By Lou Melini with Chris Blinzinger
Yellowstone to Salt Lake City: The Journey continues.
During March of 2021 I spent time planning for potential bike trips. Julie and I had an upcoming outing to our timeshare in Island Park, Idaho (Julie’s place) the week before Memorial Day weekend. I thought why not ride home again from the cabin through Yellowstone and Teton NPs.
The problem was that I didn’t want to go alone so I threw out an invite to Chris Blinzinger who I did a tour within September of 2020. Within 2 days Chris not only replied affirmatively, but he also had a bus ticket taking him to Island Park on the last night at the timeshare. Julie would drive to our home in Millcreek, while Chris and I would begin our ride through the Parks, a first for Chris.
Weather and (bad) planning:
The first few days of the tour would be over Memorial Day weekend. I told Chris “No problem”, we will stay in hiker/biker sites at Madison, Grant Village and Jenny Lake”. During the first night at the cabin, I read the local Island Park paper that mentioned the opening of Yellowstone, but not Grant Village. In addition, the weather was bad. Julie and I hiked nearly 9 hours during the first 2 days at the cabin in rain and snow, with Yellowstone receiving 6 inches of snow.
“Hey Chris”, I have a bit of a problem planning the tour. Who would have thought that Yellowstone would only have three campgrounds open during the Memorial Day holiday weekend and Grant’s Village is not one of them! Also the weather is a little nasty, but the extended forecast looks good for us, if an extended forecast in Yellowstone can be believed”. “Hey Chris”; plan B at Flagg Ranch won’t work. Tent camping doesn’t start until June 1st.” I knew about a primitive campsite near Flagg Ranch and Chris found it on a map. “Hey Chris: I have what we need to hang a bear bag, plus bear spray.”
Yellowstone and Teton NPs:
The ride from the timeshare to the entrance station was just over 27 miles. When we arrived, Chris and I were perhaps 20th in line, one of 4 lines to enter the park. As I handed the ranger my Senior Pass and ID, I needed to remind her that I was allowed to take another cyclist into the park with that pass. With a brief pause she said; “Yes, I think you are correct”.
This trip is the 8th time I have ridden through a Yellowstone entrance station on my bike going back to 1975, the 5th time since 2014. The road from the West Yellowstone entrance to Madison campground 14 miles further down the road is one of the most scenic stretches of road in all of my travels on a bike. After telling this to Chris several times I think he agrees. The ride is flat, albeit at nearly 6700 feet of elevation. There are multiple pullouts for scenic gazing. The road has a good road shoulder that allowed Chris and I to pass dozens of vehicles that were moving along at the pedestrian rate of 4-5 mph for the first 5 miles or so.
Slow and stopped traffic usually mean one thing: Wildlife! Bison graze along the sides of the road and at this time of the year take the road. Julie and I had earlier in the week come to a standstill in our car due to bison and their newborn calves strolling down the road. Chris and I made mental to-do notes about the bison. Fortunately, the only bison we encountered on our way to Madison were grazing and resting in the meadow far from the road. On day 2 we encountered a lot of bison along the road. We had to jump into the oncoming traffic lane and speed up due to this. The car we had been using for protection between us and the bison suddenly sped up and left us exposed.
Without Hiker/Biker sites at the campgrounds in Yellowstone and Teton, touring cyclists would simply not be able to camp in the parks. These sites are welcome mats for cyclists in an environment of campgrounds that fill well before noon. The current fee is $10.50 (half-price for senior car holders) is reasonable. The Madison hiker/biker site conveniently sits behind the camp registration building and sometimes there is coffee from the employee coffee pot starting about 7 AM or so. Our original destination for day 2, the hiker/biker site at Grants Village, also has showers and laundry.
Chris and I left Yellowstone Park on Day 2, not fully knowing where we would camp. After considering a few possibilities and filling up our spare water containers at the Flagg Ranch store, we rode a gravel road for 0.5 miles to Sheffield campground, a “primitive” campsite on forest service land one mile south of Flagg Ranch. Just before entering the campground there was a stream to cross. Large concrete slabs formed a roadbed across the stream, but the water was 4-inches above the concrete and moving fast. Chris put his bike in the back of truck from a friendly camper to get across and I took off my shoes and socks to walk across with my bike. The camp was full, but we shared a site with the truck driver and his wife-thank you Johnny and Meghan. The camp supplied bear boxes as hanging a bear bag would be next to impossible. A vault toilet was available, and we had the necessary t/p. Overall the camp was a pleasant surprise, but the morning temperatures in the 20’s were also a surprise, just not pleasant.
I feel a need to discuss bears, specifically grizzlies, while road touring. Bike packing in remote areas is another discussion that won’t be addressed here. The parks bear boxes are steel and bear proof. Testing of bear resistant containers, by the way, is done at the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center in West Yellowstone. Hanging a bear bag in the pine tree forests is difficult, very difficult. Hard shell bear resistant canisters don’t fit well in standard sized panniers so one would have to strap one onto the bike rack. (Ursak makes soft shell bear resistant containers that could fit into a pannier) Fortunately the Park Service has provided bear-boxes. Staying in formal campsites with other campers is helpful, if the other campers don’t make a mess with odors attractive to bears. Do you need to carry bear spray when road touring? Generally, I do not unless I plan on hiking. During this tour, I was not familiar with Sheffield primitive campground, so I carried bear spray and provisions to hang a bear bag including odor-proof bags. Fortunately, neither were necessary. In general, road touring in grizzly country is safe, with the caveat on where one camps. If you are unsure, ask a ranger in the parks for information.
Our destination in the Parks was the hiker/biker campsite at Jenny Lake in Teton NP with much needed showers. I told Chris there was a Laundromat at Jenny Lake, until I remembered I stayed at Colter Bay on my ride in 2020 so another planning mistake on my part. Six young girls, who started their ride in Florence, Oregon, were packing up to leave as we arrived. I gave them my best words of encouragement. Then I found out from the camp host that they skipped out on paying pissing off the Park. I offered to pay their tab, but the offer was refused.
Just after dinner we heard a noise from the nearby lake. “Lou, do you hear that noise. The guy is trying to start his engine with a bad fuel line.” It was an odd sound and continued for over an hour. At 5 AM when Chris and I were awakening the noise started again. As I got out of my tent, I spotted a well-camouflaged bird on a nearby log drumming its wings against his chest. Chris made a Google search noting that we were looking at a ruffled grouse making a mating call.
The ride to Alpine, Wyoming:
From Jenny Lake, the ride to Alpine Wyoming is 60 miles with 1150 feet of elevation loss. There is a bike path from Jenny Lake to Jackson, Wyoming. After a short meander through town the bike path continues south of town for 6 miles or so.
South of Jackson, Wyoming, Route 89/191 has been under construction for a couple of years. We left the bike path, onto good shoulder for several miles before we crossed the road onto another bike path for 4 or 5 miles. Normally the worst part of the ride south of Jackson occurs just north of Hoback Junction. Historically there has been a 2-mile section of narrow road without a shoulder. This year that section is under repair. Given that it was Memorial Day, the construction crew was gone so we had a relatively nice, packed gravel construction road to ride save for a 50-yard section thus avoiding the traffic north of Hoback Junction. Once past the junction we again had good shoulder.
Chris and I planned to stay at a forest service campground about 2 miles north and west of downtown Alpine on route 26 as you enter Idaho. I had called a week ago to the campground I normally stay at in Alpine that is located behind a bar and a short walk to your choice of a grocery store or cafe. When I called, I was told, “the rates have gone up, $22/tent. By the way, the showers and restroom are being remodeled so they are out of service, but you can use the restroom in the bar”. I didn’t want to chance the possibility of the bar not being open at 6 AM so we decided the Forest Service camp would be better.
And better it was. With my senior pass we had a nice site for $9 and a 24-hour clean pit toilet a short walk from camp. The camp host was a wonderful lady. She paints rocks all sorts. Rocks painted with decorative “Welcome” greetings, frogs, and small ladybugs are a few of her creations that she sells or gives to the campers. Somehow the discussion mentioned that I was missing my granddaughter’s birthday party during this ride (she is 4), so I was given a small painted ladybug rock to bring home.
I asked her about bears and if there were bear boxes available. She said I should just put our food in our car. When I reminded her that we were on bikes she said that she has not she has not seen a bear in 2 years as the camp host so no worries. As I walked away, I heard her say “and if you are still worried, just put your food in your car’.
Confidence Building Days:
I define Confidence Building Days as long days in the saddle that exceed what you mentally think you can ride thus you gain confidence. On the flip side, if you exceed what you mentally and physically can do, bonking, heat exhaustion and extreme fatigue will occur making the ride miserable. One must know their limits.
Lodging made day 5 and 6 each 80 miles long, a distance neither Chris nor I looked forward to riding. There would be 3 climbs totally 12 miles included in those 2 days. We proved to ourselves that we could do the distance, but 60-mile days will still be our preferred planned limit.
Chris and I both eat our own special blend of oatmeal in camp. Chris also makes what he calls “Hudson Bay” granola bars that he has for breakfast. The Hudson Bay bars include quick oats, old fashion oats, sugar, butter, a little bit of salt and usually with peanut butter and chopped nuts. Raisins are sometimes used. My oatmeal is a combination of what I have in the kitchen. Quick oats, instant oatmeal, and dried fruit (crasins, raisins, dates, or figs) are always used. If available, Julie’s homemade granola and sliced almonds are added. Occasionally I put in instant cream of wheat and wheat germ. Five ounces plus coffee is first breakfast.
Chris and I just couldn’t make a second breakfast café run work with our ride schedule. It was disappointing. Both of us look forward to a second breakfast after 15-20 miles. We both feel fresher with the calories and taste of a quality breakfast. Finally on day 5, the grocery in Afton, Wyoming provided us with the breakfast we needed. We bought hard-boiled eggs, cream cheese and some great tasting bagels and took over a table in the small dining area. My phone was dead so we both were able to finally charge our phones for the first time since we left on the trip. Windows allowed us to see our bikes, though there was not a need in this town.
After leaving Afton we completed our first 80-mile day helped by our second breakfast. We arrived at the KOA near Montpelier, Idaho for showers and laundering our copious volume of sweaty clothes. The next day, our last full day on the bike, was much the same. We again were able to have a small second breakfast before the climb to Logan Canyon. There is a new market that has a Beans and Brew along Bear Lake with pastry and of course, coffee.
After this 2nd breakfast we climbed for 6 miles to the summit, stopping at the summit campground for more food from our panniers. We then fought off and on head winds down Logan Canyon limping into Hyrum State Park with its lush grass and enviable shade trees. Showers, dinner, and sleep were on the agenda.
On day 7, our last day, we had a 40-mile ride to the FrontRunner station in Ogden that would take us near our respective homes. First, we had a 6-mile climb over Sardine Canyon to start the day. We had hoped to have a second breakfast at the diner next to the train station, but it was closed and probably had been for some time.
Trip Nuts and Bolts:
Chris and I rode 400 miles from Julie’s timeshare cabin in seven days: 3 40-mile days, 2 60-mile days and 2 80-mile days. Hiker/biker sites are plentiful in the parks and except for weekends, campgrounds are accommodating along the rest of the ride.
Food and water were plentiful, though with Grant’s Village closed there isn’t potable water between Old Faithful lodge and Flagg Ranch. We had a water filter if needed. We had stocked up on food for the 3 days in the Parks, but we could have purchased some food at the Flagg Ranch store. Jenny Lake had limited supplies. Full grocery stores are located at the south end of Jackson, Alpine and Afton Wyoming. Montpelier Idaho and now Bear Lake area have groceries as does Logan and the town of Hyrum. There is no need to carry a lot of extra food.
Weather, of course, varies based on the time of year one travels but Yellowstone always has potential for cold and wet weather. The route we took drops in overall elevation, but a Google search said we did 10,000 of climbing during our 7 days.
Our route followed two of Wyoming’s many scenic byways. The Wyoming Centennial Scenic byway goes from Jackson to Hoback Junction, but one would wonder why the scenic byway is not all the way to Alpine. After Alpine is the Star Valley Scenic Byway.
For cyclists not interested in riding the roads home from Teton NP there is the option of a Parks tour. Using Salt Lake Express bus service one can travel to West Yellowstone, Montana and return home from Jackson, Wyoming. All but 2 campgrounds have hiker/biker sites so you could bike from one campground to another; do some hiking to spend more time in the Parks. Food and shower options are available at most campgrounds in the Parks as well as at Flagg Ranch that sits between the Parks. Laundry services are also available at selected campgrounds.