July 9 2009 by Jason Fogelson
We woke up early, eager for the ride ahead. The Best Western Grant Creek Inn has a great breakfast buffet, free with our night's stay. I loaded up on scrambled eggs, sausage, biscuits and gravy, while Robin had a dainty bowl of cereal. A few cups of coffee down the hatch, and we were ready to go.
Green Taxi picked us up in front of the hotel at 8:45 am, and we were at the doors of Montana Harley-Davidson (http://www.mtharley.com) by 9:00 am when they unlocked the doors.
We had arranged to rent a 2009 Ultra Classic Electra Glide, the flagship of Harley-Davidson's Touring Line. The bike comes equipped with locking hard saddlebags and a King Tour Pak, a fork-mounted Bat-Wing fairing with Harmon/Kardon Advanced Audio System and a 1584 cc Twin Cam 96 engine, among other cool features. It's the ideal bike for two-up touring, with great passenger accommodations and comfortable ergonomics.
The dealership's Chandra Lutz ran us through our options, and helped us to fill out all of the paperwork. We opted for full insurance coverage on the motorcycle, ourselves and our belongings, along with $1,000,000 in liability insurance. If the bike was wrecked or stolen, we would be on the hook for only the first $2,000 out of pocket. The whole package ran $40 per day, well worth the peace of mind. We were also required to put a $2,000 security deposit on a credit card, fully refundable when we returned the bike in good shape. I had to show my drivers license with a valid motorcycle endorsement, and we were ready for the next steps.
Chandra gave me a walkaround of the motorcycle and its controls. Even though I am an experienced rider and Harley owner, I paid close attention. I then took a brief test ride in front of the dealership to demonstrate to Chandra that I could actually operate the motorcycle. I passed the test, thank heavens.
Robin and I loaded up the bike, and got ready to ride. Chandra took our now-empty suitcases for safekeeping, and wished us well. We waved goodbye to Missoula, and headed out on the highway just before 10:00 am.
On the Road
Leaving the dealership, we headed south on US-93, quickly leaving Missoula in our rear view mirror. In about 20 minutes, we reached US 12, and proceeded west across the Montana/Idaho border. US 12 follows the Nez Perce Trail between Lolo and Lewiston, Idaho, along the Lochsa and Clearwater Rivers, paralleling the journey of Lewis and Clark (http://lewis-clark.org). The road is dotted with historic markers, and a traveler could easily spend a week following the footsteps of the great explorers.
US 12 is also a fantastic motorcycle road, with smooth, well-maintained pavement, tree-lined curves with constant elevation changes, and spectacular views. Robin named our mount "Monty," and Monty was quickly working his way into my heart. The bike was completely solid on the road, with great power and elegant, balletic handling. I was completely confident on the bike from the very first mile.
After an hour or so of riding, we stopped at the Lolo Pass Visitors Center to take a breather. There was snow on the ground, but the roads were all dry. The air was crisp, and we were enthralled with the surroundings, with our journey, and with the motorcycle. There's a memorial plaque at the Center for author Stephen Ambrose (1936 - 2002), whose 1997 book Undaunted Courage chronicled the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
Back on the bike, we continued west on US 12 until we reached Syringa, a wide spot in the road beside the river. We ate lunch at a delightful spot, the Syringa Café (http://www.riverdancelodge.com/Syringa-Cafe-Riverside-Dining.html), which featured gourmet sandwiches and salads. Syringa (also known as "lilac"), by the way, is the state flower of Idaho.
After lunch, we continued along US 12 to the village of Kooskia, where we headed south on Route 13 to meet up with US 95 S in Grangeville. Our path took us past small farms and pastures, over undulating hills and through valleys. In 50 miles, we crossed the Salmon River and entered the town of Riggins, Idaho, which would be our stopping point for the night.
We drove along the Salmon River through Riggins until we arrived at the Best Western Salmon Rapids Lodge. We were greeted like long-lost friends. Sue at the front desk offered us bike-cleaning tools, buckets, water and towels, and let us pull Monty into a protected nook beside the big front doors of the Lodge.
We unloaded the bike and went to our room, which looked out over the beautiful Salmon River. Quickly changing into our bathing suits, we went down to the hotel pool and whirlpool and soaked the miles off of our weary bodies. We had traveled a little over 220 miles on Day 1, and were still getting our road legs.
Sue pointed us toward a local restaurant, walking distance away. As we walked down the quiet Main Street, we stopped at the historical markers posted at the roadside. We learned that Riggins had originally been named Gouge-Eye, but the federal government wouldn't approve such a vivid name when it came time to register the township. Instead, Riggins was named after the John T. Riggins, one of the settlers whose descendants (also named Riggins) was registering the town. The 2000 census tallied 410 residents of Riggins, which officially qualifies as quaint. Nestled deep in a canyon, the town is surrounded by natural beauty and has access to all sorts of outdoor activities.
Our very pregnant waitress at the Rodeo Club Bar & Grille (http://www.merchantcircle.com/blogs/Rodeo.Club.Bar.And.Grill.208-628-9260) was also the chef, and she cooked up a mean sirloin steak. We ate heartily, then walked back to the Salmon River Lodge. After warm cookies and cold milk in the lobby lounge, we retreated to our room and collapsed into bed.
Next: Day 2: Riggins, Idaho to Coeur d'Alene, Idaho