Wednesday, August 3— Livingston, MT to Gardiner, MT
Three years ago, Lisa and I took a retirement Road Trip to Kansas, starting in Yellowstone National Park. My good friend, Dan, told us about the highway that leaves the park through the northeastern, Silver Gate. The Beartooth Highway rises to over 10,000 ft., and then descends into Red Lodge, MT. Dan told us the views were really something special. Unfortunately, the road was already closed by the end of September 2013, so we couldn’t head east via that route.
My destination for today was Gardiner, MT, only 51 miles south of Livingston. While that seems pretty straightforward, often the best ride is not the shortest, so I headed east on I90 to enter Yellowstone through Silver Gate, taking the reverse route Lisa and I would have in 2013. By the end of the day I covered 287 miles. Hey, it was an extraordinarily beautiful day!
Welcome to the Jungle by Guns N Roses launched me out of Livingston and onto Interstate 90, heading east at 80+ mph. I fought with cars, trucks, and tremendous morning wind buffeting me from one side to the other. In 75 miles, a little short of Laurel, MT, I got off the interstate and enjoyed a peaceful ride through backcountry towards Red Lodge, MT, where I would enjoy a country breakfast and take care of a little family business by cellphone. As I sat at the table enjoying my eggs and bacon, I recalled reading about Red Lodge and the Beartooth Highway a year ago. I realized this was the second motivating factor pushing me to spend this particular day on this specific route.
In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig describes in chapter 11 spending the night in Laurel, MT, 100 miles due east of Livingston. The next morning, one of his travelling partners, Sylvia, shared a conversation her husband, John, had with a local:
“ ‘…about another route to Bozeman, south through Yellowstone Park.’
‘South?’ (he) said. ‘You mean Red Lodge?’
‘I guess so.’
A memory comes to (him) of snowfields in June. ‘That road goes way above the timberline.’
‘Is that bad?’ Sylvia asks.
‘It’ll be cold….but just tremendous.”
Pirsig’s description of the road heading southwest out of Red Lodge to Beartooth Pass, in the month of June, is perfect:
“At Red Lodge the road’s almost joined to the base of the mountain. The dark ominous mass beyond dominates even the roofs of the buildings on either side of the main street. We park the cycles and unpack them to remove warm clothing. We walk past ski shops into a restaurant where we see on the
walls huge photographs of the route we will take up. And up and up, over one of the highest paved roads in the world. I feel some anxiety about this, which I realize is irrational and try to get rid of by talking about the road to the others. There’s no way to fall off. No danger to the motorcycle. Just a memory of places where you could throw a stone and it would drop thousands of feet before coming to rest and somehow associating that stone with the cycle and rider.”
“The asphalt of the road is much wider and safer than it occurred in memory. On a cycle you have all sorts of extra room. John and Sylvia take the hairpin turns up ahead and then come back above us, facing us, and have smiles. Soon we take the turn and see their backs again. Then another turn for them and we meet them again, laughing. It’s so hard when contemplated in advance, and so easy when you do it.”
“The broad-leafed trees are all gone. Only small pines are left. Many of these have twisted and stunted shapes. Soon stunted pines disappear entirely and we’re in alpine meadows. There’s not a tree anywhere, only grass everywhere filled with little pink and blue and white dots of intense color. Wildflowers, everywhere! These and grasses and mosses and lichens are all that can live here, now. We’ve reached the high country, above the timberline. I look over my shoulder for one last view of the gorge. Like looking down at the bottom of the ocean. People spend their entire lives at those lower altitudes without any awareness that this high country exists. The road turns inward, away from the gorge and into snowfields.”
“Beyond is another country(, Yellowstone National Park). Mountain lakes and pines and snowfields are below. Above and beyond them as far as we can see are farther mountain ranges covered with snow. The high country.”
I met quite a few people at Rock Creek Vista. The views were beyond the words Dan used to describe them. I laughed as I watched some young, and even older people spend more time looking down at chipmunks than out towards the horizon and down to the valley so far below us.
“Sometimes it’s a little better to travel than to arrive,” Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. No more true on any other day than this one.
Route: I90, H421, H212, Grand Loop Road, H89
Miles Today: 287
Time Today: 9:45
Total Trip Miles: 3,759
Weather: Cool and sunny in the morning at 60°F in the morning, warming to 80°F late afternoon.
Brunch: Red Lodge Cafe
Lodging: Best Western by Mammoth Hot Springs
Dinner: Iron Horse Bar & Grill