6th of August till 12th of August
Being kept awake by sniffing bulls is a different experience, but we hope we can do some more wild camping as the solitude and quietness is amazing. It is primitive, especially if there is only a very small stream available to take water and wash. We were happy we cut Saturday’s route in two, camped in the wild and continued next day.
Upper Lake campground was recommended as a site to stay, we already arrived there at lunchtime next day (so way too far to do all in the same day and arrive at a reasonable time) and are attacked by mosquitos, so no long rest there and we decide to continue to Elk Lake, will the lodge have room for us? As there is no GSM reception there is no possibility to check. After a beautiful ride with the lakes at left and looming 9.000 feet mountains at our right we see in the distance some very shabby old stables with a bright red van in front. Coming closer we see 4 ladies each working on water colour paintings, of course we need to stop and have a chat.
We are welcomed with our names! Is it Carol who we met a few days ago on our way down after Lava Mountain. Wayne and Carol appear to run the Red Hawk Lodge (horse riding) which we passed 15 miles ago. She invited 4 friends from over the whole country and she has organized a long weekend with painting on some unique locations. We will cherish the drawing we got from Patty Holton, may thanks!
PS. picitures are misty due to smog of far away wildfires.
Elk Lake is quite a detour and the construction of the new bridge adds a few miles to the trip. Arriving to discover that the lodge was full was a bit of a bummer (you even already have to prearrange for next year) and there is no WIFI. Aim was to stay two nights to rest and work on the blog. We decide to camp just outside the fence, as we will be able to have dinner and lunch at the lodge. Jake and Laurel are doing an outstanding job, working 14 hours per day to ensure a great experience for their customers. Restaurant is full but for us and Aaron, Dave and Alex who also happen to have chosen Elk Lake for a resting day, they serve at the bar.
Even without WIFI or maybe because there is no WIFI we have a great resting day. After lunch we can use the porch to work and rest, watch people arrive.
One of the stories, great couple of +70 who had their honeymoon here last year, returned for a longer stay. Seems that they live next to a Mormon community that is breeding champion rabbits. The couple train their new dog not to chase rabbits but after a storm he comes home with a dead champion rabbit. The man cleans and dries the rabbit and sneaks to the neighbours and puts it back in a cage. After a few weeks his wife meets one of the Mormons at the market and they start to chat. The Mormon woman was really upset as she did not understand why she found her dead, buried rabbit back in its cage the next day….
From Elk Lake to Island Park we follow a beautiful route which is even single trail at a certain moment, fun to practice more mountain biking without the trail being too steep.We cross the Continental Divide and move from Montana into Idaho.
Island Park is only a camping, hotel and a gas station with grocery store. We decide to camp as it is good weather and the tent needs to dry from the rain last night (first rain in 3 months). We meet Benoit (French) at the grocery store who is doing the GDMBR with a friend he has not seen for 15 years and he looks tired. At the campsite we meet Marty (USA), who is riding with him. They have maintained an over ambitious speed, as Benoit only took 42 days off to complete the route (normal tempo without resting days is 70 days). Benoit is surprised about the bad conditions of the roads, that there is no possibility to have lunch or healthy dinner at each stop and much of the camping is back to nature. Also the time pressure is putting its toll on the experience. Marty is 63 and has hiked the Divide route a few years ago, he would love to take a bit more time and not rush so much. They luckily decided to take one resting day and will decide how to further proceed.
We have a lovely evening with Marty, sharing our shepherd’s pie & wine, followed by an interesting discussion about politics and policy between the guys when I called it a night.
After a very slow start we are now heading off the GDMBR as we will spend some days in Yellowstone. We have two options to bike to Yellowstone: follow the highway or a trail. Frank doesn’t want to do the highway as there is the trail alternative.
We end-up following an old railroad, which is not too bad as it is only max 2 % ascend but if the road is made of sand or lava sand and used by ATV it is very slow and hard to bike to the next continental divide X-ing, so this time I am the one being grumpy as my expectations where 3 hours highway and now it will be minimal 5 hours of hard work. After the divide crossing it becomes even worse as it follows a different route (steeper up and down) with big rocks and loose gravel. From the west a dark sky urges us to keep on pedalling. Following the river with great views lifts the spirit though. Arriving in Yellowstone we find a room at the Pioneer Motel with a fully equipped kitchenette, which will be my haven for the next 3 days.
So happy to be able to cook with fresh ingredients in a fully equipped kitchen 😊 We don’t find any need to go back into town as we have everything we need. We are able to still rent a car (as of the 14th all cars are rented out due to the eclipse which is happening on the 21st of August).
What an experience Yellowstone is. Being inside a huge crater (The major features of the caldera measure about 34 by 45 miles (55 by 72 km).), of a still active volcano (no visible flow of lava).
Fog rising from the hot springs and the river in the cold morning, seeing Old Faithful and also Beehive erupt, and admiring sculptures made by nature. You walk on boardwalks knowing only a thin layer of earth separates you from boiling water and mud. Seeing holes with blue water, like blue eyes in the ground bubbling with boiling water or mud, vivid colour changes made by bacteria which live in this 90+ degrees water.
3 million people visit Yellowstone each year and you really see this when you visit Old Faithful, luckily the park is so big that the only other moment we saw that we were with a lot of people was when we were caught in a “buffalo jam”.
Total of 300 geysers and more than 10.000 thermal springs gives plenty of different visiting possibilities.
Of course we ate cake at the most famous lodge to celebrate the 55th wedding anniversary of my parents.
To get back to the GDMBT we biked from the West Entrance to the South Entrance. It is so big that we had to camp at 2/3rd of the park without the possibility to revisit all highlights you pass. Again happy we took the time and rented a car!
Starting at 6:00 with 3 degrees C means riding with buff, long trousers and gloves, which we can take off around 10:00.
It is a mix of biking along the main route and following a trail where only bikers and hikers are allowed. While camping at Grand Village where they have, luckily, always place for bikers and hikers, we were visited by a couple of elk on the campsite.
In USA you are allowed to do wild camping in National Forest but not in the National Parks: there you are only allowed to camp at designated campsites. The 4 race bikers we meet at the general store at 16.00 only have a fast stop to refuel as they still have to cover 50 miles (after already having done 110…), they do have a support vehicle carrying all luggage and sleep only in hotels but still cover many miles.
We cross 2 continental divide crossings.
How we finally get out of the park and what the change in landscape is beyond the caldera you can find-out in next week blog.