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.

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