July 31, 2006
After lying in my tent this morning for something like an hour, I finally got up. It was cold, so I just didn’t particularly feel like getting out of my sleeping bag. As I was packing up at 7:30 I checked the thermometer – 37 degrees! Looking my watch, I confirmed that it’s July 31st. Isn’t there supposed to be a heat wave somewhere right now?
Don’t ask me how or why, but somehow overnight I got the Buddy Holly song “True Love Ways” stuck in my head, and couldn’t shake it this morning.
Well I started the day properly – all you can eat breakfast at the campground restaurant. It was overpriced at ten dollars in one of those big dining halls, where all the young waiters call you “sir,” and never smile. The food and service were mediocre. But I was happy and had my fill, killing time so the sun could rise above the treetops and warm things up a little.
Riding early this morning was pleasant, next to the large Jackson Lake, with the Tetons still visible near the far shore. Descending to some lower terrain, I came upon a small traffic jam in the middle of nowhere. In the middle of it there was an RV or two, and a few cars on the side of the road, with no signs of an accident or trouble. I’d heard about National Park traffic jams like this.
“What do ya got?” I asked the first guy I saw.
“Big ol’ black bear! Just crossed the road a few minutes ago! Went up that ridge over there!”
“Is he still around?”
“Don’t know! Maybe! Haven’t seen him!”
So I joined about a dozen people at the side of the road, staring up at this hill. Everybody was excited, and the cars continued piling up. I stared into the woods for at least five minutes, and never saw a thing. If I were a black bear, I’d have been as far away from there as possible by now. So I headed on up the road. No big deal, I’ve seen at least ten black bears in the wild before anyway.
And now for some beautiful irony… two miles ahead, maybe less, I saw this big bird just chilling out on the side of the road. When I rode up to it, it didn’t budge – wow – it was an eagle!
All the people who were staring at this vacant hillside a moment ago passed me in their vehicles. Here’s something you would never see unless you were on a bike. This guy who apparently works for the Park Service strolled out of the woods, popping out of nowhere, followed by a ranger. He saw the bird, and says “Oh, there he is… I don’t think he’s very healthy.”
At first I thought it was a golden eagle, but they tell me it’s an immature bald eagle. It just sat there, calm and still. I warned the NPS people that all of the tourists were going to slow their vehicles and stop if they saw what we were looking at. They replied “Right, look the other way!” I rode away and left them with the eagle.
I officially entered Yellowstone National Park, and spent most of the afternoon powering up some long, steady hills. I crossed the Continental Divide three times today. It was cloudy and overcast all day long, looking like it would rain at any moment, but it never did. The temperature never went very much above 65 degrees, and I had a ton of energy, stopping twice for Reese’s, Snickers, and Cokes.
Before I lost all the Jackson radio stations, I heard REM – It’s the end of the world as we know it, Metallica – Turn The Page(I’d rather hear the original), DMB – What Would You Say?, Bruce Springsteen – She’s the One, “Running Bear Loved Little White Dove”(Great for pedaling through Yellowstone), Blind Melon – No Rain, and Dire Straits – Sultans of Swing.
In the late afternoon I came to Old Faithful. They have a small kind of town built around it, with an inn, gas station, restaurant, etc. Within sight there were all these other geysers sending up a steady cloud of steam.
Old Faithful goes off about once every 90 minutes, and I had only half an hour after my arrival to wait. It’s encircled by a walkway and virtually a whole amphitheater of benches. By the time it was supposed to go off, there was a solid 100-200 people there, easily. Probably more.
I always thought the idea of Old Faithful was a little hokey. Like big deal, this hole in the ground shoots up hot water… but I have to admit, it was really cool to see it in person. Maybe the fact that I rode my bike here helped. While everybody was waiting, one guy asked about my trip, so of course everybody within earshot overheard and started asking the twenty questions, giving me a fun little spotlight for a few moments.
After Old Faithful went off, it was 6:30 and pushing 7pm. I was feeling great, and went a little crazy aiming for 30 more miles to West Yellowstone. There was a gradual loss in elevation, and I averaged 15-20mph the whole way – I was hauling! All the world was steaming as numerous geysers surrounded me through the shady evening. I saw some cars and people stopped, staring at an empty field.
“What do you see?!” I yelled.
I paused and looked as hard as I could, but couldn’t see anything. The people had binoculars, and it was a big field. Then a mile down the road, I saw a lone bison just ambling along. It steadily made its way toward the road, and there were all these people there by the time it came close. It came within 20 yards of me. These little kids started running, making me nervous, so I went on my way with a great photo in hand.
I cruised along the Madison River as sunset faded to dusk, and The Stones song Time is on My Side stuck in my head as I passed picturesque scenes of people fishing in the river.
Soon enough, after 9pm, I left Yellowstone and entered Montana! The tourist town of West Yellowstone still had plenty of shops open and tourists on the street, and I felt like blowing some money at the end of such a great day.
I sprung for a private room at the hostel for 30 dollars, and made it to the pizza shop just before it closed at ten. I got a large pie for take out, and sat out front and ate it, while the employees were rockin’ out inside to the blasting Yeah Yeah Yeah’s, doing their cleaning. Life is good.