It's a morning in West Yellowstone- a tourist trap from what I can see. I'm still salty from being raked over the coals for lodging last night. The wake up routine is becoming minted, and is starting to feel normal. This morning is going to be a cold one, and one that needs to be an early start to avoid traffic in Yellowstone.
I roll out of the hotel at 4:30, wearing everything I have. A massive storm rolled through last night, and it's left some humidity in the air, which makes the morning feel even chillier. West Yellowstone quickly drifts into the background and I'm into the pitch black. I enter Yellowstone National Park with no traffic, and very little visibility. I'm scanning the road in front of me constantly for any type of wildlife that could pop out- mostly looking for bears. Luckily the pavement is clear. This morning marks the coldest riding of the entire trip- my Wahoo is registering 25 degrees.
My hands are absolutely numb. I know Old faithful Inn breakfast opens at 6am, and I can't wait to arrive. I need some time to warm up this morning- this won't be a quick stop. This is a "I'm going to sit here with a hot coffee for 30 minutes and get my shit together" type of stop. The morning crowds trickle in for breakfast before exploring the park. I know I need to get moving, and get out of the park before it gets too congested.
I push on out of Old Faithful Inn. The remaining portion of Yellowstone is relatively peaceful- the roads are in good condition. Traffic is constant, but not too bad. Towards the end of the park, it did start to pick up and I had to be careful with some larger RVs as they try to maneuver around me. The last few miles are a nice descent out of the park. As I rolled through the southern gates, there was already a long line of cars looking to get in. The day was warming up and it was time to shed some layers. One thing I noticed was how bad the mosquitoes were in this area. The minute I stopped, I had a thousand of them on me (no exaggeration). I had to change at lightning speed and get back on the bike. In the miles after Yellowstone, Dave Lewis caught up to me in his velomobile. We exchanged a few words, but the road was net downhill and he was moving about 10mph faster than me. We continued to make our way down into a valley with an amazing view of the Tetons to the west. Time for another meal with a view!
We continued on through the valley and the views were absolutely stunning! Spirits were high at this point!
As we left the valley, we hit a long climb up Togwatee Pass. It was about 9 miles with close to 2,000 feet of climbing. It was starting to get hot, and on the climb there was no shade. On the climb I passed Dave again. He had the top open on the velomobile, trying to stay cool. I was mostly envious of the velomobiles, especially on cold mornings... but in these moments I was glad to be on a standard rig.
Up this pass is where I started noticing some issues with the bike. Every time I would shift down to stand up while climbing, the gear change would hesitate. It would eventually shift, under a clunk, and I would proceed to hit my knees on the handlebar. The shift was still smooth, just really delayed. With plenty of time for thought, a laundry list of possible issues formed quickly- chain wear, rear hub, derailleur cable... I started crowd sourcing some help from friends back home via text. This wasn't an issue I could live with for too much longer, and it was time to seek some professional support.
The descent from Togwatee Pass is long and fast- Dave passed me again here and this was the last I would see of him. The descent slows as I roll into the town of Dubois; time to assess food and locate a final destination for the day. Lander was another ~70 miles or so, which seemed reasonable, and they had bike shops. Lander had two shops The Bike Mill and Gannett Peak Sports. I called The Bike Mill first, it had"bike" in the name so I suspected it to be a little more specialized than the other. I could tell immediately that the guy I was speaking to knew his stuff and was likely able to help. I wasn't going to get into Lander until 8 pm, and I asked if he was willing to stick around to help but I didn't get a sense he was. (I would later find out that Gannett Peak was helping racers during off hours...).
Dubois didn't really offer too much- I ate at a greasy spoon and chatted with the locals a little bit. Rolling out of Dubois we began to turn south, and the tailwind was absolutely EPIC. I was moving at a consistent 22+mph for a good 2 hours- it was magical. I came to learn that this was very common for this area. I did see a few cyclists riding the opposite way and felt bad for them. It was a solemn 70 miles of relatively flat Wyoming terrain. A few antelope in the distance, vast views of high desert, lots of scrub oak...
Lander approached in the distance as the sun was setting. I had already booked a hotel room, and had come to terms with being relegated to this town until noon tomorrow (at best). The shop didn't open until 10 am on Saturdays. As I rolled through downtown Lander, there was a guy with a cowbell yelling my name. In hindsight, I bet that was the owner of the other shop in town. I didn't have the brain capacity to put two and two together, and was on a mission for food so I kept rolling.
As I looked at the leaderboard before bed, Matthijs and Antonio Lopez weren't too far behind (I had snuck out of West Yellowstone a few hours before Matthijs had). Jason Oestreicher was also gaining ground, which was good to see! The silver lining in all of this was that the alarm was set very late, and I knew a few extra hours of sleep would be helpful in the weeks to come.