Teton Roundabout & Yellowstone Bicycle Loop:
Bicycling The Big Burn
(270 miles in 4½ days)
August 12-16, 1989
by Rob Jones

Marv and Michelle Miles somewhere along the route
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Prologue: (Rob's commentary): From June 23rd to September 11, 1988, wildfires ravaged the Yellowstone ecosystem. Squandering 120 million dollars, public agencies employed 10,000 fire fighters. The fires burned 1.6 million acres. They creating their own weather and went where they wished. They created new landscape, such as Cooked (A.K.A. Cooke) City, Montana. It was the early season snows that subdued the fires, not the massive fire fighting efforts. I remember my childhood days, when the Forest Service sprayed DDT everywhere, in vain attempts to "save the trees" from pine beetles. Smokey The Bear rhetoric was everywhere in the Forests and Parks. DDT was eventually banned, but its use had produced, in part, overmature trees that were easily infested and easily died. Because of these man-caused factors and the natural course of things, the stage was set for a "big one" such as the 1988 Yellowstone Ecosystem fires.

(The following three paragraphs are paraphrased from the NPS summary of wildfires.)

From the late 1800s until the mid-1950s, fire was considered to be detrimental to the health of ecosystems. During the 1930s, the National Park Service and the U.S. Forest Service adopted identical fire policies. According to these policies, any wildland fires would be extinguished by 10 a.m. the following day. This is commonly referred to as the 10 a.m. rule.

During the 1930s, though, some researchers began to suggest that fire was a natural component of ecosystems. Finally, in the 1960s and 1970s, fire policy began to shift from suppressing all fires to allowing some fires to burn and even to igniting prescribed fires (intentional fires designed to burn a specific area).

The fires of Yellowstone National Park and the surrounding area in 1988 brought fire policies to the public's attention. The public questioned the management of wildlands we consider as part of our United States national heritage. Public concern prompted review of fire management policies. We know now that Yellowstone experiences major cataclysmic forest fires every 200-400 years, and while fires change the view we have of the landscape, fires are an integral part of a healthy ecosystem.

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Pretrip Drive: Back to Idaho, Joe. Marv Miles and I had finally arranged another self-contained bicycle trip. And, properly, the trip would be through our old haunts of the Teton/Yellowstone Ecosystem. Michelle Miles would be joining us on this trek, her first long tour. "Long" may be somewhat of a misnomer because the trip would be "only" 270 miles. Long for the allotted time, but short by prior criteria, i.e., the acclaimed Border Bop and other adventures. On the Border Bop, Marv and I rode from the U.S./Mexico Border to Canada, and back to SE Idaho. Wheeling across the U.S. was an incredible delight, as was this Roundabout.

I drove from Salt Lake to Moreland Friday night, arriving in time to enjoy a closing beer and to catch up a bit on the ways of Miles. Back into Idaho for Idaho Joe (one of my alter names that is print-worthy).

Day 1: Reams of Island Park Sky. Driggs to Buffalo C.G. (55 miles.) We got up early to enjoy french toast by chef Marv Miles. Then, after last minute equipment decisions, we loaded things into Marv's van, tied two of the bikes on the back rack, dismantled the other so it fit in the back, and set out for Tetonia. At a stop for gas I bought one of the lottery tickets from the first state odds revenue scheme. I didn't win, but I obtained a souvenir. To Tetonia, where a maintenance man at the school advised us not to park here, but to instead park at his house in Driggs - near the Rendezvous Cafe. We did this, adding 7 miles to this end of the trip, and subtracting 7 from the final day's ride. There's often balance in natural things, like self-propelled travel. And, we were definitely following our own 10 a.m. rule today.

I had brought 4 large pannier, a departure from the 2 large and 2 medium size bags I usually used. Equipment expands to fit the available space and this was.... Too much stuff. We readied the wheeled rails and began rolling these muscle-powered vehicles up the road toward Tetonia on Hwy 33. Like driving a log down a river, this unit was far from the responsive Trek I've been riding. Cruising along, Marv and I caught the draft from a tractor and baler into Tetonia. Yeehaw! Bits of straw stuck out of my helmet and teeth as we regrouped in Tetonia.

It was getting a bit warm as we approached Squirrel, Idaho. After a few more miles, we took the cutoff labeled "to Aspen Acres Golf Course." We knew that this green monoculture was near the Warm River road, where we wanted to mount the hills to the Island Park plateau. But this road was a gravel road, and although in good condition it was squirrely going for the loaded SBI (Specialized Bicycle Industry) Expedition, where the heavily-loaded front wheel readily dug into the occasional rolls of gravel. After what seemed like a long time, we got back on the oil and arrived at the Squirrel post office. An exciting event, indeed. We saw a few wandering dogs and a far-away farmer. Then, we attempted to find a connecting road to the Warm River road, ending up near Marysville before doing so. I guess we should have turned right at the cemetery rather than left. We hope this is our only visit here (at the cemetery). Back on the road, it was nearly hot. So, we stopped for a rest in the delightful shade at Warm River C.G. Marv worked on a fussy rear derailleur, which neighbor kids had damaged during joy rides in Moreland. Back on the road, the sky was steadily darkening as we inched up the grades toward the Mesa Falls and the plateau. We would be climbing over the lip of the Island Park Caldera, an old volcanic feature covering many miles of the plateau. It makes Yellowstone the caldera caldron it is. Imagine giant tectonic plates surfing the "hot spot" of inner-earth magma, and here you have Yellowstone.

Somewhere just beyond the road to Upper Mesa Falls, it began to rain lightly. Gushing winds and early darkness portended more storm action. A passing motorist warned us of "watch out, two miles of hail ahead!" I wondered if he had said "...two mile of hell ahead!" It couldn't be any worse than bicycling McDonald Pass in a blistering headwind, I thought. We plodded on. More light rain. Then we arrived, suddenly, at reams of hail three inches deep on the road. It was slippery and generally miserable. A motorist, a professed former bicyclist, who had passed us earlier, came back down the road and gave us a ride to Buffalo C.G. (we rode 55 miles on bikes, and another 10 or so in the pickup). It rained all the way. Perhaps not surprisingly, the usually busy campground was not at all crowded. We easily found a spot and set up the tent in the continuing rain. It rained through half the night, and puddles welled up through the tent floor. We were using Marv's huge (and heavy) hotel which could sleep 6 with no real problem. It's reminiscent of Frank Kral's tent mansion he lugged on his crossing of the country in 85. Amazingly, most of the equipment was not sopped by morning. (Rob's note: we still hear from Frank, whom we met in Lander, WY on our Border Bop trip. Frank was 69 years old, and riding cross-country solo. Truly amazing.)

Day 2: Mud & Dust to Norris: Buffalo C.G. to Norris C.G. (56 miles.) Foggy mist shrouded the camp in the morning. But, it was looking like the genesis of a sunny Idaho blue sky day. We hoped to dry the tent and other items later, as there was little chance it would dry in the saturated air. On the road toward Henry's Lake Flat, we enjoyed warming temperatures. I stopped to rescue a towel from the side of the road. Planning to use it to clean the now dirty bike, I found it to be in good condition and kept it for use as a body towel. This treasure is like the shirt I picked up when Marv and I were biking in Glacier N.P., which I still wear. It too had graduated from chain-cleaner status to part of the wardrobe. We stopped at Lake View for a yogurt break and partial equipment drying. The yogurt breaks are the real 10 a.m rule for bicycle trips. The midmorning warmth of the sun was a welcome companion.

We then rode the moderate climb over Targhee Pass into Montana, where we began the flat cruise into West Yellowstone. We found the building which was the Hungarian-ran cafe. No more, it's now Jedidiah's House of Sourdough. Not a pleasant change. Marv, Frank, and I stopped in here for breakfast in 85, and the old Hungarian remembered Marv and me from prior trips. We will miss the intresting cuisine and the more interesting discussion. Retired to Bozeman, the Hungarians are reportedly doing well. After lunch, we continued to the bike shop where Michelle purchased what she hoped would be a more anatomically correct seat. 8 cents of gas for the bunsen burner MSR stove and we're on our way for the second 28 mile stretch for the day.

Into Yellowstone, and the bellow of the Winnehogos heightened. Too many hogos, these scourge should be banned from the park. Now we cruised through throngs of black toothpicks, fire-damaged Lodgepole Pines. The high contrast of the saturated green of the forbs against the black of the burn was distinctly more enjoyable than the monotone of an overmature lodgepole forest. Before long, we arrived at Madison Junction, where we paused for a rest in Madison C.G. There is a delightful hot spring nearby, but we didn't want to be noodle-fied for the rest of the day's trek. The last time we were here, we had carried our bikes down by the river (to prevent theft), and were lounging in the springs, lazily watching the elk graze the riparian meadows of the Madison River, when a rangerette arrived. She invited us to carry out our bikes or she would attach a ticket to the handle bars.

The stretch into Norris was dusty and particularly crowded and narrow. Recent mud slides (no forest, greater runoff, no fish spawning beds, a lesson the Forest Service has yet to learn about their clearcut mindset) contributed the dust and some new deltas to the Gibbon River. American greed and callous abuse (i.e., the American Dream, or nightmare?) contributed the hogos. The road was steep in spots, such as near the Gibbon Falls, and it was slow going. An elk jam delayed our progress, but the ride was very enjoyable when hogos were absent and the route abutted the Gibbon River. We arrived at Norris at 5:30 p. and established camp in the hiker/biker camp section. There are hiker/biker camps in Norris, Grants, Madison, & Colter Bay. The upper Gibbon River meadow was delightful in its serenity, clarity of water, and lushness of the grasses. We combined, rice, tuna, kippers, and green beans for a scrumptious dinner. It felt good to clean off my mud-streaked face.

Grant Village Campground
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Day 3: Grant Gallop. Norris to Grant Village. (50 miles.) During a steamy and bright morning, we enjoyed oats & groats before the ride to Fishing Bridge and beyond. Our plan was to ride to Colter Bay, a distance of approx. 80 miles, but we didn't make it that far. Quickly warming up, we rode the loop past the Virginia Cascades. We put away the leg warmers here. We floated in and out of the dips where the road curls through the assorted drainages. On to Canyon we peddled, where we rested and wrote a few postcards. Here we passed the location where Marv crashed at the end of the Beartooth Pass grunt ride. We were exhausted after this long trek, and Marv cut the curve so wide he cruised up a berm and crashed slow-motion in the dust. I was so tired that it was all I could do to chuckle a bit after I realized Marv was OK.

We whirled wheels to Fishing Bridge, which the Park Service promised to return to the bears but has repeatedly failed on their promise. Fig Newtons and peanut butter with jam and fruit for lunch. Frank Kral, the 69 year-old cross-country biker we met on the Border Bop, would be proud. "Newtons and bananas," he replied when we would ask what was for lunch. "And, at my age I don't buy any green bananas," Frank reported.

Natural arch near Bridge Bay, click the thumbnail for a larger view
Delightful weather. Touristas were hanging off every splinter on Fishing Bridge. Happy to be clear of the crowds, we peddled toward Yellowstone Lake and other exciting attractions. We saw a coyote creeping in the sage along Trout Cr. and a herd of buffalo in the Hayden Valley, but there were only moderate car jams. We were not doing so well on our plan to reach the Tetons, largely because of slow progress on the hills earlier in the day. In addition, the afternoon thunderclouds were building, predicting an interesting afternoon. The wind wound up a bit and a few rain drops fell. It was cool enough to put more clothes on. While hurriedly rummaging through the pannier for my wind jacket, the Expedition tried to lie down on the road, apparently for a rest. While wrestling with the beast, I broke the front rack mount. Curses! A hasty bungy cord adaptation sort of fixed the break, temporarily. However, the rack was partly hanging on the fender mounts and this produced a screeching whine as the tire rubbed on the fender. About the time I caught up with Michelle & Marv, the real rain began, accompanied by background percussion by the Yellowstone Electric Company. We set up a tarp and took a nap along the side of the lake. A cow moose tip-toed past as we slept, or so reported Michelle.

We opted to stay in Grants because of the dark sky and how late in the day it was. We had the group camp to ourselves, a condition much different from the situation in 85 and previously where we were assaulted by the cacophony from pious fornication youth church groups. Interestingly, the upper end of this loop is now being used for tours of fire damage. Incinerated, a lone sign and grill identified the hiker/biker camp. This is where we had fortuitously rendezvoused with Frank (and the GL, German Lady) in 85. We thought we had lost track of Frank, and we felt fortunate to reunite with this fine gentleman. Because of this, I believe this location will carry a special significance. "Hey" you're probably saying, "what about this Border Bop trip you keep talking about?!" If there are enough requests, I will share bits of this epic with you. Just leave your requests on the IAC Bulletin Board.

We parked the bikes and all the food, etc. in the bathroom and enjoyed a cool evening (the bears quickly learn that they can go in the bathroom but can not get back out...and somehow they pass this info. along to their youngsters). Republican truckers working on the Craig Pass (to Old Faithful) road project woke me up several times operating their air horns and jake brakes. Very inconsiderate. However, I didn't mind waking up to the howl and yip of the local canus latrans.

Day 4: Teton Time. Grants to Jackson. (78 miles.) Up early in anticipation of a long day, we bundled up and headed for the Continental Divide (7900') and points beyond. A foggy morning, we alternately breezed and groaned through the mosaic of fire-enhanced areas. Some say "fire damaged," but it appears fire-enhanced to me. Sadly, the 88 fires, which singed as much as half of Yellowstone, precipitated typically bovine republican reactions about loss of resource and other tripe, and the "let it burn policy" has been abandoned. This summer, all wraiths of smoke are investigated and all fires dramatically and expensively assaulted. The Lewis Lake area presented a particularly stark view of the burn enhancement, and the mechanized-tourists pressed their noses to the windows of their tin cans and hog buckets as they whizzed past, well-insulated from a meaningful experience. We enjoyed the aura of area while these tin can tourists could receive the same benefits sitting in their cans in their driveways, watching a video projected on the windshield. This is a solution that the Park Service should pursue, distribute videos to RV owners which can be projected on their windshields while they are parked in their driveway, and prohibit any vehicle over 20' from entering the parks. An extra charge would get hogo-tourists an aerosol can of their favorite pine forest, bear scat, or other, scent.

Yogurt and cookies at Flagg Ranch, yum. I found some wire to reinforce the twist-ties holding the broken rack together. There, much improved. My baling-wire Idaho ranching ancestors would be proud. Here, at the tourist roundup ranch, we encountered a troop of adolescents on a bike junket. After observing their sag wagons' license plates, we asked if they came from Utah, to which they answered "yes." When asked whether Barfing Jake Garn (who barfed as his contribution to the NASA space shuttle mission, for which he bilked taxpayers) was from Utah, these mental midgets answered "no, he's from Salt Lake, not Utah." So much for the sophistication of the mid-Western bovine. Lunch at Colter Bay, and 15 cents of gas for the bunsen burner. We took the Moran Junction route, because of the road construction near Moose junction and Jenny Lk. There were moose in the Oxbow Bend. Rateable French female tourists were watching the moose in the bend. Bicyclists were watching these tourists watching the moose in the bend. And, the moose ignored everything except their browse.

Somehow we avoided most of the thunderstorms but we got a little wet anyway. It was cool as we drafted from turnout to turnout through Teton Park, team-riding into the wind. Along the way we encountered a mule deer looking like it would brave the road, apparently to get to the other side. Marv and I yelled that there were republicans on the road, callous tin can tourists in hogmobiles. The deer ran terror stricken into the deep woods, eyes bulging like the pockets of the bankers profiting from the savings and loan collapse.

After a long day, we drifted into Jackson about 6 p. Stopping at the chamber of commerce, we obtained a partial list of places to camp. Partial, because we later learned that only those who pay their tithing to the god of commerce are listed in the guide. Good places to eat like the Rendezvous Cafe (formerly Alice's Restaurant..."you can get anything you want, at Alice's Restaurant..."), or important places to know like Teton Cyclery, next to the cafe, are often not listed.

We ended up staying at Green Acres C.G., a Koa-style RV haven without trees. Next time, consider the Jackson C.G., just outside Jackson proper going toward Hoback Junction. Taking an auditory break from the roaring stove, we ate an expensive and OK dinner at Nellie's.

Day 5: Teton Trudge Jackson to Driggs, over Teton Pass. (32 miles.) Through the cleavage of the big ones. After a pancake breakfast, we packed up and headed across the 6-mile warmup stretch toward Wilson and the foot of Teton Pass. Some of the best mountain views of the Tetons are from the South end just before you reach Wilson. On the pass, it's a Teton trudge up and up 5 miles of 10% grade. It was cool and we enjoyed a tail wind part of the time. This is my first time over Teton with full packs, previously discovering that it's difficult enough with a light racing-weight bike. The six mile trudge took about an hour and a half. But what a view at the pass! A facho mountain biker was sunbathing, sprawled on the tailgate of a pickup. Two more fachos, with little clothing on, breezed in from a side trail, tetons bouncing delightfully as they rode by. Rendezvousing at the pass, Marv and I headed for Victor. Michelle had decided to wait for our return with the van, enjoying the ambiance created by rare sun and mountains.

Screaming down into Idaho, the hill angle tapering off just in time to encounter a chip-sealing project beginning at the Idaho border. This teeth-rattler continued into Victor. Then, we were cruising the high gears toward Driggs when we encountered the second road construction project of the day. Oiling both sides of the road? Why? It was a case of public servants displaying their inconsiderable cognitive prowess. The wheels, bags, and other assorted parts received a coating of tarmac. Hooray for fenders. Too soon we were in Driggs, and at the end of the ride. We had completed another Teton roundabout. 270 miles of enjoyment. At 4 and 1/2 days, this was an average of 60 miles a day. Quite good, and Michelle did very well, for it was her first long tour. Hampered by the inability to alter hand placement, and the gearing on her mountain bike, she certainly rode a very long way.

After retrieving Michelle, we bought some Grizzly beer bagels, and strawberry cream cheese in the properly cluttered Wilson General Store (the lager was from Canada, the Canadian beer we were unable to buy when in Canada at the top end of the Border Bop, because the breweries were on-strike). Yum. Then the sleepy ride down the Snake through the Hoback and to Moreland.

I decided to head back to Smog Lake, where I am now deep in another round of graduate school, this evening. It was a late enough drive that I enjoyed excellent views of the full lunar eclipse while in the low light intrusion zone of SE Idaho and northern Utah. I could see a faint magenta disk before the brilliant crescent began to displace the eclipse.

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