Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Day 57 to 61, last day in Yellowstone and into Montana

Day 57 Grant Village to Madison started great. I felt super relaxed as I woke at 7.30. Both Mel and Norah left for coffee so I got straight on the road, I wanted to see the famous Old Faithful geyser. First there were two big climbs to cross the divide twice before that point. As I was out early traffic was light and the park was stunning in the early morning. Both climbs were steady with a great downhill spin between them descending to the pine forest valley.

I stopped at a picnic site for a break and had it to myself before pushing towards the geysers. I got there just in time to see Old Faithful erupt which was pretty cool. In the visitor center I spent some time learning about the volcanic activity beneath the park that creates the huge number of geysers and hot springs in this area. I walked around looking at the other geysers and lakes nearby - the micro bacteria that fed off the heated water create vivid colors - the most spectacular being the Grand Prismatic Spring, the largest heated pool in the park.

I kept cycling alongside the Firehole river, spotting wild deer, then going for a swim in the 'cascades of the Firehole', a swimming hole at a relatively calm section of the river. After all of this I was totally beat and not quite ready to leave this amazing park so I went to the nearby camp at Madison and got a pitch for the hiker/biker price ($6.80) and had an early night.

Day 58 Madison to Ennis. So it was time to keep pushing into Montana. I left camp at 6.45 to get ahead of traffic and any bad weather. 14 miles to get out of the park to the tourist town of West Yellowstone. Met a Scot and an English lad on the way out and was good to trade stories. Also saw another large group of either deer or antelope grazing by the steaming river. Quick picture opportunities at the state sign posts and then breakfast at Buffalo Bills where I asked a French family to get a pic with me wearing a cowboy hat (we are in the Wild West!).

Montana looks similar to Yellowstone at first with pines. Rounded a huge lake nestled in a valley surrounded by tall hills. Then through an interesting area that experienced a large earthquake in 1959. Really flat or slightly downhill with a good tailwind all day meant that I could blitz along the straight roads all the way to Ennis by 2pm (86 miles). It's a cool town, mostly restored from how it looked back in the gold rush days. Now people flock here for fishing in the Madisson river. I checked into the RV park with two other cyclists (kiwi David and Michigan Ed)pitched my tent, did laundry and then went to the local saloon to try some local beers (Moose Drool and Pigs Ass) before heading back to camp for bed time.

Day 59 Ennis to Dillon. Just past Ennis is a long steep climb before the old gold rush towns of Virginia city and Nevada city. I started early but it still took over 2 hours to travel the 12 miles or so to the crest of the pass. Great views behind me of the lush grass pastureland valley. A fun and rapid descent to the towns on the other side was my reward for climbing. I took some pics of the old Western buildings and gold mining equipment but nearly everywhere was closed at the time. I did get breakfast at the star bakery in Nevada city which was excellent (sundries tomato and spinach omelette!).

The wind started to pick up but luckily for me it was downhill to the Town of Twin Bridges. By then the headwinds were gusting heavily so I took shelter in the overnight bike facility there and bumped into Tim from NJ. Chatted with him a while then decided to push the last 24 miles to Dillon. This was extremely tough with heavy headwind, no shoulder, heavy truck traffic and some hills. 3 and a half hours later I rolled into Dillon exhausted. I saw Norah who was camping behind a church in town so I pitched up there. Felling a bit better after a rest we went to see superman at the cinema and I had an expensive shower at the Exxon gas station ($10). Time to sleep - today's 70 miles were tough.

Day 60 Dillon to Wisdom. Norah had left early so I took my time to pack up. The nights sleep had been pretty poor. The church bell rang on the hour and also at half past the hour throughout the night! It was free though so you certainly get what you pay for. The elevation profile showed two large passes to climb today with an overall steady elevation gain. Badger pass was first, rising over 1500 ft from Dillon, taking a couple of hours but was not overly difficult. It opened up into a pretty dry looking valley with some ranches where I took a snack and water break. Then the second climb started alongside a gusting headwind which made me stop more than once to catch my breath. Finally over Big Hole Pass (elevation 7360ft), I stopped at a Lewis and Clark historical info point (there are lots of these throughout the state) for another rest and chatted to a nice couple of tourists (kiwi and scot). Then I battled the headwind downhill to Jackson where I stopped for a burger and watched a Dudley Moore film on TV ('Arthur' - it was awful).

Miraculously the winds had shifted to a tailwind and it only took just over an hour to travel the final 18 miles to Wisdom where cyclists can camp in the (mosquito infested, cow surrounded) town park. Pitched my tent inside a hut to keep away from the insects. NJ Tim arrived later on so we chatted a while before heading to sleep.

Day 61 Wisdom to Darby. Today has the final climb on this section of the map over Chief Joseph Pass (7241ft). I got on the road just after 9 (it was a pretty cold morning) and stopped after an hour at the Big Hole Historical Battlefield. Here I learnt how the American army attacked an Indian village unawares in the early morning back in the late 1800's. I met a couple of German lads cycling and we climbed the pass together. The valley was another pretty pine forest with creeks with clear water. The downhill was great fun. It was fast and winding on a good road and lasted about 7 miles before flattening out towards the town of Sula. I stopped here for lunch, then bumped into Tim again. He had taken the alternative gravel road route around the pass and had a blow out. We rode on to Darby where I checked into the Bitterroot Hide-A-Way RV park. I'm the only camper so pitched my tent near the showers. There wasn't one in Wisdom so taking one here was heavenly!