Day 21 – Clarkston to Kalispell, MT

Distance: 336 miles / 541 kilometres
Temps: Low 9 celcius Lolo Pass / High 15 Kalispell
Riding Time: 9 – 5:30 pm

Today was a relatively easy day distance-wise and the beginning of the end of the trip. As you go farther north there are less twisty roads to get excited about and the temperatures start to dwindle back down to what I’m used to at home.

Every trip there are a few things that I bring along that take up space and that I don’t end up using. Most times it’s rain gear. In nine years of touring I’ve only had three days of rain – a pretty small percentage of the trips. The thing is, if you don’t bring it, you can be assured that it will rain all day and riding wet and cold is miserable.

This time it paid to bring a few extra layers along (more about the rain gear tomorrow). It was a mild day to start out, but as altitude rose, I began to notice a disturbing trend – temperatures well below normal for this time of year. The wind chill at 9 celcius is significant and without proper windproof layers it can be miserable. I’m glad I was prepared even though I only used the layers on the first and last day of the trip.

Contrary to what is written in every travel manual and motorcycle book, the Lolo Pass (Highway 12) is not a great road. I’m not sure where people got that idea from. This trip I was hoping to prove myself wrong and enjoy it. Last time it was part of 24 hour straight ride home, so I thought that it was just because I was tired last time. Nope. It’s really not an inspiring road at all. It is long and cuts off riding on interstates which is good, but it is frightfully windy, without any notable scenery, and has curves that are so far apart over most of the road you’d have to be doing 80-100 miles an hour to enjoy them. Pretty tough to cruise at 80-100mph and be comfortable while fighting head and crosswinds for 100+ miles. So, again, I give the resounding thumbs down to Lolo Pass as a destination road.

I had a good discussion with a retiree at the gas pump when getting things going in the morning. I’ve found other motorcycle riders quite forthcoming and interested in my travels this time. One of the odd things that keeps coming up with gasoline is the ethanol content in the fuel. There seems to be a fairly significant worry about ‘conspiracy’ to ruin peoples cars and vehicles and lower fuel economy to encourage more spending on fuel. Not sure why people think that. It does burn cleaner, it’s a renewable resource (corn), and I haven’t noticed any change in fuel economy during any of the trips down in the US. In fact, quite the contrary, my fuel economy has been better, especially at altitude when touring in the USA.

Pretty uneventful day overall. I must say that two weeks on the bike certainly does clear my head. I’ve been reading about Zen Buddism lately and how to live in the moment and just ‘be’. Motorcycling is one of the few places where I can just ‘be’. I don’t think about anything other than inputs and control of riding and taking everything in. A personal goal is to incorporate more of this type of thinking and approach to every day life in all that I do.

The downtown of Kalispell is quite interesting with vintage buildings and a well-preserved main street. It’s unfortunate that most tourist focused business seems to only be in Whitefish. There is a lack of restaurants and pubs in the downtown. I had a tough time finding anything open on a Thursday night. I did enjoy the the beer at the Kalispell Brewing Company in their new location on Main Street. It’s quite odd though. The laws only let them serve a few pints, you have to keep a record sheet of your drinks (before you’re cut off), and they have no food. Liquor laws are so odd here.

I really enjoyed my stay at the Grand Hotel. Lovely restored hotel from the turn of the last century. It was very homey and comfortable and would be a good base for winter or summer trips in the future. The staff were very friendly and helpful.

Tomorrow, the final day. The ride home…