High Plains drifting


THE IRON PIGGY put a third of the journey home behind us in two hard days and one easy morning. We rode out of a parched rainforest, across the agricultural desert of the Columbia Basin, up and over the Rockies, now we’ll be High Plains drifting for a while. I’m back in Harlowton, Montana, where I camped on my way to Alaska while awaiting my forgotten passport. I have a few things to do here, people to see, will get headed east again in a few days.

Here’s a quick report as I mooch the free WiFi at the Harlowton Public Library



Once you get over Snoqualmie Pass in the Cascasdes, Washington turns into desert. They can irrigate like mad in the Columbia Basin but it’s all dryland farming as you move farther east and up onto the Columbia Plateau. In the heat of the day, the earth and skies of eastern Washington are pale and bleached-out. Combines send up clouds of yellow crop dust as fine as ash.



Crossing the Columbia River. Piggy crossed this bridge once before, but in the opposite direction, and not under her own power. She was a trailer queen for a day. Now we return in victory, like that MacArthur guy.



Here we are on the other side, looking down on the bridge we just crossed. It was blazing hot. As the day got hotter I kept cutting our speed back in 5-mph increments. In the very hottest hours of the day we were down to 55mph. Oil pressure would drop by a few PSI at higher speeds. Less speed, oil runs cooler, pressure goes up.



In Idaho, we cut northeast to get out of traffic and into the trees as much as possible. Rode up to Sandpoint on US 95 and cut southeast on Idaho 200 through the Clark Fork River Valley. Here we are waiting for a train to pass so we can buy a $15 camping spot on the river.



Next morning, following the Clark Fork. This is probably Montana. We had camped just a few miles west of the state line.



It’s a good motorcycle road along the Clark Fork, saw lots of my kind.



A hot ride. I kept the water going in.



In Plains, Montana, compound dovetail joinery on a one-room schoolhouse from the pioneer days.



After a hot stretch of interstate in Montana, we cut off on US 12 and crossed the Continental Divide just west of Helena. It was a fast and twisty descent. The air got cooler with every turn.



Losing the light around Townsend, Montana. We were only two hours from Harlowton but you’re taking your chances riding that stretch of road in the dark. Piggy and I have been on it before. Very twisty and narrow, poor sight lines, lots of deer. We decided to call it a day.



The KOA gal said rain was coming overnight. I looked up and agreed it probably was. I left my cook pot on a picnic table as a rain gauge. A terrific electrical storm raged for hours. The tent leaned this way and that as the wind howled. Water misted-in through the air vents up top. I thought we were getting buckets! In the morning there was a quarter-inch of water in the pot. I had expected it to be overflowing. Or empty because the wind had blown it off the table. Very weird. Maybe piggy drank out of it?



It was chilly on the short ride into Harlowton this morning. I put on two shirts and enjoyed the cooling cloud cover.



I ducked off US 12 and took a little detour through Martinsdale, because I like to see the towns, see how the people live, find out what they know, blah blah. We had to cut the tour short when piggy balked at crossing a cattle guard. Can’t imagine what got into her. There’s no way she’s part beeve. I’m still noodling on it.

Tony DePaul, Harlowton, Montana, July 29, 2013


About Tony

The occasional scribblings of Tony DePaul, 63, father, grandfather, husband, freelance writer in many forms, ex-journalist, long-distance motorcycle rider, motorcycle wrecker, motorcycle rebuilder, collector of surgical hardware, blue routes wanderer, outdoorsman, topo map bushwhacker, handy with a wrench, hammer, chainsaw, rifle, former photographer, printer, logger, truck driver, truck mechanic, jet fueler… blah blah...
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10 Responses to High Plains drifting

  1. Ben Jones says:

    Loving the pictorial narrative!

  2. Dave Sell says:

    Great photos and write up as always Tony! Glad to see the Piggy back to rude health and chewing up the miles. Looks like a great time with the Nelson clan too. Be safe on the way back!

  3. William Stenger says:

    Hey Tony, I never saw a dove-tailed cabin before! Thanks for the pics of your great ride East

  4. Alix Williams says:

    Thanks to your photos I have a chance to see what that part of the country looks like. Beautiful images, Tony, thank you. You are a real road trooper, my friend.
    Happy trails for the rest of your trip. The cattle guard? Funny stuff.

  5. Kerry Kohring says:

    You just missed my relatives motor-homing up that way. They got up into Calgary for the festivities, then back down to Texas, turned left back home to Atlanta. They spent a few days in Montana, agreed that there aren’t a lot of people there.
    Be safe.

  6. Connie Nelson says:

    Never thought I’d enjoy a motorcycle ride so much. Makes me miss the Great Plains, Pam and you.

  7. Bill says:

    Sandpoint, Idaho! One wrong turn and you would have been back in Canada.

  8. Tony says:

    Thanks, all. I’m camped tonight in Miles City, MT, on the banks of the mosquito-rific Yellowstone. We’re aiming to put a huge chunk of South Dakota in the rear view mirrors tomorrow.

  9. Tarquino Félix says:

    I really love north american landscapes, they are very beautiful! hope you continue to share those great pictures with us. blessings from Tampico.

  10. John Chafee says:

    I really enjoyed following along this journey, also clicking back and forth between this and google maps (and there was Two Dot, MT!) A great travelogue. I’ll never think of the expression “dovetails nicely” the same way again.

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