Total Day: 416 km (258.5 mi)
Total Trip: 1524.3 km
Today is the day! Today is the day that we are going to cross into the US, and start our journey to Sturgis properly! Today we’re finally leaving BC, leaving Canada, and heading into parts unknown. We were terribly excited, and it just felt like we were truly embarking on the massive second leg of this epic journey. The Beginning of the Long Dash…
First, though, we had an important task. There were three epic rides we wanted to do on this trip, if we could manage it, and the first was Glacier National Park‘s Going-to-the-Sun Road. This road is simply the road between the East Gate and West Gate of Glacier National Park, but is also achingly beautiful. We had already seen a number of YouTube videos showing us the beauty of this ride, but I didn’t have an understanding that it was the only road through that park.
What I did know, from watching all the YouTube videos, is that you had to make a reservation to drive the road. I had tried a couple of times already, but the reservation system would only allow you to book the day before you intended to go, although once booked the reservation was valid for anytime over the next three days. They released about 900 reservations each morning at 8:00am, so RRP and I were up and on our phones early, as each of us had to reserve. The fee was negligible – $2.00 – and while it was a bit of a nerve-wracking 10 minutes during which over 300 passes were given out, we both eventually got our entries for tomorrow, when we inteded to do the ride. Waiting for that 8:00 am buzzer, we managed to get the camp mostly packed up, so we were off quickly. First, fuel, and a breakfast at McDonald’s.
Now, I had planned to go south from Cranbrook, and cross the US border at the Eastport-Kingsgate Border Crossing. Despite all my careful planning and mapping on paper maps, I had not transferred this over to my uber-reliable Garmin Zumo XT, a device that I truly love. The planning software provided by Garmin, Garmin Basecamp, is a dog, and makes it very hard. The Zumo XT is excellent, and so I just generally rely on it. There is so much to talk about here, that this will be a dedicated post later on iin this series.
So, I relied on the GPS. But it didn’t read my mind about going through the Eastport-Kingsgate Border Crossing. We kept going east on Highway 3. That wasn’t the way we wanted to go, but having pulled over and figured that out, we didn’t want to double back either. So, we pressed on – until we got to the junction of Highway 93, which had a nice big sign that said “To US Border”. A quick turn to the south, and we were on our way to customs.
The ride on Highway 3 was so typical of all the other rides on 3 from when we started on it days ago in Hope, BC. A wide, often four lane highway, at times divided, with the trees set back. We were still moving through the forest and mountains, and had the wonderful smells and changes in temperature. However, it was hard to enjoy when we felt like we were on the wrong route. Highway 93, however, was quite different. It was much more like the ranchland in other parts of the BC interior, with smaller trees, clear farmland in parts, and a different feel – even though we were only a few kilometers from the highway through the rockies. Somehow, this felt very different.
A short ride to the south, and we were in line for US Customs at the Eureka-Roosville Border Crossing. There was no NEXUS lane here (I carry NEXUS, and RRP does not), so we were in with the general population. The line went quickly, and I arrived for my interview. It’s important to note that I cross the border regularly, less so since the COVID lockdowns, but it’s generally at a different crossing, and with much different questions. Once I had the discussion about where we were going (motorcycle rally) and such, I got asked the craziest questions (for a Canadian living in a city, anyway…): do you have any guns? I think there was a genuine look of shock on my face as I said no. Then he asked if I had any ammunition – again, no. And I was waived through. RRP received some similarly weird questions – I think the “do you have more than $10,000 USD in cash” – and we were on our way.
We had been riding a little while, and when we reached the town of Eureka, we both needed a pit stop, so we pulled in at the first gas station. Here’s a tip: never choose the first gas station, unless it’s the only gas station. I parked, and while I was still on the bike, Farmer Jim in the pickup truck ahead of me threw it into reverse. The only reason I wasn’t hit was because I can yell loud, as the truck came within inches of my bike. There will be many Farmer Jims as we go along.
We rode further into town and stopped at a bigger gas station for a drink. This was smart, as it also allowed me to get some US cash at the ATM. At Whitefish, MT, we turned on Highway 2 and headed east. I don’t think we even stopped for lunch this day, we just barrelled on.
As soon as we entered the US, the crosswind was strong. We though, nah, it won’t be a problem. The wind didn’t let up all day. It was atrocious. Our route took us south below Glacier National Park, then east along the bottom of the park, and then north again towards the town of St. Mary, MT. The wind was a constant. We were fighting it the whole time, and were also fighting the frustration of feeling like we were never getting any closer to our destination. It was tiring, it was frustrating, and at some point a bee flew into my helmet at a rate of knots, and smacked my right cheek. I had to evacuate the sucker, which did give me a little sting right below my right eye as a souvenier, and almost went into oncoming as a result. This was a scary moment.
Nothing, though – nothing – competed with the last leg, going up Highway 2 towards St. Mary. The temperature had risen up to 33°C, and the wind was blowing like it was from a blast furnace. This was wind like we had felt outside Osoyoos, but went on for two hours. Riding at an angle, never being sure in a turn, it was frustrating and horrible work. We made a wrong turn and stopped for fuel in Browning, MT, which I vote “the ugliest place I visited on this trip”. At the gas station there, I discovered that my Denali Sound Bomb horn, a farkle I truly love, was hanging by the power cord. Unable to fix it in the field, I detached it and zip tied the cable away from the heat of the engine. The day was not going well, at all.
Feeling like we had wrestled a bear, we made it to the St. Mary / East Glacier KOA. When we arrived, we pulled up beside two bikes from Tenessee, one of them another Africa Twin. We made some small talk with the gents riding it, introducing ourselves, and then went off in separate directions – them to their cabin, and us to our tent site. Checking in, I thought that perhaps a cabin would be great, but they did not have one available for two nights, so we stayed with our tent site.
I will tell you now that, if the Cranbrook KOA was one of the most memorable stays of our trip, this campsite was without a doubt the worst, and we were here for two days. I do understand that KOA caters more to the motorhome and fifth-wheel crowd than it does to tent campers, but the problems with this location started on check-in and continued from there. The first problem – one that really angered me – is that they charged us for a second vehicle. Look at the size of the motorhomes. Then look at the size of a motorcycle. We are still, combined, four wheels that are smaller than a compact car. Nope, they charged. Then, when we got to the tent site, which was plenty big enough, it was on a slope. For two nights – because we were booked here for two nights – we both ended up having to readjust during the night because we slid down to one end of our tent. Suffice to say, my review of that KOA is not pleasant. The ameneties were fine – there were showers, there was a pool and a hot tub, and the KOA actually made and delivered pizzas to the sites, which was great for us as we hadn’t yet thought about food. But overall, the experience here was poor.
This experience was amplified by the damned wind that made setting up our tents very difficult. It just wasn’t dying down, and trying to set up a tent can sometimes be like trying to hold on to a kite. That’s exactly what it was like, trying to stake down a kite. I was so frustrated, and then this was also amplified by a life choice: I keep my hair long. So, I had to use a neck gaiter to keep my hair back while I was setting the tent up. With much struggle, and a lot of swearing, and a bit of shaking my fist at the fast-moving clouds, we got camp set up. And then, we got pizza ordered – and it was alright, it was at least some food. RRP also managed to find some beer for us.
Honestly, the spirits were a little bit dampened by the day. We were both shattered, hot, hungry, and frustrated. Even the picnick table was on a 8 or 9 degree slope. Whether it was the wind or the campsite, everything had been at an angle today, and that angle had led to frustration. I only hoped that this was worth it, because tomorrow we were going to ride the Going-to-the-Sun Road, something that had been banging around in my head since January. I really hoped it would live up to my expectations, or at least gave us a nice day of riding.