Lolo Montana to Stanley Idaho, 246 miles
I wake up bright and early and HUNGRY! Skipping dinner last night has me craving breakfast the minute I roll out of bed so I quickly get ready to go. Much better timing this morning, only an hour from alarm shutoff to on the bike…then off the bike because I forgot to oil the chain. Then some worried staring because my back tire tread is getting uncomfortably close to baldness. Yikes. Rookie move, looked at it before I left and saw it had what I though would be at least 2000 miles left, but the chip seal here is made from much sharper aggregate than they use back home. I know this, I’ve known this for years, I forgot.
I figure I’ll ride and check all the bike shops along the way and hope someone has something that will fit. I’m in the heart of moto country, the odds should be good…should be. Also, it’s not totally gone, I’ve got at least 500 miles left before it gets really sketchy. It’ll be fine…
… at least that’s my mantra du jour!
So, I roll out of the parking lot at 8:30 and scan for a breakfast stop but don’t see (or smell) anything tempting (another really awesome thing about riding — the smells! Well, okay, not the dead skunk smells, but the bacon, the warm wild berries, the pine), I stop and pull up Yelp since I know there are not that many towns along this route, they recommend Montana Cafe in Darby, about an hour down the road.
Rolling into Darby (population 792) I spot the cafe, a tiny place with parking for about 5 vehicles, which works because with current Covid restrictions they have exactly 5 tables inside!
It smells wonderful, and when my plate arrives, it tastes even better! I usually don’t agree with Yelp recommendations, but this time they hit it out of the park.
After a leisurely meal and a few extra cups of tea (they brought a container full of different Stash teas and happily refilled the hot water as many times as I liked), I paid the bill and went out to the bike. I had my earphones in and was putting my helmet on when a lady who was sitting at one of the other tables came up and asked me if I was by myself. Uh, well, yeah. Okay, that’s not what I said, I would never resort to Sarcasm Girl with strangers who interact with me when I’m riding.
I’ve always felt like I’m some sort of ambassador for all things moto when strangers approach me on the bike. I am always friendly and willing to answer any questions or listen to their stories of when they were young and owned the fastest XR75 on the planet or how their dad knew someone who knew a friend who had a really old Harley in their barn. I figure if I’m a jerk they’ll go away thinking all riders are jerks, but if I’m nice it puts a smile on their face and maybe they’ll remember to be nice to motorcyclists when they’re sharing the road. Anyway, that’s my theory.
So, back to the lady. She is one of those sweet gals who looks slightly artistic and a bit ditzy, but she’s just so darned nice. She asks where I’m going, what it’s like to ride so far, and a few other things, then she says, “Give me your phone, I’m sure you don’t have many photos of yourself and your bike, let me take one”. I’m shocked at her thoughtfulness. There’s no way for her to know I’ve been thinking of my own ride photographer and how I will miss having these kinds of photos of this trip.
And then she makes me laugh because she accidentally switches to selfie mode and I’m gifted with this.
And she takes this nice photo of Sir Tao and me.
It’s taken me years, but I’ve slowly learned to count on the kindness of strangers.
I’m still following in the footsteps of Lewis, Clark and the rest of the Corps of Discovery. I love the signs in Montana as they include excerpts from various member’s diaries. I’m glad modern weather forecasting allowed me to visit this spot on a balmy 75 degree day rather than the truly awful conditions these folks dealt with in September of that year.
A bit further down the road I get to meet yet another kind stranger. This one helped me pick the bike up after I tipped over. No pictures, he was parked precariously and it only took a few seconds and a quick thanks and he was back on the road and I was shaking my head at my stupid mistake! Being short on a tall bike means I need to always check my landing strip – I need something flat enough to touch both toes on the ground, my first choice was decidedly was not that place. This is where I should have stopped to begin with. D’oh. Live and learn.
Isn’t this a cool place! And what a wonderful spot for a home, snuggled in its own personal valley below the rimrock with the river just across the road.
I wander the fence line and look for any “No Trespassing” signs or anything else that tells me I’m not welcome. The fence stops at the edge of the small shop building and it’s wide open with no signage, so, walking carefully and watching for snakes I explore. And wish I had my DSLR. Ah well, I would have had to leave half the tools home to fit it in, so the phone will have to suffice!
I love wandering through places like this. It’s so easy to glance at old buildings and see decay and sadness, but when I get up close I can see hints of all the hard work, happiness, and beauty the owners gave to their slice of heaven. Unrestored and unmolested, this spot is a perfect time capsule. I still feel like a dork for falling over, but I’m so happy I stopped. Not just to wander a bit, but also because I’d been worrying about what would happen if (when) I dropped the bike. Now I knew. It wasn’t awful. It wasn’t even a big deal. My mind excels at making mountains out of molehills.
I’m having great luck with beautiful roads and scenery and very few other vehicles, I’m not having such good luck finding a tire. I decide I’ll stop at the next spot I have cell service and call Carl’s Cycles in Boise. They always have a big tire selection in stock and if they don’t have something I think the BMW shop might (but I like Carl’s prices better!)
I had been planning to do a gravel loop that starts just outside Challis in Yankee Fork State Park which would take me past some old mining towns, I decided I’d stop at the State Park visitor’s center and borrow some shade and cell service and call Carl’s. Good news, they had a tire! Bad news, they said they couldn’t work on a BMW – I very nicely reminded them that I’d bought the bike from their shop, and we’d also purchased another bike a few months later. I said if they absolutely wouldn’t be able to do it, I understood and I’d call the BMW shop, but after they figured out who I was I guess they suddenly were able to work on Beemers again.
Honestly, I do understand this – if you’re not up on the latest info for a particular manufacturer, or you have to look up torque settings and other fussiness, you run the risk of making an expensive mistake or taking so much time to do the job you lose money on the deal. But I’m also very glad they came back with the awesome customer service we’ve known and loved over the years!
So, I had a tire waiting for me, and a slot in the lineup for for the next morning. And hey, only 128 miles of twisting high mountain roads between me and that new shoe! It was going to be an early morning tomorrow.
Once I got the tire situation dialed, I decided to play it smart and not do the entire dirt/gravel Custer Motorway, but I didn’t want to miss out entirely so I decided to take a short gravel jaunt off of 75 and at least check out Bayhorse, one of the old mining towns. They closed at 5, and it was getting towards 4pm by the time I pulled off the pavement and rolled across the cool old wood-deck bridge. Oh my, what a fantastic road! Good gravel, swoopy turns, canyons and small open valleys, I really really need to go back and do the entire loop, this area is just amazing.
I pulled into the parking lot and was a little sad to see they’d civilized the place, but it was definitely worth a visit.
As I was taking off my gear a park employee came over and gave me a map and the ubiquitous envelope so I could pay the entry fee. We chatted for a minute and then two other motorcycles showed up. The parks guy said, oh, you’re together, if you all park in the same space it’ll be just $5 for all of you.
I laughed and said we aren’t together, but he thought I was joking. By the time the other two had their gear off and we said hi to each other the poor parks guy was completely confused!
They asked where I was riding from, I told them Central Oregon, they asked where in CO, I told them Terrebonne and they laughed. They’re from Bend. Ride 800 miles and meet up with people who live 30 miles away. Go figure.
The three of us had a good time wandering around and talking a bit. They were definitely newer riders, with one having some dirt bike experience and the other guy had ridden a bit of street before they both decided they needed adventure bikes. I’ll give them credit, they weren’t being dilettantes about it, the bikes definitely showed they’d been riding a bit of rugged terrain.
As five o’clock rolled around we walked back to the bikes and they were ready to go before me. The more dirt-savvy of the two said he’d meet his friend at the intersection and took off. The friend left and I still had to get into my headphones and helmet so by the time I exited the parking lot I was sure they’d be long gone. Nope. The last guy was riding down the gravel road like some Sportbike rider who took a wrong turn. Sitting down, carrying too much speed into corners then hitting the brakes halfway through. I’m sure he thought he was going like a bat out of hell, while I was lazily standing up and swooping through the corners at about half the speed I’d come in at. I am so so glad I had many years of dirt experience on small bikes before we started riding adventure bikes, I don’t think of myself as very skilled in dirt or gravel, but seeing this guy struggle proved to me that I’m not a total dork. We got out to the highway, I gave them a wave and set off down the road towards Stanley and my all-time favorite no-tell mo-tel with the million dollar view.
Ah, welcome to the Lower Stanley Country Store and Motel. Please note that they are a store first and a motel second. And the store is nothing to write home about.
I didn’t take any exterior photos this time, which is sad because you can’t really get the overall ambience without seeing the two Super Duty pickups with deer carcasses in the back parked next to me. It’s hunting season and these folks hit pay dirt! You also can’t smell the amazing scent of venison stew that they’re cooking on a barbeque at the side of the building.
However, I did remember to take a photo of the room. Five years since we last stayed here and not a thing has changed. Well, hopefully the sheets and towels have changed.
So why do I love this place? Because just outside that door is this.
The river runs through little rapids and makes the most wonderful sound all night if you leave your windows open, which I do. And those aren’t clouds in the distance, those are the Sawtooth Mountains.
Oh, and just down the road a bit, within walking distance, is Bridge Street Grill which has a screened-in deck on the river. I have the difficult choice of steak from a local ranch or fresh caught fish and they have good beer on tap. Yes, I’m happy.
After dinner I walk back to the motel as the sun is setting. It’s feels like a warm summer evening, but looking at the weather report I know it’s going to be a bit chilly tomorrow which is frustrating since I need to get an early start so I can make it to Carl’s before noon and get that new tire mounted.
But right now I just want to sit out on my deck and soak in this amazing view. And swat mosquitoes.
After the sun sets I head back into the room and fall asleep in my surprisingly comfortable bed with it’s 1970s chenille bedspread and the scent of venison stew wafting in when the breeze blows the right way.