 for a stretch. Other than some beautiful forested area, the road is pretty flat and uninspiring, even if the scenery is anything but.
We gassed up our trusty steeds, and filled our luggage with rations and supplies for the day. An early lunch of sandwiches and coffee at the fine outside seating made for a good stop. Traveling with dogs drastically changes your evaluation process for eateries along a trip. Since most places can't (or won't) allow dogs inside, outdoor seating is paramount. Huge points if said area is shaded too.
Shortly past Condon, we got back on a beautiful dirt road, riding past the Cottonwood Lakes. The water here has such an amazing color to it.
Four or five miles later, the road turned to freshly graded. While loose dirt isn't always fun on motorcycles, its a LOT of fun on a Ural. Gassing the throttle around a right-handed corner results in a little drift, while chopping the throttle on a tight left-hand corner lets you drift into it.
After miles and miles of endless forest bordering the road, any clearing is worth a stop and a look around.
Monture road out of the Lolo national forest is a nice, county-maintained gravel road which takes you right into Ovando. This wide-open view is what I am accustomed to after my time living in SW Montana. Traveling at "Ural Speed"
really allows you to swivel your noggin' around and take everything in.
With a 2-to-1 ratio of Dogs to Humans, Ovando is our kind of town. Its small, smaller even than what self-appointed "small town people"
might consider small. As is typical with most small Montana towns, the people are the nicest you'll ever meet.
Howie and Peggy run the Ovando Inn
with their family. Off-leash dogs wandering around the town is as welcome a sign to us, as was the ice-cream Howie had on tap in his store. A ritual Wayne & Zina do on long trips (which I happily embraced), ice-cream every day is something I really started looking forward to.
Notice how evasive Wayne has to be with that ice cream so close to Simon's ice-cream-hole? Duck and move, duck and move. While it may seem that we are torturing our dogs on these motorcycles, I assure you they get some nice perks throughout the day.
Howie came out and chatted with us a bit about the town. He mentioned that they specifically cater to people on the great divide ride/hike. If a room at the Inn is too high-society for you, a tee-pee, or the jail-house are $2 options.
He also gave me the pin above. "Normally I charge folks for these, but if someone comes in carryin', its free"
he told me with a grin through his long mustache. I proudly pinned it on my jacket and thanked him. The west is pretty gun-friendly place.
The county-maintained road out of Ovando is well cared for. It rolls along a bunch of foothills and ranch land on the way into Helena national forest.
Some old abandoned dreams and homesteads dotted the view on the way. I can't help but think how hardy the people that lived here must have been, and how luxurious it is of us to be riding through the same land on our motorcycles.
The trail winds up and through Huckleberry Pass, with a couple of rocky sections that bounced us around quite a bit. Softball sized rocks are really no problem on the Ural, but will still rock you around violently. Lola has the worst of it all, as she's standing on all four legs balancing most of the time. When it gets rough, we rest more often to conserve pilot and co-pilot alike.
Lola was happy to lie down for a bit, still in good spirits about the trip. Her willingness to depart the sidecar when I turn the motor off is a good gauge on her energy level. Near the end of the day, sometimes she won't even stand up until I pull the bag with the tent off the Ural.
Over the top of huckleberry pass, we rode down Beaver Creek on our way to Lincoln, MT. Heavy equipment, dump-trucks and logging operations made the road a mess. The Ural clanged and banged through the hard ruts created by metal-tracked vehicles. Occasional logs or firewood chunks strewn in the middle of the road made for much slower progress.
Stretch and pee breaks are important for humans and dogs. A forest service truck stopped and asked us if we had seen a pair of Oakley's on the road. I cringed thinking back. Was there a black shiny blur that I possibly ran over? "No, I don't think I've seen them"
. It was probably just a piece of black tarp, I quietly hoped.
After gassing up in Lincoln, MT, we headed out on Stempleton Pass road. Compared to Huckleberry Pass, this was a superhighway. Despite a rather steep grade, the Ural hummed along at 40-45mph without much need for anything other than 3rd gear.
Still down around 5600 feet, it was pretty hot. I would periodically spray water on Lola's head if her panting-while-moving speed seemed rapid. She hates being wet for any reason, but will choose it (begrudgingly) over leaping from a moving vehicle to escape. Smart dog.
Down Marsh Creek into Empire creek, the nice superhighway was abandoned for a washed, narrow road. The size of the rocks seemed to grow proportionally with the distance traveled.
Here lies the remains of the Empire Mill, before and after. It was a stamp mill
, which uses "sets" of stamps. The Empire was a pretty large mill, with 60 stamps.
The road takes a right turn after the Empire mill, directly onto a rocky goat-path. The Ural has just over 4 inches of suspension travel, which means you feel every big, rough rock you roll over. I only got this one crappy photo, as I could only hold onto a paint shaker for so long before appendages refuse to function.
No pictures over Bald Butte either. A grader had recently churned up all the large buried rocks, which echoed off the fenders, frame, and skid plate with loud metallic clangs.
Going up and over priest pass the road finally turned to a favorable Ural medium. A 2-3# layer of sand covered most of the road, and provided many smiles and slides while cruising up the switchbacks. While descending the pass I saw the tracks from Wayne & Zina pushing all over the road.
Lola and I would have felt bad for the other half of our crew on this section, if we weren't still recovering from the savage beating on roads before it.
By the time I finally caught up with Zina and Wayne at Rt 12, they had already figured out where we would camp. 7 miles down the road at a place called Moose Creek. Their plan was music to my ears, and I think Lola let out an audible sigh when she heard Wayne speak the word "Camp"
Situated in a narrow valley, the campground was in great shape, and would get some good sun in the morning. It had a handful of "long-timers" stationed there in various camping equipment. Zina and Wayne spoke of an apparent long-timer stationed near the entrance that brought the "won't you be my neighbor"
vibe on a little too strong with them.
Even Simon was exhausted from his day in the backpack. When I imagine what its like for him in there, I think of a inflatable bouncy house (the kind used at kids parties) strapped onto a flatbed driving down a washboard road. He's very devoted to Zina and Wayne, complaining loudly whenever he feels they are too far apart from one another.
Tonight was our first communal meal, dubbed "Taco Soup". The recipe came from a friend (Celia) who first served it to Kait and I one evening. I changed the recipe a bit to accommodate camping with cans and limited supplies. Its comprised mostly of beans, chili with more beans, corn and around 4,000% percent of your daily sodium intake.
Over rice or chips its absolutely delicious, as long as you are comfortable with the side-effects. Long, frequent flatulence is guaranteed, or your money back. Depending on your digestive system health, a 4:00 AM red alert may also be experienced. This product is not recommended for travelers with irritable bowel syndrome and/or a long walk to the outhouse.
Zina volunteered to do the dishes in the creek near our campsite, while Wayne and I packed up stoves and debated the merits of old country music. We built a small fire in the campfire ring to ward off the mosquitos. Wayne is a great talker, and we've started a tradition of dissecting social behaviors together after dinner in the evening.
Lola was already fast asleep in the tent by the time Wayne and I stopped gabbing and turned in. Lots of good dirt miles in today, over a grab-bag of terrain. Ural is running great, and life is very, very good.
Days Mileage: 188 miles
Total Mileage: 1,506 miles