Six thirty AM and we were both awake looking at each other, we needed to leave. I don’t know why, but we both somehow knew it. Breakfast was out of the question but we needed coffee, bad. The luxury honeymoon suite didn’t have a coffee pot but there was a microwave which was good news. We always travel with Starbucks Vias, their instant coffee packets that will suffice for a caffeine fix in an emergency. This wasn’t an emergency but I didn’t want to wait around for there to be one. I found some Styrofoam cups in the bathroom and made us each microwaved instant coffee. I dumped two packs in each cup to save the time of having to make two cups each. Next, I stuck my head out the door and was relived to find the bikes were still there and the car with the tinted windows gone. The coast was clear.
Heading south out of town we soon climbed to 5,000 feet on nice paved roads, the sun was out but we were still trying to work out the morning chill. We munched on some emergency ration nuts in our bags before our covert escape taking the back roads out of town. The road took us back to East Glacier Park where everything was closed, either because of the pandemic or the early hour or both. It didn’t matter, we turned south and kept riding. We were on nice roads on the edge of the Sawtooth Mountain range and were enjoying the views and warming sunshine when my phone rang in my Bluetooth helmet set. I thought about answering but wisely decided against it and let it go to voice mail.
Then the road got smaller with a few animals.
Then something happened, the track said we were supposed to turn left but, there was no road. Nothing. No worries, we found a go-around to get back south to the Pishkun Reservoir and to the start of an excellent road, the Pishkun Canal Road. At the start of the road was a sign, Road Closed. Not again… two in two days geesh. Ok, we decided to just keep going to see “just how closed is it?” The canal road followed the canal and was clearly for maintenance vehicles and local traffic. It was well groomed gravel and was way too much fun to ride.
Towards the end of the road before turning south we came to the construction zone. We soon found ourselves surrounded by heavy equipment moving around so we dodged the trucks and excavators the best we could and continued on. We got some glares but nobody said anything before we came to a barricade with a Road Closed sign for people going the other way. Luckily, we were able to squeeze around the barricade.
Just before noon we came to the small town of Agusta and low and behold there was an open bar type restaurant with some motorcycles parked out front. It had been almost 24 hours since we had anything besides liquid pork chops and potato chips. Bar food…yum. The Buckhorn Bar was only open for outdoor dining but that was perfect as the temps had warmed into the mid 70s. We chatted with the other bikers for a bit, one of them lived near the Glacier Park West Entrance. He thought the road with the road closed sign was actually open and we should have kept going. They were amazed we stayed in Browning, repeating the now familiar typical response. That reminded me to check my phone for messages. Sure enough, there was a message from the tribal police, would I please call them back….. I thought about it for a while but in the end decided not to. Now I need to add the Blackfeet Reservation to the list of places I should probably keep a low profile.
Soon we were riding south on an amazing two track dirt road with beautiful weather and bodies full of greasy cheese burgers. We turned south following the track onto the Elk Creek Road when we saw this sign.
Yep, this was really closed… there was no road, nothing at all beyond the sign. On to plan B. As usual it wasn’t too bad to get back to the main road and loop around to catch the route on highway 200 and ride over the 5610 foot Rogers Pass. Our first crossing of the day over the Continental Divide to the West side. We followed state route 200 to the town of Lincoln where we turned south on some nice gravel forest roads towards Helena. This route would take us up a steep climb and over the divide to the east side at Granite Butte, elevation 6700. By this time it was getting hot even at the higher elevations. All 250 cubic centimeters of my little WR were working at peak capacity to lug me and all my gear up the mountain. We were almost to the top when my bike decided it needed a rest. The graph below shows just how steep the climb was, we were just 100 feet or so from the top.
So what to do in these situations…. be calm and take a rest. I’ve learned that usually, the best thing to do is…. nothing. I’m a fairly decent motorcycle mechanic having learned how to fix about anything motorcycle related because I’ve owned a Norton motorcycle most of my life. I knew this stoppage could be due to any number of system failures. Was the bike overheating? It certainly was hot enough. Out of gas? Fouled plug? Electrical problem? I did some on the spot trouble shooting and couldn’t find anything obvious. After things cooled off a little it I tried the starter button and it started! Ok, awesome. Quick, let’s get going…. for 20 feet or so up the steep grade before it stumbled to another stop. I was beginning to suspect what the problem was and it wasn’t good. We were probably 50 miles away from Helena on a remote mountain road with nobody or anything but trees around us. I decided to repeat the start, stop, rest cycle over and over until we were at the peak of the mountain. As you can see from the elevation graph it was a pretty steep down hill the rest of the way once we made it to the top so on the way down I alternated between coasting and using short sections of motor power to get into Helena. Gravity was my good friend that day and I’m really grateful the bike stopped working on the top of the mountain where I had a lot of potential energy stored up in the combined mass of myself and motorcycle (ok, I liked college physics).
We rolled into the extremely hot lowlands of Helena, Montana. I found a shady spot and booked a small cabin at a place near the center of town that looked to be in close proximity to two motorcycle shops and a few restaurants, the Lamplighter Cabin and Suites. Here is the picture from their website.
The last few miles were tricky. The temperature was nearing 100 degrees and we were both dripping wet in our heavy riding gear and boots. I was alternatively pushing my bike through town and riding it the few feet when I could. At one point we stopped and I tried having Deby tow me with a piece of rope. That didn’t go well and we both almost crashed. Finally we made it and checked into a little cabin.
I was pretty sure what was wrong, fuel starvation….. Dang, really? Again??? Just to review if you haven’t read all my blog posts… In 2015 I was stranded in Mexico with a plugged fuel filter on my new KTM1190 in , in 2019 my fuel filter was plugged in Mexico on my new Honda Africa Twin and now in 2020…. fuel pump.
Here’s where the story gets interesting, but I’ll try to sum it up. There is a local motorcycle shop but they don’t have Yamaha parts, bad. But, while they can’t get a whole fuel pump assembly they can order just the pump from an aftermarket company, good. But, it will take over a week to arrive, bad. But, they can expedite it for a fee and it should arrive the next day, good!
We spend the next day exploring Helena on foot and making friends with the wonderful woman who manages the motel and some of the guests who seem to be there on a somewhat permanent basis.
The pump comes in and it’s rather complicated to extract just the pump from the assembly but I manage to do it after a trip to a auto parts store for some specialty tools. I get it all together and….. nothing. It won’t start. I can hear the electric pump spinning and see gas moving and some bubbles but there was no way the bike was going to start. Ok, now what. We booked another night and sat around thinking about it. Somewhere in the night I pulled out my iPad and started watching YouTube videos on the subject and something caught my eye. There was an O-ring that was supposed to be placed between the pump and a tube, I’m pretty sure I didn’t have one installed. Yes, that must be it (and it was). I decided I would look for the o-ring the next morning and try it again.
A loud whirring sound woke me up the next morning. The grounds keeper was out leaf blowing the parking lot, I didn’t think much of it until later when I couldn’t find the O-ring anywhere and concluded it must have fell on the parking lot and was now somewhere in a pile of leaves. Arrrg. That was it, we decided to give up.
The truck was parked 258 miles away according to Mr. Google and his navigation system. A little far for me to ride Deby’s 250 in a day so I decided to look for a rental car. Due to the pandemic, most of the rental car places were closed and the only one open that I could find was at the airport. They just had one car, a high performance Mustang GT. We had a plan. Deby and I drove back to Eureka, Montana, windows down, radio up and blasted full speed on the back country Montana roads. Is there “really” a speed limit in Montana? We spent the night at the same lodge and headed back with the truck. Fortunately we could return the car not far from Eureka to make it a one way rental.
So that sums up part one of the trip. Probably 4 days of driving in the truck for two days of riding. When we got home I ordered a new OEM Yamaha fuel pump assembly. In the comfort of my own shop I replaced the pump and the bike started right up and ran great. While I was working on it I was looking for something in my motorcycle tool kit when I found the missing O-ring hidden in a back corner….. I had to laugh.
We were home on August 14 wondering what to do. I suppose a lesser man would have let it go, well actually I was ready to, but Deby would have nothing to do with it. We chilled for a week, fixed the bike and on August 22 loaded up the truck to continue on!
Stay tuned for Part 2, more adventure awaits, if not with gas then fire.
Donn and Deby