Beartooth Pass on the Bike…

by R. McKinnon Baxter

It’s Friday, and Jenny II is nervous. Yesterday I took Hahnna onto the Beartooth Highway to scope things out. The experience was… well, let me tell you…

My friend Jack grew up in Red Lodge and had a few tips for me. “Go to the Red Box” he said… and so I did. I tiny little red box car café with your usual greasy spoon hit-the-spot delights.

box car

Seemed not only Jack liked the place as I was one of many bikers who had pulled up to the joint. As I waited for my 1/3 pound buffalo burger and iced tea, I overheard two bikers who had just pulled up, acting kind of strange. What I mean is… I got a strong sense that something had just happened to them… a lot of “oh man’s” and “oh my God that was incredible” kind of things. Another biker pulled up, found out later he was riding a 900 lb Beemer and was taking a “year off”… and also looking for a new place to live. Not a bad way to decide. He started in Alaska, then moved down through Canada, and was going to finish up in the states… I suppose he will hit the south right about the time the snow begins to fly. Not a bad “year off”… from what, I never found out, and it didn’t really matter… It was a year off from something, something probably not so great.

All these bikers were acting kind of like they had just stepped off an amazing roller coaster ride at Knotts Berry Farm… just grinning ear to ear. They also had a similar look on their face… like they had just seen God, or had just survived some amazing natural disaster together. It didn’t take long to figure out, these guys had all just come from the other direction, and had been through Beartooth Pass.

After one of these guys ordered his fried pickles (wtf?) I spoke to him for a moment about where he had been. Sounded like he was the veteran of the area, was somewhat local, and he was treating his father in law to the ride of his life. No doubt it was a bonding experience for the two…
I chatted up my Beemer friend next, found out about his interesting trip. He was a clean cut guy, with a full beard, if you know what I mean. Sometimes you can just tell, he had grown this beard for the trip and was not normally a beard guy. Nice guy though, no disrespect because of the b.s beard thing, just an observation and I certainly admired his “year off” tour. We talked about how my bike was a great way to go, his bike was a great way to go… and each bike had its pluses and minuses. A 900 lb bike can carry a lot more crap, clearly… and it has about four times the fuel capacity as Hahnna…

Beemer in the Beartooths

Beemer in the Beartooths

but Hahnna is submissive… she will do whatever you want her to do, back road, up steep trails, 75 on the highway, and if you happen to dump her, no big deal, just pick her up again and she is fine. With these Beemers… they can be a little bit more one-dimensional… perhaps a little bull headed when it comes to telling them where you want to go and what you want to do … probably the best bike for a year-long solo journey, but not as flexible for going off the beaten path. Thankfully I have Jenny II to take me most places, and then Hahnna to get crazy with on the back roads.

After the meal, I filled up the tank, and in spite of some rumbling clouds, headed into the hills.

There were a lot of bikes on this trip… and it didn’t take long to understand why. This highway has been called the most beautify highway in the US… and it was. Bikers have a code, by the way, if you are not aware. We… wave to each other. I know, sounds sort of gay, but we don’t do it with a wavy hand and shout out “hi!” in a high pitched flamboyant voice… well, I suppose some of them do, let’s be equal here… but in general, we simply drop a hand down low, generally with a peace sign. The culture is actually deeper than you would think… it’s a brotherhood, a sign of respect for the risks we are taking as we fly down the highways at 75 mph with nothing but a prayer and our force field of don’t fuck with me attitude that surrounds and protects us. By the way, that DFWM attitude is actually necessary… it keeps us alive. I have often thought when I ride my bike… all you cars and trucks and RV’s out there… you are my enemy. I don’t like you, I don’t trust you… because you want to KILL me… you may not realize it, but one blown tire, one “bee in your face” one stupid text to your boyfriend telling him that he just has to see your new haircut… is an ever so subtle and effective attempt to kill me. So I don’t like you, and while I am on the road, you are my enemy, and I am watching your every move. When I meet you in the diner, or alongside the road taking pictures… you are my friend, but once you get into your death machine… DFWM!

Into Beartooth Pass

Into Beartooth Pass

Hahnna and I reached the peak in no time, after about 15 switchbacks I suppose… It was just a hair under 11,000 feet in the air, and I for one could feel it. The higher we climbed, the less life was to be found. In fact, it started feeling quite “moon-like” I would say… both eerie and beautiful. Once we got to the top, we were able to look down over all the mountain-top, glacier filled lakes. What struck me as interesting was that you really could not get to them, not most of them… which made them all the more interesting I suppose… we always want what we can’t have, and all I wanted to do was break the rules and go swimming.

beartooth lake

beartooth lake

When at the top, there was an overlook that looked down over the other side of which I had not been. The winding roads were clear and it was a great visual of how cool this highway really is. I met a couple at the top who were putting a rock in the back of their truck. One part of me said “you go” brother, take your little piece of history back to Texas with you, put it on your mantle and tell your friends, yep, that right there is a rock I found a the top of Beartooth Pass! Then the other side of me said, you prick, put that rock back you f’n criminal. Why don’t you break out your graffiti paint and really make your mark! Then I said whatever and went back to enjoying my view. Who knows, maybe he worked for the forest service and was under specific instructions to grab a rock from this very spot and bring it back to the lab in an effort to test for pollution at 11,000… so he could contribute to saving the world.

Other Side of Beartooth Pass

Other Side of Beartooth Pass

As I eased down the other side of the pass, I came across my friend, Joshua. Joshua is a hawk and he lives on top of Beartooth pass. Joshua is a distant relative to another dear from of mine, Jonathan Livingston Seagull. I noticed Joshua as I came around the corner because he was still. I mean, he was absolutely still, frozen in time and space, with only the wind sweeping up the mountain holding him there. I stopped my bike, pulled out my camera, and took a short video of what I was seeing.

I loved what I saw. My friend taught me a lesson. He was not hunting. He was not fighting. He was not wooing other hawk women. He was not bragging or being showy… He was just living… and he was having fun. If I could take my best guess as to what was in the head of this beautiful bird… he was thinking something like this… “Now this… is livin’”. I so much related to Joshua that I wished we could hook up and I could buy him a beer and he could tell me what life was like living atop Beartooth pass. I wanted to hear about his flying pursuits, the best places he had found to experience this type of “still” flight… I wanted to hear about where he caught his rodents, his fish, and where he found the best places to create his nests. I liked this guy… he was a man’s man, with no appearances of living his life to impress others… and I wanted to shoot the shit with him.

As I dropped further down the pass, I realized I had traveled about 35 miles and needed to decide if I was going to go the extra 25 to Cooke City, or turn around and call it a day. The road construction that I could see in the distance helped me make my decision, and so I turned around, captured a few more pics on my way home, and made it back to camp.

Jenny II was over her fear, or so she said, and just wanted to get on with it… and so with her final vote of approval, I started breaking camp and readied her for my second Beartooth Pass tour… this time, going through to Cooke City.

R. McKinnon Baxter, an Automated Business and Online Marketing Expert, has sold nearly $50 Million in products online over the course of 13 years. Today, he enjoys his life as a Travel Writer along with the freedom of the mobile working lifestyle driven by his automated business model and strategies. To learn more about McKinnon’s principles and methodologies, visit

One Comment

  1. I love this piece! I was there riding the pass with you. The imagery was vivid, and I completely relate to the DFWM attitude. Keep the adventure going.
    Ceal and Kevin

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