Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Welcome to Oregon!


We've made it to Portland and we'll be at the Pacific Ocean tomorrow in Astoria, OR.  It's certainly been a life-changing 3 months as we've traveled across this great country on our bicycles, and we're eagerly awaiting the moment we get to the ocean.  As much fun as we've had during the trip, we both look forward to getting back to 'real life', although our emotions will be quite mixed as we dip our front tires in the Pacific.

Our travels across Oregon have been some of the most memorable of the entire trip (not only because it was the most recent leg of the trip, but more so because of how beautiful this state is).  We left Boise and spent the night camping along some abandoned railroad tracks in Weiser (pronounced weezer), ID.  We were planning on trying to camp at an RV Park in town, but when we asked the host if they allowed tent camping, he actually told us no (the first time throughout the whole trip).  Instead of accepting our money in exchange for a small piece of land to pitch our tent, he told us that we could just camp along the railroad tracks about 50 yards away...what a great business man.

We left Weiser and crossed the Snake River into Oregon biking past fields of garlic, spinach, corn, and wheat.  We headed north toward Baker City, slowly making our way to the Columbia River.  Once again we were forced to take the Interstate for about 15 miles before we were able to get onto a frontage road.  The day was hot and filled with a steady climb over rolling hills and gorgeous high plains desert landscape.  We passed an old abandoned limestone mill situated in a canyon just outside of Huntington, OR, but other than that the day was mostly desolate cattle range.

When we arrived to Baker City, OR (some 70 miles later) we passed by a little girl selling lemonade on the corner of a street for 25 cents/cup.  We promptly pulled over and refreshed ourselves with three cups.  We got to talking to her mom who was overseeing the business venture.  We asked about camping, good places to eat, etc. and she informed us of a farmers market going on just down the street.  Without a second thought we biked down the road to the Baker City Farmer's Market.

About five or six vendors had set up shop on one end of the city park, while on the other side of the park musical artists provided a pleasant soundtrack to the park's many patrons.  We talked to a  berry farmer whose farm was located near Salem, OR (just south of Portland).  He was selling blackberries, boysenberries, marion berries, and a few other varieties.  His hands were stained a bluish black (a true sign of a berry man), as he dropped a few samples into our bike-grease stained hands.  We decided to get some marion berries (a black color, but closest to the raspberry family), and made our way to the next vendor.

We made our way to a good-looking vegetable stand with a sign above it that read, "Val's Veggies".  Here we met a lovely couple named Val and Rod who ran an organic vegetable farm near Medical Springs, OR (not more than a few houses and a dot on the map) about 25 miles Northeast of Baker City.  Val's farm was also serving nearly 40 families through a CSA, and they sold wholesale to a group in Portland called Know Thy Food.  We explained to Val who we were and what we were doing and she showed a genuine interest in the project.  She asked where we were planning to stay that night, to which we replied by shrugging our shoulders.  Without a second thought she invited us to stay the night at the farm.  Rod even offered to throw our bikes on the back of the truck and give us a ride to the farm!

When we arrived at the farm the sun was setting so we took a few pictures, helped unload the leftover vegetables from the market, and were treated to a delicious meal of pizza and coleslaw.  We spent the night talking about everything from farming to pre-natal development.  Val and Rod were so nice that they offered us their spare bedroom to sleep in, and we awoke to an enticing aroma in the air.  Val had prepared baked oatmeal accompanied with fresh fruit from the market!  I think we could have been happy spending the rest of the summer there, helping with the harvest and enjoying beautiful views of the amazing eastern Oregon countryside.

We reluctantly left Val's Veggie Farm and headed north to our next destination -Emigrant Springs State Park. Unfortunately, the beginning of the day was brutal; a strong headwind combined with steep climbs.  Even when we were going downhill, we were pushing to maintain a 7mph pace.  Needless to say, by the middle of the day we were exhausted, so we decided to change our destination to a state park that was about 10 miles closer called Hilgard Junction State Park.  On the way we passed an artesian well that Rod and Val told us we had to stop at.  The water was absolutely delicious and we filled all of our water bottles after chugging a few while we filled up.

We passed through the town of La Grande, OR after which we were again forced to return to I-84...This stretch of interstate from La Grande to Hilgard Junction State Park was populated mainly by fast-moving, loud-sounding 18-wheelers.  When we arrived at the park, located just off of the interstate, we were relieved to be off of the road, but worried that the only way out was to get to our next destination was to get back on the interstate for nearly 40 miles.  Just as we were contemplating the gravity of the situation, a woman pulled into the campsite next to us in a Volkswagen camper with a touring bicycle hanging on a bike rack off the rear of the vehicle.

Her name was Barb and she was on her way to lead a bike tour in the San Juan Islands.  She had biked the northern tier route (a cross-country route provided by adventure cycling) a few years back and was pleasantly interested in our trip.  When she asked where we were headed, we both looked at each other with disappointment in our eyes as we knew that the only way to get where we were headed was to travel the interstate for longer than either of us wanted to be on it.  Barb offered to give us a ride if we could fit everything in the van, and so the next morning we took her up on the offer and managed to get everything in the van with ease.  We treated her to breakfast at Main St Diner in Pendleton, OR, thanked her for saving us, and went on our way.

We left Pendleton, again heading north to the Colombia River.  There was a pretty good-sized hill to climb to get out of town, but when we reached the top we were treated to a stunning view of 'amber waves of grain' contrasted by bright blue iridescent skies -it was truly beautiful.

After climbing and descending a series of rolling wheat fields, we came to the cold springs canyon and followed it to the Colombia River.  On our way we both suddenly craved a good cup of tea as a sweet aroma began to tingle our noses.  Farther down the road we realized what we had been smelling, and why were each craving tea -rolling fields of deep purple lavender lined the highway.  Just after this amazing sight and smell, we finally reached the grand Colombia River.

Our first view of the Colombia River

We followed the river along the Oregon side as we headed to our destination for the night -Plymouth Park (located across the river on the Washington side).  We enjoyed a nice shower, and met another tourist at the campsite who had also biked across the country (he was turning 70 next year and his wife was following him in an RV).  The next day we hit the road early and decided to take advantage of the lack of wind and bypass our initial plan to stay at Roosevelt Park (around 50 miles away).  Everyone we spoke to about traveling west down the Colombia River said that we should expect a terrible headwind, so we were happy that on this day there was virtually no wind (although temperatures soared into the upper 90's in the afternoon).  We traveled along the historic Lewis and Clark Trail on highway 14 to Mary Hill State Park making the total mileage for the day about 80!  This was our last 80 mile day, and I highly doubt that I will be doing any more of these kind of days for fun.

The next day we decided to cross back into Oregon on highway 97 because the route in Oregon through the gorge was much flatter than highway 14.  Once again, we were forced to take the interstate on and off throughout the day, however at this point we had gotten used to trucks passing at 60mph.  Biking on the interstate was probably safer than traveling on highway 14 on the Washington side anyways because the shoulder is much wider, and the speed limit on highway 14 was 55mph.  So instead of having trucks passing extremely close to us at a slightly lower speed, we opted to have them pass us with lots of room at a slightly higher speed.

We ate lunch at The Dalles, OR after fixing a flat (one drawback to biking on the interstate is the insane amount of debris e.g. glass, fragmented tire tread etc.) and continued our journey to Hood River, OR.  We spent the night in Hood River after treating ourselves to an exquisite meal at a local eatery (probably one of the best meals we've had on the trip so far).  The next day we awoke to a few scattered thunderstorms which we waited out.  When we left, the winds were blowing at a steady 15mph with gusts up to around 30mph.  This was the only day we experienced the infamous wind of the Colombia River Gorge, so we felt pretty lucky.

From The Dalles and onward, the Colombia River Gorge just gets more and more beautiful.  If you have never seen or heard of it, you need to add it to the bucket list.  We traveled the interstate off and on again for most of the day as we made our way to Portland.  When we could, we took the historic Colombia River Highway (route 30), and passed by what I can only describe as a temperate Fern Gully (think Disney movie). Pictures, let alone words, does not do this area nearly enough justice.  We stopped a few times to enjoy the enormous pines, and breathtaking waterfalls along the route.

We finally made it passed the point where the interstate was the only option to take as we entered the Portland metro.  This city is lined with bike routes and bike lanes, and we took them all the way to one of our good friends who lives in Northeast Portland.  We are now sitting in a restaurant/cafe anxiously trying to finish this post before we take off to St Helens, OR where we will spend the night with a good friend of Caitlin's father.  From there we will bike our final 65-ish miles to Astoria, Oregon, completing a nearly 4,000 mile journey from coast to coast.


Also, if you are reading this and haven't checked out or kickstarter project, please do.  You have three days left to pre-order a copy of the cooking guide for bike tourists that we will be writing this fall/winter -with some hard work and perseverance we will have it available by next touring season.

Thanks for everyone who has taken interest in our trip and project, it truly is amazing and inspiring for us.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Cheese That's Good!...Idaho

Hello all!

After we left West Yellowstone (and Montana), we headed for Idaho! We crossed the continental divide at Targhee Pass. It was a pretty easy climb followed by a long down hill making our total mileage for the day amount to 70.

Our destination was Ashton, ID. After eating lunch along the Snake River in Island Park, the town with the longest Main Street in America (23 miles), we bumped into another cyclist named Marty that was headed east. He recommended that we take the Mesa Falls scenic route. He even mentioned it would be mostly downhill for us! Even though it added about 8 miles to our ride that day, we decided it would be a safer route since the highway we were on had no shoulder and heavy traffic.

Island Park - city with the longest main street in America

The 28 mile scenic route was definitely a good choice. Mesa Falls was beautiful. It was hard to capture a picture to describe how amazing it looked. The mist billowing up from the waterfall created a micro-ecosystem with walls of thick green moss growing on the walls of the canyon. Trees were even able to grow out of the side of the rock because of the effect.

We left the majestic Mesa Falls and went on our way, but the one mile climb out of the overlook was not fun. It was the first time since the Appalachian Mountains that I had to get off my bike and walk! We finally made it to the end of the scenic route and we were exhausted. Our extended stay in Yellowstone filled with 20-30 mile days turned us into wimps, so when we finished our 70 mile day we were more wiped out than usual. Plus, we had no idea where we were staying that night...

We made it to downtown Ashton and everything was closed. We didn't realize that it was a Sunday, and when you're in a small town on a Sunday you might as well be out in the middle of nowhere. Nearly everything was closed, but we managed to find a restaurant that was open, so we grabbed a bite to eat and looked online for a place to camp. We found Jessen's RV Park just a couple of miles down the road! The place was run by an '87 years young' (as she put it) woman who liked to meet new people. So, she turned her property, a former seed potato farm, into an RV Park. It had a great view of the Tetons, a place to shower, and we camped out underneath some apple trees and enjoyed another beautiful sunset in a wide open Western sky.

Did I mention the ground level trampoline?

The next morning we packed up and hit the road for Lark's Meadow Farms, an artisan raw milk cheese farm. We found the farm through Local Harvest and got in touch with Kendall Russell, the cheese artisan of the farm. Almost as soon as we arrived, Kendall gave us a tour of the creamery and aging rooms.

sunrise at Lark's Meadow Farms

Lark's Meadow Farms produces raw milk cheese from sheep (no, I didn't mean goat) and cow milk. Turophiles (cheeselovers) would say that raw milk cheese (unpasteurized) is the best kind of cheese, and we would have to agree! Raw milk cheese has a much richer and unique flavor that you can not achieve from pasteurized cheese no matter how hard you try.

Besides a two week internship, Kendall is a self-taught cheese-maker, and even though the farm has only been open for three years, they are already selling cheese coast to coast! After tasting a few samples of the five varieties of cheese that they produce: Helen (a raw cow milk cheese), Dolcinea (a raw sheep milk cheese - the most like a traditional Basque cheese), Janice (a hard cheese that is a mix of sheep and cow milk), Leland (a soft cheese that is a mix of sheep and cow milk), and Wild Blue (a cheese with a natural blue mold) it was easy to understand why they have become such a success. Their cheese is styled mainly after the cheeses of the Basque region of Northern Spain/Southern France and are 'peasant style' cheeses--rustic, simple, durable, and delicious!!

Kendall explained to us the process of making cheese, and we did our best to follow -making high-quality artisan cheese is a lengthy endeavor that involves intently monitoring temperature and levels of bacteria then making the right adjustments to obtain the desired taste. When creating raw milk cheese, everything must be clean and fresh. That is why Lark's Meadow Farms uses milk that is less than 24 hours old, and their creamery, milking room, equipment, and animals are kept very clean.

The first step in making cheese is warming the milk to a specific temperature determined by the type of bacterial cultures that will be added. The special blend of bacterial cultures that is added to the warmed milk uses the lactose of the milk to increase it's acidity. Acidity in cheese is what makes it hard or soft. High acidic cheese is crumbly (like feta), while low acidic cheese is soft (like brie).

The bacteria are allowed to sit for a period of time in the next stage called ripening. The bacteria not only change the acidity of the milk, but they also help the milk curdle, i.e., it separates into curd and whey. Whey is the watery protein compound of milk, while curd is the sticky, globby, more "cheesy" protein component. After the ripening period, more enzymes are added to help further the curdling of the milk in a stage called renneting. The milk mixture is allowed to set as the curd and whey separate even more.

The curd is then cut in the cutting stage. The size & shape of the individual curd can be manipulated by using different instruments. Every cut releases whey from the curd, and the more you cut the curd, the harder the cheese will end up being.

After the curd has been cut to the desired fineness it must be separated from the whey and strained. This stage is called hooping, as it was done with hoops years ago. Lark's Meadow Farms uses a series of colanders for this process. The curd begins to take on a more recognizably cheesy wheel shape as it moves to the next stage.

The newly formed wheel of cheese is flipped multiple times over the course of two days to allow the whey to separate uniformly around the wheel. After this resting period, the cheese is pressed to get rid of any leftover whey and salted to allow for the rind to be established.

The final part of cheese making takes the longest amount of time, but is the least labor intensive. Aging involves moving the cheese to a drying room that is maintained at a controlled temperature of 62 degrees Fahrenheit. The cheese is first placed on wire racks to help it lose moisture at a controlled rate. This is where the rind is formed. At this stage the cheese is still being flipped everyday. This is also where mold starts to grow (yes mold is a good thing in the cheese world). The cheese is then moved into another room with wooden racks. The wooden racks help to slow the loss of moisture and also to control humidity in the room. The cheese is flipped less and less as it is aged (at least four months!!).

cow's milk cheese (left) is darker in color because it contains beta-carotene; sheep's milk cheese (right) does not

After we learned the cheese making process, we enjoyed a lovely dinner with the whole Russell/Reynolds family. They were also kind of enough to let us stay the night in their spare bedroom. It was nice to get a warm shower and a cozy bed because the next day we woke up at 4:30 to begin milking the cows and sheep!

sheep not goats!

Mike explaining the milking process

much more efficient than doing it by hand

In case you didn't notice, they don't milk animals by hand anymore...thank you technology! Kevin and I now have a new trade in case architecture doesn't work out for me and teaching doesn't work out for him.

We had so much fun we ended up staying another night! The weather was also looking pretty rough that day, and I had to go into town and buy a new tire because my rear tire had a giant hole in the side of it. Luckily, Mrs. Reynolds needed to run some errands, so she dropped me off at the bike shop. I am glad I noticed it before it caused a major problem. Kendall was also nice enough to take some time out of his day and drive us to the famous Idaho sand dunes, which were quite breathtaking to say the least.

that's Kevin if you can't tell

After staying two nights at Lark's Meadow Farms, we finally decided to head out, although we contemplated moving in...haha. We were sad to go because we had so much fun, but we needed to complete our journey! So, we said goodbye to everyone at the farm and rolled on to Mud Lake, ID.

We were a little nervous to head to Mud Lake, ID because everyone we spoke to told us there was NOTHING in Mud Lake. They said it was just a dot on the map. So, we biked the forty miles there and hoped for the best. We arrived in Mud Lake and decided to head down a dirt road two miles to what we thought was a campsite. When we arrived, there was a pit toilet, piles of garbage everywhere, overgrown grass, and a dirty lake...no running water. So, we biked the two miles back to the highway and kept moving. We arrived at the town's watering hole (because no matter how small the town is, there always seems to be a bar of some kind) called the Wayside Lounge and Cafe. We sat at the bar, ordered a few beers and a pizza, and struck up a conversation with the bartender. Mary was extremely helpful. We told her we were looking for a place to camp and she recommended the city park up the road. All she had to do was call Chris (the guy who took care of the property) to ask him to turn the sprinklers off for the night. We enjoyed a few more drinks, met really nice people from the community, and then headed to the park.

The next morning we woke up at 'milking time' (4:30am) so we could hit the road by 6am. We had been having trouble with the afternoon Idaho wind and needed to get to our destination before noon because in the days prior, the winds had been picking up to 20+ miles per hour by then. It wasn't so bad to get up that early, plus we were able to see the moon set at the same time the sun was rising.

the moon setting

We made it to Arco, ID by noon and enjoyed a nice meal (milk shakes included) at a burger joint and then camped at the KOA. By the way, can someone please tell me when KOAs became so expensive?

The next morning we decided to hit the road early again to not only beat the wind, but also to secure a campsite at Craters of the Moon National Monument. This was one of the strangest places we've ever been. A remnant of a giant volcanic explosion, the area is blanketed with black, jagged, volcanic rock. We met a friend of Kevin's here who insisted that this area was in actuality, Mordor from Lord of the Rings.

We explored the amazing lava caves and climbed a 'cone volcano' named inferno cone. It was also interesting to learn about the geology of the area; the current geologic hotspot that created craters of the moon nearly 6 million years ago has been pushed east due to plate tectonics and is now underneath Yellowstone National Park, waiting to erupt again...

cooled lava!

inside a lava tube cave

We left Craters of the Moon and headed west through the Snake River plain to Boise, the capitol city of Idaho, passing high plains desert, buttes, and vast mountain ranges along the way. We have been taking a few days off to get a some things together, write this blog post, and prepare for the final leg of the journey -Oregon.

We are estimating that it will take us around 9 days to hit the coast as we travel down the Columbia River Gorge just as the Lewis and Clark expedition did so many years ago. We will end up in Astoria, OR near the end of the month ending our nearly 4000 mile journey across this great country. Both Kevin and I have had an amazing time, but are just plain exhausted -being on the road for over 2 months takes its toll on the mind and body. It will be a mix of emotions when we reach the ocean, and hopefully Kevin will prevent me from tossing my bike in the Pacific.

Until then, keep following and remember that if you're interested in getting your hands on a postcard, souvenir, t-shirt, or our 'foodguide for touring cyclists' visit our kickstarter page. You have 10 days to pre-order, so tell everyone you know!

Hope all is well back east, and rest assured we will return soon enough!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Badlands, Black Hills, the Tetons, and Yellowstone...Woah!

It has been quite a while since we posted and a lot has happened since our last post.  Apologies for the prolonged period of silence but since we haven't had cell service or wi-fi access for the past few weeks it's been difficult to keep up with the blog.  Alas, here is our best attempt to describe the past weeks...

The Badlands

We arrived to Badlands National Park in the pouring rain and brutal winds of South Dakota; nevertheless, it was breathtaking.  The terrain of the Badlands is certainly something that cannot accurately be described in words, and hardly in pictures.

Riding through the park provided us with some amazing vistas and steep climbs but was totally worth it.  We ran into another touring cyclist after climbing to the highest point in the park.  Her name was Bubu and she was biking from New York to California making up her route as she went (like us!).  We rode with her to Wall, SD home of the famous Wall Drug store which, if you ever travel through South Dakota, you will be notified of it's existence via billboards for hundreds of miles touting it's 5 cent coffee and free ice water.  Bubu went ahead of us as she was logging ~90 miles/day...not quite the pace we prefer.  From Wall we traveled to Rapid City, SD riding on the interstate for the first time during the trip.  In most states it is illegal to bike on the interstate, but in South Dakota and Wyoming there are times when there is simply no other option.  The ride wasn't terrible because of the enormous shoulder on the interstate, and just before entering Rapid City there was a big traffic jam due to construction so we ended up passing most of the cars -one of the greatest feelings a bicyclist can have.

The Black Hills/Custer State Park

After being held up in Rapid City for an extra day due to a minor medical issue (rash from mites) we made our way to the beautiful Black Hills of South Dakota.  Having gone through miles and miles of rolling hills, wheat fields, and cattle pasture we were happy to see something different, although some of the climbs were pretty brutal.

We arrived to the Stockade Lake campground in Custer State Park (free to enter on bicycle, unlike the national parks) after crossing the Galena French Creek Divide (over a mile high!).  The lake was absolutely gorgeous and we were a little upset our campsite was not closer to it, and that the water was near ice cold (not the greatest for swimming).

Stockade Lake

a proud moment!

The next morning we made our way to Custer, SD where we picked up the George Mickelson rail trail and took it to Edgemont, SD.  The trail was downhill nearly the whole way and we passed through some more amazing scenery including wide open plains, buttes, and canyons.


The next day we entered the great state of Wyoming and headed toward Lusk, WY.  The total mileage for the day was about 70 miles and aside from a rest area at the junction of two highways, there was nothing but cattle ranches and the beautiful plains of Wyoming in between.

We stopped at the rest area and met another bike tourist named Ross who had started his year-long journey in Vermont.  He plans to bike to the west coast, head south, and bike across the southern United States in the fall/winter.  We biked the ~40 miles from the rest stop to Lusk, WY with Ross, through brief but intense thunder/hail storms.  We parted ways with our new friend after a beer in a lantern-lit bar (the town's power was out due to electrical maintenance).  At the bar we were lucky enough to run into an awesome guy named Dan who not only told us of a good restaurant to eat at in town, but also offered us a place to sleep for the night in his house.

Dan was a jack of all trades type as he had previously owned a hotel, a restaurant, and has worked in the railroad industry for years.  One of the most interesting things about Dan was that he was also writing a cookbook full of hundreds of his own tantalizing recipes.  We took a look at some of the recipes and needless to say, are definitely looking forward to getting a copy of the book when it is published.

sunset in Lusk, WY

From Lusk we headed to Douglas, WY where upon our arrival we were informed by a very helpful ranger of Wyoming's abundance of public land, free and legal to camp on.  We were worried about a very desolate leg of the trip coming up and planned on trying to find a place off the side of the road to camp but didn't know if it was exactly legal.  The BLM (Bureau of Land Management) in Wyoming is headquartered in Casper and provides very detailed maps of sections of Wyoming detailing public and private land.  We spent the night camped out along the Platte river at Riverside park free of charge!  The park even had public showers, which have become a rare luxury at this point.

The next day we had a delicious breakfast at Koop, a diner in downtown Douglas and took off toward Casper, a town of nearly 50,000 (something we were not prepared for after biking through the middle of nowhere for over a week).  On our way to Casper we stopped at a town called Glen Rock for lunch.  We ate at an amazing restaurant/hotel called The Paisley Shawl.  We talked to the owners at the pub after our mouthwatering meal and learned that The Paisley Shawl is one of the few three star restaurants in Wyoming.  The food was fresh and delicious- neither Caitlin nor I could remember the last time we had such a great meal.  The price was not outrageous either.

We arrived in Casper and wanted to leave immediately, something about it just rubbed us the wrong way and the heat was pushing 100 degrees.  We left the next morning to stop at the BLM office where we picked up a map of the land in the area we were headed in.  The employees at the BLM office were extremely nice and helpful so we were glad to take the 3 or 4 mile detour to get there.  The weather on this particular day was awful -30mph winds with 40mph gusts amidst a blazing sun.  We traveled about 35 miles and 'hit a wall'.  We pulled over to the side of the road to take a break and saw a group of supported touring cyclists biking the opposite direction (our bitterness towards them was palpable).  Instead of carrying their own gear on their bikes, a van full of it followed them across the country...must be nice.  Caitlin had a slight breakdown after we fought the wind just to stand up straight.  The executive decision was made, and we hitched a ride all the way to Dubois, WY from a genuinely awesome couple.  

Wandajean and Jonathan run an amazing school for kids who are struggling in school.  SOAR (Success Oriented Achievement Realized) has four locations throughout the country and uses adventure to motivate.  It was inspiring for me to hear their story and learn about this fully accredited school as I hope to one day be able to do something similar.  Wandajean and Jonathan dropped us off at the KOA in Dubois as we mentally prepared for our 30 mile climb over Togwatee (pronounced Togadee) pass into Grand Teton National Park the next day.

Dan promised us we would see beautiful sunsets...he didn't lie

Grand Teton National Park

As was suggested by Jonathan on a brief tour of Dubois, we fueled up at a donut/breakfast place in Dubois and began the ascent at an elevation just under 7000ft.  Around 30 miles and 4-5 hours later we reached the top at 9500ft.  Along the way we met a nice German couple named Tim and Julia who were also touring on their bicycles and had started in Washington DC.  I thought they were amazing because neither of them had ever been to the United States, so they decided to bike across it -what a way to truly experience America.

we had to cross those...

We were fairly exhausted after the climb, but in good spirits because the rest of the day would be downhill.  We were even more happy and blown away as the Teton mountains rose majestically before us on the descent.

On the way down the mountain there was a stretch of about 6 miles of heavy road construction which was not safe to bike through.  Luckily, the construction company was nice enough to shuttle bicyclists who happened to be passing through (the few and the brave).  

wished we had gotten a ride on this

We parted ways with the German couple just outside of Grand Teton National Park and reluctantly paid the $12/person bicycle entrance fee.  We hurried to a campground in hopes of finding a site as most are a first come first serve basis, and it was approaching the 4th of July weekend.  Luckily we were able to find a site at Signal Mountain campground where we were promptly introduced to the swarms of powerful mosquitos of Grand Teton/Yellowstone area.  We treated ourselves to a nice dinner overlooking a beautiful sunset behind the mountains as we thought it was earned.

The next day we decided to take the day off and spend another night at Signal Mountain campground so what did we do?  Biked 10 miles to Jenny Lake (located at the base of Grand Teton), rented a canoe and canoed 2 miles across the lake, hiked a mile to hidden falls, canoed back across the lake, and biked another 10 miles back to our campsite.  Needless to say, we slept well that night.

As we arrived at the entrance to the campground after our day trip to Jenny Lake, we met two more touring cyclists named Jeff and Dan.  Both of them were doing the Trans-American trail (from Yorktown, VA to Astoria, OR) and had met earlier in the trip.  The campground was full so we offered to share our campsite knowing all too well the way they must have felt when they were told the campground was full.  Jeff is biking to raise money for cancer and Dan was doing it for his own enjoyment.  This was not the last time we would see either of them...

The next day we headed to a different campground within the park called Colter Bay Village (about 20 miles away).  This campground had hiker/biker sites so we were not worried about getting screwed if it was full, which it was.  Upon entering the campground we were told the hiker/biker sites were "world famous" but nowhere did we hear (except through word of mouth) of these sites.  Most hiker/biker sites are located within the group camp area of the given campground, so we promptly set up camp and went into town to take a much needed shower and do laundry.

When we returned to our campsite we were happy to see another touring couple on their bikes setting up camp a few sites away.  Their names were Matt and Jessica and they were on the Trans-Am trail heading toward the coast, and eventually down the coast to their homeland of Southern California.  They both had Surly Long Haul Truckers, and as we have begun meeting more and more tourists on the trip, the overwhelming majority have Surly LHTs, which is great to see but also takes away from the uniqueness of my bike...

Anyways, when we re-entered the campground we were told by the gate attendant that another group that was camping nearby had invited all bike tourists or hikers to eat home-made food.  Without a second thought we made our way over to the campsite and introduced ourselves.  The cook, Jason, had some seriously amazing cullinary talents and was on the job for Backroads Adventure Company, which takes families on 6-day outdoor adventures to various natural treasures across the world.  Upon our meeting he gave us the leftovers from last night's Thai night, and later we dined on veggie lasagna, homemade foccacia, spaghetti marinara, caesar salad, and one of the best chocalate cakes I've ever tasted.  If only we were able to carry a cast iron dutch oven, a full gas range, and 6 coolers with us on our trip!  The food spectacle did not end there as we were invited to help finish off breakfast in the morning which included whole wheat blueberry pancakes, spicy sausage, and an insane amount of fruit salad.  We ate as much as we could and took the leftover fruit salad with us.  Later that day we made a cobbler with the remnants of the fruit salad.

We left our campsite at Colter Bay Village and headed into Yellowstone National Park, accompanied by our friend Jeff who we bumped into before while getting coffee.  The ride into the park was great and we relished the view of the Tetons for as long as we could see them.  Just before entering Yellowstone we descended a massive hill and hit our max speed on the trip, 43mph!  I don't think I want to go much faster than this, and I know Caitlin feels the same way.

Yellowstone National Park

Our downhill descent ended abruptly as we passed through the south entrance to Yellowstone and climbed 1000ft to the continental divide, passing Lewis river canyon on the way.  

an even bigger moment!

The traffic seemed to triple, and the width of the shoulder to bike on diminished into mere inches.  Combined with the mosquitoes that were able to keep up with us as we climbed at 4-5mph, and the few feet that separated us from plummeting into the canyon below, we weren't in the best mood.  

a quick break by Lewis Lake

We eventually reached our destination at Grant Village where we again met up with our friends Jeff and Dan who were holding down the fort at the hiker/biker site.  Another biker named Rob showed up and we spent the night cooking, telling stories, and playing bananagrams (think scrabble, but more flexible).

The next day was the fourth of July, so we decided to spend another night at Grant Village and celebrate.  We convinced Dan and Rob to stay the night, but Jeff kept on trucking (also on a Long Haul Trucker).  We had met some hikers named Taylor and Arno the day before who had previously hiked the Appalachain Trail and Pacific Crest Trail, and are currently in the process of hiking the Continental Divide Trail.  As Dan, who has hiked the Appalachain Trail himself, puts it, "they are certified badasses." and we agree.  They suggested joining forces for the fourth, and it could not have been a better idea...

On our way to the store to pick up food and refreshments to celebrate the fourth, we happened to run into our friends Matt and Jessica whom we had met at Colter Bay Village in Grand Teton and shared two delicious home-cooked meals from Backroads Adventure Company with.  They had also met two other tourists named Billy and Shamere, both on their way (indepenent of one another) to the West Coast.  Our philosophy for the night was, "the more the merrier." so happily invited them to join us.  

double fisting...a hotdog AND a hamburger

the crew

keeping things cool

It is amazing to think that two or three days prior, none of us knew each other, but here we all were having the times of our lives sharing food, drinks, and stories.  I wished it could last forever but the next morning we slowly packed up, and one by one said goodbye and went on our ways.

Caitlin and I decided to spend a few days in Yellowstone seeing the sights and camping at various places in the southern loop of the park.  From Grant Village we headed east around Yellowstone Lake to Bridge Bay where we took the "bike trail" to see the natural bridge.  The trail was in very poor condition and we do not reccommend it to anyone not on mountain bikes.  We camped at another hiker/biker site and met another tourist named Carson who was also biking to the west coast (another Long Haul Trucker rider).

the springs were amazing colors


The next day we traveled North along the Yellowstone River toward Canyon Village.  This stretch of the loop was beautiful, but frusturating on a bike. We experienced heavy traffic (even heavier than we had already experienced), along with angry motorists who decided it was a good idea to honk, yell, and speed by us at 45mph.  These ignorant drivers had no problem slowing down to check out the buffalo, or whatever wildlife was or wasn't there, but when it came to a person on a bike "holding up traffic", they grew rude and impatient.  Shaking with anger at passing motorists, we finally arrived at the campsite and decided to check out the canyon which was one of the most magnificent features that we saw in the park.

The next day we headed west to Madison, and I discovered a solution to the stupid angry motorists  who wanted to speed through the park (see picture below).  

We camped out two nights in Madison and on the second day headed south to see Old Faithful.  The day started out beautiful, and for some reason we thought it would be a good idea to carry absolutely no gear (it does feel amazing after biking with our load for miles and miles).  As we waited for Old Faithful to erupt, a looming storm made us regret not bringing a rainjacket. sweatshirt, or pants. 

We decided to wait out the storm at the famous Old Faithful Inn, and could not have made a better decision.  Not more than half an hour into our wait the storm started dumping pea-sized hail, and the temperature dropped about 15 degrees.  Eventually it passed, and as the attendant at the information desk put it, "these mountain storms pass quick, it'll get a bit cooler, and then it's rainbow time."

the cold rain with the hot springs makes for a beautiful picture

We biked a brisk 16 miles back to our campsite in Madison and were happy to find that our tent had weathered the storm like a champ.  We cooked up a quick lentil, rice, and bean goulash and chatted with some more tourists who had arrived while we were waiting out the storm.

We've just exited Yellowstone and finally have an internet connection in the town of West Yellowstone, Montana.  

I sincerely apologize to all of our regular followers for the lapse in time from our last post until now.  And if you're reading this now, congratulations for making it through the most epic of our posts yet -go get yourself a cookie to celebrate.

Also, we would have liked to visit a farm in Wyoming but seeing as there are more cattle than people in Wyoming, we didn't feel like biking 12 miles on gravel road to visit a ranch when the next town was still 70 miles away.  We are hopefully going to visit a couple of farms in Idaho, and a few in Oregon.  Stay tuned for more updates, and we promise that it won't be as long as it was between the last two posts as we are re-entering civilization, sort of.