Bikeapalooza '11 was a great cycling adventure trip with Anthony. We drove to Bozeman, had 7 days of cycling (plus a rest day in the middle), and then drove back to Seattle. We cycled an aggressive route: 85 miles a day for a total of 604 miles, with about 3,500 feet of climbing per day. We also chose a gorgeous route: we followed the rivers and valleys of Montana, bombed through the rolling farmlands of Idaho, climbed over Teton pass, and finished up by riding through Wyoming's Yellowstone park.
We packed light, carrying a change of clothes, a camera, and each
day's food, and traveled from hotel to hotel. Most of the roads we
picked were fantastic, and we only saw one or two other cyclists the
entire trip. Amazingly, we had no mechanicals throughout the trip,
including no flats. It was perfect.
Day 1: Bozeman, MT to West Yellowstone, MT.
What a brutal way to start the trip. The bulk of the ride was into the wind, up a slight uphill following the Gallatin river, on a tiny shoulder of a highway with logging trucks rumbling by every few minutes. We climbed about 2000 feet up into Big Sky, stopped for lunch, and pushed onwards.
About an hour past this, we started finding scenic pullouts, including a wooden bridge over the river that you'd swear was a scene from A River Runs Through It. The final ten miles of the 92 mile day was a slight downhill run into the tiny tourist town of West Yellowstone, where we pigged out on diner-style burgers and soaked in the hot-tub.
Day 2: West Yellowstone, MT to Rexburg, ID.
What a difference a day makes. Day 2 was long: more than 100 miles. But, the terrain was gentle and beautiful. We had our first encounter with the continental divide, cresting 7,000 feet on our way into Idaho. We quickly took the Mesa Falls scenic byway, finding ourselves alone on a terrific road winding through the Targhee national forest. One of the highlights of the day was visiting the Upper Mesa Falls, a scenic rest stop with a raging waterfall and a wooden perch right above it.
The second half of the day was flat, fast, and scorching hot, with the road working its way through the Idaho farmlands and meadows. We targeted an ATV rental shop with the goal of riding sand dunes, but the shop turned out to be a family's garage and their ATVs were either busted or out. Instead, after rolling into a surprisingly luxurious hotel in Rexburg, we hopped back on our bikes to scarf down some plates of hot wings and called the day a massive success.
Day 3: Rexburg, ID to Jackson, WY.
Today is all about the Tetons. The first half of the day was the gentle run-up to the mountain range, snaking through fields of wheat on an isolated road through rural Idaho. The highlight of the morning was our rest stop across the street from a farmhouse; a boy with a slingshot was trying to be sneaky about firing rocks at us. I'm not sure what he would have done if he'd hit us!
Pretty soon, the Grand Teton mountains were dominating the horizon. We'd be cycling up to them, then sneaking over the mountain range by ascending Teton Pass. On the eastbound leg, Teton Pass is a 10 mile, 2000 foot ascent, with the road near the peak tipping up to a relentless 10% slope. Climbing it was brutal, but at the 8,341 foot summit, we were rewarded with a sweeping view down to the valley in which Jackson, WY is nestled.
After a fast descent into Jackson, we hit our hotel, then found our way to a restaurant that served buffalo steak for a massive dose of protein and steaksauce.
Day 4: Jackson, WY to Flagg Ranch, WY.
From Jackson, we headed north and entered Grant Teton National park. Today was a long, slow ascent up onto the Yellowstone calderra. Our route paralleled the knife-edge of the tetons, taking us through wide-open grasslands under the big Montana skies.
We stopped for lunch at the Grand Teton lodge. While not one of the seven wonders of the world, I think it deserves at least to one one of the wonders' understudies. The lodge has an enormous window in the main lobby looking out over one of the most picturesque scenes you could imagine. After refueling on a grilled cheese sandwich, we finished off the relatively short day by rolling into Flagg Ranch, our stop for a one-day rest day.
Day 5: Flagg Ranch, WY to West Yellowstone, MT.
Into Yellowstone park! We once again criss-crossed the Continental Divide, this time peaking out at 8,391 feet on our way into the park boundaries itself. Our first major stop was at the Yellowstone lodge next to Old Faithful. The lodge is this bizarre hybrid between an Escher painting, Hogwarts, and an old log cabin, and it was overrun with tourists waiting for the next geyser eruption. Old Faithful lived up to its name, erupting into a 40 foot high plume of water and steam.
The highlight of the way was stopping at all of the volcanic and geothermal oddities in the park. We saw giant bacterial carpets, sulpher-lined streams trickling from craters filled with crystal-blue waters, and generally indescribable sludge. The only sight we didn't get to see was the supposedly abundant wildlife in the park; we saw no bison, no wolves, no bears, and no birds of note.
Day 6: West Yellowstone, MT to Gardiner, MT
Another brilliant day on the road. We were on our way out of Yellowstone park, but not before seeing a little bit of every treat the park had to offer. Our main destination was the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. One of the first stops on the way was another tectonic feature: a giant bubbling mudpool just beyond a scenic outlook over a river and mountain foothills.
The Grand Canyon itself is a spectacle: the upper and lower falls of the Yellowstone River pour past the Norris lookout into the canyon proper. Leaving the canyon and the park, we found more volcanic scenes, including a very curious terracing created by sulphur-rich runoff from a geyser. Our exit from the park was marked by a screamingly fast 20 mile downhill segment into Gardiner proper.
Day 7: Gardiner, MT to Bozeman, MT
This was our last day in the saddle, and the final descent out of Gardiner to the Gallatin river valley. We tracked a trunk road next to the highway and enjoyed a tailwind and slight downhill for nearly the entire day. The last leg of the ride involved a climb up and over a hillside, but we were rewarded by a path through incredibly beautiful farmland on the outskirts of Bozeman.
It had been a fantastic trip, delivering all of the challenge, beauty, and friendship that a bike trip could hope to promise. We're going to have to find another trip like this in the future.