Friday, August 26, 2011

The Wonderful World of Yellowstone

Almost fifty days on the road now!  You can see my precise route for the last month HERE 

And if you missed it, you can see my route from the first leg of my trip HERE

For some reason, the default software for the Spot device only allows 1 month worth of waypoints to be shown on a single map.  I'm working on a way around this.  Anyone have ideas?

8/21/11 Day 43: Mammoth Hot Springs to Canyon, Yellowstone NP: 51 miles

Biking is being wonderful again. After a refreshing few days in Bozeman, with just the perfect balance of fun, relaxation and getting stuff prepared for departure, I left on a good note. My last day consisted of a no-frills tasty breakfast at the Stockyard, a cafe which specializes in cutting the #*!% out of food service. Much of the rest of the day was spent buying food, planning routes and maintaining the bike.

I awoke on the morning of my departure from an inspiring dream, which I sat down and wrote about for a couple of hours in a very clear and concise manner. I hope to share my inspiration with you soon.

That day, even though I didn't leave until shortly after noon, I rode 85 miles and felt better than ever. Much of that ride was flat, following the Yellowstone river into the park with a ridge of craggy mountains to my left, bits of snow still clinging to their peaks. My bike, after a thorough cleaning and truing of the rear wheel (it had developed a slight wobble), sailed smoothly, despite the 2 flat tires that I patched that day. I averaged 18 mph on the flats. I jumped into the cool, green waters of the Yellowstone river at around 5 pm, and rode into the park at sunset, to climb 850 feet in the last 5 miles to Mammoth Hot springs campground. There, I met a French cyclist named Nicolas, who I am camping with again tonight. He is a very genuine human being.

This morning, I made my way down to the Boiling River and had a dip where it meets with the Gardiner River. Boiling River comes out of the ground about 60 feet from the Gardiner river, at a temperature between 130 and 150 degrees Fahrenheit. The Gardiner river is fed by snow-melt from the high places of Yellowstone, and is much cooler, though not biting this time of year. Where the two come together, a very popular wading area has been developed with stacked rock walls. It took me 20 minutes to hike there from the campground, and I soaked for about the same amount of time. Crowds funneled in as I left. Boiling River is not on any official park map and there are no signs for it, yet it is still a huge attraction. I heard about it from 2 people before I got into the park, and it seems like word of mouth is all that it takes for an attraction like this to be super popular. I think it is the only place left in the park where people are allowed to soak in hot water.

Back on the bike, I took in the main natural feature of the Mammoth Hotsprings area, the Upper and Lower Terraces. These terraces, many of which are still actively being formed, have been created by years of flowing mineral water building up layer upon layer of yellow-white rock. Where the water is still flowing, it forms beautiful, clear-blue pools and shimmering thin layers of wetness covering bumpy, wavy formations.

I decided to take the long way to my next destination, because it looked on the map like there were more interesting features to see. Heading east from Mammoth, I started climbing uphill over creeks and past waterfalls. Soon, I was high enough to start getting some pretty amazing views. The scale of Yellowstone, like Glacier, is hard to capture in photographs. There is so much space between things, and no sign of civilization to give any of it perspective. I passed through several vegetation zones, including dry, grassy fields with clumps of sagebrush scattered about, rich green woodlands with stream-lets running here and there, and tall, solemn forests of lodge-pole pine, with little else around.

After stopping at 132 ft tower falls (a very popular destination) around 4 pm, I had 2600 feet to climb in 10 miles to make it over 8859 foot Dunraven pass. This was the most serious hill of my journey so far, and the highest I have ever been on a bicycle. The first 6 miles of the hill were at a 7% grade, and I switched back and forth between my second and third lowest gears. As I rounded a blind corner crossing over a ridge, a strong headwind found me in its path, and raindrops sprinkled lightly. The looks on people's faces in the cars going slowly in the opposite direction ranged from blank to utter disbelief as they watched me push further up the windy, rainy mountain. A few hundred feet in front of me, cars were stopped on the roadway, and I could see two people struggling to remove a log from the road. Apparently, a tree had just fallen across the roadway moments before. I took in this scene, and looked around at the forest of lodge-pole skeletons that surrounded me. A large fire burned through the area in 1988, and now, all the trees that had died were beginning to topple over. I could hear the distinct sound of wood creaking and groaning in the strong wind that now surrounded me. Though I never felt in immanent danger, I did hear another tree fall in the woods about 100 yards from the road. Large “crack” noises followed by many smaller ones and and final thud to the ground.

A few miles from the summit, I stopped for a break and several tourists who had seen me earlier asked about my trip, and requested to take a picture with me, which I obliged. The wind calmed, the rain never really set in, and I sailed smoothly down the backside of the mountain to camp at the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. After setting up my tent and putting my food into the bear box, I whisked off on my now weightless bike to catch some sunset vistas of the Canyon. In addition to great views of the canyon, I also got to see an osprey nest from above, with several chicks. A German lady talked with me enthusiastically about my tour. She had biked through Yellowstone twice before, but was in a car this time.

After dinner, a Chinese girl who calls herself Florence joined Nicolas and I for some lively discussion on travel, culture, and politics. Born and raised in China, Florence is studying architecture at Columbia University in New York, and had hitch-hiked into the park from Cody, Wyoming, where she flew into the day before. The perspective from French, American and Chinese cultures on our discussion had us talking late into the night.

8/23/11 Day 45: Madison campground to Grant Village, Yellowstone NP: 45 miles

Yesterday, I set out fairly early in the morning after staying up quite late the night before, and it caught up to me in the afternoon. I had early ambitions of covering 65 miles of hilly terrain in addition to taking in the main hydro-thermal features of Yellowstone, including Old Faithful geyser. I made it to the Norris Geyser Basin before noon, and was impressed by the range and beauty of the features there. Though I only walked about 1/3 of the easy trails at that location, I was excited for what lay beyond, and I left, hurriedly, to try and squeeze everything else into my day. I should have stayed and seen the rest of the features there, and I regret not taking my time.

From Norris, I followed the Gibbon river through meadows and canyons, past the Artists Paint pots, where I took many pictures of the awesome colors that surround the hot-springs and mud-pots. Most of the fantastic greens and oranges that make the springs so awesome to look at are due to micro-organisms called thermophiles. These heat-loving little guys are everywhere in Yellowstone, and make for excellent scenery, as well as being at the bottom of the food chain for a great many other organisms.

At around 2 pm, after a mostly down-hill day, my energy level began to dip. The scenery was excellent, the attractions well worthwhile, and yet, I wasn't feeling up to seeing the highest concentration of famous features. It was a hot day, and when I stopped at the Madison picnic area, I felt like immediately taking a nap. So I followed my instinct, and checked into a campsite at 2:30 in the afternoon, where I promptly took a nap for 2 hours. Afterward, I took a refreshing dip in the Gibbon river, sewed up my ailing shirt and shoes, and made a good dinner while chatting with another cyclist, Dave, from Salt Lake city. We attended the campfire program that evening on “Yellowstone's other predators” where we learned about Otters, Coyotes, Bobcats and Lynx. I slept well that night.

Today was filled with geysers, mud-pots, hot-springs and fumaroles (steam vents). I stopped at 4 different hydro-thermal basins, watched Old Faithful shoot 200 feet in the air along with 1000 other people, and took a great load of photos. Crystalline structures in hot flowing streams; deep, dark emerald pools which seemed bottomless; orange thermophile covered edges of pools which seemed painted onto the landscape and loads of steam rising up from giant pools of clear-blue water, as well as from the tiniest vents in the most unexpected places. An active landscape to be sure.

Tonight, I am camped at Grant Village on the shore of Yellowstone Lake. Sharing a campsite with me are a young couple from Montreal who are backpacking/busing their way around the US for a month until they have to go back to school. Apparently, Greyhound sells an unlimited 1 month pass that allows the holder to go anywhere in Canada and the US during that time. They have already been to San Diego, Portland and Jackson before heading into Yellowstone. Another man, in his late 40s or early 50s, is also cycling the park. He will stay in the park for several weeks, and then go home to Connecticut.
8/24/11 Day 46: Grant Village Yellowstone NP to Coulter Bay, Grand Teton NP: 42 miles

The ride out of Yellowstone was just as impressive as the rest of the park. After a small climb, I followed the Lewis River on the only road south, which runs right into Grand Teton National Park. The Lewis River canyon, which grew deeper as I pedaled, is quite spectacular, and I was awed many times by the great views. As I dropped in elevation, forests of lodge-pole pine turned into mixed evergreens, and great meadows of multicolored wild flowers soaked up the sun and danced in the wind showing their rainbow of petals to all who passed.

My first glimpses of the Tetons revealed their craggy, snowy peaks shrouded in a blanket of what looked like fog, but I later found out was smoke from several large wildfires nearby. Cruising into Coulter bay, I established camp, and then went for a swim in Jackson lake with a majestic view of the Tetons as a backdrop. At the visitor center, I watched an excellent film on the wolves of Yellowstone, which were reintroduced in 1995 and are doing very well.

I have realized that on this trip I will see more faces in the cars passing me than I will any other way. Perhaps I have already seen more faces than most people do in twice the time living in a big city. Cycling opposite cars is different from passing people walking on the streets in that everyone looks me in the face. Not only is this good driving safety, but I think it is also out of curiosity and interest in how I'm feeling, riding my bike in a place where 99.99% of people are driving. Once in a while I'll see a face and my mind starts telling me a story about that person's life: what they have just done or where they are going. This is interesting, and even entertaining when the traffic is light. Road construction, which I have ridden through half a dozen times now, is a particularly interesting time to look at people's faces because they are going very slow, and most of them look bewildered as to why I would be riding a bicycle through road construction. Another interesting time for me to look at people's faces has been pulling into some of the larger parking areas to look as the features of Yellowstone. I often get looks of amazement combined with a big smile. It is not uncommon for a stranger to acknowledge me with a “good job” or a “good luck” as I'm pulling in or out of places. I wonder how best to leave a positive impression of cyclists, and myself, on all of these people. I think in most cases, our interactions are too short and disconnected. But my hope is that somewhere, a 10 year old kid sitting in the backseat of a car saw me pushing up the last few feet of a mountain pass and was inspired, and dreams of doing the same.

8/25/11 Day 47: Coulter Bay, Grand Teton NP to Jackson, WY, 45 miles

Once again, I have arrived at the comfortable, relaxed home of friends after 5 nights in the woods. The Tetons wowed me at every turn. I realized, on my way out of the park, that I have actually camped in Grand Teton NP twice before, during my summers working for Wilderness Ventures, but the campground we stayed in was the farthest away from the Tetons themselves (and the closest to the town of Jackson), so my views of the mountains were always from a distance. I took Teton Park Road for much of my ride, which not only brought me close to the mountains, but set me riding straight at them for quite a while. As they grew larger, my neck craned back further, and the shutter on my camera snapped again and again. Details popped out in the bright sunlight that never would have shown had I stayed back. Despite all of the angles I tried to get, I don't know if I've done the Tetons justice.

I am staying at the home of Brad Walsh and Doug Hayden, who both worked for NAL once upon a time. They are tucked into a corner of Jackson, and have made a comfortable life here, both working for a group home for young people. Brad arrived back from an attempt to climb the Grand Teton a few hours after I arrived, and told stories of lightning and lack of sleep that made them turn around about 400 feet from the summit. I cooked up a tasty dinner with what I could find in the kitchen, and we shared laughs and smiles and went to bed at a reasonable hour.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Greg,
    I've read all your posts. I just wanted to say that this one is my favorite so far. I wish I could partake in your trip somehow, so if you can think of a way I can help, please let me know.