Tuesday, August 6, 2019


This one is not to be missed!

The task was daunting.  Ride my Yamaha Super Tenere from California to Red Lodge, Montana, cross the glorious Beartooth Pass and return home all within seven days.  Or…

...Rocky Mountain Motos is a new (circa 2019) Red Lodge outfit that rents motorcycles – but not Harleys or BMWs or any of a number of other major makes.  No, owner Richard Barnett has a half dozen new Royal Enfield Himalayans to let at a very reasonable price.  Intrigued, I e-mailed: “Would a 24.5 horsepower mount haul my 220+ pound carcass over an 11,000-foot pass?”  

“You’d be amazed.”

We’ll see.

Beartooth Pass is recognized as one of America’s great scenic motor-routes.  Having done it once on a GSA, I was eager accompany my riding buddy on his first ascent.  I picked up the black RE and took an orientation spin up out Montana Route 78 toward Roscoe.  Finding a graded, gravel secondary road, I tooled over washboards mightily impressed  with how effectively those bumps were absorbed by the little machine’s suspension.

Regaining pavement as I circled back toward Red Lodge, I opened the throttle and easily achieved 65+ miles per hour.  Then came a rise in the pavement.  Here I discovered that 410cc Royal Enfield will go 65 mph and it will go uphill, but it won’t necessarily do both at the same time.  At least, not when carting me around.  The true test would be tomorrow.

Montana Route 212 out of Red Lodge is a predominately uphill run for about 35 miles.  But it is not an autobahn speed route.  Guide books tell us to plan on at least three hours for the 63 miles from Red Lodge to Cooke City near Yellowstone’s northern gate.  I did some mental math.  I’ll do fine on the Himalayan.

The highway quickly climbs out of Rock Creek Canyon.  Looking west, the “U” shape of the valley below and sharp, saw-toothed aretes on the horizon verify the canyon’s rugged history of glaciation.  Carving the switchbacks up this canyon wall using only 1936 era prowess… er… dynamite, must have been a monumental effort.

Pausing at a viewpoint/rest stop about 18 miles in, I encounter my first “issue” with the Royal Enfield: everybody wants to ask me about it!  Even those on big V-twin cruisers.  I tell ‘em it’s a rental but that I’m really smitten with it.  

Then, just before I thumb the starter, I warn the crowd to stand back because “this thing’s gonna make a little noise.”  They cautiously back away as the motor putters to life.

The highway leads us through several forest zones from cottonwoods and oaks at the bottom to alpine meadows carpeted with July-spring wildflowers and blotched with snow.  From top of the Beartooth Plateau strings of paternoster lakes reveal where glaciers crept down the mountain pushing debris, then melted back, only to push down again, though not as far.  Four, five and even six icy ponds may be found in any of the canyons carved into the plateau.  

At the summit, a marvelous skyscape of fair-weather clouds is almost close enough to touch and although this isn’t Iowa (apologies to ‘Field of Dreams’ fans) it does feel a lot like heaven.

West of Beartooth rest the Absaroka Mountains, a collection of volcanic peaks and fields that invite further exploration.  At our feet, the highway (now in Wyoming) lays before us like a ribbon just torn from a holiday present, twisting past outcrops and shallow lakes and acres of green meadow grass that may never see summer.

Automobiles snake along, motorcycle rumbles are lifted by the breeze and every half-mile or so, there’s a turn out for pictures.

Lunch would be in Cooke City where I come across that same group of bikers from two hours before.  Sheetmetal workers, it turns out, from New Jersey and Pennsylvania.  Their boss, himself a rider, organizes an annual trip, stuffs a dozen motorcycles and a bunch of gear into the company semi and leads the group to someplace challenging and beautiful for a week.  I wanna work for that guy.

We have a choice for our return: take the Chief Joseph highway, Wyoming 296 to Cody and loop back to Red Lodge or retrace our steps over the pass.  Given that every road driven the other direction is a different experience, we head back over the pass.

The long descent from the summit is a relaxed unfolding of light and shadow, rock and wildflower and waves from oncoming riders.  The Royal Enfield hums along and I realize I’m having just as great an adventure on this little machine as I had on the big BMW years ago.

Pausing for a second time at the rest area, and again getting caught up in conversation, I find myself with two wishes: One, that this ride could go on forever and two, that a Royal Enfield Himalayan might one day end up in my garage.

Had I been amazed?

Boy Howdy!


Note:  Rocky Mountain Motos is run by enthusiast Richard Barnett.  Each in his collection of Royal Enfields runs flawlessly and possess all the power, nimbleness and durability needed to explore this section of the Rockies with confidence. Richard knows the area and can point customers in the right direction.  (There may be no wrong direction, come to think of it). If one is pressed for time – or even if one is not – the Himalayan experience is too good to pass up.  Check Rocky Mountain Motos out at  https://www.rockymountainmotos.com

© 2019
Church of the Open Road Press

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