2014 Fall Tour – Part 4 (Conclusion)

Is that the Lone Ranger atop that hill?  No, it's Bjorn who decided the Honda XL1000V Varadero needed some off-road exercise

Bjorn guns the Honda XL1000V Varadero through a farmer’s field up a hill to check out the view

Day 4 – Moscow, ID to Whitefish, MT

The financial sting of last night’s ‘football weekend’-in-Moscow-hyper-inflated hotel rate is behind us.  The outstanding prime rib dinner in the hotel last evening soothed the pain of having paid the exhorbitant hotel rate because the town was full of football fans.  Plus, the start of a new riding day in unexplored, picturesque countryside with bright sunshine, double digit temperature and good riding friends is a true blessing.  Life doesn’t get much better than this.

Robyn and I point our bikes into the crisp morning air and head west to Colfax forty minutes away where Bjorn and Richard stayed.  The four of us huddle over maps in the lobby, and a general route is chosen.  Robyn assumes the important role of Group Leader.

Experienced motorcyclists know that the lead rider has the most difficult job when riding in a group.  The lead rider is responsible for setting an appropriate pace, navigating, ensuring nobody gets lost or left behind, and choosing stops for fuel, food, rest breaks and scenic views.  It’s a difficult and thankless role that many motorcyclists NEVER take.

We follow Robyn out of Colfax and ride back into Idaho onto Route 95, the White Pine Scenic Byway  north to St. Maries, a part of the state that’s thick with twisty pavement.

Near Colfax, WA

Near Colfax, WA

Eastern Washington and western Idaho is farm country, but much different than the flat expanses of agricultural land in Alberta.  This part of Washington and Idaho is hilly terrain.  Soon, we settle into a nice touring rhythm on lovely, narrow, 2-lane country roads.   Without warning, Varadero-mounted Bjorn flashes past us and takes the lead position.  I wonder if Robyn’s pace has been too slow and Bjorn wants us to pick up speed.  Bjorn suddenly pulls off to the side of the road and we do as well.

The morning light is perfect for photography and the yellow-gold stubble of recently harvested crops contrasts beautifully with bright blue skies.  We park our bikes on the shoulder to admire the scenery.  Meanwhile, Bjorn takes off, and standing on the Varadero’s footpegs rally style, “off-roads” the big Honda across a farmer’s field, gunning the bike to the top of a stubble-covered hill.  From a distance, he looks like an artsy statue, a Norwegian viking on a motorcycle.  Weird.

From the twisting roads at St. Maries  we ride northbound on Route 3, take a short section of I-90, then exit to another 2-lane road to Thompson Pass.  With an elevation of 4,859 ft (1,481 m), this pass is closed in winter.  It’s off the beaten path and it’s a pass none of us have ridden, so it’s a fresh experience.

Somewhere along the way, a rider on a late model Harley-Davidson touring rig passes us.  His bike is equipped with super bright LED headlights and in the mirrors, it’s unusual array makes it looks like an alien craft gaining on us fast.  He passes us and our foursome fall in line at a respectable distance.  GSA-mounted Richard also owns a big Harley touring machine and comments the stranger on the Harley is very skilled for riding a machine (not known for its handling prowess) at such a quick rate.

Thompson Pass is tight and ‘windy’, just like you’d expect a 2-lane mountain pass to be.  At the summit, we pull off to soak in the view and snap some photos.  A group of local motorcyclists pull in behind us.  We’re ready for a late, mid-afternoon lunch and the local riders recommend Minnie’s Cafe in nearby Thompson Falls.

Minnie's Cafe (Thompson Falls, MT) was crowded with motorcyclists on the late September Saturday we were there

Minnie’s Cafe (Thompson Falls, MT) was crowded with motorcyclists on the late September Saturday we lunched there

Minnie’s Cafe is on Main Street.  It’s Saturday afternoon, and the hot, sunny weather has brought out the motorcyclists in droves.  The street is lined with parked cycles, and Minnie’s is everybody’s destination.  Inside, this eatery is lined with old-fashioned booths.  It’s old, a bit rough ’round the edges and rich with American small town character.

Near the door, a large, handwritten sign is taped to a tall cooler displaying racks of pies and cakes.  The sign dispenses life advice, “Eat Dessert First.”  I like this place already.

I order the burrito special and typical of American eateries, the portion is monstrous, enough for two ‘reasonable’ people.  Others at the table order the homemade chicken pot pie, and it earns rave reviews.  Minnie’s Cafe is now on my personal list of ‘destination diners.’

Homemade chicken pot pie earned rave reviews.  Minnie's Cafe in Thompson Falls, MT is now on my personal list of 'destination diners'

Homemade chicken pot pie earned rave reviews. Minnie’s Cafe in Thompson Falls, MT is now on my personal list of ‘destination diners’

 

Columbia Falls/Whitefish, MT

Minnie’s Cafe leaves us comfortably overstuffed.  Of course, we all ate too much.  The temperature has reached nearly 30-degrees C and riding in hot weather on an over-full stomach for the rest of the day will be a challenge.

From Thompson Falls, we follow two scenic routes (Hwy 200 then north on Hwy 28) to Flathead Lake to  Columbia Falls, near  Whitefish.  Columbia Falls is a ‘fake.’  On a previous trip with Ingrid, she asked the motel desk clerk directions to view the falls.  He explained there are no falls; when the town was established, Falls was put in the name as a ruse to attract tourists.

My riding friends have stayed in Columbia Falls a few times and we ride straight to our regular motel only to find there’s no vacancy.  Odd, I think, for late September.  The clerk suggests we ride down the street to the Super8.  There, the desk clerk says she has two rooms left and we take them.  “Why are the motels all booked up so late in the season?”, I ask.  “Tomorrow (Sunday, Sept. 21) is the last day Going-to-the-Sun Road is open.  After that, the road is closed for the winter”, she explains.

Today, it seems, is our lucky day.  We’ve gotten the last two rooms at the motel and we’ll ride the famed Going-to-the-Sun Road through Glacier National Park on the very last day it’s open.  We’ve lived good lives, and now we’re being rewarded!

Columbia Falls, MT is known for its barbecue dishes

The Back Room Restaurant in Columbia Falls, MT is known for its barbecue dishes

Meaty ribs with beans and coleslaw at the Back Room Restaurant

Meaty ribs with beans and coleslaw at the Back Room Restaurant

We take our evening meal at the Back Room Restaurant, known for its barbecue meat.  It’s a favourite haunt of ours.  I order ribs and we all dine well.  It’s another memorable end to another superb riding day.  We’ve ridden new roads, found new eateries and now, fed, we’re fat and happy.

Leaving the restaurant in the evening, there are perhaps 20 motorcycles in the parking lot.  Most of them are BMWs, and every bike is from Alberta.  That observation confirms the good health of the Alberta economy and that many Alberta motorcyclists are trying to squeeze in as much riding as possible before the snow flies.

Near Flathead Lake, MT

Rest break near Flathead Lake, MT

Day 5 – Columbia Falls, MT – Edmonton

Today’s our last day on the road.  From Whitefish, MT it’s about a 750 km run home to Edmonton.

Of course, to prepare us for the journey, we have to gird our loins with a hearty breakfast.  For that, we ride from Columbia Falls to Whitefish, returning to an old favourite establishment, the Buffalo Cafe.  We arrive a few minutes before the 8:00 AM opening, and a small crowd is waiting at the door.

With Whitefish being a major resort town, the Buffalo Cafe caters to tourists.  Yes, the restaurant is a yuppie haven, but the food is terrific and servers are outstanding.

From Whitefish, it’s only a short ride to West Glacier and the entrance to Glacier National Park.  There’s a steady stream of traffic going into the park, and we motorcyclists pay a $12 USD park admission.

Riding west-to-east on the Going-to-the-Sun Road is daunting and not for the faint-hearted.  In this direction you’re traveling in the ‘outside’ lane, the one nearest the edge.  In places, the drop is many hundreds of feet and it can be unnerving.

Traffic is slow, but the new BMW R1200RT shows off its tremendous flexibility and effortless handling.  Stuck behind crawling traffic, on some hairpin turns, the 1200 c.c. liquid-cooled ‘boxer-motor’ can idle down to 1800 rpm, and even in 2nd gear, pulls smoothly uphill without complaint.  The BMW has absolutely proven its roadworthiness and touring capabilities on this 3100 km, 5-day trip.

After winding our way along Going-to-the-Sun Road and over Logan Pass, we cross the border back into Canada at Caraway.  From the United States border, it’s a 550 km beeline home to Edmonton.

Our late-season 2014 Fall Tour has been a resounding success, and perhaps one of the best tours in recent memory.  In five days, we’ve ridden two of the most scenic and ‘best motorcycle roads in America’ (Missoula, MT to Lewiston, ID on the Lewis & Clark Trail and Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park), and crossed at least five mountain passes (Logan Pass, 6,653′; Lolo Pass, 5,235′; Thompson Pass, 4,859′; King’s Hill Pass, 7,393′; and Homestake Pass, 6,368′.)

We’ve dined royally with unforgettable meals at Jaker’s (Great Falls, MT), the Uptown Cafe (Butte, MT) the Montana Club (Missoula, MT), Best Western Inn University (Moscow, ID), Minnie’s Cafe (Thompson Falls, MT), Back Room Restaurant (Columbia Falls, MT), and the Buffalo Cafe (Whitefish, MT.)

Our weather was mostly sunny and warm, with a couple of days reaching the high ‘twenties.’  By all accounts, our 2014 Fall Tour was a ‘Goldilocks’ trip; not too fast, not too slow, but ‘just right.’   With a ‘no complaints,  go-with-the-flow’ attitude, it was a supremely easy group to travel with.  I expect we’d all be happy to sign up for another tour.

In fact, we enjoyed the 2014 Fall Tour so much, there’s already talk to make it an annual event, Mother Nature willing.

End 2014 Fall Tour.

3 Comments

  1. Richard says:

    great trip narrative, enjoyed!

  2. Autumn & Hob Murphy says:

    Good on you Tim & fellow riders.
    Awesome time in the saddle , beautiful country .
    Shout out for Tim !!

    Heritage Harley Davidson

  3. Stephen Duff says:

    Looked like a great ride Tim. The California would be happy to accompany you next fall.

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