Dreaming of Yellowstone

Adrian Schmith of the Stenbroen Cycling Community in Copenhagen is a regular visitor to the USA, but has spent years dreaming of Yellowstone. This autumn, he and Christian Graves Beck finally undertook their grand Yellowstone adventure.

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Coming from a flat country the size of New York, we are naturally drawn to mountains and intrigued by wide-open spaces and the long distances you need to travel to link them together. Fascinated by the immenseness of the American Rockies and the sense of no-mans-land in the West, our yearning for Yellowstone was long overdue for release.

There was no doubt in our minds that the itch could only be scratched on a bicycle. Travelling by bike is different from any other form of transport. There is a satisfaction in pushing your body and soul over miles and hours. Setting off from one place and arriving at another, absorbing every point between as you ride. Stripped of the convenience of motors and engines, you taste the fresh air and truly take in the landscapes that unfold around you. You experience so much more than just the landmarks and destinations the area is known for.

Our route would take in Utah, Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, covering paved and dirt roads, small tracks and sand – all the while surrounded by stunning scenery. We were dreaming of Yellowstone but ended up finding so much more.

Our first dose of Americana came quickly. Seated in a smaller diner in the heart of Coalville, another customer asked “where y’all headed on those bicycles”, glancing at our clothes hung out to dry nearby. Our response of “Yellowstone. And back. By Friday” was met with a blunt denial that we’d ever make it and we left the diner laughing; full of cheeseburgers and determination. Our path was set – we were heading to the Rockies, with bears and bison in our sights.

The hostility of the weather was exceeded only by the hospitality of the locals and despite finding ourselves riding frequently in rain and headwinds, even snow, smiles and warmth met us wherever we roamed. After a particularly heavy storm on just our second day, a local farmer pulled over, telling us there was no way to get through the mud awaiting us. We placed our bikes in the back of a horse carriage and took a seat on the backseat of a pickup truck. The bumpy ride to Cokeville was filled with friendly chat with some kind folk from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whose warm hospitality saved our ride by offering us and the bikes a ride to Afton to keep us on schedule.

As we pushed further from civilisation, the vastness became overwhelming. The roads were surrounded by open, dry land, with bullet holes in every sign. There were never-ending blue skies above car-less roads that evoked a true feeling of solitude and calm amongst the sheer size of the American West.

Of course, riding in the wide emptiness comes with challenges, like the day the pavement ended and a 160-kilometre gravel grind to Rexburg was interrupted only by discovering the one resupply point en-route was closed for the day. Two bottles and three Cliff Bars really isn’t enough to tame the Wild West!

In Yellowstone, the endless horizons were tamed by the Yellowstone Grand Canyon. Despite our heightened expectations, the grandness of it still floored us. The contrast of towering heights and wide-open spaces reminded us that nothing in America is small! Even the wildlife is huge and seeing a grizzly bear a mere 15 meters off the road is something we’ll never forget.

We’d come for an adventure and America really delivered. Just like the giant open spaces and magnificent views, our 8 days felt grander than the sum of its parts. Looking down at Utah on our flight home, we had a hard time believing what had just happened. Travelling by bike is something so different, so good.