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August 13, 2014 : Red Lodge, Montana : [ Day 78 ]

Earlier this year, when the snow was still blowing in the relentless Dakota wind, and this journey was still just the spark of a dream moving toward the front of my consciousness, I was already envisioning the end of it occurring in Red Lodge, Montana.

I should set the stage… I moved to Red Lodge in 2011 to escape the oilfield and go back to hard-rock geology, enthusiastically accepting an offer from the Stillwater Mine. Moving out there was a dream come true. I had just bought the Tiger, and she rode out there on the hitch of my pickup. I remember setting the cruise at 88 miles per hour from North Dakota into eastern Montana – the speed at which one travels “Into the future!” I arrived after dark, but the first thing I did the next morning was unleash the Tiger and let her make a run up Beartooth Pass. I was absolutely in heaven.

Not quite two years later, I was packing her into a Uhaul and moving her back to Minnesota. I had since started my masters program, and ran into a hiccup with the company over a promised tuition reimbursement. While I have no doubt that the money would have come eventually, I had already paid for three semesters entirely out of pocket, and was in a tight corner financially. It got to the point where I had sold my other motorcycle and everything else of value, and sold all of the stocks in my personal brokerage account (at a loss) to cover my expenses. I couldn’t wait any longer – I was flat broke and sliding backwards. The only place a guy could go to recoup that kind of cash in a hurry was, at the time, the oilfields of North Dakota.

So I left.

When I did, I left behind some of the greatest people I’ve ever known. I left behind a good life, a good job, and a dream that didn’t quite pan out. I could have waited, and taken a break from classwork, but that’s not the way I do things. I had a goal, and the way to reach it without tedious deviations was to leave and go back to drilling for oil. I still regret that things worked out that way, but we can’t choose or perfectly anticipate the obstacles that fall across our paths. We can only deal with them as they come.

The highlights of the years since have always been going back to Red Lodge to visit, but always leaving too quickly to return to work. When I started this journey, I knew that Red Lodge was going to be the place where it ended. I wanted to show up in town only after I had found what I was looking for, even though I didn’t know what that was at the time, and start my new life with Montana as its place of origin. From the mountains we are born, from the Earth we prosper, and to the mountains we eventually return.

It was a beautiful feeling to ride across Beartooth Pass into Red Lodge, having found what I was looking for, and having Melissa there to be a part of it. Words cannot further describe how happy that made me. Even without her, it would have been a special visit, but with her there, it was perfect.

High Country MotelMelissa ran into some nasty weather in Kansas, so we ended up meeting in Limon, Colorado, about 70 miles east of Denver along I-70. This made for a loooong ride the next day – we didn’t reach Cooke City, Montana until almost midnight. From Cody, Wyoming, we rode the Chief Joseph Highway in the dark, in the rain. My helmet visor is tinted, as I don’t ride much at night as a general rule, so I had to crawl through that rain with the visor open, every raindrop stinging my face like a needle.

We stayed at the High Country Motel in Cooke City, which is owned and operated (as of 2011) by a friend of mine and her husband. It’s a fantastic place, and I highly recommend it if you’re ever traveling through this part of the country or visiting Yellowstone National Park. The photo above was taken from the deck above the office, you can see the cabins and main motel building in the background.

Clay ButteAfter some much-needed sleep in Cooke, we started up Beartooth Pass, heading for Red Lodge. The wildflowers were in full bloom just about everywhere.

Beartooth PassWe took this one with a self-timer on the road up to the Clay Butte fire tower 🙂

Beartooth PassOnce we got above the treeline, the Tiger was chomping at the bit and my throttle hand was twitching. I pulled ahead and did some tear-assin’ through the hairpins for old times’ sake. Melissa is not a slow rider, but her smaller carbureted bike was working hard in the thin air. Getting out ahead gave me the chance to put the long lens on the camera and get an “action shot.”

Good friendsIn Red Lodge, we spent almost a week just hanging out, taking it easy, sharing good food and good memories with some of my old friends.

FishtailWe poked around some, and rode 2-up down to Woodbine Creek, past the old mine. It’s a beautiful spot. I added our names to the big table at the historic Fishtail General Store.

Glacial striationsGlacial striations on a rock outcrop along Woodbine Creek. These were left by rocks embedded in a glacier as it carved out the valley some thousands of years ago.

Woodbine CreekWoodbine is a pretty place for a hike. Past the canyon is the lake at Sioux Charley, and if you keep going, there is endless freedom in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness. One of the trails from here leads all the way to Cooke City.

Tiger maintenanceWe also used the time to do some much-needed general maintenance. The bikes got washed, chains got lubed and adjusted, the Tiger got an oil change, and I finally got around to replacing my worn rear tire. Problem is, the tire is a Heidenau K60, infamous for being very stiff. I’m sure I could change a tube trailside if I needed to, but replacing the whole tire with my puny spoons was not happening. I took the tire into Bone Daddy’s for a hand, and the guy on duty finished her off with his tire machine.

Good to go… except I left the axle on the bumper of the pickup, so it got lost somewhere in town when I drove to the shop. I was unable to find it, so we had to drive seven hours each way to Missoula and back, where the nearest Triumph dealer is, to get a replacement. Big thanks to Travis up there for helping me sort out what I needed, and for getting it there on time. Awesome guy.

Bozeman sunsetThe sunset on the way back to Red Lodge was worth the long drive. This was somewhere between Missoula and Butte, if I remember right.

Bozeman sunsetAnd this one was somewhere near Bozeman.

We are getting ready to leave Red Lodge now, and start heading for Omaha to visit another friend of mine. From there, we will part ways – Melissa back to Tennessee and me back to Minnesota to wrap up this journey. I’m not sure yet how I feel about the ride nearing an end, but for the most part, I think I’m ready. I look forward to seeing my friends and family in Minnesota, and starting not just a new chapter, but a new life with Melissa.

The general plan is to roll through the Bighorns and the Black Hills, then cross the sand hills of Nebraska toward the Missouri River at Omaha. There’s still a lot of riding to do, so this things isn’t over just yet!

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