You really should not judge a wine by its label. We do of course, and buy anything that features a bicycle even if it tastes like chain lube. Books by their cover, well of course, and beer too. Bike shops by what is in the window? Well it took me almost two years to eventually use the best bike shop back home in Edinburgh. It’s window features pink bells and kids bikes that weigh as much as a small car. You may not notice the jockey sized guys that treat the place like a second home or community drop-in centre. There are the framed team shirts ” Thanks for all your help Chris “. But there are no top end bikes at prices that would put your daughter through college. You are in the right place for the simple reason that Chris is an engineer who worked on nuclear subs before he bought the shop. Chris will fit a new tyre and line up the trade name with the valve -” So you can find it in a hurry “. You will never go anywhere else without feeling dirty at the betrayal. This is your shop now.
We had been riding in the gutter for miles. Forced over by RV’s and gauping holiday traffic, in fear of our lives. If we had waved farewell as we left Baltimore with a cry ” See you in Yellowstone 4th of July “, we could not have coordinated our arrival in Americas prime holiday destination any more perfectly. Which is how we find ourselves standing outside what may be a bike shop in the town of West Yellowstone. We have just biked through the park on the second busiest day of the year. Esther has a rear tyre that has picked up a slash and puncture from a slice of metal. We have super-glued the cut back together just in time to pick up a flat from a shard of glass. We need a rather specialised German-made, awkward sized replacement and all we can see are aeroplane model kits and kites, and of course horribly pink children’s bikes.
” Do you have any touring tyres? “. ” Do you have Schwalbe in 700X32 in the Marathon? ” The fact that the answer to all of these was ‘ YES ‘ is more random than you could possibly imagine. Les has been running a bike shop here for 40 years. He built some of the first mountain bikes, and oddball stuff like three person machines on jigs that he put together himself. He shows us the ‘ archive ‘. ” Did you ever serve anyone famous ? ” I’m not sure anyone ever asked Les this before. ” Well I did serve Greg Lemond’s wife when she rented a video here “. Les had a stock of 4,000 titles that eased the cash flow when the snow lay as deep as the ears on a four year old child. We are in the right place.
A two day rest is not mathematically twice as good as a one day, but it is not too far short of that. Lander had been good to us but we are starting to get end date anxiety and need to put some miles in. The fluffiest of fluffy clouds drifted across the bluest of summer blue skys. It was the perfect day to be biking along HWY 287 into the Wind River Indian reservation. We are back amongst the Sage Bushes and infinite horizons. A sharp left and we pick up a headwind.
There is of course a clue in the fact that we are now running along the Wind River Valley. Like idiots, we had mentally labeled this ‘ an easy day ‘. Crowheart stores after 13 miles of unrelenting toil into what is now a gale. We contemplate a further 30 miles of this with the sort of stoicism that a store Santa must show on being handed a child that is already screaming and will no doubt urinate within moments. We make easy conversation with people at the store and then turn out onto the road as it runs under the shadow of Windy Mountain.
7 mph and the occasional 11 mph and the horrid mental arithmetic that we are going to be doing this for the next 5 hours, minimum. This is the worst of tortures on a heavy touring bike, the pedalling down hill in the Granny Gear. 10 miles creep by, and now the wind is dangerous. We are being lifted off the road. The casual conversation back at the store brings rescue. ” I couldn’t let you go on “. A big, very big black truck has swung off the road in front of us. The bikes are lifted into the back and we are safe. You would need a heart of stone to call it cheating and yes we are happy to be away from the roar of the wind.
We get a glimpse of farming in one of the windiest places in the USA. ” You can cut your hay crop and the wind will pick it up and you have to bale it on your neighbours land “. A lift into Dubois and we pitch at the campground in the shelter of a building. A cold night with the belt of the Milky Way arching across the deep black sky. Team Sportswool are up early the next morning to try and get miles in before the wind hits. There is a big climb to bring us up into the first of the National Parks – The Grand Tetons. Up we go through Shoshone National Forest, already over 8,000 ft. Beyond 9,000 ft, there is snow under the trees at the side of the road. This is a pure climb and the effort equals reward, not the nasty toil of biking into wind. This is riding ‘ in the moment ‘ and lifts the soul. You could call it ‘ floss for the mind ‘ and is why cyclists go looking for climbs and turn from headwinds. At 9,584 ft we enter the Tetons at Togwotee Pass.
With less than 100 ft biked beyond the celebrations of passing through our 30,000th mile Esther has the puncture that will lead to the visit to Les. Down we go, the tyre held together with glue and some of the joy of reaching 30,000 miles rubbed off. Oxbow bend and then we take a right towards Signal Mountain and our campground for the night. Places are full, but bikers get a sort of celebrity treatment in National Parks and a site is found.
Another crisp chill night. We are fatigued by the climb and the battle with the wind and sleep for over 10 hours after 63 miles and 3264 ft of climbing. Next morning there is almost unbroken sharply blue sky for our ride into Yellowstone. We will be sharing the narrow park roads with what feels like 90% of the US RV fleet on what is the first holiday of the summer. Snake River, one of the longest in the country, joins us as we enter the park. There is now no shoulder and the road itself has a crumbling edge forcing us out. There is 23 miles of this to start your Yellowstone experience.
Crawfish Creek and Lewis Mountain come up as we bike beyond the 7,700 ft. This RV roulette is hard on the nerves. Will they remember they are towing something? are they even looking forward? We are high again, breathing the same air as the Angels and taking in some of the most stunning scenery the world has on offer. Again we end the day on a Hiker-Biker spot, the campground at Grant Village has been open for just 5 days since the Grizzlies left to feed higher up the mountains. It is just over 8,000 ft and we have our first night with frost on the fly sheet. It is a perfect spot. We sleep as the bears do bear stuff and the earth spins around to meet a new morning for us.
The ride to Old Faithful begins with a hard pull up a short but brutally steep climb. We have tired legs that are feeling every one of the 30,000 miles and we are struggling to recover much overnight. Lake Isa and the continental divide at 8391 ft. Rain falling into this small lake has a decision to make. It drains both to East and West. To flow to the Pacific or take the long run to the Atlantic? The scale of Yellowstone becomes obvious as we ride. It is bigger than countries, certainly Malta, the island that we were on before here, and bigger than Lichtenstein from year 2 and Vatican City from last year. We are again biking in the gutter as the traffic builds and have a new danger to keep an eye open for – Bison Poo. Hit this stuff and you are off. We get a good view of Old Faithful. The photo above is of the coughing and spluttering just before the geyser performance. It was followed by a beep, beep and beep as my camera shut down having run the battery flat!
Down we go, heading for the park boundary and the border with Montana. A left turn at Madison and we ride by the side of the Madison River on its lazy descent to the park border. There are enough rods in the water to guarantee that most fish should be caught 2 or 3 times as they make the ground. It is a bit Disney, a bit perfect and the weather is glorious, but there are many worse places to be on a touring bike. We enter Montana, making it the first state that we visit for the second time on our journey. West Yellowstone, and a visit to the bike shop comes next.
We book in at a campground. There is a photo of Evil Knievel, ‘ To my friend Mike, thanks so much….. ‘ You have to ask, so we do. ” Is that real? “, and of course it was, and so is the photo of the Knievel RV parked out the back. ” Was he doing shows here?”. Well no he was vacationing, just like the millions of other folk. We have a day off the bikes and tour the park in an organised tour in the comfort of a big yellow bus with aircon and suggest that you do the same if you do not have a death wish.
Back in the saddle we try to put some distance between us and the 4th of July celebrations. Out we go, along Hebgen Lake and today the tarmac is holding onto our tyres. A Osprey turns on the currants above us. Wonderful as it is I am finding motivation elusive today. Thoughts of ‘ just another 1,000 miles ‘ are dangerous but inevitable when you have biked so far. On August 17th 1959 this valley was changed for all time. A massive earthquake struck in the night. 28 were killed and in the next 3 weeks a new lake formed in a landscape tilted by the force of the quake. Trees are still there, now standing in the flooded bottom of the new lake.
A glorious and well deserved downhill with wind assistance. ” You have too much wind from the back, it’s dangerous “, a cry from a cyclist going the other way as we flash by. The sky has become big again. There are far off mountains rimming this wide cauldron and unbelievably they are still snow-capped. I take a drink from a water bottle. For the first time in ages it is hot water, 95’f and we are back ridding in an oven. My mouth is too dry to whistle and the air is crusting up my nose. The town of Ennis is the goal for the day. We get there in good time, but would have needed to book a room a month ago. A patch of grass behind Willies Distillery is the traditional pitch for cyclists from day one back in 76. It is July 3 and the festivities have begun. Esther goes to a Rodeo, which is great fun and the next morning we take in the parade.
You just can not miss a small town parade on the 4th of July. There are people to meet, things to see, but there is always a horrid 2,000 ft climb in temperatures that never dip under 93’f just waiting for your attention. We hit it at the wrong time. 5 near misses and 2 very very near leave me swearing and cursing the driving ability of the nation. I look up on the WWW. and sure enough it is the most dangerous day of the year to be on the roads. We ride out all day along Ruby Valley. A stop at a store and a conversation with an old time local. Never underestimate old timers. ” If you want to get away on a day like this you have to get up above the heat. I built my own planes and we go high into the cool air and take my hat off. It was wonderful, truly wonderful “. The snow-covered peaks are now hidden behind the leading edge of an advancing storm. We take a room in a hotel in the town of Sheridan, and go to bed early after a good meal. Happy Birthday USA.