Montana—Yellowstone Bike Tour: Part 2

Day 4: Mammoth to Tower Falls (Yellowstone National Park)

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A short day today. Because of Lars’ eye we are behind schedule, but the good news is that when we wake up on Thursday morning his eye feels much better, like hardly any pain at all. We eat breakfast, pack up, and hit the road to the Tower area of Yellowstone National Park. It’s pleasant riding, rolling up and down, climbing and descending. It’s a nice cool morning and we enjoy the riding. Lars continues collecting wildflowers along the way. I know he’s feeling better because like usual he’s was way out front.

Lars' collection of wildflowers
Lars’ collection of wildflowers

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Early on the country is open sagebrush, but as we climbed higher we enter pine forests. Before long we arrive at Tower Junction, and the turn off for the Lamar Valley. We ride up, climbing about five more miles, to Tower Campground. The hiker/biker campground is on an open hill in full sun. We aren’t too pleased about this but don’t have much choice. To my surprise Lars is exhausted. All he wants to do is lay down and rest. I think the stress and pain of the previous day has really tired him out. While he rests, I go over and talk to the campground host who is a fly fisherman. We talk about where the good fishing is, he pulls out a guidebook and gives me a short lesson on fly fishing in the Park. He says that the Lamar River and Slough Creek are getting hammered by fishermen and are not fishing well right now. The Yellowstone River is also iffy, so he suggests we try Tower Creek, just behind the campground. This is the area of Tower Creek just upstream from the falls. I go back to camp and convince Lars that we should go fishing. We walk down to the store and buy a canister of bear spray, walk back, and gear up. With our tenkara rods, there isn’t much gear, just tiny little packs slung over our shoulders with a small fly box, some extra line, a spool of 5x tippet, nippers, and hemostats. I bring a small day pack with a rain shell, water bottle, some snacks, and a pack towel.

Fishing Tower Creek
Fishing Tower Creek
Little brook trout were the catch of the day
Little brook trout were the catch of the day

We walk down a trail to the creek; it takes all of five minutes. I rig up and toss my line in; I think on my second cast I pull in a small brook trout. Soon Lars is catching fish pretty regularly and for the first time outfishes me. He is delighted, as am I. He catches 10 fish to my 3. About a mile up the creek we find a deep section and go for a swim. The water is bracingly cold, but so refreshing. I dislike swimming in swimming pools, but give me a natural body of water where the water is cold and clear, and I’m in.

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After an hour and a half we walk back to camp, find some shade and lie down to take a little nap. We while away the rest of the afternoon, then around 6:00 pm we gear up and head back down to the creek. This time we head downstream to the bridge and fish up. The tables are turned and this time and I’m catching more fish. I end up with 9 or 10 and Lars catches 3 or 4. It’s all good and we have really enjoyed ourselves. We meet an older gentleman on the creek fishing and later chat with him in camp. He is a retired minister and coal miner from West Virginia. He comes out West to fly fish every summer.

bike tan
bike tan
Tower Creek
Tower Creek

We have a pleasant evening eating, relaxing, and playing cards. Once the sun goes down our campsite is nice and cool with a wide open view of the mountain, star-filled sky. I’m glad we had a short day riding so we could fish, and allow Lars to fully recover.

Campsite at Tower Falls
Campsite at Tower Falls
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Early morning crusty look

Day 4 totals: 22.4 miles, 9.5 mph average, 36.2 mph max, 2:21 saddle time. About 4 hours fishing time.

Day 5: Mammoth to Madison (Yellowstone National Park)

We’re up pretty early again, trying to beat the afternoon heat. We know that today we have a good climb ahead of us. It feels good to be back in the saddle riding. We have learned on these bike tours that we tend to get stronger as the week progresses. Our legs are less sore, and our butts are less tender.

Mt. Washburn in the distance
Mt. Washburn in the distance

We begin climbing right away, and I am happy to see Lars out front once again. In fact, in a very short time, he is far ahead and out of view. I catch occasional glimpses of him in the open sections, where there are some switchbacks, but then he is gone. The country has opened up again with wide open vistas. We are climbing up to Dunraven Pass. Mt. Washburn (10, 223′) looms in the distance. The road twists and winds and switchbacks up and up. The views are impressive; we can see a long way off. For nine miles we climb consistently to Dunraven Pass at 8859′. We have climbed about 2300′ in 11 miles. It wasn’t all that steep, just consistent. I expect Lars to be waiting at the top for me. I ride all around the parking lot (this is the trailhead for Mt. Washburn) but he is nowhere to be seen. He must have got tired of waiting and took off. The descent down the other side is fast, but too short. In just a few miles I roll into Canyon Village, and there is Lars off the side of the road waiting patiently. He tells me he waited at the pass for a half hour and I never showed, so he took off. Not that patient I guess.

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At Canyon Village we head to the grocery store and buy some things for lunch. We are craving real food and end up buying some tomatoes, bell pepper, cheese, instant noodle bowls, and kettle chips. We slice up the veggies and eat them with our noodles. We relax and take our time. At this point in the trip, we are too far behind to do our original loop, and would even be pushing it to do our plan B loop. In other words, it would be too pretty long days if we ride the Grand Loop down past Yellowstone Lake, then up through Old Faithful to Madison. We still want to do some more fishing so we decide to take the short-cut through Norris Canyon to Madison.

Lunch at Canyon Village
Lunch at Canyon Village

We lazily pack up and head out. We climb for bit, but nothing that hard. It is beautiful as the road cuts through thick lodgepole pine forests. The road is lined with perfectly symmetrical trees. I’m in love with lodgepole pines and stop a couple times, get off my bike, and walk into the woods, just to be surrounded by these tall, straight trees. At one point I catch up with Lars (on a nice downhill section) and we pull off into a meadow and ride over to a section of river and take a break. We’re pretty sick of bars and salted nuts, but we’re stuck with what we have. The riding is once again beautiful as we ride along the Gibbon River and past Gibbon Falls. We stop and take photos and stretch our legs. The riding has been mostly downhill and we are not complaining. In short time we arrive at Madison Campground and head over to the hiker/biker section. It’s a nice spot right in the middle of a lodgepole pine forest.

Heading down toward Norris Junction
Heading down toward Norris Junction
The Gibbon River a few miles above the falls
The Gibbon River a few miles above the falls
Taking a break at Gibbon Falls
Taking a break at Gibbon Falls

We unpack, set of the tent, then decide to go for a swim in the Madison River. It’s low and a bit muddy, but we find a nice section where the Gibbon River comes in, and the water is nice and warm from all the thermal activity upstream. To get to this part we have to swim across a fairly swift section of the Madison, but once across we find a nice deepish section with a sandy floor where we can lie back and enjoy the warm water. It seems so strange to have nice warm water in a high mountain stream, but that’s Yellowstone for you. After soaking for an hour or so, we swim back, dry off, head back to camp and get our fishing gear. We walk a short distance to the Gibbon River. We have low expectations as the water is low and warm and we have been told that the Gibbon and Madison Rivers are best in May and June while there is still run off and the water is colder. The fishing gets good again in September and October. But we still have a good time wading out into the river and swinging our fly rods around. We don’t catch anything, don’t see any fish, but that’s okay, it’s just good to be out.

Gibbon River
Gibbon River

At camp we meet a fellow cyclist. He is a high school history teacher from Vancouver, B.C. and is riding a big arc from Portland to Denver; he’s a well seasoned touring cyclist with many tours under his belt. We have a very nice visit with him and talk about all kinds of things. He’s traveling pretty heavy, has a whole bag of books, mostly Montana and western U.S. history related, a laptop, canned food, etc. But he’s also out for a long time. Lars comments that he wishes he had cool teachers like that at his school.

Camp in the woods, Madison campground
Camp in the woods, Madison campground

It’s our last night, which is always a little sad. We sit at our picnic bench with a deck of cards. Since it is our last night, we pile up all the snacks and treats that we have left and decide to play for them. We take a pack of those delicious waffles, whoever wins the hand of poker, five card draw, wins the waffles. Lars wins. Next, some energy gels. I win, and so on until we each have a small pile of goodies in front of us. But Lars has the waffles and I want them, so we bargain hard and finally decide on a very unfair trade, for me, but I get the waffles and promptly eat them on the spot. We have a good time playing cards and laughing together until dark. We’re in bed by 10:00 pm.

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Day 5 totals: 42.6 miles, 9.8 mph average, 41.6 mph max, 4:19 saddle time.

Day 6: Madison Campground to West Yellowstone, MT

We decide to sleep in since we have such a short ride back to West Yellowstone where we parked. It’s a leisurely morning as we take our time over breakfast and packing up. Mike is packing up as well, him headed south, us headed west. We chat for a few minutes before parting ways.

Riding along the Madison River
Riding along the Madison River

The ride out to West Yellowstone is slightly downhill and easy going. We stop once to take photos of elk wading in the Madison River. We end up going faster than we thought we would, not because we’re in a hurry, but because the road is smooth and we find ourselves just clipping along at a nice brisk pace. Lars is drafting off me most of the time.

Elk in the Madison River
Elk in the Madison River
Rolling into West Yellowstone
Rolling into West Yellowstone

We roll into West Yellowstone hardly breaking a sweat, and it’s still early. We head to the car, unpack, load up the bikes, and head to the Euro Cafe for breakfast. We order an enormous egg scramble thing full of bacon, sausage, and vegetables. It is quite good, and too big to finish so we get take out boxes, and order cinnamon rolls for the road. On the way home we stop at Michael and Carly’s house to pick up my wedding ring that I accidentally left there.

Day 6 totals: 14.6 miles, 14.7 mph average, 23.8 mph max, 59 minutes saddle time.

Lars has the best sandal tan
Lars has the best sandal tan

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It was another great trip. The mileage was low, we had that hard day with Lars’ eye, but we had a great day fishing, the scenery was spectacular, and the riding was enjoyable. I don’t think I’ll ride in Yellowstone anymore, it’s just getting too crowded, but two trips there was great. We’re already talking about next year.

Trip total: 253 miles

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