Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Yellowstone Part III- Midnight Riders

Saturday, June 28th. We woke up early after Katie's late night difficulties. We still felt bad that someone who was helping us had so much trouble. Guess my bad luck is contagious, eh? Either way, our days of rest are over. Time to get our asses back on the bikes and pedaling down the road! The plan was to bike clear across Yellowstone park today. From side to side it's 87 miles, not to mention mileage to the park and to where ever we spend the night. We decided to get an early start to maximize our daylight.

8am. We biked to town. We were hoping to do our laundry the night prior but obviously that didn't happen. We got food, did laundry and picked up a few souvenirs. If you can believe it, all of that took until 1pm. We picked up the pace and got a move on.

We arrived at the entrance to Yellowstone! There were a few families there taking photos of loved ones. I thought it'd be a fun new hobby to take photos of unsuspecting tourist. I figured you'd seen enough of my fat ass.

Some random people.

My fat ass since I know you miss it.

So we entered Yellowstone... for the third time. Here's a cool little tid bit- at the entrance of the park there is a bald eagle's nest. Since they don't want people disturbing the rare bird you're not allowed to stop on the road in your car. The benefits of a bicycle my friends! I stopped and snapped a few photos.

It's a bird!

We also entered our fourth state shortly after crossing the Yellowstone border...

State 4 baby!

We had decided to head along the north side of the south loop. This provided us with the shortest route, although there's a lot of hills. As we made our way up the first significant hill we stopped to take some pictures of the waterfalls when we met a mother and her daughter. They were really nice and stopped and talk to us for a few minutes before we made our way.

Cycling was much easier today! We were heading up some serious hills and we were making great time. It wasn't exactly easy, but a few days rest made it much more bearable. I was even keeping up with Josh. The sky was clear and bright. It was a cool 70 degrees. It might had been the perfect day.

As I've mentioned before wildlife was everywhere. And sure it was cool seeing them, but you know what else was interesting? How effing stupid people can be around them. So I turn a bend in the road and see a Buffalo. Again, as I mentioned Buffalo = huge. This one was just about as close as I'd want it to be before I start getting nervous. It was happily grazing on the side of the road and I felt no need to worry or worry the animal by getting closer. Next thing I know I hear a truck coming behind us with a somewhat reckless family. The truck pulls up besides the Buffalo (I'd say about 12 feet away) and a teenage girl leans her entire upper torso out the hatchback window to take a close up shot of the beast. Bad idea if you ask me. THEN the driver puts the car in reverse, teasingly sending the girl even closer to the buffalo! The girl screams and scampers (because screaming is scampering is a good idea) the buffalo looks up like "wtf mate?" and goes back to grazing.

Stupid girl. Nice Buffalo.

We had made it 35 miles or so through the park and came to a gas station/convenience store. We took a break, bought pop tarts and other assorted food, filled water... you know the drill. I called Katie to try to get an update. Turns out we were correct after all! A pebble had gotten stuck between the brake pad and the rotor. A simple fix but c'mon how was I supposed to know what to do? I can barely figure out how to make my bike go forward. While we were stuffing our faces and catching our breath a familiar face popped in. The mother/daughter combo from earlier in the day had caught up with us! They were really impressed we had made it "so far so fast" and were keeping up with them in a car. I mean obviously they were stopping and seeing sights but it feels real good when people are impressed with what were doing. Especially the ladies if ya know what I mean wink wink wink. Time to go impress more high school sophmores, back on the bikes!

Further down the road we came across a large gathering of people. Usual Yellowstone rules, group of people = something to see. We figured it was probably another bear and weren't that interested but after inquiring it turned out to be two elk. Having never seen an Elk before we stopped. Now I have seen an Elk. And so have you.

We were approaching the east side of Yellowstone and the day was growing late. It became clear we weren't going to make it out of the park before the sunset. We were still 30 miles from the east entrance and the majority of those miles were uphill. After 55 miles for the day I was considering whether or not it'd be a wise idea to find a campsite. Throughout the park there are camping areas designated exclusively for biker/hikers/non-motorized tourist. I thought if there was one close enough we'd be set. During the peak of the season there's just no way any motorized campsites would be left. We found a park ranger and asked him if we had any reasonable options. He informed us all the campsites were filled and the closest cycling campsite was 25 miles in the wrong direction (back by the convenience store). That obviously wasn't going to happen and Josh was quite insistent we try to make it out of the park tonight. We didn't have time to argue over it, I figured we still had daylight and I was going to make the best of it.

The last few hours in Yellowstone were great. They also presented me with some of my favorite photos. Take a look.

Not long after we made it to Lake Yellowstone. This was the final stretch of the park. There's a long straight path that follows the lake before you head up into the mountains to reach the East entrance. The sun was getting low and I was a bit tired and hungry. We took a short little downhill which brought us through a swarm of gnats. Being half naked, sweaty, and hairy I was literally covered head to toe is tiny little black bugs. Super gross. The lake was gorgeous though.

There was a small store at the foot of the mountains. We bought protein bars, bread, and other treats to fuel. I was not a fan at all of continuing on. It was already sunset. We still had a minimum of 20 miles to go. Up hill. I hate hills. Let alone in the dark. Let alone in the bear infested woods. Overall it seemed like a horrible idea. Josh didn't seemed to care, he really wanted to make more ground and good time. He figured we were so well rested we should be able to push ourselves. I suppose he was right but damn was I pissed. I begrudgingly got on my bike and pedal up the damn hill.

We had barely begun our ascent when darkness fell. For the first time on the whole trip we donned our reflective vests feeling it might add some level of protect. Or just make us easier to spot for bears. There really wasn't much traffic which was good, but that only added to the creepiness of the whole ordeal. The further up we got in the mountain, the creepier it got. After the first hour of biking in the dark it was pitch black, but your eyes adjusted just enough so you could make out the trees and the road. In the distance you'd see a car coming and think "Fuck! We have to bike all the way up to THERE?! Shoot me now." It just looked so far away. I wasn't really tired, probably because most every noise startled me. I couldn't see shit man! I had little issue in repeatably "joking" about how bad of an idea this was.

Another 1/2 an hour up the mountain and it was 35 degrees and snow was still on the ground. We added layers to keep warm. This was beginning to remind me a bit too much of Steven's Pass although luckily not as steep. Or maybe I'm just that much better at this point. You'd hear a stick crack or some snow crunch.. some water trickling. You'd flash your light and see nothing. It was so quiet, which only helped to make every noise that much louder. Another 1/2 hour up the mountain we finally reach the top. Two hours of uphill blind biking. Remind me to thank you for all this later Joshyboy. We were both pretty ecstatic to be up here, we knew it was a easy downhill on the other side. We stopped and relaxed a few minutes, ate some food and celebrated. You couldn't help looking at the sky, it was so clear, so bright. It seemed closer, but maybe because I had just biked a few hours uphill.

So great! Were at the top. Time to go down. Issue though, we can't see a damn thing! One thing I'm sure of is that I don't want to go flying 30-40 miles down a hill and not be able to see a pothole in the road. I've already been thrown off my bike once, dammit. Not to mention the right side of the road is a cliff. I don't mean a 10 foot fall. I mean a 200 foot cliff. You fall off, you're gone. Josh and I both had flashlights we tried to hold and aim at the ground to see it as we went. My light wasn't strong enough and it just wasn't feasible holding Josh's. We tried sticking the thing in our mouths and holding it, but that was a bit too gay and our jaw got sore fast. What do intrepid bikers turn to whenever they have a problem? Duct tape. We duct taped that mofo right to my handlebar bag. A little bit of adhesive fine tuning and I had a bright light shining about 12 feet in front of me. Just enough to react to a bump or hole. We started downhill.

Riding went a bit too smoothly. Josh and I were giddy like little school girls who were recklessly disregarding their own safety. We laughing, flying downhill and not believing we made it this far! I was in the lead and Josh followed about 25 feet behind me, trusting my path was safe. Or that he could stop before hitting me if I fell. I would scream back to make sure Josh hadn't fallen himself about every 45 seconds. It's weird when you're biking you can't really hear anything behind you, but can easily hear things in front of you. I was holding the break- I didn't want to go too fast. 30 mph seemed fast enough for a midnight ride, don't you think? About half way down the hill I stopped. Guess what?!

Milestone 10 of 35ish baby! Grand Milestone #1.

Mile 1000. Beautiful, isn't it?

Another few miles down the road and we reached the east gate. There were some lamp posts and a picnic table there so we decided to take a break. We sat, ate sandwiches and chomped on candy. We discussed the trip, and how it was hard to believe we had made it 1000 miles. It was thrilling and at the same time depressing. We were barely 30% of the way there. But we lived up the momentary accomplishment.

The park closes each day at sunset. No traffic is supposed to come into the park because there are no rangers stationed at the entrances. In other words- if you come late at night you can sneak into Yellowstone for free. And I must say I'm amazed how many people do this! We sat at that picnic table for about a half hour and 5 or so cars must had come by. They'd drive up, see Josh and myself there and stop. They'd roll down there windows and look at us, usually nervously. These poor saps thought we were park employees! We'd wave them on and laugh. After a few cars we'd go out to the road and stop people, look at their license plates, then wave them in. In hindsight we should have just charged admission coulda made some money...

It was late though and we needed a place to camp. We had been told there were numerous campsites right off the road when you leave Yellowstone, so we figured not much longer till were resting. We left the park. It's silly how you feel safer when you leave. Not that is particularly dangerous in it, but you feel like it's a zoo of sorts- the animals don't leave the park. Obviously this isn't true. We were really no safer out of Yellowstone than inside. But you felt safer, and that was good.

We biked about 5 miles down the road, a bit surprised to have not seen any campsites yet. We came across a business (which was obviously closed) but it did still have one vehicle left in the parking lot. It was a truck of sorts it reminded me of an ice cream truck actually. There was a large window or door on the side. And oddly enough a man was outside the truck leaning in through this opening. We bike about 30 feet from him thinking we could ask if he knew of any campsites. Josh started with a "Hello Sir!" to see if we could get his attention. No response. His body just stayed in the window, moving around. We moved a bit closer and again Josh goes "Excuse me, Sir". Again. No answer. The man is doing something, what exactly we don't know. It sounds to me like he's shoveling dirt or ice with a small hand shovel. Josh and myself exchange concerned glances. I speak up, yelling rather loudly "Hey! Excuse me! Can you help us?!" Still doesn't move an inch. Thoroughly creeped out we decide we need to get the fuck out of here.

We continued biking, talking about the weird experience. We postulated a thousand different scenarios why the man wouldn't answer us. Maybe he was hard of hearing or deaf? Maybe he was on drugs? Or maybe he had just KILLED SOMEONE and was burying the evidence in an ice cream truck. I vote for option 3. We had biked another 5 miles. We had definitely missed some camp sites by now and were getting concerned. Another mile or two down the road and we came to one, finally. As we turned off the road we saw a sign "Hard sided campers only. No tents allowed." Well shit. There were woods right across the road and it was 1AM. I was not in the mood to keep looking. Josh thought we should go a bit further to the next site down the road. But god only knows how far that would be.

A few people were driving and we flagged one down and asked if he saw any campsites further up the road. He was a bit of a blunt and rough man. He was more or less like "Hey, what the hell is wrong with you two. Get off the road, it's 1AM. All this land is national forest and since you're a tax paying citizen you're allowed to use any national forest as you so pleased. Go walk in the woods and pitch your tent." So we walked into the woods and looked for a place to pitch our tent.

We found a suitable tree and hung our food bag from it, hoping to evade bears as best we could. We moved about 50 feet over (knowing we should camp much further away from the food) and started pitching camp. We were just too tired and it was just too late.

I heard a sudden snap! I spun around and flashed the light into the woods. Josh got a bit disgruntled, he needed the light to assemble the tent. I told him to shut up and look.. about 150 feet off in the woods there were two eyes, glowing from being spotted by my flashlight. We froze. The animal froze. What the fuck was it? It started walking.. slowly.. circling around, coming no closer, going no further. It's eyes moving up and down as it's head bobbed. I kept my eyes on the animal while Josh finished the last preparations on the tent. No rain fly tonight. We just wanted to be in the tent and "safe"!

I laid in bed, gripped tight to a mag light in case I needed to bludgeon a bear or puma off us in the middle of the night. Today was the longest day of our trip, and our most productive. We had biked a century, which is a cyclist term for 100 miles or more. We had seen a ton of sights and face numerous obstacles. Only 2 or 3 life or death situations arose. All in all our time in Yellowstone was exciting, unique and really interesting! But I'm very happy to be moving on down the road.

Trip Summary
Day's mileage- 100.29
Total mileage- 1001.87