Five more days of riding, 250 odd miles, and several temperature zones later, I’ve gone from the wheatfields of Idaho, through Yellowstone and Teton National Parks (or at least, I skirted Yellowstone), went up and over Union Pass, and I’m now in the heart of classic Wyoming cowboy country. I’ve had two easy days riding, three tough ones, and lots of ups and downs. And I’ve just put the second new chain on my bike, these roads just are not kind to bike parts.
Ashton was a small detour that took me into classic Idaho wheat fields and open prairie. It was astonishing how quickly the landscape changed – one minute I was in a canyon surrounded by pine trees, the next I was up in the seemingly endless plains of the mid West. And just as quickly, as I went east from Ashton, the landscape changed back again to Rocky Mountain pine trees and rough tracks. The road from Ashton to Flagg Ranch campsite, runs along the boundary of Yellowstone National Park on one side, with the Teton National Park on the other. It should be 50 miles of beauty, but was in truth highly tedious as there were endless vistas of…. trees.
This was one of the few sections where a vista opened out – and that thanks to historic wildfires that have devastated the area in the past, in particular a notorious one in 1987 that burnt so hot it destroyed the soil, making regeneration very slow.
Flagg Farm is a huge camping and RV park that acts as the southern gateway to Yellowstone. Its like a small city. And it was shut. Season ended last Monday, I was told. So I found a small National Forest campsite a little further down the road. It is at a trailhead used by horse trekkers. These are usually to be avoided as for some reason the horse trekkers seem less friendly than other campers, and the horses attract lots of flies and other insects. Come to think of it, the two may be connected. But this campsite was nice, with lovely views to the mountains to the south. It was very cold that night, everything froze up.
The next days riding was a complete contrast. Instead of broken up tracks, it was smooth paving all the way. Instead of complete isolation for mile after mile, the traffic was heavy, largely consisting of RV’s, trucks and caravans coming and going from Yellowstone and Teton (if this is the off-season, I’d hate to see what its like during high season). And instead of forest, there were numerous spectacular views, especially towards the Grand Teton range.
There was even a traffic jam on the way, caused by people stopping to watch a grizzly forage in some scrubland off the road. The bear seemed oblivious to his stardom. I guess they get used to it in Yellowstone.
The area was so nice I was tempted to take a detour south to Jackson, the main center for the Teton range. Its supposed to be a great place to hang out. It would have been great to see Yellowstone too. But miles have to be made.
I intended to camp further on from Teton, but I stopped at a Dude ranch which had an open cafe, and it seemed so nice I decided to stay – as things are out of season places like this are quite cheap.
The Grand Tetons are really spectacular, a very beautiful trio of granite mountains. Apparently, the first English explorer to see them called them the Knobs, while the next explorers, French, called them Les Trois Grande Tetons (the three big titties). Says everything you need to know about those countries (and the Americans for picking the latter name and not translating it). Its less well known that between the English and French explorers, an Irish trapper called Alonsyius O’Muiricheartach named them ‘The three creamy pints on a tray carried by an epileptic barman’. But somehow the name didn’t catch on.
From the ranch, I started a long steady climb up over the next pass. The road was quite lovely, eventually joining up with a main road.
Unfortunately, there were major roadworks on Togkawee Pass itself, so I had to face the first (and hopefully only) cycling break. They insisted that I ride in a truck the 7 miles through the earthworks. I wouldn’t mind so much, but this was 6 and a half miles downhill, just half a mile uphill! I checked some blogs later, apparently these road works are in their second year, nearly every rider has had to be driven past – hikers too, as this road is the only way over a pass which is a major route for cyclists, hikers and trail riders on several long distance routes. The only alternative is to wait until nightfall or on Sundays, when its possible (if dangerous) to ride through.
The well known cyclists hostel at the base of Union Pass, the next big section of the route, is closed this year, so I decided to camp at Lava Mountain, a bar/restaurant/hunting lodge. I met two other Divide riders there, Jill and Stephen from Idaho. They are going very lightweight and have been eating up the miles at an incredible rate – they left Banff on the 5th September! I found out to my surprise that my Canada map is out of date (2008 edition). They 2010 edition they have shows my route as the alternate, the main route being a tough set of mountain roads to the east of Fernie. I’m quite glad I didn’t know that!
I decided on the ‘alternate’ route up to Union Pass, it seemed to avoid the very steep early section, although its still a tough road. Its a very beautiful route, but with two 4 mile 1000 foot+ climbs and lots of smaller ones, it was a tough 33 mile day. I got over Union Pass (so called as it marks were a series of watersheds meet), and camped up there – the site was well over 9,000 feet, but I didn’t feel the effect, I must be acclimatising well to altitude. A Forestry truck went by as I was camping with a dead or comotose (not sure which) Grizzly in the back. So as I bedded down to the sound of coyotes on the mountains I was a little nervous at hearing sounds all around. For the first time, I felt I had to get out of the tent with Grizzly spray to hand (its constantly been with me since Canada). I couldn’t see anything. But next morning, I found that lots of Elk were grazing in the forest around me.
To get to Pinedale, I had a 60 mile ride through some wonderful countryside. At Union Pass, it is described as sub-Alpine, as it descends down on rough tracks it goes through very dry upland grassland. The track was broken up, making it very tough going.
The road was so bad in spots going down, mainly due to the dreaded washboarding, at times I went across the scrubland following minor tracks and trails to avoid it. I doubt if I saved any time, probably the opposite, but it was more fun.
It was so dry up there, I had to stop for water at every opportunity. I’ll be doing this a lot more in the days to come as I cycle across some very arid uplands in southern Wyoming.
I was relieved in the end to get to tarmac after 30 miles, with the remainder on rolling hills separating wide valleys, each one seeming to have a single ranch smack in the middle. There was a bit more gravel before meeting the outskirts of Pinedale, the last town of any size before Rawlings, 220 miles to the south.