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Chapter 9: David and Frosty's Excellent Adventure--Bicycling the Continental Divide

Written by Subject: Travel

"As you age, different perspectives pop-up in front of you.  Life flies past so quickly that you barely have time to catch a good ride.  In the youth of my teens, I never thought about being young. I could crumple up time in my hand like a sheet of paper, toss it aside, and the next day, I enjoyed my youth without pause. I took it for granted.  These years later, when youth fled and old age dawned on my mortality, I treasure each day. I don't crumple up time, but hold it carefully in my hand.  I savor it.  I cherish it.  I appreciate my health, spiritual balance and sound mind.

"I am a baby boomer. I lived through the Vietnam War. I have treasured every day of my life since I was honorably discharged out of the US Army in one piece. I have squeezed every ounce out of every day of my life because it's SO special to be alive. It's SO amazing to thrive and be able to choose how to live your life, how to pursue your dreams, and how to maximize your time on this planet. It's why I wrote the book: Living Your Spectacular Life. I shared my secrets, all 12 of them, so others might pursue spectacular lives. It's fun out there when you engage with life. It's fun to search for your dream, chase it, catch it and live it.  It's a challenging process for most folks.  But if you discover your life, you will reveal endless rewards, people and life-energy that will catapult you into a spectacular life. Do you see that 'look' of youth on a young man's or woman's face at a coffee shop?  Make it your look whatever your age. Adventure awaits at every decade of your life."  FHW

We woke up to a sunny day inside the metal bars of the fairground cattle pens where we pitched our tents last night.  Ah, the fresh smell of cow pies wafted upon the breeze.

"Let's get out of this barnyard and eat some breakfast," I said to David.

"Copy that," he said.  "Sleep well?"

"Like a cow pie," I said.

"Me, too," said David.

We ate a hearty breakfast before crossing the Yellowstone River into the old part of Gardiner.  A sign at the restaurant said, "All are welcome here except the traitor Jane Fonda."  Ahead of us, big signs signaling Yellowstone National Park. We snapped a few pictures of ourselves standing by the big sign. It's a pretty cool feeling.  Afterwards, we pedaled toward the entry ranger station.  To our right, two large spires, built in 1917 or thereabouts, signaled a grand entrance into the park.  Thank John Muir, Major Johnson and Teddy Roosevelt for creating our first national park.  From this park, hundreds of others sprang up around America and around the world.  Some very wise men and women preserved elegant beauty for all generations.

However, we waited behind a line of cars to gain entry.  One of the unfortunate realities facing Americans in the near future: overpopulation of our country and too many people doing too much damage to our national parks.   People trample the turf, go off trail, harass the wildlife and throw their trash everywhere.  They speed past the speed limit of 45 mph to kill bears, elk, deer, birds, fox, coyotes and a host of other animals.  I don't know what makes people SO irresponsible, but with another 110 million people added to the USA within 30 years, I suspect we'll need a lottery system to hand out limited tickets to see our national parks.  At some point, Americans won't be able to see their parks because of too many people overwhelming a lottery system.

Upon entry, we started climbing along the river.  It took us an hour to grind up that incline, past the 45th Parallel marker, out of Montana and into Wyoming.  We kept grinding at 4 mph until we reached the little village of Mammoth Hot Springs.  We viewed all the buildings that once housed the soldiers stationed there to protect the park from poachers, miners, trappers and every other kind of bad person.

Along the route, we saw elk and hawks.  We saw a colorful array of people from all walks of life and from so many other countries. 

We visited an ice cream shop for a treat.  Several folks marveled at our journey on bicycles. We answered the usual questions:  "Where did you start…how many miles a day…where do you stay…why do you ride bicycles when a car is much easier…aren't you guys a little old to be bicycling through the mountains?"

We rode up to the Springs to walk on the board walks.  Those walks took us around the beautiful, exquisite sculpted terraces created by hot water with heavy minerals.  Different colors like aqua-blue, clear white, brown and copper greeted us. Steam rose into the clear blue sky and pools gave a sense of tranquil beauty.

"Time to get down to Old Faithful," David said.

"We've got more climbing," I said.

"What better way to get it done than to get it done," said David.

We cranked upward for another two hours until we reached a waterfall that looked like a bridal veil.  A bit of a wind tried to blow us over as it rushed up the canyon beside us.  We witnessed tremendous rock formations and burn scars from the 1988 forest fire.  A lot of gray skeleton tree-trunks still stuck vertically into the sky all these years later. 

At the top, we finally reached a new plateau around 7,000 feet.

"Good, some flat ground," said David.

"Works for me," I said.

The road meandered past buffalo and elk.  Tons of wildflowers of every color and description!  We ate lunch on a log in big field of flowers with mountains in the background.  Most of those mountains featured remanences of snowfields.  We rode past a wide waterfall, and then, along the Gibbon River.

Finally, the Gibbon River carried us toward Old Faithful.  Sheer wilderness in all directions.  They even featured bicycle lanes on the new highway.  It's always nice to be given a break from gnarly traffic and hurried city folks that don't allow themselves to relax in the wilderness.  We hit one section for several miles that featured gravel and dirt.  We ate some dust from drivers.  They 'gotta'' get there!

At Old Faithful, we sat down to quench our thirst and enjoy a brunch before the old guy blew his stack.  We sat in the Old Faithful Inn once visited by President Teddy Roosevelt and dozens of presidents and world leaders.

"Let's get out there to see Old Faithful blow his stack," David said.

"Right behind you," I said.

Sure enough, somewhere around 1,000 people gathered in a big semi-circle on a boardwalk to watch the world's most famous geyser blow its stack.  We waited for ten minutes, and then, it gurgled, it roared, it sputtered, and then, a sheer white vertical column of water exploded out of the geyser, soaring upward into the blue sky—maybe 75 to 100 feet up.  The mountain man Jim Bridger used to call them, "Upside down waterfalls."    For that, the New York Times reported that Bridger told the biggest lies….

After Old Faithful returned to its sleep, we packed some water, jumped on our bikes and headed southbound.  We faced climbs and descents, climbs and more descents.  We crossed over the Continental Divide three times on our way to Yellowstone lake and a bicycle campsite.

What's it like grinding up a mountain pass?  Sometimes it takes five hours for a big pass, say of 12,000 feet, and at other times, an 8,000-foot pass takes 1 to 2 hours, depending on your starting elevation.  I look at them as the yin/yang of bicycle touring.  When  you're cranking up those passes, it's a mental, emotional and physical 'trip'.  The higher you rise on the mountain, the more incredible the views.  At the top, the road levels, and soon, you feel gravity take over your bike.  You relax.  Then, sheer joy as you coast down the other side.  Mountains create such beauty that I prefer them over the Great Plains—flat as a pancake and just as uninteresting.

We took pictures in front of the signs signifying the Continental Divide.  After grinding up the last pass, we topped out with a view of Yellowstone Lake, sheer blue waters surrounded by evergreens. 

"It doesn't  get any better than this,"  said David.

"Hey, it's great to be us," I said.

We coasted for five miles to the lake, and then, turned south along the lake until we reached the campgrounds.  We enjoyed a nice dinner on the lake, hot showers and a comfortable campsite.

A day well spent!

David Christie and Frosty Wooldridge,  Continental Divide Ride, Canada to Mexico, summer 2019