Friday, October 2, 2009

My New Life as a Bison

"Now hold still. And smile for Pete's sake!"

Apparently, the tourists had found a bison that would take orders. Pedalling and paddling through Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks brought me into contact with the last few retired tourists of the season and their insatiable desire to photograph all the wildlife they could find. In turn offs on the side of the road, the SUV's and Winnebagos clustered and emptied their passengers for a glimpse across the Hayden Valley or the meadows below the Grand Teton at that elusive elk or bison. But why spend time gambling on a chance encounter when the folks back home would be even more impressed by a lunatic on a bike hauling a canoe over the Continental Divide? So they made me stop, time and again, to take photos of the last talking bison and his mud-spattered canoe trailer.


I'm in Columbus, Montana now, 330 miles by bike and canoe from my start in Jackson Hole. The climb past the Tetons and up onto the Yellowstone Plateau was a bit of a slog, 3,000 feet up that was at least half dirt due to construction. The weather was incredible- cold every night and in the 70's during the day. I was lucky, time and again. The construction at the start made the going harder- but gave me my own lane to portage in. In Yellowstone, I made it through hours before a major fire closed the road, and most importantly of all, I made it off the Plateau and onto the Yellowstone River 30 hours before the first significant snowstorm of the season hit.

I woke up yesterday morning, October 1st, in a quickly yellowing cottonwood grove to a bit of sun poking through the clouds and the steady wind, heavy rain, and 38 degree temperatures that had pinned me down the day before gone, all gone. In their place, the butte beyond my little island and the Absaroka Range in the distance were print paper white with deep snow. The snow line was at about 6,000 feet, and I at 5,500 had ducked below the bar just in time. A day slower through the Parks, and I would have been snowed in on the Yellowstone Plateau. There is luck in speed.

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