To Old Faithful Inn - The Yellowstone Ride - CycleBlaze

June 15, 1995

To Old Faithful Inn

I awoke early, about 6 I think, and after packing up I headed to the lodge for breakfast.  I wanted to get an early start because this was to be another fairly long day and I hoped to have enough hours left at the end to hike around the geysers.  I was too early for breakfast though, so I sat and watched the lake and mountains for awhile.  As fine as the scenery was, best of all for me was the birdlife.  A tall snag was a gathering spot for a cluster of about a hundred swallows - intermittently, something would stimulate the and they would explode out in all directions and then gradually recongregate.  It had something of the feeling of watching a sparkler.  Eventually, a raven landed in the snag and dominated their territory, chasing them off and occasionally projecting a deep throated rattle.

After a Mexican omelet feast at a window seat with a perfect view of the lake and the Tetons, I returned to the room, finished off the final few pages of The Statement, and embarked on the day's journey.  Unfortunately, weather conditions have deteriorated since I awoke.  It is now almost uniformly grey, and almost looks like a Seattle sky.  And now, it is in fact lightly sprinkling.  I briefly consider waiting for it to improve, but this appears so unlikely to happen that I just utter a silent prayer and start out.

The first fifteen or so miles are easy, following the shoreline of Lake Jackson north past Colter Bay.  I carefully watch the marshlands as I cycle by, hoping to spot a moose - but am satisfied with pelicans.   To be honest, none of the day's ride inspired sightseeing - it is quite cold - probably in the forties - and the steady but light drizzle does not encourage stopping for long to enjoy the scenery. 

I plow steadily on, making good progress except for an unexpected three mile climb as the route veered from the Snake before dropping again.  Finally, at about the entrance to Yellowstone, the road leaves the Snake and follows the Lewis River as it steadily climbs to Lewis Lake and beyond, eventually crossing the Continental Divide at about 8,300' before dropping to Yellowstone Lake.  The ride along the Lewis is at times spectacular - the river rages at the bottom of a deep, narrow canyon - but the steady traffic, zero shoulder, and steadily intensifying precipitation make it hard to fully appreciate it.  Toward the summit, it is no longer sprinkling - it is raining in earnest; and if it hasn't been getting colder, it certainly is no warmer either.

I reach West Thumb a bit before 2, and after a brief tour of its small thermal area set out for the final seventeen miles of the day.  They promise two more crossings of the Continental Divide before dropping to the geyser basin surrounding Old Faithful.  The climbs are not all that bad, but the rain is getting really serious, occasionally bordering on becoming a freezing downpour; and by the time I arrived at the lodge I was fairly miserable.

At West Thumb
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At West Thumb
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Old Faithful was just concluding an eruption when I arrived.  It was quite an interesting sight - the porches and windows of the lodge were packed with dry spectators.  Feeling generally sorry for myself and a bit silly (not surprisingly, I saw no other bicyclists on the road today), I recovered with a wonderful, long hot shower and then fell asleep.

Old Faithful
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I awoke about 6:30, amazed to discover that the weather had broken a bit and there were patches of blue above.  Grabbing my camera, I set off on a seven mile tour of the basin, enjoying myself thoroughly, and feeling smug at my greater right to appreciate this interlude than the tourists who casually drove up in their cars.  I've decided that bicycle touring is decidedly a bipolar experience.

The hike was great.  I hadn't honestly expected to be that interested in geysers, but the variation in their shape, behavior and coloring is fascinating.  Morning Glory Pool, even though it has allegedly lost something as a result of decades of coins tossed into it, is uniquely beautiful; and Castle and Grotto geysers have distinctive, memorable structures. 

Morning Glory Pool
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Castle Geyser
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Castle Geyser
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Grotto Geyser
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Grotto Geyser
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Best though were the wildlife sightings - this must be because they are so unpredictable, and not a guaranteed sighting.  Across the creek from Morning Glory, an elk family grazed in the trees.  Further along, I startled (or was startled by) a coyote about fifty yards away.  A bit further on, a marmot dabbled in a geyser-warmed spring, close enough for me to hear his feet splashing about.  And just before sunset, a large, dark tree stump slowly pivoted my way and defined itself as a buffalo.

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My journal describes this as a coyote, but looking at this photo I wonder if it isn’t a wolf.
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I’m surprised to see that I got photos of all the animals in the journal.
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About a mile from the lodge, the weather began to change quickly.  The sky to the east darkened, and soon the rumble of thunder broke the  stillness of the hike.  Being totally unprepared (I hadn't even brought a rain jacket) and with nothing remotely like a shelter nearby, I began jogging off and on to try to beat out the storm.  I really wasn't up to much exertion though, either because of the 70 mile ride, the hike, the heavy shoes I was wearing, or the 8,000' elevation - but I did manage to gain enough time so that I was only about one hundred yards from the nearest building when the first drops arrived.  By the time I covered the remaining distance I was brushing small hailstones from my hair.  I stopped at the convenience store long enough to wolf down a BLT and to pick up a few chasers for my room, and then went back outside and discovered that the ground was white with hail.

Elevation gain: for the ride, 4,300’; for the tour, 11,700’

Today's ride: 68 miles (109 km)
Total: 193 miles (311 km)

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