Day 7 – Casper to Jackson Hole – Disaster Day

The next morning consisted of prepping the bike by washing off the plethora of bug guts, eating a bite of breakfast, loading the bike to make it road ready.  It also meant a review of the weather – ugh, not looking good.  There was rain and potentially snow heading up over the pass to make it into the Jackson Hole area.  Lovely…  We selected our final route, fired up the bikes and headed out.

The first part of the trip was not too bad.  From Casper west on US 26.  There is nothing in this part of Wyoming – flat, desert-like, nothingness.  We passed this one area called Hiland that had a population of 6.  First stop was in Shoshoni, WY.  About a 100 miles down the road.  Continued down 26 towards Riverton, but bailed off at Hwy 134 as a shortcut back to 26.  26 goes south to Riverton and then back northwest.  Rather than following the pointy part of the triangle, we took the shorter route.

Along 134, we encountered road construction.  Had to stop for the pilot car – same as on Day 5.  Luckily, it didn’t take long.  I did talk to the guy holding the sign.  As you would expect, he was fairly “weathered” from having worked outside most of his life.  I asked him if he was born in Wyoming or moved here.  Born and raised about 90 miles south of where we were.  He looked the part.

Once past the construction, the wind started becoming a problem.  Gusting quite a bit from the south, southwesterly direction.  We were heading west so this made for a very tough cross-wind.  Cross-winds are explained on Day 2 so I will not go into details here.  Suffice to say, we were a bit miserable on this part of the trip.

Back on 26, we started heading northwest.  Wind was awful, but the outside temps were not too bad – high 50’s, low 60’s.  We continued on to the next stop at Dubois, WY, which is just before you start heading into the mountains.  We checked the radar again and the situation was turning worse.  We saw plenty of snow on the radar moving up and across the pass where we needed to go.  I called my wife who had already made into Jackson Hole the day before and she said it was cold and wet up there, but not snowing.  Given our need to push on, we loaded up and headed out.

Almost immediately after leaving Dubois, the outside air temperature starting falling.  We started around 52 degrees (f) and it quickly dropped to about 46 and started raining.  As we continued to climb, the temps continued to fall and the weather worsened.  We encountered snow pellets at one point.  Balls of snowy ice bouncing off the bike and the helmet.  I cranked the heat up on my heated gear!  Shout out to the guys that encouraged me to buy it and a big Thank You!  The jacket kept my body warm, the seat kept my butt warm, the grips kept my hands fairly warm and the heated socks definitely kept my feet warm.  I became a big believer of heated gear at this part of the trip.  Tucked in behind the big fairing on the bike, I was very comfortable as we continued to climb.

As we started to get close to the summit, the outside air temperature reached 36.  At this point, a snowflake appeared next to the temperature as a warning that we were getting close to the freezing point – as if I didn’t already know that.  If it reached 32 or below, then things would really get concerning as two wheels on black ice makes for a very bad combination.  35 degrees….34 degrees…still climbing.  At this point, we saw two other bikes going the other way.  They appeared to be more of the adventure bike variety – maybe a BMW R1200GS or a Suzuki VStrom.  I did note that they had larger knobby tires more designed for off-road, than on-road.  They passed with a wave…33 degrees…32 degrees.

32 degrees, the road is wet, it’s snowing…the only good news is that we had reached the summit.  Here’s some pictures of what that looked like from the bike.

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We carefully made our way past the summit and began heading down.  The temperatures began to rise.  This segment of the trip was one of the most nerve-racking parts because you just didn’t know if you were going to encounter black ice, a snow storm or what.  We persevered and made it through on wet roads only.  Very cold, but only wet.  We felt fortunate and continued on down into the Snake River valley.

And then it happend…our first casualty.  We had pulled over once for my buddy to put on some different gloves.  He didn’t have heated grips nor did he have any kind of heated gear and the only complaint that he had was that his hands were cold.  We pulled over to allow him time to put on some different gloves.  No problem.  Here’s a couple of pictures of that.

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As you can tell, the roads are wet and it is very chilly, but we continued on.  When we pulled over again to adjust some rain equipment, disaster struck.  My buddy is behind me and we are chatting about where to pull over.  We decide to pull over along the side of the road as that’s about all there is in this part of Wyoming.  We still have the intercoms on and as I pull to a stop and put the kickstand down, I hear him yell “Oww…dammit” and hear a crash.  I turn around in time to see him and the bike laying about halfway into the lane.  Not good.  I make sure my bike is secure and then go help.

Luckily, he is ok and not hurt.  Maybe a pulled muscle here or there, but just stands up and starts bitching.  I would too in that situation.  His bike has never been dropped and so he is pissed that it had to happen now.  I flag over a couple of pickup trucks and the two guys that stopped helped us get the bike upright.  With all of the gear and luggage, it probably weighs close to 800 pounds.

We get the bike upright and look for damage.  The mirror on the left is damaged and, well, that’s about it.  On his FJR, there’s a bit of rubber on the side case that helped prevent damage to the paint on the rear and the sliders he had installed up front helped prevent any further body or engine damage.  All in all, he walked away fairly lucky from what turns out is a fairly common occurrence with the FJR.  The kickstand doesn’t go all the way down and the bike just rolls right on over as you start to lean on it.  I didn’t have the heart to stop and take photo’s of him and the bike laying in the road.  Probably should have.  🙂

Here’s a picture of the damage:


That now made two tense moments on this day.  Dang, if we can only get to our condo.  From that point, it was another hour and a half to make our way down to Jackson, WY and then back up into the Jackson Hole ski resort area where we were staying.  Rained on us practically the entire way and the traffic through Jackson is terrible.  But, we finally made it.

Here are a couple of pics of where we were staying – a very nice two bedroom condo.

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The rest of the day we spent unpacking and finding some lunch and then dinner.  We did do a little shopping that afternoon and found a cool place called Wool & Whiskey.  If you have a chance to stop in for a drink, you should.  I bought a few items and had a few Pendleton whiskeys literally on the rocks.  They don’t offer ice cubes there, but do have frozen rock cubes to put in your drink to help chill it.

After the harrowing experiences we had encountered and endured, we were very much ready for some R&R.  We made it back to our rooms and promptly crashed.  A good day in that we survived and would be ready for the next part of our trip over the next few days.

Here’s the map for this day:

Day 6 – Deadwood to Cody (er, Casper)

Time to leave the Lead / Deadwood area.  We thoroughly enjoyed this part of South Dakota and can’t wait to return in years to come.   The Badlands, Mt. Rushmore, Crazy Horse, Custer State Park, Deadwood – too much to do in too short of a time.  We only spent 2 and a half days here and that didn’t do it justice.  We could probably stay a week and still not see it all.  But, we are on day six of a twelve day trip and more excitement is calling us on to the next adventure.

Here is our plan for Day 6 – get up early, drive to Devil’s Tower, stop in Sheridan, WY for lunch, through the Bighorn forest and then on to Cody for the night.  It didn’t quite happen that way.

We did get up early and left the cabin dressed for chilly, wet weather which mother nature was more than happy to provide.  We headed up highway US-14 Scenic from Lead up to Spearfish.  This is a very nice road through a canyon with the hills rising on both sides.  The road was wet from various light rain showers that would move through from time-to-time.  The speed limit was a paltry 35mph and we cruised through there doing anywhere from 45-60 depending on pavement conditions and visibility.  Not much traffic on a Wednesday morning.

We made it up to the interstate and began our trek on towards Devil’s Tower.  As we got on the highway, I detected a faint hint of cigar smoke.  Sure enough about a mile down the road, we caught up with a guy in a small car chomping on a big cigar.  Strange sight, but we kept on going.  Weather was cooperating – cool and cloudy, but no rain.  Perfect conditions to sit back and cruise on the bike.

Our first stop that morning was a small town called Sundance, WY.  You’ve heard of “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid“?  Yep, this is the town that the “Kid” was named after.  The movie is about two bank robbers that end up in Bolivia and stars Robert Redford and Paul Newman.  Redford plays the “Kid”.  Another bit of irony here is that Sundance sits in Crook county.  Sundance itself is named after the “Sun Dance” of the North American Indians.

We bought gas and made our way to downtown where we hoped to find a cafe for breakfast.  After a bit of looking around and asking, we found the small cafe.  Of the 12 tables available, 10 were open so we had an easy time finding a seat.  At one of the tables was a group of men who you could tell worked outside most of their life.  Nothing wrong with that by the way.  I was amused at one of the t-shirts the guy had on.  On the front, it had that outline of the woman you see on 18-wheeler tire flaps with wording around it of “Support your local hooker”.  On the back was an advertisement for a towing firm out of Sundance WY.  Grinning, we ate, paid and left.

Just outside of town is the turn off to head up to Devil’s Tower.  The Lakota Indians call it “Bear Lodge” or “Brown Buffalo Horn”.  Interesting reading on Wikipedia about it.  We cruised on up and pretty soon were greeted with this:


P1000292As you can see, Devil’s Tower just sort of sits in the middle of nowhere Wyoming.  It is most famous as the tower where the aliens arrived in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind“.  In the movie, Richard Dreyfus makes a replica of the tower first out of mashed potatoes and then dirt and mud in his living room.  The movie is a classic and I highly encourage you to see it if you haven’t.  Of course, we kept making jokes about dead sheep, alien probes, helicopters with knock-out gas and hoping we would get to see at least a UFO or something.  Alas, it didn’t happen so we took a few more photos and headed out.

P1000296 P1000303 P1000304 P1000309 P1000310 P1000317 DSC03569 DSC03575The next section was fairly easy as we headed across Wyoming on to Sheridan.  We passed what appeared to be an open coal mine as we maybe a thousand railroad cars being processed and loaded with coal to ship south.  We imagined this was some of the same coal that we saw in Texas from Day 1.  As we got closer to Sheridan, the weather started getting worse.  Rain and falling temperature.  We found a place for lunch with wi-fi and pulled in to rest a bit.  The next section would take us up through the Bighorn forest and we wanted to be ready for that.

As we ate our lunch, the rain continued to come down.  We watched our bikes get pretty soaked in the parking lot.  I had pulled out my iPad and was monitoring the radar.  It didn’t look good.  The Bighorn forest was getting lots of rain and what appeared to be snow at the higher elevations.  Ugh, this was not going to be pretty.  Motorcycles are not good in snow.  Four wheels can be slippery, but at least the vehicle doesn’t fall down.  On two wheels, you are pretty much guaranteed to be fall over if you get into any surface that’s extremely slippery.

Our options were to either go north up through Montana and try to come in to Cody through that route or to go south, skip Cody and come up from Casper to Jackson Hole.  We debated the pros and cons of these for about an hour hoping the snow would ease up in the forest and make our decision a bit easier.  It didn’t.  My wife had been through there earlier in the car she had rented.  I sent her a text and let her know we had decided to avoid the forest.  Her comment back was “good choice”.

Ultimately, the decision was to head to Casper.  My buddy had a friend that lived down there.  With the decision made and the rain subsiding a bit, we headed back south.  This part of the trip wasn’t too bad – lots of nothing but rainy grasslands and distant mountains until we got close to Casper.  The wind really started picking up the closer we got to the town.  We could see a windmill farm off to our left – that’s always a bad sign because it means the wind blows fairly constantly.  Like Day 2, we were really fighting the wind.  Lots of scary moments and leaning the bike way over just to go straight.

Finally made it to our hotel, showered and had dinner with my buddy’s friend and her son.  This was a very long day.  I got everything plugged in for overnight charging and promptly went to bed and fell asleep.  Day 6 complete and day 7 was looking interesting as well given the forecast for more rain and possible snow as we made our way up to Jackson Hole.

Not too many pictures today as the cameras were pretty well put away and covered given all of the rain we were encountering.  Here’s a Google map that shows our path for this day: