Victoria Day Weekend – our annual moto trip hits a log jam

Stranded in Browning, MT. Temperatures dropped to a bruising -1.5 Celsius, and snow covered roads combined with heavy snowfall forced us to seek refuge in Browning, MT for two days.  That’s not slush on the RT’s screen.  It’s frozen, solid, ice

It was a cool-ish 6 degrees Celsius when our intrepid group departed Edmonton Thursday morning just before Canada’s Victoria Day long weekend.

We’re used to this ‘cold’ weather.  Most of us have heated grips, electric vests, heated saddles – all the modern gear northern motorcycle riders have to extend our short riding season.

But this year was exceptional.  Into our second day of travel crossing the U.S. border into Montana, temperatures dipped to a nerve-wracking 1-2 degrees Celsius (according to the R1200RT’s onboard thermometer.)

6.5 degrees Celsius seemed cool when we departed. In hindsight, that would be balmy for this year’s trip

With rain on and off and the bike’s thermometer seeming to tease me, occasionally rising to 3,4 even 5 degrees, giving me false hope of warming weather, the temperature would then drop again, flickering between 1 and 2 degrees.

Riding a motorcycle at that temperature is nerve-wracking for me.  Is the road surface actually colder?  Could there be icy patches?  Will one of the guys riding in front of me hit ice and go down?  All these worries occupy my mind as I concentrate on the riders ahead of me, watching carefully for any hint of a bike slipping on the wet, near-freezing road surface.

I keep thinking, “Motorcycling is supposed to be fun, isn’t it?  When does the fun begin?”

Just south of Cardston, AB where we overnighted, I lost sight of Charlie, riding a BMW R1200RS.  As the two tail-enders, I pulled onto the shoulder, engaged the RT’s hazard flashers, and waited for him.  He showed up and said he was turning back, to return to Edmonton.  Charlie, it seems, was the Wise Man of our group.  But we would find out later in the day that this spring snowstorm would strand him too in Claresholm, AB.

A parking lot full of Canadian motorcycles, safely having arrived at the Konkolville Motel in Orofino, ID

Our group rode through Babb, MT where the hamlet’s diner, one we’d visited and were eager to return to, was closed, likely not yet open for the tourist season.

From Babb, the weather worsened, until finally, the trusty RT’s thermometer read a disheartening -1.5 C.

Still, our group of adventurers decided to press on. The rain turned to light snowflakes, and as we motored along, snow buildup began appearing in the ditches.  Things were definitely going from bad to worse.

To make matters worse, I was ‘off sequence’ with the group’s last fueling.  I had plenty of gas when most of the group refueled in Alberta, and thought I’d fill up in Cardston, but Ken said ‘just fuel up in St. Mary; it’s just across the border.”  But just after crossing the border, the RT’s reserve fuel warning lamp lighted up, and when you don’t know EXACTLY where the next gas station is, that reserve light becomes the centre of one’ attention.

At St. Mary, the RT’s onboard computer was showing 40 km of fuel range remaining, so I was really relieved when we pulled into the gas station.

Again, with snow falling, the group decided to press on.  The problem was, we had to climb a pass to continue our tour.  After St. Mary, the snow was falling thick and heavy.  Cars coming towards us were covered in snow, and eventually the guys pulled into a lay-by for a comfort stop.  Robyn and I decided to ride ahead and scout out the road conditions, and only a minute or so later, as the road continued up a gentle grade, we saw at the top of the hill the oncoming lane was covered in snow.  At that point we decided that ‘discretion is the better part of valor’, as the old saying goes, and we turned around, joined the gang and decided to head to take refuge in Browning.

More later.



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