9/17/2012 to 9/24/2012 – Waking up in the beautiful, albeit smokey, GTNP was inspiring.
We were surrounded by RVs but the campground woke up slow, so the usual drone of generators and general racket of modern luxury camping was absent. We ate breakfast, broke camp and headed north along Jackson Lake. Traditionally the route takes a hard turn to the west along John D. Rockefeller Highway and heads into Idaho along an old railroad route. We decided that we ought to ride up through Yellowstone National Park instead, being that we had each already paid (under duress) the $12 park pass that gets you into both GTNP and Yellowstone, we would pedal a bonus 3 crossings of the Continental Divide, and Dave-o had never been to Yellowstone.
The biking was pleasant and we enjoyed the authentic natural beauty of the Lewis River as we rode up into the park. We stayed on Lewis Lake the first night and met up with our friendly neighbors from Colter Bay (the previous night in GTNP) around a campfire for beer and s’mores! The next day we headed up to Grant Village on Yellowstone Lake, grabbed coffee, food supplies, and figured out that backcountry camping in the park was FREE… so we signed up for a night near the Lonestar Geyser.
It was perfect for us because it offered one of the few dirt trail bike rides in the park then a short half-mile-or-so hike into our campsite!
The camping seemed like a really good idea initially: it was free, away from RVs, and remote-feeling in a National Park… Then Dave went looking for a good location to pitch our tent and came upon what he assumed to be a huge boulder. Once he got nice an close, he realized that it was a huge bull buffalo munching down on some grass and came scampering back to camp a little spooked.
After finding a good (buffalo free) campsite and cooking up some dinner we hit the sack. As the dark set in reality sunk in as well, and the park’s pre-backcountry mandatory bear aware video left us ultra-focused on the increased odds of meeting a grizzly bear that night; wrapped up in our sleeping bags, enclosed in a tent, miles from any other people… Lets just say we didn’t get the best sleep, packed up fairly quick the next morning and headed out.
We were also excited to get back on the bikes because we were going to see Old Faithful and a handful of other geothermic wonders on our way to Madison for the night.
Dave really enjoyed it and did some deep thinking on the edge of the Grand Prismatic Geyser.
The colors, caused by temperature differences in microbial growth, were sensational.
Camping that night in Madison in the hiker/biker section was cheaper, but also right behind the campground office and still surrounded by RVs. On the plus side, we met an awesome retired couple from Alaska on an open-ended international bicycle tour and the campground office hooked up its hiker/bikers with bottomless free coffee to take the chill off of the cold morning!
Reconnecting with the route meant we had to go through West Yellowstone and over Targhee Pass. We got held up in West Yellowstone with the conveniences of the modern world – bike shops, burgers, milkshakes, laundry, a post-office, 90 second showers (all we had money for), groceries, and KFC. Then we attempted to bike over Targhee Pass to a recommended campsite on the other side of the pass, in the night, with semi-trucks flying by just off our handlebars. We made it to within a half mile of the top (not realizing we were SO close) and swung into a forest service road to camp out. Again, we feared for our lives being that we both reeked of fried chicken and were in bear country. The sunrise from the pass was beautifully tinted by the haze of the forest fires burning strong nearby.
Crossing Targhee Pass dropped into Idaho (4th State of the trip) for an hour or two of pedaling before crossing back into Montana. Reconnecting with the Great Divide route, we pedaled up and over Red Rocks Pass. Aspens were prevalent and the the fall colors were glorious throughout the day!
Near the top of the pass, we opted for some cattle “single” track and were cruising along, digging the technical fun of being off trail, until the trail disappeared. The quarter mile mega-suffer-fest back to the road took us through bushy undergrowth, tight aspen groves and plentiful downed trees. At the top of the pass, we realized that we could have continued on the single track and a trail would have appeared only a couple hundred yards beyond our turning point. Fortunately, we had a quality downhill off the backside of the pass as we rode into Red Rocks National Wildlife Refuge. That night we camped along side the Upper Lake below the Centennial Mountain Range.
From there we biked to Lima, MT and camped in their town park. Although most would see Lima as a small dying town along side I-15, after drinking with the locals at the Peat, Dave and I were optimistic for their futures and excited about their faith in their little town. We headed out the next morning for to ride into the southern end of the Bitterroot Range, claimed to be one of the more remote and memorable sections of the ride.
Unfortunately, a few miles up Big Sheep Creek Rd. Beverly (Dave’s bike)’s front hub decided that it was done. So we limped his bike out to Dell (smaller town alongside I-15) and started hitching.
We needed to get to a city with a bike shop to replace the bearings, so we figured Butte would be the spot. Our first ride came after only a few minutes of waiting with a fellow cyclist in a BRAND NEW BMW SUV. He had picked it up in Arizona and was driving back to his home in Spokane, WA – strait through – and was happy for the company! He gave us a ride to Dillon, MT where he claimed the growing outdoor population ought to have the parts we needed and we could reconnect with the route (only missing a day’s ride). Unfortunately the local bike shop didn’t have the parts we needed, and we couldn’t bike far for camping on Dave’s broken hub. Thankfully Beth at the Patagonia Outlet put us up in their side yard for the night! Beth and Jimmy’s, her husband, hospitality was incredible and very appreciated! They insisted we eat their family dinner – an amazing homemade (and home-hunted) elk pasta – then forced us to use their awesome home-built sauna (way too hot)!
Riding back to the highway in the morning we hitched another ride, this time all the way to Butte. Our ride came from a young climber in PA-school in (also from Spokane – must be friendly people out there!) who was excited to talk about our ride and discuss backcountry skiing in the northern Idaho ranges! As he dropped us off, he asked that one of us add a sticker to our bikes to help answer peoples questions about the big tires… it says “I’m compensating” and I couldn’t have been any happier to have added it to Cousteau!
Butte didn’t offer any reasonably close free-camping, and after a failed couch-surfing attempt, we ended up in the $35/night KOA wedged between the interstate, a fried chicken joint, and downtown Butte… the worst campsite of the trip. At least we were somewhere where we could get Beverly back and running the next day!