Trans Am Bike Race Day 9 Report
Sunday June 11, 2017: I was up before 4am, well rested and really fired up for a big day. I ate the breakfast of champions that I had prepared the night before; microwave noodles, leftover pizza and Keurig style coffee. The weakness of the filter coffee was suitably compensated by the stimulating effects of wet lycra on nether regions and frigid morning air on freshly shaved head.
I was on the bike at 4:20am, over an hour before my earliest departure thus far on the Trans Am. There is something tangibly uplifting about getting up and at ’em so early, well before the sunrise. The quietness. The stillness. The sense of possibility.
My early morning enthusiasm was tempered however by a steady headwind and slightly uphill gradient operating in tandem to keep forward progress out of Ennis on US Route 287 frustratingly slow. Calls from my wife Melissa and then my mate Scotty helped to keep my mind off the frustration however, as did a conversation with fellow racer John Richardson who I caught up with the other side of Cameron, about 17 kilometres out of Ennis. I’d seen John a few times in passing so far in the race and it was nice to have a good chat for the first time. A veteran of the Tour Divide Mountain Bike race, I would see a lot of John over the next few weeks. Probably the hardest bloke I would meet on the Trans Am. He would consistently be on the bike before sunrise, ride very long days and sleep wherever he could lay his bivvy. No need for the comfort of hotels. Last night he had slept in the Cameron Post Office.
I rode with John for a short while before riding off in front, into the dawn light. I was hoping that the sun appearing from behind the mountains to my left would bring with it some warmth. It was bloody cold, below freezing according to my Garmin and with the wind chill my cold weather gear was really being put to the test.
It was still uncomfortably cold a couple of hours later and I decided to take a quick break to thaw out in the sun and get out of the stiff breeze in the shelter of an unmanned fire station. I literally just sat leaning against its large roller door with my eyes closed facing the sun. It was nice to relax and soak up the sun out of the wind for short while but my frustration at the painfully slow progress thus far that morning (60 kilometres in just over 3.5 hours) had me clambering to get back on the bike.
A Tale of Two Lakes
Another 10 kilometres further up route the Madison River which had been within view pretty much all morning, off to my right became a lot bigger, a lake of sorts. At the time of minimal significance to me but I have since learnt that this body of water was created by a rather historically significant event, a magnitude 7.5 earthquake in August 1959 which created a landslide dam on the Madison River. It has since become known as Earthquake Lake. The landslide also sadly killed 28 people who were camping along the shores of nearby Hebgen Lake.
By the time I reached Hebgen Lake, riding conditions had noticeably improved. It was getting warmer, the wind had died down and the road had flattened out. The view across the pristine lake to some pretty serious looking mountains was also quite pleasant on the eye.
I rolled into West Yellowstone just before 10:30 am. There were no obvious issues with my bike but I’d been thinking for a while now about taking it to a bike shop to get it looked over. Prevention better than cure and all that. Armed with knowledge gained from reading Janie Hayes’ Blog of the 2016 Trans Am I headed on over to Freeheel and Wheel , a bike shop literally on route.
The front of the bike shop doubled as a coffee shop and there was a throng of people queuing up for what smelled like damn good coffee. I could have murdered a good coffee but instead of burning time waiting for one I excuse me’d my way to the back of the shop to the bike servicing area, trying not to knock anyone or anything over.
It soon became obvious that I’d be in for quite a wait. The mechanic had not yet arrived and fellow racer Clay Stark was already waiting for his bike to be attended to. He had had one hell of a night sleeping rough in the cold the previous night not able to get to West Yellowstone due to recurrent mechanical problems. I chatted to him and some other bloke who had plenty of questions about the Trans Am for a while before deciding to cut my losses and just get going. Preventive bike maintenance would have to wait. I did however have the presence of mind to borrow the shop track pump to get my tyres back to optimum pressure.
I was getting anxious about wasting time. Race Organiser Nathan Jones had posted earlier in the week in the group Facebook Page about a rather nasty cold front that was possibly due to hit Yellowstone that weekend or early in the week. It was pushing midday on Sunday and dark clouds were beginning to form. I did not particularly want to get stranded in Grizzly country at 2,000 + meters elevation.
Food was on the cards though, and Dairy Queen was to be the fast food franchise of choice.
Food in my belly, I stopped briefly at a Gas station on the way out of town for snacks and to get a postcard for my boys. I looked around for bear spray but to no avail. Oh well, submissive eye contact it would have to be……or was it dominant eye contact…….or was it make a shitload of noise….?
Oh well, onwards into the park!
Yellowstone National Park
The western entrance to Yellowstone is literally just off the main street of West Yellowstone. Cheekily I attempted to skip the vehicle queue at the tollgate hoping for special dispensation for cyclists and ready to plead ignorance but I was waved back into line by an all-knowing official. He had no doubt witnessed this attempted stunt many times before.
$30 later I had a 7 day pass for the park not that I would need anywhere that to traverse the world’s oldest National Park (est 1872)……hopefully. I peddled with a sense of excitement. I had heard so much about Yellowstone and here I was actually riding into it on my bike. The park also signalled the end of my time in Montana and the next chapter of my great adventure. Wyoming
I couldn’t help but smile….
I was in a hurry but I just couldn’t help but take a few photo’s….
Whats Up Geezer?
Yellowstone contains about half of the world’s active geysers. No shit I thought………they were bloody everywhere. I got a photo of most of them but by the time I reached Old Faithful, the most famous of all Geysers I was all geyser’d out and just rode on by.
Up Diddly Up Up
The route had been trending up all day since Ennis and so it was not surprising to start seeing snow by the side of the road. A sign indicating that the road was passing over the Continental Divide quantified the elevation for me – it was also a great spot for a photo.
It was at around this point, on a particularly steep section, that Stephen Pope tap tapped on by. I hadn’t seen Stephen, the purveyor of Gas Station burrito best practice, since Day 3 in Dayville. It was great to see him, albeit very briefly!
I “bombed” (Stephen’s term) on by him on the downhill section just after – gotta love gravity ;-).
Not long later I saw the turnoff to Grant Village and despite it being a 3 kilometre round trip off route, I decided to take it. I didn’t really feel the need but I was unsure of service availability further down the road and didn’t want to take the risk of running out of food and water. I was glad I did though as Russell Slater was at the Grant Village General Store. It was great to see him. We shared a few stories about our first week and a bit on the road. Not really suitable for print but suffice to say it provided the first good belly laugh of myTrans Am.
The Grand Tetons
As it turned out I used only 6.5 hours of the 7 day ticket validation for Yellowstone but I still reckon I got my $30 worth. Following an extremely fast and satisfying 7 kilometre descent I existed the Southern Entrance at about 6:30 pm.
Not long later there was a short climb and then a sign welcoming me into yet another National Park. In this case it was the Grand Teton National Park. I stopped by the sign for the obligatory photo taken by in this case a family of Japanese tourists and then peddled on in complete ignorance of the ridiculous natural splendour that I was just about to witness.
Since I finished the Trans Am (just over 4 months ago now) I have been asked by many people about my more memorable moments of the trip. The one that almost immediately comes to mind is the magical scene of the Grand Tetons that literally just pop up out of nowhere as the view opens up from the almost impenetrable tall ranks of Lodgepole Pines to the wide open space across Jackson Lake.
The view was like something out of Lord of the Rings.
Will I Ever See a Bear
The day was looming as a memorable one but what would really top off the day I thought, would be a bear sighting. A completely low risk, plenty of people around (slower people that is) type bear sighting. I’d seen “Be Bear Aware” signs everywhere and my expectations were high.
Accommodation options were few and far between out here so I thought I’d check if anything was available at Colter Bay Village on Jackson Lake which was about 2 kilometres off route. Fully booked as it was but one of the staff kindly rang ahead to the Hatchet Resort and Hostel, 30 kilometres up the route and I managed to secure the last room in the hostel. I breathed a sigh of relief. This was not the night to break my sleeping rough duck – it was going to be below freezing overnight. I simply did not have the camping gear for that.
Back on the road and the race was on to get to Hatchet’s by 9 pm. The guy at reception had told me that he would be in the office until 9 and even though we’d made arrangements for the key if I arrived later, I didn’t particularly back my rather frayed memory to recall the intricate detail of its placement.
And then all of a sudden, as day was becoming night a possible Bear sighting was back on the agenda, as indicated by a temporary roadside sign.
And sure enough, around the next bend in the road, I was presented prima facie evidence of a bear in the hood – a traffic jam in the middle of “nowhere”, what seemed like hundreds of cars parked either side of the road and more wide angled lenses than you would see on the centre court at Wimbledon.
I rolled to the front of all the cars and with the assistance of a Park Ranger spotted a mother Grizzly and her 2 cubs who had just walked across the road. A simply magnificent thing to witness!
What a Day!
Buoyed by my first bear in the wild sighting I battled on against a solid headwind and finally rolled into the Hatchet Resort just before 9 pm, but not before coming across Martin Cox. Martin was actually riding in the opposite direction looking for somewhere to stay. He had tried to get over the 3,000 metre (9,658 feet) elevation Togwotee Pass that night but had been turned back by some pretty harsh weather. We were both in good spirits and chatted for a while before taking a quick roadside selfie.
The guy in Hatchet’s reception was a lovely bloke. Very friendly. He gave me my room key and a weather warning for the next day. A cold front (probably the one that Nathan Jones had referred to his Facebook post) was forecast to hit the following afternoon, bringing with it up to 5 inches of snow……Shitsticks!
I was famished and hurridly made by way over to the restaurant before they stopped serving. I sat back with a beer by the fire and a had a lovely meal and reflected on a magic day.
I was living the dream!
Day 9 Territory Covered and Stats
3D overview of Day 9:
2D overview from Strava:
- Distance = 288 km
- Cycling (ie moving) Time = 13 hours and 29 minutes
- Stopped Time = 3 hour and 59 minutes
- Elevation = 2,308 m
- Money Spent = $196 ($87 on food/drink, $109 on accommodation)
Keep reading…..Day 10.