Idaho Falls to Fairfield: 160 miles across the Arco desert

I did it in a day. And what a hellish, grueling, windy day it was. At least while I was on my bike, which amounted to 8 hours in the saddle. (my longest day on the trip)

I left Idaho Falls at 6:30 AM and set off to Arco where I was planning on camping at nearby Craters of the Moon. And it was windy. I mean this was soul-crushing, face-chapping, make you want to get hit by a truck and die wind. I was about 35 miles from Arco, right next to the INL nuclear sites, when I stopped for a drink of water. I had to stop because if I tried to drink while riding, the wind would either almost knock me over or blow the water into my throat. Either way, it made me choke. While I was drinking, a pickup pulled up next to me, the window came down, and an old lady leaned over and said, “You look like you could use a ride.”. We got my stuff in the back of the truck and we sang Merle Haggard and Gene Autry songs as she drove me up to Arco.
After she dropped me off, I stopped and got some lunch then headed on towards Craters of the Moon. As I was leaving town my chain skipped a little. I switched gears and didn’t think much of it. Then about five miles later it happened again. I switched gears again. Then again. Then again, until I had tried every gear combination. It got so bad that on every pedal my chain would skip. I was now about 10 miles out of town. There was nothing else to do, so I stuck out my thumb. Finally, after I had decided I may as well start walking my bike across Idaho, a truck stopped. We tossed my gear in the back and threw my bike on his rack and drove away, past Craters of the Moon.
Jason is a larper from Iowa who was on his way to some big fight in Hailey, ID when he picked me up. As we drove, we swapped talked about making chain mail and swords.

We got to Hailey around 4:30 and I went straight over to the bike store to beg some chain lube. They cleaned up my bike, lubed my chain, and at 5:00 they sent me on my way. They told me about a good camping spot just about 20 miles down the road, and a bike trail that would take me almost all the way there. As I was riding, the main roadkill I saw was coyotes. I knew that if I camped, coyotes would immediately come tearing through the thin nylon of my tent and rip my body to shreds. Or worse, they’d smell my food and tear apart my panniers. So I pushed on another 45 miles to Fairfield where I was going to stay the following night with Randy, a warmshowers host. We talked on the phone, and he said it was fine if I came in a day early. I finally got in at 10 and stopped on the edge of town to try to get something to eat, either at the store (closed) or at the hotel’s vending machine (didn’t exist). Some people staying at the hotel came over to me and gave me bananas and coffee cake and water! Then Randy met me at the hotel and led me back to his guest house where I ate for the rest of the night until I passed out.

Yellowstone pt. 3

After the petrified trees on specimen ridge, I don’t remember the exact order in which we did things. In the next day and a half, we saw every geyser basin and thermal feature in the park, went swimming, saw Yellowstone lodge, spent another freezing night camping in West Thumb, and drove over the continental divide a lot.
The animals we saw included:
Wolf
Bear
Zillions of bison
Elk
Deer
Coyote
Some sort of social, burrowing rodent

From Yellowstone we went down to the Grand Tetons and hiked around Jenny lake to Inspiration Point. It was a nice hike despite my tattered shoes which were torn to ribbons from the hiking in Yellowstone. I think it would have been more inspirational if it hadn’t been covered in families that took the boat across and boy scouts.

From there we headed down to Jackson and over to Idaho Falls where we just made the deadline to return the car. Their plane was delayed so we had a tasty dinner in the airport restaurant. Then I was back on my own.

Yellowstone pt. 2

The next morning we saw a wolf. We had packed up and headed to Tower early to claim a spot in the camp ground. On the way up there was a bit of a traffic jam. Oh great, some bozo in a giant RV thinks that’s the last bison on earth. That’s what these things usually are. But this one was different. Loping casually down the road ahead of us was a black grey wolf. That is, a grey wolf that has black fur; a very rare sight. The ranger last night pretty much guaranteed that we wouldn’t be likely to ever see one. And this was just the start of our day!

We got to the Tower campground just before it started to fill up. Got a nice snack and headed out for a day of adventure. On the agenda today was a hike up to the standing trees on Specimen Ridge. We were heading down the road towards the trailhead when traffic stopped again. (No wonder Karen didn’t get to Fishing Bridge until 8.) Oh great, some doodah in a giant thinks that’s the last bison on earth. Wrong again! This time, in the ditch on the side of the road, nibbling peacefully, seemingly without a care in the world, stood a little black bear. That is, a black bear that isn’t very large. Well, two animals I’ve always wanted to see in person when I wasn’t even looking for them. How could this day get any better?

There was a ranger keeping traffic moving past the bear, so we got on the road before too long and made for the trailhead. On the way there were some cars parked on the aide of the road and people were looking off in the distance. Oh great, some doofus in a pickup thinks that’s the last bison in the world. Well, this one was bison, but it was worth stopping for. Off in the distance was a huge herd of bison. We got out and snapped a couple pictures not realizing that in an hour or two we’d have a bird’s eye view of the entire herd plus some others.

Finally we set out to hike straight up the steepest trail in Yellowstone. On the way up Zack kept reaching down and picking up rocks. Here’s an opal, there’s a fossilized imprint of a leaf. This one is really valuable. That one’s worthless but still really cool. He was an amazing source of information about just about any rock you could show him.

The Smell of Water

The desert.

The desert is dry.

The desert is dry and brown.

The desert is dry and brown and dusty.

The desert is dry and brown and dusty and hot.

The desert is dry and brown and dusty and hot and windy.

The desert smells like dust and sage and wind and heat and tar.

Water in the desert smells like fertilizer and pesticide and cow piss.

 

The desert is not a place to live.  The desert is a place to survive and get the hell out of.  But you never can because the desert lasts forever.

Yellowstone

A great part of my trip got off to a rocky start. We all paid a bit more than expected for our shuttle up to the park. The first bus took us up to Pahaska where we were to get on a second that would go into the park. When we bought our tickets for the second bus, we were told that the price of the bus would also pay our entrance to the park. This was the reason I decided to take the bus, and not bike in.

Well, we got to Pahaska and the second driver let us know that, in fact, we were still expected to pay our entrance into the park. After a bit of yelling and screaming on my part the driver of the first bus made a call and we got our entrance fees paid.

So far so good. I got to Fishing Bridge at about 2 o’clock, so I called Karen, left a message and went for a ride. I got back to the general store at around 4 and hung out for a while, eating my peanut butter and crackers and reading my book. About every hour or so, I’d go to the pay phone and call Karen. The phone rang, so I knew she had service. I did this more out of boredom and curiosity to see if she had made it into the park and out of cell range than anything. I had met some people earlier who offered to let me stow my stuff in their car and sleep under their trailer if she didn’t show up by 10. At about 7:30 I took a walk over to the ranger station to stretch my legs. It was closed. Luckily I left my bike on the side of the road because as I was walking away I heard someone calling my name. It was Karen and Zach!

We squeezed my bike and gear into the car and drove off to our campsite at Bridge Bay. While we were setting up I used bug spray for the first time that I can remember.

That evening we went to a fantastic talk about wolves In Yellowstone. We all left there dreaming about seeing a wolf in the distance while in the park. We all knew we wouldn’t.

Cody, WY

Buffalo Bill Cody would be proud of this town. It is completely full of tourists. And there’s a great big statue of him outside of his museum. And in true Buffalo Bill fashion, it costs $18 to get in. Maybe all of the towns close to Yellowstone are like this.
I was super tired after my 3 hours of sleep in the bus station, so after I got my bike put together I found the closest coffee shop and hung out there for most of the day. Finally I picked myself up and headed up to Robbin’s house, my second, and more comfortable couchsurfing experience. I took a nice and much needed nap, then we had a great dinner, and I got to sleep in an exceptionally comfortable bed.

Went back to the Beta coffee shop and waited until 11:30 to meet with Jeremie and Matthieu and catch our shuttle to Yellowstone.