I Have No Idea Where I’m Going
Big Timber, MT to Livingston, MT … or Bozeman, MT … or …
As typically happens when I stay in a motel, I stayed up much later than I should have last night. What can I can say, I’m still a night owl. That night-owlness (yeah, not a word) didn’t make getting up this morning any easier. But get up I did.
When I went to bed last night, the goal for today was still very much unknown. I had an intermediate goal but that was it. Not surprisingly, nothing magical happened in the night to change that plan. Last night I had contacted a few Warm Showers hosts in Bozeman, MT but no favourable responses were received. And no new messages were awaiting me this morning – of course, that made sense since it was only 6:30 AM.Regardless of my final route to Salt Lake City, today’s route would have to go through Livingston. So, getting to Livingston became the day’s initial plan. Since changing plans was hardly a new thing, I figured this would just be another one of those “make it up as I go along” days.
The good news re: going to Livingston was that it was only 60 km away. Unfortunately, it was to be an unpleasantly windy 60 km. I can’t say they were brutal winds (although my average speed might disagree) because I’ve certainly pedalled in worse conditions. But the winds were certainly around the 30 km/h range. The biggest comfort I could take was that the wind wasn’t all that gusty so at least I could maintain a somewhat steady pedalling cadence. Yes, these are the little things that get you through days like this. The other upside was that at least it was only a 60 km ride.In an effort to minimize fatigue – both mental and physical – I pretty much stopped hourly for a little reprieve whenever a practical location presented itself. Much like yesterday’s ride, I once again found myself on frontage roads which offered very limited reprieve from the wind. In fact, the only reprieve available took the form of Interstate bridges. So under one of those bridges is where I had lunch. Or a late second breakfast.
As I enjoyed my second meal of the day, I unexpectedly received a positive Warm Showers response. I officially had accommodation in Bozeman … if I wanted it. The thing is, at that point I was seriously considering selecting a route that would no longer go through Bozeman. But I would wait until I reached Livingston to make a final decision.Much like yesterday, I once again found myself back on Interstate 90. It once again offered the most direct and efficient route. Although, unlike yesterday, I was on it for much more than a couple of exits. In fact, most of today’s ride was spent on the Interstate with all the trucks and shoulder debris that go along with it. Fortunately, the trucks passed with a wide berth (when possible) and I did the same with the tire debris (again, when possible).
I arrived in Livingston without incident where I stopped at the Visitor Center/Chamber Office to see if there were any cheap camping options in the vicinity. The problem with stopping at a Visitor Center (especially one that’s shared with the Chamber Office) is the people there don’t REALLY listen to what you’re asking. What I (foolishly) asked was, “Do you know of somewhere in town I can throw my tent for the night?” What they heard was, “What overpriced camping options are there for cyclists?” At which point they gave me a brochure to the local KOA. Ugh. I thanked them for their help and proceeded to make use of their WiFi. As I did so, I overheard something about a music festival in town this weekend which pretty much translated to most accommodation options being booked and/or overpriced. Either way, it was becoming pretty clear that I would not be spending the night in Livingston. Despite the 30 km/h headwinds I’d faced all morning, there would be more cycling to do today.
After much deliberation (and reluctance) I decided not to accept the Warm Showers hosting offer and instead turned my route south towards Gardiner and Yellowstone National Park. I mean, it seemed a bit silly to have biked all this way only to bike AROUND Yellowstone. Plus, some of the campgrounds in this part of Yellowstone had Hiker/Biker campsites for $5. It seemed like it was meant to be. Well, other than adding another 93 km to my day.
My biggest concern wasn’t actually those extra kilometres. It wasn’t the wind either. My biggest concern was being out on the road when another one of those late afternoon storms rolled in. Yes, those storms gave some warning but I didn’t know how many shelter options would be available in those extra 93 km.
I started my way out of Livingston shortly after 1:00 PM. I knew the ride I was facing was mostly uphill but only mildly. Until the end. The final 6 km would have a climb of about 800′. I’d worry about that later. Much later. I figured if I could make it tor Gardiner by 6:00 PM I’d be happy with that.
The good news to start phase two of my ride was that the wind had diminished significantly. And because I had turned south, it wasn’t impeding my progress all that much. As I pedalled I kept close watch on the horizon for any cloud development – and overdevelopment. In that regard, there was one cloud formation that was a bit of a concern but it wasn’t all that big and it looked like I’d be able to get passed it before it unleashed any fury upon me.
I made my first stop of the afternoon at a gas station for a quick snack and water top up. As I did, I continued to watch that one dark cloud. As I stood there watching the cloud, two things happened. I started to feel a few drops starting to fall. And the flags across the street were clearly showing a wind from the north. A STRONG wind from the north. It had to be related to the dark cloud above. I considered my options and decided that north wind was an anomaly that wouldn’t be around long. I jumped back on my bike and decided to see how far that anomaly would push me.
Sure enough, the strong wind from the north only lasted about 20 minutes but it was 20 wonderful minutes of pedalling – especially considering how much work the first three hours of today’s ride were. And when that north wind eventually passed me by it left me in pretty calm conditions for the rest of the day.
Considering the ride to Gardiner was a slight uphill grade the entire way, I was pretty pleased to arrive shortly after 5:00 PM – especially factoring in a couple of stops along the way. From there I had about 8 km to the Mammoth Campground in Yellowstone National Park.
It was at about that time that I started to consider how much food I was carrying (or wasn’t carrying as the case may be). As such, I decided to make a quick stop at the grocery store to get a few extras. Based on my experience in the Bighorn Mountains, I wasn’t sure what sort of provisions would be available within the park.Despite the lack of signs welcoming me to most states along my route, Yellowstone isn’t lacking in that regard. There’s a sign. And it’s a pretty big one. Of course, I stopped for a photo. In the process, I met some people who were curious about (and impressed by) my loaded bike and trip we were on together. Turns out they were also camping at the Mammoth Campground and said I could set up my tent at their site if the Hiker/Biker site was either a myth or just full. The kindness of strangers strikes again. Admittedly, I MAY have prompted the notion of stowing away on part of their site but they were happy to oblige.
After paying the $20 park entry fee (it’s $35 if you’re in a car), I started the final 8 km of my day. Of course, it was all uphill. And the final climb was definitely tough but manageable. That said, I did concede and used my granny gear for the first time in, well … a LONG time. I think I’ve only used it one other time on this trip and, quite frankly, I’m pretty confident this climb wasn’t any steeper than the Bighorn mountains but I think I was just tired from an unexpectedly long ride. Side note: As would be expected, the journey to the campground also meant that I once again found myself crossing back into Wyoming.
When I arrived at the Mammoth Campground, it was indeed full. However, the Hiker/Biker site was not. And it was in fact $5. As ways to end a ride go, that’s a pretty good one. Not as good as ice cream, but I knew that wasn’t going to be an option tonight.Given the limited number of cycle tourists I’ve seen of late, I was a bit surprised to see that I was not the only cyclist at the Hiker/Biker site. While the actual cyclists weren’t around, there were two bikes and one tent already there. I took up residence on the neighbouring tent site. A couple of hours later I met Nate and Anna. They were doing a “short” loop around Yellowstone and this was night number two of their weeklong tour.
As would be expected, the campground had a plethora of food storage compartments to keep the bears at bay but upon talking to the park ranger, bears aren’t the real threat – although, they’re not to be disregarded either. It turns out rodents and elk are a bigger problem. While I didn’t see much of the former, I did see two elk wandering around the tent across the road. And later in the evening (i.e., after dark) I apparently startled an elk as I was leaving the washrooms. I’m not sure who was more startled, actually. To be clear, I never actually saw it but I could hear it dart away … and if sounded much too big to be a rodent – not a usual sized one, anyway. I returned to my tent without incident and concluded my longer than anticipated – but still good – day.
Distance: 154.30 km
Ride time: 7:42:02
Average speed: 20.03 km/h
Maximum speed: 38.00 km/h