Monday, July 11, 2016

Getting to the Start of the Reconnaissance Ride

In just a few days, I will be leading two Tetons/Yellowstone trips for Adventure Cycling. Each trip will be van-supported and will last for eight days. Having been to neither the Tetons nor Yellowstone before, I decided to do a "reconnaissance ride" on my own along the route. The reconnaissance ride would enable me to scout out the area so that I could provide a better trip experience for my riders.

My adventure began at the Greyhound bus station in Seattle. At 11:45pm, I boarded a bus for a 16-hour ride to Bozeman, Montana. Riding straight south from Bozeman would get me to West Yellowstone, at the far northern tip of the Tetons/Yellowstone loop. Note that Bozeman is 120 miles away from West Yellowstone. Though I could have taken a bus to Jackson, Wyoming, which is the official starting and ending point of the Adventure Cycling route, doing so would have meant arriving into an unfamiliar town in the middle of the night. Instead, I opted to ride an extra 240 miles roundtrip in order to arrive in the daytime.

This was my first long-distance bus trip in the United States. I had heard from numerous people that the scum of all scum took Greyhound. I was sorta looking forward to experiencing the scummy experience for myself...but sorta not.

Shortly after arriving at the Seattle Greyhound Station, a man named Reginold Smiley put my mind at ease. Sitting just a few seats away from me, we started chatting as he opened up his sketchbook to draw Greyhound's greyhound.

Meet Reginold Smiley, hobby artist extraordinaire.

It didn't take long for Reginold to draw the greyhound. We hadn't even left the bus station, and we still had many hours ahead of us. Reginold asked if he could make a drawing for me. Really? For me? I'd be flattered! Reginold asked what I wanted him to draw. I hemmed and hawed for a bit, and then I requested that he draw something related to my favorite quote: "Roots hold me close, wings set me free." (See Sailors, Whores, & Ink for more information about this quote.) Reginold started the drawing, saying that he likely wouldn't finish it until mid-bus ride.

A few hours later, around 5am in the morning, the bus pulled into the station in Spokane. As the weary travelers exited the bus to stretch their weary legs, Reginold and I rejoined in the station. He presented me with the drawing below, which he had been working on throughout the bus ride.

Reginold's visual interpretation of my favorite quote.

Oh my! Is this not the coolest drawing ever? Reginold make this JUST FOR ME! Wow, what an awesome and unexpected gift! This Greyhound travel thing was turning out to be a-okay.

In the early afternoon, we pulled into the bus stop in Missoula, Montana. Missoula is full of over-educated people. Undergrads who come to the town to attend the University of Montana end up falling in love with the town. Because these folks don't want to leave, they end up getting a masters degree and later a PhD. Years later, the students still can't manage to leave, as their love for Missoula has now intensified tenfold. As there aren't enough jobs in town to support its over-educated population, PhDs become employed as baristas.

As I imagined there are only so many barista positions in Missoula, I figured at least one of these over-educated people probably landed a job at the town's bus station. However, judging by the signs on the lockers, I'm not sure that the bus station employees ever passed the third grade. Each and every one of the signs in the station had a drastic grammatical error:

These signs could use a proofread by an over-educated barista.

The signs were in the women's restroom, too:

Tampoons, huh.

Oh my! I had to let out an audible chuckle. It was either that or cry.

When I rebounded the bus, I heard the first mention of a rider having been released from prison. While serving in the military, my fellow bus passenger had been pulled over for a DUI. In his automobile was an illegal weapon and sixteen rounds of ammo. Busted! Based on the stories I had heard from my friends about their Greyhound experiences, I'm surprised I didn't hear any rumblings of prison experiences hours earlier.

One bus transfer and sixteen hours later, I was dropped off at the Belgrade-Bozeman bus station. I spent about fifteen minutes unpackaging and loading my folding bike. Then I was off for a ten-mile ride to my Warm Showers hosts for the night.

Pat and Gerry were wonderful hosts. In addition to providing a much-appreciated shower and an indoor space to rest my exhausted body, they also provided fantastic conversation over a tasty pasta dinner.

The next morning, after eating a protein-rich breakfast, we snapped photos of each other, and then I was on my way.

Pat & Gerry.
Me, about to leave Pat & Gerry's place. (Thanks for the photo, Pat!)

As it turns out, I would stay with Pat and Gerry again a week later after I had wrapped up my reconnaissance ride. Pat's brother runs a fireworks stand, and so I spent one morning helping out at the stand. Never in a million years would I have imagined that I would be helping out with fireworks on this little adventure! Though a few hours of helping out was quite fun, I can't imagine working at the stand for the entire fireworks season.

Firework sales were booming at Bobcat Discount.

Okay...back to the present story...

After about thirty miles into my bike ride, the winds started picking up. The forecast had predicted winds of 30-40 mph, with gusts up to 50 mph. I wasn't in the mood for fighting winds. I was, however, in the mood for an adventure.

As I slowly pedaled the ten further miles into the town of Big Sky, I decided that I would ask for a ride into West Yellowstone; I wanted to have my first hitchhiking experience. Since I was riding a foldable bike, being able to fit the bike into a car shouldn't be a problem.

I pulled into the local Exxon station, as I figured a gas station would be a good place to solicit a ride. I spent a few minutes observing people as they pulled into the gas station; as hitchhiking can be a risky affair, I wanted to make sure my gut-check was properly calibrated.

I saw two young men unloading bags of ice from a truck. "Hmm," I thought, "I can handle young men." They seemed like well-raised mama's boys. Plus, their rig was plenty big for my bicycle and my bags. I asked if they were headed south. They weren't. Hitchhike request #1 fail!

I then noticed a pleasant-looking, middle-aged woman pumping gas into her Prius. She looked harmless. And since she owned a Prius, she was obviously one of my peeps. I asked if she was headed south (she was) and whether she might be able to give me and my folding bike a lift (she could). Woohoo!

The woman, named Deri, made space in her car for my bicycle and bags. Once she finished filling up her tank, we were off!

Deri, my hitchhiking angel, and her son.

As it turns out, Deri and her son were returning from a visit to Deri's mother's place. Deri's son was transporting himself, via his motorcycle. During the 50 miles that Deri drove me from Big Sky to West Yellowstone, she made numerous references to the safety of her son as he cycled. Such a mother! We had a great conversation though. It was Deri's first time giving a lift to a hitchhiker, and I think she enjoyed the company, as did I. If nothing else, I'm sure her son appreciated the diversion so that his mother could preoccupy her worrisome mind with something other than his safety.

I didn't at all feel bad about getting a ride for the final 50 miles into West Yellowstone. For one, there's no point in a miserable bike ride; I've suffered through hellacious winds, and they are too frequent in my memory to make me want any further suffering. (See Crossing Tierra del Fuego and El Chaltén or Bust.) For two, the ride from Bozeman to West Yellowstone was "insignificant" in my mind, as it was only a means for getting to the Tetons/Yellowstone route. For three, I've always been curious to try hitchhiking; ow that curiosity had been quenched.

Had it not been for the hitchhike, I wouldn't have made it to West Yellowstone that night. And had I not made it to West Yellowstone that night, I wouldn't have camped next to these charming ladies, Lisa and Libby.

Lisa & Libby.

Lisa and Libby were in the camp spot across from mine. They had arrived into West Yellowstone via vehicle. When I glanced over at their site, I had noticed a bunch of Ortlieb panniers in the trunk of their automobile. And so I had to ask...are you two touring?

These British superstars set out to ride the Great Divide a few weeks prior. They made it as far south as Helena before they decided to bow out on their plans. The route was just too remote for them, which is no surprise, as there is nothing like the great Divide's vast-distances-between-nowhere in Britain.

Though the women lamented having to do their Facebook let-down post, in which they announced to their readers that they had decided to bail on their trip, I told them they were superstars for even attempting the ride in the first place. We ended up chatting quite a bit that night and the following morning.

Though there hasn't yet been a whole lot of biking on this trip thus far, the trip has very much reminded me why I love traveling by bicycle -- amazingly wonderful interactions with amazingly wonderful people. Thank you Reginold, Pat, Gerry, Deri, Lisa, and Libby for making the start of my reconnaissance ride a fantastic one.



  1. It's so interesting to read about all the people you encounter as you travel! We visited Lindau on Lake Constance last weekend. It is a very popular among bicyclists and I thought of you as I saw people carrying their panniers through the city at the end of the day, likely heading to their hotels (or warm shower hosts' houses? Not sure if that is popular in Europe.).

    1. Hi Kelly! Thanks for stopping by! How neat that you saw cycle tourists near Lake Constance. It is very possible that the cyclists were on their way to a Warm Showers host, as there are hosts all over the world. Hope all is well! :)

  2. Great story of a lovely adventure. I especially dig the ironic typo after the sign critique. Super funny. You are in my spiritual home -- I hope it treats you well. Think of me while you're there. <3!

    1. You aren't the only one who noticed the irony. I wish I could say it was intentional, but you very well know that I'm not capable of such humor. ;) Your home says "hi." :)

  3. OK lets recap, Greyhound, folding bike, and hitchhike, yet you met and befriended no less than 7 people, sold fireworks, and learned that in Montana feminine protection is called Tampoons!

    My favorite quote here is "Hmm, I can handle young men!"

    I think you have endured enough wind for quite a while! Good idea to hitch...

    Not sure how I missed this post!! sorry for the delayed comment, but you put a smile on my face on a night I needed one, thanks Sarah! have fun!

    1. Thanks for the recap, Tony! If ever I decide to reread this post, I'll just skip ahead to your condensed, Cliff's Notes version instead. ;)

      Glad to see you smile. I hope your today was a better one. :)


I would love to hear your comments on this post!