Jasper to Yellowstone to Astoria: A 2271-Mile Bike Trip
2271.5 miles, six national parks, two provinces, four states, 20 passes, 30,000 vertical feet, some bears, some new buddies, six flats, one hat left in the park in Parma, Idaho, so much peanut butter, two snowstorms, six hailstorms, 37 days, 34 world-class naps, one almost-didn’t-make-it road in Idaho, and a whole pile of fish.
Day 1: SLC Airport, UT, 4:27 PM
Bike is in the box and on a baggage cart, can see it from the window near the boarding gate. Hope the packing job holds up.
Day 2: South of Jasper, AB, Canada, 10:11 AM
Good lord, just rode past a black bear stuffing its face with bearberries 25ft off the road. First bear; glad it was a downhill. Twelve miles pedaled, another 40 or so to go to Beauty Creek.
Day 3: Columbia Icefield, AB, Canada, 3:12 PM
Snowed on me coming up Sunwapta Pass, turned to rain on the downhill. Athabasca Glacier’s right across the highway—walked the terminal moraine to the toe of the glacier, pissed on it for good measure. So many people here, won’t stay much longer.
Day 3: Park boundary between Jasper and Banff National Parks, AB, Canada 4:28 PM
Just met a guy who started pedaling in SLC 27 days ago—he’s essentially done the same route I’m shooting for, only backwards. Had planned to catch a bus home when I hit West Yellowstone, but seeing him about to finish SLC-Jasper in only 30 days makes me want to try riding all the way home.
Day 3: Rampart Creek, AB, Canada, 9:17 PM
Sauna at the hostel across the highway on the bank of Rampart Creek, which is running high and gray with runoff ripping down the mountain—made for an excellent cool-down pool in between sauna sessions. Another black bear today, saw it cross the highway near the campground.
Day 4: Lake Louise, AB, Canada, 7:58 AM
The Bow River looks like it’s about to jump its banks: jade blue and roiling. Not sure if I made 60 miles or not yesterday. Camped across from a French Canadian family, three generations. Grandma and grandpa and the grandkids started pedaling after breakfast, and the parents are packing up camp to meet them down the road later on. Raining in buckets this morn.
Day 5: Marble Canyon Campground, BC, Canada, 8:53 PM
Rain turned to snow over Vermillion Pass. Crossed into British Columbia and Kootenay National Park. Have spread out everything to dry in a covered camp kitchen, got a good fire going in the wood-burning stove. A bit after I rolled in, a Danish couple on bikes arrived. We’re sharing the camp kitchen. They started in SLC earlier this summer and are heading to Prince Rupert on the BC coast. Great, tough folks, retired teachers, they rode from Chicago to Argentina last year. They only wear sandals on bike trips, say it saves them from having to wash socks.
Went to fish Marble Creek after dinner, but saw a black bear in the creek bottoms tearing apart a stump, so I didn’t bother.
Day 8: Fernie, BC, Canada, 11:58 PM
Pedaled into town on the dirt road across the river from Highway 1, was a riot, and am sad to leave BC tomorrow. I’ve been stuck on three bands the whole trip: Beach House, Buke and Gase, and Bon Iver. Probably ought to branch out from the ‘B’ section of the iPod.
Day 9: Crowsnest Pass, AB, Canada, 1:07 PM
First fish of the trip out of Crowsnest Creek: a, small, wild cutthroat.
Day 11: Chief Mountain, MT, 1:28 PM
Crossed the border into the States on my bike. Haven’t done that before.
Day 13: Avalanche Creek, Glacier National Park, MT, 8:10 PM
Up and over Logan Pass on Going-to-the-Sun Road. Pedaled a bit with Zack and Ryan from Boston, both finishing up the Northern Tier route plus some variations of their own. Good guys. Saw a family group of mountain goats at very close range on the Highline Trail at the top.
Getting to where I can stay focused on the positive aspects of the ride, even during difficult moments. Fished McDonald Creek this eve: lots and lots of cutthroats and a world-class swimming hole.
Day 17: Missoula, MT, 9:03 PM
Missoulians seem to take their river tubing very seriously.
Day 18: Bitterroot River near Darby, MT, 9:58 PM
Got here smack in the middle of a billowing caddis hatch. Fished, found a bunch of West Slope cutties, then chucked the rod on the bank and dove in the run for a bath. Ate fresh cherries out of the handlebar bag most the day. Lost Trails and Chief Joseph Passes tomorrow, on the Trans America route heading south and east.
Day 19: Jackson, MT, 114 P
Full moon (I think), so I rode well past dark tonight. Have the tent up in the hayfield behind the microwave tower on the hill north of town. Kicked up from the grass clouds and clouds of mosquitoes.
Day 20: Badger Pass, MT, 2:31 PM
Shit, I miss my friends.
Day 20: Twin Bridges, MT, 11:32 PM
Rolled into Twin Bridge’s community-funded, by-donation, bikers-only campground at sunset, in a very heavy PMD hatch. So many mayflies I had to pedal into town with my mouth shut. Took a minute to choose whether to make use of the free shower at the camp or to fish a bit in the hatch. Decided to fish a bit. Bigger day today, 75+ miles, I think.
Day 21: Madison River Palisades, MT, 10:46 PM
Was half asleep on the summit between Virginia City and Ennis when Matt from the Grand Canyon ripped by on his Trucker at 40+ mph. He’s got solar panels and speakers on his racks—heard the Dead, the whir of his tires, and then him whooping as he blew around the curve.
This evening, just after Cameron, I whistled at a mixed herd of paints, horses, and mules. They ran with me for a mile or two.
Day 22: Campfire Lodge Resort, MT, 11:47 AM
Just ate a cinnamon roll as big as my head, doused in melted butter.
Day 23 Yellowstone Park, WY, 9:33 PM
Matt from the Grand Canyon took off for the Tetons today. His ride down to Durango is going to be killer; I’m jealous he gets to pedal through Crowheart, WY.
Swam the Firehole up in the canyon yesterday eve. Water’s so warm I stayed in ‘til after sunset. This morning I caught two nice browns in a classic PMD hatch on the Madison, might try to find some more of the same on my way out of the park tomorrow.
Day 23: Island Park, ID, 8:45 PM
Off the Trans America route and heading south now, just a bit to go ’til I’m home in SLC. Am eight days ahead of schedule. Just figured out I don’t have to be back to work till the 22nd. Not sure I want to end the trip just yet.
Day 24: Ashton, ID, 2:16 PM
Highway 32 heads east and south and eventually home. Highway 47 keeps going west. I want to see what happens if I take Highway 47.
Day 24: Rexburg, ID, 9:42 PM
Day 25: Lost River Range, ID; 8:58 PM
Rode across sage and lava flats on Highway 20 all day in heavy wind and rain. West of I15 I got nailed by a huge microburst, mile-high black anvil clouds plowed right over me. Very hard to keep moving forward and upright. Not a lot of shelter, so I leaned the bike against a mile marker and hunkered down on the leeward side of the panniers ‘til the front passed. Hid in a ditch during some lighting and yelled back at the storm a bit. Seemed to help.
Caught a tail wind after the front passed and whipped into Howe, ID. Only gas station in town had burned down, took a lunch break on the step. Was just digging into an avocado and a jar of PB when Schuyler from Pocatello rolled up in Red Ryder the Truck (haven’t seen it since I left the ranch at Bob Creek and went to Ukraine), a cooler full of cold beers and hanger steak fajitas in the bed. Schuy wanted to talk about the ride for tomorrow, but those first 20 minutes or so I could hardly figure out what to say to him. I guess I was pretty keyed up after all the weather today.
Day 27: Motel 6, Meridian, ID, 8:48 PM
Promised myself one motel room on the trip, today was the day for it.
Left the KOA in Mountain Home at dawn. Was making coffee and in the near dark a huge dog with a head the size of a gallon of milk loped in off the highway and stalked through the campground. Its eyes glowed blue in the LEDs of my headlamp.
I had hoped to avoid the exurbs of Boise today and ride up the Snake River. Fell down a Google Maps wormhole instead. By 10 a.m. I was walking the bike across the desert east of the Snake River on a road that’d been graded thick with soft, unpacked roadbase and pea gravel to accommodate the half-tracks and tanks making their way to the drilling grounds of the National Guard practice range south of Kuna. The road surface was so soft the bike sunk right through; pedaling was out of the question. Heavy artillery rounds going off at the firing ranges scattered in the hills all around me, kept me on my toes and moving quick.
By 1 p.m. it was 100 degrees, I was out of water, my phone was dead and along with it my map (which was useless anyway), the road had degraded to a worming mound of grapefruit-sized cobbles, and I was still walking the bike. I’d made it off the firing range, which was good for the nerves, but all motor traffic had disappeared, which made the water situation seem more serious, and there was still a lot of miles of desert between me and the river. Came to a huge steel-pipe-and-chain-link fence with a sign about “Boise municipal solid waste” and no trespassing. Knew that Kuna was 15 miles north, could see some ag lands that way, guessed the roads might work out better that way than slogging on across the desert for just as far to the river. Unpacked the bike, threw everything over the fence, crawled over it myself, and kept moving. Did the same across a handful of half-mile-radius center-pivot fields with even fiercer fences and signage. Something creepy about 10-feet-tall cornstalks in a desert, but the sprinklers sure felt good.
Finally got to Kuna at about 6, grabbed food and fluids at the local big-box grocery outfit, stuffed myself on the lawn at the back corner of the parking lot, and slept in the shade of the cinder-block building for an hour before calling to book the closest motel room.
Booked my plane ticket from Portland tonight—9 days to get there. Looking forward to getting out of Idaho.
Day 28: Nyssa, OR, 5:42 PM
Left my hat in the park in Parma, ID. Shit.
Day 29: Snake River, near Weiser, ID, 9:17 AM
Rode till after dark, lots of agricultural land in the river bottom, but not much camping. Finally found a spot on a cut bank in a bend in the river under the biggest cottonwood tree I’ve ever seen. Yesterday was another 90+ mile day, very hot, so I left the rain fly off the tent.
About 3 a.m. the wind really picked up, and along with it some heavy rain. Took a bit, but got the fly on the tent in the gale. Was half asleep still, confused and bleary-eyed, but saw 20 or 30 meters away a green light glowing and bobbing in the dark. About had a heart attack, then stumbled over with my headlamp to get a closer look. An old camper van had pulled in just downriver from me. A dog was chained to its bumper, pacing back and forth in the storm. Someone had put a glow stick on its collar.
This morning it’s still raining, so I’m making coffee and breakfast in the tent. A few minutes ago I heard a truck pull up, so I crawled out of the tent. It was a farmer and his kid. They said a dog showed up at their place down the road this morning, wondered if it was mine. I looked over at the bike leaning against the cottonwood and wondered where I would’ve put the dog if it were mine. The van was gone already, and on the center console of the farmer’s truck lay a breech-loading pistol with an absurdly long barrel.
Day 29: Baker City, OR, 5:31 PM
Three difficult hailstorms today, each completely different storm systems. Of the 90+ miles I rode, 52 were on the freeway. Started out in heavy rain that turned to hail by Farewell Bend, 20 miles later another hard batch of hail caught me, then on the last hills getting to Baker a huge microburst with hail, lightning, and wind rolled right over me. Got to Baker an hour ago, but still haven’t been able to warm back up. Back on the Trans America route, going west this time. Pacific Time Zone now.
Day 31: Bike Inn, Mount Vernon, OR, 8:41 PM
Three passes and 92 miles through the Blue Mountains and into John Day River country today. Didn’t realize I’d gone that far ‘til I’d gotten here.
Day 32: John Day Fossil Beds, OR, 1:21 PM
Back wheel picked up a rock that I swear looked just like a human incisor. Lost another tire. Feel tired and am moving slowly.
Day 32: Ochoco Highway between Mitchell & Prineville, OR, 2:47 PM
Someone’s tossed porn all along the highway for the last ten miles. Every 200 meters or so there’s another stack of scratched DVDs or old magazines. Will be 90+ miles again when I finish tonight.
Day 33: Mackenzie Bridge, OR, 9:58 PM
Have the tent set up on the back lawn of a bunch of wildland firefighters who share a house here. I’m very tired today, woke up tired. Took my time getting over the Cascades on Mackenzie Pass—the summit is a broad, busted-up lava field, and the last few hundred meters over the top the road worms right through big folds in the rock. It was a long ride up today, but right as I pedaled over the summit and into the parking lot at the observatory on top, a guy from Vancouver handed me an open bottle of IPA. That’s the second Canadian on the trip to give me an unsolicited beer right after a big climb.
Day 34: at the Bike Haus, Corvallis, OR, 5:48 AM
I was asleep on the deck in back when a doe and fawn came high stepping through a gap in the fence and into the yard. Keeping quiet now so as not to spook them.
Got into town in the dark, steady headwind from Eugene to Peoria slowed me down pretty well, but still another 90+ day. Joey from the Bike Haus and I took the house tandem to the pub last night for a couple of pints, was a blast. Will cross the Coastal Range today. If I hustle I might make it all the way to the sea by dark.
Day 35: Cape Kiwanda, OR, 6:43 AM
Rode hard from Corvallis yesterday to get through the Coastal Range and make the coast. After Otis, the 101 was socked in and very cold—could hear the ocean and smell it, but couldn’t see it.
Was wide awake at 6 this morning, so I walked down to the dory launch with a cup of coffee. Tide is out, sea stars everywhere. It’s cold; I’m wearing almost everything I brought with me.
Day 37: Fort George Brewery, Astoria, OR, 3:02 PM
Done. Bar tender just bought a touring bike and wants to talk about it. Bus to Portland is at 6, probably ought to figure out how I’m getting the bike home.
Coming over the bridge into town, at the mouth of the Columbia River, I realized I’d crossed the headwaters of the Columbia in BC a month before.
Day 37: On the bus from Astoria to Portland, OR, 7:25 PM
You know that feeling when you’re woken abruptly early in the morning, like 3 a.m., and it’s hard to figure out what’s going on, and the lack of sleep you’re feeling is tangible, almost like pain? That’s what it felt like almost as soon as I sat down on the bus. Maybe the trip’s worn me out more than I thought. Legs have locked up sitting here, can almost feel the lactic acid building up. Shipped the bike back this afternoon. Smells like someone in the back of the bus is smoking weed. Guess the trip is over.
Day 39: On the tarmac @ PDX, Portland, OR, 8:02 AM
In the back of the plane, remembering flights for other big trips: moving to Brooklyn, coming home from Ukraine, school in Spain, teaching in China. Something about the overhead lights.