Day Nineteen - September 21, 1997
Smelling the Barn
Bozeman, Montana - Spokane, Washington
It seems like only yesterday that I was whining to you about how two weeks ago I thought 55 degrees was cold until yesterday, when I knew that 40 degrees was really cold. I take it all back. We were not *really* cold until this morning.
The day began typically enough at 5:30am, our usual rising time. Every single hotel that we've stayed in opens their 'complimentary' (have you ever noticed that when a business 'gives' you something that you are paying for, they call it 'complimentary', as if it is because you are worthy of a compliment, when in fact I think the correct word/spelling would be 'complementary', as in 'you are paying for it, so you might as well have it') breakfast service at 6am, which allows us to arrive, freshly showered, bikes loaded, just as they're putting out the coffee. (I'll wait here for a moment while you parse that paragraph.)
Anyway, we arrive at the appointed place at the appointed time only to be greeted by a sign: "Complimentary breakfast service 6am - 9am Monday - Saturday, 7am - 10am Sunday." WHAT?!!?? Grumble grumble grumble.
Now usually at 6am we're drinking coffee, grunting stuff about miles per gallon and gas and oil and air and other manly discussion topics, watching CNN or TWC, and then we're bundled and off for the day by 6:30am. But not today. So Mark says, "OK, screw it, we'll skip our warmup breakfast and just go for the regular morning brunch meal in Butte." Sure, why not. Grumble grumble grumble.
So we go back to the bikes, so recently loaded, and I look at the thermometer. 40 degrees. It's not windy, it's not raining, I can deal with this. And off we ride into the dark, pre-dawn sky. The mountains are beautiful against the coming sun.
And oh, did I mention that we're riding up into the mountains? The same 5th grader that can tell you that fog is 100% precipitation could also inform you that when your altitude increases, temperatures often drop, especially when the sun is not yet awake. So as we climb into the mountains, it's getting colder, and colder, and colder. 40 degrees seems like a balmy dream. I look down at my thermometer; it's dropped to 28. Gulp.
Gosh, only another 20 miles to Butte! (Aside to Korey - that's pronounced "beaut" as in "beauty", not the other way, like Beavis's friend.) I turn the camera on myself so I can remember this moment forever.
We finally arrive in Butte, and cruise historic downtown Butte, historic Uptown Butte, and frankly anywhere with lights on looking for something resembling a cute little cafe holding some human interest stories in which we can feign interest while warming up. Nada. Apparently there is a conspiracy between the Hampton Inn of Bozeman and the downtown restaurants of Butte. Finally we discover a 24-hour casino-lounge-cafe somewhere in Butte and we pull in. At this point, I just don't care.
We shiver into the 'Joker's Wild Casino and Family Restaurant' at 7:30am, and the beer is pouring, the slots are spinning, but hey, the coffee is on and we're headed for a booth, thankful to be inside. The waitress looks at us like we're nuts or something, and says "Do you know how cold it is outside? It's 28 degrees. Why are you riding motorcycles? Where are you from?" We answer, "Seattle", and she just nods. Thankfully she is pouring coffee during all of this, and we are grateful to be warming our hands on the mugs.
As we were headed east on this trip, when people would ask where we were from, and where we were going, the "Seattle to Michigan and back" answer always elicited a respectful whistle, or at least an approving nod. Now that we're only two states away, we just seem like a couple of middle-aged crisis-resolving gray-haired guys out for a Sunday morning ride. Oh well, guess you can't reap glory all the time.
At this point, I would like to take a moment to thank the seasoned bikers in the audience who restrained from heaping sarcasm and abuse during the previous two whining bouts. You could just hear them rolling their eyes when I was whining about 55 and 40 degrees, but now that we're part of the 'below-freezing' club, I think we may have won their respect. Or incredulity. Whatever. Thank you.
Many of you have asked for the return of the popular "Q&A" session. Today's question has to do with keeping your hands warm.
We take our time with breakfast, and by the time the Greyhound headed for Chicago dumps its scruffy lot into the Joker's restaurant, it's warmed up enough for us to do the rest of the day. Remind me someday to tell you the story about me and Gus Prange going to Washington DC from Indianapolis on a bus.
We stop for gas in Deer Lodge, whose claim to fame is the Old Prison Museum. I am intrigued by this. Apparently, the town has this old prison, and the decision is either tear it down and put in a strip mall, like any self-respecting small town would do, or make it a tourist trap, which any aspiring small town would do. They opt for tourist trap.
Now maybe it's 19 days on the road speaking here, but I suddenly have a dramatic insight. Remember Correctionville, Iowa? These two towns should get together! They each have what the other needs! Correctionville has the name, and Deer Lodge has the facility. What a concept!
The other cool thing in Deer Lodge is the awesome Cushman scooter at the gas station. This thing looks like a cross between the wheelchair that Captain Pike sits in the pilot episode of Star Trek and a Radio Flyer. Oooooh.
During the course of this trip, we have not seen all that many motorcycles. Most that we have seen have been going the other way (did they know something that we didn't?) Today, we overtake a group of half a dozen cycles heading west. This is a great opportunity for you to see just how much stuff you can take with you on a bike.
You will quite often hear motorcyclists discussing "the wave", the international sign of good will among two (and three) wheel motor-driven enthusiasts. Basically, bikers wave at each other, as if to say "yeah, we're cool." It's a very satisfying thing. Now some people will tell you that certain brands don't wave at certain other brands, or some really hard core leather dudes don't wave at anybody (maybe their eyepatches have slipped over their one remaining good eye and they just can't see you), but I wave at everybody. Each biker develops a distinctive wave, or at least they think it's distinctive. Newbies give a big, high, "Hey, how ya doin!" wave. This is not safe, because your hand ends up in the jetstream above the bike's windshield. Cool bikers drop their left hand off the handlebar as if they are throwing loose change on the ground, then casually return it to its grip. My distinctive wave is to point at the oncoming biker, as if to say, "yeah, you're bad." Works for me.
I've been hoping to be able to get a picture of some crusty biker doing the wave but frankly, when two large heavy objects are hurtling towards one another at a combined speed approaching 200 mph, it's a little challenging. So today I was fortunate to be able to snap a biker I was passing as he was waving. His wave was of the "Golly, how are ya?" variety but you get the idea.
We crest the pass where Montana looks down at Idaho and stop for a historical marker describing a huge forest fire in 1910 that wiped out 3,000,000 acres of timber. Apparently the smoke was so thick and voluminous that it darkened the skies as far away as Montreal and London.
As we cross into Idaho, we enter the Pacific Time Zone, gaining back the last of the hours that we had given away on our ride east. On the last day of summer, 1997, we are within striking distance of home. On our descent into the Spokane area we see another reminder that home is very close. We briefly consider going for it, but we've already got 400 miles down today, and another 300 would leave us zombies.
We check into the Hampton Inn, the same Hampton Inn that we stayed at on the eastward leg. I fear the adventure is over - from here on, it's all familiar turf, and we are smelling the barn.
I hope I have something interesting to say tomorrow.