Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Montana - Beartooth pass

Mike Granger, we feel, deserves a special mention in our blog. We had only met him along the road. He was going south, we were going north. The only reason we met is because he just happened to be filling up at the same time and the same place as we were, just outside Alaska. We both had perhaps unusual bikes for the trip but we had never met before, yet after just 10 minutes he gave us his card and asked to 'drop in' if we were passing through Montana… total strangers! Would you open your house up to scruffy looking strangers, covered in mud from the wet days we had at the Cassiar and especially the Alcan highway, and who you know nothing about? He did! It became a bit more than 'just drop in' too…

The saddlebags weren't dustproof… this is what our
cutlery looked like after just 200km dirt
As we travelled further it became obvious that we needed to do something about Jeanette's original Triumph leather saddlebags. The bags are very good, but had became 'an offering to the God of travel' when a fall in New Zealand had damaged one of them so much that it leaked water. They had done their job though as the stiffness had protected the contents very well. As it also had become clear we could travel further than 'just' Alaska, Canada and the lower 48's, we also wanted something we can lock. As the Holan Nomada panniers had proved themselves under impossible conditions over and over again, it was clear we wanted another set of them. 

We had heard a lot of complaints on different pannier systems; yet my Holans just performed flawlessly, day in day out and are very easy to live with. They had taken a couple of hits without even giving the slightest hint of being stressed, had proven to be waterproof (in the extreme!) and dustproof (which is harder than waterproof in my humble opinion). The problem we had of course was that no-one made a proper pannier rack for a Bonneville. The only racks I knew of were from Metal Mule (expensive and poorly made with flattened pipe ends and poor welding) and Hepco and Becker (which are mounted too far back). Which is why I had made my own rack for my T100. What I needed, to make a mounting rack for Jeanette's Bonneville, was someone with a workbench, a MiG welder, steel and some basic tools I could use… Where do I find that? Try walking into a metal fabrication shop and ask 'Hey mate, can I borrow your welder, your vice and your tools?' I reckon you'd better duck quickly to miss that pipe he's throwing at your head :-) We also needed an address to send the panniers to… Mike Granger sprang to mind… he might have a MiG too… worth a try… So I send him an e-mail, basically saying something like 'Do you have a MiG that I can use to fabricate a pannier rack?' The chances he had a decent MiG were slim of course, but his reply was 'Sure!'…

We ordered the panniers directly from Holan in Poland and expected the delivery to take some time, due to US Customs getting a fit from something coming behind the former 'iron curtain'. Which is another reason we stayed longer in Jasper. Waiting in the USA was no option as we needed every day we had on the 90 day US Visa waiver. In the end US Customs gave no problems at all and didn't charge us anything as the parcel was send as temporary entry, but DHL did give us some serious headaches! Holan asked DHL to send them to us and paid for a courier service, DHL simply dropped them in the mail… I'm not kidding, we could track the parcel, which was for 10 days stationary with DHL… then dropped off at Deutsche Post, instead of offering the courier service that had been paid for. Deutsch Post then gave it to US Mail and only paid for standard delivery. The fastest part of the whole exercise? US Mail, no question!

Mike's famous 'page 88' recipe!
Mike Granger not only gave us a roof over our heads. He recorded the MotoGP and Formula 1 for us (seen on a BIG screen!), fed us the most wonderful meals, gave us full access to his whole workshop (which is huge!) and toolbox… (more like a toolshed on wheels!) We changed the tyres, promptly delivered by RockyMountainATV (highly recommended), serviced all the bikes, repaired Mike and Jeanette's damaged rack permanently, and fitted 3 new chain and sprocket sets from JT Sprockets (via Bike Alert; the best chains and sprockets yet!) and fitted new brake pads all round. The Yamaha's chain was so badly worn that it had lost all it's o-rings, while the front sprocket looked more like a badly damaged saw blade than something to work with a chain…
Mike also arranged for the workshop at the Wildlife and Refuge centre to be used after hours, so that I could fabricate and weld the pannier rack for the new panniers on Jeanette's Bonneville. Could I have met anyone more helpful and generous? No way!

In the meantime Jeanette was busy sorting out all our stuff, the accumulated souvenirs etc. She also sorted out our wardrobe as we no longer needed the full winter gear and some of our bike gear just wasn't working anymore. Two big boxes (Jeanette kept the Triumph bags) were send off to my parents in Holland! We wanted to stay with Mike for a couple of days… it became almost a week! Some people are truly generous in the extreme. Hopefully we can be as generous to another traveller one day… Hopefully Mike will drop in one day when doing a European tour (Come on Mike, send the Buell over to us and do a big tour of Europe!)…  after we're back from Argentina!)

Lewistown Honda, also highly recommended as a very friendly and helpful place, had organised the SBS brake pads for us. SBS, Scandinavian Brake Systems, make very good brake pads that go the distance. As we had quite a few kilometres still ahead of us I didn't want anything else! They also supplied us with engine oil and clip links to fit the new chains (yes I know soft links are supposed to be better, but I have yet to see a clip link fail or wear prematurely in 30+ years motorcycling).

After our visit to Mike and his family we headed for Yellowstone. Along the way we did our first ever shopping at a Amish store. I've always been interested in unusual lifestyles and different people, especially when they seem to embrace the simple things in life. Not sure about the, in my view, somewhat extreme religious view but at the same time don't know enough about it to comment. All I can say is the people there were friendly and the products good! The 191 south from Lewistown is a flat and boring road, according to our Mike. He likes mountains, switchbacks, steep and narrow; this is flat and wide open.

Later that day we realised we should have left earlier in the day… when we couldn't find a campspot anywhere. In the end however we found a free spot, at least we think it was free(!), at Riverside Park in Laurel, just before dark. Mike Granger had told us about the best road towards Yellowstone: The Beartooth Pass. As we wanted to take our time on the Beartooth, we took a state park campground just before the pass. That turned out to be free as well… as the campground host, who camped next to us, couldn't be bothered to collect the fee. As he couldn't be bothered to fix broken taps, clean the toilets, supply toilet paper etc, we didn't feel so bad as we felt he had no right to charge anyway… :-)

The Beartooth Pass is a 'must-be-on-your-list-to-do' road. Also known as US Highway 212 the Beartooth Pass road opened in 1936. For motorcycles it has all the right ingredients: it's steep, has hairpin corners, plenty of places to stop and take a photo, magic views and to top it all off: not a lot of traffic. Heavy snowfall at the top means it's closed from mid October to mid May, and even in summer it will only be open 'weather permitting'. Snowstorms can occur there even in the middle of summer. We were lucky as it was rather late in the year when we were there, but the pass was open! It's cold at the top and we had just send back our winter gear… The views are worth it though. Closer to the top are a series of mountain lakes and the connection to the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway. We'll let the photos do the talking! 

We kept heading west to the northeast entry of Yellowstone National Park, which is just past Cooke City (the last stop for fuel before the park). There is a series of campgrounds just before Cooke City, but they were closed due to 'bear activity'. Our first US National Park, in Alaska, was booked out. The second one, Glacier, was booked out too but we were lucky that someone had just unexpectedly left… Now we were heading for the 3rd US National Park and had planned on staying outside it, but found all campgrounds closed due to Yogi Bear causing problems and had no options but to ride on. The first campground in Yellowstone had exactly one spot available, we took it!