Across The Great Divide
Here in the north woods, spring arrives every year by the end of April. After a seemingly endless dark winter, the sun begins to shine a little more brightly. Daylight appears to last a bit longer helping to melt the upland snows and fill the streams with cold clear running water. The temperatures steadily reach daily highs above freezing.
As humankind stirs from its couches in front of warm fireplaces, a test beckons. Why would one want to leave the comfortable confines of home and venture out into unpredictable and unforgiving climes? And most of all, why would one want to expose themselves to these elements on a bivouac requiring a motorbike?
Just as it is the journey rather than the destination that matters, it is acceptance of the challenge that becomes paramount. You are given the opportunity to display your resourcefulness when confronted with extreme conditions and although the reward may not be obvious at first, it is apparent at journey's end. You have participated in an endeavor that most choose to avoid, as they prefer to stay put (warm and safe) and never seek the road less traveled, especially during less hospitable times of the year.
Ahead lies the majestic springtime splendor of the Rocky Mountain chain, stretching from Colorado up into Canada. You will traverse countless mountain passes (those cleared of snow), see few straight roads, and brake suddenly for all animals large and small. Your primary interests are the 14,000-foot mountain peaks that you will approach and explore in an orderly business-like fashion. You have finely tuned your skills; now put them to use. With this preparation comes enjoyment. "Dress warmly" is the first rule of thumb. You will need your warmest clothes and your warmest sleeping bag.
As you motor onto the high plains and approach the foothills of the Rockies, the air you breathe is cold, crisp and clean, while the approaching vistas become more prominent with each passing mile. As a smile forms on your face, you can't help but notice an important aspect: you are alone. No companions would dare accompany you on this fortnight into the mountains, proving that one's misery is another's search for inner peace.
You are carrying everything you will need. Your tent will be your shelter for the night and a campfire or backpacker's stove will provide you with a warm dinner. No room for encumbrances here and there is no running commentary--unless, of course, you choose to speak to yourself. You are alone with your thoughts, prompted by the dramatic scenery before you.
This is not to say there is no human interaction. Quite to the contrary. You have become a magnet. An oddity. Those whose paths you cross will stop and take note. And through these conversations you will gain insight into the lives of others as they try to relate to an unusual solo traveler.
You look forward to these chance meetings since by nature we are not solitary. Motorcycle touring demands frequent stops. You stop for gas, lunch and maybe breakfast, sightseeing--usually involving some amount of hiking--and any superb photo opportunities. Depending on the location, curious onlookers may descend almost immediately. Although you are adequately equipped with maps, the small-scale detailed information necessary to avoid flying by anything important can only be obtained from conversation with the local citizenry. To the hardened urban dweller, this is where the heartland of America excels.
Every stop can be a chapter in a book if you have the time and are willing to communicate. Politeness counts. You are not a member of some renegade biker gang. You are a tourist representing the cadre of motorcyclists interested in something more than speed. This is a learning experience with rewards that will be forever etched in your memory upon your return to daily life. You will recognize simple anecdotes, detailed social dramas, and even very helpful people willing to offer assistance at the slightest indication of trouble.
In fifteen years of motorcycle touring, I have encountered only one natural enemy during the spring of the year: cold driving rain. With slow-moving weather systems, this type of irritation can last for hours, making travel very unpleasant. I persevere and utilize all precaution knowing that it can't last forever. Here, my second rule of thumb comes into play: I never set up camp in a rainstorm. I will always head for suitable lodging by day's end, allowing me to start out the next day, dry and refreshed.
Most importantly, I am here for the open-air enjoyment of the scenery which I prefer to view on the slowest and emptiest roads possible, finally disembarking from the motor bike in order to hit the hiking trail.
I park the bike at the trailhead, stow my riding suit, and prepare for a day hike in Yellowstone National Park. A few minutes down the trail I come upon the ranger's cabin, where I enter and record my destination as Lone Star Geyser. The ranger looks at me somewhat incredulously and asks, "What do you want to go up there for?" He adds, "The trail is very wet and snow-covered this time of year, and most of the trail markings are obscured."
The ranger was right. This was more of a slog than a hike, although there were sets of meandering footprints indicating that others had attempted this forest trail punctuated by glistening meadows. For the next two hours I consult my trail map and compass often, and see no one along the way. However, I see and hear an abundance of wildlife and am startled at one point to come across a moose foraging in the woods. I give him a wide berth.
Travel is scenic but slow. I am definitely hiking uphill most of the way, towards the continental divide. Not soon enough, my map indicates I am getting close to the geyser, but just when I think I'm getting close, the trail twists and turns and I find that I'm actually another hour away. I may even be lost! The third rule of thumb: Never turn back. There are no straight lines in nature.
Three hours after starting out, I cross a couple more streams, enter a clearing, and there it is, Lone Star Geyser--a silent mineral mound. I break out my lunch from my rucksack and wait. This could take a while. Apparently, the geyser pops off every four hours. I'm hoping that the explosion will come sooner rather than later. I find a comfortable rock where I can sit and eat.
About an hour later, the ground begins to rumble. I hear the sound of percolating water. Steam rises from atop the mound, followed by pulsating spurts of hot water. Then broader fountains shoot out. A few minutes later I witness a full blown gusher rising seventy feet into the sky. A steamy mist envelops the area. This entire eruption from start to finish lasts about twenty minutes and then falls silent again. The show is over. I look around and see no one, except for a marmot.
Behind me, the park rangers have built a small shingled roof to stand beneath during rainstorms. Here there is a wooden box sitting affixed to the top of a tree stump. I open the box and find a logbook to be used for hikers' remarks. I read the last recorded entry, dated from the previous day. Someone wrote, "Great difficulty getting here. Worth every bit of it!"