Seattle to Chicago On A Bicycle
by Denis R. Kertz
Copyright 1994 Denis R. Kertz. All rights reserved. No part of this document may be reproduced, transmitted, transcribed, stored in a retrieval system, or translated into any language in any form by any means without the written permission of the author.
Part 4 of 6Day 22: 9/25/94, Sunday - Bridge Bay Yellowstone, Wy [66.3 miles]
I was up at 6:30 and walked to the Trappers Inn about 5 blocks away because I had noticed last night that they had an early riser all-you-can-eat sourdough pancake special for $3.95. The special included scrambled eggs, good old-fashioned bacon, potatoes, and a small stack of 3 sourdough pancakes, each about 5” in diameter. The food was very good and I ordered two more plates of pancakes and likely would have ordered more if it weren't getting a little embarrassing continually asking for more pancakes. This was definitely one of the best breakfasts of the trip and I also bought a bran muffin on my way out.
After packing, I headed to a bakery that the couple from St. Louis suggested and had a banana nut muffin that was very good. Then I checked with the Chamber of Commerce and talked to a couple of people including a ranger about how to deal with the east entrance under construction. The ranger suggested that hitchhiking (illegal in the park) would be ignored and I could camp at Bridge Bay and check with campers there for a ride out in the morning. I also asked about the feasibility of taking the northeast entrance and picking up 296 to Cody in order to bypass the Beartooth Pass. He thought that might work but discouraged me from taking the Canyon to Tower road to the northeast entrance because he thought the road was too narrow and dangerous for a bicycle. Instead he suggested I ride to Mammoth Springs if I wanted to take the northeast entrance although that would have added another 20-30 miles. In addition, it looked like Mammoth Springs might be the closest campground to the northeast entrance since the Tower Junction campground was closed for the season.
Armed with this information, I tentatively planned on camping at Bridge Bay and hitchhiking out. I paid $4 and started into the Park. The route to Madison Junction was a good road along the Madison River. There was a lot of burn area from the 1988 fire and there was bison and elk all over the place and some trumpeter swans. I took several pictures and heard my first ever elk bugle.
At Madison Junction, I headed North to Norris Geyser Basin and started to climb moderately on a road with no shoulder, some pot holes, and lots of patches. At one point there was a bull elk resting on the other side of the river that ran alongside the road. A guy had stopped in his car to watch and the two appeared to be having a stare contest. At the Norris junction, I made up my mind not to go to Mammoth Springs but I noticed in a campground guide that there was a small campground (Slough Creek) still open a few miles East of Tower Junction. This caused me to reconsider the northeast entrance but I decided to wait until I reached Canyon Junction before making a final decision. So I continued to Canyon Junction and the route started some more serious climbing and I had to shift to low gear for a while. The climb was through the trees and peaked at 8200'. Then I had a modest downhill to Canyon Junction.
At the junction I stopped at the Canyon Village and asked the ranger about the northeast entrance. She also advised against taking the road to Tower Junction but thought the cutoff road to Cody would be OK even though a section of it was gravel. Still undecided, I finally noticed the Slough Creek campground appeared to be about 5 miles off the road on gravel and that made the decision for me.
After a quick lunch, I headed to Bridge Bay where the route passed through Hayden Valley with its wide and long golden meadows and Yellowstone River meandering through it. I saw a number of anglers trying their luck as I had seen along the Madison River. I saw coyotes on a couple of different occasions. Once fairly far off in the field and another time a coyote wandered within a 100' of everybody watching it along the road. I sometimes thought these animals must get a kick out of getting all these humans excited by just walking around within sight. On another occasion, a bison was grazing right on the edge of the other side of the road. I kept a real close watch on him as I figured if I ran into him he was not likely to just wander off like the St. Mary's cow.
Just before Bridge Bay, I pulled in to the Lake Village for a Gatorade and a couple of large chocolate chip walnut cookies, eating one and saving the other for later. Bridge Bay was a fairly nice campground and I got a spot in the trees. It didn't have showers but only cost $2. This was also the last night and it was closing tomorrow for the season.
I took another sponge shower and mentioned my ride predicament to the camp host. He suggested riding the 11 miles in the morning to where the road was blocked and getting there before 8:00 (the road opened from 8-11 a.m. and 7-10 p.m.). Then I might be able to solicit a ride from someone waiting for the road to open. That sounded like my best option since there weren't any obvious rides in the campground as most vehicles were campers with no room for a bicycle.
Later in the evening, a couple of bison wandered into the campground as they graze. At one point they were grazing only about 10' from a couple sitting at their picnic table. Although the bison look awfully docile, I don't know if I would have just sat at the picnic table watching. I always figure I would be in big trouble if one of these animals decided to exhibit some wildness.
Day 23: 9/26/94, Monday - Cody, Wy [72 miles]
I got up early, just after 5:30, and started packing in the dark using my flashlight. I ate my bran muffin and a couple of fig newtons for breakfast and took off. Since it was cold until the sun came up these days, I wore my Thermax pullover, gloves, rain booties and rain pants along with my windbreaker and I was reasonably comfortable. I saw several bison and deer along the way and in 12 miles came to the road gate at 7:50. There were several vehicles waiting but none looked like they had room for a bike so I set up for hitchhiking.
I was a little worried about a ride since trucks or vans would likely be filled with camping equipment. Nevertheless, at 8:15 a young couple with just a couple of duffel bags in their small pickup came along and gave me a lift. We loaded the bike in back and I rode there as well since there wasn't much room up front. In a few miles we had to wait about 25 minutes for some construction activity and then we were off again. The road actually didn't look all that bad and I think I could have handled it with my bike but it was extremely dusty and that would have been a killer on a bike.
After abut 15 miles we were through the construction and over the pass and I was let out on the descent which seemed like cheating. On the descent we were slowed to a crawl by a bison wandering down the road. I'm not sure how he got on the road but the road was cut into the side of a hill with a guardrail so there wasn't any place for him to go. When the vehicle in front of me found room to pass on the left, I carefully followed the vehicle as far left as possible trying to take no chances with this enormous beast.
I stopped at Pahaska Teepee for breakfast, the first available place outside the park. I ordered the large stack of pancakes and the waitress tried to warn me that they were huge (they were - at least 9” in diameter) and that she had only seen one person eat an entire large stack. Then she made the fatal mistake of telling me that they were free if anyone ate them all. I didn't have much problem demolishing them and only had to pay $0.68 for coffee - by far my most cost effective breakfast of the trip!
As I started out again, I noticed a pain in my right front ribcage as well as the rear. I was puzzled since I had noted definite improvement in my ribcage yesterday to the point where I could lay down in my tent without hardly any discomfort. I eventually decided that the jostling ride in the back of the pickup must have been the cause even though it didn't bother me at all while I was riding. Before my ribcage never bothered me while cycling but now it did and made it difficult to breathe deeply. Fortunately, the route was almost all downhill to Cody but it was nevertheless a painful ride. I could only hope an overnight rest would clear this up.
The downhill route changed to a winding route along the river with reddish rock on the north side and it opened up more as we went. The gradual downhill would have been enjoyable if it weren't for the pain in my side that improved some as the day progressed. Eight miles from Cody, I stopped at the Buffalo Bill Dam that was built in the early 1900s and was the largest concrete dam in the world at that time. Then I continued on to Cody with the last 15 miles or so into a headwind.
In Cody, I bought a bike chain, ate a good Mexican dinner, and coughed up $10.60 for a Bonanza campsite with my first real shower in almost a week. Then I walked to the Buffalo Bill Historic Center, stopping at a Dairy Queen along the way for a yogurt and again on the way back for a Blizzard. The Center wanted $8 admission for what was really 4 museums but I wasn't up to a quick 1.5 hour tour (all the time available before closing) for that much so I browsed in the gift shop and bought a couple of postcards.
Day 24: 9/27/94, Tuesday - Ten Sleep, Wy [112.4 miles]
I was hoping that a good night's sleep would produce a cure for my ribcage but I couldn't sleep on either side and especially my right side. For a while I wasn't sure I would sleep at all since I couldn't find a painless position but I finally managed to get somewhat comfortable lying on my back. Surprisingly, I slept OK laying on my back but I was not encouraged that my ribcage would be much better tomorrow.
I got up shortly after 6:00 and packed gingerly. Then I headed to Granny's on the east side of town as recommended for a breakfast of pancakes and bacon. The breakfast was good - the pancakes were almost as large as yesterday but the bacon was overpriced. On my way out of town, I stopped at a Kmart and bought different headphones for my Sony, the kind that just rest in each ear without a headband. While I was there, a guy stopped and expressed admiration for touring cyclists and I tried to convince him he could do it too but without success.
The route to Greybull was basically flat with a slight downhill but there were no services along the way for over 50 miles. The terrain was desert like but I saw a number of pronghorns along the way including a herd of 10. They watched me carefully as I rode by. After about 30 miles, farms suddenly starting springing up here and there and they became more commonplace as I neared Greybull.
I breezed into Greybull around 1:15. I stopped at a Forest Service building and talked to the woman there about the route to Sheridan. I had planned to continue on to Shell and then find a campground for the night and continue on to Sheridan the next day via the strenuous climb over the pass. The woman told me the campground was another 32 miles and about 2000' higher. Then she told me that if she were driving she would take the southern route to get to Buffalo (my destination after Sheridan). After thinking about my next couple of days, I decided it would really be nice to make Buffalo tomorrow. Then I could easily make Gillette the day after when I needed to check into a motel to be on call for the golf tournament that I was going to support. If, however, I only made Sheridan tomorrow, Gillette would be too far the next day and there wasn't any motel between Buffalo and Gillette. This meant a very short day going only from Sheridan to Buffalo. So I started pursuing the southern route to Buffalo with the woman and an older guy happened along and he chipped in with suggestions as well. In the end I decided to head South to Ten Sleep which would put me well within riding distance of Buffalo the next day. The only problem was that Ten Sleep was about another 53 miles (mostly flat) on top of my 56 miles so far and it was going to be tight to make Ten Sleep before dark. However, I also had an option to stop before Ten Sleep if I got into trouble.
Before I headed out, I stopped at a grocery store for a turkey sandwich and All Sports drink (Pepsi's Gatorade) and I grabbed a yogurt at a foodmart. Then it was South on 16 to Basin and then I caught Orchard Bend Road that paralleled 16 and rejoined 16 just before Manderson. This road was refreshing since there was no noise pollution. At Manderson I picked up 31 which headed southeast towards Ten Sleep. About 20 miles from Ten Sleep I had a decision to make whether to continue on to Ten Sleep or stop at Hyattville. Since the campground at Hyattville was about 7 miles off the road, I decided to push on to Ten Sleep even though I knew it was going to be dark when I got there.
Continuing on, I saw a herd of 16 pronghorns in a field and several deer. I saw what looked like a small (about 1.5') rattlesnake on the road but it was too late for me to double back and check more closely. The terrain between Manderson and Ten Sleep was varied and multi-colored, a mixture of desert and farms.
Shortly after the sun went down behind the mountains, I pulled into Ten Sleep just as it was starting to get really dark. I spotted the Flagstaff Campground just as I entered town and stopped to pay $8.45 for the night. After setting up camp and showering, I walked a couple of blocks into town and stopped at the Big Horn Bar for a 9” Red Baron pizza and a couple of Bud Lights.
For the day, I did 112 miles - my first century of the trip. My ribcage improved steadily throughout the day and cycling was fun again. Yesterday my ribcage was screaming at me. Today it let me know it was not entirely happy but the shouting died down to a courtesy call. I can only guess that my body realized I was serious about this cycling business and might as well learn to enjoy it.
Day 25: 9/28/94, Wednesday - Buffalo, Wy [68.9 miles]
Up at 6:15, I packed and headed to the local cafe for pancakes and bacon that was good. I stopped at the grocery store for a box of granola bars and I was off at 8:30. Starting out I planned to take it easy since it promised to be a long day and yesterday was stressful for my legs. My legs felt OK but a little tired.
I noted immediately that we were doing a gradual climb from the start. Off in the distance you could see the opening in the mountains where Highway 16 entered on its way up to Powder River Pass. The Pass was 9666' and Ten Sleep was 4206' so the climb to the Pass was a little over a mile altitude gain. For about the first 4 miles the climb was gradual and then it got serious. For the next 18 miles I was in my low gear and grinding away for all but a couple of short sections.
After 1.5 hours I stopped for two granola bars and to admire the view looking up the Ten Sleep canyon. After another hour of riding, I stopped to eat half of my fig newtons. In the meantime the route had moved out of the canyon and started climbing through trees. I saw a sign for a lodge but didn't stop since the lodge wasn't visible from the road and I didn't know how far off the road it might be and how much energy it would take to find the lodge. Coming from the other direction, I met another tourer heading West. He started from Omaha on his way to Sacramento but first rode East through Michigan and the Upper Peninsula before swinging West. I was amazed to see that he had a cooler strapped on his rear rack! I'm sure this must have been handy but the cooler and its contents must have weighed a fair amount. I warned him about the east entrance to Yellowstone closing on October 1 and he decided to head South since it would have been hard to make the east entrance before it closed. We bid each other a good trip and headed our own way.
A little farther I stopped for two more granola bars and water. I carried 4 water bottles, 3 large ones and a regular size bottle but the hard climb was using up a lot of water so I started looking for water sources before I ran out. Shortly, I came to another lodge but this one was right on the side of the road so I stopped for a liter of Mountain Dew and filled my water bottles. The host told me the worst of the climb was over with 8 miles left to the Pass. So after 22 miles the climb eased a bit and I made the Pass and admired the view.
Starting down the Pass I had a fast descent for 10 miles. The road didn't look that steep but there was a strong tailwind and before I knew it I was over 40 mph and then hit 49 mph. I'm pretty sure I could have broken 50 mph but I suddenly freaked out as I started imagining how much it would hurt to crash at 50 mph. As a result, I sat up a bit and my momentary chance to break 50 mph passed as the descent eased up. Then the road started a series of rollers as the road traversed across the mountain side. There was a series of quick descents hitting 40 mph followed by a mile or two climb. This quickly got old but I knew this had to end because I was still over 8000' and Buffalo was a little over 4000' so I had 4000' to lose yet.
There were some decent views of the mountains but they were hazy. On one of my rollers I saw 2 cows along the right side of the road and I quickly slowed down to a crawl. As I neared, a heifer got real nervous and jumped the guard rail. I could only guess that my cow bashing reputation had preceded me and I was glad this heifer had enough sense to jump away from the road.
With 10 miles to go to Buffalo, a 5 mile 7% grade descent began and I was flying at 40 mph. Eventually the descent lessened but I rolled all the way into Buffalo. I stopped at a Pizza Hut for a salad and pepperoni pizza. The food was good but the service was shaky. I stopped next door at the Indian Campground for the night and retired to the Bozeman bar for a beer and to write these notes. While at the bar another guy sat down and ordered a drink and something to eat. He quickly guessed that I was writing some trip notes and we talked about my trip. He was from South Dakota so I was also able to get some information about riding through that state. It was interesting how my note recording had turned into a conversation starter.
Day 26: 9/29/94, Thursday - Gillette, Wy [80 miles]
I got up at 6:00, packed, and headed to the Bozeman for a breakfast of pancakes and oatmeal. The food was OK but the portions were disappointingly small. I bought a couple of postcards for my sister and brother for whom I had not sent anything and headed back into town to an IGA bakery that I remembered from a previous trip to the Big Horn country.
Today was the day that I needed to check into a motel to support the golf tournament back home. I needed to be in a room by 6:00 or earlier to be on call for the golf activities that began at 7:00 CDT. This would be the first time not camping since my trip began other than for my short stay at my sister's house in Hamilton.
I headed east out of town and picked up I-90 to Gillette. I was concerned about riding on an interstate which I had never done before except for the couple mile stint near Dillon. However, there was no reason for the concern with little traffic and a shoulder almost as wide as a traffic lane. A few miles out there was a panoramic view of Buffalo and the Big Horns but unfortunately it was hazy.
There was one long climb of several miles in the first half of the route to Gillette but otherwise it was a nice ride. The scenery was an amazing desert wasteland with hills and ravines as far as you could see. At the half way point, there was a rest area that I took advantage of and ate a snack.
Considering the route so far, I expected to breeze into Gillette but that wasn't the case. I seemed to spend a lot of time climbing until the last 10 miles although the climbing rarely required my granny. Nevertheless, it was frustrating since rain was predicted for late afternoon and I wanted to check out the Gillette bike shops to see if I could replace my rear tire which was rather worn. Along the way I saw a couple of pronghorns and later saw four more. There were also some cattle and sheep but mostly this was a wasteland.
As I pulled into Gillette I saw a Motel 6 sign and decided to head for it. I took the first exit and asked a guy on a mountain bike about a bike shop. He directed me to the Bike Shop but I first checked into the Motel 6. From my room I called both bike shops in town and it looked like neither had a touring tire but I decided to check out the second shop in person. This second shop had a Matrix 700x30 but it had a knobby tread more suitable for cyclocross than touring and I passed. The bike shop owner suggested that I could probably find something in either Spearfish or Sioux Falls.
I stopped at a nearby Subway for a foot long tuna on wheat, chips, and lemonade. Then I stopped by a Dairy Queen for a small Breeze and headed back to my room. I quickly showered and then called in to the Stonebridge Golf Club to let them know where they could contact me if they needed to. I ended up getting a couple of calls but nothing that was a real problem. While on call, I watched the Auburn-Kentucky football game on ESPN but Auburn had no difficulty. Later I walked to a foodmart for a Gatorade and a couple of ice cream sandwiches. On my way back, I noticed the motel had a Jacuzzi so I donned my swimming trunks and jumped in the Jacuzzi, hoping this would help my ailing ribcage.
Day 27: 9/30/94, Friday - Newcastle, Wy [89.5 miles]
For the first time since leaving Yellowstone, I was able to sleep on my side and I got a pretty good night's sleep. I attributed this to a real bed versus sleeping on the ground. I woke up at 6:30 and rode to a couple of service stations looking for a South Dakota map but couldn't find one. I had pancakes and oatmeal at Granny's that was OK. The weather report was predicting showers for northeast Wyoming and rain for the Rapid City area.
I returned to the motel, packed, and picked up I-90. I stopped at the next exit in town and found a South Dakota map. After studying it for a while, I decided to take I-90 to Moorcroft and then head southeast on 16 to Newcastle. This would put me in striking distance of the Black Hills tomorrow. I also tried to figure the distance from Rapid City to Sioux Falls to get an idea of how far I had to Chicago (I knew the distance from Sioux Falls to Chicago) but Rand McNally had developed some obtuse way of producing a mileage chart that I couldn't figure out even with their example. This would bug me for several days before I finally understood their chart.
I hopped on I-90 heading East wearing my rain pants and gloves. It was overcast, windy, and a little nippy. Initially, the route climbed modestly for a few miles and then it was essentially flat. The wind appeared to be out of the North so I had a cross wind which was OK because this would become a tailwind when I headed southeast on 16. Before long I exited at Moorcroft and stopped at a foodmart for a turkey sandwich, Gatorade, and two muffins, one that I saved for later. I had to share the foodmart with the local teenage crowd since the foodmart was near a high school and it was lunch time. Then I rode on to Newcastle with the aid of a tailwind and cycling was a joy. Often I barely had to pedal to keep a decent speed and there was little traffic or noise pollution.
When I came to Upton, I stopped at a drugstore for a vanilla shake. I also checked a road atlas and found it was 896 miles to Chicago from Rapid City. I figure this should take me 11 days at 80 miles/day which should get me home on the Wednesday or Thursday before the Saturday that my local golf course had a scramble planned. My friend Howie had asked if I wanted to play and I was considering it but I wanted to get home at least a couple of days early so I could get in some practice beforehand. On the other hand, I wasn't sure my ribcage would be sufficiently healed for golf by then.
As I approached Upton the terrain suddenly sprouted a forest of pine trees after a day and a half of wasteland. As I left Upton, the trees receded on the right side of the road and then the left but you could still see trees on the left in the distance. The going seemed to get a little tougher but it was still pretty easy going with the tailwind. I saw a pronghorn on the left and later a group of 4 on my right.
In short order, I pulled into Newcastle and cruised through town. I saw two signs for RV parks and one that I rode past looked ugly, even for an RV park. Eventually, I spotted a Subway and had another meal like last night. Then I headed back through town to check out the Dow Park I spotted on my first pass through town and it looked like a place to stay although I would have to do without a shower. As I wrote my notes for the day, I heard a train and then noticed the railroad tracks were only a short distance away. The train that passed through was all coal cars and I counted 108 cars.
Day 28: 10/1/94, Saturday - Custer, Wy [40.3 miles]
I got up and packed at 6:15 and headed the short distance to the Old Mill Inn, stopping at a grocery store along the way for a paper and wheat bagels. I had flapjacks and bacon at the Inn that was good. The flapjacks were large and made from flour that used to be made at this Inn and sold around the country. The Inn has since been retired.
Heading to Custer, the sky was overcast and didn't look like it was going to clear up today. After a short distance, I donned my gloves and rain pants to ward off the morning chill. It was obvious we were heading into the Black Hills as there were now pine trees and golden fields all around and no more wasteland. The route began a gradual climb that would continue most of the way to Custer, climbing to just over 5200'.
Before long it started to drizzle and I stopped to put on my rain booties and coat. It would continue to drizzle off and on the rest of the way. The road was good most of the way except for about a 5 mile section of twisting road that would not have been fun if there had been any significant traffic. Shortly before Custer, I saw a deer that bounded away and I saw 3 others whose white tails gave them away.
The drizzle turned into a harder rain making visibility and cycling poor. I was getting wet and a little chilled as the temperature was in the upper 40s. For the last 5 miles to Custer the route flattened and became easier. As I neared Custer, I decided to call it quits for the day and find a motel to dry out even though it was only early afternoon. I could see no point in continuing since the poor visibility made sightseeing impractical.
As I rode through town I saw the Mile Hi Motel for $24 and headed for it. I had to wait for the host to return and then paid for my room. Unfortunately, the room didn't have a phone so at 2:00 I headed next door to a restaurant to call the Stonebridge Country Club to see how the golf tournament was going. Unfortunately, there was some problem that I was unable to resolve over the phone and would have to wait for my return.
For the rest of the day I watched football and CMTV. I ate at the Chief restaurant and took advantage of their buffet that was very good. I had a salad, 2 plates of spaghetti, and 2 cups of chili for $6. This was my kind of restaurant.
Back at my room, I tuned in the Weather Channel and saw the gloomy weather outlook for the next 5 days. The forecast called for showers and cool temperatures each day. Today was the first day of October and it looked like October could be a trying month.