The Tetons and Yellowstone

June 23, 2008

Peter writes: Today I’m writing from Dubois, Wyoming (pronounced “Doo-boys”), which is about 60 miles east of the Grand Teton National Park. I haven’t written since Idaho Falls, which was some three days ago (although, frankly, everything’s a bit of a whirr). Since then, we’ve ridden over the Teton Pass (elevation 8,400 feet), which was the hardest stretch of riding on the whole trip (see my dad’s blog on it below — basically, climbing 9-11% grades over 3 miles at 8,000 feet is a whole new experience in pain); after topping over the pass, we bombed the descent into Jackson, Wyoming, a town that appears to be famous for being famous (kind of like Paris Hilton, really), and called it a day.

We took the next two days off for touring the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone. Without getting into too much detail, these parks really are spectacular. The Teton range is magnificent. And Yellowstone is Yellowstone, meaning it lives up to expectations: Old Faithful was in fact faithful on our visit, the Old Faithful Inn is one of the most interesting buildings I’ve ever seen, and Yellowstone Falls is simply gorgeous. But the most interesting and hair-raising part of the experience is the wildlife. Over two days we saw every one of the large mammals that inhabit the park — moose, elk, bison and grizzlies. We saw two of the latter, one of which was no more than 75 yards from us (thankfully completely uninterested in the horde of tourists standing on the side of the road, snapping its photo).

All of that ended today, as we got back in the saddle and once again headed due east. Our trip today included the highest point on the entire ride, over the Continental Divide at some 9,700 feet (once again, see dad’s blog below). Fortunately the climb, while brutally long, had a maximum grade of around 6% and thus spared us from the types of lung-searing efforts required over the Teton Pass. Once over the top, we had a descent that lasted at least 15 miles, which is the reward for climbing the monsters we’ve had to deal with.

I did have one fascinating encounter on the way up the climb. As I was suffering up the upper portion of the climb, I happened to look up from my usual 10 feet in front of the bike to see two huge animals not 100 yards from me. A moose and her calf were standing by the side of the road, eating grass. Both were oblivious to the 2 cars that passed just as I noticed them, but once they saw me, their interest was piqued. Apparently autos are perfectly normal to moose, but not bicycles. Not good. I had no problem recalling the little wilderness survival knowledge I had, namely, don’t surprise large furry mammal mothers when they are with their calves. And these two were definitely surprised. And of course they were huge, even the calf, which was probably twice my size, making the mother four or five times my size. Well, to make a long story short, I turned and took off downhill until I saw my mother in the van, then turned back up the hill to follow her to the exact spot where the moose had been. The beasts had fled into the nearby woods, only to reemerge a few minutes later a couple hundred yards away, this time about 50 yards from the road itself, therefore perfectly situated for a sudden collection of tourists who were busily snapping photos and thus reenacting the grizzly photo shoot from the day before.

Well, it’s late now and I need to head to bed. We’re into the tough part of the ride now, not so much physically as mentally. The landscape, while still beautiful, is going to become monotonous, and we’re encountering very few towns here in Wyoming. I have a real desire to increase our daily miles so we can rush eastward, toward the midwest and the east and the end of the ride, not because I’m not enjoying it but because I have a strong and urgent need to feel like we are making progress against both this gigantic country and time itself. It will be a victory if we can ride faster than planned. For an urbanite like me the huge expanses of country are a bit unsettling; in many ways I want to return to my city of four million people. On top of this, it’s odd sleeping in strange beds every single night. We are getting stronger now and putting in 75 or 80 miles isn’t nearly as hard as early in the ride. Famous last words, of course, but perhaps by the flatlands, in another state or two, we can do 100 a day.

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