Yellowstone July 2020

Three nights, 1061 miles, two broken light mounts, one Joe Exotic doppleganger, six gas station meals, 180 miles in the rain, countless perfectly cooked turns, 19 hours of great music, one small epiphany, eight bison and one too many nights in a teepee later, I’m back.

How many nights did I spend in that teepee? One – and it was one too many. I digress:

My Southern Utah loop had better weather and I had one more day to cover the same distance – at the end of it I was completely exhausted, thrilled to get off the bike for a few days. This trip was different – I was ready to roll again the next day, but duty kept me home.

Here are a few photos and notes about this ride through some of the most magnificent country in the world.

Friday, 24 July: Stansbury Park to Logan, UT. 100 miles.

The first leg of the trip was from Stansbury Park to Logan, where I’d spend the night at my mom’s house. I began this hundred mile ride at dusk – something I am loathe to do because it puts me going through Sardine Canyon in the dark. Sardine Canyon is full of deer, and deer kill bikers.

20 minutes into the ride, light flashes into my eyes from a strange direction. I glance around to make sure there isn’t a police officer in my blind spot. Finding that empty, I notice the light source in my lower peripheral vision: My left passing light has broken free from it’s mount and is swinging around by it’s wire. Luckily the highway was quite tranquil at this point and afforded me a few brain cycles to observe the condition of the light and wire – I decided that it could wait until I could make a proper stop at a proper exit rather than hang out on the shoulder of the highway.

It did not just come loose – the mounting bracket broke. It seems to have literally been shaken to the point of breaking. (V-twin engine motorcycles are notorious for their vibrations).

I’m off to such a late start, 20 miles in I’m already having things go wrong with my bike – is this an omen to abort mission and stay home?

I pulled out my emergency zip tie stash and began mending the damage. If zip tie repairs were a merit badge, I just earned it, with honors. My repair held strong through the whole ride and for a long time after.

I resumed the first leg of the trip – my late departure proved to be a very happy accident:

In Utah, the 24th of July is second only to the 4th of July – we celebrate the arrival of the Mormon Pioneers and the settling of our state. Parades (except for this year, thanks to Covid-19), grills ablaze, apple pie and fireworks.

The bulk of this night’s ride would be along I-15, passing through all of the cities that make up the Wasatch Front Metro area. Every neighborhood in every city was celebrating, their arial fireworks leaping into the air on both sides of me for mile up on mile. Though I knew they were celebrating the excuse the celebrate, it felt as if I was being lauded at the outset of a fantastic voyage. 

Gas in Brigham City.  40 mpg

I sat with Mom at her kitchen table and mused over the route for the coming days. She was convinced I am as crazy and careless as my Dad – an indictment laden with significance and well meaning concern. I ate casserole and drank Dr. Pepper with her at the same kitchen table I was raised at. There’s a certain comfort in being able to truly come home for a moment now and then. We discussed one particular point of interest on the up coming ride:

The place in Logan Canyon where my Dad had his life altering motorcycle accident. My regular readers / listeners / close friends are familiar with the story. If you aren’t and want to know – read about it here.

The plan was to find the spot, pull over, and take a picture where his accident happened. My mom doesn’t get it. She thinks I’m insane. She tells me that she prays for me. My motorcycle and I have definitely brought my Mom closer to The Lord.

Saturday 25 July: Logan, UT to Cody, WY. 386 Miles.

Today’s ride will clock in at nearly 400 miles – I’m slightly intimated by not only the number, but the map:

I’ll be going through Grand Teton National Park, Yellowstone National Park, and the Absaroka Wilderness area – places I know very little about. I’ve done my best to determine waypoints for fuel. They are far and few between, I’m hoping the maps are right about these few spot, I’m gambling the success of my ride on the accuracy of their published hours. During COVID-19, all bets are off.

A couple of days before the ride, I bought some rain gear, knowing that some day it would save my ass during a long ride. I had been watching the weather for this ride, and all skies looked clear. I brought the rain gear anyway, mostly to feel like a good Boy Scout, to get accustomed to stowing it and working around the space it occupies.

It’s been forever since I’ve been in Logan Canyon. This is a place of striking beauty, especially the first half of it – magnificent, world class gorgeousness. As I approached the summit of Logan Canyon, the site of my Dad’s accident, my attention was on high alert. I passed over the summit, confused as to the absence of sites that resembled the scene of the crime. I was tempted to stop, turn around and scour the last few miles for any trace of something that resembled my Dad’s spot – but I was already running behind. I was more nervous about making it to Powell, WY before sunset than I was finding my Dad’s site. I’m in Logan all the time, this quest would need to be completed another day.

[It was indeed completed another day – check it out here]

Gas and a gas station lunch of trail mix and beef sticks in Montpelier. 43 mpg

Filled my emergency tank. Feels awesome to have 2 extra gallons on board. Oh yeah. You can buy wine at the gas station in Idaho. Come on Utah. Don’t let Idaho be more progressive than us.  

Gas in alpine, 45 mpg. The guy on the other side of the pump loves my “Social Distancing Since…” shirt. I give him my website, he says he’ll go buy one.

On my last big ride, I packed a bunch of camera gear with me, and I used it twice – and ended up actually using none of those images. My iPhone 11 Pro was my go-to camera. On this trip, I decided to leave the big camera home and rely solely on the iPhone.

“les trois tetons”
The Tetons were named by 19th century French fur trappers who thought the mountain peaks looked like breasts. “Teton” is French slang for “tit”, or as I prefer to call them, “breasts”.
Though I had not been away from home as long as those trappers, these majestic peaks put my mind into two places:

Thinking about Ansel Adams and his “zone system” for creating his masterful black and white photographs, and…

Lovers – both remembered, and imagined, which kept me warm for a while…

Moving further toward Yellowstone – storm clouds gathered. For a while I decided to see if I could outrun them, or hope they would change direction. Tiny droplets of rain began to appear on my visor. Soon they had enough mass to be felt through my shirt. I resisted the thought of my rain gear for as long as possible. Between the decreasing temperatures, the afternoon wearing on, and the increasing size of those rain drops, I pulled over and suited up.

Yellowstone sucked. I don’t know how else to say it, and I feel bad for doing so. It was cold, it rained the whole time, and I made a gross miscalculation on my mileage and ride time. At best, I’d be arriving at my evening stay at the end of check in; this fact was stressing me out.

Gas at Colter Bay 43 mpg 

Dinner at Colter Bay service station: trail mix and meat sticks, rather than the hearty, hot meal in a roadside cafe I’ve been fantasizing about.

A substantial part of my route followed the southern half of the Grand Loop. I forgot that this is not a highway, but a small road for tourists to creep along in their white mini vans while frequently stopping to take pictures of grazing elk or bison – and creep along, frequently stopping and taking pictures of grazing elk and bison, the white mini vans did.

This goddamn road seemed to go on forever. Yellowstone lake was grey, drab, and the source of chilling humidity. I got lost in a quandary:
I SHOULD be enjoying this
This actually sucks
….and all of the mental fallout from such a chasm of experience.

Gas at last Yellowstone Lake service station. 44 mpg. 

In the words of the late, great, drummer and adventure motorcyclist:

Adventures suck while you are having them.
– Neil Peart

Toward the last section of Yellowstone’s Grand Loop, I encountered another form of wildlife: a pack of motorcyclists.

There were 4 riding in formation: Two in front, riding in tandem next to each other in the same lane (this is considered dangerous because it provides little margin for error if one rider should swerve or otherwise break from formation). The two in front were both wearing some kind of MC Club patch on the back of their vests. Behind them were two other riders, one wearing the same patch and riding close behind, the fourth rider wearing no such colors, yet seeming to keep up with the group. My guess is that he is a prospect (a new guy who is essentially auditioning for acceptance into the club). The two guys in front were riding the nicest bikes, as well, one riding a highly customized white Harley of some kind, the other on a more conventional Street Glide, complete with huge batwing faring. The white bike in the left position had huge, custom ape hanger handlebars. He wasn’t wearing gloves and his only head gear was a bandana worn as a headband on his bald head. He is clearly harder an more insane than anyone else in the club: it was still quite cold and raining. He was not comfortable – he was parading how hardened he is. The rider on the right had a large, bulbous, purple helmet that matched the purple paint on his bike. Judging by the vibes left in their wake, the white bike guy was the cool yet brutal leader of the club, purple bike and helmet guy is his loud mouthed right hand man.

They owned the road, maintaining a speed just slightly over the speed limit – enough to make passing them a real statement and challenge to their authority, yet not so fast to catch the attention of law enforcement. Their formation was so tightly executed, they seemed to be bound by an invisible steel rod that kept them at a precise distance and speed. They looked like a school of predatory fish as we moved through the curves of Yellowstone’s eastern side. Riding behind them had a hypnotic quality. This formation continued as we left Yellowstone and entered into the Absaroka Wilderness area. After another hour of this routine, the rain broke, the setting sun peaked out of a few broken clouds on the horizon, and I stopped for fuel in Cody, Wyoming. My phone was about to die, my AirPods had already died, and I was in desperate need of a charge. I carried two external battery packs with me for this purpose. As I was fueling up, I plugged my phone in to get some charge so that I could use navigation to get me to my destination for the night- an Air BnB that provides teepees on a working cattle ranch out in the middle of nowhere (Powell, Wyoming, to be exact). I would need my technology to complete the ride. The battery pack was behaving strangely. I speculated that it was a bad iPhone cable. I went inside the gas station and paid a humiliating amount of money for a simple cable. I was so disgruntled about the cable purchase that I forgot to calculate my mileage.

So far on this trip, I had seen virtually no law enforcement…. until now.

My AirPods were not charged yet, so I could not get turn by turn navigation in my ears while riding, and all of the map apps were behaving strangely. Furthermore, the driving directions from the Air BnB host were complicated: “Don’t trust Apple Maps, it will lead you astray every time. Check in ends at 9:30pm”. He included the GPS coordinates and a combination of Google Maps and landmarks to follow. I was tempted to simply get a motel room in Cody and forgo my Air BnB reservation. I decided to persist in looking for it. I promised myself that if I hadn’t found it by 9:45, I would turn back to Cody and pay through the nose for an overpriced motel room.

I pulled over to rummage through my saddle bag to swap out my sunglasses for regular glasses, as it had become dark. Within 1 minute of pulling over to the shoulder of the road, a truck pulled up with bright headlights. You know, those headlights that have that certain quality that hints at what comes next…. a barrage of flashing red and blue lights. He hadn’t seen me break any laws (that I know of). I mentally recited the lines, “No officer, I do not consent to a search”… ya know. Just in case. I waved at the wall of light, and began walking toward the driver’s side door of the Park County Sheriff’s truck.

“Everything okay?”

“Yep, just changing glasses”


I closed everything back up, found my next waypoint, and rode off. He followed me for a while and then passed me, speeding off to his next encounter.

Finally made it to the teepee place. I was really struggling with navigation.  I need a phone mount so I  can see the maps. When I was thinking about my navigation troubles last night, I was being hard on myself about needing to stop and look at the map so often, thinking about how soft people are for just having GPS in their ears all the time, and then I realized, but even in older more analog times the driver would have a navigator. There was always a navigator. These little technological tools simply allow one to be one zone navigator and to do things solo. But to do it solo, the tools need to be working.

I was cold, hungry and tired from spending the last half of the day riding in the rain. I made my way to the fire pit, made small talk with a few other campers who were cooking on it, and dined on the only food I had in my saddle bags: Trail mix, meat sticks, and a mediocre locally brewed IPA. I accidentally spilled half of that IPA. Fuck that IPA, anyway.

I love to drink local beer when I’m out of town – it contains some of the spirit of the place and people. Drinking a few of their brews makes my visit feel more thorough. That said, I have yet to drink beer that is better than the beer made in Utah. We have some absolutely brilliant breweries in SLC: Uinta, Wasatch, Epic, TF, and Fisher, to name a few of my favorites.

Tomorrow’s ride was going to be either long, or really goddamn long, depending on the route I choose. I was in desperate need of a good night’s rest, and a good night’s rest I did not get.

This particular Air BnB host boasted about his famous “cowboy breakfast” which would be served from 7-8 am sharp. “You snooze, you lose”, he warned, on his Air BnB listing. This breakfast would consist of hearty pancakes, sausage made on their farm, warm conversation, and hot coffee. I typically skip breakfast, but this sounded homey if not enticing. I decided to get up in time for breakfast.

26 July: Powell, WY to Star Valley, WY. 326 Miles

Waking up in time for “cowboy breakfast” proved far easier than I hoped for. The cot was uncomfortable. The sun came up extra early that day, and the various animals squatting on those farm pastures got up even earlier than the sun. Of note was one large – something – that was busy burrowing under the tent. I looked at the time – 5 am. I tried to sleep another two hours, but instead cocooned in my sleeping bag, cursing nature. At 7am sharp, I was up, dressed, and packing my bike for the day’s journey. Breakfast was nowhere to be found. I dawdled until 7:20 am in hopes of this much boasted breakfast – still no signs of life or cooking. I saddled up and made my way into Cody to a place I could count on for a highway cowboy breakfast: Maverick.

I dined on the a gas station breakfast burrito, complete with a soggy flour tortilla melding into the egg in some indiscriminate food stuff. The coffee was good. Not great, but good, and that gave me gratitude. I sat on a picnic bench and plotted out today’s journey, which had a few possible routes.

One of my childhood friends, and fellow motorcyclist, Matt Jensen, highly suggested I reroute and ride Beartooth Pass. It is known for is breathtaking scenery, rise in altitude and highly curvaceous roads. My default route would take me back through Yellowstone, through the east side, along the north side of the grand loop and out via West Yellowstone.

The Beartooth Pass route would add another hundred miles to my ride today and I don’t know if I have that in me. Being alert and nimble can be a matter of life and death on a motorcycle. As it is, I had a rather full day of 326 miles (some of which would be very slow moving through Yellowstone). The thought of adding another 100 miles, in my sleep deprived condition, seemed a terrible idea.

Ride Beartooth Pass Pros / cons:

Pros: Amazing photos, bragging rights, set a new personal record for endurance riding, testicles will grow 2 sizes larger.

Cons: Will be super crunched for time and will have to endure Yellowstone rather than enjoy it, decent odds of death from drowsy riding, won’t be able to stop and smell any roses or take any pictures along the way because I’ll be in a big fucking hurry, show up in Star Valley too late to get a good hot meal.

I decided to forgo the testicle growth in favor of living through this trip. Today’s ride would go through West Yellowstone, through the north side of the Gran Loop, out through West Yellowstone, and then south to Star Valley via The Pallisades and Targhee National Forrest.

This decision did not disappoint.

Fuel and lunch in Yellowstone 41 mpg 

Yet another service station lunch of trail mix and meat sticks, this time washed down with an energy drink.

I took plenty of time to pull over and take pictures of whatever inspired me along the way. Yellowstone is too magnificent of a place to suffer through it like I did yesterday. Not only does it deserve some awe and respect – it is so good for the soul.

In other news, Yellowstone is a massive volcano that is set to blow at any second (in geological terms). When it does, it will annihilate all life in the western United States, forever cripple the eastern half, and bring the world economy to a grinding halt, reducing the planet to chaos, anarchy, and primitive conditions.

Admiring it’s beauty seems like the right move.

Today, I loved Yellowstone.

Gas somewhere in Idaho, 51mpg

I had no idea potato fields could be so gorgeous. I rode south on backroads that wound through countless miles of gently rising and falling 65mph roads, crossing through perfectly manicured fields. For all intents and purposes, I was riding through the Windows XP desktop scenery:

After the Windows XP stage of the ride, I found myself entering Targhee National Forrest. This leg of the ride was sadly short and breathtakingly sweet. Before long I was on the other side of Targhee – fortunately the next section of my ride would not disappoint.

The ride through the Palisades was ALL KINDS OF BEAUTIFUL. 10/10 would do again tomorrow.  I didn’t stop to take any photos because at this point, I have all but given up on my ability to properly capture the experience.

You had to be there. I’m smiling now, just thinking about this gorgeous path of travel.

The gently curving roads wound through more breathtaking forrest, much of it alongside the Pallisades Reservoir which seemed staggeringly large. The air was perfectly perfumed by the forrest for miles on end. I raised my face shield and breathed it in deeply, mile after mile, feeling it’s life giving effects in my lungs and soul.

I must pause for a moment to thank my friend Doug Rice for turning me onto Butler Maps (a map service that highlights roads that are optimal for motorcycle travel). This ride would have been nowhere nearly as amazing without the guidance of Butler maps.

Gas in swan valley, 48mpg

My intention was to arrive in Star Valley in the late afternoon. I fantasized about checking in to my motel, showering up, and embarking into the nearest piece of civilization to indulge in my first non-trail mix meal. I figured that Thayne would have a diner or two, and if they didn’t I’d make my way south for 15 miles into Afton for said proper dinner of meat, potatoes, and cold beer.

My arrival in Thayne came much later than I expected, due, I’m sure, to actually enjoying Yellowstone earlier in the day. I eventually found my motel – it was squeezed in behind some other structures. My expectations were conflicted – I paid a fair amount for this room. I’ve stayed in some very nice hotels for the amount I paid for tonight’s accommodations. Everything north of Salt Lake City is expensive AF right now. It seems everyone in America has taken their quarantine vacation and unemployment money, and hit the road for the great American West. Demand is high, and so are the prices.

The man who ran the motel was the long lost twin brother of Joe Exotic (of Netflix Tiger King fame). He had all the same mannerisms, ticks, and face. I found that my room was essentially a (surprisingly clean) museum piece from 1982, with the exception of the bed. It was an extremely comfortable memory foam style mattress.

The only cafe in town was a cowboy bar across the street, and it was closed for a private function. “I’ll call ’em up. They got real good prime rib sowinches”, he said as he dialed the bar. “Hey, we got a guy here that’s real hungry, you guys open? No? Well ooookay then…”.

“You could go down to Maverick down the street. They got bad ass pizzas for like 7 bucks”, he suggested, in his small western town twang.

I thanked him for his culinary recommendations and told him I’d go see what I could find at Maverick.

Another highway cowboy meal for me. I found a cup of microwaveable chili and some chips. I was hoping for some beer to cap the night off, too. I recognized the signs of a neutered Maverick – I’d seen this before in Blanding, Utah (which is in a dry county). The part of the drink area that would normally hold beer was covered over with Maverick branding. I quizzed the cashier:

“Is this a dry county?” I asked, incredulity leaking from my voice.

“No, but the city of Thayne only has two liquor licenses. The cowboy bar has one of them, and the other is held by a little bar & liquor store one block up the street. They are usually pretty good about letting you buy stuff out of their cooler”.

I thanked him for his guidance and made my way to the Pines Bar. The clientele were obvious regulars, shit talking the bartender while she maintained their liquid fueled ability to do so. Their musical selections included white trash favorites such as The Offspring’s “Pretty Fly For A White Guy”, Ozzy Osbourne, and other stuff that seemed to make more sense after 2 cold glasses of good beer.

True to the gas station attendant’s word, they happily sold me a 6 pack of locally brewed IPA out of their cooler. I took the Melvin’s IPA and microwave chili to my motel, which was essentially next door, and dined.

I slept SO WELL in this funky little Swiss Inn Motel. The bed was a very comfy memory foam mattress. The place looks ghetto AF from the outside, and it’s super old on the inside, but it was comfortable, and for that I am grateful.  

27 July: Thayne, WY to Stansbury Park, UT (Home). 245 Miles

Today is the last leg of the ride. It feels like it’s going to be easy. We shall see.   I am so sick of gas station meals – the last decent food I had was at Mom’s house Friday night. I can’t wait to find a good brew pub, order fish & chips and a couple of delicious beers. 

Fuel in Cokeville. 42 mpg 

I took the long way home, wanting to explore the back side of the Wasatch range a little bit. After enduring many boring miles in Wyoming, I entered Utah and came upon some adorable little farming communities, still steeped in the rich tradition of their Mormon Pioneer founders.

I crossed over Monte Cristo peak – another favorite segment of the ride, rising to an elevation of nearly 10,000 feet. The vegetation changes noticeably as one rises in elevation. The road through Monte Cristo is a motorcyclist’s delight – scenic, curvy, and fairly well maintained. For the record, I would not recommend it for beginning riders, this is more of an intermediate and advanced route. I found myself clinching my sphincter on a few occasions, having overcooked a few turns on the descent toward Huntsville.

Gas in Huntsville. 44mpg

From there, it was a pretty straightforward ride into Ogden, where I stopped for the lunch I’ve been craving all weekend:

This ride has been inspiring, aggravating, nerve racking, exhilarating, diarrhea inducing, strangely comforting, and in tiny moments, revelatory. Also frustrating AF. 

As I rode the last few miles toward home on I-80, light flashes into my eyes from a strange direction. I glance around to make sure there isn’t a police officer in my blind spot. Finding that empty, I notice the light source in my lower peripheral vision: My right passing light has broken free from it’s mount and is swinging around by it’s wire.

Just like the left one did at the outset of the trip… in the same spot on Interstate 80.

I wasn’t even mad about this. I pulled over, inspected the damage, found to be identical to the other, and made a bungee cord repair.

I love the symmetry of those light mounts breaking at the beginning and end of the trip in the same spot.

What does it mean? What are the big takeaways from the trip?

It means that it’s time to get new lights.

I should do this again soon.

…except for the teepee.

Fuck that teepee.

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