Day Seventeen: West Yellowstone, Montana to Cody, Wyoming - Oregon Coast to Kentucky WITH NO FLAT TIRES! - CycleBlaze

June 26, 2019

Day Seventeen: West Yellowstone, Montana to Cody, Wyoming

The longest day.

I was riding just after dawn. It was chilly and I was wearing ear warmers, arm warmers, gloves, and my rain jacket. Not the tight padded shorts and leg warmers, though; the supposedly more comfortable padded bike shorts always eventually cause me discomfort after a few days, and I was back to my loose touring shorts, probably for good on this trip. I can't afford to get a saddle sore.

The streets of West Yellowstone were almost completely empty. In a few blocks I rode through the gate to Yellowstone National Park, where no one was at work yet to collect the entrance fee from me. I was off to a good start.

Very soon I was in Wyoming.

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Steele HintonJeff! We were in West Yellowstone and the park on Wednesday! We turned south at Madison where you went straight. We didn't see any cyclists until then, so we didn't see you without knowing it. Since we've been on the road I haven't always been able to keep up with you.
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1 year ago
Jeff LeeTo Steele HintonWhat a coincidence!

I hope you had a good time in the park. Riding through it on a bike is not a very good way to see things, unfortunately. As I'm sure you observed, traffic can be terrible.

I've been on some very empty roads since leaving Yellowstone, which is what I prefer.

Enjoy your vacation!
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1 year ago

Despite my early start, traffic picked up immediately. This road in the park has a decent shoulder, though, so it was fine. Scenery was nice enough, but in general, I think Yellowstone is the most overrated national park. Obviously I'm in a tiny minority in this belief, since millions flock to it every year. In fact, later today it seemed like they were all there simultaneously.

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Just before 10:00, and after 40 miles, I reached Canyon Village, "your basecamp for exploring the park", according to some random Yellowstone brochure I picked up somewhere. Thousands of tourists in thousands of vehicles swarmed everywhere. It was my least favorite kind of scene. I went into one of the ultra-busy national park restaurants and convinced the waiter there to have them make me a special veggie omelet even though no such thing existed on the menu ("maybe throw some spinach in there, too.")

It was surprisingly good for something at one of the park restaurants.  A guy sat down next to me, looked over the limited menu, then asked me what I'd ordered. He seemed jealous of my "custom" omelet. Yes, I was pretty smug about my special omelet.

I was next supposed to ride for 15 or 16 miles on "Grand Loop Road." The notes on my route said it was strongly recommended to do this in the very early morning hours, because traffic was so heavy any other time, and the road was very narrow, with no shoulder at all. I was obviously ignoring this advice, since it 10:30.

I made it 1/2 mile before I stopped. This was impossible. Unbelievable. I'd literally never seen traffic like this in all my years of bike touring. I turned and went back to Canyon Village. 

There I wasted at least an hour trying to figure out what to do. I considered the following options:

1. Spend the night in the campground in Canyon Village and try again tomorrow at dawn. The campground was full, but supposedly there were a few special sites reserved for cyclists and hikers. Even so, I doubt I would sleep much in the noisy, jam-packed-with-tourists campground. And I hated the idea of doing such a short day.

2. Go back to toward West Yellowstone and take a different way out of the park. Going backward on a bike tour is absolutely anathema to me. 

3. Hitchhike the 15 miles. Also an abhorrent idea to a touring purist like me.

I was literally standing over my bike trying to figure out what to do when a young couple rode up on heavily loaded touring bikes. They were from Australia, and were doing some sort of longish tour of the American west. They  had just started their riding for the day, and were also planning to ride the "Grand Loop Road." I told them it looked pretty terrible to me, but they decided they had to try it, since they didn't want to stay another day in Canyon Village. I decided that if they could do it, so could I. So the three of us merged into the ultra-busy stream of tourist traffic.

It was pretty harrowing, and the strong gusts of wind that blew us sideways occasionally didn't help. I stayed with the Australian couple for a while, but when the traffic thinned out slightly, I pulled ahead.

I made it to Fishing Bridge, where I was supposed to turn off onto a less busy and wider road, only to find that four miles of it was under construction. The flagger girl had me wait until all the cars left, and then radio-ed ahead that "the last one is a yellow bicycle."

When got to the next flagger, I found that all traffic, and all construction was stopped because a couple of bison had wandered onto the road.

The animals seemed in no hurry to move, so I asked the flagger if I could just go on. Perhaps a bicycle existed in some gray zone in the Yellowstone bison/vehicle/road work rule book, because the guy just nodded for me to go. So I went.

I got pretty close to this guy when I went around him. He seemed unconcerned.
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Before riding the last mile of road construction I stopped where a large group of men in hard hats had congregated. Earlier I'd been told that there was a pilot truck I'd have to ride in. "You're already past that. Just go on", one of them said.

This had all worked out better than I expected.

It started to rain just a little as I rode past an enormous, beautiful lake, so on went the rain jacket. Traffic was light now. A woman walking along the beach at the lake called out "Good Job!" as I rode by. She must have been a cyclist, because I never hear that from people who don't ride bikes.

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Scott AndersonOh, my gosh. What a great shot.
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1 year ago
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I started a long, long climb.

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Near the top, I stopped at a pit toilet, came out, and encountered three well-dressed older men. After a brief conversation, one of them announced they were Jehovah's Witnesses, returning from a church meeting. I deflected any further discussion on that subject, but did accept a card from one of them, and promised I would "look it over" later.

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There was snow on the on ground at Sylvan Pass (elevation 8,530 feet.) I began the steep descent, taking it even more cautiously than usual, since I basically had no rear brake at all.

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At the bottom I exited the park. I had no real plan for what to do next. Cody, Wyoming was more than 50 miles away, which seemed an ambitious destination, given that I'd already ridden 80+ miles today.

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I stopped at a little store a few miles later. They had cabins for rent, but they wanted $200!

There were some middle-aged (or older) motorcyclists there - they had passed me going down the mountain - and I had the usual joking conversation with them:

 "Where's your motor"? 

"Right here! [patting my legs]"

etc.

I kept riding. The scenery was very nice.

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I saw line of cars stopped along the road. I pulled over to see what was going on, when there it was. My big fear. There was a grizzly bear in the field just off the road. I'd been thinking of camping in one of U.S. Forest Service campgrounds along this stretch, but there was no way I was doing that now. The people in their cars and trucks watching the bear seemed amused by my consternation, but unlike me, they could just quickly get in their vehicles and drive away if the bear approached us.

I kept riding.

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There were various cabin and motels on the way, but they all either had no vacancies, or cost more than $200.

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It was flat, and I had a tailwind, or at least no headwind. I decided I could get to Cody, a large town (large by Wyoming standards, anyway) before the sun went down.

There was one last surprise. As I got closer to Cody, a large hill loomed. I was wondering how I would get through that when the answer suddenly appeared: A tunnel. I didn't have much time to think about it, and just rode into it, pedaling as fast as I could. Fortunately I'd had the foresight to put my red rear blinking light on earlier.

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I arrived in Cody at dusk. There was a loud rodeo going on. Just past that I stopped at the first motel and got a room that was a fraction of the cost of the ridiculously overpriced places 20 miles earlier.

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After I got cleaned up, I went out in search of food. I'd barely eaten anything since my custom omelet hours before. I walked for a mile before I found an open convenience store, and was saddened to find that the adjoining Little Caesars Pizza next door had already closed for the night, so I bought some snacks, walked back to my room, and ate them at almost 10:00, surely my latest dinner on a bike tour ever.

Today's ride: 136 miles (219 km)
Total: 1,348 miles (2,169 km)

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Comment on this entry Comment 2
Scott AndersonThanks for the refresher! I rode through Yellowstone once, over twenty years ago, at exactly this time of year. I hit snow and had to bail on the plan to bike Beartooth Pass, and dropped down to Cody instead. I remember well worrying about that last hill before Cody.
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1 year ago
Jeff LeeTo Scott AndersonScott, there was a mention in the description of the route about the tunnels, but I'd forgotten about it.

Which is actually a good thing, because otherwise I'd have been worrying about it all day.

I'm in Buffalo tonight, and finally seem to to have escaped the enormous Yellowstone tourist zone.
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1 year ago