The Wine Cyclist

Archive for July, 2009

Yellowstone and Back

by on Jul.31, 2009, under Cycling

IMG_0542I was able to spend three very lovely days in Yellowstone National Park. I ended up purchasing an Interagency Annual Pass figuring I’ll probably also be hitting up Glacier, Olympic and who knows what else over the next twelve months. Well worth the cost.

My friend in West Yellowstone dropped me off Monday afternoon and I spent a couple days backpacking around the Fairy Falls area and camping out in the Yellowstone back country. This way I could stay away from most of the tourists during the peak season (though even getting back country camping spots was a challenge). Wednesday morning, I made my way over to the Old Faithful area and hiked up to Mallard Lake and back. I of course, watched the ever famous geyser as well (honestly, ho hum).

Fairy Falls
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The hike up to Mallard Lake.
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IMG_0566Yesterday morning, I set out from West Yellowstone headed back up the Madison River Valley. I ended up putting in 110 miles yesterday and made it all the way to Lewis & Clark Caverns State Park. This morning, I took the caverns tour, and that was quite a bit of fun as well.

Alas, I haven’t the time to upload those, or the many other pictures I’ve taken this week. I should have some more time as I get into the Missoula area. I’m about to head over Lemhi Pass and cross the Continental Divide tomorrow. I’ll be sure to check in again sometime next week with more details.

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Leaving the Missouri Behind

by on Jul.27, 2009, under Cycling

The Gallatin River helping to form the Missouri

The Gallatin River helping to form the Missouri

On July 25, 1805, The Corps of Discover, led by Captains Lewis and Clark, came across the headwaters of the Missouri River, where three other rivers, which they named the Jefferson, the Madison and the Gallatin come together to set the Missouri out on its 2,540 mile journey to the Mississippi River. 204 years later, to the day, I stood at the headwaters of the Missouri River. Cool, no?

It was a two day ride from Great Falls down to Three Forks. Between Great Falls and Helena was some amazing scenery along the river. It was a hot couple of days of riding there, and I got trapped in a couple small storms. I also popped my first flat tire of the trip. Just before Three Forks, though, I did get to stop in at this cool place called Wheat Montana Farms Bakery & Deli. These guys have a great story.

Between Great Falls and Helena

Between Great Falls and Helena

The Folkvord Family started farming wheat out here, but after a while of it, they were troubled by the vagaries of selling their wheat on the whole market, so they decided to go one step further and bake their wheat into finished product. They now have a very awesome deli and bakery right off of I-90 near Three Forks. I stopped in for a sandwich and to hide from the rain for a little while.

After exploring the headwaters near Three Forks, I took a detour off route from Lewis & Clark Trail to make my way down to Yellowstone. For the most part, I was following along the Madison River into the town of West Yellowstone, where I am today, before I set off into the park for a few days. I’m probably going to take a bit of a break from cycling and do some backpacking around Yellowstone. I’ll have to start keeping two mileage counts this trip: cycled miles and hiked miles.

There’s been some tough riding around western Montana, and I know it’s only going to get harder as I go over the mountains, but the beauty continues to amaze and makes the experience what it is. I’ve adapted more, I think, to the inherent solitude of bicycle touring — perhaps the amazing things I’m getting to see have helped. I’m looking forward to the change of pace backpacking will bring for a few days. I’ve made friends with a tour guide from Yellowstone here who is going to tell me which spots are awesome to go to and which spots to avoid. Already, he’s shown me hidden, tucked away, secret hot springs to soak in. But I’ll tell you more about it on the flip side of Yellowstone.

More Montana pictures…
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The Mountains Are Coming!

by on Jul.23, 2009, under Cycling

IMG_0502The mountains are coming! The mountains are coming! DUCK AND COVER!

So I’ve made it to Great Falls, MT. I think that puts me at about 1,650 miles of cycling. Not really having any idea what my final mileage count is going to be on this trip (who knows what detours will distract me), I’ve decided to call this the half-way point. Were I to shoot straight for the coast from here, I’d be well over half done, but I’m expecting my path through western Montana to resemble a drunkard’s walk. There’s just too much cool stuff I want to check out while I’m in the area.

From Winnett, I kept on rolling down SR 200, up and over the Judith Mountains and into Lewistown (which is, incidentally, not named after Capt. Lewis of the famed expidition, but another military officer, from a later period of history, who established Fort Lewis there. Lewistown also claims to be the geographic center of Montana). From Lewistown, I deviated from SR 200 to make my way up to Fort Benton.

It was on this road that I took my first dive of the trip. Riding down this 8% grade into a valley by Square Butte (every cyclist’s dream), and while distracted by the amazing scenary of the valley unfolding before me, the pavement ran out underneath me and suddenly I was hitting gravel road at thiry miles an hour. My skinny little road tires were not happy with the situation and down I went. Nothing major, just a minor scrape here and there, and the bike held up pretty well: dirty, but no damage. So keep on rolling I did.

IMG_0504Fort Benton is quite a nice town, and it’s on my list of places I’d like to return to someday (just look at that view of the Missouri River). There are a few companies that run multi-day canoe and camping tours of the river, which sounds like an excellent vacation for some future summer. The Upper Missouri Breaks Interpretive Center was quite fun as well. I happened to stumble into town on the evening of a talk about the geology of the region. Did you know bentonite was named for Fort Benton?

You may not even know what bentonite is. It has many uses, but true wine geeks should know it as a commonly used fining agent to remove cloudy proteins from wine. The other really nifty thing about this clay is that when it is wet, it expands to over twice its original volume. This can be very useful or very problematic, depending on the situation.

Last, but hardly least, I stopped in at a used bookstore and outdoor equipment store (handy combination). Picked up some new shorts and another book to read. This store was really quite something. Unfortunately, the name of it escapes me at the moment, but Fort Benton isn’t a big town, and I believe it was on 17th St right off from Front Ave. So, if you’re ever in Fort Benton, stop in and say hi to Tom, the owner, and perhaps pick up something fun to read.

It was not a long ride from Fort Benton into Great Falls. I arrived early in the afternoon on Tuesday and spent some time cycling along the River’s Edge Trail. The falls that named the town have long been dammed in the interest of hydroelectric power, but there are still some cool river views to be had. From here, I head south, continuing along the Missouri towards the headwaters at Three Forks. Until next time, enjoy some more scenic views of Montana.

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Big Sky Beauty

by on Jul.17, 2009, under Cycling

IMG_0464Montana gave me a heck of a welcome on Tuesday. One heck of a welcome, but I’ll get to that in a minute. I had one last stop in North Dakota before crossing the border.

I rolled on down SR 1804 from Williston almost to the border to check out the Fort Union Historic Site. Fort Union used to be a big, important trading post on the Missouri River. Today, a reconstruction of it sits mere yards from the Montana border (technically speaking, the parking lot is in Montana). It seems like a cool bit of history, so I explored for a while. The shot above is the view of the Missouri River from Fort Union. This is only a couple of miles from where the Yellowstone River and the Missouri River come together. I took some shots of Fort Union as well.

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From there I hopped back up to US 2 to cross over into Montana. I had been bucking some pretty intense winds from the west all day, but just before crossing the border, the storm descended upon me. The rain started, and the winds picked up. I mean, seriously picked up. I spent the next 22 miles fighting headwinds gusting up to 40mph. Some of the gusts were bringing me to a standstill even on a downhill. A couple of east-bound cyclists I ran into at a rest stop in Bainville thought I was completely nuts for riding into this wind. What does it say about me when the other crazies think I’m the crazy one. The rain cleared by the time I made it into Culbertson. I found the city park and set up camp for the night.

Wednesday morning, a howling wind made me want to just crawl back into my sleeping bag and rest for the day, but I set out. In the end, I actually cleared my first century of the trip. I was fighting remnants of Tuesdays headwinds for about 55 miles, but then I turned south and things got nice and calm. I made it the full 100 miles from Culbertson to Circle, MT.

Thursday I rolled into Jordan, MT and tonight, I’m in Winnett, MT. Along the way, I’ve seen some amazing views of the Montana Badlands. Just breathtaking… The photos don’t really do justice to the vistas, but I’ll try to let them speak for themselves anyways.

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Three Weeks!

by on Jul.13, 2009, under Cycling

IMG_0450Can you believe it has been three weeks, to the day, that I set out from Madison, WI? It feels like I’ve been on the road for so much longer than that. My entire recent memory is occupied by thoughts of cycling. Yet, it’s only been twenty one days. I’ve covered 1,120 miles, and here I sit in Williston, ND — 15 miles from the Montana border — to tell you that there’s much more fun yet to come.

In this part of the country, when they say “open road,” they know what they are talking about. From Bismarck to Williston I have ridden many a stretch of road that look exactly like this: long, rolling and complete bereft of another soul. It’s both frightening and awe inspiring.

I rolled out of Bismarck on Wednesday morning with not too far to go and a nice wind at my back (this, of course, would not last). For the first time in this trip, I encountered some truly outstanding scenic riding. Going across Wisconsin and Minnesota was nice and all, but the views from the road they offered simply do not compare to some of the views I had rolling up SR 1804 out of Bismarck.

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It was a short ride — a touch more than 50 miles — the first day out of Bismarck, and I arrived at Cross Ranch State Park in the middle of the afternoon with some time to spare and hang out. The tent sites were right on the Missouri River and offered up some cool views as well. I rather enjoyed this campground. The tent sites were nicely laid out.

IMG_0442There was one other tenter at the campground this Wednesday night. There were a few RVers as well, but the RV sites were nicely isolated from the tent sites. We hung out, built a nice big campfire, and traded stories. Several other tent sites were marked as “reserved,” so we had expected a few other tenters to be around that night, but I guess everyone chickened out in face of the impending storm.

A storm, a storm, oh yes, a storm. We were right at the eastern edge of a tornado warning zone that covered a large swath of North Dakota’s Badlands that night. The ranger didn’t think any tornadoes would touch down near the park, since there were strong winds out of the southeast blowing things away from us, but we were warned about the heavy rain and lightning coming our way. My tent held fast against the onslaught of water from the sky, fortunately, and I had only a few things to dry out in the morning sun.

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Heading On The Trail

by on Jul.07, 2009, under Cycling

IMG_0431Happy 4th of July from Sanborn, ND! I’m not in Sanborn any more, but I rolled through that town on the evening of the 4th, and had an absolute blast. I’ve made my way from Fargo over to Bismarck, and I’m taking one more day off before getting on the Lewis & Clark Trail tomorrow.

So I zipped on out of Fargo on Saturday morning. This was to be an interesting stretch of cycling for me, as I really had no idea where I would be camping for the nights between Fargo and Bismarck. The cycling was a challenge, as well. There are many unpaved roads between these two cities. I found myself on them sometimes, and I found myself on the shoulder of I-94 to avoid them at other times. Saturday evening, I rolled into a town called Sanborn. There was a rally going on of some sort. I moseyed my way on into a pub called Ditos to ask about places to set up a tent for the night. That’s when things got fun…

In Ditos I ran into a guy named James. He invited me over to his barbecue for some delicious ribs, steaks, pheasant, and beer; setting up a tent in his yard would also be cool. What more could a random cyclist rolling through town ask for? Initially, I figured I’d just party and then set up the tent when it was all said and done. In the end, though, he invited me to crash on his couch.

Sometimes, it’s easy to forget that the world really is full of nice people. This trip, with the many generous people I’ve met along the way, is an excellent reminder of how friendly people can be.

Sunday morning, I got a bit of a late start out, but we were up late watching fireworks (I took some video as well, see below), so that’s understandable. I made a brief stop in Jamestown to grab a couple of things, found myself on some dirt roads for a while (very annoying, but then so is riding the interstate), which slowed me up. But I made my way over to Tappen, ND for an evening of stealth camping.

Yesterday’s ride in Bismarck proved breezy and easy. I had a nice tail wind (finally!) most of the ride in, and the hills were few and gradual. It was early in the afternoon when I rolled in.

Fascinating enough, this morning, on my day off, there were a few thunderstorms rolling in. There have been two days of rain so far on this trip. Once today, while I was working on writing this post and checking up on email, and once on my day off in Stillwater, MN. Let’s hope this trend continues.

Tomorrow, I get to what I consider the real meat of this trip. Tomorrow, I pick up the Lewis & Clark Trail. I will hopefully run into more cyclists now that I’m on an actual cycling route. I’ve met many wonderful people so far, but there have been many a lonely night of solo camping as well. As much as I love camping, it really is best as a shared experience. On the trail, I’m hoping I’ll run into other cyclists camping out at the same spots as I am.

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Land of 10,000 Lakes

by on Jul.03, 2009, under Cycling

Naa NaNaNaNaa NaNaNaNaa NaNaNa NaNaNa NaNaNaNaaa

Erm… sorry. That’s Land of 1,000 Dances.

IMG_0410I’ve made my way across the rest of Minnesota and I’m now updating this blog from Fargo, ND. This view here is looking across the St. Croix River in Stillwater, MN.

It’s been very windy in Minnesota. The first three days in setting out from Stillwater were especially windy. I need to get used to it. I know I’m basically heading into prevailing winds the whole trip, but it does get very tiring at times. The cross winds are especially brutal. Balance becomes a bit of a challenge when you’ve got a 20mph gust coming at your side.

The kindness that I’ve been encountering along the way has more than made up for it, though. By chance, I connected with a birthday party in Little Falls. There was music, food, volleyball, a nice big bonfire and all manner of good times. It was a great evening.

There’s been some solitude in my camping as well, and that can be tough at times. Camping alone is just not as much fun as camping with a group of people. Fortunately, I’m usually exhausted enough by the time that I crawl into my sleeping bag that I just pass right out and it doesn’t matter.

So I’m 630 miles into the trip. So, not quite a quarter of the way done. I need to run a few errands in Fargo today, though, so I’ll wrap this post up now, and just give you all some more pictures. Sadly, there’s no picture of a “Welcome to North Dakota” sign. I crossed the Red River on back country roads that they didn’t feel were important enough to sign. Ah well.

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