19 April 2016

OK So I Went to Yellowstone

The roads in the nearby national parks are clear of snow long before they open to cars, so it's kind of de rigueur to go ride bikes there in April, mostly in Grand Teton but also to a lesser degree in Yellowstone. Given my previously stated apathy towards Yellowstone, I wanted to get my first visit done by bike and as early in the year as possible. The park opened on Friday, earlier than GTNP, but I figured a Monday in April was still a safe bet. I corralled some friends and we hit the tarmac in West Yellowstone. It was cold and breezy but the road was smooth and the cars infrequent.

I was a little concerned, given my previous experience riding in the caldera of northeast Idaho, that the west entrance of Yellowstone would be miles of bland homogeneous pine forests, but I was pleasantly surprised. We wound along the Madison River, hollering at any buffalo we glimpsed, checking out a hidden waterfall, peering up at the hole-pocked, crumbly cliffs rising from the meadows. Mt Haynes stood sentinel like a rotting Half Dome; I doubt rock climbers attempt that particular objective.
Secret waterfall!
Pics courtesy of Emily
Nan had time constraints but when we reached a sign that read "Old Faithful: 16 Miles" we decided we should split because, duh, Old Faithful. Nan went back while Emily and Nate and I carried on. We saw a geothermal site announce itself miles before we reached it across the flats. We dismounted and wandered the boardwalks, admiring the deep saturated blues and billowing steam and burbling mud pots and frenetic pools where it looked like alligators were wrestling beneath the clouded sulfurous water. Oh, Yellowstone, I get it. Bizarre geothermal features that remind us of our violent earth. It was very cool.
So geothermal
We pedaled onward to the ridiculous overbuilt village that is Old Faithful. On the amphitheater seating in front of the geyser we had a picnic of sandwiches and fudge and sparkling wine (thoughtfully provided by Nate) while doing battle with the crows that wanted to open Emily's frame bags and hunt down snacks.
Mmmm Secco Frizzante
We waited thirty minutes and the crowd thickened. My skin crawled at the thought of being there in the high season. This is supposed to be a record-crushing year for the national parks because of the centennial anniversary combined with low fuel prices. Vomit.

After ten minutes of teasing us, Old Faithful went off, and I shed my cynicism just long enough to be dazzled by the spectacle. What a strange and wonderful world we live in.

I was amused to be one of the few in the crowd not taking a picture of the phenomenon with a GoPro, selfie-stick, DSLR, or tablet. Y'all...there are endless beautiful pictures of Old Faithful on the Internet. But I guess that's what one does in a national park now.
Look: two seconds with Google yielded a more beautiful picture than I could ever take.
We rode the slightly uphill thirty-three miles back with a headwind, even though I was convinced it'd be slightly downhill with a tailwind. Physics? We did less lolly-gagging and touristing because our butts were sore and our thoughts were focused on French fries.

I rode the Deutschbike and felt great admiration and affection for it. I bought that bike for $600 after road nationals when I was a senior and have spent less than $50 on maintenance in the six intervening years, despite riding it roughshod on road, gravel, and trails with little regard for its well-being. It's not comfortable or modern or appropriate for the valley, and it's not sexy like the Stag or fun-utilitarian like the Half Chub but somehow it's still a great bike for tucking in and mashing the pedals for mile after mile.
Tram Bar Deutschbike Love
We made it back to West and got our French fry fix at a sports bar that catered to fishermen. It felt more like home than the tour bus carnival of interior Yellowstone.
Nate pedaling disdainfully past bison
So I did it. And it was more awesome than but as dumb as I expected. I hear the Yellowstone backcountry is incredible but...I live in Idaho. The backcountry is incredible everywhere and in this state you don't have to pay $25 at a kiosk to get somewhere cool. And for that I feel blessed.


We saw our new landlords tailgating in the parking lot of Targhee on closing day. They shared some botanical Italian liqueur and introduced us to their friends who are now our neighbors. Later, on the way back to Jackson, they stopped by to pick up some mail. The dogs were playing ball in the front yard as we all watched with beers in hand. "I'm so glad the yard is getting used and you guys are hanging out outside," the husband said. We raised our beers appreciatively. 

The new house is great. 

I burrow down like a rodent in whatever house I inhabit because I'm such an incurable homebody. Our last place sucked but I wanted contentment so badly that I ignored it. Now that the nail-biting and money-hemorrhaging of moving has subsided, I can look around and take stock of my new nest and I am so, so happy. As are Alex and Erica and the dogs, and most of all Tyler. I guess I didn't realize the extent of his unhappiness with our old place.

The most important room 
Ample sunny outdoor hang-out spots, protective trees shielding us from the flat expanse of the valley, space for the dogs to run laps and chase balls, the tip of the Grand peeking over the foothills to our east, friendly neighbors, hardwood floors, a wood-fired stove, a colorful and well-equipped kitchen, big windows, a generous living space, a big master suite (which I authoritatively co-opted as the person who found and secured the house), a massive garage with tons of shelving and hooks and work space, a gear/guest room...this place has it all. Including the capacity to absorb all of our stuff and still not feel cluttered. Coming from a series of studio apartments, Tyler and I have very little crap, but Erica and Alex have amassed a completely absurd amount of hindrances, i.e. possessions. This is often to our benefit, since they brought with them big comfortable couches, specialized kitchen utensils, gardening accessories...stuff we've never dreamed of owning. 
Tons of inviting communal space
We get along really well and have managed so far to divide chores and finances fairly. Having roommates when I'm on the cusp of thirty isn't ideal but if it means living with our best friends in an incredible house, it's the best possible situation.
Views of the Grand from the backyard...when it's not getting weathered on

At last count we had eleven bikes in the garage but that doesn't seem like enough

Not shown: the huge prayer flag in the yard that "keeps the Mormons away" according to the landlord

The Sophalope and her live-in best friend, KaHa, aka Spotty Dog

01 April 2016


This scenario occurs often. I'm sitting somewhere reading a book. There's another human nearby. We're on an airplane or at the breakfast table or in an employee lounge. The other human is not reading; he or she is not a human who has embraced this most luxurious pastime, this comfortable and instantaneous envelopment in a different time, place, and perspective. This human has finished fiddling with his smartphone, flicked the lint from her sweater, shifted from one position to another too many times. I still read. This human envies my quiet engagement.

"So...whatcha reading?"

I used to humor this question more good-naturedly because I think of myself as a "nice girl", but after offering too many (I think) succinct blurbs as the questioner's eyes glaze over ("It's your typical empire-building fantasy but with this, like, steampunk Asian slant." "It's a period piece with lesbian lovers and murder, but so subtly done!" "Well, imagine Watership Down, with deer instead of rabbits, and a healthy dose of mysticism."), I've finally settled on a response that feels cold and bitchy but successfully quells this untoward attempt at small talk: "Oh, just some book."

I only direct this shutdown at people who don't care. If you don't care what I'm reading, DON'T ASK. Sometimes I make snap judgments that aren't fair, but if you look and talk like some bro who has only read Kerouac/Hunter S. Thompson/Edward Abbey and wants to draw every literary conversation back to the fact that The Monkey Wrench Gang changed his life and convinced him to move from New Jersey to the west and drive his midsize pick-up the two blocks to work every day and drink fair trade coffee out of disposable cups while posting videos on social media about the scourge of hydroelectric power...

Well, I don't want to tell you what book I'm reading.

My mom will never receive the response, "Just some book". Ever since I started reading more than just boatloads of fantasy, she and I have enjoyed a really great repartee of book comparison, suggestion, and denigration. I have friends like that too. And if you're a person on a plane or in a restaurant who, instead of using "Whatcha reading" as a way to fill the emptiness of your own experience, sincerely wants to know what I'm reading, maybe to compare notes or flash the title in your own hands as a satisfying corollary, or to reach out to another human in this world that thinks the written word is the most wonderful thing ever invented, feel free to ask "Whatcha reading?"...if I don't beat you to it.

This post needs a meme