Day 5: East on Wapiti Highway - Yellowstone and Grand Tetons 2004 - CycleBlaze

September 1, 2004

Day 5: East on Wapiti Highway

I got up at 6:50 AM, packed right away, and got to the cafeteria at 7:40 AM. After breakfast I got on the road at 8:10 AM. That's early for me and it was still chilly- 42F (5C). But the sun was shining and it warmed up quickly as I backtracked 16 miles to Yellowstone Lake. I stopped for tea at the Bridge Bay cafe, then continued around the northeast shore of Yellowstone Lake.

Northeast shore of Yellowstone lake.
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Most roadside flowers were well past their prime.
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After a few miles along the shore the road abruptly turns away from the lake and climbs steeply to the east. Near the beginning of the climb I took the Lake Butte turnoff and climbed steeply for 1 mile to a great viewpoint 500 feet above Yellowstone Lake. I stopped for a while to take several photos and enjoy the view. There was a beautiful quality to the burned forest that surrounded me.

A happy touring cyclist at Lake Butte.
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Burned deciduous forest at Lake Butte. Grand Tetons visible in the upper right.
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Looking west from Lake Butte.
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Then a quick coast back to the main road to resume the climb to Sylvan Pass.

Sylvan lake near the beginning of the climb to Sylvan pass.
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Looking back while climbing Sylvan pass.
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Climbing on the Wapiti highway.
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Just before the 8530 foot (2585m) summit I got into a road construction zone. In July, major road reconstruction had just started to rebuild the road from Sylvan Pass to the east. A rainstorm caused a huge rockslide that buried 1/4 mile of the road at Sylvan Pass. Because construction equipment was already in the area it only took 3 days to excavate and reopen the road and confirm that no motorists were killed. Now more than a month later the giant pile of rocks is still being rearranged to a more stable condition. Unfortunately I was stopped at the summit and forced to wait for a pilot car to take me through the next two miles of road construction. Those two miles were all downhill and in a very scenic canyon where I would have stopped to take pictures. But I couldn't ask the pilot car to stop for a picture while leading a long line of vehicles through the construction zone. Once again it would have been very easy to bike through the construction zone if only they would allow me. And once again I was NOT happy about the situation.

After getting back on the bike I still had a long descent ahead of me. I couldn't help but cheer up with conditions like this: long gradual descent, tailwind, sun behind me, spectacular scenery, and no overtaking traffic most of the time because traffic only gets through the construction zone once every 20 minutes. A few miles into the descent I departed America's first national park and entered America's first national forest: Shoshone National Forest.

Progress was slow because I stopped so often to take pictures of this magical place. Around every bend of the road is another spectacular view of rock formations and the river. It's easy to see why Theodore Roosevelt called this the most beautiful 52 miles in the United States.

Shoshone river.
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Wapiti highway.
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Wapiti highway along the Shoshone river.
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Postcard view of Wapiti highway. I like the previous picture better.
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I stopped to camp at the Wapiti Campground in Shoshone National Forest (6200 feet elevation). I originally planned to go another 20 miles to Buffalo Bill State Park but decided to stop here in the red rock zone. I was getting tired and it would be almost dark if I pressed on another 20 miles. I set up my tent just a few feet away from the north fork of the Shoshone river with a spectacular view in every direction.

View from my campsite at Wapiti campground.
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The ground was extremely hard so I set up my tent without using stakes. The evening was so warm that I didn't put the rain fly on the tent. I had a homebrew shower, made dinner, and watched the red rocks fade in the sunset. For the first time I didn't need to put on a jacket at sunset. This was due to the lower elevation and due to heat radiating from the red rocks after a sunny day.

This was a great day. The mileage was the longest so far on the trip, but it wasn't extremely strenuous because of the moderate amount of climbing. The weather was great-partly cloudy with a high of 72F (22C). I saw a great variety of terrain and had a wonderful late afternoon ride after the construction zone. Tomorrow's ride will be more difficult because I stopped 20 miles short of my intended destination.

Distance: 68.0 miles (108.8 km) [rode 2 miles in a pilot car]

Climbing: 2270 feet (687m)

Average speed: 11.2 mph (17.9 km/h)

Maximum speed: 39 mph (62.4 km/h)

Hiking: 1 mile (1.6 km)

Today's ride: 68 miles (109 km)
Total: 209 miles (336 km)

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