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Day 13 – Living on the Slab

Total Day: 588.6 km (365.7 mi)

Total Trip: 4242.1 km

I have been a fan of Craig Ripley and his “Living Off the Slab” Youtube channel for some time, and especially enjoyed watching his adventure to Alaska, something I am going to do one day. Today’s ride was anything but living off the slab, which I normally dread, but this time it was unexpectedly excellent.

We knew that there were some big days for us on this trip, and that today would be one of them. We knew that we would be running some long, hot miles, and generally that was ok – we would be fine doing that on the smaller highways. However, there was one more epic roadway that we wanted to loop in to this trip, on top of the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Montana and the Needles Highway loop in South Dakota – namely Lolo Pass, an apparently amazing stretch of road passing through the mountains between Montana and Idaho. There was one thing we would have to sacrifice in order to ensure that we were able to go through Lolo Pass and get home, and that was time. To do that route on the alternate highways would have been a very long day, and after some discussion, RRP and I agreed that it would be best to take the interstate from Sheridan, Wyoming to Butte, Montana. Not only would the slab be faster, but it would be more direct – we figured the direct route would save us at least 3.5 hours.

We ate breakfast at camp, and were packed and turning onto I-90 at about 8:20 am It turns out that I-90 is pretty glorious for an interstate freeway. It wasn’t just rod-straight asphalt with no scenery and a baking sun – in fact it was long, curving, sweeping turns around pretty hills and undulating terrain. It wasn’t close in and pretty like the riding was in the Lewis and Clark National Forest, but it was beautiful in unique ways. And even though it was hot, we stuck to the right hand lane except for passing, and stayed at 65 mph the whole way; the wind cooled us, and we made good time without slowing anyone down or making hazards of ourselves. There is just something about hustling a big, loaded down bike along smooth asphalt that has some twists and turns that really makes you feel like you’re an accomplished rider.

Here’s a tip when riding with someone – check in with them about the pace, regularly. Make sure they are actually comfortable at the current pace, rather than guessing that they are.

This is a good time to talk about wildlife. We had just left Sheridan, and not a bison in sight, even though the area is famous for them; granted, we didn’t go looking for them either. I had seen some mountain goats on Needles Highway, but wildlife had been really shy on our trip so far. No moose, or Elk. One or two deer on our way out of Whitefish, MO., as we headed to South Dakota. No bears. Early on, RRP had asked that we don’t go crazy through areas marked by wildlife corridors, and as that was a sensible bit of risk management, that’s what we did. The slab was littered with dead deer, which was really sad. We saw a dozen today, if we saw one, and it’s pretty clear that they were all collisions from the last day or so.

We stopped at Billings, MO., for a rest for an hour or so, and stopped again a while down the road at a highway rest area for a bit, then pressed on to Bozeman, MO., for lunch. As we got closer to Bozeman, we saw signs for a grizzly bear rescue organization called Montana Grizzly Encounter, which admittedly sounds ominous. I asked RRP if he wanted to stop and “meet the bears” like the signs said, knowing what his answer would be. RRP has three significant fears when travelling on his motorcycle:

  1. Rain (fair, all motorcyclists hate “The Wet”).
  2. Bears.
  3. The battery status of his Cardo communicator.

Let’s start at the top – at best, we tolerate rain. Even with full Gore-tex suits, rain is an unwelcomed visitor on a motorcycle trip – a non-paying passenger that we could do without. (Even just typing this, it reminded me it was time to order a new set of Gore-tex gloves for the wet winter weather here in Canada’s Pacific South West.) Then, there is the battery status of his Cardo. If he isn’t saying something to me, he is almost certainly saying “Hey Cardo, battery status…” Now his Cardo unit is slightly newer than mine – I can’t ask Cardo for a battery status, I have to do it with an arcane button combination that I can never remember – so he is often letting me know roughly what my battery status is. But I’m not fussed if it runs out – we can manage.

With respect to his fear of bears, it is very high, and reasonably so. We were in bear country for sure. Many of the KOA’s we entered had “Bear in Area” signs up, and each time he would ask about bear sightings. Often, it was admitted that the sign was up to be a reminder to guests to manage their trash properly. However, one of the answers was “Oh, we saw one three days ago… crossing the campsite we just gave to you.” That didn’t make it comforting for him. So, when I asked about the Montana Grizzly Encounter (cue the music: duh duh DUUUHHHH!) I knew his answer would be “no”, and it was. That is the one thing that I would have liked to stop for, and we didn’t – but RRP had been so wonderful and respectful throughout this trip that I owed him that at the very least.

We ate lunch in Bozeman, and this ended up being a nice stop, as the town has a very walkable and tourist-friendly downtown area. We had a nice meal in a local pub, and then pressed on to our stop for the night in Butte, MO. at the Butte KOA. There was wind again on the way towards Butte, because of course there was, because Montana. We arrived a little tired, but pleased with the progress we made for the day. This KOA was, again, close to the highway, and quite open – but it was nice. The shower rooms were amazing – a fully enclosed, large room with a full washroom and an overhead rain shower. Without a doubt, these were the best showers we had on our trip – and that means something when you are gone as long as we were. The KOA also had some basic food and some beer, so we were set for the night. While we were setting up, there was a technician from the local provider of The Interwebs, and they were ensuring that the WiFi signal was boosted far enough back to reach us; the signal strength was great once he finished up. There was a couple camping beside us that was using their GoPro to do a timelapse of the sunset, and it was a nice idea, but there was too much cruft (poles, wires, etc.) in the way to make it really worth trying to copy them.

During the ride today, we both repeatedly remarked that if all the interstates were like I-90, then we would certainly enjoy them more. Not all of them are, for sure – but when you are pushing hard and needing to take “the slab”, it’s quite nice when the slab is scenic as well.

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