Wyoming is the windiest place on Earth. I defy you to find a place more willing to commit air-assault on your entire bod, hour after hour, day after day. I’ll leave it to The Adventure Cycling Association who sum it up with: “Winds in South Western Wyoming are often between 40-60 miles per hour. Expect the wind to be against you at all times.” Oh goody. There are of course pluses to such a wind. I gained a new facial feature – a weather burnt upper lip that left me looking like Charlie Chaplin’s love child. And, anything not a direct headwind feels like your flying.
If you Google ‘why is Wyoming so windy’ (not to be repeated whist drunk) you’ll find some marvellous theories about ‘high altitude prairies’ , ‘broad ridges’, ‘longitude’ and general arrangement of the surrounding land. Whatevs. It’s windy.
Wyoming played host to one of my favourite parts of the trip – a school talk. I was so excited (I say excited and I mean ill-prepped) for this one, that I cycled 7 miles past the school, to the next town. In the wind (did mention it was windy?). The only thing for it was to cycle back the following morning. Cue a fitful nights sleep, and the setting of 5 alarms ‘just in case’. Of course I woke up at the first alarm, because I’d only actually fallen asleep an hour before it. Funny that.
Lovely Kindergarten teacher Mrs Davidson had set aside a whole hour for me. An hour?! Aye karumba. Then I remembered – oh yes, I like to talk. I’m really rather good at talking you know. Thankfully my enthusiasm for the task at hand was matched by the kids, who blasted me with question after question. I was truly buoyed to see them so intrigued by the route, the bike and all my equipment. We had some standard logistical enquiries, like: “What happens when you need to go tinkle?”, a safety conscious query: “How do you not die when you’re going downhill?”, and general observational statements: “You sound like you’re from Harry Potter” – big thanks to JK Rowling for putting my accent on the map.
The young lad who asked question number one is clearly a shrewd fella. Because… yes …. let’s go there (we’re all friends afterall). As a ‘lady’, for the first 300 miles in Wyoming, there is just nowhere to… go. No hills, no bushes, no trees – just wide open plains. The only thing for it is to embrace ‘The Danger squat’ – looking left, then right, then left again for cars, all the while trying not pee on your foot. Challenging.
Enough with the over-share? Oh alright then, on to natural wonders, beyond the Danger squat…
GRAND TETON NATIONAL PARK
Imagine the coolest mountain you’ve ever seen. Now trim the top off of it. And nestle that part neatly behind a forest, full of aspen and pine trees, all on the turn for Autumn. Throw in a river or two. Add some big lakes. Now bring that mountain in quite close – so close that you can see the waterfalls frozen, mid flow, from the summer just gone. Then times it by 3. These, my friends, are the Tetons – and they are majestic.
As I rounded the bend at Togwotee pass (a bonus 30 mile climb I wasn’t expecting, minor point), they popped into view. For the next 3 hours, I was transfixed. I began cycling faster and faster, like a crazed leprechaun trying to reach a pot of gold at the end of a rocky rainbow. Once I realised they weren’t going anywhere (and that I wasn’t small, ginger or wearing a tunic), I meandered more slowly, moving closer and closer until there was nothing but a river and field between us. Magic.
BEAR COUNTRY (AGAIN)
Having had my Teton-fill for the day, I made for the campsite in the Park. When I arrived there was no one about – just a sign that said ‘closed at 5pm for end of season party’. I made my way to the tent area, up a hill and slightly away from the main sites. Although I could hear a feint hum of music and voices, I was entirely alone, and I’ll admit – 100% creeped out. It had been a long 100 mile day, I was tired, a little delirious and to top it off, I was now firmly back in bear country.
There aren’t many things I take seriously in life, but Bear safety is one. Locals didn’t seem to want to alleviate fear either, having taken the time and good grace to spray paint ‘Grizzlys eat people’ on the road leading to the park. Fabulous. I hastily spooned mashed potato into my pie-hole, with my back to the lit up toilet block, crouched like a small child (NB toilet block = haven of safety, as always). And I went to town on being ‘bear aware’. I piled absolutely everything into that bear lock up – the clothes I was wearing included (you’re supposed to do this, honest). Had I been able to fit in there myself, without a shadow of a doubt, I would have clambered in. And so followed a night of trying to sleep, clutching my bear spray, thinking I could hear Mr & Mrs Grizzly having a conversation outside the tent: “Did you bring the ketchup? I can’t believe you forgot the Ketchup…”
In the cold light of day, of course all fears vanished and I was back on the road, headed for Yellowstone National Park – the home of one very famous Yogi bear.
Now, I love fantasy. Give me a Dwarf, an Elf, a Wizard and maybe even a dash of Hobbit, any day of the week. And I’m pretty sure this is why I loved Yellowstone so gosh darn much. Because the area where all the good stuff goes down? Why it looks just like the set of a fantasy movie. For the cultured 80’s children amongst us – think David Bowie, Labrinyth and the Bog of Eternal Stench. Non 80’s children – get thee to Google, quick-smart, and educate thyself.
Yellowstone is a fascinating and unique place. The entire park sits atop an active volcano and as a result is full of bubbling mud pools, oddly shaped sulphur encrusted grottos and shimmering oasis’ in every colour imaginable.
But the main attraction is Old Faithful – the largest, most predictable geyser in the park. Every 35 – 120 minutes it erupts, shooting up to 32,000 litres of boiling hot water into the air, much to the delight of the awaiting crowd. Watching the crowd is actually almost as fascinating as the eruption itself. Hundreds gather in horse shoe formation, shrouded in library esc silence. Some sit, most jostle, others are cheeky enough to clamber onto the shoulders of their parents. Everyone holds their cameras, poised and ready, arms outstretched, shaking, finger tentatively balanced on the trigger. Finally “Whooooosh!” – a huge jet shoots skyward…. and carries on for almost 3 minutes. So the fickle crowd, having got what they came for, begin to leave, even while Old Faithful is still doing its thing. Classic.
I have to confess, I had no idea that the geysers within the park were so accessible, nor so plentiful. And it remains one of the greatest trip tragedies so far – I had in no way allowed enough time to see them. After leaving Old Faithful I spent an hour dashing around like a demented loon. Doing my very best to see everything before the sunlight faded. Alas, I hadn’t a hope in heck. I left feeling that I really really (really) wanted to spend another day in the park. And for a moment, I contemplated doing just that – but with snow on its way, and 39 states still to go, I just couldn’t.
I haven’t managed to avoid that snow completely – it followed me to Montana, a state I’m currently dashing across as I head towards the Mid-West. Im moving into the Dakotas and some rather famous faces carved in some rather large rocks – How. Very. Exciting.
Photos are all up to date here. If you only pick one week to check out Flickr – this is the week to do it!
Catch you all next time 🙂