Blue Ridge to Rockies
Last December a buddy and I agreed to take a three week Harley tour out west — sometime around mid to late May. The basic plan was to start at home in Southwest VA and head out to CO, WY and MT, to tour the Rocky Mountain, Teton, Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks. Our plan was to “high tail” it through the east and midwest so that the bulk of our time could be spent enjoying the rugged beauty of the Rockies.
As we refined the details, I quickly realized my old riding gear wasn’t up to the task. Going online, I checked the weather statistics for the twelve states on our route. I discovered that the temperature range we would probably encounter was from a low of 30 degrees to a high of 90 degrees, and many states averaged 4 inches of precipitation during the month of May. Continuing to research my options for quality gear up to the wide range of weather extremes, I eventually came to Fox Creek Leather. Much to my surprise they were located in nearby Independence, VA less than two hours away from my home in Blacksburg.
I was immediately impressed that Fox Creek Leather offered not only very well made, thick yet supple leathers, but also backed it up with world-class personalized customer service and a solid lifetime warranty. Never before had I found a company that performed so admirably to earn 100% positive customer reviews. I was unable to locate ANYONE who didn’t like their FCL gear. That confirmed my decision that FCL would be the source of my gear.
Fox Creek Leather Vented Reflector Jacket
After reading everything in the FCL online catalog and mulling over the styles and features, I bought the FCL Vented Reflector Jacket. It offered generous venting on the front and back and sleeves. The removable Thinsulate Liner and fleece neck warmer seemed like they would provide a great deal of warmth for the bitterly cold days. To layer up, I planned on merino wool long underwear, long sleeve shirt, and if needed, a layer of fleece under the FCL jacket. The reflective piping across the front, back and around the sleeves hopefully would provide added visibility at night and in the fog. I decided to add a Frogg Toggs rainsuit layer over the FCL in case of heavy or long rains.
Fox Creek Leather Lined Chaps
In addition to the jacket, I also added a pair of FCL Lined Chaps. The quality and thickness of the leather paired with the quilted Thinsulate® zip-out liner seemed to offer the flexibility for this tour out west as well as for my daily commutes to work. At the end of March I drove down to FCL store in Independence, VA and found that everything I had read online about them was completely accurate! The friendly salesperson took my measurements and quickly retrieved the correct size jacket and chaps from the storeroom. Everything about the jacket and chaps was crafted perfectly. The leather was soft and buttery, yet was quite hefty with the 1.4-1.6 mm (jacket) and 1.6-1.8 mm (chaps) thicknesses.
Steve at St Mary Lake
Of course I had to test out my new purchases locally, well before the big trip, to see how cold I could comfortably ride. So I headed out on a 4 hour ride through the Blue Ridge Mountains on a crisp 38-42 degree early spring day, wearing only jeans and a short sleeve t-shirt under the lined FCL jacket and chaps. I arrived home cool but not frozen. With this benchmark I knew I could handle much longer and colder days out west once I layered up. Our adventure began May 21 as we left VA and rode as far as Evansville IN. The temps were in the mid 80’s so I wore just the jacket and chaps (no liner). I had all vents opened. It was warm when not moving, but comfortable while riding the HD Electra Glide, I directed air from the air diverters under the fairing to the chest vents and up the sleeves, and out to the sleeve and back vents.
The next day we rode to Abaleen KS and the cool morning temps again warmed to the mid 80’s. Continuing with no liner and the vents zipped, as the day warmed up I was easily cooled by opening the vents. The third day we dodged many Kansas spring thunderstorms as the day wore on. The FCL jacket and chaps waterproofing easily repelled the light rain we encountered. We rode on to Greeley, CO and saw massive storms ahead so we quickly found a motel.
Day four we were faced with rain covering most of Colorado with heavy low clouds. Checking the Weather channel we decided to not ride into Rocky Mountain National Park as we had hoped. The Trail Ridge road was going to ice up again, get closed again, and the views obscured by clouds. The weather seemed better to the north in eastern WY, so we rode on to Casper WY. The light rain closed in as fog and we ended up riding in the nastiest white-out soup. Visibility was bad, and seeing the road was becoming exceedingly difficult. While I was glad my jacket offered reflective piping, the fog was so thick nobody could see much of anything, so we pulled into a truck stop for an hour or so to allow the fog to lift before proceeding. We dodged and rode through a few rain showers heading west across WY Rt 26. We passed Hell’s 1/2 acre and I was perfectly dry and comfortable in the cool 60 degree air.
In the late afternoon we began seeing the glory of the Wind River Range, and Red Rocks cliffs. After refueling, we headed out of Dubois WY on Rt. 26 and over the pass near Breccia peak through temps in the mid 30s, with snow still on the road shoulders, and face stinging sleet as we pressed on to the Tetons. Once again, the FCL gear passed with flying colors. I was extremely comfortable and only slightly inconvenienced by the sleet on my glasses.
Hideaway fleece neck warmer
The really great (and probably overlooked) feature of the FCL Vented Reflector jacket is the hide-away fleece neck warmer. In warm weather I keep it wrapped around my camera in my left jacket pocket. However when the temperature dropped below 50, wearing it around my neck added a surprising amount of warmth… So much so, that I never needed to add my fleece layer.
We stayed at the Lake Jackson Lodge and enjoyed an excellent Buffalo Prime Rib dinner and stuffed mushroom appetizer, and a stunning view of the Teton peaks through the huge windows of the lodge restaurant.
The next day we relished the beauty of the Teton range, Snake river, Jenny Lake, and Lake Jackson. Then we rode up into the still snow covered Yellowstone Caldera. The lakes in South Yellowstone were still frozen, while others further North were partly melted by the active volcanic calderas under Yellowstone National Park. Gorgeous! After a few days hanging out with friends in Paradise Valley, we rode the best one day ride ever: Livingston MT, Bozeman, Belgrade, down the Gallatin river to West Yellowstone entrance, across Yellowstone out Northeast Entrance to Cooke City, over Beartooth Pass, into Red Lodge, back Rt. 78 and 90 to Livingston. Simply awesome! (~400 miles)
Steve at Beartooth Pass
The Beartooth Highway climbs through one of the highest and most rugged areas in the lower 48 states, with 20 peaks reaching over 12,000 feet in elevation. In the surrounding mountains, glaciers are found on the north flank of nearly every mountain peak over 11,500 feet high. The Road itself is the highest elevation highway in Wyoming (10,947 feet) and Montana (10,350 feet), and is the highest elevation highway in the Northern Rockies!
The next day we headed up to Glacier National Park and explored all the roads we could in the park. Unfortunately we were too early in the season and the “Road to the Sun” was still closed. Nevertheless, the wildlife and rugged ice carved mountains were stunningly awesome.
We spent a rainy day in Cody, WY enjoying the amazing Buffalo Bill Historical Center. The next day we faced rain, cold, fog and sleet heading over the Bighorn Mountains beginning our ride home. The rest of the ride back east offered moderate to hot 90 degree weather. The worst heat experienced was while sitting in a construction zone traffic jam around Indianapolis. Even that breezeless heat was bearable with the main jacket zipper half opened. Overall, it is remarkable how flexible the lined FCL jacket and chaps perform over such a variety of temperatures and weather conditions. So after 6,400 miles of riding from the low 30’s and sleet, to the low 90s, all I can say is Fox Creek gear exceeded all my expectations providing comfort and protection. Highly recommended in every way! Now to clean all the bugs and dirt off with Montana Pitch Blend…
– Steve Helm