Motorcycle travel is, conceptually speaking, very simple—wake up at Point A, aim for a bed or campsite at Point B, and refuel the bike and the body along the way. It’s not always easy but, compared to the complexities of adulthood, this rhythmic simplicity may be part of its appeal.
There is novelty in this simplicity, though. You wake up in a new place every day. You ride unfamiliar roads every day. You eat at new places every day. At home, one morning commute blends seamlessly into the next until a week, a month, a year is gone.
Lather. Rinse. Repeat. Despair.
Billings, MT, shrinks in my mirrors. Tall grasses dance upon rolling hills. Sharp, stony peaks appear in the distance and grow with each mile. The climbing is steady, imperceptible. I am a mile above sea level at Red Lodge, a tidy western tourist town, but only halfway as high as the top of Beartooth Pass. I won’t be able to follow Pirsig and his companions over the pass and to Yosemite National Park, though, as the area was hit with torrential rains, flooding, and road washouts just weeks before. On the edge of the town, the road is covered in gravel left behind by the once-swollen Rock Creek. Beyond, it is closed. I turn around and head back north along rolling hills framed by the stony peaks of the Beartooth Mountains.
Motorcycle & Gear
2021 Honda CBR650R
Helmet: Scorpion EXO-ST1400
Jacket & Pants: Klim Induction
Boots: REV’IT! Everest GTX
Comm System: UClear Motion 4
Luggage: Rigg Gear Hurricane Dry Duffle (40L), Hurricane Waterproof Dry Tank Bag, Nelson Rigg Mini Expandable Sport Motorcycle Saddlebags, Chrome Niko Camera Backpack
Cameras: Panasonic Lumix G80 and G100, DJI Mini 3 Pro, Insta360
Rain Gear: Klim pants, Showers Pass jacket
Safety Gear: Klim Ai-1 airbag vest, Spot Gen 4
The wind picks up and the sky takes a cinematic turn with curtains of rain falling from angry clouds on all sides. Strong gusts push the Honda CBR650R around and I countersteer to go straight. For a while, I think that I may escape the precipitation, but then the spitting rain starts hitting my visor. I keep a steady grip on the throttle and try to punch through the showers. A chilly raindrop sneaks through the mesh sleeve of my jacket and stings my skin. And then another. And another. But by the time I get to Big Timber, I am dry again. They’re rolling up the sidewalks, but I manage to find dinner before heading to the Spring Creek Campground and Trout Ranch south of town. Mine are the only motorcycle and only tent—everyone else is sheltering in their RVs. The creek is all mine and it roars into the night. I put earplugs in.
I unzip the rain fly to see a crystal blue sky. Today, I will try to catch up with Pirsig and his companions at the northern entrance of Yellowstone National Park. It’s a fool’s errand—the north entrance to the park is likely closed as well—but I go anyway, to ride alongside the Yellowstone River once again. It has been my companion through much of the state.
The Yellowstone carves a wide, fertile valley between the Beartooth Mountains and the Gallatin Range. Where the river meets the land, there is green. Beyond, the grasses turn to straw and the trees lose their purchase on the sharp, rocky prominences. Just weeks ago, heavy rains swelled the river until it overflowed its banks and washed out large chunks of road. Today, it runs strong, cutting the rock and stone at a more geological pace.