Bison Down (USA Day 74)
Imagine the scene. We’ve hitch-hiked down to Tower junction with a nice man gone out to get petrol while his family sleeps. Then, after half an hour of standing with our thumb out, watching people give sign-language excuses and crumpled faces, we hitch in another car with a lovely British couple, Vicky and Martin, up into the Lamar Valley. Our destination? We don’t know. We’ve just heard that this is the place to spot the real wildlife.
Within two miles, we come across a crowd of thirty or more people on a hill, fronted by an infantry line of telescopes trained on a distant point across the valley. I hop out in an effort to scout what’s been spotted. I hear the words ‘wolf’ and ‘grizzly’, and wave frantically at the others.
What followed was a drama you’re only allowed to see on an Attenborough show, but this time viewed not on telly but through a combination of other people’s telescopes and via the squinted naked eye.
Something had downed a bison. It’s rutting season, so the most likely murderer was actually another, bigger bison. Whatever the case, a mother grizzly bear and her two yearling cubs had found it and were feeding greedily. However, on the rim of the nearest hill prowled seven wolves, starving hungry and impatient for their turn. After half an hour of creeping forward, they spotted an opportunity when the mother and one cub wandered off a little, and advanced as a pack, chasing the remaining cub off the kill. They fed for only a single minute before the bears redoubled, snarling and lunging until the wolves retreated once more.
This game of Capture the Beefy Flag continued for some time. When we left, the bears had control for a third time, but eventually they’d get bored and let the wolves clear up. Then it’d be the coyotes, then the birds. When there was only skeleton left, in the winter, the squirrels would gnaw the bones for the calcium. Next year that particular patch will be greener than those surrounding it.
After an experience like that, you don’t feel much like cycling. We’d not slept that well, and our morning had been so ridiculously exciting that we shortened the day to an easy sixteen miles, up and over the Dunraven pass. Oops.
Three hours later, we’d managed twelve miles. My leaden legs were about as much use as a pair of sausages, and Amy’s head pounded from dehydration. Just under three thousand feet, relentlessly, with stunning views of woods and mountains, but absolutely no flats. We had an emergency lunch, plugged in an emergency podcast and crested the pass with not a single calorie of energy left in our bodies, then zipped down the other side in a tenth of the time it took us to ascend. Here in Canyon Village we had a shower, washed some clothes, re-stocked our food bag and set up our tent in a wooded campground, dipping under the canvas just before a rainstorm fell. Tomorrow we pedal our final fifty miles of Yellowstone, a good three days after we intended to. But to every cyclist reading who’s coming this way: if you have the time, make the time to properly see this incredible park. The shortest possible route just happens to be an utterly unfair representation of Yellowstone. Once you escape the circus of Old Faithful, the traffic jams of rented RVs and the thick pine forest, you’ll discover some of the most impressive views you’ll ever see in your life, and if that’s not what cycle touring is about, I don’t know what is.