Monday, October 3, 2011

Days 65-71: Riding the Oregon Trail, and Show Me Your Tetons


9/27 Day 65: Lamont, WY to Sweetwater Station, WY 54 miles (3217 miles)
       
A sample of the expanse in Wyoming.
          Early in the morning hours, we heard a car pull away, and when we saw L.B. later- holding a huge, holstered revolver- she explained that Wilson had left, and that she was glad of it. He had been certainly a little on the sketchy side, but hadn't done us any harm (he blessed us with shamanistic magic!), but he had mixed up his stories a few times, and was very unspecific about who he was, where he was going, and why. He was an enigma and clearly fallen on hard times, and apparently, the Native Americans around here have a bit of an unsavory reputation and an Indian fellow actually stole the owner's cell phone at Anna Lope's Cafe when we were having dinner the night before. After we said our goodbyes to L.B., and shook the teepee dust from our gear, we headed back to Anna Lope's for breakfast before hitting the road again. We had some delicious, and gigantic pancakes to start the day, and soon we were off. The day was not looking to be pleasant riding at all from the start- we had a strong westerly wind blowing in our faces by 11AM, and it slowed us to 8 or 9 mph for most of the day. We fought through the wind for a few hours until 30 something miles had gone by and we were in Jeffrey City.
            Jeffrey City is another in a long string of towns we've seen that is a near-abandoned husk of what it used to be when mining and industry were booming in this part of the state. Jeffrey City was once a bustling town of nearly 5,000 residents when the uranium mines nearby were still open, but, predictably, when the ore dried up so did the jobs; when the jobs dried up, people began to leave and present day Jeffrey City is a town of 100 folks (if you count dogs and cats twice). We stopped at the only bar in town, the Split Rock Cafe, and found the bartender, the daughter of the owner, to be a very genial, young woman who immediately engaged us in conversation about Wyoming and are surrounding her town. We had passed Split Rock (the actual geological structure) earlier in the day, and learned that it had long been a landmark in westward travel since the very first settlers blazed the Emigrant Road- which later became called the Oregon Trail. Later in American history, Split Rock was the site of a Pony Express relay station until the Pony Express's short life ended and the telegraph made it obsolete.
       At the Split Rock Cafe, we complained of the strong wind over tacos (it being Taco Tuesday, of course) and were told by the bartender that 25 miles an hour was merely a breeze in this part of the country. "If the wind ever stopped here, we'd all fall over," he joked. In the 'windy season' the winds can be more than twice as strong, but that was sorry consolation at the time. After eating our fill of tacos, we went across the street to the local potter's shop, a run-down property with all manner of detritus strewn across the yard and obscured by a brightly painted trailer that sat out front. We met Byron, the potter, and after Mandi and Erin bought a couple pieces of his work, we got to chatting. Among other things, he mentioned that he had bought the building that served as his family's home and his studio for $5,000 dollars, and that the trailer out front was available for cyclists passing through if we'd like to stay. We declined the offer, hoping to make it a few more miles down the road, and bid him farewell. From Jeffrey City, we rode the remaining 18 miles into the gale on to Sweetwater Station- it took us a little over two hours, and by the time we arrived we were all seriously bushed.
        Sweetwater Station is basically a rest stop on the highwayside, and we camped at a historical preservation site nearby commemorating the Mormons' journey along the Mormon Trail to Salt Lake City from points east. They had used carts pulled by hand instead of by pack animals, and lots of them died in blizzards- so we had a campsite. As we were making camp that night, we realized that Montana was getting close, and that once we crossed into that state we'd have only about 1,000 miles to go. We were nearly in the home stretch. We rinsed off in the sinks at the rest area, made some dinner, and fell asleep quickly. Out in the middle of the Wyoming near-desert, the coyotes were yipping, yowling, and otherwise coyodeling all through the night in what has now become a familiar nocturnal serenade under the intensely bright stars.

9/28 Day 66: Sweetwater Station, WY to Mountainview Campground, Lander, WY 50 miles (3267 miles)

             We started our day with very little enthusiasm, since there was, yet again, little to look forward to. All we could do was hope to have the wind at our backs, because the scenery did not threaten to change for a few days and the towns would be very few and far between. We scrambled out of the Mormon Handcart historic site early to avoid any chance of having to pay to stay there, and made breakfast a half mile down the road at the rest area there. We had realized the night before that we had been riding for a full week, but wouldn't be able to take a day off until we were through Yellowstone, because many of the park's services and campgrounds would be closing after the coming weekend. We were also determined to press on because the following week the weather was predicted to take a turn for the worse in Yellowstone, which is supposed to be one of the coldest places in the contiguous U.S. So, between a rock and a cold place, we resolved to ride until Montana and take a break there.
            The day's ride went extremely smoothly, since we managed to cover about 40 miles in three hours thanks to the long, fast downhills between us and Lander. The terrain was still the same: high, beige hills and cliffs, covered in sagebrush, but the heights before our descents offered up commanding views that were very scenic and possessing their own brand of beauty. Once in Lander, we took the chance to stock up on food, do laundry, send out some mail, and generally finally get some things done in the first reasonably sized town we'd seen in a while. Lander was a very productive and relaxing stop, which made us all feel a bit better after the hard, but short mileage slog we'd had the day before. We had resolved that since we couldn't afford to lose a whole day to rest, we would simply do shorter mileage until we could take a break, so as not to burn out.
       We left Lander with full bags and gladder hearts, and only a short ride to camp. Just a few miles outside of Lander, we entered the Wind River Indian Reservation, a huge 4.5 million acre parcel of land set aside for the primarily Arapaho and Shoshone residents who live there under federal protection. It also wasn't long, then, until we ran into our first casino, the Shoshone Rose. We decided since we were running ahead of schedule for the day, and because camp was only a couple miles away, we could stop in and try pay for our stay with slots and blackjack. We set a $5 limit for ourselves and had fun running around the place drawing a lot of strange looks, as usual, because of our spandex and strange mode of transport, and losing our money. Erin and I lost all our money, while Mandi broke even and Ben hit the jackpot on some slot machine with his last 30 cents that nabbed him $17. We enjoyed ourselves, and could have spent more time gambling, but knew we should move along before someone had to pawn their bike to pay their debts.  What followed was a quick pedal to camp where Luanne, a very sweet and talkative woman probably in her 70s, showed us around the place and made sure we were all aware of the campground's unique bathroom rules. Once apprised of the toilet flushing situation, we pitched our tents, showered off, and bedded down.

9/29 Day 67: Lander, WY to Dubois, WY 67 miles (3334 miles)

            In the morning, Luanne had a pot of coffee ready to go for us promptly at 8AM, along with a batch of sourdough pancake batter, a few pieces of toast, and a lot of conversation. We spent the whole meal talking about astrology (Luanne and I have the same birthday), reincarnation, family, life, and how the fact that Ben is a Scorpio means he must have constant sexual urges. Imagine a 5 foot tall elderly woman asking, "Ben... do you have constant urges for sex?" that had us all laughing pretty hard over our breakfast. Luanne was a gem, and made our morning a memorable one- she cut us a deal on the price of our repast, and sent each of us off with a big hug. Well fed and feeling good, we hit the road to Dubois. Now, for some reason, in Wyoming they don't pronounce Dubois "Dew-BWAH," but "DEW-boyz." So, naturally, we spent most of the day's riding making jokes about the Dubois Fire Department, what we would do when we finally got to Dubois, and the general activities of the residents of that small mountain town.
The red cliffs begin to appear in Wyoming, Mandi walks away.
        A few miles down the road from the Mountainview Campground and Luanne's little cafe there, we found a little Native American trading post with all kinds of crafts and knick-knacks. We perused their selection from wool blankets, to absurd t-shirts depicting anthropomorphized wildlife in traditional Indian garb, to shiny rocks and brick-a-brack. We left with a few small things and continued to follow the road as it led us back uphill past Crowheart Butte, the Beaver Rim, and, slowly, into the mountains again. The Wind River seemed to have a near magical effect on the landscape. What was once merely drab flats in all directions was now carved up here and there into small canyons and cliffs, and small fire-red and amber-orange willowsand cottonwoods grew by the water's edge. The cliffs began to soar around us as we climbed, and in a few places, the stones themselves were red as fire-engines. We zig-zagged across the river and up, up closer to its source. We stopped at the roadside for a lunch of peanut butter, trail mix, and bagel sandwiches, then continued to ride.
      When we got to Dubois, we ate at the Cowboy Cafe where we all had their burger, beer, and dessert special for $12, wich included the best and biggest piece of German chocolate pie a la mode ever created. We then rolled over to the town KOA and settled in to an unimpressive tent site for an impressive fee. We showered off, and found our way into our tents as the darkness and chill set in around us.


9/30 Day 68: Dubois, WY to Signal Mountain Campground, Grand Teton National Park, WY 55 miles (3389 miles)

Our first glimpse of the Tetons.
           It had been a cold night, one of the coldest we've yet seen, and we again had a bunch of ice all over the campsite, ground, bikes, and gear. We dawdled around the campground while the sun melted and dried out our tents, Ben and Mandi went for a coffee and donuts run while we squared the campsite away. We scarfed the donuts and coffee while we checked out the route for the day. We had a long climb in front of us up the Togwotee Pass, our second highest pass of the trip at 9,600 ft, about 30 miles down the road. We packed up our gear and started to leave town, but didn't get far because of the giant jackalope in one of the local gas stations transfixed us and forced us to check it out. The jackalope is some kind of taxidermist's mad creation: a mishmash of coyote pelts over some combination of stuffed deer, plaster of paris, and whatever else- and you can have your picture taken riding it, if you're under 450 lbs. Erin and Mandi took their turns saddling up on the jackalope, we got our pictures, and promptly went to the donut shop to get more donuts for the top of the pass.
       The next 28 miles were slow, as we gained about 2,000 feet of elevation, but we had plenty to look at as several peaks loomed around us, and the Wind River provided ample, colorful scenery and kept us company up the hill to its source. We ground out the miles slowly at around 5mph, and were in for a surprise when we got about 1.5 miles from the top. There is a six year construction project nearing the end of its third year on the roads over Togwotee Pass, and the top is currently considered impassable for bicycles- so we were forced to put our bikes in the 'pilot truck' and accept a ride over the dirt and rock road. I was not thrilled with this, because I wanted to crest the pass under my own power, but we all took it stoically as a nice freebie. We weren't allowed to refuse the ride, and once I saw the terrain we were driven over, I no longer had any reservations about its necessity. We were ferried about 2 miles up and over the peak and down the other side a bit, where we stopped for a nice donut break. We then rolled down the 6% grade until we ran into yet another construction zone, this one robbing us of 7 miles of fast, fun downhill riding we'd already pedaled uphill to earn. Again, we had no choice, so on we rolled. At this point, however, the Tetons came into view.
Us in front of Jackson Lake and the Tetons.
           Many, many people had told us that the Grand Tetons were spectacular beyond imagining, "you'll flip when you see them," or "they are what mountains should look like," and other similar statements. We assumed in our long labor up the pass that the mountains we were seeing around us were the Tetons, and while they were nice, we crested the pass and had coasted down generally unimpressed. However, when we did see the Tetons silhouetted by the sun, and through the haze of the several forest fires now burning in the surrounding National Forests, we knew what we were seeing- they were magnificent. As we descended further into Jackson Hole, we came closer and closer to the jagged, granite peaks that overshadow Jackson Lake. The Rockies were majestic, but the Tetons are another story altogether. The Rocky Mountains are geologically inactive, but the Tetons are still growing, and they lay in close proximity to Yellowstone, which is probably one of the most geologically active areas in the country. The mountains themselves aren't the tallest in the country, but they tower thousands of feet over the area surrounding them and seem to shoot right out of the lake that mirrors their rocky faces. We rode into the park and paid our ridiculous fee of $12 per bicyclist (it's $20 for a car with as many people as you can jam into it, and the car could have 40 bikes in tow, but it would still be 20 bucks- stupid) then made our way a couple miles off route to Signal Mountain Campground, right on Jackson Lake.
           The attendant at the campground was a friendly guy, and since the campgrounds all closed the next day, he didn't seem to care too much if we paid the full fee or not for camping so he charged us $5 and sent us on our way. We grabbed a few beers from the convenience store at the campground, cooked, and stowed our food/toiletries/etc in the bear-proof box on our campsite and settled in for the night in probably the most beautiful area I've had the good fortune of riding through in our entire trip.

10/1 Day 69: Signal Mtn. Campground, WY to Grant Village Lodge, Yellowstone National Park, WY 48 miles (3437 miles)
 
             We didn't rush to get up this morning, and a lot of it had to do with the fact that the sun was slow in getting up over the trees to find where our tents were pitched. We basically can't get moving in the morning until the sun's warmth finds us now, it's just uncomfortably cold. We moved in slow motion, but finally got to the campground entrance where the sun's rays could recharge and warm us- and we headed out, with a bit of a chill still in our bones. We were very excited, though, to continue our ride through this part of the country which I'm convinced is the icing on the cake for our ride. I'm so glad we decided to travel east to west and not west to east, because it gave us a chance to really appreciate all the states that have come before this to their fullest. If we had gone west to east, I never would have thought the picturesque, pastoral hills in Ohio, or the winding roads through the eroded, ancient granite of the Ozarks were as wonderful as I did, because they would have paled in comparison to my memory of these mountains. Now, I have an appreciation for the amazingly diverse ecosystems and terrain that our country is home to- the U.S. really has everything: high deserts, lush forests, expansive plains... it's been wonderful just to to see the variety of landscapes one country can hold.
Erin, Ben, and Mandi in front of the Firehole Cascades
 in Yellowstone.
          So, we headed north past Jackson Lake and all the peaks, and up (again) into Yellowstone. We had descended from 9,600 to around 7,000 feet. To get into Yellowstone, we had one climb up to 7,800 or so, then a drop back to 7,000 and another long climb back up to 8,000 right after. So, even though we planned for the day to be a short one, in miles, in turned out to be a but of a tedious day of climbing through the thickly packed forests of pine that blanket this side of the pass- what a change from the rest of Wyoming, it's hard to believe that these two parks are even on the same planet as the rest of the state. We worked up through the winding roads that are plagued by hordes- like thousands- of campers and RVs, and constantly looked around us at the wild, rugged scenery. The natural formations in Yellowstone seem to be so much bigger, grandiose that others we've seen before. The canyons and peaks and rivers all seem to have a bit of an edge, a bit more primal force, than what we've encountered already. The majesty of the area is, unfortunately, blunted and dimmed by the throngs of people driving huge, gas guzzling machines through the park, stopping only to surround any animal foolish enough to get near the road with cameras in hand. Yellowstone is the world's first national park. It is, in my estimation, the crown jewel of the state and national parks we have seen, but it is at once a triumph for conservancy and a sad milestone marking the beginning of the era where we, as a species, first needed to preserve nature from being destroyed by us rather than focus solely on preserving ourselves from being destroyed by nature. It comes as a rude surprise to us when natural disasters take chunks out of our crafted society, but is taken for granted that we can mold the "wilderness" as we so choose. Yellowstone is amazing, but as they say, a thing observed is a thing changed- the park is only as wild, natural, and amazing as we allow it to be, and the tourists can only see what the road goes through.
The crew with Ray at dinner in Grant Village.
The steaming waters of the hotsprings join the Firehole River.
          Regardless of my opinion, though, the park is well-kept, and extremely scenic. We had a couple of other things to look forward to for the day, beyond the sights. My friend and former co-worker, Ray, who also writes "The Road to Fermentation" blog on our blogroll about his motorcycle tour, was going to meet us up in Grant Village where we planned to stay in our first hotel of the trip; a decision we made partly from desire and partly from necessity, since most of the campgrounds in the park are closed for the season. We pushed through the park, stopping only to take pictures and read some of the informative plaques by the roadside, so that we could take full advantage of all the amenities we dreamed the hotel would offer. As it turns out, most of the things we wanted out of the over-priced "lodge" were either closed, like the laundry, didn't exist, like the pool and jacuzzi we imagined, or were expensive, like the restaurant. So, overall, we were pretty bummed, but then Ray showed up, and that went a long way to cheer us up. Ray generously bought us a bunch of beer, and even dinner, and he and I and Erin kept everyone awake til late in the night as we drank and talked about our respective trips around the nation. We eventually fell asleep, with little intention of getting up too early.

10/2 Day 70: Grant Village, WY to West Yellowstone, MT 54 miles (3491 miles)

Some amazing colored hotsprings.
          Our day didn't start until about 8 when we finally started stirring in our hotel room. One look out the window told us we were going to have at least a little bit of wet, cold riding to do. The five of us geared up and repacked our bikes, motor and otherwise, and Ray was the first one out the door, since we were going to eat a quick breakfast in the room of mediocre bagels and whatever else we had on hand. Ray had decided that he would hang out with us for another couple days, since he needed to do some writing himself and work on his bike a little bit, and we intended to take a day off in West Yellowstone when we arrived. So, Ray went ahead to town to scout out hotels (since there are no campgrounds) and we proceeded deeper into the park. It was probably around 45 degrees or so, and the rain was falling lightly at first, but picked up as we rode. We had our rain gear on, and it kept most of the wet from getting to us, but it was a long, chilly 17 miles up to the first of our two climbs for the day- one at 8,400 feet and the other at 8,200 feet with a large valley separating the two. The uphills were bearable, but the downhills were frigid. Eventually, the rain broke, and the sun came out just a few miles before we reached Old Faithful.
Wow! A Geyser!
Carry on my wayward bison.
        As we pulled up to the geyser, the day had turned around into another warm, sunny early fall day. We immediately spotted a pair of touring cyclists, Wim and Devon, chatting up some tourists by the geyser. We pulled up and introduced ourselves and fell to talking about bike touring right away. Wim is Dutch and Devin is a San Diegan, and the two happened to run into each other the day before, but both were traveling by bike from Alaska to Argentina. Wim headed off, but Devin, Erin, and I talked for probably a half hour, definitely a  nice, laid back guy. If you want to check out Wim and Devin's blogs, they are http://heebels.nl for Wim and Pedal the Unknown at http://www.bpd-devdub.blogspot.com for Devon. Ben and Mandi rolled up from the cafe, Devin headed out, and Erin and I went to get some food, too. We made it back just in time to see Old Faithful go off, which was almost as interesting as the sheer number of people sitting around on benches taking pictures of it going off. We rode on through the park, stopping to take pictures of the bison and elk we saw, the hot springs, rivers, and waterfalls as we went. The west part of the park was all downhill, and we steamed through it, ogling the natural wonder around us as we went.
Wim and Devin in front of Old Faithful.
     We spent most of the day in the park, and when we exited Yellowstone (and entered Montana) it was probably around 5 o clock or so. Ray met us up at the edge of town, then we went to grab some pizza and beer. West Yellowstone is a cute little town right on the edge of the park, and has more to offer than we've seen in what feels like forever. After eating, we grabbed a bunch of beer from the grocery and proceeded down the street to the hotel. This hotel had everything we could ask for, and we spent the evening zoning out watching T.V., soaking in the hot tub, and reaping our reward for two weeks of uninterrupted riding over almost a thousand miles. We figured out the sleeping arrangement in our crowded room and went to bed anticipating a nice rest.


10/3 Day 71: Day off in West Yellowstone



           We're spending the day dominating the hotel's continental breakfast, taking full advantage of their wi-fi, and wandering around West Yellowstone. Once I've updated the blog it's milkshake time, and then we're going to go check out the preserve in town that has a bunch of wolves and grizzlies who can't survive in the wild. We're thrilled to be in Montana, thanks for reading with us this far and keep checking the Tumblr and Flickr for updates.


1 comment:

  1. We were already planning a trip to Jackson Hole in February. Now I am even more excited to go!! Once again, the pictures are amazing.

    ReplyDelete