The Beartooth Highway

40 years ago a bloke called Pirsig penned a novel that most publishers laughed at. But one took a punt and within three months “Zen and the art of Motorcycle Maintenance” was on the NY Times best sellers list.

As well as turning on a whole generation of folks to the concept of “popular philosophy”, the book turned a couple of sections of Road into legends – one of which was the Beartooth Highway – Montana State Highway 212.

A week ago we rode the Beartooth and for me it lived up to its reputation. We had to wait at Cooke City for half an hour and enjoyed some of the best apple pie the world has ever seen. Then the road openned and the stop/go man let the bikes go first.

It starts with gentle climbing through Alpine country, with the temperature dropping steadily. At Cooke City it was 25 degrees celcius – but within 20 minutes it’s down to 15 and still dropping. Ocassional patches of snow give way to plowed drifts on the road edge over a metre deep. The the S’s give way to chicanes and then to switchbacks and still it climbs higher – some 30kms of the road is over 10,000 feet and my carburetted bike starts to backfire loudly as the only partially ignited fuel passes through the exhaust. And still it climbs. Each straight brings with it gargantuan views to die for across Montana and back towards Yellowstone Park.

To my thinking the road resembled a huge piece of tarseal rope which has been carefully coiled, then let slip to spill down the cliff faces, all the way to Red Lodge.

It’s been called one of the top 10 motorcycle roads in the world – and I wouldn’t disagree.

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