Friday, July 15, 2011

Grand Teton to Yellowstone National Park

I tried to sleep in at least a little bit. I was marginally successful, but three men began to repair the siding, and you can only get so much sleep with that racket. Most of the sleep after that point was fake, so I packed up and rolled out.

Within five mintues, two things were amiss. First, my patch-job must have sucked once again. My tire was only quasi-inflated. It could be ridden, but for all intents and purposes, I had a flat. Second, my Carhartt hat was missing. I didn't despair - there was a bicycle shop a mile from where I stood, and the hat was a roadhat.

When I see a hat on the road, I stop and pick it up. Sometimes I leave it, but if it's even halfway good or wearable, I pick it up. If it's dirty, I'll wash it. I call them 'roadhats.' The Carhartt was my best roadhat to date, but it's loss doesn't leave a big hole in my life. I found it outside of Pueblo. I had a totally rad Budweiser roadhat, but it was lost in the tornadic activity back at the Colorado border. That was a good hat too. I had a basic blue roadhat, but it was kinda stupid so I left it in Denver. I saw a cool roadhat on an indian reservation, but I left it. It had skulls and fire, and exclaimed a brand name that I'm unfamiliar with. Leaving it is something I regret. As I left town, I was down to zero roadhats. I prefer having at least two.

The tire business needed to be addressed. The bicycle shop was a good one. They had a Serfas Drifter in 26x1.50, and I ponied up for it. I even had them put it on - be lazy; support the business. There was a beautiful handbuilt bicycle in the shop, and when nobody present could identify the manufacturer, I tossed my hat in the ring: "Looks like a Box Dog Pelican." It was cool to see one - but if it was mine, the brakes would be adjusted better, and the front wheel wouldn't be on backwards. Not that it matters, but the valve stems would be lined up with the labels on the tire sidewalls, too. Though I ride a goofy Hoopty, I see to all these details. It's something that brings me the same nerdy pride as being able to identify an obscure bicycle by the details of the workmanship.

I rolled away on a new tire. The fresh rubber was slightly skinnier than my true preference, but it will do nicely. The tread is thick enough to last for many miles, and protect me from flats. The cheap and cheerful "CST Selecta" was worn down, and it had become an easy target.

As I rode, I felt hurried. Why should I feel hurried in these surroundings? Maybe it was the tourist traffic. It had to be a contributing factor. As I continued to ride, I became more at ease. Maybe part of me wants to wrap this up and go home, I reasoned. Maybe going off-route to Jackson made me feel ill at ease because I was adding a day and prolonging my relative solitude. Probably that. But how could I miss that raft trip? The midnight float was a rare opportunity, and I was lucky to be present. The raft trip isn't even something you can pay for - in fact, it's probably some kind of low-level illegal. I was a lucky man in Jackson. Now my heart felt more at ease as I cruised in front of the Grand Teton mountains on fresh rubber.

The conditions were ideal. I had wind at my back, a perfect temperature, rolling hills, and unbeatable scenery. Then a machine told me I had to pay $12 to continue riding on a bicycle path in the park. Fair's fair, but I wasn't excited about paying $12 for a measely hour or two in the park. Yellowstone would be another $12, I thought. Camping is $12-20 depending on which place. This is getting rough! But I paid and continued, and wasn't unhappy.

The scenery! I could do with fewer RVs and jag-axes on the road, but it did little to detract from the scenery. Around every bend is some new wonderful thing to look at, until it almost becomes a comedy routine. It's nature's version of the magician who keeps pulling more and bigger objects out of a hat. "Looks boss!" I thought as I stared down a steep canyon at a river comprised completely of a steep series of splashes.

I got to the gate at Yellowstone, and was freshly assuaged. "Hello, lonesome weary traveler." The gate attendant spoke calmly and slowly. $12 at Teton works here too. "Don't worry about campgrounds being full - there are spaces reserved for people like you (cyclists.)" In fact, those spaces have a reduced rate. And... yes, they still have the yellow brochure with the outline drawing of a guy getting gored by a buffalo. Mega-score!

I rode though the park to the first campground. I snaked up some climbs, and down some descents, bringing me and the Hoopty to then end of an 80-mile day at Lewis Lake. A friendly ranger said she had a spot just for me. The campground was free, because there was no potable water. I had a spare quart, and was thus unconcerned.

I set up my tent, and realized this was another mosquito zone. The elevation was high, and I knew it would be a cold night. (The snow was also a tip-off.) I dove in the lake, and the snow-melt water froze me and woke me right up. I dove in again, and tried to wipe the salt and sweat off my skin. Done! I cooked some Ramen and swatted mosquitoes. I retired to my tent for a PBJ and the remaining sips of Yukon Jack.

My sleeping bag is junk. Seams are ripping, and the gossamer cloth and stuffing provide minimal warmth. I made it through the night, but there were a few cold hours of being awake.

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