2014 Fall Tour – Part 1

 

2014 Fall tour to Montana, Idaho and Washington

2014 Fall tour to Montana, Idaho and Washington

Only four days after taking delivery of my 2014 BMW R1200RT, I’m ready to take the plunge.  A long distance tour to put the new RT and me to the test.

It’s only been a few days since the RT and I have been together and we’re still early in the honeymoon phase.  Like a young groom still getting familiar to his new wife in an arranged marriage, the BMW feels unfamiliar and excitingly new.

Day 1, Edmonton, AB to Great Falls, MT

Late September is ‘iffy’ for a Fall tour, especially in the Canadian Prairies.  Hoping for good weather is like playing a game of Russian Roulette with Mother Nature.  The possibility of early snow, particularly when the Rocky Mountains are in one’s travel itinerary, is quite high.  Today, we’re lucky.

The morning starts off briskly cool, in the single digit Celsius range.  I’m waiting patiently at the Nisku, AB rendezvous point waiting for three fellow riders to show up at the agreed upon 0800 h departure.  Our foursome of experienced riders will make for a new group dynamic; two of the riders joining us are fellows I haven’t traveled with before.  I worry that our mix of personalities might not ‘click’, and trouble could arise if we ride too fast, too slow, stop too often, or don’t stop often enough.

My travel companions are Robyn S. (2010 BMW R1200RT), Bjorn J. (Honda XLV1000 Varadero) and Richard L. (2010 BMW R1200GSA.) One by one they arrive, and after a hearty’good morning’ all ’round, we suit up.  Robyn directs a nod my way.  It’s his signal I’m designated to lead the group, southbound on the QE2.

Wednesday morning traffic is light and the 125-horsepower RT pulls smoothly onto the highway. I set the left handlebar-mounted cruise control switch at a safe, GPS-indicated ‘true’ road speed of 118 km/h on the BMW Navigator V’s ‘dashboard.’  (The RT’s digital speedo shows an optimistic 122 km/h.)

We settle in for the long, dreary run to our first gas stop, Calgary.  Today is a ‘transit day.’  Mostly 4-lane, divided highway.  Keep close to the speed limit.  Keep our noses clean.  And begin to appreciate the new R1200RT’s touring capabilities.

I fiddle with the left handlebar-mounted button that adjusts the RT’s adjustable windscreen.  The standard windscreen has a “U”-cut top edge, and I adjust the screen so I can see over the lowest part of the “U.”  Unlike Cycle Canada editor Neale Graham’s description of the 2014 RT, the BMW tourer’s windscreen does not deliver a ‘dead calm’ cocoon at 150 km/h, at least not for my 5’7″ physique.  But the RT’s air management is very, very good.  I crack the faceshield open one detente and can feel a light breeze on my face.

For this first leg, I’ve got the RT’s electronically-adjustable ESA suspension set on “Soft”, “One rider + luggage”, and the “Road” riding mode.  Like this, the RT’s ride is compliant, almost cushy, and the BMW absorbs road irregularities better than my 2007 Honda Gold Wing GL1800A ever did.  The RT’s ESA suspension is impressive, but set on “Soft”, lacks rebound dampening and over large, wide dips, pitches and ‘floats’ more than I’d like.

A quick stop to refuel in Calgary, and the RT is performing above my expectations.  The BMW is consuming fuel at an efficient rate of 5.1 L/100 km (55.3 Imp. mpg), and I’m happy.  It’s a short stint southbound where we stop south of Nanton at a truck stop for lunch, and I’m uneasy with my choice of lunch eatery, a truck stop.

Foodies

In our foursome, only Bjorn declares little interest in seeking memorable dining experiences.  Richard, Robyn and I are unabashed foodies, and we’ll ride that extra mile to find that great eatery.  So it’s with great reluctance I decide we’ll ‘dine’ at the truck stop Humpty’s, and like most chain restaurants, despised by travelers who prize memorable eating experiences.

But this Humpty’s pleasantly surprises our trio of two-wheeled food critics.  Our lunches are delivered to the table with speed and our server is efficient and courteous.  I order a Turkey Reuben sandwich ($12) and everybody remarks they are pleasantly surprised at the quality of our fare.  We leave happy.

Robyn leads us on the next leg to Cardston and the U.S. border crossing at Caraway.

We refuel in Browning, MT, some 335 km since topping our tanks in Calgary.  The large gas station in Browning is a major crossroads of sorts.  In prime touring season, its a fuel stop where one can meet motorcycle tourers from across the continent.  But Browning is an unpleasant, poverty stricken town of little more than 1,000 people in the Blackfeet Indian Reservation near Glacier National Park.

Other than a convenient refueling stop, Browning has little attraction, and I’m happy to saddle up and continue towards Great Falls.

Roadside in Montana en route to Great Falls

Roadside rest break in Montana en route to Great Falls (Robyn (L), Bjorn (behind Robyn) and Richard)

On this tour, we’re flying by the seat of our pants.  There is no specific route, no specific destination (other than major towns), so no lodging has been booked in advance.  We get what we get when we get there.  Some travelers will reel in horror at the lack of planning, but that’s how we ‘organized’ this trip.

Motorcycle Friendly Lodging

On arriving in Great Falls, I lead us to the Townhouse Inn.  We get the hotel’s last two rooms.  “Howcum you’re so booked up on a Wednesday night?”, I ask the desk clerk.  “I have no idea, but we’ve been booked solid every night for the past two months”, she explains.

The Townhouse Inn can be highly recommended.  Our desk clerk pulls out bottles of S100 motorcycle cleaning products and informs us we’re free to use it at the motorcycle wash area which is available after 8:00 AM.  Nice.  We thank her, but don’t take advantage of the facility, because the group has decided 8:00 AM is ‘wheels up’ – departure time.

Fine Dining, Says Actor Robert Redford

Kitty-corner from the Townhouse Inn is Jaker’s Bar and Grill.  Jaker’s is a regional restaurant chain, and a good one.  We’ve dined at Jaker’s in Montana and Idaho Falls, ID, and had terrific food.  According to Great Falls locals, when actor Robert Redford was directing the movie A River Runs Through It,  in and around the Great Falls in 1992, Redford dined at Jaker’s every night.  If it’s good enough for “Bob”, then it’s good enough for me.

Jaker's Pan-fried lamb chops

Jaker’s Pan-fried lamb chops

Wednesday night, and Jaker’s is jammed.  The restaurant is full, so we take an available table in the lounge.  Our server informs us the full house is a ‘normal’ Wednesday.  Robyn orders Caprese on Toast ($9.99) appetizer for our table.  It’s toasted baguettes with mozzarella, sliced Roma tomatoes, and fresh basil drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette.  Our table swoons – the presentation is beautiful, and the six slices are delicious; there’s enough to have this appetizer as a light, main dish.  My lamb chops are cooked to perfection and everybody is happy – even Bjorn, the avowed non-foodie.

Bjorn’s idea of great touring is, apparently, ride all day, then celebrate the end of day with a sandwich at Subway.  The likelihood of THAT happening on this tour is zero, and I think we’ve got Bjorn gradually coming around to our way of touring.  Time will tell.

After over-stuffing ourselves at Jaker’s, we waddle back across the street to our motel.  A few minutes of hanging ’round the bikes and checking out a couple of Harleys parked next to us and we call it a night.

From Edmonton, we’ve ridden about 825 kilometres to Great Falls, MT.

Tomorrow, it’s ‘wheels up’ at 8:00 AM to leave Great Falls.   Our destinations will include Livingston, Butte, and finally ending up in Missoula, MT.

Next:  2014 Fall Tour, Part 2 – Great Falls to Missoula, MT

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