Riding To Big Sky Country.

A Motorcycle Travel Journal.

I plan on hitting up some iconic spots on this trip. I’ll be leaving San Diego and headed north on U.S. 395 to Lake Tahoe. I’ll then head across the desert in Nevada on the “Loneliest Road in America” U.S. 50. Toward the eastern side of Nevada I’ll turn north and head to Utah and visit the Bonneville Salt Flats. Continuing north, I’ll head into Idaho then Wyoming to see Yellowstone National Park. After Yellowstone I’ll go to Billings, Montana and visit family there. My return trip will be similar, but I’ll change it up so I can see some new things and experience some new roads.

324 miles. This time last year, just before school started, I had some free time and rode my bike up the California coast to Big Sur, saw the redwood trees and went to Yosemite. It was a great trip and I saw a lot of beautiful things. This summer I decided to take another long trip before school started.

Old gas station on U.S. 395.

Today I left San Diego and went north on Interstate 15 until I hit U.S. 395 and continued north. This is a great road that took me through the Mojave Desert. It’s hot and desolate, but it’s also beautiful. I rode this all the way to the town of Lone Pine which has a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) area called the Alabama Hills. I learned that several movies have been filmed out here, mostly westerns. I grabbed dinner at a small diner in town and then made my way out to see the Mobius Arch before I figured out where I would be camping tonight. It was only going to be a 20 minute hike and it’s always nice to take a walk after eating. I found the arch and it was cool. It’s nowhere near as impressive as what you’ll find out at Arches National Park, but it was still neat to see. I hiked out there with two Germans guys named Ben and Peter, I met at the trailhead. They’re here on vacation. They don’t have scenery like this in Germany and when you meet people from around the world that come to your backyard it makes you not take it for granted. Shortly after we got to the arch another fellow came up and he was also a German. I love how it seems that all of Europe takes off the month of August for vacation.

Mobius Arch.

After looking around at the arch I had to find a place to stay and decided to stay close to here. I’m on BLM land so all I had to do was find a spot. I’ve got a nice spot next to some massive boulders. I think I’m going to sleep well tonight since my wife and I got back in last night after 0100 from a trip to the East Coast. I’ll do some reading and then I’m going to bed with the intention of waking up early and hitting the road at dawn.

Not a bad spot to camp for the night.

392 miles. I left Lone Pine early this morning before the sun came up. Last night was a perfect night for camping. It was clear and cool and the amount of stars in the sky was breathtaking. Combined with the moon being over half full it made for a very bright night. It was beautiful. Whenever I see a starry night I always think of Afghanistan and how bright it could be sometimes at night. There isn’t near the light pollution there that we have in some parts of our country. I didn’t care for my time there too much, but the night sky there could be pretty spectacular.

Camping on BLM land is a sweet deal. I can camp for up to 14 days for free on BLM land. It was a cool place to camp. The landscape there looked like it was from Mars.

After I packed up camp I jumped back on U.S. 395 north and headed toward Lake Tahoe. After riding this long straight road I came to California Route 89 which is the Monitor Pass over the Sierra Nevada Mountains. This was a nice road with good curves and nice overlooks.

The morning after camping out in the Alabama Hills. The rising sun in the east is shining on the mountains to my west.
Almost to the top of Monitor Pass. Elevation 8,314.

The road eventually dumped me off at Lake Tahoe. This lake is something else. It reminded me a lot of when I rode through the upper peninsula of Michigan and rode over the Big Mac bridge and down the coast of Lake Michigan. Lake Tahoe isn’t as big as a Great Lake, but it is every bit as awesome, especially with the soaring mountains around it. The scenery today reminded me of pictures I have seen in magazines advertising for tourists to come to Norway and see their country. California Route 89 around the lake was a lot of fun. I hit a little bit of traffic, but it wasn’t bad.

Lake Tahoe
Lake Tahoe.

After following California Route 89 around most of the lake I picked up California Route 28 which completed the loop for me and intersected with U.S. 50 in Nevada. This is the so called “Loneliest Road In America” and I believe it. I rode across it last summer and can vouch for that. It will be fun to see how different the ride is when going east. It might be no different at all, but I’ve found that roads that you’ve ridden many times before can seem like a new road when ridden in the opposite direction. I’m in Fallon, Nevada tonight which is on the western side of the state. After looking at the map I found that I wouldn’t be able to get to a place to camp before the sun went down so I found a cheap hotel here in town. I’m bummed that I got a motel, but it’s safer than riding at night and when you ride at night you aren’t seeing anything anyway. I plan on getting another early start in the morning and hopefully getting into Idaho tomorrow after I see the Bonneville Salt Flats. I imagine it will be a long hot ride tomorrow especially around the salt flats because I’ll probably get there in the middle of the day. It doesn’t matter though. I’ll be seeing something new and that’s all that matters.

583 miles. Today was a long hard ride, but I saw some great scenery and enjoyed every minute of it. I left Fallon, Nevada early this morning at dawn and went east on the so called “Loneliest Road In America” U.S. 50. I came across this road last summer, but I was headed west then. Heading east this time it was like it was riding a new road I had never been on. I came across in May last year and it seemed a lot greener this time through. I would have thought it would have been the opposite. Maybe they have gotten more rain up there than San Diego has, that wouldn’t be hard. The views are just as spectacular as I remember and I had a good time riding over the multiple passes that go over the mountains and down into the valleys. Very cool ride. While I was out there I kept seeing cyclists. There was a fair amount of them all strung out for several miles. I stopped and talked to one of them and found out that they are a charity that is raising money and awareness for Habitat for Humanity. They started in Rhode Island earlier this summer and are going all the way to the West Coast. They stay in churches and schools when they aren’t camping. I don’t know how many miles a day they usually do, but today they were doing 110. I thought that was pretty impressive. I was also very jealous of what they were getting to do. What an experience they’ll remember the rest of their lives.

U.S. Route 50 in Nevada. “The Loneliest Road In America.”

U.S. 50 eventually intersected with Nevada State Route 93 and I took that north. This road seemed to be every bit as lonely as U.S. 50 and in some spots it seemed even more remote. It is definitely the kind of country that when you see gas you buy gas, on a motorcycle at least. I meet two other bikers on this road that were taking this road all the way to Canada. I didn’t realize this road did that until I looked at a map with them. They were headed to a national park in Canada where one of their wive’s was flying up to meet them. They looked to be on a good ride and somewhere I’d like to go one day, but I was going to some where just as cool: The Bonneville Salt Flats.

I saw the salt flats while I was still on 93. It looked like a white lake from a long ways off. After I saw them it didn’t take me long to get to them, but before I went to see them I needed some gas and food since the only thing I ate this morning was a pop tart.

On Route 93 in Nevada and seeing the salt flats from a distance.

The salt flats were impressive. I went to the where they do all the speed records. It is 10 miles long and eight miles wide. It’s nothing but salt out there and it’s as flat as a pancake. It had a fair amount of water on it and it was almost Iike a lake in some spots. A guy there told me that today was supposed to be the last day of the annual speed week, but it was cancelled on account of rain. I don’t know if it is usually like it is when I saw it, but there was a single road that lead out to the salt flats and it stopped in the middle of the salt flats. At least that’s the way it looked to me at the time with the water out there, the water could have been covering up some of the road. I couldn’t help it and had to taste some of the salt. Sure enough, it was salty.

Boneville Salt Flats.

I don’t know what was going on out there, but right when I rolled up I saw a U-Haul truck going through the water. It looked like water was up to his bumper. Way out on an island there was a trailer. I assume they were there for the speed week, their trailer got stuck out there with the rain, and they went out there to pick up some of their stuff. Whatever the case, I hope that U-Haul truck gets a good wash, especially on the undercarriage, or it might have some rust in a few years.

At the salt flats I got to talk more to a Belgium man I met just down the road at a restaurant. His name is Tom. At the restaurant we talked a few minutes and found out we were both going to the salt flats. I said goodbye to him and told him I hoped we saw each other there. 30 minutes later I was at the salt flats and sure enough Tom was there. It was nice to talk to him and find out a little bit more about him. Tom is from Belgium, came to the United States, bought a Harley Davidson, and is riding it all over the country. He literaly had all his worldly possessions on his motorcycle. This guy has put in some serious miles and seen a lot of the beautiful sights of our great country. I checked out his blog, “Tom Across The USA” and it’s good. I always enjoy reading about others adventures and travels; especially on a motorcycle. While Tom spoke excellent English his blog is in Dutch and unfortunately I don’t speak Dutch. I had to use the translation tool with Google Chrome to be able to read it. Google translate does a pretty good job and I enjoyed reading his blog. We exchanged numbers and last I heard from him he was riding to Burning Man.

I left Bonneville and headed to Salt Lake City. It didn’t take me long to get there really because the speed limit was 80 on Interstate 80. I had my bike pinned back and rolling. Coming across the salt flats was impressive. I felt like I was in a wide flat valley and it was all salt. I saw huge mounds of salt that I assume were being processed. I figured this was the case since I saw a Morton salt plant out there. I recognized it from the familiar girl with the umbrella logo on the side of it.

After getting into Salt Lake City and coming around the Great Salt Lake I headed north. I’m staying tonight in Brigham City at a National Forest campground. When I got here a sign said it was all filled up, but the gentlemen who is the campground host with his wife, told me I could stay on his lot for the night. Thankfully he helped me out, or I might have been riding well into the dark looking for a place to stay. The gig of being a campground host sounds kind of cool to me. This guy and his wife were from Washington and were down here for the summer. They live in a beautiful place for a few months and get to meet a revolving door of people all the time. Sounds cool to me.

I didn’t write anything because by the time we got in it was pretty late and I was just looking to hit the rack. Yesterday started in Brigham City, Utah. I started early in the day, before the sun came up. I like getting started on a ride like that. I feel like I’m getting a head start on everybody even if I’m not racing anyone. It feels quieter and the roads are all to myself. I’ve also always liked to watch the sun come up when I’m on my bike. Seeing it come up over the mountains in Idaho was stupendous. I took I-15 north and then took U.S. 20 pretty much all the way to Yellowstone. I read before I got to Yellowstone that August is one of the busiest months you can go there and that looked to be the case when I came through the West Gate. I sat there for close to 15 minutes waiting to go in. They had three lanes open for visitors too. When I got into the park it didn’t seem crowded at all though. The park is huge and it took me about an hour plus to ride all the way to Mammoth Springs where I met my brother and sister in law, Matt and Kathleen, who rode in from Billings on Matt’s motorcycle.

Mammoth Springs. Yellowstone National Park.
Mammoth Springs. Yellowstone National Park.

After looking around and checking out the springs we grabbed a bite to eat, topped off the bikes and hit the road. We then went on one of the most spectacular rides I have ever been on while riding a motorcycle: The Beartooth Highway. The scenery was out of this world, the weather was cool and crisp and the road was in great shape. What was best of all though, and the most surprising to me, was that we had the road to ourselves. There were no RVs lumbering along clogging up traffic and we could pull off wherever we wanted to check out the views and take pictures.

Beartooth Highway.
Beartooth Highway.

I’m hoping to go back through Yellowstone on the way back and check out some more of the sights to include Old Faithful. I imagine it will be crowded and there will be tons of people there, but I figure since I don’t make it all the way up to Yellowstone everyday I need to check it out.

Matt and Kath took me out to the Rimrocks, which run along the edge of the city. They give a great view of the city and it was a really cool way to spend the afternoon after getting a bite to eat in town. Tomorrow I’m taking my bike into the local Harley Davidson dealership to get a new rear tire put on since mine is pretty bald. I wasn’t to concerned about it needing to be replaced, but if I hit any rain it wouldn’t be safe to ride in so I’ll get it taken care of tomorrow. I’m also going to fix my taillight. Yesterday, after coming off the Beartooth highway, we went to the town of Red Lodge for dinner. A guy that was following us down the mountain was nice enough to tell me that I had brake lights, but no running lights. I can take care of changing a bulb and don’t won’t to pay a fair amount of money for a Harley mechanic to do that. I took the bulb out today and it looked good to me and after playing around with it some it may be the pigtail that the bulb plugs into. Tomorrow at the dealer I’ll pick up an extra bulb and pigtail. Hopefully it is that simple and it works.

372 miles. Picking up from where I left of the other day: the problem with my running lights turned out to be a simple blown fuse. I got two new tires at the dealership and while I was there I picked up the rear brake light assembly. When I plugged it in I was disappointed that I still only had brake lights and no running lights. I decided to take it to Matt and Kath’s place and figure it out there and besides, the Harley-Davidson dealer was closing as soon as I picked up the bike. After getting it back to their house I pulled off the cover again to take a look at it. Just as I was about to do something stupid and start ripping stuff apart Matt suggested we check to make sure a fuse wasn’t blown. I pulled the fuse cover off and inspected them and sure enough there was a blown one. After replacing it everything worked just fine. It was a good lesson for me to always stop and think about the problem before I do something stupid and possibly make a problem much worse.

My time in Billings was great. I got to visit with my brother and sister in law and they showed me around Billings. I really enjoyed it and thought it was a cool city. I also got a chance to see a lot of a Matt’s woodworking projects in person. The craftsmanship that he shows in his work is incredible. He also was working on a project that wasn’t woodworking, but it was still impressive to me. He and his wife were making concrete countertops for a friend’s kitchen. Matt cut out molds and poured the concrete into it and later dyed the concrete. It’s an alternative to granite or marble countertops and it really looks good. They did their bathroom sink that way too and it looks great. After too short of time there I had to leave, but I hope to be back with my wife soon so she can see her sister and Yellowstone.

I wanted to see more of Yellowstone and the Beartooth Mountains, so when I left Billings this morning I headed west on Interstate 90 and took it to U.S. 212 west, the Beartooth Highway, so I could take that spectacular road again. I was fortunate again that there was little to no traffic and it was all to myself. My bike was also riding like it was on rails since I had new tires and it was a blast hustling it up and down the mountain. I came into Yellowstone from the east and then turned south once inside the park. I then looped around Yellowstone Lake on the way to see Old Faithful do its thing. Once I got there I find out that I had about an hour to burn before it blew again so I checked out the Old Faithful Inn. This is a massive log cabin. In the middle of the lobby there is a huge fireplace and the roof goes up to about 100 feet I’d say. At the very top there is the “Crows Nest.” It looks like an observation tower inside of the building. I started up to take at look at it, but at the second floor I found a sign that said it was closed due to an earthquake in the 1950s that caused some structural damage. I wish they would fix it so people could go up it.

Old Faithful Inn. You can see the “Crows Nest” at the top.
Old Faithful.

After Old Faithful blew, where a crowd of a few hundred had gathered to watch it. I doubled back on the road that I had already been on and went a little less than 20 miles back to head out the park’s South Gate. This took me down through Teton National Park. This was another spectacular place. It also seemed a lot less crowded than Yellowstone. The Tetons are some impressive mountains.

Yellowstone River. Yellowstone National Park
The Grand Tetons.

Leaving Teton National Park I was soon in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. I took the obligatory picture of the elk antlers in the town square

Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

and walked around town to check it out and to stretch some. After grabbing a bite to eat there I then continued on U.S. 89 south and am camping in a National Forest. I’m tired and with the sound of the Snake River whooshing away right near me I think I’m going to sleep like a rock tonight.

585 miles. Today was as long day on the road, but I had a beautiful ride. I left Wyoming where I was just south of Jackson Hole in a campground on the Snake River. I only woke up once last night when the pattering of rain on my tent woke me up, but then I went back to sleep even harder. I didn’t let it bother me since there was nothing I could do about it and I was beat anyway. I’ve always slept better when it’s raining anyway, at least when I have a roof over my head.

When I woke up it was still damp and foggy, but it was pretty where I was. I walked around the campground stretching out and waking up. I took my breakfast, an apple, to eat on the riverbank. Not a bad way to start a day.

Snake River in Wyoming.

U.S. 89 goes through a couple of National Forests as it follows the Snake River. It’s a great ride where I rolled through valleys with the river right next to me a lot of times. About the only thing I saw out there, besides the beautiful scenery, were two farmers on horses watching a flock of sheep. I imagine they had camped out there like me and maybe even woke up like I did, with the sun.

I soon exited Wyoming and was in Idaho where the scenery wasn’t much different at all, still beautiful. Idaho then shortly gave way to Utah where the landscape started to slowly change. First from the sprawl of Salt Lake City to a more arid climate. It still was no where near as desert like as the western part of the state though. After getting south of the city I jumped back on U.S. 89 and continued south. This road is simply spectacular. Eventually I came to Zion National Park where I am camped tonight. This place is pretty cool and I look forward to poking around it more when I get up in the morning. Tomorrow I hope to make it San Diego, it’s only about 400 miles or so from me, easy day and from what it looks like on the map it will be a pretty ride again.

Zion National Park.

520 miles. I slept in a little today at Zion. By the time I packed up camp and hit the road it was 0800. Usually I am up as soon as the sun is rising when I camp, but I guess I just needed the rest. Zion seems like a small park and it is compared to the other ones I went to on this trip. When you enter Zion on the eastern side there is a sign saying the campgrounds are 12 miles away. I didn’t think this was a big deal since I was used to seeing mileage markers in Yellowstone for attractions and campgrounds over 50 miles away and they are all inside the park. When I got to the first campground it was full, but at the second one I was able to get into a group camping area that the park uses to put people into when they are filled up elsewhere. When I woke up this morning I realized that the western gate was right next to where I camped. It seems like the park only has a ribbon of road going 12 miles or so through it. It was a much smaller park than Yellowstone or Grand Teton, but it was still an impressive and neat place to visit. It was probably from the time I got there, but the whole park had a beautiful light to it. It seemed to be glowing with reds and bright yellows. Coming in right before the sunset turned out to be perfect for me and I got some nice pictures of the sights in that golden hour for photographers that is right before the sun sets.

Zion National Park.

When I left the park I had already planned to dig the spurs in and get home today. It turned out to be a little bit of a longer and hotter ride than I thought it would be, but it was still a good one. I basically rode I-15 all the way back into San Diego. Looking at my map I saw that parts of I-15 are scenic and I was also told by my sister in law that she enjoyed that stretch of I-15 when she came to visit us. I enjoyed it also. I rode through the desert and a few deep canyons before I popped out on the top of a hill and saw Las Vegas sprawled out before me. I love that about Vegas. It’s so cool to me to be riding in the middle of nowhere and then all of a sudden there is a huge city spread out before you.

Just before Las Vegas I stopped to grab a bite to eat. When I sat down to eat I saw a man in his 50s with a large pack with a sign that said, “Semper Fi Fund.” I approached him, introduced myself and said that the Semper Fi Fund has helped out a lot of my friends and asked him what he was up too. He told me that he was running across the country raising awareness for the charity. I thought this was pretty cool and that I was going to have a good conversation over breakfast. Unfortunately this wasn’t the case. The guy turned out to be a little bit of a screwball. I don’t know how he got on it, but he started in on how America was screwing up and how our collapse was imminent and that he was getting out of the country. I told him that I didn’t think America was perfect, but I wouldn’t be leaving it myself. He told me earlier that he was going to teach in China because, “There is nothing here for me and they do things right.” He then asked me what I was studying and when I told him journalism he said, “Well a spot just opened up.” in reference to journalist James Foley being beheaded by ISIS. “That’s the karma wheel going around,” he said, “you can’t just bomb people indiscriminately.” I told him that people can’t just go around beheading people indiscriminately and that there was nothing good about ISIS. Things were starting to get heated between us and it was time for me to go. I wished him a good day and left. Outside an elderly lady who had been sitting in there reading the news on her iPad walked by me on my bike and while shaking her head said, “I can’t believe he said that.” I told her that I was sorry if we disturbed her and that I thought the sun was getting to the guy. I enjoy approaching people and talking to them when something about them interests me. But for every 100 people you meet that can teach you something or tell you a good story you meet one loon. I met the loon today.

I’m home now and am glad to be. I love the road and the adventure of seeing new things, but I also love spending time with my wife. One of these days I hope to be able to get her on one of my motorcycle trips. We’ve been on other adventures, but never a long one on my bike and that is something we need to remedy.

This trip through the American West showed me some of the best that America has to offer and it only made me want to see more of it. I will.

I hope you have enjoyed reading this. If you’d like, you can read other things I have written on Medium here. I also wrote about riding across the country that I put in an ebook on Amazon and iBooks. You can also find me on Twitter and Instagram.

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