Yellowstone Bikepacking April 2016

blueeyes

ephemeral excursionist
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Jan 17, 2012
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Every spring after the roads have been cleared of snow and before the park opens its gates to auto travel, you can ride your bike on certain roads in Yellowstone. The plan was to meet at Dave’s house at 7:00 AM. Most of the riders were going for a day ride but a few of us the goal was to ride from the West entrance over to Mammoth approximately 50 miles. Google maps says 48.2 from the West Yellowstone Visitors Center to Mammoth Campground. Two SAG wagon drivers Nicholas and Cheradan would transport gear from Idaho Falls over to Mammoth but of course they had to go the long way as the road through Yellowstone was closed to cars.

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I chose to be self-supported and use this as an opportunity to dial in my packing and gear needs for trips this summer. This would be my second bikepacking trip and over the winter I bought several new pieces of gear: Sierra Designs sleeping bag, Big Agnes Insulated Q-Core sleep pad, Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2 mtnGLO tent, Revelates Picca seat bag, top tube bag and feed bag. True to my first bikepacking adventure I was up until 3:00AM getting everything together. Once I was satisfied with my selection and packing arrangements I set my alarm for 6:00AM. I was excited!!


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I woke up 5 min before my alarm went off, but was in no hurry to get out of bed. Three hours of sleep is just not enough. I rolled out of bed by 6:15 AM, dressed, loaded my bike and gear into the car. Worried I would be late, I stopped by McDonald’s and grabbed breakfast. At Dave’s we waited for everyone to arrive, he gave instruction on what to expect, we determined who was carpooling with who. The group left Dave’s house around 9:00 AM arriving in West Yellowstone about 11:00AM. Temperatures for the park that day were in the low 50’s with 40% chance of rain in Mammoth. It was cold as we stood in the Visitor Center parking lot getting ready. We rolled out around 11:30 AM. Not too shabby for a group of 18


I knew I would not be fast. I fully expected to be the last person rolling into camp that night, but I knew I could make it before the sun went down. I guessed I would average about 10 miles per hour, my ETA for Mammoth was 5 PM. What a fabulous opportunity to enjoy a National Park without the masses and traffic. The day was perfect for riding, not too hot and not too cold once I started Pipers wheels rolling. I received many curious looks from cyclists proceeding in the opposite direction. Suprised several riders when I passed them, as the fattires have a very satisfying rumble when in motion. I was told I sounded just like a car.

Our group of 18 spread out quickly as everyone settled into their preferred pace. Only 8 out of the 18 would ride all the way to Mammoth. Dave and Sharon on the tandem bike, Amanda snapping lots of pictures along the way, Ross enjoying the ride and whoever’s company was convenient, Paul chasing after Speedy Gonzales (Jonathan) and The Road Runner (Brianna), then me on Piper slow and steady. Besides at the beginning, the only time I saw Speedy Gonzales and Road Runner was after they doubled back to check on the groups progress finding us at Iron Springs, then camp that night. Shortly after leaving Iron Springs Ross, chose to ride my pace and keep me company for a spell.

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As we climbed up and out of Norris Geyser Basin we encountered several cyclist traveling the opposite direction that were dressed in costume or in very psychedelic outfits. All of them in great spirits, turns out they were from Missoula, MT and they were riding from Mammoth to West to spend the night. My favorite costume was the red lobster with a cape. Ross and I pulled over at Roadside Springs to stretch our legs and eat lunch. As we ate lunch and enjoyed the continuous parade of Missoula cyclists. A plain dressed couple on bikes road by, as the guy looked us over and did a double take of my fatbike, he said “You see the strangest people around here!” Ross and I both bust up laughing! I guess in his world it is not acceptable to wear a costume while riding your bike and certainly not acceptable to be on a fatbike. I think my favorite aspect of this trip were the many comments I received regarding my fatbike. Yes, I am crazy, I do know this. I think next time I will wear a costume while riding the fatbike through Yellowstone.

Back on the bike I passed Roaring Mountain by 4:15 PM, and reached the start of Kingsman Pass 45 minutes later. One thing I don’t doubt, is how sturdy and stable Piper is on the downhill, even loaded with gear. Still, I kept the speed reasonable but passed the closed gates 6 minutes and 42 seconds after I started downhill. I found Paul waiting in the parking-lot just past the closed gates. We waited for the rest than rode to the campground arriving at 5:25 PM. It took me 5 hours and 45 minutes to go 50 miles from West Yellowstone to Mammoth. I averaged 8.5 miles per hour.

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As we pulled into the campground we could not find Speedy Gonzales or The Road Runner and the SAG wagons were absent. A quick pass through camp turned up nothing. SAG wagons should have been there, especially the other two cyclists. We didn’t see any of them as we passed through Mammoth. It was a little disappointing, as we were expecting our recovery drinks. I did have cell service, spotty, but was able to send out a text letting the drivers know we had arrived. I set up my tent and had a snack. Soon the SAG wagon showed up and our restless bunch begin to settle in for the night. Dave and Sharon made delicious beans and rice dinner. While dinner cooked, some of us checked out the Boiling River, it was a rather interesting soak. I can’t say that I really like this hot spring, either your buns are burning or your freezing your toes off. It is hard to find the “perfect spot”, in fact if you announce you have, you are sure to be scorched before you complete your sentence, and then promptly frozen out of your “perfect spot”. Regardless of the erratic temperatures it sure felt good to rinse off all of the sweat and salt and just relax for a bit. In a hiking book I recently read, it said that the Boiling River Trail is on the 45th Parallel, this means you are standing exactly half way between the North and the Equator. After the river soak we gobbled up dinner but decided to hold off on making the peach cobbler until breakfast.

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Not sure when exactly I crawled into my sleeping bag, but it wasn’t long before I was zonked out. I did wake up in the early morning shivering a bit. I remember thinking “put your puffy on” but fell back asleep before I could muster the energy to do anything about being cold. Next time I woke up it was around 4:00 AM when I heard a shriek from the tent next to me, followed by lots and lots of laughter! I had ear plugs in, and still this startled me right out of my perfect slumber. Not exactly sure what happened, but at least there was laughter, I walked to the bathroom and back. The noise carrying on the entire time, so as I walked past the tent I told them they were noisy. They were good neighbors and quieted down.

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Around 7:00 AM I woke up and made me some coffee, a couple of elk were munching on grass in the camp across the way. Dave busied himself with making steel cut oats and when the dutch oven was cleaned out, I assembled the peach cobbler. Sharon made several pots of coffee. Breakfast was delicious.

I knew it would take me longer to ride back to West Yellowstone than it took for me to get to Mammoth, after packing my bike I made sure my help was not needed in camp. I set off around 10:30 AM, layered up because it was quiet cold and overcast. I stopped at the general store to adjust my layers. Getting Piper and gear up the hill warms a girl up fast. I snapped a picture of Piper and Liberty Cap at 11:00 AM. As I continued up the hill Speedy Gonzales and The Road Runner flew by me, I wouldn’t see them again until dinner that night. They waited 3 hours for us to make it back to West Yellowstone. I made it to the top of the big climb, pedaling the entire way by Noon! What took me less than 10 minutes to bomb down took me a full hour to climb up. I snapped a couple pictures with Sharon and Dave and left them while they waited for the rest of the crew to come up the hill. They all caught up with me at Apollinaris Springs, where we snacked before continuing on. I stopped briefly at Roaring Mountain to find a little girls room, and turn on some music, I needed motivation to keep my legs pumping the cranks. As I sailed through Norris Geyser Basin, a small group of the returning Missoula cyclists cheered me on with barley recovery drinks thrust in the air. I might have stopped and asked for a recovery drink but I didn’t want to sacrifice any gravity fed momentum at this point, because there was one more good climb ahead.

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At the Gibbons Falls parking lot, Dave and Sharon were taking a little break, talking to a father son duo, as I pulled up a longside, the father said good bye and they headed back towards the West entrance. I got Piper rolling and zoomed past the two. A few minutes later when I hit an uphill and Piper slowed down to our usual turtle crawl, they caught up to me. The father said “Holy shit, I did not know a fatbike could go that fast. You passed us like we were standing still and we could not catch up to you.” I smiled at him. “Downhill is my favorite” was my reply. He asked me all about the gear I was carrying and they both seemed interested in the idea of bikepacking. But then who wouldn’t be!

As they pulled ahead, I could feel my motivation to stay on the bike decline severely. Sharon and Dave pulled up next to me, Sharon expressed that she was ready for the ride to be over. I agreed. We planned on eating lunch at Terrace Springs and wait for Ross, Amanda, and Paul. They detoured to Norris Geyser knowing it would take me longer and they could catch up. Dave, Sharon and I arrived at Terrace Springs by 3:30 PM. We were probably there for about 20 min before they joined us. We ate and then passed out on the board walk! It felt good laying there in the sun. The temp was almost cold enough you wanted a thin pullover on, but warm moist air would waft off the springs gently rolling over us. It felt like a comfy blanket being laid on top of you as you drifted off to sleep. Who else can say they have slept on the boardwalks in Yellowstone! Unthinkable in the tourist season.

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We were back on the road by 4:40 PM. One last group together where Dave took a picture with the Bison in the background and I begged for pain killers, Paul gave me two 500 mg Motrin because my sit bones could not sit any longer. At this point everyone was done with this ride and they all took off toward the gate leaving me to pedal it out on my own. I detoured onto Riverside Drive, thinking this would make the view more interesting, I was very glad I was on the fatbike because the road still had a small accumulation of snow-pack to navigate.

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The last 20 minutes were excruciating. I knew I was close to the end but really had no idea how close. My ass had gone beyond being numb, back to extremely painful. My legs were too tired to stand up and ride, I wanted to get off and walk, but that would take longer than just telling all of it to shut up and pedal dammit! I had had it. I took a few really big deep breaths, and I told myself, three more songs, in three more songs you will see that gate. I closed my eyes to block out the pain, opened them and kept a steady pedaling pace, one song, two songs, every corner that came into view I would think "around that corner I will see the gate." I had passed the sign letting me know I was in Montana. The thing is, I was really quiet happy, It had been a fantastic two days. It was just at this moment I was hurting, I was hungry, I was tired. This is never a good combination, you are guaranteed to have a Chere’ meltdown and I almost did. As I tried harder not to cry I started to hyperventilate. But hallefuckinglujah there was the gate!

Within 30 feet of crossing the gate my music died as if on cue with the end of the third song. I was then greeted by my fellow cyclist singing me a victory song as I crossed under their hand bridge! 7 hours and 45 minutes after starting that morning I was done. Not only did my music die on cue, but so did the GoPro.

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Outdoor_Fool

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Great trip and report! I'm sure you'd realize your mistake if you saw it but 45 degrees N is halfway between Equator and North Pole. I agree on the Boiling River, hard to find the right spot, especially with the usual number of people there. I have found it in the past and it was marvelous. As I was leaving, I tried to tell some college-aged women that that spot was prime but I think that they figured some old dude was trying to hit on them and they ignored me. Their loss.

Awesome ride. How'd the fat bike feel on the pavement, specifically, did you feel that the tires were slowing you down (compared to a regular mountain bike) or was it a non-issue?

"hallefuckinglujah" - great use of the English language - love it.
 

blueeyes

ephemeral excursionist
Joined
Jan 17, 2012
Messages
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Someone who actually read the whole story! Thanks for catching my mistake. I was writing it as quick as I could and looking at a map of Yellowstone that I bought last year when my son Spencer was working in Mammoth. It had a hiking book included with the map. I read about the 45th Parallel in this hiking book. Thought HA! what a cool fact. I didn't stop to think about what exactly the author was saying. Here is my proof I was lead astray.

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But seriously I should have caught that. Obviously the half way between the poles is the Equator.

The fatbike is not as hard as everyone makes it out in their head on the pavement. Obviously you role faster with a road bike and skinny tires, a mountain bike you role slower, and a fatbike even a little slower. I don't mind, I love riding except a road bike. I really don't like the position you are in on a road bike. Gives me a neck ache. One thing with the fatbike is that with about 35 lbs of gear loaded on it. I can haul ass downhill without feeling like I am going to die. On skinnier tires like a road bike and that much gear I would be terrified.

I have admired those people who do 100+ mile adventure races on the snow in winter. But after riding 100 miles on pavement I really am amazed and in awe. Because depending on snow conditions, riding 100 miles on a fatbike could be a crazy challenge if the snow is even a little soft.

With this ride I did great until that last 20 minutes, my sit bones were really in a lot of pain. If I would have been any further out, I would have walked. I need to shorten my stem, and cut my handlebars down on each side by 3/4 of an inch. They are way to wide for me. I am very stretched out in the cockpit. I bought the bike used, and just haven't fixed these minor issues yet.
 

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DrNed

The mountains are calling and I must go
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Joined
Mar 31, 2013
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Looks like a great ride!

What were your overnight temps like?

Only in Yellowstone can you take a photo by the road and
have a buffalo randomly show up and no one be concerned
about it.

Thanks.
 

blueeyes

ephemeral excursionist
Joined
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Messages
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I believe they were low-mid 30's. Nothing was frosted when I got up at 7 AM. I didn't shiver to death sleeping so they couldn't have been too bad. I usually freeze mid summer in the desert trying to sleep. I love my new sleeping bag.

Who said I wasn't concerned about the bison? I said private prayers every time we had to pass them. Four times to be exact. They make me nervous! Really nervous.

First time I ever had to ride past one was out on Antelope Island. Two no more than 40 ft off the trail I was riding on. I stopped along with the group I was riding with, I think there were like 6 of us. We looked them over and decided to tentatively pass them as quickly as we could. That went well and we continued. Soon we came up on a hill and saw a HUGE herd of them more than I cared to count. They were on the left side of the trail that cut down through this wide pasture like area. Sitting there watching the herd waiting for everyone to catch up and all of a sudden for no apparent reason this herd decides to stampede across the trail we want to ride. We all watched them and after the stopped and started eating grass again, we decided the ride had come to its end. We turned around and rode back to the trail head. Thankfully the two bison from earlier had moved on as well.

I don't stand a chance in HELL if a bison decides to challenge me and my fatbike.
 

scatman

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Dec 23, 2013
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Great report @blueeyes! I'm not sure I could have pedaled that monster to Mammoth. :) The only time I have ridden my bicycle in Yellowstone was after an all day hike across the Madison Plateau on the now abandoned Old Fountain stagecoach road. The hike began at 5:00 am in Lower Geyser Basin and finished at 9:30 pm about four miles east of the west entrance. I then had to hop on my bike and ride back to Lower Geyser Basin to retrieve the van that we had driven up in. I think it was approximately 17 or 18 miles in distance back to the van. While pedaling along the Madison, I passed a bison that was grazing on the shoulder of the road. I literally could have reached out and scratched his head while passing by. He paid me no notice and just continued to graze. The reason I had to pass so close to him was because of a stream of vehicles passing me on the road. It started getting dark after 10:00 pm and I had to finish the ride in the dark.

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You can kind of make out my bike (the handle bars and the rear wheel) laying in front of me (the bald guy drinking water) before my ride back to Lower Geyser Basin. I thought I had taken a few more bike pictures but I guess I was just too damn tired to give a hoot by that point.

Did you see any other animals besides bison along your route and what type of porter were you drinking? It looks like it says "Pig" something. I also like the tandem!
 
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blueeyes

ephemeral excursionist
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Jan 17, 2012
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Pig's Ass Porter it was delicious.

I saw bison, elk, some cranes, and a hawk or two. Nothing exciting. I was keeping an eye out, rolling slowly you have plenty of time to enjoy the surroundings.
 

Outdoor_Fool

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Dec 11, 2015
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Interesting to hear on how the fat bikes are for touring. I figured they were a little slower but glad to hear that you felt a little bombproof on the downhills. That's funny that the bad info is in a book. Looks like a great trip!
 

DrNed

The mountains are calling and I must go
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Joined
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Who said I wasn't concerned about the bison? I said private prayers every time we had to pass them. Four times to be exact. They make me nervous! Really nervous.
:)

Let me admit I know nothing about the fat tires bikes.
I notice that yours doesn't have any added front or rear
suspension. Is that typical for fat bikes? Do you think not
having any added suspension made up for what you potentially
lose in cranking power with the fat tires?

I've been riding a full suspension bike lately and when I am
on the road with it, I feel like I lose cranking power to up
and down movement provided by the suspension.
 

blueeyes

ephemeral excursionist
Joined
Jan 17, 2012
Messages
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Fat tires are fun. She is my Tonka Truck in my big kids sand pile. They have fatbikes that come with full suspension. I rode Wasatch Crest in the dark last summer on a full suspension fatbike. That was a rush!

Yes anytime you ride full suspension you will lose some pedaling power. For me I am not fast enough climbing to ever care one way or the other. Fat tires have low volume capacity and do absorb some of the bumps, but to me, still ride like a hardtail. The tires provide cushion, not quiet like full suspension, if you have them inflated correctly. Too much air you bounce down the trail like a basketball. Two years ago at Targhee I tried a fatbike with a suspension fork. I was on a bike so I am never going to complain but when i was done with that run I was ready to grab my Julianna full suspension. The fatbikes handle differently through corners. Not as nimble as my XC mountain bike.

When I ride dirt I put between 6 psi in my tires. When on snow 4 psi. My tires are 4.0 inches wide. If you intended to ride snow more than dirt you really want wider tires. Of course the snow needs to be packed. On the road for this trip I pumped them up to a whopping 8.5 psi. This makes the tire firm but gives to the palm of my hand under applied pressure.

Given my shift in riding style I think my next bike will be a 27.5+. Looking at the Trek Stache, Salsa Deadwood or Cutthroat with the goal of more bikepacking.
 

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