Sobos, Nobos and Double-Flippers (USA Day 71)
However hard it was to leave Grand Teton, we knew that there were treats in store: Yellowstone waited just thirty miles to the north, with its grizzles and its hot spurties and all the great tectonic business. The fourteen miles back to the trail were as pleasant as two days ago, and that mood continued: it was a hilly day of course, but supremely beautiful, the only scar on this otherwise unblemished landscape being evidence of wildfires that had at one point ravaged the forests. There was one yesterday actually, a little south of us, started by a bolt of lightning. Our phones, despite having no signal at all, blared warning alarms and we checked with the nearby ranger if we needed to evacuate. Anyway, this clearly happens, but all the silence and charred tree trunks do make you feel like you’re cycling through a graveyard at some points.
Almost the instant we passed into Yellowstone, the landscape changed. First we wound up the side of Lewis Gorge, a sheer cliff edge feeding down to a clear, shallow river (the Lewis River) far below. Then Lewis Falls, with its torrent of froth and many photo opportunists emerging from idling cars. We passed grassy wetlands (the Lewis Wetlands, perhaps?) and an enormous Lewis lake rippling with grey Lewis waves.
We’d been warned about Yellowstone motorists in their huge RVs, running down cyclists like it’s sport. In reality, it was no worse than Highway 9 in Colorado, and at least they weren’t travelling at 65mph. We did our best to direct traffic around us only when physically possible. Still, some clever drivers slammed on the accelerate pedal, causing oncoming drivers to swerve into their shoulders to make space, but generally it was fine.
With more tourists came, for the first time since we joined the TAT in Missouri, a new wave of astonished interrogations.
“How far d’you ride?” asked a woman in huge sunglasses, admiring our heavily-loaded bikes.
“From New York,” I said.
“Right, but where did you leave your car?”
“No, we rode here from New York.”
She took a step back. “On a bike?”
“On two bikes.”
And so on.
Our camp spot tonight is Grant Village, where on the downside, camping costs a bunch, but on the upside, we’ve made some highly-tanned, bedraggled, excellently-muscled but terribly-scented friends. The spot we paid for has been invaded, in good nature, by seventeen hikers who didn’t fancy paying for a spot but have an app that tells them where the hiker/biker areas of each campsite hide. We’ve got Montana, Toggs, Woodchuck, Pooch, D**khead, Blasphemy and of course Airplane Mode at the table, all part of the tightly-knit community of through-hikers tackling the Continental Divide Trail (CDT). Despite many apparent similarities with cycle touring, the hiking world is utterly different. Firstly, they all know each other, either personally or through legend. They’ve all hiked together on one of the other routes that make up the Triple Crown: the Appalachian Trail (AT) and the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), and have formed close ‘Trail Families’ along the way. We learned about who’s a NoBo, SoBo or SNoBo, who’s flipped or (God forbid) double flipped, whether it’s best to take Big Sky, Cirque, Highline or the Red Route Alternate out of Yellowstone, and where the longest water carries are along the trail.
Over tiny whiskey bottles and lurid blue marshmallow and coconut Snowballs, we compared our worlds and shared stories from the trail. We also tried out our new trail names upon which we’d settled as we cycled up Togwotee Pass the other day. Muddy Gap and Bearfrog. You decide who’s who.
“Guys,” piped Pooch, “Has anyone met Data? He’s a six foot Japanese dude. Double flipped ‘cause of the snow in Colorado.”
“Yeah, I know him!” said Woodchuck. “I hiked the PCT with him back in 2016. He had a thing with Fruit Salad.”
“Oh, so you know Jetpack? She did the PCT in ’16.”
It went on. S**tlips got her name from eating cake too fast. Quite a few of them seemed to be sharing tents.
It was the most fascinating encounter. The hikers are more hardcore, less inhibited and far more reliant on each other than cyclists are, but our brief overlap was a delight.
So far, Yellowstone has been phenomenal. Tomorrow’s ride will smell of egg, apparently. I’m good with that. Love a good egg.