Monday, April 30, 2012

Everyday for 7 Weeks–Day 3–Billings to Missoula

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I woke up after a good night sleep, and was excited to get going and finally see some mountains. When I stopped for the night last night, I didn’t realize the mountain views were literally just around the corner. You can see them below if you squint! My first view of mountains and they were even snow covered ones. (Bear Tooth Mountains to be exact).

Everyday for 7 Weeks - Day3 - Billings to Missoula

I was very happy to see them. I was also happy to see the sun and blue sky.  Another bike showed up after me; must be nice to have room for a bike cover! lol.

Everyday for 7 Weeks - Day3 - Billings to Missoula

Then my old friends the clouds, wind, and rain decided to rain on my fun. The wind was much worse than yesterday, but not the rain. It rained just enough to be annoying, and fortunately not a soaking. I left my rain gear in the bag. It fits well, but the wind pulls on it more than my coat and it wears me out faster in heavy wind.

I found Reed Point. The large amount of sheep on the side of the road made me pull in to take a peek.

Everyday for 7 Weeks - Day3 - Billings to Missoula 

Very run down. Nearly everything for sale. I did like the wooden sidewalks though. You don’t see those very often.

Everyday for 7 Weeks - Day3 - Billings to Missoula

After looking at the maps last night, I also decided to abandon the interstate as soon as possible and get on US-12. I had wanted to take it yesterday, but didn’t. Today, I exited I-90 on to US-89, and started to second guess myself. It was a boring straight road going almost due north.

Everyday for 7 Weeks - Day3 - Billings to Missoula

There were mini-mountains on either side, but the nice snow covered ones I had been drooling on for the last 100 miles faded away in my mirrors. I was not sure I had made the right choice, but I was committed due to my fuel range. I didn’t have enough to turn around.

Everyday for 7 Weeks - Day3 - Billings to Missoula

I had planned to get gas in Wilsall. I rode through the town, but I didn’t see a gas station. It was a very small town established in 1910. I turned around and pulled up the bar. A couple guys walked out and I asked them about gas. They pointed near the south end of town “by the yellow sign” one of them said.

I pulled into the “gas station”. It was only two pumps and a credit card machine; no building or sign. No wonder I missed it. The yellow sign? It said “redit ards ceptd” a few letters missing. No mention of gas.

Gas in Wilsall, MT

I got some gas and continued on. I was started to worry as I looked to the west. Those small mountains had snow on top. I would have to go that way soon. hmm. Finally US-89 met up with US-12 and I started heading west. There was a pull off spot to add tire chains. Dang. I forgot to bring those.

Everyday for 7 Weeks - Day3 - Billings to Missoula

I rode up the “mountain” and into a pass inside of Helena National Park. Wow. Stunning scenery. The pictures don’t do it justice since the good parts didn’t have a convenient turn out to stop. (and my gopro was safely in my top case… doh!)

Everyday for 7 Weeks - Day3 - Billings to Missoula

The snow on the sides of the road was a bit distracting at first, but I didn’t have any traction problems. It began to rain again, but nothing more than a drizzle. The road twisted back and forth between the tall canyon walls. Large rocks, tall pines, and snow. A great looking combination.

Everyday for 7 Weeks - Day3 - Billings to Missoula

I made it to the other side and stopped for a snack.

Everyday for 7 Weeks - Day3 - Billings to Missoula

The rain took a break too.

I stared at the trees. It looks like there were burned, but I am thinking disease since the others around them are still ok. I’ve seen this “pattern” many times over the last few hundred miles.

Everyday for 7 Weeks - Day3 - Billings to Missoula

US12 was proving to be as good as I had heard, and the really good parts were on the other side of Missoula over 100 miles way. I hope the weather holds tomorrow, so I can go explore Lolo.

Everyday for 7 Weeks - Day3 - Billings to Missoula

US12 had one more surprise in store for me just west of Helena. MacDonald Pass right on the continental divide at 6320 feet. The heat (66F is heat after all this!) of Helena melted away as I climbed up the pass. I was rewarded with a stunning view. My favorite of the day.

Everyday for 7 Weeks - Day3 - Billings to Missoula

On the other side, I followed US12 back where it turned into I-90 and into Missoula for the night.

Everyday for 7 Weeks - Day3 - Billings to Missoula

It was very rainy and windy, so I found a cheap motel in the downtown area. There was a “Sturgis or Bust” sign from the 50s out front, which helped me decide. $50 after tax didn’t hurt either. A small non-chain motel. It’s mostly clean.

Only saw two motorcycles today just as yesterday, but neither waved today unlike yesterday. Saw antelope, bald eagles, deer, and a rabbit.

I am liking Montana.

The only statue I saw today:

Everyday for 7 Weeks - Day3 - Billings to Missoula



Full Flickr Album with 49 pics 


Today's route:

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Sunday, April 29, 2012

Everyday for 7 Weeks–Day 2–Bismarck to Billings

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Day 2 - Bismarck to Billings

Today I rode the 400 and some miles from Bismarck, ND to Billings, MT. I thought about stopping several times and calling it a day, but I kept pushing on. I’m glad I did because things turned out very nice in the end. The day started in the high 40s with a lot of wind. I’m guessing 20-30mph winds mostly headwinds, but occasionally from the side.

It was tough work riding, and I quickly wore out. My arms and legs are tired from the workout they got all day. My fuel economy suffered badly as well. I nearly ran out of gas near the North Dakota/Montana border as I went from 45-50mpg to 30-35mpg.

The scenery was surprising to me. I had only crossed Montana once before, and I don’t remember it very well. The scenery alternated between prairie and big hills. It was mostly green and towards the end of the day there were many evergreen trees – looked like mainly pines.

I saw a bunch of critters today. Most of them alive, but several dead ones too. Wild buffalo, wild horses, prairie dogs, a bald eagle, and a few cows in the road. There was even a dead porcupine on the side of the road. I was tempted to take a photo of him, but decided I was too lazy. lol.

Most of the photos taken today are with my new point-n-shoot a Nikon AW100.  I bought it for this trip for two reasons: 1) waterproof 2) GPS aka auto Geo-tagging. #2 means that if you click through on almost any photo below it will take you to the flickr page with an exact location on a map. Very cool! (and a big time saver for me!)

Menacing clouds for most of the day. They’d fire a couple warning shots and then blast some rain down.

Day 2 - Bismarck to Billings

I tried to visit the giant cow at New Salem, ND. It looked really big. Notice how it dwarfs the parking lot lights.

Day 2 - Bismarck to Billings

It was on a steep winding hill. I tried to ride up it, but only made it about 1/3 of the way. The top 1-3 inches was a very slippery mud. After my rear tire slipped out over a foot for the second time, I decided it wasn’t worth the risk to continue as it got steeper and looked worse. I was tempted to park and walk, but decided the giant cow wasn’t worth all that mud.  I performed a 8 point turn and went slowly back down.

Day 2 - Bismarck to Billings

SV parked in front of the ‘Geese in Flight’ sculpture at the start of the enchanted highway. It stands 156 feet long and 110 feet high. The goose on the left has a 30 foot wingspan and is 19 feet long. It is a really big sculpture.  I did not ride the enchanted highway. too tired from fighting the wind, so I just kept plugging on. This pic is my favorite of the day.

Day 2 - Bismarck to Billings

Much easier gravel road to get to the geese.

Day 2 - Bismarck to Billings

My tasty lentil soup and Gatorade picnic at the Painted Canyon. There were live buffalo roaming around too.

Day 2 - Bismarck to Billings

One of the two wild buffalo roaming about. They were very interested in eating their lunch.

Day 2 - Bismarck to Billings

Amazing scenery. I need to come back here again. The pictures just don’t do it justice at all.

Day 2 - Bismarck to Billings

Me in front of the Yellowstone river in Montana. It warmed up nicely. I was finally able to stash the rain gear and put on my tinted shield!

Day 2 - Bismarck to Billings

Rattlesnakes don’t like sidewalks. I didn’t know that.

Day 2 - Bismarck to Billings

The rest stop on the other side is clearly more fun. Notice the people walking around on top of the rocks. No fair! The other side had a couple trees and some grass. We also had a rattlesnakes stay on the sidewalk sign.

Day 2 - Bismarck to Billings


Day 2 - Bismarck to Billings

Nice to end the day with some blue sky and warmer temps.

Day 2 - Bismarck to Billings


I just looked at the map and noticed how close I am to Yellowstone… tempting, but the wrong direction. Tomorrow, I head towards Missoula and Lolo.


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Everyday for 7 Weeks–Day 1–Minneapolis to Bismarck

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SV Loaded
I finished packing late on Friday and then didn’t sleep well. I was too excited to start the trip early Saturday. I also kept wondering if I had packed everything I needed, and just wanted to start, so I could stop worrying about it. There will be stores to buy what I need if I forgot.

Just as I was about to set out the rain the weather-guessers predicted started. It was mixed with a tiny bit of snow or frozen rain. It made an interesting tapping noise on my helmet. The rain stopped about 30 minutes from my house, and I rode in the cool low 40s for the next few hundred miles.

Just before the North Dakota border it started to rain harder, so I stopped and put on my rain gear. I was getting a bit cold by this point, so I cranked up my Gerbing heated coat. Man I love that thing. Burning hot in an instant! Lovely!

Love the water tower in Freeport, MN. I’ve ridden past it many times, but today was the day to take a photo

Freeport, MN watertower

I stopped several times along the way today to look at the different road side attractions. I kept thinking of FuzzyGalore each time I found a giant animal statue.

This giant prairie chicken outside of Rothsay, MN.

Giant Prairie Chicken in Rothsay, MN

Giant Buffalo in Jamestown, ND.

Giant Buffalo in Jamestown, ND

Giant Sandhill Crane in Steele, ND

 Giant Sandhill Crane in Steele, ND

I stopped to get out of the rain in Fargo/Moorhead area. My wife had packed me a tasty little picnic, but the weather wasn’t cooperating. I pulled into the visitor center and spotted this little buffalo.

Buffalo in Moorhead

Inside they had the woodchipper from the movie Fargo. I think the foot sticking out is a nice touch. They also had the original script and some other movie goodies to look at.

Woodchipper in Fargo Visitor Center

It was nice to get out of the wind. It was blowing 10-20MPH all day. Most of the time it was at my back, but by North Dakota it had switched from ESE/SE to S. It looks like it might switch again to become a headwind for day 2.

Proof there are a few trees in North Dakota. hehe

Proof there are trees in ND

Full Flickr set for the day.

Map for today

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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Mostly Packed – A Few Days to Go

The last few days have been a flurry of activity with many small tasks. One of the most frustrating was dealing with the HR folks at work who seemed to have a different answer each time I talked to them as if they were making up the rules as they went. I think everything is sorted now, but I guess we’ll see when I get back. Who knew taking a leave of absence was so difficult? I thought getting permission from my boss would be the hard part, but that was the easiest.

Other smaller things like getting extra keys made for the luggage and the lawn mowed were more pedestrian. I’m still pondering where to get my bike serviced near Seattle (new tires and oil). Any suggestions?

The SPOT tracking has been tested and seems to work. There will be a map on the right side of the site under the “Current Location” block that will show my location automatically updated throughout the day on a google map. The map will be live once I start the trip.

I have both of my side cases mostly packed.

clothes and sleeping packed

The case above is my bedroom. it has my sleeping bag & pad, clothes, shoes. and towel. The black bag (16L) has my clothes, and the yellow (11L) my sleeping bag. I don’t have a lot of room for lots of choice. Things were extra difficult with the extremes in temperature I expect low 30sF in Alaska to nearly 100F east of San Diego. I brought a mix of clothes, that I think will work well. I will do laundry often as I have on other trips.

food packed

The other side is my kitchen. It has all my food, cooking, and toiletries.

food for canada/alaska leg

I have a selection of dried food from Mary Jane Farms. I’ve been enjoying her food for several years now. I added several new varieties for this trip. I hope they taste as good as the ones I am used to. I also have my trusty jetboil, some fire starting paraphernalia, tea, oatmeal, collapsible cup, a small hatchet/knife, and a bladder for extra water. I got the larger size bladder, so it has room to bend to the space available in the case. I don’t plan to ever fill it completely to 2 gallons.

The food is to make things more convenient and to save money. I’m missing two paychecks on this trip, so I need to save where I can. Bringing it with me will be much less than going out three times a day every day. I look forward to the tasty food I will find along the way, but now I have some flexibility. I will also need to eat most of the food by the time I get to Seattle, so I have room for my wife’s stuff when I pick her up there!

I still have a couple things to do to the bike: new tires, oil change, and fixing a heated gear circuit.  I also need to pack the tent and some small electronics into the top case. I think everything should just fit.

So close to leaving! I can hardly believe it. Getting harder to sleep now. :)

Friday, April 20, 2012

Waterproofing–One Week to Go!


I can hardly believe my trip starts in a week! Excitement and anxiety are taking turns like ying and yang as I think about and prepare for the trip. One thing that makes me anxious is spending so much time in a tent in a remote part of the continent. I’m not an expert camper, but I am confident this trip will improve my skills.

One thing I dislike while camping or riding a motorcycle, is being cold and wet. I have a good rain suit, and my tent has been tested by several strong storms. Both work great. This trip is 50 days long, so I expect to get wet. I thought it prudent to take some extra steps to ensure I stay dry longer.

I washed all my riding gear with Nikwax Tech Wash. It is a safe way to wash waterproof/water resistant gear where a regular detergent might damage it. After everything was clean, I ran a bottle of Nikwax TX Direct in to renew the waterproofing of my gear. This is a yearly ritual with my gear, and it works well for me. I opted to buy the Nikwax Hardshell Twin Pack this time to save a couple dollars.

A time like this is when I’m very glad to have a second set of riding gear! It usually takes a day or two before everything is dry and ready to go. It would be a shame to miss riding in a sunny 70F day. 

For the tent, I sprayed the rain fly, footprint, and lower portion of the tent with the Nikwax Tent and Gear Solarproof. It improves the waterproof ability of the fabric and adds some UV protection. I also inspected all the seams to verify they were still solidly taped. Looking good!

tent waterproofing

Finally, I sprayed my Sidi On Road Boots and Knox Zero gloves with Kiwi Camp Dry. I’ve been using it for several years now on my boots, and my feet have always stayed dry. Well, except for that one time I didn’t fasten my rain gear correctly and I filled my boots up with water from the inside. It is funny now, but it wasn’t then. :)

The gear preparation is coming along nicely.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

SV Returned–Two Weeks to Go!

SV Dropped Off

My anxiety level has been pretty high for the last few weeks. I dropped my SV650 off at a mechanic to get some work done: new rear shock, new stainless brake lines, new chain & sprockets, new wheel bearings, new fork seals, and a thorough check of the bike. I was told it would only be two or three weeks. How very wrong that was.

I dropped the bike off March 6, and picked it up last night, April 13. That’s 38 days! There was major delay waiting for Penske/Traxxion Dynamics. Taxxion said they were waiting to receive it from Penske. Penske drop shipped it right to the mechanic. I was patient in the beginning, but pretty cranky near the end. 38 days is a long, long time.

I had hoped to have the bike back much sooner, so I could get used to the changed gearing, different feel of the brakes, and most importantly the changed suspension. I guess I’ll have plenty of time for that on the trip.

I went back to stock gearing (45 vs 47), so I would get better fuel economy for this trip. I will put the old chain and sprocket back on after I get back. I also went back to a 525 chain instead of the 520 I had previously. A thousand less RPM at cruising speed should get me a few more MPG.

New chain and sprockets

I changed the brake lines out as they were still original from 2001 and starting to feel mushy. The new stainless lines were about the same cost as the OET parts, but with a lifetime warranty. I also took the opportunity to have speed bleeders installed. The same brand (Spiegler) I used on the GS. I like them.

new ss brake lines for sv650

Don’t the new lines look shiny?

SV Returned

Finally, I had the suspension refreshed. New fluid and seals in the front. The front seals were the originals from 40,000 miles and 11 years ago. They weren’t leaking yet, but I wouldn’t want them to start in the middle of the Yukon.

The rear shock was a big soft. With max preload the sag was just right for me. Put my wife and some bags on the back, and the front felt very light and squirmy. Not a fun time. I purchased a mid-range Penske because of the reasonable price and the positive reviews online. The price of making the old shock serviceable and getting a new spring was over 60% the cost of a brand new. Now I just need to get it adjusted.

New Shock and Chain 

It’s great to have the SV650 back. Not having my favorite bike for so long was painful. I missed it.

This morning I spent some time tightening up fasteners and reapplying thread locker. I only found two loose, and they were both on the luggage rack.

Next steps are to empty the under seat storage and double check everything. I’m also amassing a pile of “stuff” for the trip as well. Now with the bike back, I can start to see where it will all go.