Day 79: Taking my tour back through the spectacular Gallatin Canyon to Big Sky, MT

Regular readers of this blog will read that title amongst the others and scratch their heads – there are some days missing in this tour journal and there’s quite some distance between Big Sky and Dubois. Unfortunately I’ve been forced to break chronology for the first time – there are no cell signals in Grand Teton and Yellowstone, and the only wifi available there is for pay ($12 bucks for a 24hr access code to wifi that leaves much to be desired), and my data-heavy thoughts and pictures didn’t stand a chance. Neither did my patience… Which is something you’ll have to wait to find out about until I have the time and the signal to post about it. But I will, promise.

Short version: I made it into the Tetons, rested, and made it through Yellowstone. The landscape was incredible and the riding was incredibly bad, and I exited the park into West Yellowstone, MT, something of a hotel mill just outside the park. 

I left Yellowstone feeling beat down. The obvious culprit was the overwhelming amount of indifferent RVers and drivers who made me feel more unsafe on the bike than probably any time in my life, but there was more to it. The mass tourism in the parks was overwhelming in the worst of ways, but there was even more – I had grown pretty weary of being on the TransAm trail.

Between New York City and the Kansas-Colorado border I ran into three long distance, long term bicycle tourists. Between the border and Cañon City southwest of Colorado Springs? 4. But between Cañon City and West Yellowstone I came across probably somewhere around 50 or 60. I stopped counting at 35. Some of them I greeted with a wave, others I rode with for days whether I wanted to or not. Some of them were amazing people, some of them I couldn’t get away from fast enough. But the bigger issue was feeling like my experience was a canned one that was painfully generic. I chose the TransAm for that portion of the ride because I figured it was the best way through the Rockies. In terms of riding and the landscape, I’m sure it was. But the bicycle touring sheep issue became unnerving. I felt like the road was a conveyor belt for cyclists all doing the same thing, all talking about the same things when they happen upon each other, sleeping and eating in the same places, and above all, taking away a vital sense of adventure. It’s the difference between going to a place and taking a bus tour and passively letting a tour guide tell you what to think with all your activities planned by someone else versus going out and learning about it yourself, not knowing where the day will take you, and taking the reins of your own experience. I much prefer the latter, and I wasn’t getting it.

I originally planned on taking the TransAm to Missoula, MT, where I’d join the Lewis and Clark Trail to the coast. After a lot of thinking and researching the night I came into West Yellowstone, I decided I simply wasn’t going to do that. I’m sure the Montana portion of the TransAm is amazing. If you want to hear about it there’s a million options for you. But I wanted to see Bozeman and Helena on the way to Missoula and I wanted to be on my own again without the foreknowledge of knowing what would happen. So leaving West Yelowstone I headed north on 191 and felt instantly reinvigorated:


The goal for the night was Big Sky, a ski resort halfway to Bozeman. I contacted the lone Warmshowers host in town before I lost my signal and started my descent with a gorgeous Montana backdrop:

Riding through the pine trees was fantastic, and not only visually – the smell was thick, and I absolutely loved it:

I was skirting Yellowstone, but not the part that a lot of people drive through. That was more than fine by me, as I could finally enjoy the rushing streams without the tourist hordes:


And then the road went up. I had to climb before I descended through the Gallatin Canyon:

It was a steady climb that I handled well after trudging through the first part of the day. Yellowstone wore me out and I was feeling it.

But going up means eventually going down, and going down was an absolute joy:


With some of the most spectacular scenery:


There was still the pesky element of wind. I was riding downhill the rest of the day and would have been flying at maybe 35-40mph, but because of the wind I was maybe going 15-20. It was very, very strong. But it was so worth it:


Just incredible. 

This is flyfishing heaven for those inclined and it wasn’t hard to see why. 

I kept on pedaling, wishing I had more of a shoulder. Drivers were good to me, as long as we don’t count the semi trucks. They got a little close for comfort but Yellowstone certainly prepared me for that:

Before long I was just outside Big Sky, where I saw some ranchers with the right idea:

And then I met Joseph, my host for the night. We pedaled up to his place and I took a wonderful shower complete with Dr. Bronner’s soap (the best soap ever) and we chatted it up. Joseph is a character, one of the more quirky and fascinating people that have helped me out along the road. He came to Montana to get away from the midwestern winters (something I COMPLETELY understand) and works as a lift attendant at Big Sky Resort. We talked about our respective touring and other adventures and what life is like in a ski resort town, a conversation I loved having given how much I’ve been on the other side of it in my life. 

After some unbelievably delicious non-alcoholic ginger beer from somewhere up near Glacier he took me out to see the town, where a rodeo was getting set up:

Big Sky kind of fascinated me. It’s a pretty underdeveloped ski resort, in the sense that it’s not that big, despite seeming to have just as much wonderful skiing as anywhere in Colorado. When I told Joseph how beautiful the area was he told me not to tell anyone (whoops). Apparently lift lines are unheard of here. 

But the secret is getting out. There is construction going on all over town:

Fun fact: it is a town without a local government, and I wonder what that has to do with the building boom. 

After a stroll around town we went to a vegetarian-friendly restaurant (a rarity in town, as Joseph made very clear) to meet his girlfriend for dinner and drinks. The food was fantastic and I loved lingering with the locals. I felt like I was part of them for a couple hours. Not a bad feeling. 

Leaving the restaurant I saw the sweetest little guy who desperately wanted his belly rubbed. I was happy to oblige:

I miss dog times. 

Then Joseph drove me up the mountain to check out the resort:


That’s just one small part of it. Pretty fantastic place, with Lone Peak off to the left:


Apparently you can ski off the peak in any direction, 360 degrees. Nice. 

Back at the apartment I was out for the count pretty quickly. I only got two hours of sleep in West Yellowstone – temperatures were in the upper 30s, and my sleeping pad lost all the air. Gotta get that figured out. I’ll stop at the REI in Bozeman, my stop for the night today. 

It’s hard to overstate how happy I am to be off the TransAm and figuring my own way again. I’ve got my adventure back, and just at the right time. This part of the country is completely unbelievable. It’s a straight shot through the canyon, and the winds don’t feel too strong…yet. We’ll see what the road brings me. 

-J

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