Started the day as always – reaching and strapping my bag to the bike. It’s a ritual at this point but still has to be done right each time or there’s a good chance you’ll be missing something when you get where you are going.
I got a few texts from Bert and Jamie (the utah guys who I met yesterday) saying they would meet me in Cooke City, a town 55 miles over the Bear Tooth pass and on the edge of Yellow Stone. The day will be long with a lot of intense riding so coffee and breakfast was a must. After fueling, I hooked up with some older guys from Calgary and rode 25 miles with them until we all pulled into a scenic view spot for a photo opp.
The Bear Tooth Pass is the most scenic ride I have ever done. The twists were aggressive though not as challenging as yesterday’s Big Horn ride.
All along the rider up to the 11k for peak there were people stopped and up for a conversation. Toward the 9,500 ft mark of the descent there was a sign indicating “This I Grizzly Country”. That wasn’t an encouragement to stop. However I did stop at “The Top of the World” – a small roadside cafe and gift shop offering my last opportunity for a bio break before re-engaging “Grizzly Country”. I would not be watering any trees in this neck of the woods.
The rest of the ride down the mountain to the next town (Cooke City – Altitude ~7,800 FT) was pretty uneventful but I needed a break. The constant state of alertness added to the altitude was quickly zapping my energy.
Now I’m in Cooke City, refueling and then getting some nutrients and ready to head into the park.
After topping off my tank, the Miner’s Saloon seemed like a biker friendly establishment so I popped my head into this dark but seemingly authentic bar. It was pretty empty so getting a spot at the bar was not a challenge. The bar tender who was a spitting image of Owen Wilson both in terms of look and mannerisms asked me what I’d be having. Anticipating some more heat I took down two bottles of water and a bottomless cup of diet coke – the latter washing down my Advil to ease any aches that have arisen or will arise over the hours to come.
The bartender who has been in Cooke City for 12 years and at the Miner’s Saloon for 5 is a wildlife researcher when he isn’t working and his preferred pastime is hiking. He recommended I order the Buffalo Ribs that are thinner than most people picture ribs and done with a dry rub. I went with this as well as a salad using ingredients grown by “Missy” down the road.
The man two seats to my left was clearly a regular and joined the conversation saying that due to the climate things like tomatoes don’t grow but any root vegetable comes out incredibly well. The altitude and lack of direct sunlight were not conducive to above ground growing providing only 2 months of a season.
As I waited for my food I listened to the locals in conversation. The core conversation topic was around which other locals went fishing that day and why the others didn’t. This was all I could interpret as they were slurring their words between sips of their screwdrivers.
The bar tender came back and engaged in the normal “where are you coming from” conversation. After a week on the road I’ve pretty much got this down to a science and have become skillful at turning it into their story instead of mine. Fun Fact, this bartender has been charged by bears 3 times. Another fun fact, Bear Spray is only good for about 7 seconds per can meaning one should only spray for 2 seconds per blast and hold the rest in case the bear decides to charge again as as the case for this guy one time.
The funniest part of lunch was when two people who hadn’t eaten or even ordered a drink walked from the far right corner where the restroom is located toward the exit door. To do this they had to walk diagonally across this pretty large Saloon and in view of the bartender. Without blinking an eye and with the exact same voice of Kenny Bostick from “The Big Year” he yelled
“Hey Folks, thanks for your patronage of our bathroom! I hope you left a nice steamer in there for Cooke city!”
The couple had little to say and sheepishly slid out the door.
The bartender told me that the town has very low water pressure and it’s just tough when people use it without ordering. I understand the principle but the water pressure argument seemed like a stretch.
After finishing lunch I headed out to the bike and put on my rain gear top as it felt as the clouds were starting to thicken. At this altitude rain comes without any notice and getting your primary clothes wet will inevitably lead to a freezing day. I had 200 miles to go and needed to stay dry.
I would enter Yellowstone from the North East Corner and approach the 10 car line at the ranger station. In front of the kiosk stood a lady who most closely resembled Dana Carvey’s Churchlady character would ask if I already had a pass or needed to pay $20 for a new one. I showed her the pass that Mike and Chad from Red Lodge gave me (these things are good for a week). Churchlady asked me if I bought it or if somebody gave it to me. I didn’t want to lie and told her the truth – “it was a gift”. She said in a stern voice – “sir, you need to buy your own”. Then I smiled and said that I could’ve lied but didn’t. Charming her would get me nowhere as she ripped the pass out of my hand, tore it in half and said “you should buy your own”. She directed me to the kiosk ahead.
As I got to the front of the station another biker pulled up next to me.
The short and squat man said in a friendly but slightly foreign accent
“hey mate, you’ve got a strap all wonky”. I jumped off the
machine and in fact I did have a strap all wonky. After putting the rain cover
over the soft bag on my luggage rack, I had failed to secure the second strap
which was dragging behind my rear wheel. Ironic, considering that just a few hours
ago I wrote about the importance to pay attention to such details.
I entered the park and about a mile in my “Check Motor” light
illuminated. Quickly I turned around and left the park to see if the oil
level was off – it was fine. There was a group of riders at the gate and one
suggested I open the gas cap to relieve pressure. Since I had filled the tank
before lunch and now the bike had sat with fumes building for an hour, his
recommendation seemed sensible. I then turned the bike back on and the
motor light was no longer on. Either his suggestion worked or the bike
just needed a time out. Either case, I didn’t want to break down where I was
The park was gorgeous. The landscapes and animals I’d see along the way
were among the greatest experience one could imagine. Buffalo herds in plain view
roaming fields free of interference. This was fine by me because none
were any closer than 100 yards. This I would learn wouldn’t always be the
Park traffic was frustrating with cars stopping ever quarter mile to take
pictures. Drivers are neither smart nor considerate as they would just jam on
the brakes to take a picture. Today would be a test for those so called
anti lock brakes by Harley.
As I traversed through the mountains the rain started and steadily picked
up. I pulled over at the first carve-out where a few other bikers were
dressing in raingear. It was the stout Aussie man from the entry gate and his
two friends. We engaged in small talk and I learned that they were on a 3 week
holiday from Melbourne Australia.
Putting on raingear is a process. First the pseud-galoshes that
cover my boots need to be tightly velcroed to form a seal. The rain pants
to cover my jeans – first zipped and then velcroed. Then the rain jacket
– zipped, velcroed. The bandana around the face from nose down – most
people forget this but it is the cheapest way to have an enjoyable ride in the
rain. Then the helmet followed by waterproof gloves (helmets are tough to
buckle with gloves). I was back out but a little slower.
After 45 minutes coming down from 9,000 FT to 7,500 I would encounter more
traffic. By this point the sun was coming out and my extra layers were
overheating me and starting to be annoying but there was no place to pull
off. Worse yet there was a huge traffic backup, which could only mean one
thing: Bison on the road.
I was vehicle #15 or #20 in line as traffic was stopped to let the herd of Bison move
freely. My bike was getting hot and I didn’t want to stall so I jumped
the line and was now vehicle #4 behind the beasts – a safe distance but could
make it through quickly when they moved out of the way.
After another 5 or 6 minutes the road was clear and cars started moving.
The first car was off. The second car was off. The third car was
off and as soon as the driver passed the last buffalo he jammed the breaks and
looked out the window behind him to take a picture of the beasts one car length
behind but only 5 feet from that vehicle. I was that vehicle and was
surrounded by 7 or 8 Bulls on each side, blocked in by this guy who valued his
photo opp over my life. Unreal! My heart raced and as one of the
bulls quickly turned to me I ripped the throttle and squeezed between the
oncoming car and the putz that put me in that predicament. Even with a
helmet and earplugs I could hear the loud grunt from the buffalo over my
pipes. I was a mile down the road before looking back.
The sun intensified and I needed to take down a few layers. There was a
spot with multiple cars pulled over to the left so I took the chance to park
for a few minutes. To my shock I saw people with cameras running off the
road up an embankment chasing something. There was an enormous Mouse –
antlers and all half way up the hill. These people wanted the picture so
badly that they were going to chase it down. I took a picture, packed and
quickly departed, as I didn’t want to bear witness of Darwinism at work.
I’d reached an intersection – to the right was Old Faithful 17 miles down the
road. To the left were the Grand Tetons and Jackson where I’d spend the
night. I went left and decided Old Faithful would have to be another
trip. Later I’d be happy I made this decision.
As I traveled the next 20 miles I saw the most vivid lightning storm in the
distance. It was South and I was headed right into it. Hopefully I
could find a gas station or some sort of cover before being drenched or struck
by lightning. Right at the Grand Teton Park exit it was inevitable – I
would get soaked. Again I pulled over and dressed in the raingear.
Again – the Australians were there doing the same ritual.
Within minutes I was back on the bike and in the most torrential rainstorm I’ve
ever experienced. Lightning from all angles and 3 inch puddles forming in
minutes. My check motor light turned on – “not now!” I thoughts.
Up the road to the right I see a running man in a yellow head to toe suit
streaming out from a parking lot. He was a rider on an Aprilla and was
waving me into a 6×6 covered shelter he and another rider were using. I
turned into the parking lot and jumped off the bike to get out of the rain.
The road was only 20 feet across the small parking area but the rain was so
dense I couldn’t see the street.
Minutes later two couples pulled in and shared the shelter with us and said the
storm would be passing soon. I spoke to the man in Yellow who I would
later learn was named Carlos and from Riverside NY about his destination.
For the next 50 miles I’d follow that yellow streak through rain and wind,
passing traffic and aiming for Jackson. Eventually we reached Jackson and
we exchanged numbers planning to pick up a future ride out west.
I would now look for my hotel, actually it was a B&B 16 miles from the town of
Jackson. I found it on Kayak and had good user reviews but when I
actually reached the destination I saw a house surrounded by trailers.
Worse yet, there was no cell reception. Remembering a phrase from Dan in
Rapid City I thought, “this is how Horror Movies start”. I
pulled a U turn and did the 16-mile return to Jackson looking for a
hotel. Luckily I found the last room at a reasonable price in town.
After checking in I went to the “Cowboy bar” in the town
center. Up for an early night I ordered a beer and went to the food
window to order a burger when I hear from behind me “Wheel Fook Me
Mate”. It was the squat Australian reaching out to give me a
Bro-Hug. We ended up drinking beer and Whisky reminiscing about rides and
our respective countries until midnight when I left them and took the two block
walk to catch a few hours of sleep.
Funny how these things often work out.