So, let’s see, we left off in Ennis, Montana the other day. We rolled out of town with some great tailwinds and the miles just blew by. I had to stop for water (yes everyone, I am being very mindful about staying hydrated) in a teensy town called Cameron. I was given a mighty “Welcome to Cameron, Montana!” as I entered the bar by the building’s five occupants, who were chowing down on a delicious looking meal. One was an avid cycle tourist himself, and was happy to meet me.
The barman had me go out back to RV campspots to fill my water, but I vowed to go back in an give out a few Within Biking Distance cards to the folks inside after filling up, but before I could, they came pouring out of the bar and just had to ask what the mailbox was all about. So, naturally, everyone got to meet Beefy and he got lots of pets & treats out of it. This is actually how we end up talking to a lot of people.
Finally we cleared out though, and biked through some gorgeous views, with rain always somewhere on the horizon (and once a beautiful, yet short rainbow). The rain was always in sight, but never seemed tk be above us. What can I say, we’re charmed…
We found a perfect ditch campsite, just after the turnoff to a “money-money” state park campground, set up camp early, and climbed into the tent to play maps, eat PB&J bagels (the jelly aspect thanks to the unwitting diner back in Ennis… sorry, can’t resist free tableside jams), and get our snooze on.
In the morning we headed out, and took the road past Quake Lake, wherein Stink stopped to dunk & wash her hair during our lunch break. It was crazy buggy out there and all the little gitters kept getting in my PB and on my bagel, but I suffered no serious mosquito bites so was pleased with the results.
We rode on, & ahead saw two tourists coming our way and cross the road to come chat with us. They were Steven & Jonn, two younger guys from Virgina, who looked so fresh & clean & had so little crap packed all over their bikes, that we had to ask, “What’s your tour style?” to which we got the answer to our question: they had raised money beforehand to be able to eat out for the duration of their trip. So at their second month of travel, they looked quite fresher than us two, who had been traveling for less than three weeks. I am sure there are other factors, but I like to think about it in those terms.
They were real nice dudes, and Stink was able to pass off this rubber ducky I had found on the side of the road to them. Steven quickly named him Herbert & actually enjoyed him, unlike soooomebody, who thought the duck a mere nuisance… not naming names.
Finally we said bye to our new-found friends and scooted along. To our luck, we also met up with the Cotton-Eyed-Joes (an older couple we kept seeing touring around, sometimes in different directions than the last time, so that we didn’t know where did they come from, where did they go?), and finally got their names & route (Steve & Patty, going from Missoula to Colorado, I believe). So I rode with them for a bit chatting, then went on my merry way to catch up to Stink. We then got to talk & speculate all about the people we had met that day, which proves mighty interesting on the road.
Stink found a men’s XXL down Patagonia jacket on the roadside (score!) and we finished up our ride by rolling into West Yellowstone (the fairly touristy, and I mean like, the camera wielding, RV renting type touristy, town and hit up a McDonald’s for free wifi, apple pie, and french fries. America, yo, America.
After blowing that place up for several hours, pointedly ignoring the “Please limit the duration of your stay to a 20-30 minute meal” sign, and abusing their bathroom (TMI? sorry), we rolled out to the grocery store down the road. We held off buying much, because of the inflated tour-town price of everything, but did go in for a box of chocolate graham crackers , a small loaf of pumpernickel bread, & a couple apples to tide us over through Yellowstone. I swiftly noticed that they had no over-ripe bananas on display & deduced that their dumpster would be bountiful. Yet, when we went out back to check, it was too overflowing with trashbags (and oddly enough, copiers & fax machines) to do much digging. Give it time though, we’ll find our motherload one day.
While sitting on the bench outside the mart, Beefy got many “oohs” and “ahhs” from folks curious about our spectacle. Then we moved on and scouted around for: A. a diner to sit & drink our fill of refillable coffees, and B. somewhere sneaky to camp that night. We found a couple of tubes at a construction site, and sharing a knowing glance, we agreed that they were definitely worthy of being our home for the night. We then found a covered open-air mall to sit, watch lightning, hear thunder, let Beef run around, and to munch on pumpernickel-peanutbutter-bikergelpacket-matzo bread sandwiches, till we decided that we really ought to get moving and stop snacking on weird foods… We found a diner that was warm with a nice wait time in the lobby & lo-and-behold, they had a veggie burger, which I quickly succumbed to my desires of eating, while guzzling down two full carafes of freshly ground, delicious hot coffee.
We stayed there forever, taking our time eating (Stink opted to have an apple betty with huge scoops of ice cream for dinner), drinking, journaling, and being generally weird in a public place after so much time on the road. One lady stopped by our booth on the way out and asked, “Excuse me, where are you from?” and as we answered, she just nodded & walked away, leaving us maddeningly curious as to WHY she wanted to know where we were from? Did we look local? foreign? escaped from a mental hospital? We’ll never know, I suppose…
With bellies fit to burst, we paid our check, took maybe a few too many free mints, and waddled on out of there, to head back to our lovely, sweet, dry, cozy home-tubes for the night. We unpacked, climbed in (some more gracefully than others) and tried to go to sleep. Only thing was, was that we had guzzled more coffee than appropriate for nine o’clock at night, and after each lying restlessly in our respective tubes for what seemed like an hour, I burst out laughing as the words “tube sister” floated through my mind (this was a term of unknown origins from my cross country running days in highschool; you would be assigned a secret tube sister at the beginning of the season to give gifts & encouraging notes to before each race, and finally reveal your true identity at final meet). So then we both got to laughing, and all hope for sleep was lost. Stink got up to whiz at a conveniently located porta-potty, grabbed our journaling equipment so we could at least do something productive with our time, and crawled back in her tube. I had also taken a picture of her emerging that set me off, a cackling tube in the night.
Anyways, I eventually dozed off, whereas Stink, sick to her stomach from coffees & ice cream dinners, didn’t sleep a wink, and at about 5 in the morning, wandered over to a nearby hotel lobby to sit by the fire & employ copious amounts of self-discipline to not partake in the free continental breakfast happening just feet away. She came back around 6, when I woke up and backward army crawled out of my own tube to pack up, and again, hit the McDonald’s in town.
After a greasy breakfast of an egg mcmuffin, hashbrown, and OJ for Stink (nothing cures a stomach ache coffee hangover quite like greasy foods, you see), and an apple pie for me (small pies have proven to be my weakness for this trip), plus chocolate grahams, peanut butter, and one especially mushy banana for the boths of us, we headed out again, this time for good, to cross the gates into the land of Yellowstone!
We begrudgingly paid the $12 (each!) entrance fee and rumbled through to the wilderness beyond (which, you know, was very similar looking to the wilderness on the outside of the park…) and were quickly rewarded with the very inconspicuous entrance sign to our 5th state: Wyoming!
After our obligatory photoshoot, we trundled on and soon caught sight of our first buffaloes! A whole herd of them in fact! And crossing a river, quite nearby, with babies too, who ran & jumped & played & generally looked like happy cow-pig little creatures. This alone, for me at least, made the exorbitant entrance fees quite worth it, as we stood & watched the creatures lumber around munching grass for some time.
Eventually we rolled on, stopping at view points along the way, as a bicyclist can so easily do, and checked out the sights & sounds of Yellowstone. While viewing one boiling bubbling hot pool of vivid colored waters, an older Indian (like, eastern India Indian) woman, who when I said good morning to, looked me in the eyes and uttered the mysterious words, “Strange are the ways of the nature.” “Uhm, yes, quite right,” I replied, a bit bewildered & enjoying the odd phrasing.
We saw more sights, and it began to drizzle, then out-right pour on us, sending the tourists flocking back to their cozy RVs and minivans, and us scrambling to dawn (or is it don?) raincoats and cover our more perishable gear. This kind of nixed the picture taking for much of the time, but we did see bubbling mud pots, steaming holes in the ground, and more boofs (buffaloes) wandering the land.
We climbed an 8% grade for three miles (with Stink, still feeling queasy from her restless night in the tube, nearly throwing up a few different times) and finally reached Canyon Village, our would-be campground for the night (I say would-be for a reason, but we’ll get to that in a moment). We staked out a picnic table, I cleaned out Beef’s house, letting him roam free on the table top, and feasted on more mushy bananas and bagels.
A woman from Oklahoma (! home sweet!) approached because she saw Beef & was a rat person herself. Her name was Donna and she was an excellent rat petter, if Beef’s happy chitterings have any merit in this writing. Her daughters (I think, I never clarified) also came over and saw that she had once again ‘found a rat’ while on their travels. It was great to chat with another rat person, who understood all things rat that perhaps dog and cat people just don’t comprehend. (Shout out to the rat folks we met back in Portland too, as they continue to follow along our tales and send encouraging words). We exchanged information and Beefy got his final goodbye scritches before they headed on their way.
We also met a man, JT (James Thomas, for those not inclined for abbreviations) who was traveling around Yellowstone for his second or so week, taking it all in in a very laid back style that was easy to relate to. Chatting for awhile about the shared joys of being travelers, he too gave Beef pets and attention. He mentioned that he wasn’t able to shower at the Canyon campground as it wasn’t open yet, when we assured him that we saw that morning a sign clearly indicating that it would be open today…
JT moved on after awhile, and we went about checking out the overpriced general store (eyeing all the treats but not daring to splurge on the ridiculously overpriced goods when we had already dropped nearly three days funds just to enter the park), and schmoozed on over to the visitors center to take advantage of bathrooms with running water and fantastically powerful hand driers. As we were walking back out of the building, we stopped at the front desk to ask about where to go get our campsite, when the lady, quite regrettably, told us that, despite the misleading sign at the park entrance, Canyon campground wouldn’t be open till the 29th… This meant we had 20 more miles to do, to get to the next available tent campsite. We were crestfallen. We were so ready to just set up camp and decompress, when this obstacle chose to fall in our path. The lady at the desk was truly sad for us, as we slowly dragged our feet out the door, to the darkening outside where it had just begun to slightly rain once again…
With nothing left to do but to pack up and take on the unexpected 20 extra miles, we climbed back aboard the bikes and took off. Begrudgingly , we stopped to view the various sights along the way, more or less just wanting to get through the rolling hills, set up camp, and finally devour the Mountain House freeze-dried preprepared meals we had been carrying with us since we left home. (Stink’s mom had purchased them for us prior to leaving, and we had been savoring the idea of feasting on them once we reached Yellowstone).
Finally, after once quickly rectified wrong turn, we reached Bridge Bay, paid an additional $7.98 each for hiker/biker camping, walked to our site, set up camp, and Stink started a fire (we collected leftover half burnt logs from unoccupied sites around us, as we are nothing but cheap & resourceful). We boiled up some water, added it to our bagged meals, waited the 10 minutes and devoured with gusto. Stink had the turkey tetrazzini and I had the burrito bowl (or should I say bag?). Either way, they were quite filling, warm, delicious, & nutritious, especially compared to some of the slop that passed for food that we had been eating for the past few weeks.
After dinner, I stood over the warm fire till I was nearly collapsing into it from exhaustion, then joined Stink in the tent. In the morning it was a bit soggy, as it always seems to be, and we slowly packed up, having to collect our bags of food & utensils from the bear-proof storage bin across the way. We were surprised that so much junk had fit onto our bikes! We rolled out after breakfast of more banana (I admit, I buy bananas left & right), chocolate graham crackers, peanut butter, and a biker gel pack, that I steadfastly continue to treat solely as a inventively new packaged type of jelly, rather than the slurp up power boost squeeze tube of energy goop that it is intended to be used as. Our tour style relies intensively on putting various things on bread & crackers.
We biked out to Fisherman’s Bridge, Stink got a giant chocolate milk (she had earned the splurge by suffering through the previous day on zero sleep and a churning stomach) and I found my favorite boxed pies and got an apple one (I am serious, those pies are now a weakness). We loitered, used bathrooms, browsed overpriced gift shops, and eventually headed out to conquer Sylvan Pass, one mighty climb before we could coast on out of Yellowstone for good.
Chocolate milk is apparently Stink’s mojo drink and we chugged along the road just fine, each tuning into our ipods for the long ascent. We were surrounded by beautiful views of Yellowstone Lake, snowcapped mountains, and forests, new and old. Finally we reached the peak, where I took a long relieving whiz in the snow (don’t have the skills to write my name though), dawned gloves and coats for the chilly descent & took off down the mountain. Tears streamed out of the corners of our eyes as we sped down, taking the lane as there was practically no traffic, and completely disregarding our brakes as who would want to be cautious on such a well earned downhill challenge as this? We coasted on out the east exit of the park, gave some grazing buffaloes a final goodbye wave, and cruised on.
We stopped for snacks, then again in a few miles at a lodge to take a power nap on the warm sunny asphalt of their parking lot. Eventually we perked up from our sleepiness, and continued on, to the changing landscape of Wyoming. There were rock formations popping up everywhere that caught the imagination, allowing you to envision mighty creatures and stone solid faces in the earth. I swear I saw a giant foot complete with protruding big toe, and a hand raising from the surrounding rocks on opposite sides of the road.
We stopped to climb in a large crack in the rock wall paralleling the road at one point, and also saw mountain goats climbing directly overhead carefully picking their way through the steep edges. Soon after, passing through a meadow, a whole herd of mountain goats surprised us right on the edge of the road, too quickly we passed to take a picture, but the sight of them will prove memory enough.
The riding was good, basically downhill with a tailwind, and we covered many miles, going through Wapiti even though it was above our necessary miles for the day. There was a long area of road construction going on but we were given free reign to ride through at our own pace over the alternating freshly paved and bumpy gravelly bits of road, with me sometimes racing with the drivers slowly following the pilot cars that were guiding them through the work zone.
We stopped at the Buffalo Bill State Park at the end of the reservoir just 15 miles shy of Cody, WY. We were a bit wide eyed when the man at the ticket box told us there was no lowered hiker/biker rate and that it’d be $17.25 to camp there that night, but when he saw our hesitant faces, he offered to let us pay the in-state rate of $10 total for a tent site. Thanks sir!
We scooted around the park to our site, set our gear to dry (and de-stinkify… the tubes and our tent had been rank with the smell of our feet… and farts, all night long). Stink whipped up another fire and we ate our remaining Mountain House meals (Stink had spaghetti with meat sauce, and I had the vegetarian chilli… which apparently had me farting in my sleep all that night. SORRY!) and we were able to chill out for a bit, journal , and call folks back home with our newly re-found cellphone signals.
In the morning, we rolled out, and soon arrived at the Buffalo Bill Dam, which was quite impressive, and had a nice visitors center to loiter around in, while reading about the history of it’s construction. A nice old man who worked there offered to open up the service road that followed the river in the canyon for us, instead of taking the narrow, dark, fallen-rock-filled tunnel that the highway took. We jumped at the opportunity, as the lady told us we should consider ourselves lucky because they only opened the road once a year.
It was a steep winding downhill, following the rushing river as it was spilled from the dam, and was quite enjoyable to speed down. We climbed up out of the canyon then soon rolled into Cody! We had arranged to stay with a Warm Showers host here, so took our time stocking up on foods and snacks (I struggled to put back a box of poptarts that my empty stomach was telling me I ought to purchase, but my budgeted and nutrition-wise mind won out and I placed it back on the shelves with only a few backward glances). We loaded up the bikes with what seemed like an impossible amount of food, and took off to find our home for the night.
Blaise was our host, who was working late at the ER, so we had free roam of the house most of the day. Showers were taken, grimed scrubed off, clothes washed, even my sleeping bag which at this point reeked of rotten feet. We lunched on a bagged salad, discounted bread from Wal-Mart (which we toasted! we had a toaster!), coffee, and a huge jug of chocolate almond milk I had thankfully insisted on purchasing. Delicious.
We then walked (walking becomes a treat while on tour as well) down to the post office to send off cards & get more stamps. Eventually, another bike tourist arrived (he and another dude were scheduled to stay here for the night as well). His name was Andrew and we quickly got to chatting all things tour: weirdest campsites, fart-alert hand signals, foods to feast upon, and other such ways of the road. He headed out for a bit to get groceries, and while he was out, the fella he had been riding with, Robert, arrived at the house. They had met in the road during their respective solo trips, and had been riding together for a few days since they were heading in the same direction.
We all hung about and eventually our gracious host, Blaise, arrived home & was greeted with a full house of cyclists. It’s a bit funny because he had only just recently created a Warm Showers account, and we were his first tourists, coincidentally enough all arriving at the same night (it’s not often that you’ll get more than one biker or couple coming through at a time). So we all had a good time talking about maps, roads, routes, and tour styles till it turned late, and people turned in to bed. Us cyclists all chose to crash in heaps on the livingroom floor, and awoke this morning to have Stink whip up some scrambled eggs and toast with coffee for breakfast. Blaise keeps some happy chickens in the backyard that I was more than delighted to eat the products of. Thanks chickens! Thanks Blaise!
So here I am now, furiously typing this all out so that we may eventually actually get out and back on the road where we belong. Much love to everyone and I hoped you have all enjoyed the latest installment of Within Biking Distance!