2018 Boise to Banff (and Beyond) Mototour
Updated: Oct 16, 2018
My longest trip to date...
Everyone knows how challenging it is to get a group of adults together for a (non-family) trip. Differing work schedules and demands, family obligations and interests, competing vacation ideas - the list of thoroughly understandable and legitimate conflicts is long... so getting seven adults moving in one direction is a testament to the draw of the road and the north!
This Summer 2018 trip to Banff and Jasper will be my longest motorcycle road trip (by about 700 miles) and the first on a new machine (pictured below).
6 overnight stops
5 ultimate destinations
309 average miles per day
232 miles shortest day (Missoula to Browning)
400 miles longest day (Coeur d'Alene to Boise)
The Ride & The Gear:
2016 Yamaha FJR1300A
New (to me) for the 2018 touring season
What can I say? I'm kind of a Gear Geek... I'm not an expert, by any means, and there are many gear reviewers from whom I try to learn. But here are some of the items that I'll be carrying with me...
LUGGAGE (in addition to the Yamaha Hard Cases)
DrySpec D38 Rigid Drybag
Cortech Super 2.0 10L Magnetic Tank Bag
Trauma and First Aid Kit - due to my background, I get the privilege of carrying the "BIG" first aid kit, which is one of my own specification and making, while each rider carries an individual first aid kit. Some of the additional items I carry include SAM splints, sutures (and super glue), and suitable gauze / bandages for more involved trauma - fortunately, it is rarely needed
GoPro Hero 5 Black with Karma Grip + Accessory Cable for gyroscopic stabilization (mounted to the bike, usually)
GoPro Hero 5 Session with a custom mount to the Shoei RF-1200 helmet chin bar - also sometimes mounted to the bike looking backward, or in a chest mount (along the way on this ride, I had some sort of rock impact with the lens of my Hero 5 Session, which cracked it diagonally... I stopped in Kamloops, BC to buy a replacement Hero 5 Session - and then purchased a replacement lens when I made it home... so now I have two of these
RAM MOUNTS Motorcycle Brake/Clutch Reservoir Cover Base (these are used to support various electronic accessories, cell phone, and GoPro cameras)
RAM MOUNTS X-Grip Cell Phone / Accessory Cradle
Garauld FJR Highway Pegs - These work pretty well on the 2016 FJR1300. The install is very straightforward and all of the needed items are provided. It is REALLY nice to have some extra foot position options on a long ride. On the 2016 - and with my legs - I find that the lower side cowling points out in just the wrong place, so that my shin ends up on the point of the cowling. I get around this by hanging my knees out a bit - it works.
As mentioned above, getting 7 adults going in the same direction is a feat in itself, but everyone has busy schedules and that results in several different destinations... Below, the general route (in blue) can be seen, and 3 of the 7 riders will complete the rider on that route. But as is also illustrated, there are 4 additional "end points" for the other 4 riders!
(this route illustration was built using Google.com/mymaps)
2,250 Miles (Door to Door) for at least one rider! Given that the estimate was 2,164, it's hard to feel too badly about that... pretty good estimate! About a 3.9% error. So, having a plan is the place to start - we had a plan and for the most part, we followed it. Of course, nature has a hand in the execution - and so do the various transportation authorities. There was plenty of summer road construction to dodge (or not). But, the trip was a success and great fun. As a side note, this was my first trip on the newly acquired Yamaha FJR1300A - and I loved it. My previous tours had been done on the BMW F800R, adapted for touring - and that was very acceptable as a small touring platform - but the FJR is purpose-built and the difference was noticeable. As will be explained later - that difference does come with a price!
Day 1, Boise to Missoula: Five riders joined up in Boise for the short jaunt to McCall, Idaho for lunch - where we picked up another rider. Weather was perfect along the way - maybe a touch warm, but nothing troubling. The group was riding in a classic stagger formation, with our ride leader out front setting a comfortable pace. In the beginning of the ride, we were all working to get comfortable (again) with our riding positions relative to one another - but by the end of the trip, our spacing was consistent, closer, and comfortable. We made our way through Grangeville and Kooskia, Idaho and then over Highway 12 and the Lolo Pass. We were anticipating some longer delays on the Lolo Pass for road construction, but must have timed it just right, so our waits were short. Unfortunately, while waiting at one point, one of the bigger bikes took a kickstand tumble and scratched up the chrome and paint... ouch! As we neared the top of the pass, a beautiful fox stepped tentatively out into the highway and then scooted back the way s/he came - would have loved to get some footage of that... oops. Camera OFF for that one! We made our way into Missoula for the night and wrapped the great day of riding with dinner at Mackenzie Bar & Grill... the waitress - quite by chance - turned out to be the niece of one of our riders!
Day 2, Missoula to Browning (via Glacier National Park): Our six riders were joined by one additional member who had to work the morning of our departure and had chased us by about four hours the day before. So, now our group was full as we headed off on our second day of riding for Flathead Lake, Glacier National Park, and an overnight in the town of Browning, Montana. The route to Flathead Lake was through a beautiful Montana valley on a perfect day... we took a few minutes to stop as we arrived at the south end of the lake and enjoy the view! After a quick fuel stop, we were on our way again, threading our way around the east side of Flathead Lake to a lunch stop
at Bigfork, MT - a very pretty and interesting little (tourist) town. After lunch we continued north through Kalispell and on into Glacier National Park, which was an adventure in itself. At the park entrance, we witnessed a completely out of left field event - a young, pretty woman in a bikini and knee-high white patent leather boots bicycling through the park alone... unfortunately, we were all too dumbfounded to grab a camera, so no image. sorry. We did, however, witness one of our riders cooling off in a glacial lake... (yes, she is signalling us to leave her alone... in her own special way) It was pretty warm, so it seemed like a good idea.
The ride through the park was really impressive and offered far too many opportunities to stop and "gawk" at the amazing views - really awe inspiring - and something that the cameras in my possession (Smartphone, basically) just couldn't adequately capture. The camera tends to flatten, stretch, and make more distant any of the actual scenery - which, yes, is probably user error.. but I think the photo below still does a decent job of showing it off a bit.
Along the way, we did find some other opportunities to cool off, of course.
We wrapped up Day 02 in Browning, Montana - at a casino. We had a good stay there, visited with some very friendly local stray dogs and had - surprisingly - great food in the casino cafe! Jim decided to order breakfast for dinner: be warned, ordering a "3 egg omelette" could result in getting three omelettes... oops.
We took full advantage of the facilities and spent some time in the casino pool / spa helping to soothe some of the sore muscles accumulated over the first couple of days of hot riding.
Of course, there's a joker in every crowd... and a mark... looks like this time around, I'm the mark and not the joker! On our way out of Glacier National Park I stopped at this lake for a quick photo... someone photo-bombed me... Nice. But, these are the kinds of things that happen on the road that keep things fun and interesting!
Day 3, Browning to Canmore (via GNP Border): Getting started in the morning is usually pretty efficient in this group - nobody wants to be last to be ready, but someone always is...
maybe we should have a daily award or banner or something that gets passed around to the last to give the thumbs-up good-to-go sign each morning? Well, Aahhh... summer in the Northwest U.S. Because of the hard winters - or heavy snow - or whatever, a lot of roadwork is done in the summer in the northwest. So, on pretty much any trip, you're bound to encounter some delays to roadwork. We did catch a few - but actually not as much as expected or past history would have suggested. At the start of Day 3, we did get to experience some delays and gravel / dirt roads, but it was pretty short-lived and we made our way up to the US/Canada border through the north end of Glacier National Park.
The trip through the border crossing was quick and I have to credit our neighbors to the north for being very pleasant and expedient (and, as much as I appreciate a diligent inspection of entrants into my own country, my experience was not nearly as pleasant when re-crossing the border... sigh).
Before we had the chance to arrive at our destination for that evening, we spent some time crossing the southern plains and rolling farmland of Alberta. The terrain / geography is somewhat similar to Northern Idaho near Grangeville.
As we neared our destination for the day - Canmore - we encountered a bit of weather. After a quick pull-over to pull-on the rain gear, we continued into a fairly heavy rain and thunderstorm. In spite of a few periods of heavy rain, we had no mechanical issues and everyone got through it without incident. Now, I admit that I'm not the most experienced rider - or even "an experienced rider," since I only have about 20,000 miles under my belt (in 4 years - I began riding in the summer of 2015). But, this was the most rain I'd experienced on the bike, so I was anxious to see how this would work. There is a lot of lively discussion about how dangerous water is on the road - and also how capable motorcycles (and tires) are in these conditions. Of course, anything could happen, but I found that it was very manageable with decent weather gear and a light hand on the brake, throttle, and clutch. I'd rather ride on a dry day, of course, but this was a good overall experience for my "how to handle weather" portfolio. I'm not really interested in ice, snow, etc. on the road!
Day 4, Canmore to Valemount (via Banff and Jasper): This was the BIG day... the long day! In terms of mileage, it wasn't necessarily the longest, but because of curvy roads and several vista spots along the way, it ended up being many hours on the road.
Of course, these were GREAT hours - beautiful riding weather, amazing scenery, and fun riding - but, by the end of the day, a few of us were pretty ready for a rest. But, it was not to be... more on that later.
After taking advantage of the hotel continental breakfast, we left Canmore with a threat of some light rain, but otherwise pleasant weather and fine temperatures for riding. Before we could get to far, we entered the Banff National Park - where we were greeted by some really large and curious ravens... let's see, crow? raven? According to another site, these would be ravens, due to their beaks and croaking. The first stop on our route that day was only 20 or so minutes into the ride, at Banff.
We stayed about an hour for fuel and some quick photos and then began making the short trip up to Lake Louise - at this point, we had a bit of light rain, but nothing like we had seen enroute to Canmore. It ended fairly quickly as we were arriving and gave us the opportunity to visit the lake and hotel without the added "experience" of rain.
We stopped (!) for a moment to take a photo of the group (well, minus one) with the famous Fairmont Hotel on the shore of Lake Louise in the background
Interesting observation about the Lake Louise experience... we arrived on a Tuesday - granted, a Tuesday in the middle of the peak season, but still, a Tuesday morning. It was pretty crowded with a lot of tourists (like us) being shuttled in buses from parking lots 3 or 4 miles away from the lake. Parking cars was pretty challenging - but, motorcycles had priority parking right up front! We sailed right in and were able to get out quickly - a pretty nice advantage. We stopped down the hill from the lake area for fuel and a quick lunch. We then saddled up to continue our ride north toward the icefields and Jasper. From this point to Jasper, there were no fuel stops or restaurants - possibly a stop at the icefields that would have bathrooms - we didn't stop there!
There's really no adequate way that I can describe my impression of the Icefields Parkway drive - and a picture doesn't do it justice either. The three dimensional experience is very impressive, with towering granite cliffs on both sides. As we rode along, I kept trying to look up to see the tops of these cliffs - but could never really capture it. Below, a photo at an overlook along the parkway, just before cresting the pass and arriving at the Icefields (glacier). The vertical development of this valley is really flattened out by the fisheye camera from a Smart Phone or GoPro camera.
After a brief stop at the overlook, we continued on past the Columbia Icefields glacier and visitor center, at which we did not stop due to the distance left to cover that day. The view continued to be amazing all the way to Jasper where we took a brief stop for fuel. Unfortunately, we didn't have the time to investigate the area in and around Jasper - but, for a future trip or a recommendation, I would take the time. It's a beautiful area and looked like a nice place to stay. From Jasper, we continued West on the Yellowhead highway. Along this route, we were the furthest North in Canada that we were going to be on this trip. It was hard to believe we were heading South and toward home already! At the turn to Canadian Route 5, we had covered more than 1,120 miles!
Day 5, Valemount to Kelowna (via Kamloops):
First, let's talk about the hotel in Valemount... we didn't see much of the town - ok, in truth, we didn't see any of the town! But, we got a great flavor from the hotel - definitely worth staying there again. We had good accommodations, good food, a great bartender, and a swimming pool with a great water slide. What are a bunch of adults doing with a water slide? Loving it, that's what! Everyone who went on the slide had so much fun they went many times - some even went back for more in the morning! After a long day in the saddle, a swim really seems to be a bonus and helps to get you relaxed and ready for the next day.
The leg from Valemount to Kelowna was really the first leg on the way home, and while still in the middle of our adventure, we started to recognize that this was the start toward the end of the great trip. Also, we knew that from Kelowna onward, we would start "breaking up" the group as various members had different directions to go on the way home - we would lose one member in Kamloops who was staying on for a few days with friends. Unfortunately, along the way we started to encounter some of the smoke from the - now seemingly annual and ubiquitous forest fires. For the remainder of Day 05 we would see varying levels of smoke and haze, with some areas being somewhat worse.
Our stop in Kamloops was a surprise visit to a country club to meet Woody's friend who has lived in the area for decades. The country club overlooked the city of Kamloops which was really interesting, in spite of the thick, hazy smoke. Food was great and we had a good break from the road. Somewhere between Valemount and Kamloops my chin-mounted camera took a rock square in the lens cover glass which cracked it. After lunch, I decided to stop at a local store and buy a replacement camera and then ordered a replacement lens cover, leaving me with two GoPro Session cameras... they are coming in handy now, although I never expected to own so many action cameras!
From Kamloops we enjoyed one of the best parts of the trip, which was a two-lane road around the west side of Kelowna Lake (or is it Lake Kelowna?). Our traffic speeds were fairly slow and constant (about 35mph) and interrupted periodically by some road work. But in spite of these little delays, we had a great view of the lake and a beautiful, fun, well-maintained twisty road to enjoy! It's a fairly long lake, so we spent a fair amount of time traversing the lake from north to south, finally winding our way into the neighborhoods on the southwestern side of the lake, getting a great view of downtown Kelowna.
That evening, I think everyone was pretty tired and we had a quiet dinner at a nearby Chinese restuarant (actually, adjacent to our motel), and then everyone headed to bed. The next day, with our party down to six, we would see three head off on their own directions, while three of us made our way to Coeur d'Alene for an overnight on the lake.
Day 6, Kelowna to Coeur d'Alene (via Omak): Although we didn't know it at the start, this day would have some of the most exciting and most boring legs of the ride! I guess in retrospect, even the boring part of the ride (Hello Washington Highway 2, I'm looking at you) was better than a day in the office!
Beginning the day in Kelowna, we said goodbye to one more ride member who was making his way via a different route to the Seattle area and would cross the border back in the US further west. Five of us would make our way to Osoyoos to have breakfast and then cross the border.
At Osoyoos, we met with another friend from Seattle who happened to be in the area also on a motorcycle trip and would ride with us from Osoyoos to Omak, where he would continue on to Seattle and three of us would turn east for Spokane and Coeur d'Alene.
Although I didn't get pictures of the event at the border, there always has to be an event... this was my lucky day as I was flagged for a "random" inspection (I still think some of my group told the border guard to give me a good going over). This took about 20 minutes and involved a pair of nice-enough agents rifling through my neatly and carefully packed gear. They did try to put it Humpty-Dumpty back together again, but I had to repack everything. I'm sure they appreciated my contraband dirty undershirts. Once that fun was over, we were on our way back into the US and to Omak, Washington. This is actually a really pleasant route through some farming and fruit growing communities in Northern Washington... it would have been a lot prettier, were it not for the heavy smoke from numerous forest fires that were still following us.
For me, Omak really felt like the beginning of the end of the trip because after this point, we'd be down to just three of us, headed first to Coeur d'Alene for a day and then back home to Boise. But, we encountered some of the most fun riding along this route as well. We fueled up at Omak, said our goodbyes to the rest of the group, and headed toward Coulee City on Highway 155.
As mentioned above, this route is REALLY worth the effort as it was virtually empty of traffic, beautiful scenery, perfectly fast and long winding sweepers, and a very nicely maintained piece of tarmac. With it just being the three of us, we were slightly more throttle-friendly (especially Kari and Robby, who easily outpaced me).
Arriving at Coulee City and the Grand Coulee Dam was a first for me. Having heard about it and the size of it, I had never - to my knowledge - even seen a photo. Compared with the Hoover Dam, I found it quite different - longer and lower in appearance while the Hoover Dam seems immensely tall, wedged in between two steep canyon walls. But, it is an impressive bit of engineering! This point marked a change in the ride for several hours, as Coulee City seemed to be the transition point between the end of the great riding of HWY 155 and the start of HWY 2, which was long, straight, windy, smoky, and did I mention long and straight?
Somehow the above photo doesn't really capture the full effect of a few hours of straight line riding through northern prairie. I think the main distractions here were the smoky sky, wind, heat, and the traffic that would zoom past and create additional turbulence. Ah well, it's all part of the road experience - not the best part, but a definite component that makes areas like the mountains around Banff and Jasper or the earlier HWY 155 more worth the savoring.
Of course, during a long dday in the saddle, some people just HAVE to find ways to entertain themselves... And you have to be creative - and in some cases, a little mix of brave and crazy. This got more than a few looks and brake lights (mostly from the airmen driving to and from the nearby Air Force Base).
Day 8, Coeur d'Alene to Boise (via Lewiston):
We took one day to "lay over" in Coeur d'Alene with Robby's family... and was it ever worth it. I think the above photo captures how we all felt after several days on the road! It was a real pleasure to spend some time on the lake and just relax - and Robby's family definitely spoiled us with great accommodations and food and just general pleasant hospitality.
Reluctantly, we had to suit up and finish the trip south to Boise which would be a day full of adventure! The route would take us through Lewiston, and then back through Riggins and McCall, which was how we started the trip 8 days earlier!
ADuring a brief stopover in Lewiston for breakfast, we met with a friend of Robby's and I had my most fateful encounter... While backing up to leave the parking lot, I lost my footing on the left side - which after some back surgery is somewhat weaker than the right - and well, the 650+ bike (with luggage) was too much and over it went, and me with it. I rolled off of the bike with no major harm done to me... but the bike suffered some road rash (one element below). As it is a pretty new bike, I couldn't leave it and the eventual repairs cost about $1,200! Word to the wise, if you're going to drop a new bike, throw yourself under it to protect it from damage!A
After that experience, the rest of the return trip was really uneventful - we made our way back to Boise down Highway 55 on a beautiful, warm, clear day - which was the perfect way to end the trip!
And finally, the wrap-up video!
Parting Thoughts and Lessons Learned:
As mentioned at the outset, this was my longest motorcycle trip to date and probably the best so far. Which is saying a lot, because my previous trips were also great experiences. It's possible that having a new motorcycle that is more touring friendly and having more experience as a touring rider were both influencing my overall experience. As part of my "process," I like to try and evaluate what I could do better for the next ride, and also consider any "lessons learned." So, here goes...
I'm still over-packing - Tools. It seems that there are so many things to bring and contingencies to consider and plan for. We all want to be self-sufficient, but our group could probably do a better job of distributing some of the load, particularly around the tools and repair gear we bring along. While I pared down my road tools this time, I still had more than I would have needed had we decided ahead of time who would carry which tools. This was also influenced by the fact that our group did not all start and end together, so those days had to be planned for. Also, we had a mix of American (HD) bikes, and European / Japanese bikes which brings the metric vs standard issues into play as well.
I'm still over-packing - Clothes. This was a big improvement for me as I packed A LOT less than I did on previous trips, but still more than I used. Having to plan for both cold / wet weather in British Columbia and hot / dry weather in Washington / Idaho meant some additional contingencies had to be considered, but for future trips I am beginning to see why I do need a few changes of socks - but not necessarily so many changes of jeans!
Breaking a motorcycle is expensive. I have to be more careful at those moments where I'm depending on ME to hold up the bike. Any bike requires attention, but a 630 pound (wet) bike stacked up with luggage needs even more vigilance. I was very lucky - the mirror on the left side was broken and the clutch lever was damaged - but both were still functional and safe to use after I dropped the bike. That could have gone differently, which would have necessitated a different approach... maybe carry an extra set of brake / clutch levers?
Losing your phone or having it break on a long trip is a royal pain! It's obvious how dependent we are becoming on our "personal assistant" smart phones... but on this trip, I was really relying on my phone to do a lot for me. First, It was my primary navigation tool - not having a GPS system, I was using a mapping function to both capture the actual route we were driving and also to have some situational awareness. After the phone died I had to rely on everyone else for navigation and at stops I could look at my paper maps. Second, it was my only communication tool - no backup. If I were alone, I would have had no means to communicate emergencies or even routine communication with friends, etc. back home. Third, it was my primary still camera - Most of the still photos I was able to capture after my phone died were actually video stills. I was fortunate to have others along that could take pictures or I could use my video camera - but, having a backup camera would be smarter! Finally, it was my entertainment center - During these long trips, I typically have several audiobooks to listen to while riding, or music. I know this is controversial as some riders advocate listening to the road for safety and experience considerations, but I depart from that philosophy. So when my phone died, I was "in their company," which wasn't really what I wanted to do and was a real source of frustration.
Mix up WHO has the camera and don't just focus on "the road" shots... being the primary documenter of the trips for these groups is great - I have "control," but it also makes the video and still photos fairly one-dimensional in terms of perspective... it's always mine. I did try to move the camera around some, but this takes time. When the group wants to get rolling and I'm still fiddling with cameras, it can be annoying and make me rush - which leads to bad things (not just bad film). Also, I've learned that I need to do a lot more photographing and filming OFF of the bike. So, the next trip I will be doing both of those things. And since I had to buy a third camera on this trip, well, it should be that much easier!
Review the footage from the cameras every day to make improvements along the way. This is a lot more difficult than I thought. Previously, I had no way of knowing if I even had enough SD Card memory for the rides and as a result I lost some good filming. This time, I purchased several extras and documented them for each day on the road - and for each camera. That worked better, but I still need to improve how I manage the filming for each day. The best way to do this would be to pull all of the video off of the SD cards and organize it at the end of each day. This requires having some means to review and store the video - which is extra weight and gear to pack - so it's not THAT easy... but could be done.
If you're going to blog about the trip (if even for just posterity's sake), do it at the end of every day... Putting together all of this at the end of the trip takes a very long time and ends up losing some of the flavor.