Updated Dec 15, 2021, this article contains one or more maps ...
Missoula To Belgrade: A Travel Dichotomy
Day twelve's sunrise heats the parking lot at Missoula Montana's Econo Lodge. Robin's up early to perform an oil change on the Bandit. Thankfully, my BMW has a 6k interval so I'm fine until we get home. This is especially good because the F650 requires that you drain oil from three separate locations. Once awake, I head down to the continental breakfast for cold cereal and doughnuts. Such delicacies are of course inspired by the great continent of Econo. Robin returns from his AutoZone effort where he was assisted by Mark the AutoZoner. Thanks Mark!
“First, we head across the street to Maverick Motorsports. Robin’s chain is making a lot of noise. Our hope is that a minor adjustment will fix it.”
Before leaving town, we head across the street to Maverick Motorsports, a local Suzuki dealer. Robin's chain is making a lot of noise. Our hope is that a minor adjustment will remedy the situation. Brad and the Maverick team are kind enough to lend Robin a breaker bar and torque wrench. This allows him to make the adjustment himself rather than paying their already busy mechanic $100 per-hour.
While Robin messes with his bike I poke around and decide that I "must have" a new V-Strom 1000. Unfortunately, I seem to have misplaced the required $14k. Once the Bandit is buttoned back up we head out toward Belgrade.
We're initially ready for this to be a boring stretch as you almost have to take I-90 for lack of other options. We find the Interstate to be not only typically hypnotic but there's also plenty of construction slowing traffic down. Passing is prohibited throughout. Once we get to Garrison I decide I'm going to detour via US-12 to Helena.
Robin decides to stay on the Slab as he's in a hurry to catch up with his longtime friends in Belgrade. I'll let Robin interject for his side of this divergence. I know it has something to do with a policeman and getting wood in the face.
Enter The Editor (Robin)
Two isolated events within two hours is too much. It's not as if I don't have enough on my mind. The kink in my chain keeps thwacking against my bike's swing arm. The only way I can ignore it is to stay alert, raising my music volume to keep calm. Yep, I'm nervous.
When Travis makes mention of an isolated scenic route, I responsibly decline. The last thing we need is for my bike to get us stranded. Hoping to add more roadways for Travis to write about, this marks the one and only time that we split up. That's right, folks ... It's all for you.
So, here I am cruising I-90, intending to arrive as early as possible at the home of my two college friends. Surrounded by orange barrels and a single active lane, I'm surprised to find we're even able to reach 55 miles per hour. Then I witness a semitruck fifty yards up making a more evasive maneuver than I've ever seen. Before I can process what's happening, the sky is completely filled with splinters between three and six inches long. By this, I mean that the entire horizon is snowing with sharply splintered wood, so much so that I can't clearly see three cars ahead of me.
Apparently, a flatbed truck that's hauling 4x8 sheets of particle board dropped a single tier some miles back. Rhetorical question: How do I know it's particle board? Answer: The semi tries to avoid it but can't, creating the splintered showers. That, however, isn't what made it obvious. What really brings it to light is the oncoming, 4'x4' (50%) remainder of the sheet that's only now beginning to make it's way downward toward the car in front of me.
Bad eighties television can't inspire a bad nineties superstorm movie better than this. Miraculously, the splinters settle around us all and the leftover torso of particle board bounces left, outside any vehicle's path. Luck, karma, whatever. Thanks to the powers that be.
Another hour crawls by and we're moving at half the intended speed limit, a single lane of caravans and semitrucks poking along at the minimally paranoid pace. Up ahead, I see one lane becoming two. I'm anxious to get around this traffic so, at first opportunity, I throw down third gear and torque my way to a spirited eighty miles per hour. Just as I'm about to pass the truck at the head of the herd, I see that a highway patrol car is dragging us down, one half of his axel in the median, the other half turtling in the right lane.
He's smirking as if he were fishing and something bit.
I drop from eight to fifty five and wedge my way in behind him, separating him from the semitruck just before two lanes revert to one. Now I'm stuck behind this bounty for fifteen minutes, his "comprehensive moral understanding of what's good for everyone under the sanctity of the law" looking back at me through his rear view mirror. Let's hope this guy isn't a stereotype.
When another lane opens once more, all signs of the construction zone disappear. We're back on ride ready pavement. The speed limit reads to be seventy up ahead, so I gently and without haste begin to pass the patrol car. His lights go on almost immediately.
Not one of my responses to this officer's questions is well thought out, so consider this a lesson in how NOT to behave when pulled over by a law enforcement official:
[Officer] Would you mind telling me why you passed me going over the speed limit?
[Robin] The sign says the speed limit is 70 MPH. I passed you going just over 65.
[Officer] The speed limit doesn't change until after you pass the sign, which you hadn't.
[Robin] I wasn't aware of that.
[Officer] You know, I clocked you at just over 80 before the construction when you were passing that semitruck.
[Robin] You clocked me while I was behind you? So, if that's possible, I imagine you have computerized proof of this.
[Officer, taken aback] Why, yes I do! Would you like to see the instrument reading? I'm happy to show you.
[Robin] No, I just wanted to verify that you were in fact using some form of electronic equipment to detect such things.
[Officer] License and registration, please.
[Robin] My license is in my pocket. My registration is underneath all of this luggage.
[Officer] License, please.
I hand him my license and he walks back to his car. I see him viewing the on board computer and begin to imagine he's watching "inappropriate" movies or something to that effect. I'm angry. At the top of my lungs, I begin shouting individual four-letter obscenities, eventually attaching the word "Montana" to the end of them. When I look in my mirror, I see that the officer's windows are down and that he can likely hear me. Perfect.
He steps from his car and walks back to me with a sheet of paper in his hand. Once more, he asks if I'd like to see the digital proof of my irresponsibility. I decline. Then, he makes me feel even worse. Rather than giving me a ticket, after all of my haphazard behavior, he issues me a warning. Not only am I a jerk and the officer completely correct, he's kind enough to assume that I'm just an out of towner having a bad day.
At least the paper souvenir's free. On I go. Back to you, Travitron.
Meanwhile, On Us-12
US-12 toward Helena is absolutely beautiful. It's a fun, two lane highway made up of sweepers that climb through a stretch of the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest. I manage to stop near the top before taking a few photos of scenic views and some insightful political commentary. The downward return into Helena is just as fun if not a little hairy as it's an eight percent grade comprised mostly of switchbacks. A patch of spilled diesel oil, puddled right before a turn has my heart racing for a long moment.
I make it safely down into the capital of Montana. I don't have time to stop but am able to at least enjoy this quaint city. I roll past the beautiful capitol building with its copper dome and find myself quickly on the other side of town, turning south toward Bozeman. I jump off US-12 and onto Hwy-287 before meeting back up with I-90 near Three Forks. I skirt the slab to Belgrade and find my way to Adam and Nikki's where Robin is already landed, beer in-hand.
Adam and Nikki treat us to delicious food and good company. Many hilarious stories are shared, most of which at Robin's expense. My wife's good friend from college, Layna, joins us as she lives nearby. I was happy to meet the person I've heard so much about from my better half. Having been fed a good dinner and possibly one too many beers I turn in for the night with another great day of riding behind us. I fall asleep realizing that I'm starting to miss home and am glad that we're now well on our way back.
Ready for more? Day Thirteen: Belgrade To Miles City
What's Your Favorite Sport Touring Motorcycle Route From Missoula To Belgrade?
There are limited twisty, scenic travel options connecting the two. Which roads do you prefer and why? Where do you like to stop along the way? Your input is invited. Leave a comment!