Conclusion - Yellowstone and Grand Tetons 2004 - CycleBlaze


Here are some statistics about this tour:

Total cycling distance: 623 miles (997 km)

Average daily cycling distance: 41.5 miles (66.4 km)

Cycling on gravel roads: about 20 miles (32 km)

Cycling in rain: about 20 miles (32 km) on Day 6.

Total climbing on the bike: 29,800 feet (9030 m)

Hiking: 41 miles (66 km)

Camping: 12 nights, always in campgrounds

Motels: 2 nights in Red Lodge

Flat tires: none

Broken spokes: 1

Warmest temperature: about 75F (24C)

Coldest temperature: about 28F (-2C)

Highest elevation: 10,940 feet (3315 m) on Beartooth Highway

Lowest elevation: 3900 feet (1180 m) in Belfry, Montana

How would I sum up this trip? Maybe the best short answer is "no surprises". On any bike tour there are ample opportunities for bad things to happen. But I had no injuries, no illness, no crashes, and no mechanical breakdowns that prevented me from riding. I'm especially grateful that I didn't have any recurrences of back pain, sciatica, or gout during the tour. I never got lost, never lost any stuff, and none of my stuff got broken or stolen. Compared to my previous tour in Nova Scotia, I had minimal mood swings and variations in energy level.

Unpleasant weather is always possible because of the high elevation, northern latitude, and late summer season. But only 1 day out of the 15 had consistently awful weather, and that occurred when I was already in a great place of refuge, and on a day when I really needed a rest. I only biked a little more than 1 hour in rain and it only rained 1 of the 12 nights that I camped. I only had half a day of strong headwinds, which is pretty lucky for 15 days on the road. Overall there was less bad weather than I expected and more really pleasant days than I expected.

I was very lucky with the weather considering how the weather was before and after my trip. When I arrived in Jackson Hole the weather was just returning to normal after 10 consecutive cold and rainy days. 3 days after my trip ended a major storm brought the first snow of the season.

I didn't worry about the wild animals before the trip. I followed all the rules about food in bear country and never saw evidence of bears. I had to wait a few times for bison crossing the road but I never felt threatened and never felt that it was unsafe to bike anywhere that I went. On two occasions I passed a park ranger standing in the road telling me not to stop nearby because a bear is in the area. But I never saw the bears.

Before the tour I had read that Yellowstone gets 700,000 visitors in August and 550,000 visitors in September. Virtually all the visitors are in cars or motor homes, so there is a lot of traffic. The traffic wasn't as heavy as I thought it would be on most of my route. The traffic was only really heavy on the main north/south route through Yellowstone, from Mammoth Hot Spring to West Thumb. Traffic wasn't as heavy farther south on the same highway in Grand Teton National Park. Yellowstone is notorious for awful road quality. But many of the roads have been recently repaved and there were only two sections in awful condition. First was 7 miles from Tower Junction going south. That road had minimal traffic because the road was already closed for reconstruction farther south. Second was the 18 mile section from Mammoth Hot Springs to the Norris campground.

I knew in advance that 4 different roads were under construction this year. The only surprise was that I was forced to ride a pilot car 5 times. On previous tours I've always been permitted to bike through construction zones. Of course the silver lining with all this construction is that a few years from now all the roads in the Yellowstone will be bicycle-friendly.

I had high expectations about the scenery at Yellowstone and Grand Teton and wasn't disappointed. I took more photos than I have ever taken before on a bike tour.

I saw more touring cyclists on this tour than I have seen since biking in New Zealand in 1994. One reason is that I was on and near the TransAmerica bike route (my first time to bike on a piece of that route). Another reason is that Yellowstone is a "must-see" destination for many foreign bike tourists. It was great to do a tour in an area where most campgrounds have hiker/biker sections. Most campgrounds were full when I arrived, so it was helpful to know that there is always room in the hiker/biker section. One less thing to be concerned about.

This definitely isn't a "beginner" bike tour because of the combination of bad roads, heavy traffic, potentially dangerous wildlife, challenging terrain, and the potential for bad weather. But this area has special rewards, and many of the rewards are the same things that make the tour so challenging. Maybe that sums up bike touring and life in general: The biggest rewards tend to be the biggest challenges.

Wayne Estes

Mundelein, IL, USA

30 September, 2004

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