Any of you who know me at all can appreciate how much I enjoy my travel adventures. In my mind, no vacation is fully complete without a story or two of falling off a mountain, getting lost in the wilderness or (at a minimum) experiencing some sort of out-of-the-norm activity. After my spring vacation plans were foiled by the unfolding pandemic in March (I still have unfinished adventures in Hurricane, Utah), coming up with an inspired plan for an early summer trip became all the more important.
I have been through Yellowstone several times but always fancied the idea of cycling through the park, so I saw this as a unique opportunity not to be missed! Man (and woman) must not live by bike alone, so loading up enough “stuff” to enjoy all the sorts of activities we like was of critical importance. I am the guy you see rolling down the road laden with not only bikes but kayaks, golf clubs, cameras and everything else that can fit in (and on) my Jeep. As we headed west on route 80, we found ourselves in good company with a stream of campers and RV’s filled with families on their own adventures… making their own stories.
Making our way through Illinois and Iowa, the land flattened out and became more sparsely populated as we rolled through the “great breadbasket of the world.” We passed through dozens of communities dominated by grain silos, cattle feedlots, mining and oil production. While we used to use a AAA guide to research places we visit, now Wikipedia tells us most of these towns originated with the development of the Union Pacific Railroad. We kayaked along the sandy banks Platte River in eastern Nebraska and biked the hill country of western Nebraska. Once into Wyoming you understand the meaning of “big sky country” with a seemingly endless horizon and little sign of human habitation.
As you may expect, there was little to be made of Corona virus in places where you must work hard NOT to be socially distanced. One of the most interesting parts of this trip was our observations of the cautiousness (or lack thereof) of the local populace in the many different places we visited.
After 3 days we finally arrived in Cody, Wyoming and the east gate of Yellowstone NP. This scenic cowboy town is just what you would expect with a historic main street, the world-famous Buffalo Bill Museum (well worth the visit) and access to every outdoor activity you can imagine. We rented a cabin in Wapiti that was just outside the east gate. If you have never been, the grand scale of these wild places is difficult to comprehend. When I say we were just outside the gate that means 30 miles of twisty, narrow roads that, often, ends with a 3 or 4 hour wait to get into the park. We drove right up to the entrance with not another car in sight. From there it is a 2-2.5-hour drive to the most popular parts of the park, but what a drive it is! As we climbed to over 8500’ at Sylvan Pass I realized that cycling IN Yellowstone will be a much better idea than cycling THROUGH! I also realized the wildlife of Yellowstone is enjoying the limited traffic as much as we were. A pair of Bighorn Sheep greeted us on the road within 5 miles of the entrance and Bison and Elk were commonly seen walking or sitting along the roadsides. Over the next few days, we cycled across the Lamar and Hayden Valleys experiencing some of the most picturesque country in the world. The wildlife viewing was equally remarkable as we saw Moose, Wolves, Coyotes, Bald Eagles, Badgers, Black and Grizzly bears all without the distraction of the usual crowds you would expect during a typical Yellowstone summer.
The adventures continued from there through Grand Teton NP, Park City, Utah and Boulder, Colorado, but cycling in Yellowstone was what highlighted our trip. There are so many more other stories to share. You’ll have to ask me about Ed’s great disaster, biking in a snowstorm, the great chuckwagon show, the e-bike hullabaloo and the funky Boulder vibe, but those are for another day.
I am so glad we made the decision to go on this trip despite the obvious challenges it presented. More than ever before, we all have to do what we feel we need to protect ourselves and others, but we also have to continue to live, knowing that with life comes risk.
Now go outside and have fun in the dirt!