Leaving Jeffrey City, we stopped at the cafe again as we were leaving to try the fabled giant pancakes we’d read about on other cyclists’ blogs. Although the place opened at 7am, I’m not sure how it was worth it for business as we were the only ones there and had to wait for a few minutes until a man wandered out of the kitchen area to take our orders. We recognised him as one of the guys at the bar when we’d stopped in the afternoon before, and I’m pretty sure he was either hungover or still drunk! Anyway, we finally received our not-quite-as-epic-as-hoped-for pancakes and headed on our way.
Apparently it was a day for misadventures, because a few miles into the 59-mile stretch of empty Wyoming desert that stood between us and Lander, I suddenly heard a snap and realized that my rear shifter lever was no longer doing anything when I moved it. We stopped to investigate and found the cable had snapped. There’s not much you can do to repair that without more tools and parts than we had, so we had no choice but to push on, making do with 3 gears instead of 27! With the bike stuck in a higher gear I had to stand up to pedal up the bigger hills, which was exhausting, but in general I think it made us go faster than we otherwise would have! The terrain changed drastically as we left the high desert plateau and descended into the valley to Lander – from dry and brown to rolling foothills with bigger mountains in the distance.
Of all days to have this happen, though, the timing couldn’t have been better – we’ve had so many stretches of this trip with no bike shops for weeks, and we were headed into a town with several. In Lander we headed straight to Gannett Peak Sports, which caters specifically to TransAm cyclists with on-the-spot service, comfortable couches, WiFi, and free ice cream bars and beer on tap. Both our bikes needed new chains and cassettes (the rear gears) so we got that taken care of while we waited. While small, Lander’s Main Street has a quite an outdoorsy hipster feel, and we spent the rest of the afternoon at a coffee shop and an outdoor store until it was time to head to our Warmshowers host’s house. Our hosts in Lander were Aven and Josh, a couple about our age who moved to Lander from South Carolina so she could take a nurse practitioner job on the nearby reservation. They had just recently moved into a beautiful 100-year-old home a few blocks off Lander’s Main Street, and despite already having friends staying with them for the 4th of July (we’d just missed Lander’s big celebration), they graciously invited us to join them for dinner.
We left early the next day for a long trek to Dubois riding through the Wind River Reservation, home to members of the Shoshone and Arapahoe tribes, following a beautiful valley of lush ranch land and then climbing to some high plateaus. The river grew bigger and more tumbling as we followed it upstream, and closer to Dubois we entered a canyon with striking red rock cliff faces, where we saw a bighorn sheep grazing by the river.
In Dubois – a small and very western-looking town full of log buildings, a giant skull framing the entrance to the laundromat, a bighorn sheep museum, and the “world’s largest jackalope” – we were welcomed by the Episcopal church, which hosts cyclists in their community room. We were joined by Miles, who we already knew, and Randy, another cyclist who was moving by bike from Denver to Bend, OR. We were able to shower at the laundromat’s coin-operated showers, which is a genius idea that I think more towns should adopt! We’d noticed posters earlier in the day advertising the Dubois Rodeo happening that night and couldn’t pass up the chance to attend a small town Wyoming rodeo, so we spent our evening at the rodeo grounds set against the canyon wall as the sun set. By the time we went to bed another 5 guys had arrived at the church, three eastbound TransAm-ers and two brothers following a different route around the US, so it was a crowded little room with everyone camped out on the floor! Thankfully there was only one snorer.
The next day did not start out great. We knew we had to spend the first 30 miles climbing Togwotee Pass, the 2nd highest pass of our trip, and go through a long stretch with no services, and I awoke dreading the climb. Then we tried to pump up our tires with the pump installed in the church parking lot, which wasn’t working and ended up deflating my front tire completely and put us both in a bad mood. Some days, I feel excited about exploring the next stretch, but there are moments where I just don’t feel like gettin back on the bike and feel a strong longing to be settled again somewhere and back to normal life, and this was one of those days – I felt on the verge of tears for the first few miles. As we started up the gradually climbing road through the foothills, the sky ahead was filled with a row of foreboding dark grey storm clouds, and a few raindrops fell. We were lucky, though, that the storm was heading a different direction and we soon were back to sun and hot weather. When we reached the top of the pass, looking forward to the long descent, we were met by a strong headwind that slowed us down so much that we had to pedal hard even going downhill – one more frustration on a difficult day. As we came around a curve, though, all of a sudden we could see the jagged peaks of the Tetons come into sight across the valley, giving us extra motivation for the last windy miles across the valley to Grand Teton National Park.
We planned to camp at Jenny Lake, and were a little worried when signs at the park entrance said all the campgrounds were full. The benefit of traveling by bike though – when we arrived, we found the hiker-biker campsites nearly empty, tucked back in the woods close to the lake! Jenny Lake was beyond beautiful – set right up against the face of giant mountains, surrounded by pine trees and meadows full of wildflowers. As we were setting up our tent I heard a rustling in the trees about 100 feet away, and a black bear came walking down a log and ambled away. We were reluctant to leave the next morning, and took a long walk on the trail along the lake to take about a million more pictures of the mountains in the morning light. This place definitely made our list of spots to come back and explore in the future.
The next day’s biking, after a late start due to a flat tire, was entirely in national parks – from Grand Teton NP, then entering Yellowstone in the afternoon. Yellowstone is notorious among cycle tourists for its crowded, narrow roads with no shoulder, filled with distracted RV-driving tourists, so we were a little apprehensive. Thankfully, though, we entered in the afternoon on a Sunday, so most of the traffic was headed the other direction out of the park. Once again we found easy hiker-biker camping at Grant Village, one of the main park centers. This is definitely the way to see crowded national parks without having to make a reservation a year out!
We tried to get an early start the next day to beat some of the traffic, following the road from Grant Village to Madison, making stops at sights along the way and crossing the continental divide for the 7th and 8th times of the trip! We dutifully made a stop at Old Faithful, where we watched the eruption from the lodge balcony while eating a disappointingly small overpriced lunch. We went to the visitor center store in search of more food and were totally overwhelmed by the crowds and the prices, which felt a bit like Disneyland, but ended up sharing a quart of ice cream which was the best deal in the place! For the rest of the day we stopped at the multiple geysers and hot springs located along the route, happily zipping in and out of the parking lots on our bikes bypassing the cars waiting in line for parking – we kept seeing the same people over and over again so I think we were progressing just as fast as the cars! This was my first time in Yellowstone and the uniqueness of the geologic features of the park was pretty incredible.
We ended in West Yellowstone, the town just outside the west entrance of the park, where we met longtime local residents Carol and Drew – Carol is the sister of one of Robert’s former coworkers, and they were amazing hosts, welcoming us with food and beer and a comfortable bed. Carol was going to take us hiking the next day in the park, but unfortunately they both were not feeling well the next morning but she insisted we take her car to go explore on our own! It was amazing how fast we could retrace what we’d biked the day before, and driving allowed us to see much more of the park than we could have otherwise. We stopped at more geysers and hot springs, saw some bison, and took a hike along the south rim of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone (realizing how tired we were when our 2 mile hike completely wore us out!). We finished out the afternoon with trips to the bike shop, the grocery store, and a coffee shop, having made the most of our day off the bikes before setting off the next day into Montana.