Gastonia Police Chief Robert Helton can cross an item off his bucket list: taking a 6,000 mile motorcycle ride out west with his wife, Ruth. In July they rode their Harley-Davidson motorcycle from Gastonia to Glacier National Park, Montana, passing through 15 states in all kinds of weather and seeing majestic landscapes and wildlife along the way.
“We passed through Jackson Hole, the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Park, with the goal of getting to Glacier National Park in Montana,” Helton said. “We had to be pretty specific about the time of year that we went out to Glacier because it can snow up until June and then start again around September. So there’s only a short time when you can get up there on a motorcycle and get across. It’s about a 53-mile ride across the pass.” They traveled across the famous Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park to Logan Pass, a high overlook surrounded by mountains reaching 10,000 feet.
Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Tetons were also amazing sights. “The Grand Tetons are incredible to see and what makes them standout is that there are no foothills,” Helton said. “It’s just flat plains and then the mountaintops. They rise to nearly 14,000 feet with snow tops. We could see the tips of the Grand Tetons from 100 miles out."
In the Dakotas they saw Mount Rushmore, Custer State Park, the Crazy Horse Memorial, and Needles Highway, which has rock formations including one that looks like the eye of aneedle. “We saw elk, antelope, bear, deer and big herds of bison,” he said.
Challenges of the trip included packing for two on a motorcycle in preparation for cold, heat and rain, and finding gas along the route. “On the bike you can run 225 to 250 miles before you need gas so that could be close in some of those areas.”
Overall, they enjoyed great weather on the trip. Out of the 15 days, they only had a couple days with rain, but not enough to dampen their spirits. “We had one storm that came up that produced a little bit of hail, so we pulled over, but luckily it didn’t last long,” Helton explained. “Another thing we had to deal with while going through Wyoming was the wind. You can imagine what it’s like to have 30 mile-per-hour winds pushing to your left and then a truck passes you and all of a sudden it changes. You really have to pay close attention and hold on going down the road when you’re traveling through an area like that.”
The Heltons made the trip with another couple, retired Gastonia Police Chief Tim Adams and his wife, Jackie. “It was helpful to have bikes with cruise control, stereo and GPS. I had voice-activated communication with Ruth and a CB to talk with Tim and Jackie. About every 125 to 150 miles we pulled over to stretch our legs and top off gas because it does get tough sitting on that bike for that long!”
Other interesting sights they saw on their journey were some of the old western towns, Indian reservations, Devil’s Canyon, the famous motorcycle rally site, Sturgis, the Mississippi River and the Gateway Arch in St. Louis.
In reflecting on the trip, Helton said, “With such a vast and majestic country, I can understand why the words were written to the song, ‘America the Beautiful.’”