Day 5
June 10th, 2006
KOA Campground
Billings, Montana

A steady rain came through Billings last night, the kind of rain that satisfies the farmers but concerns the Long Rider.  The rain pelted my little tent for over 2 hours.  I slept off and on.   I was comfortable and dry, but couldn't help thinking about the next morning.

Dawn finally broke out over the east prairies of Montana, and the rain went away.  I crawled out of my tent to a cloudy, dreary, damp atmosphere.

I needed weather info, but it was Saturday morning and all I had were guys work numbers.  I went over the office on the outside chance it would be open to see if they had a TV.  A radio might work, but nothing like seeing where the rain is.  The office was closed.

My goal for the day is Glacier, but a RV jockey informed me yesterday Sun road was closed in the usual spots.  I still wanted to ride up there, if only to see the mountains and the lake.  I didn't need Sun road for that.

That meant I was going to have to ride north, and probably back into the rain that came over me last night.  "I'lll ride north to U.S. 12, then turn west, and come into Glacier on the west side.  That should take me out of the rain."  I had no idea what the situation was south of me, but I was confident going west would be the right move. 

I had to play a hunch, and my track record is pretty good on such things.

There are days you do everything wrong, you compound one bad decision with another.  This would be one of those days.

By 6:30am I was packed and loaded, and riding through downtown Billings on SR 3, looking to go north.  All the lights were on flashing when I eased through.  I don't think the downtown area had any office higher than 10 stories or so. 

I took a wrong turn near the airport because the intersection was poorly marked and vague.  The roads in question both veer north, and no route numbers could be found.  I had to make a call and picked the wrong one.  I noticed it  when it suddenly made a hard turn south.  I doubled back and straightened out.

The skies to the north were dark and inhospitable.  No doubt, it was going to get nasty.  "Not too late to change your mind and go south yanno," my right told my left.  "Nah it will be ok," the left responded, it won't last long."
Ten miles out of the city the rain started.  A long, steady, rain with big drops.  Temp was in the 50s and falling.  I cut through the mist and water on SR 3, all the while scanning the skies.

I brought the screen up to push the wet stuff around me.  Thick clouds made it feel like 8pm in the evening, instead of 8am.  I could see the rain splashing in the standing water in front of me and on the shoulders.  I used those things to tell me how hard it was coming down.

In Broadview I pulled into a closed down shop of some kind and got out the insulated vest, and lined waterproof gloves.  Those things helped immensely, but I was hoping I wasn't going to need them much longer.  

Across the street on a barn a banner hung in the wind and rain.  It read some kind of "Broadview Days" was coming.  "Look I don't care about your farm or whatever days.  I just wanna get out of here and out of this weather."

I slogged on to the U.S. 12 crossroads and turned west, hoping to find some relief.  Little did I know I was turning in the worst direction I could pick.  A large front was socked in over the mountains, and to choose weather babe vernacular, "with high winds and heavy rain."

By now it was really raining, and the road was covered in standing water.  Both tracks were sometimes long strips.  Now I was faced with another choice.- keep the pace up and end this misery a little quicker, but risk hydroplaning, or drop down and play it safe.  I chose the later without debate.

At this time I re evaluated my plans.  "If I don't break out of the rain soon, I'm gonna call it a day at the first decent place I come across."  And that meant a motel with hot a shower.  

The problem with that is there is no such place on U.S. 12.  I was going to have to ride on to Helena.  If I could just get there I'd feel like I put some distance down, and the day wouldn't be a total loss.  I made the call to shoot for Helena, and call it quits, and if the weather is no better tomorrow, lay over a day.  I scheduled a layover this weekend anyway, but I wanted it to be in Glacier, NOT Helena.  

But first I had to get there.

Folks it was really nasty, and now I was moving up in elevation and knew what was going to happen next.  The temp was getting colder, 46 degrees in a spiteful rain.  I was cold, and wished for the heated seat of the RT.  My "waterproof gloves" were soaking through, (no such thing) and only my heated grips made it bearable.  I was missing the heated seat of the RT.  I questioned the reasoning of leaving my heated gear behind, but in retrospect I made the right call.  This ride would be over soon, and the prospect of lugging around heated vest, pants, assorted wires and controllers for another 7,000 miles wasn't my idea of fun.  Stuff takes up room and a hassle.  Fall ride in New England?  By all means pack it.

Weight=drag=loss of performance, a top heavy is bike hard to control in parking lots, drifting when heeled over, poor mpg, tire wear, and the time to pack and keep up with stuff, which I'm really poor at lately.  In a motel I'm on the road in 15 minutes, from a campsite make it 30.

Every pound of "stuff" brings a price, up to you to figure if the final tab is worth it.  I've decided this-in my future trips to the Hotel, and I'm going and coming the southern and or middle route, I'm NOT bringing ANY cold weather gear.  Bringing cold weather gear across the desert in June makes about as much sense as bringing summer textile gloves to Maine in January.  Why it took me so long to realize that I don't know.

I've carried my thick winter gloves on every tour out there and YET to ever need them, and battle them every time I open my left bag.

In the mornings I'm straight on the road to the first peanut butter and jelly break, 150-200 miles later.  
But back to the story at hand.

I was taken aback when I saw a sign that read, " Helena 169 miles."  "Dam doesn't look that far on the map."
A red car with Washington tags came around me.  I was doing all I could to do in the deluge.  Visibility was down, and it was hard to see.

When he was about a half mile ahead, I saw his brake lights come and go.  "what's goin on up there he hit the breaks?"  I failed to see anything in the mist and rain, but slowed down anyway.  Then I spotted what the problem was-a deer.  A huge buck was frozen on the shoulder.  I saw him through the rain because I was LOOKING for him.  He was BIG.  I got on the brakes and brought the 1300 down from 60 to 30 before getting in striking distance.  He still wasn't moving.  I moved to the center line, and eased by.  I was scared he was going to hit ME, if he bolted.  He never flinched and I came around with no problems.

Uncle Phil once told me they get mesmerized by bright lights and freeze.   Come to think of it, I don't know if I've ever heard of deer running toward a spot light.   I guess the excellent headlight on the 13 and the PIAAs hypnotized him.  Good reason to mount them.  If they freeze every deer like they did this joker, then I'm game.  
U.S. 12 cuts through the Little Belt Mountains by sticking in the valleys.  I hugged the route as it took me into even more nasty weather.  A cold wind blew down, and rocked the 1300, and the road curved and spun through the hills.  "What in the world and I DOING out here?"  I thought about my wife, my home, and what she must be doing right now.  "Best she doesn't know, my current status."

The road was not the best, and any standing water had to be treated like it was a 3 foot pothole, and avoided.  My speed dropped to 40 mph.  I had to be careful.  I've been in some bad spots, but this was probably the worst.  Even more so then that day in the Oregon Mountains, snow in Scotland, and just last month fog and cold on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  I knew those rides were short, but today I had no idea.  I was not riding out of this anytime soon.  The mountains were deserted, there was no place to stop if I wanted to.

The road was slick, curvy, and tricky.  It took all my skills to navigate it.

For the first time in my career I questioned what I do.  "I came here when I could be in sunny and hot Alabama right now?  Am I crazy?"

I wouldn't say the route goes over the Little Belts, more like slices through them.

It was too rainy and wet to take my cameras out.  Thus no pictures for today, but U.S. 12 looks like a great road, but bad weather can cast a shadow on the best of roads.

BY the time I reached White Sulphur Springs I was reeling, and I still had a ways to go.  The rain was still coming down just as hard as 100 miles ago.

Now I had to get over the Big Belts.  Water had finally soaked through my boots, and my feet were cold.  Temps were now in the low 40s but I could feel Helena in the distance, like my mother use to call me to supper.
From the top of the Big Belts, all I could see west was clouds and rain.  
"Please God, get me out of these cold ass mountains in one piece, and I'll NEVER complain about being hot again."  I thought how good the hot desert is going to feel next week.  Getting up in the mornings NOT worried about rain and cold is going to be a blessing.
A couple of ranch houses along the way had smoke coming up from the chimney.  "man you know its bad when the locals put a fire in the fireplace."
The Honda dripped water like a beach whale at the red lights in Townsend.  I went through town, and made my out to Helena, it felt good to be almost there.  But I had one more thing to deal with.

Wind gusts funneled down out of the mountains.  Besides the rain I now had a very strong cross wind.  I counter leaned the Honda at a crazy angle to keep it straight.  Oncoming trucks were the worst, they blew me upright, then the wind would hit me and push me too close to the shoulder.

Through East Helena and at last into Helena I rode.  It was STILL rainy and cold.  I found the Motel 6, and went to the office.  I had no thoughts of trying to ride any further.  I was cold, wet, and miserable.  I folded.  It was 10:30am and I just put down 241 non stop tough miles.

"Get me outta this baby, I need a room."

"All we have clean are smoking rooms"

"I'll take it'

I parked next to Concourse with Florida tags.  He didn't even try to go anywhere today.  I knew he was a serious rider because of the distinct Russell seat with the wing tips.  In this case function over rules the clean lines of the bike.

My room was second floor but that was ok.  Dripping wet, I unloaded the bike and threw my stuff across the room.  It was time to dry out.  I twisted the heater and fan to hot and sorted my gloves to dry out.  The Roadcrafter performed very well, and I was glad to have it.

I was glad to be off the road. 

The TV came on next, and I went straight to the Weather Channel to find out the big picture.  A weather babe said a low pressure trough had dipped across the Pacific Northwest, and will continue to linger around.  Almost all of Montana was wet.  It was raining even harder in Glacier.  Glad I didn't try to go there.  It was going to be better in the next few days, but not by much.  I called Debbie and gave the report.  

I got under the covers, and content at being warm again, drifted off asleep and napped for a couple of hours.  
In light of the recent weather news, I decided to lay over in Helena a day and dry out more.  I'll go to Mass, run, wash clothes, and take time off the road for a day to recharge.  A layover  every 5-6 days is the best way I know to make a trip a good one.   

By late afternoon I was tired of watching cable news so took a walk downstairs to the vending machines.  A diet coke and chip bag later, I was back in front of the TV.

It was still raining, but the skies looked better.  The Kawasaki hadn't budged.

At long last the rain stopped long enough for me to go look for something to eat.  My first choice was an Applebee's, but the place was jammed packed.  I went down the road to a Golden Corral.  A party of 15 or so beat me inside because I was slow removing my riding gear.  I tired but they had too big a head start.  It took 15 minutes to get them checked in and paid.  Sometimes I have the worst luck.

The buffet was good, I had a little bit of everything.  The best was a warm cup of chili in a mug.  It was warm going down, and I thought back to earlier ride of the day, and felt good about myself.

Back from supper I cleaned the screen of the ST and checked oil.  Freestyle called me, and checked in, then Chris.   All was good. 

I spent the evening watching TV learning how we got Zarqawi.  Looking forward to sleeping in the next morning.