Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming: Continental Divide, Part 1

Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming: Continental Divide, Part 1
A rugged adventure awaits those who seek it. Remote mountain passes, picturesque views, and diverse, often challenging, terrain—where every mile is a feast for the senses—can all be found on a cross-country journey along the Continental Divide.

Our tour starts on a sunny July morning just a couple miles from the Canadian border in Eureka, MT, and promises to be an epic trek south to the Mexican border. The planned route will take us through five states, totaling just over 2,900 miles and consisting primarily of unpaved roads, two track, and trails with pavement used mainly as connectors.

Dave and his XR650 eating up miles on well-groomed old Bannack Road.

Prepping for this trip began several months earlier on a cold January day back in Michigan, where I first met Dave Wenk, who would become my riding partner. In attendance that day were a dozen or so eager riders. As the start date grew closer, one by one, more than half of the group dropped out, leaving just five. For logistics’ sake, three are headed north while Dave, astride a Honda XR650L, and myself, on a Suzuki DR-Z400S, ride south. The northbound group has a 10-day lead on us, and we have been getting regular reports of their travels. Today’s news is not good, as one of the riders has taken a rather serious fall just outside of Rawlins, WY. We are cautiously awaiting word on his condition.

With spectacular views, Glacier National Park's Going-to-the-Sun Road is a must-see and must-ride side trip.

Bracing for Big Bears and Spotty Cell Signals

Leaving Eureka we pick up our route just a few short miles from town and, in no time, we’re deep into the Montana backwoods. Heeding warnings from locals, we are well aware that bears are common here. Not just any bear either—grizzly bears are reportedly very active in this part of the state. I have come across black bears before while riding in remote areas and, on those occasions, all it took to scare them off was revving the engine. Aside from being two to three times the size of the black bear, a grizzly is purportedly not as easily intimidated.

Motorcycles & Gear

2006 Suzuki DR-Z400S
2013 Honda XR650L

Helmets: AFX FX-39 (both riders)
Jackets: Scott All Terrain TP, AXO Enduro Dual Sport
Pants: Scott All Terrain TP, Fox Racing 360 Honda
Boots: Alpinestars Scout WP, Fox Racing F3 Race
Gloves: AGV Sport Telluride, Fox Racing Dirtpaw/MSR
Luggage: Giant Loop Coyote and Great Basin Saddlebags, Ortlieb Rack Pack, Givi WP403

Known as “Big Sky Country” for its wide-open vistas in the central and eastern portions of the state, here in the west it’s all about the mountains. In fact, Montana comes from the Spanish word montaña, meaning “mountain.” Much of our route is only possible mid to late summer; it is not uncommon to find snow on many of the passes throughout most of the year.

The Carissa Mine stands as one of the many reminders of the still-Wild West.

Prior to leaving, our host in Eureka remarked that it hadn’t rained in quite some time. As Dave jumps out in front, the large dust cloud left in his wake is evidence of such. While traveling, we are both equipped with GPS and have laid out planned stops should we get separated. Cell phone coverage will be hit-or-miss. As a result, I am also carrying a SPOT tracking device. After riding tail gunner for a little while, I opt to drop back to avoid eating any more dust kicked up from Dave’s XR650L.

Occasionally the "road less traveled" becomes obscured with over growth and obstacles.

A Park, Pines, and Ponies Detour

Climbing deeper into the lush pine forest, the snow-covered peaks in the distance grow closer. We come upon a tranquil lake settled in the mountains, where the scene is like something out of a Jack London novel. The pristine, still waters demand we pause to take in some of the best backdrops nature has to offer.

Horsepower, meet "horse power."

We spill out onto pavement a few hours later and decide to detour into Glacier National Park. While not officially on our route, being less than 30 minutes away and passing by a ride up (and down) the Going-to-the-Sun Road would be nearly unforgivable. Traffic in the park makes for slow going at times, mostly due to construction. Reaching the summit at Logan Pass, we take some time to stretch our legs and take in the view before reversing course out of the park toward Kalispell, MT, in search of lodging. This is peak tourist season and many of the hotels we see display a “No Vacancy” sign. Finally, we find accommodations for the night.