Posted by Andrew Godlewski ● Jul 14, 2019 1:06:30 AM
Tales of Yellowstone and Grand Tetons
I initially wanted to avoid Yellowstone National Park at all costs. Although it is arguably one of the most famous National Parks out there, from all I’d heard about travelling this route by bike, I knew that the park and its roads would be overcrowded with tourists. This is a huge bummer for cyclists. Imagine this: you’re a first-time RV renter, maybe from the UK, not even used to driving on the right side of the road. The RV is much larger than your barbie car-sized Saab and you’re navigating narrow roads while searching in dense forests for bears and bison. Cyclists are the last thing on your mind that you should be looking out for.
Part Two of our Yellowstone phobia is the plain fact that Yellowstone is notoriously grizzly bear country. That’s arguably half the reason to go in the first place. But on a bicycle? Without four steal doors, a roof, and wheels that can speed you away from a perturbed grizzly? Well, in this situation I fear The Mighty Grizzly, and I am not afraid to admit it. My imagination runs wild dreaming up our encounter: he lurks in the shadows around my tent at night, plotting his foray under the tent’s vestibule and the first swipe of his paw to cut through the thin strip of nylon and polyester that separates us. I know that he is out there, waiting for me to be off guard for just the right moment. Waiting… for his time to strike. If you are a car camper or have an RV, I object to your right to call me a sissy for this: if things get dicey in bear country you can always drive away, safely in the confines of a steel framed vehicle. I live on a bike. If things get dicey the best I can do is ring my little bell before curling up in a ball on the ground and trying not to sob out loud.
All this said, Yellowstone is still Yellowstone. Even adding in these fears--whether you think them sane or insane--we simply could not pass up the opportunity to visit the world's first national park. So, to combat the potential obstacles in front of us, we bought bear spray, talked to locals who knew the most about backpacking in Grizzly country, and made sure our trusty pool noodles were locked and loaded on our bikes.
Cycling With A Pool Noodle: Aerodynamic? No. Safer? Yes.
If you are a cyclist and reading this before riding in Yellowstone, I highly recommend visiting your local dollar store and purchasing a pool noodle. As the store name suggests, it’ll only set you back… one dollar.
We’ve been using these puppies since almost getting hit in Fort Bragg, CA. Our friend Pete introduced the idea to us via this blog post, “Why Every Cyclist Needs A Pool Noodle.” The theory is that a bright pool noodle sticking out three feet into the lane will cause drivers to take notice, slow down and/or push over a bit rather than knock us off the road. Based on two months of riding since using these, I can confidently say they work great! Cars have been giving us a lot more space, and we generally fee safer on roads with a narrow shoulder.
Pool noodles worked particularly well in Yellowstone. Where we’d been warned constantly about the drivers here, we only had one relatively close call riding down a hill. Other than that, RVs, trucks, and cars all gave us what felt like plenty of room while we road through the park. It was a constant flow of traffic, but at least we were being safe. What’s more, anyone we met along the road and talked to while hiking in the park easily identified us as “the noodle people,” asking us a ton about our trip and why we were carrying noodles on our bikes.
Geysers and Hot Springs
We started our trip by taking a hike to the Grand Prismatic Spring overlook. This was my favorite site in Yellowstone. The huge spring is full of vibrant blue, orange, and red colors; all created by the bacteria that lurks around the edges. While viewing, a few people came up to ask “the noodle people” about our trip around the world and where we planned to visit next.
The next stop for us was Old Faithful, where we waited over an hour for the famous geyser to blow. I’m going to catch hell for saying this from all my geologist friends (n=0), but I have seen cooler fountains at the mall. I know it’s old and its timely (dare I say.. faithful), but this wasn’t my cup of tea. Maybe we picked a spot that diminished the impressiveness here, but regardless, we checked the box with our picture and moved on up the dusty trail.
We spent the night in Grant Village, where we made friends with a group from Colorado that were backpacking along the Continental Divide trail. I learned a ton about the logistical differences between long distance backpacking and cycle touring here. Of particular note, that backpackers have trail names that follow them during hikes in the wilderness. I want a trail name :(
New Friends. Grand Tetons.
For our last day in the park area, we cycled through Grand Tetons National Park. These are the coolest mountains that I have ever seen in person. It’s hard to put into words what makes these Tetons so grand, but they really appear to come up out of nowhere from the lake and continue jutting skyward to enormous heights. It seemed that around every corner there was an even more impressive view. I now understand why rich people all want to vacation in Jackson hole… it’s a sick spot.
That night, we camped in Colter Bay. You know those situations where a stranger learns your from… like New York City, and they have a friend who also lives there, and they are like, “Do you know John Wankonowitz.” You always say: no. Right?
Well… this is, in fact, a small small world. As we entered the camp, a guy named Justin approached us, welcoming us with a few cold beers. Strong opening. We got to chatting about our respective cycling tours (he is mountain biking the Continental Divide trail… which is intense) and sat down to a deluxe Suzie-fied open flame Mexican buffet. Between the wood fired quesadilla and nacho courses, we told him that we met over in Korea. He paused and mentioned that he knew a couple that also taught in Korea a long time ago. We laughed in thinking we’d know that one random couple from years ago, in a country of 60 million plus people and thousands of English teachers, but figured we’d ask who they were.
Turns out our friends Katie and Sessions were also his friends Katie and Sessions. By some small margin of victory (or error ) we did in fact know them.
The coincidence made for a great night of conversation and made me appreciate how lucky we are to be in this crazy cycle touring community. A community where people leave their jobs to adventure on two wheels. A community that shares beer with fellow weary travelers knowing how shattered their bodies must feel after a long day of riding their lives around on a bicycle. And a community that enjoys a high-calorie feast by campfire knowing that these happy calories will be empty by morning. Nothing makes my heart more full and for this I can say with confidence that Yellowstone was definitely worth it.
Side note of imagination getting the better of me: Imagine a grizzly with a cockney accent, starring muzzle open at the site of old faithful while swerving down a narrow road in a vehicle the size of a school bus. But soon she’s distracted further, hearing other honks from black bears and pairs of moose along the roadway, thinking “what the hell is going on with these other drivers?! They’re animals”, not knowing her cubs are in the back, causing ruckus for their mum by holding a “honk if you love honey” sign in the back. Just a thought… but a scary thought, don’t you think? Thank God I packed my noodle.
Check out more stories from our US Cycle Tour here.