Day 5: Lewis Lake to Jenny Lake
When we woke up the next morning at Lewis Lake it was cold and drizzling. The skies were dark and gray. We had decided to not cook breakfast the night before so we could get an early start. We planned to stop at Flagg Ranch, just outside the park for a morning break, and maybe a proper breakfast. We packed up quickly, and each ate a granola bar to get us going. We all put on rain jackets and headed out. It was cold. It was the first and only time on this tour that I wore my fleece jacket while riding, but it only stayed on for about a half hour. But I did wear arm warmers, and a long sleeve shirt over my jersey, with my rain jacket over all that.
The highway from Lewis Lake is mostly downhill toward the southern border of Yellowstone National Park. We stopped briefly at Lewis Falls and shed a layer as the rain had mostly stopped and I was warmed up from the riding. We enjoyed some nice downhills that morning but because the roads were wet and slick I had to restrain myself and not go too fast.
After a few more miles we arrived at Flagg Ranch, which consisted of a large lodge, restaurant, convenience store, gas station, gift shop, and campground. We were all a bit cold from the long downhills, and we were hungry. Kyle and I discussed eating breakfast at the restaurant. He said, “Should we ask the kids what they think?” My response was, “Do we even need to ask?” They were delighted of course, especially Finn who had been fantasizing about pancakes, his favorite breakfast food.
It was nice to sit in the warm restaurant and enjoy a hot meal. Too bad the food was only mediocre. It was especially nice to be indoors though when we looked outside during our meal and it was pouring rain. By the time we finished eating the rain had let up.
In doing research for this trip I had come across a cyclist’s blog on crazyguyonabike who had ridden through this area. He mentioned a nice hot spring near Flagg Ranch called Polecat Hot Springs. I asked a guy working at the information center and he showed me on a map how to get there. We headed out on our bikes for a short one mile ride to the trail head. We stashed our bikes in the woods, gathered a few things, and began the short hike to the springs. It was a beautiful, and wet, 1/2 mile hike along Polecat Creek. We waded through tall, wet grass trying to figure out where the spring was, when we saw steam rising across, and above the creek.
We waded across the creek, which was thigh deep, and climbed up the bank on the opposite side and found a very nice pool in a meadow above the creek. The water was about 104 degrees, a bit hot at first, but very nice once you got used to it. It was wonderful soaking in the hot water after a cold morning ride. And the surroundings were world-class—a beautiful meadow, a babbling creek, stands of aspens and pines, and the northern end of the Teton Range in the distance. It doesn’t get much better than this.
After soaking for an hour or so, we reluctantly changed our clothes and hiked back to our bikes. This was certainly the highlight (at least off-bike) of the trip.
We had a pretty good climb to start off, but it was only about a mile or so. We soon entered Grand Teton National Park. I had first visited the Tetons back in the eighties on two climbing trips. The Tetons are simply spectacular. This must be one of the most beautiful mountain ranges in the US and perhaps the world. The road dipped down to parallel the huge Jackson Lake with the Teton Range towering to the south. We took a rest stop at Jackson Lake Lodge to refill our bottles and buy a few more energy bars. The massive picture windows in the lobby showcased the Tetons. What a view! The riding along the range was truly spectacular and certainly the highlight of the riding on this tour. It was truly breathtaking.
Just past Jackson Lake Lodge we turned off Highway 89 (John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Highway), onto Teton Park Road, which had a bit less traffic.
We all made good time and arrived at the Jenny Lake Campground in mid-afternoon. What started out as a cold, rainy day, turned into a beautiful warm day. After setting up camp we all changed into swimsuits and walked the short distance to Jenny Lake (5 minute walk). The water was cold and bracing, but very refreshing. It was late afternoon and the wind had picked up so getting out was even colder than being in the water.
The campground at Jenny Lake also had a hiker/biker section that was pretty nice. The campground was situated just a short walk from Jenny Lake which is literally at the base of the Tetons. It was certainly the most dramatic campground we stayed in, maybe ever.
I wish we could have spent more time in the Tetons area, but we had a schedule to keep and could only be there this one night. We didn’t even have time, or the energy to hike over to Cascade Canyon, which I really wanted to do. Oh well, maybe next time. I guess that is one of the drawbacks of such a short bike tour. We enjoyed our evening at Jenny Lake. We had a huge dinner, trying to eat up all our food so we wouldn’t have to carry it. Our bicycle touring friend that we met in Yellowstone, Tim Towers, showed up so we chatted with him a bit. We looked at some maps on his computer and I showed him a route through the Flaming Gorge area. He was headed to Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, and I had suggested going through Flaming Gorge and Steamboat Springs instead of heading across the high desert in Wyoming. So we spent some time talking about the roads and facilities in this area. Finn and I had rode through the Uinta Basin, Flaming Gorge, and the southwest corner of Wyoming last year on our bike tour.
Day 5 mileage: 53 miles
Average speed: 12.8 mph Max. speed: 36.7 mph
Time in the saddle: 4:07
Day 6: Jenny Lake to Driggs, ID
All week we had been thinking about Teton Pass. We knew it would be the toughest climb of the tour and had intentionally planned it for the last day when we would be strong and fit from the week’s riding. It turned out to be a real challenge, much more than we anticipated.
We left Jenny Lake Campground around 9:00 am. It was another beautiful day with deep blue skies and white puffy clouds.
There is a wonderfully smooth and scenic bike path from Jenny Lake all the way into the town of Jackson. We were trying to avoid riding into Jackson as it is a bit touristy, and a bit out of the way. We noticed on our map that part of the Moose-Wilson Road was not paved. That made us a bit suspicious about what it would be like. We stopped at the Ranger Station at Jenny Lake and they assured us the road was well graded and would not be a problem on bikes.
We took a short break to regroup at the tiny town of Moose, which is also the entrance to Grand Teton National Park. From here we turned off on the Moose-Wilson Road. This turned out to be a very enjoyable stretch of road. It was a small two lane road closed to RV’s, trailers, and large trucks. It winded up and down through beautiful forests. We passed several trail heads into the Teton backcountry along the way. The 1.5 miles of dirt was well graded and quite fun to ride. We were wishing we had a few more miles of dirt.
Just past the dirt section of the road, there was another great bike path that passed by Teton Village and Jackson Hole Ski Resort and lots of upscale homes and ranches. It was nice and flat and smooth. We finally arrived in the small town of Wilson, WY and stopped at a gas station/convenience store to fill our bottles and buy some snacks for the last leg of the trip.
Teton Pass is at 8431′ and we knew it would be a stiff climb. We were happy to see that according to our map there was a bike path all the way to the top. This was a welcome surprise. It turns out that the bike path is actually the old, original highway. It was nice to not have to worry about cars on this climb. Finn and I took off first, followed by the rest of the group. Finn surged ahead; typical. At first the going was not too bad, but very quickly the road steepened. It started out around 6% grade, but soon was quite a bit steeper than that. It was very strenuous. I later found out that there were some parts that were 12 and 13% grades. Good thing we didn’t know that going into this. After a mile or so, I could see Finn up ahead stopped, hanging over his handlebars. I rode up to him and he said, “I don’t know if I can keep this up much longer.” Finn cracking? I was pretty surprised. I probably shouldn’t have been based on the high gearing of his bike, only a twin chainring on front and geared more toward racing than touring. It was very tough riding. But Finn is also a very tough climber.
We rested a bit to catch our breath, then I took off. To my surprise, Finn did not follow. I had visions of glory, me beating Finn to the top of a hard climb. I couldn’t believe that I might actually pull this off. I have never beat him to the top of a long climb. In fact, last year he waited for 45 minutes for me at the top of Wolf Creek Pass in Utah (a 9200′ pass with nearly 3000′ of climbing in about 12 miles). I was feeling pretty smug and was pedaling merrily up the steep grade, weaving back and forth across the narrow road, when all of a sudden Finn was right there behind me, then passed me. I couldn’t believe it at first. Then reality sunk in and I knew my visions of victory were premature. His helmut was strapped to the back of his bike and he was sweating profusely like I was. With his high gearing he has to keep up a pretty good cadence or he has to walk. He does not have the luxury of spinning in a low gear; he has no really low gears. He was soon out of sight and I continued to wind my way up the steep slopes.
Then, it happened. I came around another corner, and there was Finn again, stopped, bent over his handlebars, out of breath. I rode up to him again. He said, “This is killing me, I might have to walk.” Finn has never walked up any hill that I know of. But this was no ordinary climb. I began to think again that maybe, just maybe, there was a chance that I could beat him to the top. (I confess that I am a bit competitive and always have been). So, I took off. And Finn stayed there hanging over his handlebars. I looked back. Finn was still there. Soon I turned a bend in the road and could not see him anymore. I certainly could not pick up the pace. I was in my lowest gear, weaving like a drunk back and forth across the narrow road. Not much momentum, just enough speed to prevent myself from falling over. I kept looking over my shoulder, but no Finn in sight. The visions of glory and victory returned. I imagined headlines like “New king of the mountain!” or “The unbreakable Finn, finally breaks!” or maybe “Finn finally concedes defeat.” Slowly I made my way up the relentless slope. I would stop every now and then to catch my breath. I kept expecting Finn to show up any minute. Finally, up ahead, I could see the top, and I began chanting under my breath, “I’m going to make it, I’m going to make it!”
I finally summited in 1:33 from Wilson. I staggered off my bike, leaned it against a large rock, and lay down in the dirt. My legs were quivering, I was out of breath, and I was very, very tired. After recovering for a few minutes, I got up and ate a handful of salty nuts and bummed a bottle of water from some people in a car. The guy who gave me the water also took my photo while I waited for the others.
Finn arrived about 20 minutes later, pushing his bike. Natalie showed up about 20 minutes after that. She was bummed that she had to walk. It was the first time she had walked up a hill with her bike. The others staggered in later. It turns out that I was the only one in our group to ride the whole way. Just saying.
We rested at the summit for awhile. While there, some other bicycle tourers arrived from the Idaho side, Mike Bangs and his partner (wife?). They were both pulling B.O.B trailers and were headed to the Wind River Mountains on a climbing trip. They had started in Bozeman, Montana, where they live, and were behind the organization called Human-Powered Mountaineers. They are climbers that advocate bicycling and organic farming. In 2011 they had cycled (with all their climbing gear = heavy) from Bozeman to the Bugaboo Range in Canada and spent the summer climbing. They had also done some ski mountaineering, hauling their ski gear in trailers behind their bikes. Pretty heady adventures. They were a very nice couple and we enjoyed chatting with them. Their blog is here:
After a nice rest on the pass, we began the descent back into Idaho. The first three miles were a 10% grade. With cars and RV’s whizzing past and a shoulder with dirt and grit, it was pretty sketchy going, especially for my nieces who did not have much experience riding this kind of terrain.
My daughter Natalie was a a bit freaked out by the steepness of the road, so I reluctantly stayed with her through those first 3 miles. Then I took off. I think I was tired of waiting for people, and maybe a bit tired of my traveling companions in general, and just wanted to be alone. So I cranked it up and took off down the mountain riding hard. I paused at the Idaho border to take a pit stop and take a photo.
Finn and Natalie caught up with me there, then I took off again riding hard all the way to the town of Victor. I stopped at a store, bought a cold drink, and sat outside waiting for the rest to show up. We regrouped briefly in Victor, then once again I took off. I think I was feeling a bit melancholy that the trip was over. I was feeling really good physically and had even thought about riding home to Utah alone. I figured I could make it to Ogden in three days and from there take the commuter train back to Provo. But I had some commitments back home. Otherwise I think I would have done it.
I pushed hard the final 8 miles to Driggs making it in 27 minutes. We celebrated with ice cream at the Teton Valley Creamery, where they make their own ice cream and cheese from local milk. It was a nice treat to end the tour.
Day 6 total mileage: 52.2
Average speed: 11.6, Max. speed: 37.5 mph
Time in the saddle: 4:28
Final thoughts: This was a fantastic tour. The scenery was spectacular; the weather was great (even the cold rain); and the company was excellent. It was nice to have all family together on this ride. Several other bike tourers commented that they were really impressed that we had our kids with us. And I agree, I love to have these fun adventures with my kids. It is really nice to have their undivided attention for a week without cell phones and other distractions.
The roads in Yellowstone and the Tetons were fine, and mostly very smooth. There were places where there was no shoulder and there were lots of RV’s, but most of the time, they gave you plenty of space when they passed. It was also very nice to be assured of a campground specifically for cyclists each night. I would love to ride up there again and see some of the northern parts of the park and into Montana to the north. Maybe next year.
Tour total: 306.6 miles