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Day 57 – The Path To Wisdom

(69 miles)

One of the best things about staying in a home overnight is getting a proper breakfast in the morning. I actually quite like my standard of a couple of cold pop-tarts and a granola bar but you can’t beat a big bowl of cereal, coffee and some toast for a good start to the morning. We thanked George (Mary Jo was still in bed – lucky thing!) and set off again.

Early morning climb

 

Every day on our trip we pass people in cars that wave and/or toot their horns. This in itself is amazing – I can’t think of any time in the UK where I was given a friendly wave by a car driver as I rode my (fully-loaded) bike. However, the number of these waves has now exceeded those given to Will and Kate following their little wedding ceremony. Honestly, if we’d taken the time to wave back each time I could pretty much claim to be the first person to cycle the TransAmerica one-handed. So instead we probably appear to be aloof, grumpy or just plain spaced out. But inside we’re waving, and it is comforting to know most drivers on the road here actually like cyclists!

I have a cycle computer attached to my handlebars and connected wirelessly to a sensor by the front wheel. For most of the trip I have had it displaying the day’s mileage on-screen. This works very well in conjunction with our route maps for navigation as all the turn instructions are based on how many miles they are from a particular point. Recently though I’ve discovered that the ride is more enjoyable/tolerable when I hide the mileage count and just show the clock. I found I was getting frustrated by how slowly the miles would tick by. Now I’m able to just ignore the cycle computer completely and just keep pedalling until we get there.

We climbed two more passes today and then had a long flattish ride along the Big Hole valley into the town of Wisdom. Personally I don’t think it was very wise at all to put a town in the middle of a desolate mosquito-infested valley but each to their own, I suppose.

If only...

Store in Wisdom

We hung out in the bar and then embarrassingly ordered EXACTLY the same three meals (same meat, same sides, same drinks). I think the fact that these days i feel like having a beer at the end of a days ride must mean I’m getting used to this cycle touring lark. For a lot of the trip A beer was the last thing I felt like when I arrived at the day’s destination. But now we’re managing the riding with more ease and consequently feeling more up for a post-ride ale. A rather expensive development, I might add!

This is not how to rehydrate!

 

I just had to have some fried grease with my salad...

Our overnight spot was a tiny park just outside town called the American Legion park. There was a pit-hole toilet, a hand pump for water and lots of picnic tables. Due to the mosquitoes, today was the first day on the trip when I wasn’t really able to take any sort of a shower/wash. Our sleep was somewhat delayed by the hundreds of cows in the fields surrounding our park area that seemed to be totally panicked (or was it delighted?) by our presence and were trying to scream for help (or shout hello?), obviously with little success.

View across the road from our camping spot

 

Day 56 – Now we’re just being spoilt!

(75 miles)

Fortunately, as we were heading back south-west today, the winds had died down overnight. We started with a stiff 2000 foot climb first thing – but these climbs are getting easy these days. Most of the ride after that followed a river down a wide valley. We had a bit of headwind but nothing like yesterday.

Beautiful views everywhere

 

Montana is beautiful

Our plan was to stay overnight in Dillon which has a population of about 3000 (a large town for the TransAm route). Again we did the usual: food, library, puncture repair (I’d had a nagging slow-puncture for a couple of days which I finally got round to patching).

The hero of the day was Pat, who, while Matt and I were faffing in the library, started calling local churches to see if they’d let us stay for the night. On the second call, he spoke to a woman who said she’d try to get hold of the pastor to check. A short while later she rang back and said why don’t we just stay at her house! Why not indeed!

That evening was an awesome example of the spontaneous kindness of strangers that cycle tourers often experience. We arrived at George and Mary-Jo’s house (3 miles out of town) and were immediately shown our rooms (a double bedroom each!) and handed a cold beer. After showers we sat down to a fantastic meal of Elk steak, potatoes, salad fresh from George’s garden and wine. And ice-cream for dessert! Loving the ice-cream on this trip – I’ll miss that when this is all over!

It was so much fun to chat to George and Mary-Jo and their other spontaneous dinner guest, Nino. We were slightly in awe of their kids, all grown up and left home, who seem to be the most high-flying, multi-talented bunch ever! Talking about something other than cycle-touring is a treat in itself these days.

Nino gave us all little Montana pins (badges). I now have one for Kentucky and one for Montana and I’m wishing I’d got one from every state we passed through. Does it count if I order them online afterwards?!

(From left) Nino, George, Mary-Jo

 

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?

 

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