Fifty-Six: Steam (Madison to Beaver Creek, MONTANA)

by davidharries

Miles: 76
Total: 3,499

I saw Bob and Juan off this morning — they’re headed to a campground near Earthquake Lake. It took me a little longer to get going, but the kind cup of coffee the staff offered helped. Everything except my rain coat and handlebar bag stayed in the bear box and I headed toward Old Faithful. Always a treat to ride a barely-loaded bicycle. It’s slightly uphill to Old Faithful from Madison, but I didn’t notice.

Just like yesterday, I turned off the main route and followed Firehole Canyon Road for a few miles. I was rewarded with great waterfalls and access to various hot pools you’re allowed to soak in. Again, traffic was insanely light. Very few folks deviate from the main figure-eight loop. I arrived at Old Faithful just in time to catch the breakfast buffet. Breakfast buffets are generally a horrible idea, but I knew the next few hours’d be slow. After gorging, I wandered up to the second floor, where Bob recommended I watch Old Faithful. After all, who wants to mingle with the proletariat? Within a couple minutes of its 10:42 a.m. appointment, the geyser went. Cool to see, but I think the hot pools are prettier.

From Old Faithful, it’s 18 miles back to Madison, and I stopped at Biscuit Basin and Midway Geyser Basin, which is home to the Grand Prismatic Spring, a beautiful 200′-wide, 160-degree Fahrenheit pool that drains into the Firehole River.

In Madison, the sun finally broke out of the clouds. I switched to a short-sleeve shirt and strapped the bear-box contents back on my bike before heading out the west entrance. I had 36 miles on the clock before breaking camp today. Luckily, Yellowstone’s elevated from the surrounding area, so I coasted out of the park and into West Yellowstone (and Montana, my eighth state). In town, I picked up a few groceries and called for campground information. The ranger said there were no hiker/biker rates for surrounding USFS campgrounds, but that I could camp for free on BLM land just off Beaver Creek Road. Sounded good to me. I grabbed a quick shower at the laundromat( 75 cents’ worth of hot water) and rode a couple dozen miles along Hebgen Lake before pulling off onto Beaver Creek Road. I filled all of my water bottles at a gas station a few miles before the turn.

This is bear country, so I hung my garbage and food from a tree. A fun first for the trip. The forest’s exclusively lodgepole pine, which makes gathering firewood easy, but finding an intact branch 10′ up and 4′ away from the trunk difficult. I built a small fire tonight, another first.

Now that I’m through both parks and into Montana, I can say that Wyoming has the nicest shoulders of any state (excepting the heinously shameful stretch outside Lamont) I’ve been across so far. Very wide, reasonably clean and with sanely placed rumble strips, they were a pleasure to ride on.

As for the parks: Grand Teton possesses great shoulders with plenty of room for cycling over about 95 percent of what I traveled. Yellowstone, not nearly so much. The South Entrance Road has no shoulder and is uphill, which makes it challenging. The stretch outside Grant Village to nearly Madison is passable, if you’re brave. I never felt in danger in either park, though I took the lane whenever a question arose. It’s a shame to see the park fail to have adequate shoulders given the millions of pounds of asphalt poured to make roads, parking lots, campgrounds and turnouts accessible to gargantuan RVs (frequently pulling trailers AND large trucks).

Off the soapbox.