Leaving Cody, WY was an easy enough choice. I wanted to spend multiple days there but it would have required camping, which was pretty expensive unless I camped rough on BLM land. I moved somewhat randomly through Grey Bull and Worland before getting gas in Ten Sleep, a tiny town that is keeping alive with a brewery and outdoor activities.
Google Maps decided it could save me a bunch of time with a new route, and it looked twisty enough, so I went for it. Eleven miles later the pavement ended and I was heading out towards a mountain range on a well maintained gravel road. Motorcycles have a tendency to skate around nervously on gravel, and a 900lbs motorcycle pulling 400lbs of trailer is no different than other bikes, except the weight adds to the…let’s call it “thrill” of it.
I didn’t know at the time but I’d be riding 35 miles of gravel, up and over that mountain range ahead. Most of it was fine and the views were wonderful, but I had to spend a lot of time staring at the road immediately in front of me. You could mind the road and go 35mph, or mind the scenery and go 15mph. Eventually the climb started to get steep and washboard ripples formed at the bottom of each hill.
There was little chance of starting on hills this steep with a trailer in tow, so my only option was to keep my speed up and bound over any potholes, and to skate over the sections of washboard as best I could. Only twice did I have any doubt I’d make it, but the thought of falling or stalling and having to turn around on a hill was daunting. I couldn’t just disconnect the trailer, but how do you back down a hill, or make a U-turn on a road that’s narrower than your rig?
Fortunately skill and luck combined. Though the bike was pissed off at me, we made it to the summit. It let off tremendous engine heat and on one climb even through a Check Engine Light. The computer was clearly confused at running that long with the rear wheel spinning faster than the front one, but thus is the way of things, whether the engineers account for it or not.
The summit was more of a plateau, so I got excellent views in two directions and I climbed and dropped for awhile, then began the descent. This side of the mountain was clearly steeper, and on the other side was grey-green pine forest, leading down into the dusty-dry grassland below. The road had a long terrace of hairpin turns, and I had to brake early so as not to kick on the ABS over washboard sections just before each turn.
Twice the trailer took control and started pushing the back of the bike around. Even with the rear brake off I’d remain in a slight skid, having to release the front brake too in order to out-accelerate the trailer, then apply the brakes again to arrest our speed. This was far more nerve wracking than the ascent, so when I got to the bottom I stopped to get some water and look at things. This was when I noticed the tow hitch at an odd angle. Damnit!
Sure enough, the hitch itself had bent. A quick inspection showed the bolts were loose too, so I unhitched the trailer and tightened the bolts. That made the bend much less dramatic, but it was indeed bent. It only had a 50lbs maximum tongue weight, so picking up the bike by the hitch was enough to bend it back. That’s not a repair mind you: the steel was bent and bent back, but it was weakened in the process.
There was nothing to do about it here on the roadside though, so I carried on to Kaycee, WY. This was the home of Chris LeDoux and his family. LeDoux is the only man ever to be inducted into both the Rodeo Hall of Fame and the Country Music Hall of Fame. He was an accomplished bronc rider and supported himself by selling cassettes of his music out of the trunk of his car. After having his name dropped by Garth Brooks in one of his songs though, his music career took off and he dedicated more time to that, punching out something like 17 albums total.
He died of cancer in 2005 and Kaycee, Wyoming built a wonderful park in his honor, complete with a massive statue of him riding a bucking bronco, on top of an acoustic guitar. I paid my respects and chose to hop on the interstate afterwards since the day was getting long. Google, that route did NOT save me any time, though it was pretty fun.
After a gas stop I forgot to re-strap my cooler. It made it all the way to the freeway onramp before flying off the trailer spectacularly. A fresh dozen eggs, several soda cans, all my ice, and a few yogurt containers all bit the dust, with everything else covered in dead grass. The rest of my ride toward Nebraska was hilly, travelling through Badlands, cultivated farm land mostly planted in alfalfa or other grasses, and open grassland and small forests.
Ft. Robinson is a gorgeous park run by the state ever since the Federal government ceded the land. It dates back to the 1870’s, though the bulk of the buildings were build in the early 1900’s. It was home to many of the Buffalo Soldiers who built national parks, roads, bridges, and many other projects that helped settle the area. It is probably more famous though for being the location that Crazy Horse was murdered. There are replicas of some of the buildings and a memorial him and the Oglala people.
I stayed the night at the Inn in the last available room, grabbed a subpar dinner in the restaurant, and settled in for the night as rain fell intermittently. Breakfast was not much better, but it filled me up and I was back on the road. Overnight I decided I’d had enough of the summer heat. The only possible escape was via altitude, not latitude, so I began back-tracking to Colorado.
Rain came in small but intense cells. I’d have to stop and suit up only to have the rain stop 10min later. Not suiting up would mean a soaking though, or waiting roadside to watch the rain move past in front of me. I picked a campsite completely by a topographical map, but the area was clearly popular with tourists, so the only spot I knew would be open was called Drake’s Campground. At $40/night I knew why, though it turned out to be a very nice spot.
Still, when you hit $40/night, you expect things like water, electricity, and wifi…or at least a cozy restaurant on-site with those things. Being in a slot canyon, I didn’t even have cell service. I did have a great spot beside the creek, which was still in the process of receding after heavy rains. I was in god’s country now, where it was unlikely to go above 80ºF and the nights were cool but not cold. I took the last of the daylight and swapped out one of my trailer tires for the spare, as the tread had reached the wear limit. I fell asleep with visions of the day rolling through my head, but also a need to form a better plan and handle upcoming maintenance on the bike and trailer.
I woke to the sounds of the creek, rode into nearby Estes Park, CO to make some phone calls, then plotted a route for the day. Colorado truly is a trip of its own, and this is one of the reasons I don’t ride through Colorado on bigger trips. I need four months and a dual sport motorcycle to properly check this place out, but since I was trying to cool off it was worth it. I did manage to get turned away at Rocky Mountain National Park though. I was planning to ride straight through on the state highway, but they take reservations. It isn’t the first time I’d heard of this, but it’s the first I’d seen of this when traveling a state highway straight through a park.
I rerouted and it was only an annoyance, as any road in this area is a scenic route. I was surprised to see Blackhawk, CO as a town full of casinos but bereft of people. It was a weekday of course, but the emptiness reminded me of the early days of the COVID outbreak, where it’s a not-quite-zombie-movie-like atmosphere. My good friend Gina had gotten back to me, so tonight I’d be sleeping in a real bed. She and her boyfriend Mark had just moved to Denver from Florida, and I hadn’t seen them in almost two years. As much as I try to avoid major cities on my travels, Denver would turn out to be worth the visit…
Until next time, Johnny Killmore, signing off.