Ride Report: Day 7

Day 7 / Thursday, September 3, 2009

I woke up with a throbbing left ankle and decided it was best to get it checked out at the clinic at Old Faithful. Taking the day nice and slow, and having some down time, sanDRina needed some attention as the elevation was rising and she was struggling a bit for air. I replaced the main jet in the carb with one suited for higher elevation and she was again purring nicely.

Packing up the campsite, I was running through options of what to do regarding the trip. If I couldn't shift for the next few days, I probably had to stay in place until the pain subsided and then probably head back home. I had ten days left for my trip and I could slowly make my way back east. I already achieved all the things I set out for this trip, regarding testing out all my gear in a dry run before the big trip down south, so there was something positive to take away.

However, I wasn't ready to throw in the towel just yet until all options were tried. If only there was a way I could shift up without using my left foot... I thought about old bikes and their "suicide shifters," a nick name given to hand shifters, where the operation was scary and lead to accidents. I needed some way to pull up on the shift lever, but wouldn't be able to use any of my hands since I needed them both to execute a shift: right hand controlling the throttle and left hand controlling the clutch lever. The only other leverable appendage attached to my torso was my neck and head and thus I arrived at the solution of tying a luggage strap to the shift lever and holding the other end with my teeth and yanking my head up in coordination with the clutch and throttle. I quickly got the hang of it and was thrilled to know that the trip could continue. Downshifting with the foot wasn't too painful, so as long as I didn't let go of the strap in my mouth, this was going to work out.

Looks a bit swollen, eh? Waking up to a throbbing left ankle. Figured best to get some medical attention at the clinic at Old Faithful.

Shifting up was proving very difficult and necessity being the mother of all invention, lead me to putting a luggage strap around the shifter and holding the other end in my mouth, clenched between my teeth, as my head was the only remaining leverable appendage attached to my torso. With both hands needed for a gear change; right for throttle, left for clutch, I quickly got the timing down on when to yank my head for a smooth gear change. Downshifting wasn't that much strain on the ankle.

The doctor at the Old Faithful Clinic was a nice young guy, and first he made sure no ligaments were torn in my left knee and then after being able to manipulate my left ankle without putting me in writhing pain, he concluded there were no fractures or broken bones and I probably just sustained some muscle and bone bruising from the impact and of course a sprain. He wrapped an Ace compression bandage around the ankle and prescribed 600mg strength ibuprofen for the next few days. He said it would be best if I could take pressure off the foot for the next few days and nodded in approval when I told him about my strap-shifting method and the fact that I could relax my foot on my highway pegs when I was on the bike. He said he didn't recommend a cast of any sorts as the current thinking in injuries is to try and get back to normal use as soon as possible because prolonged inactiveness could lead to physical therapy being needed as muscles atrophy, which I’m all too familiar with from my ACL surgery.

He noted that my boots looked like they prevented the injury from being more severe and wished more motorcycle riders would wear protective gear as he treats a lot of unprotected motorcycle riders, mainly on cruisers. I asked him what kind of other patients does he usually treat and he said besides the usual bison and elk goring, which visitors never seem to fully understand, they also get a high number of air lifts for heart attacks. He said off-the-record, September in the park is the season of newly-weds and nearly-deads, referring to elderly folk with weak hearts who want to see Yellowstone and the animals before it's too late. They underestimate the stress on their hearts of the high elevation of the park, above 7,000 ft, the excitement of geysers shooting off and all the huge wild animals, which sees the clinic handling regular heart failures and air-lifts. Having some doctors as close friends, I can attest to their weird sense of humor regarding patients. But he said he enjoys working here much better than in a city for the wide variety in cases. In a city, he said the majority of cases are drugs related, psychological and gun shot wounds. Out here, he gets heart failures, broken bones, twisted ankles, insect stings, animal gorings, burns from hot steam and other outdoor injuries. Whether it's right to think about patients that way or not, at least he enjoys his work and they're providing excellent medical facilities out here in the wilderness.

That little doctor’s visit cost $300 but since I had already maxed out my out-of-pocket payments with my ACL surgery earlier in the year, it didn't cost me anything to get some peace of mind that there were no fractures and that I could continue my trip. Of course, I was going to be staying on pavement for the next day or two until I felt confident enough to venture off-road. I called up Bob (Lone Rider) from ADVrider, a veteran of the CDR and asked his advice on which sections of the route did he think I should avoid regarding the risk of having to put my foot down to catch myself in tricky sections. He said after Montana and Wyoming, the route through Colorado was much easier, but the northern section of New Mexico was quite rocky and the southern section could get muddy if it's been raining. I decided to skip the CDR through the Teton and Shoshone National Forest, just south of Yellowstone, which I read was some of the most scenic of the whole route as it climbed up into the Wind River Range and would join it again for the Great Divide Basin into Colorado.

Firehole Canyon heading towards Old Faithful.

Firehole Falls

First spotting of wild bison/buffalo. This is how close this guy was to the road.

Time to get rolling before he charges.

I had a doctor take a look at the ankle and he said nothing was broken and it was probably just a muscle bruise from the impact. Ace bandage and a couple prescription strength ibuprofen and I was on my way.

Feeling energized that I had a solution for my injury and a way to complete the trip, I set off around the park for some sight-seeing. I mainly wanted to see the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and Mammoth Hot Springs. The drive around the big blue Yellowstone Lake was very picturesque and calming. The Continental Divide runs through the southwestern part of the park and typifies the hydrological feature as the Snake River and Yellowstone River both have their origins next to each other but on opposite sides of the divide with the Snake River running to the Pacific Ocean and the Yellowstone River down into the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean. The Yellowstone Lake is on the eastern side of the divide and is the highest fresh water lake above 7,000 ft in North America. It formed during the last major eruption of the Yellowstone Supervolcano, 640,000 years ago.

The amazing thing about Yellowstone to me is not so much the wildlife or the geothermal features, but the fact that this whole area is a massive caldera - a cauldron shaped volcano coming from deep inside the earth. Its last eruption was 2,500 times larger than Mount St. Helens and the Yellowstone Supervolcano is still active as evidenced by all the geothermal activity. Half the world's geothermal features are in Yellowstone and the ground is constantly shifting under the park. Geologists are monitoring Yellowstone with an array of instruments including GPS sensors to measure if the ground is swelling above the molten magma of the caldera. They've observed a bulge developing under Yellowstone Lake and the trend year on year has been for increased activity throughout the park. They have evidence going back over the last 15 million years showing that the supervolcano goes off about every 600,000 years. So that implies that we're in the window of the next major eruption. Towards the end of 2008, a swarm of earthquakes was detected in the park, raising fears about the eruption. Simulations have been run to depict what would happen in the next eruption and how the fallout would spread and it’s not going to be pretty.

Another cool fact about Yellowstone is that it's a hotspot volcano, just like the hotspot that created the chain of Hawaiian Islands. The hotspot is an opening through the earth's crust down into the mantle and as the tectonic plates move around on the surface of the earth, the hotspot remains stationary in relation to the earth’s core, creating new volcanoes on the surface as it periodically erupts. The Yellowstone hotspot has been traced to appear moving northeast through the Snake River Valley to its current location under the Yellowstone park. In actuality, it's the North American plate that's moving south west with respect to the hotspot. Learning about geology, I'm just amazed at all the things that are happening under our feet as we go about scurrying around on the surface.

Crossing the divide south of Old Faithful, working my way around the park.

The expansive Yellowstone Lake, the largest freshwater lake above 7,000 ft in North America.

Capturing the stillness of the waters from the motion of the bike.

Bison enjoying being kings of the road. Dusk is definitely a good time to go for a drive around the park as wildlife are out in numbers.

Making their way across the road.

It wasn't safe yet to pass with them being so close to the road.

Heading down the bank.

Looking across the waters at family or maybe potential mates...

Heading north from the lake, the expansive Hayden Valley is a sure sight for catching herds of bison grazing in the wet marshlands. Coming around the corner and seeing hundreds of bison is an impressive sight. It's funny to see how the bison don't care about the cars on the road and will just stand there unhurriedly thinking about their next move. With all the trouble these animals have seen over the past centuries from being over-hunted to near extermination for the sake of cattle ranchers, it's nice to see them succeeding in Yellowstone.

Coming around the corner and seeing huge numbers of bison in Hayden Valley.

Impressive to see so much wildlife in one view. Bison were hunted to near extinction towards the end of the 19th century and have been slowly reintroduced. Today's herd in Yellowstone of 3,500 descended from 23 surviving bison.

These guys were slowly working their way up the hillside towards the road.

The lush valley attracting all the resident bison.

Papa bison trying to lead his group across the busy moving metallic obstacles.

Just letting out some steam.

A male bison with his lighter brown summer coat and his darker winter coat emerging, weighing close to a ton (2,000 lbs).

A little further north, I arrived at the stunning Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, a canyon cut by the Yellowstone River. The name of the park comes from the color of the exposed rocks here, which is caused by the iron rusting in the rhyolite lava rock as it cooked under hydrothermal activity, instead of sulphur, which is typically thought to produce yellow colors. With the sun setting, I was thankful for just the right light to make some pretty pictures. It's definitely not as big as the Grand Canyon down in Arizona, but impressive nonetheless at 900 ft deep and half a mile wide.

I got the last campsite at nearby Canyon Village and after a meal of couscous with shitake mushrooms and oysters with vegetables in olive oil, along with miso soup, I tucked in for another cold night at an elevation of 7,930 ft.

Following the Yellowstone River north from the lake towards Yellowstone Falls.

Heading towards Yellowstone Falls and the canyon.

The Lower Yellowstone Falls, at a height of 308 ft, twice that of Niagara.

The park got its name from its exposed yellow stone in the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, which is caused by the iron rusting in the rhyolite lava rock as it cooked under hydrothermal activity, instead of sulfur, which is typically thought to produce yellow colors.

The deep hues of iron ore visible deep in the canyon. The Yellowstone River is continually eroding the canyon, which can be up to 1,200 ft deep.

Info board.

Aptly named Inspiration Point...

Down river view of the canyon from Inspiration Point.

Up river view of Lower Yellowstone Falls from Inspiration Point.

Map of the park at the camp office looking south towards the Grand Tetons.

Dinner with music: smoked oysters with couscous, re-hydrated shitake mushrooms and miso soup, along with water from my Lifesaver filter.

Next: Day 8, Southwest Wyoming

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