Days 64-66: The One and Only Yellowstone

This post, written one year after day 66, is drawn from the daily journal I kept, and is written as if it just happened.

July 25 – July 27

Colter Bay Campground, Grand Teton National Park, WY >>> Madison Jct, Yellowstone National Park, WY

180 miles

14. Grand Teton to Yellowstone

IMG_8294 (Edited)
One last look at the Tetons.  Photo credit: Carl

Yellowstone is amazing!!  I figured all the thermal features would be present outside the park and the park would just be an overrun, crowded nightmare.  I’d also heard horror stories about riding in the park – as Carl keeps saying, anyone with a pulse can rent an RV.  Even the ranger at the park entrance warned us of the terrible drivers.  After three days here, all preconceptions have been smashed.

We biked to Yellowstone…just let that sink in 🙂  Photo credit: Carl
Photo credit: Carl

The day we entered Yellowstone was a slow start – it was only a 40 mile ride to Grant Village – easy morning with a lovely ride up to the continental divide again.  We crossed it about five more times while in Yellowstone.

The forest gave way to open fields and spotted clumps of trees as we coasted down the side of the caldera.  Around 3PM we entered Yellowstone and followed the Snake River from a canyon floor passed it’s waterfall, along its wide marsh state, finally reaching its origin: Lewis Lake.  It was on this entrance road where we encountered the worst drivers in the whole park – I assume folks were tired of driving and impatient to get to their campsite.  If it’s like this on a Monday afternoon, I’d hate to see it on a weekend morning.

Dinner in Grant Village was, as expected, awful but the ice cream tower made up for it.

Yesterday we rode the 42 miles from Grant Village to Madison Jct – I was wiped by the end.  While 42 miles isn’t that far, all the walking in the sun around the geysers and hot springs was exhausting.  But they were spectacular.

First was Old Faithful.  Yes, there were tons of people, but they were half the fun!  The eruption was even more exciting with the collective anticipation and growing ooooh’s and ahh’s as the water got higher and higher.

Half the crowd around Old Faithful
Photo credit: Rachel

We walked most of the upper geyser basin – I was not aware of this extensive network’s existence until yesterday.  All the oranges and blues are so aesthetically pleasing, and the whole place is fascinating and terrifying – one misstep and you’ll be boiled alive by magma heated water.20160726_12450020160726_130031

We kept running into an Australian family with three daughters on a year long round the world trip.  They introduced themselves by asking if I knew my sunglasses were broken – which prompted me to finally buy a new pair at Old Faithful.  The oldest daughter (maybe 8-10) Annika was super smart.  She asked a lot of really thoughtful questions we’ve not had yet (like an idiot I didn’t write any down and now I can’t remember what they were).  The youngest, Elke, was 4 and she was ridiculous in the most entertaining way.  She kept telling me I had a small face and that hers was bigger.  At one point she grabbed the back of my head and pressed our faces together.  After a moment, she let go and definitely declared, my face is bigger than yours!  I opened my mouth to disagree and just shut it – can’t argue with a 4 year old.

After the geysers came the Sapphire Pool.  Carl and Rachel walked up to some falls, but I hung back.  I was already getting pretty tired and we still had 15 miles to go.20160726_154002

The Grand Prismatic Spring was, you guessed it, incredible.  I wish some of the boardwalks could have more of a birds eye view.  There were lots of hats in the cauldron area.  We speculated as to whether those were too dangerous for park staff to retrieve or if that was just one day’s worth of lost hats.20160726_170554

A major perk of biking through Yellowstone is how much easier it is to actually see the sights.  At all these points of interest, we lock our bikes to a tree or post right by the feature.  The cars have to circle until a parking spot – in the tiny lots – opens up.  They really need to get a shuttle/bus system here like they have in Yosemite.  Another perk are the hiker/biker campgrounds – they can’t turn us away, so there’s no worries about trying to reserve a site really far in advance.  They’ve been in every National Park so far – I don’t know why information about them on their websites is so scant.  I think I prefer biking the National Parks.

Photo credit: Carl’s GoPro

After the lovely, tiring day we finally made it to Madison Jct.  Somehow we all were under the impression it would be similar to Grant Village – pretty build up with showers and food options, etc.  There was nothing.  John, back in Dubois, probably told us there were no amenities here, and we were just too tired to process it at the time.  We didn’t really have enough in our panniers for four meals – we are here two nights.  Carl asked around camp if anyone was driving into West Yellowstone (14 miles west).  One guy very generously offered to just take one of us.  Carl volunteered Rachel.  He had two daughters that would be going, and Rachel, with her British accent and storytelling was sure to be a hit.

I went down to the river to wash off – there was a guy in the water looking very relaxed.  I stepped into the freezing cold river – how was that guy lounging in this?!  When he left, I investigated.  Sure enough, 100 ft downstream, a river from up the mountain – getting fed by the hot springs – joined the valley river.  It was glorious.

Upon returning to camp Rachel also returned with food!  She apologized for being delayed and explained there had been wildlife on the road – a bear and a moose!  What?!  She said the girls were so excited and I had to come talk to them – they wanted to tell me all about it.  As I’m walking over I realized, wait, they aren’t going to be crossing the road together, was the bear eating the moose?!  This was confirmed excitedly by the girls.  What?! How far away?!  We were sleeping in nylon tents after all….then slowly, the wheels of my brain started working…do bears eat moose?  I don’t think so….It was all a tall tale and I’d bought it, hook line, and sinker.  So did Carl.

We picnicked around the fire with our french biker neighbor.  He mostly chatted with Carl and Rachel – I was too tired and feeling antisocial.  I think another reason I’m not in love with the TransAm or into solo touring is talking with all the other bikers.  It’s just the same conversation over and over – when did you start, where are you going, etc.  These are the same questions non bikers ask, but with fellow bikers it doesn’t end because you keep running into them and sharing campsites.  The past few weeks I’ve had no desire to talk with strangers at the end of the day – perk of being with a group!  They can talk for me.

Riding through steam.  Photo credit: Carl’s GoPro

Today we left everything in Madison Jct and did a beautifully unloaded out-and-back ride to Mammoth Hot Springs.  We departed sometime between 7 and 8AM.  The rangers make coffee that the hikers/bikers can have at 7 so Carl wasn’t missing that.  We were pleased the majority of the 35 miles to Mammoth were uphill – Carl was still struggling and this meant we’d be able to coast back into camp at the end of the day.

Artist Paint Pots

We popped in on the Artist Paint Pots on the way.  Their glub blub popping noises were quite humorous to me.  Here’s a video of them someone else posted.

All day yesterday and this morning we had a great shoulder.  It ended at some construction, but everything turned out in our favor.  As several miles were down to one lane, traffic was held up on each side until the opposing line could make it through.  Since we were in the back, we rode for miles without a single car coming up behind us.  When the first car did arrive, it came with hundreds all at once, so we just pulled into a turn out and waited for them all to pass.  I always assumed all the national parks have narrower roads because it’s some sort of conservation/low impact rule, but a ranger explained they just haven’t been updated since the 40’s.  Now Yellowstone was widening its roads to meet current federal standards.  Yay for a shoulder around all of Yellowstone!

Just in case I was starting to give the impression Yellowstone is super pleasant to bike in.  I would prefer to ride than drive, but it probably isn’t for the novice biker 🙂  Photo credit: Carl’s GoPro

Then we enjoyed a long coast down the mountain to Mammoth – I tried not to think about climbing it on our way back.  Watch this video.  Carl captured many descents on his GoPro, but I think this one best captures what coasting down a mountain feels like.  Watch it on the biggest screen you have.

Mammoth is insane.  Before we even walked the paths, Carl found a magic elk who told him where to find wifi.  The visitor’s center.  Since we haven’t had service in a week, I took the opportunity to call Joel using Facebook Messenger, I can’t believe I never noticed/tried the phone icon!  We could have talked all through Canada or anywhere we had wifi!  I also sent Abby an email.  She’d emailed two days ago to say they were rejoining the route – there wasn’t a shorter or better way to get to Missoula.  They rode through Madison Junction yesterday, but they’re not trying to reunite with us.  I allowed myself to momentarily (and privately) be smug about being right regarding the route – but it was only a moment.  Now that they were back and still didn’t want to meet up it was like being rejected a second time.  I needed to know why they’d left.  It was eating at me.  So I just asked.

The magical elk guiding Carl to the wifi.  Photo credit: Carl

The hot springs were incredible – 100 ft tall?  100’s of feet tall?  From the signs we knew all the white masses/formations were clumps of two types of dead and dried out bacteria.  Carl and I then started speculating why some formed steps and others looked like piles of pillows.  I think one type of bacteria lives on the surface and another on the bottom.  When they die they form these crusts – the bottom bacteria just pile up and form the pillows, and the surface bacteria floats until it hits an edge forming the steps.  Carl thinks it’s minerals precipitating out of the water – some float, some sink, and the two bacteria just live on them.  We never did find out.

Mammoth Hot Springs. Pillows on the left, steps on the right.  Photo credit: Carl
“Mammoth” is not an understatement. Photo credit: Carl
Mammoth continues to grow – it’s taken over this tree’s territory.  Also, see the floating dead bacteria?  I like our step formation theories.

The ride out of the valley wasn’t bad at all – it was enjoyable actually.  It’s all just so pretty!20160727_162707

We watched clouds form, then some freezing driving rain hit us…and I realized the fly was not on my tent.

Photo credit: Carl’s GoPro

Everything was soaked – my poor tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad and clothes.  Carl bought two boxes of firewood and I started drying everything out.  Drying and eating and talking to the new bikers.  There was a really old couple from New Zealand – maybe in their late 70’s?  The man looked like he’d been struggling, but he was powering through.  There was also a solo rider from Germany, Marius.  As I introduced myself he recognized me from the youtube video I made!  He said a friend had forward it and he’d thought about coming with us but decided on a different route, and he wanted to go solo.  But I’m famous! Haha.

I did eventually get everything dried out and slept comfortably

Next post: Days 67-72: A Golden Birthday and Happy Reunion


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