The Route, The Ride, and The Weather
We spent quite a lot of time, RRP and I, going over the route. It began early last year and we had everything sorted by April. Our route took us, in the majority, on secondary highways, and we had no idea what a blessing this was. Those secondary highways – often right beside the Interstate – took us through amazing and unusual places. To be very clear, the route planning was a good part of the fun, and getting to chose our route together was great. It also allowed early accomodation planning (more on that later). I brought the relevant Butler Maps with me in my side case, but to be honest we never pulled them out – the Zumo XT planned the route each day just like I had, like it was right there in my mind.
We had some very interesting riding that we didn’t expect. The first surprise was probably the Lewis and Clark National Forest, an incredible ride up close to lush pines, with the amazing smells, sights, and temperature changes that always brings. There was the endless ribbon of road through Montana, which was an amazing sight, stretching out to the horizon before we lost sight of it; I’ve seen similar in a car in Canada, but somehow being on a bike in a place that touts “Big Sky Country” on their licence plates made it even more amazing. The enduring heat and desolation of one desperate highway, somewhere, on our way back. The amazing boulders on the detour we had to take in Washington. And of course, the three epic rides as recommended by Butler Maps:
Weather-wise, barring the short stint of rain and hail while riding in the Black Hills, our weather was great. Perhaps too hot, but as long as we were moving – and we generally were (check out our average speed…), we remained cool within our Power Ranger suits. Better having to deal with heat and having to stay hydrated than it was to deal with cold and rain.
The roads were all amazing. The weather was near perfect. We just plain got lucky.
We attended two rallies on this trip – the Horizons Unlimited CanWest Meeting, and the Revzilla Get-On Adventure Fest. There will be a longer form post soon about comparing and contrasting these with the Touratech Rally, which I’ve attended for several years. Suffice it to say that these were both great events in their own way, and different in many ways from Touratech.
The HU Meeting was really about getting people together and inspiring them to go on adventures. It wasn’t about telling people about the “right way to adventure” – it was about getting out there, doing the thing, and a bit about documenting it in photos and video. It was about encouraging people to step out of their comfort zone, and to do it while exploring your hobby. To be clear, that hobby wasn’t just motorcycles – it included camper vans, fifth wheels, and other sorts of “overlander” excursions. I liked that my idea of “adventure is how you define it” was basically the motto of this gathering – there was no specific way to do things. It was very laid back, and I encourage you to read the articles on our time at that rally. It was also nice to be one of the youngest people in attendance – I may have salt in my hair, but I had far more pepper than most as well.
The Revzilla Get-On-Adventure-Fest was also a great event that both RRP and I are glad we went to. There is no question that the focus of this was very different from the HU meeting, as this was about taking big bikes and getting them off road – except it wasn’t. It was all about getting a group of big adventure bike owners together (and some that brought dirt bikes), whether they rode them, trailered them, or brought a big toy hauler, and getting out to ride. There was no judgement for what your plans for riding might be. When we told the Revzilla folks that we were going to ride the Needles Highway on Friday to avoid the weekend traffic, they nodded and thought that was an excellent idea, then gave us some route tips. This rally was great for lots of reasons, including that food was included, and we had the afore-mentioned cabin. however, the spirit of it, the outright friendliness of the Revzilla staff, and the camaraderie were amazing. We simply had an amazing time, and all we had to do was register and get there. This was a great rally, and one that I will only likely do once – so I’m very glad I did.
Interestingly, something that was very prominent in the ride reports was important in the planning process – the idea of “Extreme Frontcountry Camping”, namely using KOA Campgrounds throughout our trip. There is solid reasoning for this, but in the end it was an extremely positive experience.
We first booked our two rallies – Horizons Unlimited, and Revzilla’s Get-On-Adventure-Fest. Both of these came with accommodations, and when RRP said he was “in” for the ride all the way to Sturgis, I decided that we would get a cabin there, as this was our turn-around spot and we probably wanted one by then. I can tell you we were both patting me on the back for that decision.
Due to history, our first stop was sorted – Mile 0 Motel in Midway, BC. Then we moved to the Nakusp Municipal Campground for three nights as part of HU. It was everything between HU and GOAF, and then GOAF and home, that we had to figure out. Here in BC, it’s theoretically simple enough to book a campsite. You wake up in time to be online at 7:00 am on the day exactly 4 months from the date you want your site, and book. The reality is that COVID has awakened everyone to the idea of camping out, and even when you are on at 7:00 am, you’re not likely to get the campground you want (if you want a super popular one), let alone a campsite, especially the front country campsites. Plus, there were so many places we were riding through, and the US has so many State and Federal campgrounds, it was going to be a bit complex.
The solution that RRP and I agreed on was to use KOA. The advantages of KOA were many, but the biggest one in the late winter of 2023 was the ability to book campsites at any time – like booking a hotel room. We booked all our dates in March, 2023, 6 months in advance, knowing that if we needed a night in a motel/hotel, we only lost a bit, and still had the site booked for the next night. Plus, almost all of the sites had both power and water at the campsite itself, making life so much easier. I’ve mentioned that this is “extreme frontcountry camping”, because one of the campgrounds even made and delivered pizza to your site. Seriously, how does it get better than that after a long day of riding?
Many of the KOAs we stayed at were quite close to, or within, the city limits – which meant that given enough time we could get to a grocery store. We may have arrived late one or two nights, but we managed. Honestly, not having to think about packing too much food was a blessing, and the cooler we had with us – bought specifically for this trip – was amazing at keeping things cold at least overnight. I know many people deride KOA Campgrounds – and it’s clear that KOA focuses mostly on the motorhome crowd – but most of them have great tent sites, amazing showers, pools, and other amenities. Honestly, the KOA decision was probably amongst the best decisions made for this trip.
And don’t forget that being a KOA member – which costs $36 per year – got us 10% off each night at each campsite we stayed at. It also gets you points towards future stays (I now have over 10,000) which act as a cash discount. I’m certain that we saved the $36 on our stays, so it’s worth it in the long run. We never had a location complain that there was more than one tent. We did, however (I’m looking at you, KOA St. Mary’s / East Glacier) have one charge us for a second vehicle. I mean… we were only four wheels! (That was a crappy attitude from the worst KOA we stayed at. Maybe I should rank them in order in a future post.) Overall, our stays were fantastic, and some of the more remote sites were delightful. If you are doing a trip that goes into the US (there aren’t a lot of KOAs in Canada…) and want to book some campsites in advance, I can’t recommend these guys enough.
Something to consider is that there are three tiers of KOA Campgrounds:
- KOA Journey – the “Gateway to Adventure”. These are the ones located near highways, and are meant to be the ones you pull into for a night while you are on the road going from A to B. They will have fewer amenities than others, but all will have showers, laundry, power and water. Power and water is what makes the tent sites a “premium tent site” I think, and all Journeys are supposed to have them. (Price $)
- KOA Holiday – the “Basecamp for the Great Outdoors”. This is the next rung up, and includes cabins for rent. These are the ones that you can pull into for a week of holidays intending to explore the local area, rather than being ones that are “on the road”. (Price $$)
- KOA Resort – “the Destination for Recreation”. These are larger campgrounds, with enough amenities like “resort style” pools (although some Holidays certainly had pools of some sort), restaurants, snack bars, etc. These are where you go to spend your holidays and just remain on site. (Price $$$)
The prices for a tent site go up as you move from Journey through to Resort. What I can say is this: splitting the cost with another tenter makes it cheaper than most motels. I don’t believe we paid more than $85 USD for a tent site at any location, and spit between the two of us it was very economical.
I could spend a while talking about the sights that we saw along the way – amazing mountain ranges, American monuments, spectacular vistas, beautiful forests – but that was all documented in each of the posts based on each day of riding. However, there are four things that really stick out for me: the Lewis and Clark National Forest, the Black Hills of South Dakota, Mount Rushmore, Lolo Pass, and of course, Devil’s Tower. The fact that three of these are part of the epic rides that Butler points out is not lost on me – these are, in fact, well worth riding, and the sights along them are great.
That said, there were many small towns that were worth seeing, and many things within those towns that were worth poking around at. I will definitely want to go back to Coeur D’Alene and spend some time there, as an example. I will definitely want to avoid Montana and the winds that we experienced. I would recommend the Black Hills to anyone that rides on two wheels. Most of all, I’m glad I took notes every day, and glad that I expanded on them in these posts. I hope you get a lot out of these, but I am glad to have preserved the memories close to having taken the trip.
Lots of people anthropomorphize their vehicles, and motorcycles especially. I have one friend who has named his motorcycle “Bessie”. Mrs. ADVMoto has named her motorcycle “Clare”, and keeps insisting I name mine. I remind her that the very smart people at Honda named it when it was made, and so it is “The Africa Twin”.
There is, however a bond that seems to form, at least one way, between rider and bike. The more you are on the bike, the more you trust it. That Africa Twin was amazing on this road trip – fast, quick to pass, efficient, and absolutely reliable. Even when it threw up some trouble, it wasn’t the bike’s fault – it was the tire manufacturer’s. The bike limped me back to get new boots put on, and it was a perfect companion. I couldn’t be more pleased. RRP’s Triumph Tiger 850 was equally as reliable, and he was equally as pleased with the outcome of the trip. Not a tool was pulled out (except to fix a wonky mirror in Leavenworth) on the entire trip. I think both of us would consider another of our respective bikes in a heartbeat.
Getting Away From it all
To paraphrase the MasterCard commercials…. Priceless.