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Day 55 – Gone With The Wind

(89 miles)

We set off early again, aiming to avoid the winds as much as possible (little did we know what we were riding into!). At West Yellowstone we entered our eighth state, Montana, and promptly celebrated by having a McDonalds breakfast and some much-needed WiFi.

Montana - Big Sky Country

Our ride continued quite pleasantly for 20 miles or so. We stopped at a convenience store to grab some snacks for the road. It turns out this was a magical store. When we entered we had a nice gentle tailwind. While we were in the store I glanced outside and saw what can only be described as a mini-sandstorm. On leaving the dastardly magical store we rode off into a ludicrous headwind. We crawled alongside Quake Lake, which was created when an earthquake in 1959 caused a huge landslide which blocked a river. At times we were straining to do 4mph up a slight incline. At one point I looked up and saw Pat riding perpendicular to the road, unable to turn his bike back into the wind! We stopped near the end of the valley and just stood there in silence – the ridiculousness of the situation and the realisation that we still had 45 miles to go had left us speechless.

Fortunately our route turned shortly afterwards and suddenly the wind, still howling ferociously, was behind us. I tell you, we FLEW through those last 45 miles. I probably averaged 30mph all the way. And I maxed out on my gears – I was in my top gear and could have gone faster but I couldn’t pedal any faster. And this was on a nearly-flat valley floor.

We found out later there had been a severe weather warning in the area about the winds. It was blowing at 40mph with 50mph gusts. If we’d been travelling the other way up that valley I think we would have turned around and tried again the next day!

I should also mention that Matt had a nightmare afternoon with multiple flat tires, the first being caused by a massive rusty screw we found embedded in his rear tire. His view of the afternoon’s ride was totally different to mine!

After some more library and ice-cream action (not at the same time – not even Montana is that cool), we got some dinner and then set up camp at Ennis RV Park, a mile outside town. Really nice place – well worth the fee to camp there.

My very own ice-cream flavour! (The bottom one ;-)

Chex Mix could possibly be the Worlds Greatest Snack - I have at least one a day!

 

 

Day 54 – A park of yellow stones?

(44 miles)

Well, you can’t just cycle through Yellowstone National Park and not check out the sights! So today we hung out in the Park, being tourists. Smelly tourists.

Having seen no wildlife at all yesterday, I almost rode into a massive elk that had stopped in the middle of the road inside the campground. We saw plenty more elk during the day.

After a couple of climbs to cross the Continental Divide two more times we cruised down to Old Faithful. A mini metropolis has built up around this geyser. Shops, restaurants, cafes, an inn and a visitor centre (with museum) are sprawled out around the grounds.

Thar she blows!

Right on time

Although it’s obviously massively touristy, there is something pretty special about Old Faithful. The fountain of boiling water is impressive enough, but the fact that it is so incredibly reliable is astounding – and certainly appeals to the engineer in me. In fact it’s hard no to conclude that there must be an engineer somewhere underground whose job it is to turn a valve at just the right time, every hour or so…

There’s loads of other geysers, pools, springs etc to explore just nearby Old Faithful. There’s also a ludicrously expensive grocery store there ($5 loaf of bread, anyone?) that we had to make use of as there was nowhere else serving/selling food later on today’s ride.

Yellowstone is full of beautiful rivers, in between the more crazy volcanic stuff

Wandering around the geysers

Yellow stone?

The foyer of the Old Faithful Inn

The stone fireplace/chimney

After resting a bit to let our food settle (we could hardly move after lunch!) we pottered slowly down the road, helped by a tailwind, stopping at the various geysers along the way. Although they’re all stunning, we were pretty much geysered-out by the end of the day. Probably the best thing about these sulphurous geysers is that if you fart no-one notices. If only the whole world smelt of sulphur…

Contemplating a hot bath

It looks so inviting...

Grand Prismatic Lake

The last stretch of the ride involved a truly memorable moment. Picture the scene: you’re riding along and the road is busy with traffic. The cars going your direction begin to slow and then stop. You carry on riding past them on the shoulder (complete with obligatory smug grin). You notice there are no longer any cars coming the other way. Some folk are getting out of their cars to try and see what the hold-up is (in fact one idiot woman almost decapitates you when she opens her car door without looking and misses your bike by centimetres as you whizz by). Suddenly up ahead you see people running. They’re running back towards you. And yelling. “They’re coming down the road! Both sides!”. People are scrambling back into their cars, apparently for safety. The smug grin vanishes from your face – you have no car for safety, just a few welded tubes of metal. Fortunately there is a side road nearby so you manoeuvre yourself into the entrance of the sideroad and, like a true adventurer does, you reach for your camera. Then we see them. Bison. The same animal that appears on countless posters throughout the Park warning you that dozens of visitors are gored by bison every year and that they are not tame! Big ones and little calves. Hundreds of them, all walking right down the main road on both sides of the cars which now contain a mixture of horrified mothers, dads worried about damage to their shiny car, and excited kids with their nosed pressed up to the glass and mouths open in delighted wonder. You stay very still and nervously film them as they trundle by just yards from you. It is truly breath-taking. Nature has come to us. Very close to us! Presently the last of the herd pass, followed by a park ranger in his car. You look ahead and it’s like stepping back out of the wardrobe in Narnia. It’s just a normal road with cars on it. You roll on, smiling to yourself and shaking your head in disbelief.

No sudden movements...

We camped at Madison campground which is pretty basic but friendly. There were a bunch of other cyclists there too. It’s funny – towards the start of the trip we were really excited to meet any other cycle tourers and would enjoy exchanging tips and stories whenever we met them, usually as they were coming the other way on the road. But now we feel like we’ve met so many and we’re so comfortable with what lies ahead of us that we’re no longer fussed about stopping on the road to chat to each and every cycle tourer coming the other way. Usually we just wave and holler a big hello and keep pedalling. Oh dear – have we become jaded cyclists already!?

We stayed up to hear a ranger’s talk about wolves which started at 9:30pm (after our bedtime, but we gave ourselves special permission ‘just this once’). I say a ‘ranger’s talk’ – at times it felt more like we’d stumbled upon a secret meeting of a little-known cult of wolf-worshippers. I thought at any moment the ranger was going to get us chanting and howling and kissing the pelt of the wolf. Fortunately we escaped at the end and have remained largely free from wolf-related eccentricities since (although occasionally I catch Matt looking longingly at a small deer as he licks his lips…)

Day 53 – Please sir, I want s’more!

(84 miles)

Today ranks right up there on my ‘That was a Good Day’ list. Possibly top 5 even. As usual with these days it’s hard to explain why in writing or even with photos but here goes.

For the first 40 miles of the ride we spun back up Snake River valley right under the Grand Tetons. For about an 8 mile stretch we had a bike path that was separate from the road. It was like riding through one long 3D postcard. Blue sky everywhere, lush green meadows speckled with yellow flowers, the odd gushing creek, still lakes glistening in the early morning sunshine, and then the Tetons, shooting majestically skywards into the clear blue. For once there was almost no wind. As we stopped by the lake to take photos there was almost a reverential stillness as if all of nature was holding a pose for us.

The Tetons

Best bike path ever

I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore...

If only every gas station had one of these

What a tourist!

Lewis River Canyon

Something that has really surprised me is how much snow there is. It’s nearly July but Yellowstone is still covered in snow above 7000 feet! We had to find the gaps between the snow drifts in which to pitch our tents at the campsite at Grant Village.

Camping in Yellowstone

In case you’re thinking of passing through Yellowstone, I can highly recommend Grant Village. The campground staff were friendly, cheerful and professional, the facilities were immaculate, and dining at the Lake House overlooking Yellowstone Lake was a bit special.

After dinner we headed back to the campsite, made a fire, and stuffed our faces with s’mores. Probably my favourite day of the trip so far!

Our first campfire of the trip

I'll have s'more of that!

Has anyone ever been so proud of their marshmallow roasting achievements?

 

Day 52 – Big water

(Rest-day)

Its amusing to see the differences between our groups blogging styles. Parry, who just uses Facebook, definitely wins the prize for emotional and spiritual content. But I console myself with the knowledge that my spelling is way better than his. Sadly though, it appears my own family prefer Matt’s blog to mine! It’s all those informative posts with photos taken with a proper camera. *sigh* – yep, if you want to see some better photos from our trip, check out Matts blog.

We've reached 3000 miles!

Today we ‘rested’ in Jackson. The day started well with a great breakfast of Starbucks coffee (first on the trip – oh how I’ve missed you!) and an amazing waffle that honestly tasted healthy!

For a while now I’d been hoping for the opportunity to do some whitewater rafting if we took a rest-day in a suitable spot. So today I seized my opportunity. First I went for a 13 mile ‘scenic float’ (including lunch – I’m no fool) down then upper stretch of Snake River. There was a large family group of 14, mostly from South Carolina – and me. It was so much fun chatting to the families – kids and parents – and as luck would have it, one of the guys, Foy, lives in Portland, OR, and has offered his place as somewhere to stay when I get there! Hooray for friendly Americans :-)

After a quick break back at the rafting centre I was back out for the 8 mile whitewater trip. Usually you expect these adventure sports guides to use all sorts of words like ‘gnarly’, ‘sick’, ‘sweet’, etc. But all they could say was ‘yeah, the water is BIG at the moment’. No photos, I’m afraid, but I had a blast, paddling at the front, getting soaked by every big wave. Half way through we got out for a BBQ dinner. After devouring my potato salad, pasta salad, grilled trout, corn on the cob and peach cobbler, I managed to wangle a full second meal, this time with steak. The biggest set of rapids, class 4, was known as the Lunch Counter. Lots of rafts had flipped on this in the last week or so with the high waters but we were expertly guided and rode them just right. Overall it got me itching to get back into kayaking again. Anyone wanna go find some whitewater when I get back?!

Day 51 – Shhh, don’t tell anyone, but…

(65 miles)

Last night we didn’t bother setting up tents. We were camping in the city park – where I don’t think you’re supposed to camp so we wanted to keep it as subtle as possible. We actually slept pretty well just in our sleeping bags in the open pavilion.

The ride started with a 30 mile climb up to Togwotee Pass at 9658 feet. Unlike yesterday, the wind was already blowing strong at 6am. Against us. We slowly wound our way further up Wind River valley, battling the wind with every pedal stroke. Soon we were cycling past snow drifts and near the top, pretty much all the ground was still covered in snow but it was melting fast. Every river around here is full to bursting.

Climbing slowly

At the top

A winter wonderland

After reaching the pass, we should have had a glorious long cruise down the other side. The wind, however, had other ideas. It seemed to be trying to blow us back over the pass from where we’d come. I’ve never worked so hard going downhill for 20 miles!

There was also a 6 mile stretch of roadworks where we had to get a ride with the ‘pilot vehicle’ as the roadworks company are too cheap to insure themselves against driving into cyclists so their solution is to make sure no cyclists are allowed to ride on the same road they’re working on. So backwards, but given the wind, we were more than happy to put our feet up for a bit.

At about 55 miles we turned off the TransAm *gasp* and headed south *double gasp* towards Jackson which we’d heard was a cool place to spend a day (or a month if you could afford it).

We were now in Grand Teton National Park. For those of you who haven’t seen the Grand Tetons, they are simply breathtaking. Very rarely do you ever see the bottom and top of a mountain range at the same time. But the Tetons just shoot straight out of a flat valley in front of a large lake and stand in a line like a colossal serrated knife blade of rock and snow. It was hard to concentrate on the road because I was so distracted by the beauty of the view!

Entering the Grand Teton National Park

 But the wind was relentless and slowing us to a crawl. On top of this my gut was playing up again so it was painful to ride. After a long slow 8 miles we called a little group meeting and decided that as we were not on the route but on s detour, the sensible thing to do would be to hitch a lift. Not being exactly experienced in these things, we were a bit hesitant with our thumbing but despite this, I would say we only thumbed at about 3 pickup trucks before one stopped for us. They were a real friendly family from Virginia (hurray for the East!). We rode in the back with our bikes all the way to Jackson with big silly grins on our faces, laughing at how easy riding in a car is.

Hitching our first lift - NOT on the TransAm

Three loaded bikes and three people all in the back of the pickup.

Our big dilemma now was where to stay. I won’t bore you with all the options we tried but suffice it to say, Jackson is not a cyclist-friendly town! I was determined that our detour to Jackson would be a fun relaxing time so I ended up treating the three of us to a couple nights in a motel in the town centre. This in itself was as important learning experience. We’ve spent 50 days pretty much scrimping and saving and always opting for the cheapest food/accommodation etc. It’s easy to become a slave to this penny-pinching way of life. It’s not exactly being a Scrooge – and being prudent with spending is commendable in itself – but I think it’s also important to be happy to splash out every now and again, to say ‘I will not be ruled by my desire to save money’. In a way, making Saving Money your life-goal is just as corrosive to your soul as making Making Money your life-goal. Possibly. Anyway, it felt good to splurge for once. Matt and Pat are both going to be full-time students next year so they’re in a very different situation.

We ate out at Merry Piglets Mexican restaurant, on recommendation. The 25 minute wait to be seated was worth it – I just love Mexican food! Matt is looking positively radiant these days – that food baby must be expected any day now… Afterwards we met up with Parry and Hannah (ooh – that reminds me I need an explanatory blog post about Parry’s absense lately!) at the Millon Dollar Cowboy Bar, a very classy joint with live country music, multiple hen parties and even two wedding day couples.

Out on the town in Jackson. Note the saddle seats.

Hmmm...

Not my scene.

Pat wasn't allowed in the bar as he isn't 21 yet. Note our sympathetic faces...

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