Day 9. Exit Yellowstone, stage west: Harleys, bears, and a black sand situation
by Hope Windle
Date: June 24 Saturday, 2017
Start/End: West Yellowstone, MT / Big Springs, ID
Itinerary: Day 1 of 4-day ride.
Drive to West Yellowstone Depot from Madison Junction Campground,
ride 17 miles of Teton rail-trail to Big Springs or further south.
Actual: West Yellowstone: Old Union Pacific Train Station /
Historic Center 220 Yellowstone Ave
Trail: Yellowstone/Grand Teton Rail-Trail
Trail Surface: dirt road, ballast, black sand :0(
Riders: Lisa, Cori, Hope, Maya, Lana, Galen, Bob & Dee + Ginny (guide)
Miles rode: 17
Rashes, puffy eyes, fabulous hair, and hot-water-bottle love. These are a few of my favorite things that come with us as we drive out of Yellowstone. We leave gurgling mud puddles and sticks that I thought were bears. I wonder if it’s the altitude or puddle gazing that has made me aware of bodily functions and intestinal breakdowns.
On the western flank of Yellowstone, we suit up in a parking lot next to a Harley Davidson motorcycle club, burley men in black fringe jackets and chaps, being photographed by a group of Chinese tourists. The motorcyclists, patient with the tourists, allow their little beaming tots to sit on their bikes and give the cameras a thumbs up. Once the motorcyclists ride off in a flourish of dust, from a grumble to a roar, the tourists turn their cameras on us, barely acknowledging the 4 ½ ft team as they snap picture upon picture of our flags, our bicycles and each other.
We leave the parking lot in formation, and bicycle onto an asphalt trail which turns into ballast, a surface grade, which turns into a dirt road, which eventually, to my horror, turns into a trail of black sand.
Maya instructs us to sing show tunes to keep bears away. So with flags sashaying jauntily behind us, we do...we sing:
Bare Necessities ….oh those simple bare necessities….
Life is a Cabaret, old chum, Life is a Cabaret!
It’s a hard knock life for us…
Day by Day, Day by Day, oh dear lord, three things I pray...
Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhkla-homaaaaaaaaaaaah where the wind blowing down the streeet!
In other words, ... a person, ... can develop a cold...
Maria ! I just met a girl named MARRRRRRRRRRIAAAAAA !
I feel pretty, oh so pretty…
I am not going to waste my shot…
Seat at the table...
We crank into the wilderness singing our hearts out. No bears dare an entrance.
After the bears have been sung into hiding and the need for shout-singing show tunes dies down, we notice the dirt road is getting mushy, softer. Our bikes are sinking... into sand, black sand! At first, this seems like an interesting novelty. There are techniques to deal with this situation. It turns out, if you lean way back, with your butt almost behind the seat, and bend your knees, BMX style, you can ride on and conquer sand on a bike. It’s like leaning back in snowy powder to ski, not that I can do that at all…but I can report that at age 54 and ¾, I learn from my 4 ½ ft teammates how to ride on in this sandy situation.
I learn to bike the black powder fandango. I crank along, pretending the sand is a delightful snowy powder, when all of a sudden, out of the woods comes not a bear but a whining lawn mower sound, attached to an off-road vehicle on this ...our trail; billowing exhaust, kicking up sand. We jump off our bikes and pull ourselves off the trail. These ATVs are as wide as two bikes and then some. Standing patiently, we hold our two-wheeled iron steeds as motors roar and gassy fumes fill the air, in a parade-float of people who sit, looking at us as they pass., We watch them joy ride in the on-land equivalents of Jet Skis, leaving our merry band stoically waiting as they cover us in a fine layer of black dust. This happened once and we were hypnotized by the ATV people of Idaho. It was something to notice and get back to the art of riding black sand. But then it happened again, and we reluctantly gave way again. And then a third time and we were forced to scramble into the underbrush, with our big flags and two wheels, breathing in fumes of motorized fun, watching big tummy-land yachts pass. The forest version of the movie, WALL-E is happening before our eyes.Super- sized people, only able to move in motorized go-carts, are out and about seeing the sights. The go-karts help them navigate the world.
I dig out my sunglasses and put on a bandana to protect my eyes and nose. I suppose like Jet Skis, ATV’s are probably big fun -- behind the wheel, on the trail --but presently I am a high and mighty ATV hater. I am sure this will be true until I ride one. But until then, and since that will probably never happen, I am a hater. I wonder what people on horseback thought of the Iron Horses billowing black smoke, cutting through pristine landscapes. Here we were again, back on the trail.
The sun continues to climb. The trail has become an endless 4 ½ ft-wide beach. As I pedal and lean back, I fantasize that we are approaching an ocean. I pretend I feel the ocean breezes, on a beach I will stagger onto with a fully laden picnic basket, convincing myself that I’m almost there.
But it’s not true, not this time. We are in the middle of Idaho, in the middle of a state park, in 95 degrees and 5,000 feet of elevation. The trail is not only a quagmire to ride, we are also sharing our sand with impolite, gassy, sandy, motorized guests.
But it could be way worse. We befriend a biker on the trail. He is loaded down with a mountain of gear. We invite him to join us for lunch. He tells us he is a Wall Street tech guy from New York City, who has biked from Canada. He is biking the Great Divide Race, to Mexico, under his own steam, all by himself. Not fully comprehending why someone would bother, I listen. Turns out, he is heading south, only on rail trails, only in June. Our new friend started pedalling near Lake Louise, in Canada. He has been biking for multiple solid days of rain, an all-mud-all-the-time trail experience that was also very cold. And here he is meeting up with us, two weeks in, bicycling with us for a time, in Idaho, doing four-minute miles, which for him was slow. (I was ecstatic that we were doing four minute miles...c’mon, people, black sand, remember?) He told us that the winners of this race were doing 180 miles a day. On bike trails... I can’t even fathom what that would be like. We average 35 to 40 miles on a good day. With the fine sand trails we were experiencing today… shiny black fine, sucking us down into a gravity vortex ...getting nowhere real-fast sand.... 180 miles a day just sounded absolutely super Cray Cray.
And then he announced to us, in a sad sack kinda way, that the winners of the race, people that he started with two weeks ago, just crossed the finish line in Mexico...TODAY. After he finished eating Ginny, our intrepid guide, gave him her light because his had broken. She said, that’s just what fellow bikers do. And after finding a place to squirrel away the light, we watched him dust himself off the best he could, mount his bike with the mountain of stuff, and pedal off toward Mexico, into the afternoon sun.
Entertainment now gone, the 4 ½ ft crew collectively realized two things. One, we were not going to follow the racing bicyclist into the sunset to Mexico. Two, we had folks among us who were starting to bonk. Unlike our cyclist friend, we had the luxury to pack up bikes and pile in a van with water and snacks to look for the next leg of our journey. We find the trail. We pedaled onward, to a new fresh trail ...this time, packed dirt. Miraculously, second winds were found and we were off.