Fall Tour Part 3: Cold, wet, and snow. Orofino, ID to Great Falls, MT

Paul with his Ducati GT1000 naked bike

Paul with his Ducati GT1000 naked bike.  We tried unsuccessfully to wire a Gerbings heated vest to the battery

Day 3, Orofino to Great Falls, 610 km

Saturday night between mouthfuls of Konkolville Motel’s 16 oz. grilled steak, we’ve been discussing our route home for Sunday and Monday.

Before supper, we thought we had been brilliant planners, preparing for possible bad weather on our 2-day return trip from Orofino to Edmonton.

Robyn had packed an extra heated vest and the wiring needed to hook it up to the battery, knowing that Paul aboard his unfaired Ducati GT1000 would need the extra warmth.  Paul is a bit of a Luddite and prefers the pure, al fresco riding experience.  That means no windscreen, no heated grips, and no heated vest.

In the Konkolville Motel’s parking lot, Paul tries in vain to connect the Gerbing e-vest’s wires to the Ducati’s battery.  The bolt holding the battery’s leads are a couple of threads too short to allow the connectors to fit; Paul’s hooped, at least for the next day of cold riding.

Sunday, Day 3 – Backtracking to Great Falls, a tactical error

‘Wheels up’ at 8:00 AM, as usual.  It rained last night and it’s cold.  We leave Orofino, hang a left (eastbound) onto US Highway 12 and ride back to Lowell, where we stop for a second breakfast and warm up.

Fueling on Sunday morning a few miles east of Orofino, US Highway 12

Paul (background) fueling on Sunday morning a few miles east of Orofino, US Highway 12

We have decided to avoid riding north to Kalispell, MT (near Whitefish, the ski resort) and retrace our steps heading back east across the flatlands to Great Falls.  Yes, we still must ride up and over Lolo Pass but we think getting back to Great Falls later in the day is better than being stuck at high altitude (and snow coming) in Kalispell.

This rerouting decision will prove to be wrong.

After stopping in Lowell for our second breakfast of the morning and to warm up, we continue riding east on US Highway 12.  It’s raining and cold.

Robyn is leading at his usual, comfortable sport-touring pace.  His BMW R1200RTW has the same superb fairing and weather protection that my bike has.  Walker, with his tall, touring-spec aftermarket windscreen-equipped Ducati Multistrada is similarly protected from the vile weather.  Paul, poor soul, is not so lucky.  At least he has a premium-grade 2-piece Aerostich Roadcrafter riding suit on, one of the best foul weather riding suits available.

Crossing Lolo Pass from Idaho into Montana, the roads are wet and there’s some snow on the side of the highway.  Air temperature varies from 2-4 degrees Celsius.  Motorcycling is supposed to be fun, right.  This isn’t as much fun as it is an endurance event.  Concentrate, don’t think about the cold, and press on.

I keep thinking how bloody tough Paul is, fully exposed to the rain and cold on his naked Ducati, yet he never complains, saying only his hands are suffering from the cold.

Snow and we send Robyn and Walker on to Edmonton

Late in the afternoon, we pull into Lincoln, MT., a town (village, really) of 1,100.  The snow is flying.  Paul’s cold, and fills the Ducati’s small tank.  Meanwhile, Robyn is fearing the forecast heavy snowfall warning for Great Falls could snow him in, making him miss an important medical appointment in Edmonton that’s been booked months in advance.

“Why don’t you and Walker ride on towards Edmonton?”, I suggest to Robyn.

“Every time we stop to refuel Paul’s bike, you’re losing at least 20 minutes”, I say, adding, “I can stay with Paul.  If we get snowed in, no big deal.  But since you need to get back for your medical appointment, you and Walker should just ride on and make it as far as you can.”

Robyn agrees and he and Walker leave Lincoln amid thick snow flurries.

Roger’s Pass, Montana

A few minutes outside of Lincoln, Paul and I begin the climb up Roger’s Pass (elev. 1710m.)  Although it’s late in the afternoon, the skies are black and it’s raining/sleeting.  The pass is a narrow 2-lane winding road and as we climb there’s more and more snow on the side of the highway.

I watch the onboard thermometer dropping, bouncing up and down between 3 and 5 Celsius, then 2 C, 1 C, 0 C.  I’m starting to worry and console myself by thinking, OK, the sun heats the black pavement, and even if the thermometer reads 0 C, the pavement is warmer and ice isn’t forming.

“Maybe we should turn around and go back to Lincoln?”, I ponder.  But the road is narrow, traffic is quite heavy and there are no safe places to pull over, let alone turn around.  Besides, I think, I  don’t remember seeing a motel in Lincoln.

Eventually, the temperature drops to -2.0 C and the slush is building up on the roadway.  It’s snowing so hard slush builds up on our faceshields and we have to wipe it away every few seconds.

1-1/2 hours of frigid riding later, we’re cruising on the interstate entering Great Falls.  The first lodging billboard I see is one for Days Inn, and I immediately decide that’s where we’re heading – the nearest motel.  I’m sure Paul is damn near frozen.

We pull into the Days Inn, Great Falls.

Robyn and Walker ride through heavy snow

Later Sunday evening around 8:45 PM, I get a text message from Walker.  “We’re in Lethbridge” is all it says.  I assume they’ve hunkered down for the night.

I find out later they continued riding to Edmonton, hitting heavy winds and snow at Crossfield and fighting heavy weather and cold all the way to Edmonton, arriving there at 3:00 AM.  Robyn said he and Walker got separated entering the city due to the heavy, blowing snow, and although the pavement was dry, there were many vehicles in the ditch.


Next:  Part 4 Conclusion, Great Falls, MT back to Edmonton



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