Motorcycle Travel Blog USA: The Wild West

Welcome to the Wild West! We had no idea we were going to love motorcycling through the USA this much! From canyons to cowboys and Utah’s orange rock to Montana’s big blue sky, here’s the story of our ride from Washington to Arizona…

Motorcycle Travel USA

Motorcycle Travel Blog USA

Welcome to ‘Merica

“Get back on your bike. Now!” It’s the first time we’ve been shouted at since school. The US border guards are not happy with us – or anything we say – for no apparent reason. So, like school kids, we think ‘whatever,’ we’re not that interested in riding through the States anyway – while poking our tongues out (of course hidden by the helmets).

We had just ridden through Canada, which we loved, and are excited about Mexico.  So, the States would just be a quick transit between the two. Plus, the 45C heat isn’t helping. Sweaty, scorned and now only mildly excited about entering a new country, we ride into Washington state. 

Motorcycle Travel USA

Second introductions

We hide for a week in an air-conditioned RV in Idaho to escape the heat. An incredibly kind family give us the keys and a crash course in American culture and hospitality – including biscuits and gravy for breakfast, visits to the local Harley-Davidson dealership (to try and tempt us off our Honda CRFs), guns at the dinner table, and they bought and fitted Harley guardian bells to our bikes to ward off evil road spirits.

But every day the sky ages and greys with a thick smoggy haze. Forest fires lay blankets of smoke over Idaho. Coupled with the last two weeks of extreme heat, we need to push on and make our way south to Mexico. But the family convince us to take a detour east and head for LoLo Pass to cool off in the mountains first. So, we leave the heat and ride head first into a torrential rain storm. Soaking wet and freezing cold, we’re tempted to go back to Canada, but decide to push through for a fresh start in a new state – Montana.

Not in Kansas (Canada) anymore

Days pass by, the weather levels out as we escape the heat, smoke and rain and bikes return to the roads. Harley-Davidson is the motorcycle of choice for Americans. We know that, but we didn’t realise just how popular they are. V-twins constantly rumble past us, modern day cowboys with no helmets, sleeveless denim jackets and handguns strapped to their belts. But every rider, no matter the bike, points two fingers to the road as they pass, meaning keep the rubber side down – a variation of our more subtle British nod. While fun at first, it means we end up riding one handed for long stretches of road as endless lines of bikers ride past.

We stop at a ‘gas station’ to fill our tanks and rest our achy pointing arms. I expect to see a Mars bar and a packet of Quavers by the till. But I’m met with an array of automatic rifles and guns for sale instead and a sign warning “We don’t call 911”. The attendant asks if I’d like to buy a gun, I pause for a second before politely declining. I wonder what Alissa would say if I came out of the petrol station sporting a machine gun instead of this Hershey’s chocolate bar? We’re only 400 miles from the border, but it feels like we’re a long way from Canada now…

Motorcycle Travel USA

Bear boxes

Something that hasn’t changed between the two countries are the bears. We had been extra careful camping for the last few months through Canada due to the amount of bears roaming the forests. That means being careful with food and anything that smells (toothpaste, deodorant etc included) not being anywhere in or near our tent at night. It would go up a tree or a good distance from our tent. And it’s no different here. There are private campgrounds, but in areas where there’s lots of bears they don’t allow motorcycles (perhaps because they’re not insured). 

So, you’ve got to go deeper into rustic National Forest Campgrounds where you might find one or two campervans. We always ask if they’ve seen bears and the answer is always, “Heck yeah! Saw two last night. Wouldn’t want to be in a tent here!”

The Old West

Moving into Montana is like riding into a whole new country all over again. Perfect blue sky stretches into the distance, the sun warms our necks and the hills turn shades of yellow and green. Our CRF300Ls happily hum along Montana’s endlessly empty roads and we stop at little towns and communities (some with populations of under 50 people) to break up the days and sip coffee on front porches. The locals are incredibly welcoming and we’re often told that they’re going to prey for our safe journey. We wave at cowboys roaming the pastures as we ride by and our modern-day horses nod at their counterparts.

We’re easing into the American saddle as we explore Montanna and want to see more of the genuine Old West, so we make a detour for Bannack Ghost Town. We throw our reins over a hitching post and can almost hear our spurs jangle as we strut through the abandoned cowboy town.

It was once the site of a huge gold discovery, became a booming mining town in 1862 and was abandoned in the 1960s. The sheriff here was accused of secretly running an outlaw gang and was hung at the gallows (that he built) along with his deputies by a group of vigilantes. They then turned on a resident who refused to come out of his cabin for questioning so they used a cannon to blow a hole in his front door, pulled him out and shot him over 100 times. Welcome to the Wild West…

The bison

Yellowstone National Park is impressive with its geysers, bubbling pools, springs, baby Grand Canyon and copious wildlife. Wild bison casually roam the roadsides chewing on grass. But there’s one too many tourists here so we camp a few nights and point our wheels towards Wyoming.

We get stuck in slow moving traffic two hours outside of Yellowstone and end up behind a truck. It slams on its brakes over a narrow bridge. We can’t see around it and assume it’s sat at a red so we get closer. The truck suddenly barrels forwards leaving a cloud of dust and revealing the reason for its quick stop. An angry lone bison stands in the middle of the road, turns its head and stares straight at us. Oh.

We’re already on the bridge and too far from the animal to get past it quickly – and too close to turn back. It moves towards us while throwing its head around and stomping at the ground. Our little CRFs gulp and Alissa shouts that she’s going to get off the bike… then it charges. I frantically wave at the pickup truck behind us to overtake and get between us. With seconds to spare before being bulldozed, the driver rams his gas pedal through the floor, swerves in front of us with a screech, blocks the charge and heads straight at the beast with his horn blaring. We grab a handful of throttle, tuck to the side of the truck and make a break for it with hearts lodged in throats. It wasn’t the bears we had to watch out for…

Beartooth

We keep on east and set our sights for Beartooth Pass. Within minutes, it becomes a strong contender for one of the best roads we’ve ever ridden. 69 miles of unbelievable twists and turns flying into the sky through the Beartooth Mountains. Alpine forests and cold lakes fill the world below us and pointy peaks line the sky around us. Harleys scratch their foot boards around bends while our CRFs chase them down and overtake on the twists. They fly past on the straights while throwing salutes and we stop to chat at every viewpoint.

Once we reach the end of the road in Red Lodge, we load up on burgers, fries and milkshakes before turning around to ride the same road back (albeit a little slower on the uphill climbs). Back at the start, we hook a left and catch another spectacular road south along the Chief Joseph Highway to Cody. Standing atop mountains, surveying the natural beauty of the US with bellies full of burgers… we’re getting addicted to riding here.

Buffalo Bill

We rock up at Cody, Wyoming, a town named after Buffalo Bill Cody, check into a motel, watch a lady take a baby goat into the room next to ours and run across the road for our first rootin’ tootin’ rodeo. A cowboy on horseback circles the arena while holding the American flag as the announcer reminds the audience why the USA is the greatest country on God’s green earth. Everyone’s standing, cowboy hats on chests and whooping “hell yeah!” We eat our hot dogs (miffed at our rookie mistake of accidently ordering a bag of crisps when we asked for chips). Cowboys and cowgirls expertly lasso cattle while maniacs hold onto bucking bulls for dear life. We try to keep our British sensibilities, but the occasional whoop slips out.

The next morning we ride into town. Men and women strut around in tall leather boots and cowboy hats. I’m tempted to buy one, but Alissa assures me I can’t pull it off. So, I visit the barbers instead and the owner cuts my hair with a pistol strapped to his side. I can’t resist asking why, “Ask me how many times I’ve been robbed, son” he replies with a soft smile through a thick grey beard. After, we go for breakfast at a classic diner with red leather chairs. “Want some more caw-fee, hun?” says the waitress as she pours. “Yes, please… ma’am.” We’re in a movie and are loving it.

Motorcycle Travel USA

Utah

The road leads south to Utah and we ride into another new country – and this one’s our favourite. Blue sky is replaced with towering orange rock. It’s a rocky wonderland of huge boulders precariously balancing in the sky, fractured rock fins and thousands of incredible sandstone arches spread across a high desert plateau. We instantly fall in love with Utah. The Canyon Lands, Fisher Towers, the Arches, Bryce, Capitol Reef… it’s postcard perfect America and riding through it on our motorcycles is a highlight.

We roll down the famous Forest Gump road with the legendary Monument Valley for a backdrop – a bucket list since hanging a photo of the road on my bedroom wall at twelve years old. Forest’s line “I just felt like running” resonates as we look south and continue our journey towards the horizon.

The Martian

We cross the state line into Arizona, but this time it’s not like riding into a new country – this is another planet. The lightweight CRFs easily roll over rutted washboard until we find ourselves in a silent desert on Mars. Our bikes are specs in a dry sea of red sand and barren scrub. Giant ancient formations spike out of the earth and scratch the sky. Their rough red walls bake in the hazy heat and we half expect a Martian to poke his head out from behind one. Our little CRF Space Rovers are in their element. We ride towards the nothingness and roll on the throttle. Our front tyres now float over fine red sand as the rears blow plumes of cayenne pepper behind us.

We chase a lonely trail until it ends at a plot of land owned by a family of Indigenous Americans, who allow us to camp for the night. We eat traditional cooked food under a starry night sky before falling asleep in our tent. Flashes of thunder soon rip through the eternal blackness and light up the enormous formations. It’s terrifying and hypnotising at the same. We peer through the tent as the Navajo Nation’s sacred land illuminates before us.

A grand time

Six years ago, in the first year of our round the world trip, we pitched our tent above Charyn Canyon in Kazakhstan – nicknamed by Kazakhs as the ‘Baby Grand Canyon’. We remember looking out over it and saying to each other: “Isn’t it mad that one day we will have ridden so far that we’ll actually be standing at the real one…”

Now, peering over the edge of the Grand Canyon takes our breath away, but having ridden here on our motorcycles after exploring this incredible country is what makes it special.

Everything about the USA has surprised us. The friendly people, the proud culture, its raw nature and brilliant riding roads… It’s a constantly changing topography of beauty where each state is like a new country with so much to offer. We could spend years here exploring on our motorcycles because we never expected to love it this much. But we do and now we don’t want to leave…. Ah gosh darn it, I’m just gonna swing me around and go buy that cowboy hat!

Motorcycle Travel USA

With thanks to…

Thank you to everyone in the USA who we met, spent time with and especially those who let us stay at their place and showed us incredible kindness and hospitality.

A special thanks to:

For anyone who has been following our Facebook page for a while, you might remember a post from May 2022 about Subhash Sharma… And if you’ve had a look at our Motorcycle Travel Stories, you’ll find his incredible feature in there.

Subhash and his three friends were the first Indians to motorcycle round the world back in 1972! He got in touch to work together and publish his story on our website about a year and a half ago.

Four months later, he came to the UK for a visit and we met up. So while in the US we had to head to Fort Worth, Texas as it was our turn to visit Subhash and his lovely wife Kiran.

It was such a cool week spent with this motorcycling legend, swapping stories over wine into the early hours on what motorcycle travel was like then compared to now, looking at old hand drawn maps, import documents and his papers. It blows my mind how easy we all have it today.

Subhash is a true explorer, adventurer and motorcycle traveller. What he and his friends accomplished was incredible and he deserves so much recognition for it.

If you haven’t already read his story, check it out here…

READ MORE: The First Indians to Motorcycle Round the World

We got in touch with a fellow Bunk a Biker in Idaho and were invited to stay at their house. Hot and sticky smoke was billowing in around us and we were happy for some shelter. We pull up to a warm welcome and are given the keys to a huge RV.

What an AWESOME introduction to the USA! Bre, Ryan and their family put us up in their brilliant RV for the last four days while we worked on our bikes and escaped the heat!

We’ve been hanging out every night and had a crash course in American culture – that included “biscuits” and gravy (for breakfast!?!) and a visit to the local Harley Davidson dealership. Bre bought us Guardian Bells for our bikes to keep us safe on the road.

We also tried to go to the shooting range together twice, but there were so many road closures due to wild fires.

We couldn’t have wished for nicer people and a better welcome to the States. It’s put a huge smile on our faces and made us really excited to start exploring.

First night in Montana and the awesome Karl and Angie put us up for the night! Amazing people and a fun night chatting away. And to top it off, they have goats! They really looked after us, made us feel very welcome and we had such a good time hanging out with them. Thanks so much guys.

How cool is it that one of my brothers flew out to Florida, rented a car (please don’t hold it against him that he’s not into bikes) and drove all the way across the country to see us! And even better – he turned up in a Mad or Nomad t-shirt!

Read more on motorcycle travel in North America

Thanks for checking out our Motorcycle Travel Blog for the USA. We hope you enjoyed it! Here’s a few more related articles on riding in North America, the USA and Canada that we recommend you read next. 

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If you enjoyed this USA motorcycle travel blog or have any questions, please post your comments below. We’d love to hear from you. 

 

4 thoughts on “Motorcycle Travel Blog USA: The Wild West”

  1. Absolutely love your blog, it brings back so many happy memories of the time I’ve spent in the USA. Many of them being the same as you’ve visited. You officially have the bug, it got me in 2014 and I keep going back. I’ve clocked up in excess of 45 k miles now and loved every mile. Btw, you need to do the Lolo Pass in the sunshine ☀️ 🤣👍🇬🇧🇬🇧🇺🇸🇺🇸

    Reply
    • Hey Jon! Thanks so much for your kind words! Glad you’re enjoying it 🙂
      45K miles is incredibly impressive for one country!!! Yeah, we absolutely loved our time there, so much more than we thought we would and will definitely be going back once we’ve finished our trip to ride more of it. Haha yeah, we’ll go back to Lolo when the sun’s out too! Cheers!
      Andy

      Reply

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