Ride Report: Day 6

Day 6 / Wednesday, September 2, 2009

It was a chilly night, but I slept comfortably and was glad to see my cold weather sleeping gear worked as planned. The silk sleeping bag liner I made, with stitching help from a friend, worked as expected as silk is a great natural insulator. The space blanket worked well but since it doesn't breathe too well, condensation formed on the inside surface.

Sun rising over Grasshopper Creek to begin a beautiful day.

Rushing water in the creek.

Being a rustic campground, there was no running water in the bathroom and it only consisted of a simple pit latrine. I used body wipes all over to at least keep myself hygienically clean and then dusted all over with Anti-Monkey Butt powder, which is talc with calamine that helps to reduce friction and acts as a sweat absorber.

Feeling fresh, I was looking forward to ending up in Yellowstone National Park at the end of the day. The temps were still quite low in the morning, hovering near 40 F as I made my way toward Bannack State Park, a well known site along the CDR route. Just before the turn off to Bannack, I saw a black wall moving towards me on the road and realized it was a herd of cattle being shepherded by two cowboys. Having fencing on both sides of the road, I just stopped and revved the engine a bit to part the black sea as it went around me.

Bannack is a well preserved ghost town these days and was once the capital of Montana Territory when gold was discovered in the mid 19th century. It serves as a local attraction with its sixty odd structures open to exploration.

A herd of cattle being shepherded by cowboys down Hwy 278. They parted and went around me.

The pavement ends just south of Bannack State Park

Cruising along on Old Bannack Road. All this area is famous for gold rushes in the 19th century.

The route got on gravel road just past Bannack and I was pleased to see how eager I was to get back on gravel after having been on pavement for the last 75 miles. I felt I was riding well and keeping myself in check as I did not want to re-injure my healing right knee. I was making good use of the rear brake, as using the front brake on lose surface would easily lead to a tip over.

The terrain was beautifully set in a dry, high country and the skies were a cloudless blue. I was making good time, cruising in 4th gear and was in the groove of the ride. After buzzing over washboard, deep gravel and other varying surfaces, I came up to the local summit at 8,000 ft and clicked a picture of the sign board indicating the history of this road, being a freight route during the gold rush era.

I knew I should've stopped and taken a break, but I got going right away and shifted into 2nd gear before getting on the descent of the hill. My tires got tracked into 3" deep mud ruts, caused by vehicles when the road was wet and I was losing control of the bike. Up until now, I made it a point to keep my right leg always up on the pegs to reduce any chance of hitting it on the ground if I needed to catch myself on lose surface. But the handle bar was shaking violently as the tires followed the rough contours of the mud rut with the bike picking up speed, aided by gravity on the steep descent and a higher gear than needed. The bike swung to the right and I had to kick the ground with my right leg to keep myself upright and just as I was thinking, "phew, that didn't hurt much" the bike swung to the left and I had to kick with the ground with my left leg to stay up. With both my legs down, I couldn't use the rear brake to slow down and saw that I was going more and more out of control. With nothing left to do, my instinct was to grab the front brake and she immediately went down to the left.

I came down on my chest without my helmet touching the ground or my upper body hurting, but my left ankle was pinched between the pannier and the ground. I couldn't free myself lose. I reached over my right side and turned the bike off, noting fuel spilling out of the carb. I looked back at my left foot and after realizing that nothing was broken, my first thought was "good choice on the boots," Oxtar TCX Comp motocross boots. The thick sole was the part being held down by the pannier and I read on the boot "Torsion Control System" and was glad to see my foot not being rotated by the force of my body. I was facing the ground but my foot was pointing forward along with the bike. I was thankful for the rigid plastic spines that restrict the rotational motion of the ankle on these kinds of boots.

Having stiffer aftermarket handle bars also paid their dividends as it didn't deform in the crash and was holding the bike up above me. I reached over my right and heaved the handle bars and the bike up enough to free my foot. Quickly standing up, I was glad to note things weren't worse than they were. I took off all my thermal layers and gear and sat down to catch my breath. This really was the middle of nowhere and there was very little chance of anybody else being coming down that road. I was very thankful that I hadn't broken my ankle as getting out of there would’ve been quite a feat.

Next task was to stand sanDRina right side up. Tough girl; she was lifted in the air by the pannier with no apparent damage. I put her in first gear to prevent her rolling away down the slope and grabbed the top box and heaved and was surprised how easily she stood up. Maybe it was the adrenaline or the dynamics of the situation, but anywho, bike was upright and I wasn't feeling hurt anywhere. I let the fuel drain from the carb for a bit and then was glad to hear her fire right up. With running motorcycle, all was good.

Sign post at the summit.

I should've stopped and taken a break at the summit but I had the feeling to keep going and in doing so, I easily overlooked the upcoming downhill section and...

I had a spill as the front wheel got caught in a mud rut and being a dirt-noob I instinctively put both my feet down to catch myself and thus couldn't use the rear brake to slow down and hand to grab front grab resulting in the quick tip over. My left leg was caught under the pannier and my big motocross boots, Oxtar TCX prevented my ankle from being crushed.

I heaved the handlebar to free my leg and took some time to catch my breath.

Lifting the bike was pretty easy as the panniers helped in leveraging and after putting the bike in gear, one heave and she was up.

I was doing pretty good in off-road discipline and not wanting to bring any danger to my legs, but a little brain fade of not recognizing the risks of downhill ruts lead to this off.

I got going and noticed that shifting with my left ankle was proving quite painful as I probably sustained a slight sprain with all the twisting. I felt my energy draining and had to have one of my reserve Red Bulls. I always keep at least one on me for emergency situations.

While taking my break, I didn't let my pain cover up the beautiful setting that I was in on Medicine Lodge Road. Off in the distance, I observed a herd of pronghorn sprinting left and right just for the fun of it, it seemed. Oh, how I hoped I could run like that right then. I could just imagine bandits and other raw western figures as I rode through the narrow canyons in this high country.

My left ankle was hurting a bit but since I wasn't in excruciating pain, I popped some ibuprofen and continued towards Yellowstone.

Sign post indicating the road I was on, Medicine Lodge.

You can feel the old history that must've taken place in these remote lands.

Twisting and well maintained gavel roads.

Exposed rock faces of the Tendoy Mountains making my way towards the Interstate.

When I reached the interstate, my aim was to get to Yellowstone and try and stay on pavement to reduce the risk of further injury. I had planned for at least a day in the national park and now it seemed it was well timed to give me some downtime for the injury. I got off the CDR route as it looked like it was climbing up into the forests around Lima Reservoir heading to Red Rock Pass. Taking an extended break at Lima and after having studied the map for possible routes to Yellowstone, I asked the gas station attendant for her opinion and she said Route 509 from Monida heading to Henry's Lake was a "tire-poppin' kinda road" and I wasn't feeling too good about that option. But then she said she only sticks to pavement and that told me her opinion of gravel roads didn't count as she probably wasn't from around here. Through all my trips out west, I've found it funny that gas station attendants usually don't have any good info on what the nearby road conditions are like. Maybe I'm wrong in expecting them to be tourist ambassadors for their area.

Not wanting to make lengthy detours further south into Idaho, I tried out Route 509, Southside Centennial Road and after lowering my air pressures for the gravel, was happy to note that it wasn't a tire popping kind of road if you took care of your tires. I remember coming across a couple from Oklahoma up in Alaska last year who had just popped a tire on their RV on the Top of the World Highway who knew nothing about lowering air pressures for off-road conditions.

With shifting up gears hurting like crazy, I chose to stay in 2nd gear and just putzed along around 20-25 mph. The road was a bit washboardy in places, but overall an enjoyable ride due to the good views of Centennial Valley, which is a broad expansive wetland supplied by Red Rock River and defined by the Centennial Mountains to the south and the Gravelly Mountains to the north. The Nature Conservancy has deemed this area an important priority for the health of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem as it provides a corridor for grizzly bears and other wildlife that move between Yellowstone and the northern Rockies. The area hasn't changed much in the last century, retaining its large ranches, which are working with the conservancy to preserve the habitat.

Past the midway town of Lakeview, the road starts climbing back into forests and up to the Continental Divide at Red Rock Pass, on the border of Montana and Idaho. Besides the pain of shifting gears, getting on and off the bike was quite painful as I had to bear my whole body weight on my left ankle as I slid my right leg over the seat. I tried to mount the bike from the other side but couldn't make it work.

The abandoned ghost town of Monida near the Montana/Idaho border.

Taking a simpler route towards Yellowstone than the GPS route as I couldn't shift that easily with a throbbing ankle. Heading east on Hwy 509 towards Lakeview and Henry's Lake.

An intersection with routes heading back north for long distances through the mountains.

Coming from I-15 heading towards Lakeview.

Heading east towards Yellowstone.

At Red Rock Pass, my first marked sign of the Continental Divide, heading across the small finger of Idaho into Wyoming.

The route got back on pavement near Henrys Lake in the eastern tip of Idaho, and I soon entered Yellowstone from the west entrance. I had been avoiding passing through Yellowstone on my previous trips out west just for the fact that it's so crowded with tourists and probably over developed. I had planned to visit on my way back from Alaska last year, but that didn't work out, so here I was finally entering this majestic mother of all national parks in the world.

First impression was good with views of lodgepole pines in all directions and a nice ride along Madison River heading to the first campground at Madison junction, having ridden 250 miles that day. Yellowstone's size and infrastructure is impressive having a rough square footprint of 60 miles by 60 miles in the northwestern corner of Wyoming. There's an extensive road network within the park connecting all the major tourist sites and there's campgrounds throughout the park ranging from fully developed to primitive.

Entering on the west side of Yellowstone National Park.

Finally riding Yellowstone after avoiding her on previous trips out west due to the excuse of crowds. But the beauty of this place was calling.

The wonderful light of the setting sun on this high altitude (7-8000 ft) geological hotspot with geysers venting up ahead.

Sunlight reflecting on the clouds, on the way to Old Faithful.

After setting up camp, I went down the road to see Old Faithful go off in the evening, hoping there'd be fewer tourists around considering it's the most famous landmark in the park. On the way there, I saw my first bison/buffalo right next to the road along with everybody else who stopped to get up close for their pictures. They look tame, but signs posted all over the campground and the park brochures warned of visitors being charged by bison and getting deep gouges. I also saw a male elk with his beautiful huge antlers surrounding by a few females. Once again, all traffic stops whenever they see some wildlife and it's this traffic that's more hazardous than the animals.

Entering the Old Faithful complex, I was surprised at how well developed the area was with exit ramps and multiple buildings adjacent to a massive parking lot. It had a theme park feel to it, but I wasn't going to let that ruin the moment as I was here to see my first geyser erupt from the ground. She may not be the tallest or longest duration geyser, but she's known for being regular and easily accessible, which was a good thing since I wasn't up to walking too far from the bike to see a geyser with my injured ankle.

I got there just as the crowd was filtering away from the last eruption and she's known to go off every 90 +/- 10 minutes. In the parking lot, I got dressed for the cold weather, grabbed my SLR camera, tripod and stove with dinner items and headed for the viewing benches. It was a beautiful clear night and as I set about cooking dinner, I took in the stars slowly appearing with the fading sunlight. Dinner of salmon, couscous and miso soup was highly enjoyable and the thoughts of my crash earlier in the day were far from me.

As I took some long exposure shots with the SLR of the full moon and other stars, it was beautiful to think that I could capture some of the starlight that had been traveling for millions of years on my camera's sensor. There was nobody else around and I felt very much at home with the cosmos in full view.

With the time nearing for the next eruption, a few people came out of the lodge and their cabins to take in the sight. Along with a group of Japanese nearby, two young guys came up and after chatting a bit, they said they had ridden dirt bikes in Nicaragua and went backpacking in Colombia and Bolivia. They were from New York City and are currently going to business school at Stanford. They asked how I managed to do this Continental Divide Ride and that too solo and I pointed them to advrider.com to go and gain knowledge about doing something like this.

Five minutes before the full eruption, Old Faithful lets out a small burp to get her audience's attention and then all the hot water that's been filling up and building pressure underneath lets go in a beautiful show of Mother Nature’s awesome power, shooting steam over a 100 ft high and lasting about two minutes. It was definitely worth it and I'm glad I came at night for a special showing, especially since the full moon behind me illuminated the steam. The two guys I was with said there was an even more impressive geyser just a quarter mile away, on a six hour interval, but there would be no more walking for a while.

I camped at Madison campground and figured seeing Old Faithful at night would be a nice experience and there should be less crowds than the daytime. Arriving at sun down at the end of an eruption, I setup my stove on the benches, had dinner and waited for the next eruption in around 90 minutes.

Looking back towards Old Faithful Lodge and the nearly Full Moon shining bright overhead. The bright spot next to the moon is Venus.

Fascinating to ponder that all that light is reflected from our home star, the Sun, presently below the horizon.

Capturing Ursa Major, or the Big Dipper constellation, with a super long exposure to allow as much of that star light to register on the digital sensors. As it's very prominent in the Northern Hemisphere, and has been for millions of years, these seven stars are important to all ancient myths and cultures. The importance in our time could be that the two furthest right stars point to Polaris, the northern star and can be used as a navigational aide.

A few minutes before the eruption, she lets out a little burp to alert her spectators.

And then all that compressed hot steam erupts to an average height of 140 ft and provides a natural entertaining event where one can respect the power of Earth's internal heat welling up to the surface and letting lose.

Slowing winding down from the peak. Old Faithful is not the tallest or longest duration geyser at Yellowstone, but it's the most regular. Having never seen a geyser eruption before, it was quite impressive.

The geyser activity at Yellowstone is an indication of the supervolcano that lies underneath the park. The volcano has erupted regularly every 600,000 years going back a few million years and it's been 640,000 years from the last eruption of the caldera.

Next: Day 7, Around Yellowstone National Park

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1 comment:

  1. Mr.Jamin, you are an awesome guy.I hope to read more about you! By Shashwat of class V kvm Moscow, a student of Kamla Murti Ma'am.