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Day 14 – Lolo Pass

Total Day: 512.8 km (318.7 mi)

Total Trip: 4760.9 km

Today was the day. Today was the last day of the “connecting three epic roads”, with the third being Lolo Passtwo. I owe everything I know about Lolo Pass to Rich and Chris from Two Wheels Big Life and their YouTube Channel, as Rich was pumped about it for a long time. We managed to find a way to put it on our list of things to ride, and after we rode this pass, we only had a couple of very easy days before we took the last, familiar road home. This was kind of the last of the big adventure days, in my mind. Little did I know what an adventure it would turn out to be.

We packed up at Butte at about 8:30 am, and made our way to a close-by McDonald’s for breakfast. Our plan was a short buzz on I-90 (again) to get us to Missoula, MO., then head out of Missoula on Lolo Pass to leave Montana for the last time, and stop at Kamiah, ID. In the planning stages, these last two days were the toughest to get right, just to factor the time and distance to get to bring Lolo Pass into range for us. However, with the way things went on the road yesterday, and the hope for today quite high, we figured we had done the hardest part of the ride and made it through to the other side.

Bugs missing the left turn at Albequerque.
Bugs, missing the left turn at Albequerque.

Once we got to Missoula, I was excited. Lolo Pass! We had done it, connecting three of the epic rides that Butler Maps says are “can’t miss” rides. I felt like Bugs Bunny finally reaching Pismo Beach! We turned east onto US-12 and began our trip. Like many of the roads leading into the mountain passes, it was closely tree-lined with beautiful mountains framing the background. The asphalt wasn’t new, but seemed to be in excellent shape – it was light grey, meaning it had been in place for a few years, but didn’t seem pitted or pot-holed, at least visually to me. However, it rode very rough, and I was a little sad about that. I mentioned how the road was rougher than it looked to RRP, and he said “Yeah, I guess?”. Hmmm. We went a little further, riding between 70 and 80 km/h (40 to 50 mph in the Measurements of Our Oppressors), and I mentioned how this road was rough enough that it would rattle my fillings out. “Pull over! You clearly have a problem.” RRP is, in many ways, wiser than I am. So, having just passed a nice, wide, well paved pull-out, I took the next one, which was a terrible, hard-edged, dirt pull off. RRP was commenting how exciting it was going to be, getting to use his plug kit and my tire inflator. I wasn’t at all wild about this prospect.

WTF is THAT?

We pulled over, put the bike on the side stand, and walked around it. When I was coming to a stop in the pull-out, I was convinced that the front tire was flat, as the front-end seemed off. Clearly I am an inexperienced motorcyclist when it comes to tire issues, as that was not the problem at all. Walking to the rear of the bike, I found a fist-sized bulge in my rear tire. It would appear that my Shinko 705s had delaminated in the rear, likely due to a combination of age, mileage, heat, and running on the slab at speed. Now, the rear tire looked like it had an alien trying to break out of the tread. Fortunately, the carcass was intact, and we weren’t far from Missoula – we figured about 20 miles. However, we were out of cell service, and had no idea where to go, only that Missoula was a large town. That problem was solved when the adrenaline went down a bit, and I could think a little bit clearer. I had a Garmin Zumo XT, which wasn’t reliant on cellular service, and the first item when searching under “Categories” was “Motorcycle Services”. Searching there, I found a Honda Dealership (Five Valley Motorsports), and we plugged that in, then returned to the road, travelling back to Missoula at 30 mph with the hazards going.

All credit to RRP in this case. He was there the whole time, riding slowly, taking up the rear in case the tire failure became apocalyptic rather than just catastrophic. He stuck by my side, rode in formation, and just generally supported me the whole way, lamenting only that he didn’t get to try out his newly acquired tire-plugging skills. He kept his phone on his handlebars, and let me know when we were back in cell range – at which time I called Five Valley. Understanding that it was listed as Five Valley Honda in my GPS, my concern was they might accidentaly have put a car dealership in, so the conversation went like this:

Reception: "Good morning, Five Valley."
Me: "Yes, hi.  Can I just confirm you folks are a Honda Motorsports dealership?"
Reception: "Yes....?"
Me: "Great, can you please put me through to the service department?"
Reception: "Sure, just a sec."

...

Service: "Five Valley Service."
Me: "How are you?  I have an interesting problem.  I'm headed back home to Canada, and just got 20 miles down the road on Lolo Pass when my rear tire bulged.  I think it has delaminated.  I'm wondering if I can limp the bike in to you."
Service: "Sure, what kind of bike?"
Me: "A 2020 Africa Twin Adventure Sports".
Service: "Hmmm... Hang on.  Ok, do you know the tire size?"
Me: "Off the top of my head, I don't, I'm sorry."
Service: "Ok, are you near the bike to check?"

[Pause... err.....]

Me: "I'm on the bike, and limping to you at about 30 mph.  It says I should be there within 20 minutes."

[Pause...]

Service: "...Wow, great call quality!"

[Tap tap tap]

Service: "Yes I think we have tires.  What are on your bike now?"
Me: "Shinko 705s."
Service: "Good tire.  But I don't have those."
Me: "Here's what I'm looking for: round, black, and fits my bike." 
Service: "We have a set of Dunlop Trailmax Missions"
Me: "Sold!"

We limped the bike into their shop about 20 minutes later, as the GPS predicted.  Once we got into Missoula proper, it was a bit harrowing hugging the right lane at 30 when vehicles were going by at 70, but we made it.  The team at 5 Valley were so gracious, and let us hang out at their picnic bench while we waited for a bit.  RRP was kind enough to go get us some lunch (I paid, it was the least I could do!), and 5 Valley referred us to a fantastic barbecue spot called Notorious P.I.G. (as my wife asked… did we get a Tupac of Coke with that?).  After 3 hours, we were back on the road, and onto Lolo Pass.

This road was absolutely worth it.  With a river running on our left nearly the entire time, we headed up and over the pass, and were once again treated to majestic mountainsin the Bitterroot Range of the Rocky Mountains, beautiful stands of pines, forks of the Clearwater River on our left, and a quiet road that felt like we were the only ones on it.  We were cautious, as we were going through later than planned and expected to see a lot more wildlife, but we again didn’t see any.  The road was glorious and absolutely worth it.  Oh, and the pavement was actually great. 

This was a long and stressful day, with a lovely relaxing ride at the end.  Once we got into Idaho we did a quick shop for some groceries, and ended up simply, with some sandwiches and food for breakfast.  We got to the Kamiah / Clearwater KOA, and were directed all the way down, past the pond with the big fountain, back to the tent sites.   These were all raised, with soft bark beds, nestled amongst trees and bushes.  Given the proximity to the pond, I was immediately worried about mosquitos – but the large fountain kept the water moving, and then… the croaking started.  There were hundreds of frogs around us, and not a mosquito in site.  Well, I put repellent on, but they weren’t bothersome. At one point, RRP made a couple of comments about the loud barnyard animals – until I told him that they were frogs. There was a din of croaking, to be sure.

Unfortunately some goons had left the picnic table pretty filthy, but we were just about the only ones at the site, so we used a different one.  There was another camper and rider further down, and he was headed to Sturgis for the big rally.  We chatted with him for a bit, and then ate our dinner.  We were shattered after today, given all that we (really, I) had been through, and it was nice to crawl into the tent and get to sleep.

As I was lying there, I was thinking about the connection I had made with my bike – how fantastic a bike it is to ride, how stable, and how easy to trust.  Even today, with this tire problem, I was confident that limping it would mean the bike would get me  there, and it did.  It’s an amazing machine – one far more capable than the rider – and one that I have a lot of trust in, especially after today.

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