Traveling light, fast, and free.
Get your motor runnin’
Head out on the highway
Lookin’ for adventure
And whatever comes our way
In a blurred chiaroscuro of flashing chrome and muted leather, my riding partner roars past, his engine’s rumbling crescendo fading to a fly-buzz as he speeds toward a distant curve. A smooth, gentle lean and he’s damn near sideways into the turn; reversing the movement, he exits the bend and comes upright. I hear another combustive burst as he throttles the bike through a straightaway, peeling ever further down the serpentine strip of asphalt ahead.
I’m tempted to follow suit, shooting straight down the centerline with my nuts on fire and a silent scream in my throat, to paraphrase Hunter S. Thompson, that great lover of speed and of electrifying waltzes along the balance-beam between control and surrender, order and chaos, life and death. It’s an age-old dynamic, one which finds perhaps no greater expression than astride a motorized stallion—a hulking mass of power begging to be unleashed, turned loose, set free into the rousing hellfire of the open road at 100 miles per hour. Again from Thompson: “That’s when the strange music starts… the fear becomes exhilaration and vibrates along your arms… the only sounds are the wind and the dull roar floating back from the mufflers. You watch the white line and try to lean with it… howling through a turn to the right, then to the left and down a long hill… letting off now… but only until the next dark stretch and another few seconds on the edge…” Like a wild romance with a tempestuous lover, the bond between bike and road is intense but tenuous: a high-voltage wire beneath a cracked tree limb.
Another aficionado of acceleration, the great adventurer T.E. Lawrence, described the experience with more eloquence than drama: “A skittish motorbike with a touch of blood in it is better than all the riding animals on earth, because of its logical extension of our faculties, and the hint, the provocation, to excess conferred by its honeyed untiring smoothness.” It’s that smoothness that supplies yet another quintessential aspect of riding a motorcycle, especially a stable, thrumming hog with saddlebags and a cushy seat: the rhythmic whir of the engine as time obliterates and all senses engage, reducing a rider to the moment and nothing more, the visceral here-and-now, complete and full and absolutely present.
Here and now: a thin ribbon of grey snaking through golden hills, the mighty Beartooths clawing skyward, the great blue firmament above it all… this is beauty, real beauty, hypnotic and intoxicating and nourishing to the work-weary soul. I’m overcome, overwhelmed, in awe; so I keep the bike at a comfortable 65, engine purring, wheels spinning and pistons sliding in time with my own rapturous pulse and unlabored breathing. My mind blanks and my body trembles in this euphoric exposure to the splendor of life all around me. It’s a subdued stimulation, a safer indulgence of excess; but no less sublime, no less bracing.
And to be fair, it’s this latter sensation, coupled with the featherweight freedom of simplicity, that drew us in. A few days off work, a few hundred bucks apiece for the Harley rental, two saddlebags each of gear, and we were off—no schedule, no agenda, no plan but a general route, a turn-in time, and whatever came our way in between. We’d roam free, letting the wind blow us where it would, following every impulse, curiosity and wonderment our only guides. We’d stop when we wanted and sleep where we ended up at day’s end. Bedroll, fishing rod, toothbrush, towel—all other encumbering accoutrements would be left behind. We’d travel light and fast, wandering and exploring and living semi-wild, if only for one long and glorious weekend.
And what a weekend it would be! Crashing parties and dancing with barmaids in Red Lodge; standing speechless before the grandeur of the Beartooth Pass; a near-rumble at the Irma in downtown Cody; waking amid a herd of mule deer along a rain-swollen Shoshone River; plucking huge cutthroats from a feeder stream outside Yellowstone Park… these and other experiences scattered amid a singular constant, one profound and inexorable advance: the steady hum of two wheels, spinning, ever spinning, alternately controlled and chaotic, serene and supercharged, along the open road.
Three-Day Throttle: A Harley-tour itinerary.
Day One – Leave Bozeman early and head east on I-90. Re-caffeinate and stretch your leather-bound legs at the Crazy Bean in Big Timber; next stop is the Apple Village Café in Columbus, where a classic breakfast menu with hearty portions awaits. Now turn the handlebars south and roll along the Sweetwater River into Absarokee. Gas up at the Beartooth Corner and rumble on to Roscoe for a pitstop at the Grizzly Bar & Restaurant, a classic roadside watering hole. Enjoy mile after mile of rolling hills as you make the final approach into Red Lodge, where you can rent a room or cop a campsite for the night. After a juicy burger at Foster & Logan’s, meander across the street to the Snow Creek Saloon for a nightcap and, if it’s a weekend, some live music and dancing.
Day Two – The organic, local fare at Café Regis will prepare you for a long morning on the road. Fill the tank and head up—and up, and up—the serpentine Beartooth Highway south of town. Stop on top of the pass for photos and a quick hike among some of the most majestic terrain you’ll ever see. Coast down the backside and hang a left onto the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway for even more jaw-dropping vistas as you descend the eastern face of the Beartooths. Hang a right at Hwy. 120 and ease into Cody for a late lunch at the Irma Hotel. Check into your motel room and then roll through town to the Buffalo Bill Reservoir; remove the road-grime with a quick dip before checking out the impressive Buffalo Bill Dam & Visitor Center. Back in Cody, wolf down a steak at Cassie’s Supper Club, and hang around for some boot-stompin’, heel-kickin’ country tunes at the area’s most popular dance hall.
Day Three – Start the day off right with a cup o’ joe and sweet-treat from Rawhide Coffee, then fill the tank and point your hog west. Follow the Shoshone River through a remote, scenic canyon all the way to Pahaska Tepee, your last stop before entering Yellowstone Park. Take a quick bathroom break and then enjoy mile after mile of wild, pristine nature as you work your way through the mountains and down to the bank of Yellowstone Lake. Wander along the shoreline, then follow the Yellowstone River to the base of Mt. Washburn. Up and over you go, down to the mighty Tower Falls, then out across the northern reaches of the park into Mammoth Hot Springs. Take a walk among the terraces before continuing on into Gardiner for lunch at the Antler Pub & Grill. Top off the tank and roll through the ever-impressive Paradise Valley, then hang a left at Livingston and bring ‘er on home.
To relive your ride, and get fired up for the next, pack along the Prism action camera by SENA. With simple controls in a compact design, this easy-to-use camera records high-definition video and crisp audio from a variety of mounting positions—handlebars, windshield, fog lamp, or helmet. Pair it with a Bluetooth headset, and you can voice-control the camera and add narration, even at high speeds when the wind drowns out all other sound. You can even sync it up with others’ headsets for group commentary or to record communications between riders. The Prism comes with a waterproof housing and various motorcycle-specific mounts; just charge the battery and it’s ready to roll. $249; sena.com.