Fall tour Part 4 – Conclusion. Ice Road Bikers – Great Falls to Edmonton

"Superman" Paul, near Shelby, MT. Air temp was a brutal -2 Celsius all the way to the Canada border

“Superman” Paul, near Shelby, MT. Air temp was a brutal -2 Celsius all the way to the Canada border.  The snow was deep at pavement’s edge



Officially, it’s Day 3 of our 4-day tour.

After a brutal 2 hour ride over Roger’s Pass, Montana, (where the air temperature dropped to a brutally cold -2 Celsius, with blowing rain/sleet and slush building up on the roadway just to add a little riding ‘interest’), we pull off the Interstate highway into Great Falls, MT.

We were cold and tired, having ridden some 551 km from Orofino, ID to Great Falls, in winter riding conditions.

On the road, I’m leading Paul, and I continue to worry about his well-being in this extreme cold.  I make the decision to find THE FIRST motel I can find so we can escape the cold, and find the Days Inn.

Buffalo Wild Wings Restaurant, Great Falls, MT. Close (it was across the street from our motel), but no cigar. Terrible

Buffalo Wild Wings Restaurant, Great Falls, MT. Close (it was across the street from our motel), but no cigar. Terrible

For supper, the Days Inn front desk clerk directs us to the closest within-walking-distance restaurant, the Buffalo Wild Wings Restaurant, which is obviously some kind of national chain eatery that I’ve never heard of before.

Buffalo Wild Wings is a sports-theme restaurant.  There are huge TVs mounted high on the walls, and every tv is showing some kind of sports event – football, baseball, NASCAR, etc.  The young servers are all dressed in football jerseys, and the menu features lots of items you’d munch on while watching The Game on tv.

Boneless 'chciken wings'. $11.50

Boneless ‘chciken wings’. $11.50

I order the Boneless ‘Chicken Wings’ with BBQ sauce.  My order arrives promptly, but the so-called ‘wings’ are a disaster.  Overcooked with a more than ‘crunchy’ breading, the chicken pieces are actually hard to bite through, barely warm and the BBQ sauce is both too sweet and too vinegary.  The dish’s only saving grace that the ‘small’ order is more than most people could eat at one sitting.

This is the worst restaurant meal I’ve eaten since the hotel restaurant fiasco in Billings at the BMW National Rally a couple of years ago.

Definitely Not Recommended.

And the snow with even colder temperatures are coming

Sunday night in the motel, we’re glued to The Weather Channel.  For Monday and Tuesday, TWC is advising a Heavy Snowfall Warning for Great Falls and Shelby, with up to 12 inches of snow possible.

Ingrid texts me that there is also a Heavy Snowfall Warning for Red Deer, so the prospects for riding home the next day looks unlikely.

Paul and I resign ourselves to being ‘stranded’ in Great Falls at least until Tuesday.

Sunday night at 8:45 PM, we get a text from Walker:  “We r in Lethbridge”

Great!  We assume Walker and Robyn have pulled into Lethbridge and taken a motel for the night.  We later found out they continued riding, hitting blowing snow and gusting winds at Crossfield, and continued riding through the blowing snow finally arriving in Edmonton at 3:30 AM.  Brutal.  Orofino, Id to Edmonton, 1352 km in 18-1/2 hours!

Monday, snow and cold, and stuck in Great Falls

Monday morning, Great Falls is about 1-2 Celsius, and it’s raining or snowing on and off with gusty winds.

“We’re not going anywhere today”, I say to Paul, who agrees wholeheartedly.

We confine ourselves to our room, surfing the (thankfully) numerous cable channels.  We end up watching mostly old black and white movies.

It’s funny how you get to know somebody when you’re holed up with them for a couple of days in a motel room.

“It’s kind of like being in prison”, I say and Paul agrees.

Fried chicken from Albertson's supermarket. The special of the day, 8 pieces of chicken, $5

Fried chicken from Albertson’s supermarket. The special of the day, 8 pieces of chicken, $5.  Highly recommended!

For supper and as an excuse to get out of the motel, Paul and I walk across the parking lot to Albertson’s Supermarket on the hunt for our evening meal.  At the deli, Albertson’s special for the day is 8 pieces of fried chicken for $5 dollars.  Sold!

The chicken is excellent, and soooo much better than the crappy meal we had last night at Buffalo Wild Wings.  The 8-piece chicken special consists of 4 large breasts on bone and 4 large drumsticks.

Paul and I share the chicken for supper and there is enough for lunch the next day.  I store the chicken in our ‘walk in cooler’ (the RT’s topcase), and after lunch Tuesday, throw the remainder out.

Tuesday, still snowing and cold, still stuck in Great Falls

Our second full day in the motel is a repeat of Monday.  More black and white movies, scanning The Weather Channel.  We see that Kalispell (our original Day 3 destination) is a balmy plus 6 Celsius, much warmer than Great Falls.

TWC is still calling for heavy snowfall for Great Falls and Shelby, and there is a layer of snow on the lawns, but the pavement, while wet, remains snow free.

The weather forecast for Great Falls for Wednesday is ‘partially cloudy’ with a high temp of 3-4 C .  And farther north at Red Deer and Edmonton, the high is forecast to be 6-8 Celsius.  Almost balmy.

Tuesday night, Paul and I optimistically believe tomorrow, Wednesday, will be sufficiently warm enough for us to make a break for the border and home to Edmonton.

Wednesday, Great Falls, MT to Edmonton, 801 km

The day looks promising.  At breakfast, we agree a late start in the morning is ‘better’, assuming the later we leave the warmer it will be.

The bad news is that although the roads in Great Falls are dry, the morning temperature is minus 7 degrees Celsius, and even colder in Shelby, minus 10 degrees Celsius.

I diplomatically tell Paul that at 9:00 AM when motorcycle dealerships open, he will call and find a shop that has a heated vest in stock and book a technician to wire his Ducati for the gear.

We call Big Sky Harley-Davidson.  Harley dealers always have a super accessories department, right?  Yup, they have heated gear, and a tech is available.

At the shop, Paul buys a First Gear long-sleeve heated liner, and the tech wires the battery with a pig-tail connector.

10:30 AM, we’re ready for the trek north.

“What’s the temperature?”, Paul asks.

Pushing back from our parking spot in front of the shop, I glance down.  “PLUS 6 degrees!” I shout.  Paul gives a big grin and rolling onto the street, the RT’s thermometer plummets to – 2 C; the bike had been parked in the sun and given the thermometer a false reading, and I didn’t have the heart to tell Paul the new, actual temperature.

It’s 80 MPH, so howcum we’re riding so slowly?

On the interstate heading for Shelby, the posted speed limit reads 80 MPH, but it’s way to cold to ride that fast.  The faster we ride, the more heat gets sapped from Paul.  I find cruising at 70 MPH Paul stays with me.

The dry roads inspire confidence, but the unseen hazard is ice on the road beneath overpasses.  Approaching each underpass, I slow to carefully pick a path of dry pavement where car tracks are.  Otherwise, the pavement beneath every overpass has large patches of ice.  It’s unnerving.

At least it’s sunny and the highway is dry, but there is snow piled up beside the highway.

The temperature doesn’t waver.  It’s minus 2 degrees Celsius and the ride from Great Falls to Shelby is about 1/1-2 hours.  Approaching Shelby, I pull into the first Montana Rest Stop we encounter.  I figure Paul’s frozen, even with his newfangled heated jacket liner, and I’m right.

At a Montana Rest Stop near Shelby, MT

At a Montana Rest Stop near Shelby, MT

It 'warmed up' at the Montana Rest Stop. Most of the ride from Shelby to the border was -2 C

It ‘warmed up’ at the Montana Rest Stop. Most of the ride from Shelby to the border was -2 C

We walk into the modern, heated rest stop and just sit there beside a floor-to-ceiling glass wall with the sun shining through.  I feel like an overdressed reptile, soaking up the heat.  Paul says he’s warm enough except for his hands.

At Shelby, we pull into the big Exxon truck stop located just off the highway.

Paul and I take a booth, and a server brings us menus.

“Are you two guys on motorcycles?”, our waitress asks.

“Yeah”, we say.

“You’re stupid!”, she says and walks away.

I tell Paul I feel right at home as if I were talking to Ingrid.

A fellow in a nearby booth tells us the roads north of the border are reported to be snow and ice covered, and he mentions the Trans-Canada Highway somewhere near Calgary had been closed due to the heavy snow.  It doesn’t look good for us.

But we press on.

From Shelby, we cross the border into Canada quickly and without incident.

Back in Canada, at the border crossing

Back in Canada, at the border crossing

From the U.S. border north, the roads are dry but evidence of heavy snow is apparent.

Beside the highway, snow is piled up, 18-in. high from ploughs clearing the highway the day(s) before.

It’s still cold, with the air temperature stuck in the 3-4 degree Celsius range and it will remain so until we reach Red Deer.

We reach Red Deer’s Gasoline Alley around 7:00 pm.  Paul refuels, and with the sun setting, I pull the amber lens covers off the fork-mounted Clearwater Darla auxiliary lights, and join the stream of northbound traffic.

The Clearwater Darla lights are a godsend, flooding my lane in a broad swath to the left and right.  Paul rides close taking advantage of my rig’s superior lighting.

Home at last

Round trip 2736 km

Round trip 2736 km

At 9:00 PM, I pull into my driveway.  We’ve been on the road for some 10-1/2 hours, ridden about 800 km, for the most part in extreme cold (-2 C to 4 C.)

The first two days of our tour were quite enjoyable, but the last two days were more of an endurance ride.

That, of course, will make the 2017 Fall Tour ‘memorable.’  Very memorable.



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