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.


  1. glad that you are sharing your experiences on the blog. Is that snow keeping your beverages chilled? It's been in the 80s/90s in WI. Deb

  2. I'm in awe of how much fun you both are having in this trip, and i know that sometimes there are such hard, bad days but those amazing good days wash it all away. i'm so excited to get to the Tetons and Yellowstone myself. keep peadling

  3. WOOOT!!! Y'all are the best. Your cookbook had better be peppered (so to speak) with all of your amazing photos! The Continental Divide, 43mph, new friends, and rainbow time. Who could ask for anything better? Can't wait to see you in August!! <3

  4. Awesome keep it up y'all! Enjoy but you know who is anxiously awaiting your return in Philadelphia...!

  5. Oh my god guys I so feel with you about Casper and the headwind going West from there! Casper seemed the nastiest, ugliest city in all of the US (with the exception of Bar Nunn or something which is a suburb of Casper and even more terrible. And guess what: The most difficult and horrible day of my whole trip was the cursed, rotten, evil, demoralizing stretch from Casper to Shoshoni! I was blown off the road and almost hitched a hike after that. Plus, the people around there were so damn unhelpful! I totally wanted to scream out loud when I read about that part of your blog.

  6. Home listings and homes for sale near your area.
    Find your perfect property advertised by owner or real estate agent.
    More details homes for sale indianapolis