Category Archives: Montana

July 2015 Bicycle Journey Day 2: Chico Hot Springs to Yellowstone’s Grant Villiage

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I was 43 miles into a 100 mile bike ride.  I had already climbed over 1,000 feet from my starting location.  I knew I had over 2,000 more vertical feet to climb before I would reach the high point of my day.  The road mercilessly took a turn downhill.  This was vertical height I had already worked hard to climb.  I knew that somewhere down the road, I would once again have to climb this several hundred vertical feet that I was now descending.  I sped up and continued down the road, already exhausted, knowing that I still had more than half my day left to go, both in terms of milage as well as vertical climb.

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That was when I found myself going over a bridge, over the Gardner River.  The views in all four directions, including downward were spectacular.  Not only was I viewing all of the scenery in all directions, I was smelling it.  I was feeling the air around me.  It was at this moment that I realized that, despite how exhausted I already was, and despite how agonizing the steep hills I had in front of me were going to be, that all of this was worth it.  The effort of pedaling harder than I had ever pedaled before, and enduring hours of pure pain was worth it to experience what I was experiencing on that day.

Miles 44 and 45 would take forever, as I climbed up and out of the river valley and onto the Blacktail Deer Plateau in the Northern part of Yellowstone National Park.  Knowing that I still had so much painful climbing left to go, once again “This Summer’s Gonna Hurt” by Maroon 5, a song that I had heard many times this year, and, like most Maroon 5 songs, catches in one’s head quite easily, popped into my head as I pondered the pain that I was enduring, as well as the pain that would come.

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That morning, I woke up in Paradise Valley with a strange feeling.  I was half worn out from my first day of cycling, but also felt ready to go.  It is a feeling that people who cycle long distances probably experience quite frequently, but it was a feeling that I had not truly experienced before.  Sure, I had undertaken multi-day tasks before, but never one like this, where in my head I knew I was about to tap into pretty much everything I have, physically, but I also knew that it would make for one of the most exciting days I’ve ever had.

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On the way out of Paradise Valley, we encountered the only other cyclist we would encounter that day, an Austrian gentleman headed for the Grand Canyon.  He was traveling fully self-contained, with all of his camping gear attached to his bike, and therefore taking it slower.

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After turning back onto US-89 South towards Gardiner, we entered an area known as Yankee Jim Canyon. It is here where we started to see some rafters.  Over the next few miles, we would wonder who was this “Yankee Jim” that this canyon was named after.

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Unfortunately, even the signage along the highway, the signage that eluded to both history and Yankee Jim, did not tell me anything about who Yankee Jim was.  After the trip, I did a full web search.  Nothing.  I still have no idea who was this man they call Yankee Jim. Maybe if I ever go to a Montana History Museum of some kind I’ll find out, but to this day, it remains a mystery.

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Luckily, several miles up the road, as we approached Gardiner, there was a distraction.  We encountered a place called Devil’s Slide, a uniquely shaped exposed area of red sedimentary rock that appears to lend itself to stupid, and potentially dangerous adolescent ideas.  I am quite thankful that nobody turned it into a cheesy touristy site.  There are enough overpriced alpine slides elsewhere in the West.

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We stopped for Ice Cream just before noon in Gardiner, Montana, and stepped out into much hotter air as we entered Yellowstone National Park.

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Back when I lived in Chicago, I never understood why advertisements for Montana tourism would feature images of Yellowstone National Park, which is primarily in Wyoming, with the phrase “Gateway to Yellowstone”.  But, apparently, this was the original entrance to the National Park, and, when the park first opened up, the only way to get in.  This structure right here, that I found myself riding under, was the first entrance ever created to the first National Park established.

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And I knew the climb was coming, the first climb of the day, which would eventually take me past the 45th Parallel, into the State of Wyoming, and up to Mammoth Hot Springs, where I was now roughly 1000 feet higher than Gardiner.

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But, it wasn’t just the climbs that made the ride exhausting.  It was all of the other rolling hills I was not 100% expecting.

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There are very few flat parts of Yellowstone National Park, and even the area between Mammoth Hot Springs and Tower Falls, which starts and ends at a similar elevation had many hills of different sizes.  It was around there that I decided that I was in no hurry to get to the campsite.  After all, I was in Yellowstone National Park, and in a part of the park I did not get to see the last time I visited.  I was gonna see some stuff.

After having to climb back up out of the Gardiner River Valley, I took a look at the Undine Falls.

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Unfortunately, I did not feel I had the energy to add a mile of hiking (round trip) to my day, and see the Wraith Falls.

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But, I stopped several other times to enjoy the scenery along the Blacktail Deer Plateau, and even got a chance to see a blue-billed duck through some bincoulars.

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In the middle of the afternoon, I reached one of Yellowstone’s more breathtaking, but underrated features, Tower Fall.

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It was here I took a more lengthy break, as I knew ahead of me I had a climb tougher than any climb I had ever undertaken in my life.  After that exhausting 30 mile stretch from Gardiner, up into the park and then over the plateau and all of the rolling hills, I would climb over 2000 feet, to the highest point of any road in Yellowstone; Dunraven Pass.  But, it was here that I also realized that not only was I more than halfway through my trip overall (63 miles into today with 61 miles behind me yesterday), but I was now at a higher elevation than where I would end the trip (Jackson, Wyoming is at 6200 feet).  In every sense of the phrase, I was more than halfway there.

The climb, 12 miles and almost 2600 feet in elevation gain, took me nearly two hours.  It was exhausting, and intense.  I pretty much had to stop every mile.  Somewhere roughly halfway up the pass, I started to see some beautiful alpine flowers; yellow and purple.

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But, signage told me that the presence of these wonderful flowers also signified that I was in Grizzly Bear territory.

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So, it should not have been too much of a surprise to me that when I finally got to the top of the pass,  after two long hours of huffing and puffing, I saw my first Grizzly Bear!

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Just as I had realized 31 miles (and almost 3000 feet of net climbing) ago, when I was going over that breathtaking bridge over the Gardner River, all of the riding, all of the sweat, and all of the pain did have its reward.  To be honest, it would have been more than worth all of the physical exertion without even seeing the bear.  But, seriously, there was nothing like encountering this animal, so beautiful, so majestic, yet so dangerous and overwhelming, in the manner in which I did; from my bike, out in the open, yet at the top of a pass, knowing that if I needed to outrun it, I could by pedaling as hard as I could on the next downhill stretch.

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By then, after hanging out with the bear for a little while, it was nearly 7 P.M.  I had neither the energy, nor the remaining daylight to take the walk down to Yellowstone’s iconic Lower Falls.  Luckily I saw those last time I was here, so I was glad to have taken the time to see the other waterfalls in the park.

The last real feature I visited that evening was Yellowstone’s Mud Volcano area.

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There I stood, with the water bottle I had filled up something like 6 times that day, and I came to the realization of just how geothermal Yellowstone Park is.  Like many of the geysers in the park, this “mud volcano” smelled like sulfur.  In fact, it smelled kind of yucky.  And, while I had spent most of the day looking at waterfalls, scenic river valleys, and finally those yellow and purple flowers, it is these types of features that make Yellowstone National Park unique.  We do have waterfalls, canyons, river valleys and the like all over the west, including within an hour or so of home.  All of these geothermal features … I cannot think of where else to see them!  It almost felt like this park was built on sulfur.

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After seeing an elk on the side of the road, near Yellowstone Lake, I reached the campground at Grant Village.

It had been, without a doubt, the toughest day of riding I had ever undertaken.  Going into this trip, I knew it would be, so I was prepared.  But, I was still pretty much without any residual energy at the end of the day.  In fact, I was kind of acting like I was drunk.  I guess my body had gone through an experience that some would consider “traumatic”, given how far I pushed myself.  But, for me, it is how you grow as an individual, and it is how you gain confidence.  I know that soon I will have to return to “regular life”.  In “regular life”, there is competition, there is conflict, and there are things that are just plain hard.  But, they become easier for those of us that are confident in ourselves.  Accomplishments like these simply serve as a reminder to ourselves that we are awesome.  In fact, I would love to market a bumper sticker that simply says “Smile, you are you, and you are awesome.”  Or, something like that.  There is probably a better, and catchier way to phrase that.  But the point remains that experiences like these do remind us that we are often capable of more than we believe, and are told, that we are.

July 2015 Bicycle Journey Day 1: Bozeman to Chico Hot Springs

There is no feeling like actually beginning something you had set out to do.  Lots of people talk about what they would like to do, or think about what they will someday do.  And, sure, anticipation is fun.  But it certainly does not compare to that feeling you get when you actually start something major.  For years I had been thinking about traveling long distances by bicycle.  The idea of traveling a significant distance under my own power had always thrilled me.  So, I read stories of others who had traveled by bicycle.  I looked at bicycle travel routes, particularly from the Adventure Cycling Association.  I bought the necessary equipment.  I trained.  And, finally, I planned an actual trip.  Well, I decided to join my friend’s cross-country bike ride for a three day segment, from Bozeman, Montana to Jackson, Wyoming.

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When I met up with my friend in Bozeman along his journey, Thursday, July 2nd finally became “Day 1”.  They say that the journey of 1000 miles begins with one step.  In my case, it begins with one pedal stroke.  And, when I started to pedal, headed East out of town, I finally had a “Day 1” of my own.  I was finally doing it.  I was traveling by bike.  What was once just an idea, something on a bucket list, had matured, first into detailed plans, and than into action!

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The fact that I was finally on a bicycle journey of my own felt ever more real when I left town.  After all, many people bike around town all the time.  I had biked around town quite a bit earlier in the day- roughly 10 miles total.  And, none of that really felt like I was actually on my way.  It was when i departed from town that I truly achieved that “Day 1” feeling.

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That feeling soon got complicated with another first, bicycling along an interstate highway.  At the REI, I found out that the route I had originally intended on taking was not paved, leaving no other choice but to basically follow I-90 from Bozeman to Livingston; roughly 25 miles.  Unfortunately, there is a five mile stretch where I-90 does not have a frontage road.  This actually occurs quite frequently in the West, particularly in canyons.  In many cases, there are no other roads in which to use to get from one town to another.  And, for this reason, many Western states, unlike their Eastern counterparts, permit bicycling on Interstates.

The fact that it was completely legal for me to cycle down I-90 did not make it any less scary.  In some sections, the shoulder width was not nearly as wide as they are on typical interstates.  It felt like a mere 6 feet of distance separated the edge of the right lane and the guard rails, all on a road with a speed limit of 75!  Needless to say, when we were able to exit the highway, I was relieved.

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A couple of miles later, I had reached the top of what is referred to as Bozeman Pass, and completed the first climb of my trip.  I did not take this climb too seriously.  I stayed in my big gear the entire way up.  For part of it, I was more concerned with 80 mile per hour traffic.  But, when I looked down at what I had just climbed, after reading one of the many Lewis and Clark related information boards along this route, I realized that I had actually climbed a significant amount.

On the other side of the pass, I rapidly descended into Livingston, a town we would not spend too much time in.

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We pretty much just took a bathroom break, filled up on water, and headed out, southbound, towards Yellowstone, or at least that is what pretty much all of the signs for Highway 89 south say as one heads out of town.

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This road follows the Yellowstone River into an area known as Paradise Valley.  This particular area was stunning to travel through.  Paradise Valley is a wide river valley surrounded by mountain ranges on both sides.  When one travels through this valley, particularly when they cross the Yellowstone and follow the less traveled MT-540/ East River Road, they cannot help but truly feel the solitude that this region offers.

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One will often see a lone building, a lone animal, a lone boat on the river, and even a lone cyclist making the journey through the region.  It is almost as if every single person, and every single animal came here to experience the solitude that is oh so elusive in their daily lives.

There were a lot of small climbs on East River Road, as the road periodically climbs up to an overlook of the river, only to descend back down towards the level of the river.  It was also an overall gradual ascent, as we were headed upriver in the direction of Yellowstone National Park.  I felt somewhat exhausted on this part of the ride despite the fact that I would only ride 61 miles on the day (and I had fresh legs).  I wondered if I had burned myself out going over Bozeman Pass.  Should I have taken it slower up that hill?  I knew I had a really challenging day of riding ahead of me.  Was I not pacing myself properly?

As the journey continued, and I approached the end of the day, I realized that I was not properly fueled.  I had eaten a moderate lunch, as I had recently been trying to avoid unnecessary weight gain, which would have made this journey tougher.  I had also not taken my water needs too seriously, not stopping for water too terribly frequently, as I was energized, excited about finally starting my journey, and my mind was filled with anticipation.

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When I arrived at Chico Hot Springs resort, I grabbed some of the beef jerky I had with me, and drank a good amount of water.  I felt much better for it, and came to the realization that, on bike journeys, you need to take care of your body.  On a bike trip, your body is your engine, not your bike.  I’d always thought of the bike as being the vehicle that we use to get places when traveling by bike.  I went to great lengths to ensure that my bike was properly prepared for this journey.  On this day, I learned that our bodies, and particularly our need to be properly fueled and hydrated, probably need to be taken just as seriously.

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After some time in the pool, we ate dinner at the resort.  It was a bar/pub type of place.  Upon being seated, the smell of chicken wings overwhelmed me, as they were being served to someone.  I cannot even being to tell you how good that smelled to me after all that cycling today.  Still, I restrained myself.  This is a bicycle trip.  It is not about the food.

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I was fortunate enough to spend the evening in a nice cabin, where I would get plenty of rest for the next day, a day when I would take precautions to make sure I am properly fueled and hydrated, but a day where I would also take on the challenge of cycling in Yellowstone National Park.

Bozeman, Montana; Where My Journey Begins

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“I had always known that we had the best downtown in all of Montana.  And then last year, we were voted the best downtown in all of Montana.”  At least that is how Bozeman was described to me by one of the locals, while giving me lunch recommendations.  He eventually told me that every place downtown was good, and to only avoid chain restaurants.

The first person I interacted with in Bozeman was the cab driver that drove me from the airport to the REI, where my bicycle had been shipped to, reassembled, and was waiting for me.  He described Bozeman as a “town full of expert skiers”.  With all of the other observations I had made while in town, and with the other interactions I had with people from Montana, it feels to me as if Bozeman is like a smaller and more extreme version of Denver or Boulder.  The cab driver indicated that the town almost shuts down on powder days, as everyone is headed to the mountains.  And, the people coming in and out of the bike shops appeared to be people that could ride a fair number of miles in challenging conditions.

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Bozeman is only 50-some miles from Big Sky, one of the most famous ski resorts in the country.  Locals, however, appeared more proud of their local ski resort, Bridger Bowl, only 16 miles from town, as indicated by this sign.  It was also described to me as “the only non-profit ski resort in the Country”.

However, my mind was not on skiing at the time.  My mind was on bicycling, as this was the beginning of a 3-day bicycle journey that would take me through some of the country’s most amazing natural features.  And, it would be the most challenging ride I have ever attempted.

After picking up my bike, as well as all of the necessary supplies I needed for my trip at the REI, I rode the first 1.3 miles of my journey, to the Bozeman Inn, where I would spend the evening.

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Having my bike shipped to the REI and assembled there worked out quite well for me.  The price to assemble the bike from the box is $40, and they pretty much made sure that nothing was wrong with the bike, which is something I really wanted for a bicycle journey that would take me through long stretches without bike shops.  They even checked the spokes, trued the wheel, and made sure everything else was working.  And, when they realized they still had my tire lock key, someone from the shop brought it to me downtown.

It would be nearly 10:00 P.M. before the sun went down that evening.  I had already checked into the motel, but was looking for some information about the town, maybe a bike map, or even a restaurant guide for the time I would be in Bozeman.  Instead, there was just a bar and grill located adjacent to the motel.  “Lights” by Ellie Goulding was playing quite loudly where people were drinking inside.  It was a clear reminder of what evenings were like on a normal night during my “normal life”.  So, I had the instinct to go inside, drink a little, enjoy the music, and try to meet some locals.  But, I knew better.  I was on the verge of something special.  It would be a challenging ride, and I needed my energy.

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I loaded up my bike with all of my supplies packed nicely into the panniers I had carried with me on the flight into Bozeman the previous evening.  I looked around me and saw mountains in all directions, reminding me that, yes, I was in for some challenging climbs in the coming days.

Spending the morning, and mid-day, in Bozeman gave me some time to mentally prepare for the challenge I knew I had ahead of me.  I decided to check out the attraction I had heard about the most; The Museum of the Rockies.

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This museum has somewhat of an interesting local take on geological, biological, and natural history.  Like the Field Museum in Chicago, it has an exhibit that displays how life evolved over time, starting with the single celled organisms that dominated the earth for Billions of years prior to the Cambrian explosion, through the time of the Dinosaurs and beyond in chronological order.

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This museum’s exhibit was way more dinosaur centric than the other life over time exhibits I’ve been to.  Their main attraction is the “Montana T-Rex”, the biggest T-Rex to be discovered inside the State of Montana.

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The museum is quite locally focused.  The exhibits on geological history contain a lot of information specific to the geographical area around Bozeman.  Most of the dinosaur exhibits are displayed along with a map of Montana which show where the bones were dug up.

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Seeing some of these specific exhibits actually changed the way I look at scenery.  Exhibits like this one, about the Beartooth Mountains, don’t just show how pretty they are, but show what rock formations can be seen, and how and when they developed.  The geological history behind all of these processes, from plate tectonics to atmospheric composition changes, and even processes involving air pressure changes and erosion all help explain why everything we observe is the color and shape that it currently is.  And, ultimately, for people who study natural history, all of these rock formations that we observe provided clues to Earth’s past, and helped these scientists discover what we now know.

I’ve looked at a lot of mountains, and a lot of natural scenery over the past few years.  It occurs to me that the scenery that we observe means something different to everybody.  Some people focus on the aesthetic nature of what they see, a beautiful mountain, a beautiful lake, a scenic overlook.  Others focus on the adventure.  Wow, this mountain would be great to climb, or this river would be crazy to kayak in.  But, still others are trying to deduce how this scenic view in front of them came to be.  They are the ones that see red rocks and see the process of rusting, which occurred over the course of 2 billion years, as early photosynthetic life gradually increased the oxygen content of the atmosphere, lead to the chemical reactions that made some rocks red, so long as they have had significant above ground exposure.  They are the ones that look at the rocks and see as story, a progression of events.

I almost felt bad, walking around the museum in my bicycle clothes, looking kind of like a bad-ass, talking to people about my bike trip, when the truth is, that I had only biked 7 miles so far, from the REI, to my hotel, and then to the museum.  It was the guy at the ticket window that had told me that Bozeman’s downtown was the best one in Montana.  He informed me that the museum and downtown were the two places to really see in Bozeman, so I decided to ride my bike downtown, get some lunch, and wait for my friend to join me.

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I was impressed by the downtown, particularly the bike parking.  After eating lunch at a Co-op (the kind of place that looks like a grocery store but sells fresh made lunch food to workers in downtown areas), I had some time to kill.  I was excited, getting kind of anxious, and my mind was active!  Maybe it was the 10 miles I had already ridden, enough to get my blood moving.  Maybe it was knowing what was to come.  Or, maybe it was the downtown, the vibrancy, and the unique-ness.

From book stores, to local shops, everywhere I went seemed to put me into an active process of deep thought.  For example, I saw a book.  It was titled “Faith vs. Fact: Why Science and Religion are incompatible.”  I thought to myself how ironic it is.  People become attracted to either Science or Religion, but usually do so due to the positive aspects of it; science and it’s intellectual curiosity, religion and the hope and purpose that it brings.  Yet, so many people, after choosing to love one or the other, spend more time focusing on the negative aspects of the other one, as opposed to the positive things that brought them to love either science or religion.

Just like that book, everything I saw brought me to some weird intellectual thought pattern.  I should go back to Bozeman sometime under different circumstances, and see if this is just the way the town works.  Is there something about the energy of this town that makes people just think in unique ways?

Many Montanans refer to Bozeman as “Boze-Angeles”.  In this part of the country, I am guessing this is not meant as a compliment.  That evening, after riding to Chico Hot Springs (more on that in my next post), a woman from Butte, MT would describe Bozeman as “pretentious”, and the place in Montana where one is most likely to be judged.  And, although I did not necessarily feel judged, I definitely sensed the pride here, consistent with what the cab driver, and others told me.  Still, I enjoyed the feeling of being adventurous, intellectual, and on the verge of a major adventure that would also be a major challenge, a major accomplishment, and open me up in a whole new way.

Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons

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Yellowstone National Park was the first National Park in the United States, created in 1872, which seems to be before anyone really cared about preservation or anything like that.  It also appears to be the best known National Park, the first thing people think of when they think of National Parks.  Oddly enough, though, it is one of the toughest to get to.  It is two hours away from the nearest interstate highways, both I-90 and I-15.  And, those highways are not frequently traveled.  Denver is something like ten hours away by car, and with the possible exception of Boise, I do not even want to imagine what it would cost to fly into a closer airport.  So, I would not want to pass up the opportunity to visit this park, even if it is for just one day on my way back from Missoula.

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Approaching from the West, via West Yellowstone, it is natural to enter the geyser part of the park first.  Old Faithful is the famous geyser that you see in all of the postcards about Yellowstone.  It is the biggest geyser, but not the only one.  In fact there are hundreds of them, maybe thousands, I don’t really know because I did not go everywhere.  All of these geysers, including Old Faithful, steadily emit steam whenever they are not “erupting”.  I am not sure if erupting is the right term for it, but as you know these geysers spew out water.  Apparently, it used to occur on a regular pattern, once every 50 minutes, but then something changed, likely the earthquake in 1959, and now the eruptions of this geyser are irregular.

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Having time before Old Faithful “erupts”, we checked out the Old Faithful Inn, which is a famous hotel built right next to the geyser about 100 years ago.  I think pretty much every article I have ever read about Yellowstone, as well as every special on the Travel channel or whatever, has mentioned this place.  It would be quite neat to stay at a hotel right next to one of Yellowstone’s defining features.  In fact, there is even a balcony on the second floor on this hotel where you can actually see the geyser from.  If I ever did stay at this hotel (which probably won’t happen as I am assuming it is hella-pricey), I would definitely make a point of watching at least one “eruption” of Old Faithful from the second floor balcony.  With a really good breakfast, and pleasant conditions as they were yesterday, the only thing that could possibly make the experience better would be a 711 slurpee!  For my first ever viewing of the eruption of Old Faithful, which was predicted to be at 9:04 A.M., and occurred roughly three minutes later, I viewed it from the ground along with everybody else who was there.

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If a picture is worth 1,000 words, than seeing this in person would be worth at least a million.  Really, sorry to disappoint you, but it would be futile to even attempt to describe this.  I think all of the billboards in Chicago describe it as “three Buckinghams tall”.  That is a good start for anyone that knows about that place.  I’d say visit the park.

The geyser erupted for a few minutes, and after watching the eruption, we decided to walk towards some of the other features in that area of the park.  Still amazed by the experience of Old Faithful, headed toward this boardwalk with some other geysers, pools, and hot springs, we encountered a woman with her legs straddled across the ground, and a fancy camera shaking her head.  She made several comments to us about how disappointed she was in this Old Faithful eruption.  She eluded to previous viewings of this geyser being much better.  From what she was saying, it sounded like she was referring to something 15-20 years ago, in the 1990s, but I am not 100% sure because as soon as she started talking my mind began to wander out of sheer shock that someone could find something negative to say about this event.

To be honest, I do try to give people the benefit of the doubt.  Maybe the eruptions of Old Faithful in the 1990s were larger- who knows.  But, I can’t help but think of the possibility that she represents a certain type of people that we all have encountered at some point in time in our lives.  These are the people some refer to as “critics”.  No matter what happens, what goes on, they are always focused on the negative aspects of it.  They could be on vacation on a world class boat cruise in perfect weather around their favorite people ever, have a great time dancing by the pool, and get a call from their boss informing them of a raise and a promotion, and they would still focus on the fact that their hot dog came with yellow mustard instead of spicy brown, and embellish on that point.  More significantly, people like this can be a drain to be around sometimes.  Not only because of experiences like this, but anytime making plans with people like this, they are focused on what could go wrong instead of what could go right.  When you tell them about your ideas for what you want to do with your day, you week, your life, what they say to you undoubtedly plants the seeds of doubt and failure in your mind, rather than the seeds of confidence and success.  Maybe all of this is why this woman was alone.  But, once again, I do not want to make a judgement on someone who I met for only two minutes.  There are plenty of good reasons for people to take trips all by themselves, and I have known people to do this and come away with amazing experiences.  So, I am in no way going to make assumptions about this particular person.  I will only use this as a reminder of what kind of people tend to bring others down.  There is a book out this year that seems pretty popular called “Friendfluence” that actually addresses the issue of how the people you chose to associate with effects your personality and success in life.  I am lucky to have a lot of great positive friends that clearly do not fit into the category described above; some of whom I saw last weekend, some of whom I will get to see later in the week, some of whom I will see upon returning to Denver, and some of whom I hope to see again soon.

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The other interesting features in the vicinity of Old Faithful are hot springs and smaller geysers.  I put my fingers in one of the hot spring’s resultant rivers, and verified- they are hot!  Many of these smaller geysers are constantly erupting in a way.  I hate to gloss over these features, as they are really neat.  But, this is a blog about Yellowstone, and I do not want to make it 10 pages long.  I guess people do write whole books about this place.

Yellowstone is big!  I guess I should have realized that when I saw that it did not fit onto one page of my Wyoming DeLorme Atlas, but I guess I was still not thinking of it as being as big as it is.  I think the park is almost 100 miles long and 100 miles wide.  Either way, it is quite possible, especially with the number of people that stop to take pictures of bison, elk, moose, and such, for it to take over an hour to get from one feature to the other.  So, we had to have a clear plan to get to the most important features in one day, which involved seeing Old Faithful early, and then headed toward Yellowstone Falls via Yellowstone Lake.

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Yellowstone Lake is quite large, and surrounded by mountain ranges in all directions.  Overall, very picturesque.  It is also a good reference point when looking up weather information for the park.  At roughly 7700 feet in elevation, is is close to the mid-point.  There are plenty of hills that reach higher elevations, especially along the continental divide.  There are also some features, like the gorge of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, and even Old Faithful, that are at lower elevations.

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Okay, I know a lot of pictures, but Yellowstone Falls and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone also blew me away!  I later read (also in my DeLorme Atlas, they are really great) that these falls are actually much higher than Niagara!  Over 300 feet.  When the falls hit, they actually consistently cause rainbows to form, as water particles are projected upward significantly from the impact of the waterfall.  I do not think I even saw the bottom of the waterfall, as there was too much splash for me to actually see the bottom.  I bet Niagara is also like that.

In the same day, we also visit Grand Teton National Park, which is directly south of Yellowstone, with a gap of only a few miles.  I bet most people that visit one park visit the other one.  However, I bet the people that visit both parks do so over the course of several days to a week, not in one day.  This was definitely a hurried trip, but this leaves plenty more to be seen on a subsequent trip, which, now that I live in Denver, is not out of the range of possibilities.

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The main feature of the Tetons that stand out are the mountains themselves.  Grand Teton, the highest peak in this mountain range, has a height of 13,770′, making it only 34 feet shorter than the highest peak in Wyoming.  These mountains are actually visible from parts of Yellowstone park, and began to really appear as we approached the Tetons.  There is also a lake here, called Jackson Lake.  Jackson Lake is slightly smaller than Yellowstone Lake, and at a lower elevation.  In fact, it began to feel hot when we arrived here, well into the 80s.  It may have hit 90 somewhere nearby.

This whirlwind of a trip also took us to Jackson, which is quite a happening town.  It is probably best known for Jackson Hole ski resort, one of the premier ski resorts in the country, but is also less than 20 miles from the Tetons.  This provides the town with somewhat year round activity, and was quite lively in activity despite the ski resorts clearly being closed.

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It was kind of odd visiting an area known to be cold on a hot day.  On a day when Denver hit 99, it is nice to be up in the mountains where highs were in the mid 80s.  However, I did get an experience that is probably significantly different than a typical experience of someone that lives in this area.  The average high at Yellowstone Lake at this time of year is about 65.  It’s a few degrees warmer in Jackson.  Oh well, this warmer weather makes up for the 34 degree morning in Custer on Wednesday.

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The return trip also involves some more interesting features, all near a mountain range called the Wind River Mountains.  This mountain range contains Wyoming’s tallest mountain, Gannett Peak, and is home to the National Outdoor Leadership School.  And, with the town of Dubois (pronounced in a non- French manner, as I was repeatedly told) has a place called the National Bighorn Sheep Interpretive Center.  It would be interesting to see what really goes on there, but as of right now, I imagine a dog whisperer type character trying to figure out what Bighorn Sheep are saying.

Okay, well that was a lot to explore in one day, and I am 100% sure I missed some things, so hopefully I get to come back here.

Reflections on Missoula and the Adventure Cycling Association

For the past four days, from Thursday June 6th, through Sunday, June 9th, I attended a Leadership Training Course for the Adventure Cycling Association (ACA) in Missoula, Montana. This course is designed to teach people how to be leaders of long-distance bicycle tours. These tours can be as short as a week-long tour of about 300 miles, which is short by ACA standards, but long by the standards of the average person. They can also be cross-country, which could last three months! The course is designed to help the ACA develop leaders for their own tours, as well as teach leadership skills to people who wish to conduct bicycle tours in some other kind of capacity.

The course was quite rigorous. One of the leaders said that it was a week-long course condensed into four days. However, I think the main reason it was rigorous was that the course was designed to stick to a schedule akin to the schedules kept on these long distance bicycle tours, where each day stats before 7 A.M. with breakfast and campsite cleanup, and ends at another campsite with dinner at 6 P.M., and sometimes other activities. The in between time would be biking and exploring on an actual bicycling tour, but in this course, it was leadership exercises and some bicycling.

Despite this rigorous program at the Adventure Cycling Headquarters, I was still able to get out and experience Missoula a bit. There were definitely some surprises. Missoula had a nice downtown with a neat looking river valley and mountains in the backdrop, which did not really surprise me at all. Missoula’s population is about 66,000, more than any town in Wyoming, and I thought Sheridan had all of these features with roughly half the population. What did surprise me was the surfing! Yeah, surfing! When people think of surfing, the typically think of California, or Hawaii. Maybe Florida, or Massachusetts surfing would not be a major surprise, but Montana, I would never have guessed. But apparently there is this one rapid, created in the Cark Fork River, where people commonly surf.

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The other surprise was how lively the town was, especially when it comes to night life. Missoula is a college town, home to the University of Montana, but those students have left for the summer. However, the town was quite lively on Friday night. There were several areas where there were bands playing and people dancing, and in one place there were people drinking beer out in a parking lot and taking turns jump roping. In addition to that, Saturday morning featured more farmer’s markets than I thought it would be humanly possible for a town of 66,000 to support. One of the other participants in the Leadership Training Course referred to Missoula as a “mini Portland”.

At the Leadership Training Course, I couldn’t help but feel a bit conflicted. The main thing as learned here was that there was a lot more to putting together a long distance bike tour than I had really thought about. Most long distance bike tours involve primarily camping each night, and cooking food on a campfire. Both of which require a lot of gear, which needs to be carried by the bicycle riders. So, just like in backpacking trips, gear parking must be planned carefully and unnecessary items need not be taken along on the trip. Also, the route and campground accommodations must be carefully planned in advance. In these areas, the Adventure Cycling AssocIation does a really good job. Their maps are second to none, as well as their notes on services in each town on the route. If anyone plans to go on a bike trip across the country, I’d seriously recommend using their maps, or signing up for a guided tour.

Learning about all of their tour preparations and such, as well as meeting people who have the system of packed pannier bags and such down, made me realize just how inexperienced I really am at this stuff. The bicycle trips I organized with my friends were not nearly as far, and not nearly as well planned. I also have not had too much experience with cooking and camping. In essence, I learned that bing good at biking and having some good leadership personality traits is not all I need to be a good leader of bike tours. If I ever were to actually bike across the country, let alone lead a ride across the country, or bike the Lewis and Clark trail, as I love talking to people about, I would have to either learn more about this stuff, or be prepared to spend nearly $5,000 on hotels and restaurants. Or I can become good at convincing people to let me stay at my house, but being neither a drug dealer or a prostitute, well, that is not going to happen.

I also began to think about how much I may miss some of the other activities I love doing. Mostly, I am referring to social activities, and, well, partying. I may love to party too much to ever be able to give that up for 60 days. Well, it isn’t just partying. I don’t want to come across as someone out of that movie “Old School” that wants to join a frat well after college is over. But, I do like food variety, large social setting, etc. I guess in a nutshell, I am thinking of my urban nature. I mean, I am from New York and Chicago, and there is some kind of an adjustment to make to suddenly live a culture that represents the opposite, out in the woods in places like Montana.

I love bicycling though, and I do love being outside. I was tired of my desk job for a reason. It almost feels like there are two different version of me in conflict with each other. There is the me that just absolutely loves being on my bicycle, and cannot stand to watch a wonderful day with tons of opportunities to experience the outdoors go to waste inside the walls of an office sitting in front of a computer. This me stares at maps relentlessly and has been conjuring up ridiculous ideas for quite some time now.

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There is also the me that prides himself in being out until 5 A.M., being the craziest guy at the party, and squeezing as much activity into a weekend as possible. This is the me that lives and dies by schedules, social arrangements, and wants to find out whose Friday night activities will be the craziest. In essence, it is an urban me vs. a wilderness me, a nightlife me vs. a daytime me, an indoor me vs. an outdoor me.

After the Leadership Training course ended at 2:30, we headed South and East, towards Yellowstone, and I reentered the camping world, finding a campground roughly 15 miles northwest of Yellowstone along highway 287. As I set up camp and everything, and continued to ponder the possibilities regarding long bicycle tours in the wilderness, I begin to think of my friend Allison, who I had just seen in South Dakota (and wrote about on this blog). She lives in Chicago still, but has recently taken some outdoors classes, and gone on some trips. She seems to really enjoy it, but still lives on the north side of Chicago, well, maybe northwest, but you get the point. Maybe she has the same conflicts as I have, between enjoying urban areas and all the amenities, and loving all of these outdoor activities. Maybe this is something that a lot of American wrestle with. Do we need to pick one direction or the other? Or do we find a balance? Hopefully I find these answers soon.

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The Fourth Largest State

Earlier this week, when I was camping in some remote areas (as in, no WiFi), I fell behind on my blog posts. This is the main reason why today, for the second day in a row, three new entries are posted up on this blog. At the end of every day, I had been writing down my thoughts, but had not been able to upload the pictures into this site. Last night, I had a hotel room, and was able to load up my pictures. This weekend, I will be in the hotel world as well. So, with this entry, I will officially be caught up on my entires. On the return trip to Denver, I will most likely re-enter the camping world.

One way I have been amazing myself on this entire trip has been how consistently I have been waking up without provocation. Starting with Saturday morning, every morning I have been waking up at more or less 6 A.M., and not really having any problems. This is a far cry from when I was waking up to a desk job I did not enjoy every morning, and having to force myself out of bed every day, and struggling to be up at 7:00, or even 7:30. I thought this may have been an artifact of being outside camping, but, this morning, at the fabulous Super 8 in Hardin, I awoke at 5:45 with no problems.

Today’s journey was a nearly 400 mile journey across the state of Montana to get to Missoula for my Leadership Training. To be honest, I was somewhat concerned that I would get bored on this drive due to the large spacing between towns, and how traveling on only interstate highways get. But, this was not the case at all. In fact, I ended up finding a lot of Montana to be a pleasant place to drive across, with scenery that gave me serene and pleasant thoughts. It was quite a nice drive.

My first stop was in Billings for gas. Normally this is not really anything worth writing about, except that I was a little taken aback by the 85.5 octane ratings here in Montana. I had always been accustomed to 87 octane being the lowest grade fuel. Then, I moved to Denver where it is 85. I did not even know decimals existed for octane ratings in fuel until today.

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Another notable thing about Montana’s gas stations is that they have casinos! I took a look inside one of them, and all it was were slot machines and a poker table, but it was still an interesting and unique sight to see. The truck stops here also sold plenty of liquor and such. Montana’s attitude seems kind of like anything goes. It is almost like the people here have found a way to live free of everything uptight about the rest of the country, and avoided the unnecessary behavior restrictions that go along with it. In the grander scheme of things, thinking about this actually makes me feel like Denver may indeed be the place for me. I don’t think I could actually live in Montana, as I am kind of hooked on city life in a way. But, Chicago and New York come out with a bunch of unnecessary silly laws. Denver could be a really good compromise between the two.

Although it was pretty flat (albeit, nowhere near as flat as Nebraska), mountains quickly began to appear. To be honest, I don’t really remember the names of all the Mountain ranges here in Montana. I’ve just gotten to the point where I know most of them in Colorado. But, let’s just say scenes like this one were common throughout the drive. It was common to see mountains, but not have to drive through them like I-70 in Colorado.

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Bozeman was a nice town. It looked pretty well to do, and had some good Western qualities to it.

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With a couple of hours to spare, it was time for me to get my Lewis and Clark on. Those that know me know that I love to hear about the journey of Lewis and Clark and actually wish to recreate the adventure on my bicycle someday. In fact, that is the reason I know about the Adventure Cycling Association, as they are the organization that outlined a route in which to follow this historic mission on my bicycle.

So. We took a stop at the Missouri River headwaters, an important point on the Lewis and Clark journey, as well as a very significant place in our nation’s water system. The Missouri River is formed near Three Forks, MT, where the Madison, Jefferson, and Gallatin rivers meet. The Missouri River is actually the longest river in the U.S.A., running from this point all the way to Saint Louis. But, could it be even longer? Who was the one who decided that these three rivers, by three separate names, came together to form the Missouri? Why isn’t it two rivers flowing into the Missouri? This are the questions we pondered while throwing sticks into the river, knowing that sometime next month they would show up in Saint Louis, an amazing feeling.

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After this, we passed over the continental divide, which was only at 6300 or so feet. Significantly lower than in Colorado, where the divide is consistently over 10,000 ft. I notice a few cool rock formation, and also a lack of pine beetle damage to the trees. Last year’s drought did not extend this far north, and therefore Montana’s forests, unlike those of Colorado and South Dakota, actually look pretty much in tact.

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After a little bit of construction, I finally arrived at my destination, Missoula, MT, and the organization I had been reading about on the Internet for a decade.

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America’s Emptiest Highways

June 5, 2013

Today’s entry is going to really make me seem crazy. You see, I not only had planned to go to the Black Hills with my friends from Chicago, but I also enrolled in a Leadership Training Course with the Adventure Cycling Association in Missoula, MT. This course goes from Thursday through Sunday (June 6-9). After a lot of figuring, my plan for today ended up being to ride with my friend back from the Black Hills to Cheyenne, WY, where I met up with my father-in-law, who ended up deciding to accompany me on the trip to Missoula. We would get as far along on this journey as possible today, and get an early start for Missoula tomorrow. I need to be in Missoula by 4 PM tomorrow.

So, I ended up spending most of today in a car. We started early on, just after 7:00, getting from Custer, SD to Cheyenne, WY by around 11:30. Then, after some lunch, and some additional prep, we took off from Cheyenne at 1:30 P.M. In the end, we made it as far as Hardin, MT, which is the first real town you encounter after the border.

My main activity today really was seeing some new places, that I have never seen before, and experiencing some of the quietest places in the country. I am talking about places where very few people live. You will go over 30 miles between town on some stretches, with the towns you do experience being barely a couple of thousand people. These are places that over 95% of Americans will never experience. And, the solitude of some of these places is something that many of us will also never experience. A good portion of the U.S. population live in or around large cities, and vacation to places where many others also vacation, like Disney World, or the Wisconsin Dells. Really, it is strange got think about how many people really never get away from the crowd.

The highlights of my drive are as follows.

In Eastern Wyoming, most of the area was desolate, as previously mentioned. The main feature the stuck out at me was a rock formation just South of Torrington that literally looked like it was giving me the middle finger! Wow!

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In the area around Casper it was easy to see the northern parts of the Laramie Mountain Range, however, it is important to note that none of these peaks are above the tree line.

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After Casper, there was a break in the action with respect to mountain ranges.

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I got to the end of Interstate 25, and returned to the road that had dominated not of my week already, interstate 90.

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Sheridan and the Bighorn Mountains. This place is legit. Sheridan has a surprisingly full downtown for its size. It has a fairly long stretch of road that feels like a legitimate downtown, along a Main Street. I have to say I was way more impressed than I expected. And the views of the Bighorn Mountains, both from within town and outside of town were quite breathtaking. Overall, it was a pretty nice experience.

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Hitting the Montana border (New State)! And then, I actually drove through an Indian Reservation. It seemed odd to me that an interstate highway would actually run right through a reservation, but I-90 runs through the Crowe Indian Reservation. The town of Harden is where the road exits the reservation, and probably why the Montana Welcoe center is 50 miles into the state.