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Missoula to Jackson...Big Hole, pronghorn, Yellowstone and the Tetons

USA | Saturday, 11 October 2008 | Views [5362] | Comments [6]

midway geyser basin, grand prismatic pool

midway geyser basin, grand prismatic pool

With fresh inspiration for the journey ahead we followed the Trans-America trail south along the Bitteroot valley before crossing over a range to the east at Lost Trail Pass and into the Big Hole Valley. This was the same route the Adventure Cycling Association took across the states in the summer of 76' in their inaugural Trans-American bike journey.

Chief Joseph Pass - one of three large crossings of the continental divide in this stretch of the journey

On the ten mile downhill from Chief Joseph Pass my Bob trailer wheel started squeaking before eventually it gave a loud 'crunch' and i ground to an abrupt halt. I saw my trailer wheel spin past me at 25mph...'quick Anna, catch it..!' which she did. The bearings were smashed on one side of the wheel. After some unsuccessful roadside bearing repairs I limped off with a very wobbly trailer wheel...'only ten miles to Wisdom' i thought.

Just fifty metres down the road we spotted a yearling moose calf in the willow thickets. We wondered where mum might be (cow moose are extremely dangerous protecting their young), when Anna discovered mum dead in the ditch, an obvious roadkill and a large bear scat next to it on the road. Not the best place to have spent an hour trying to repair the wheel bearings! We pondered the fate of the yearling moose without mum for the winter ahead.

We stopped off at the Big Hole Battlefield National Monument, the site of a battle between the US army and the non-treaty Nez Perce Indians in 1877. A tragic story of the displacement of native people in north america, the brutal loss of indian women and children and then the strength of these people to fight back and hold the army at siege.

As we came down off the range into the Big Hole Valley the landscape changed dramatically. It was dry and golden in the afternoon sun with sagebrush plains, big skies, pronghorn antelope roaming freely and fields of black cattle. The pronghorn is the only one of 14 species of its family (antelopes) that evolved in North America to have survived the arrival of humans on the northern american landscape. They can exceed 55mph (85km/ph)and migrate huge distances from their summer ranges here in Montana. The pronghorn like bison once numbered in the tens of millions, but by the turn of the 19th century they were less than 20,000. We saw many herds of pronghorn on the open prairies with one male having a harem of forty females to keep him busy.

Our first sighting of pronghorn antelope on the prairies of Montana 

In Wisdom (a town named after one of the three rivers Wisdom, Philosophy and Philanthropy, which were named by Lewis and Clark on their Corps of Discovery expedition for Thomas Jefferson's three virtues) we woke up once again to a frozen tent, bikes and water and soon discovered that this valley holds the record for the coldest recorded temperature in North America (excluding Alaska) of -60 f. Wisdom, population 103 surpisingly didn't have a bike shop, so we managed to hitch in a 1956 Chevy 'Bel Air' 70 miles to Butte to try to get the bearings fixed. Eventually we got a ride another 25 miles to Anaconda with Nathan from the bike shop where Pete at Sven's Cycles generously sold me his wheel for $10 (far cheaper than the wheel would cost), but that is all he wanted for it!

Anna Hitching to 'Wisdom'

So with some luck, some great generosity, and friendly bike mechanics, we hitched back to Wisdom with a friendly group of locals on their way to a wedding, with a new Bob wheel and only $10 lighter in the pocket. Thanks to everyone who picked us up, helped us, and shared a part of their day with us(you know who you are), we wouldn't have got back on the road without you.

Arriving in Yellowstone NP was another milestone for us. Yellowstone was the first proclaimed National Park in the United States and home to geysers, hot springs, other amazing geothermal features and wild herds of bison. We based ourselves at Madison campground for several nights (as most of the other campgrounds have already closed for winter) and explored the Norris geyser basin and the Fire-hole valley geyser basins including 'Old Faithful' geyser. The most impressive was the Porcelain basin at Norris with steam vents blasting steam and sulphur into the air, bubbling hot springs and colourful algae and bacterial communities colouring the runoff from green to yellow to rusty red.

Images of some of the thermal features at Yellowstone NP

The elk were in the middle of their rutt (males competing for breeding rights)so at night we heard bugling males with their haunting calls echoing through the forest. At Fire-hole valley we saw large herds of bison feeding in the open plains and dusting themselves in dust bowls. We were in awe of these amazing creatures so close, the young calves, and the big bulls. We could only imagine the plains of North America filled with millions of these stampeding creatures supporting an amazingly diverse indigenous culture long before the white man arrived.

The Great Plains of North America were once filled with herds of millions of these majestic Bison

The two Belgians we had met at Glacier NP, Thomas and Colin rolled into the biker camping area at Madison campground, so we shared a fire and decided to travel with them for the rest of the ride down to Jackson. The roads were still surprisingly busy and we rode 78 miles in the rain through the park to Lewis lake campground, passing more large herds of bison, the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and Yellowstone lake. Our biggest day of the trip so far, it was mostly uphill crossing the continental divide for the last time, and in the process clocked up 4,000 miles for the trip so far, so a day of big milestones.

On the road with Thomas and Colin through steaming Yellowstone NP

The 'Grand Canyon' of Yellowstone NP

We awoke to snow and freezing conditions at Lewis Lake, so made a quick escape down out of the park. The conditions improved once we had descended down to Grand Teton NP and we had amazing views of the Tetons with vivid autumn colours of the aspen, alder and cottonwood trees on the lake and hillsides.

The four of us hiked up the Cascade Canyon trail to Solitude lake on a clear but windy day. The autumn colours were spectacular along this glacially carved canyon, rocky mountain peaks and alpine moraine lake.

Solitude Lake, Grand Teton NP

We nearly came head-to-head with two male moose on the trail back down. Luckily they stepped off the trail and crossed the creek into the willow thickets. Amazing to see them so close with their huge racks of antlers.

Mr Moose on the trail

So we arrived in Jackson yesterday and booked into a motel for four days for some needed rest and relaxation...not to mention the forecast for snow for the next three days! Today, it is snowing pretty well . Another reminder to keep moving south fairly swiftly. The Canada geese can't all be wrong flying overhead to the south! Winter is nipping at our heels...4,100 miles on the clock for the Fuego Project so far.

happy pedalling and snowflakes from the north, enjoy.

Alister and Anna

Tags: big sky country, bison, cycling, cycling friends, national parks, pronghorn, thermal features, usa, wildlife, yellowstone



Happy Birthday Alister!
29 years ago an adventurer was born - charging into this world, you couldn't even wait for the doctor! Now you have your own personal doctor & her long held dream has become yours too. As I read your latest journal entry Alister I am so proud to be your Ma. Tho I miss you both heaps I admire greatly your courage & tenacity but especially your gentle respect for the natural world & for your fellow travellers. Thank you both for sharing your experiences through your beautifully descriptive journals & awesome photos so we don't feel quite so distant back here in Adelaide. Go safely my precious A team!

  Morag Allington Oct 10, 2008 3:05 PM


Happy birthday from the UK as well Alister!
What a great journal entry again, enjoying it so much to read those experiences! Good to hear you are resting a couple of days in Jackson just south of the YellowStoneNP. If only i could arrange for a big block of time of work to join you for a part of this majestic journey... Anyway, as you write, you are trying to out-cycle the seasons there and i wish you both well. Are you now cycling towards Salt Lake City and Fishlake, crossing Utah? If time permits a couple of pics from Yellowstone on the website would be very nice! In spirits always with you guys! Reyndert

  Reyndert Oct 11, 2008 2:05 AM


I can only imagine what you must be doing to stay comfortable riding in such cold and wet conditions.

I couldn't help but flashing back to running into you at Sinclair Pass. You were on your way to see Dave Matthews and Ken and I were riding in the rain... again. Selective amnesia has help partially cloud my memory of how miserable I was at that particular moment. And yet, the downhill from the Sinclair Pass into Radium Hot Springs was one of the most dramatic descents of our entire 1100 mile trip. The weather cleared, and by the end of the afternoon we were recovering in the heated pool. That was our last major pass and the weather improved significantly for us for the rest of our trip. So for me, it was more than just a tough pass, it was really a dramatic turning point... and you were there... twice! So, as you continue to explore the world of infinite possibilities, if you ever get to feeling down, just remember Sinclair Pass and know that just over that next hill could be a whole different world. And maybe, if you're lucky, there will be a smiling face asking you if you'd like something to eat and drink. At least that's how it was for me.

Hey, are you going to eat those fries? ;-)

  Neill Oct 14, 2008 4:37 AM


I have never ever seen a horse with a cow-print!

  Barbara Maat Oct 15, 2008 1:00 AM



I am really enjoying your exploits - especially now that you are getting into some of the country that I have visited and gazed in awe at! Montana and Wyoming were some of my favourite places - I seem to recall sitting up all night in the car, hoping desperately to see a bear - with no joy!

And the Tetons and Jackson Hole - I am a bit jealous.

Get a photo in front of the 'horn arch' in Jackson for Douglas!

Stay safe (and warm)


  Lisa A Oct 16, 2008 11:38 AM


Hi Alister and Anna,

What a nice pictures (love the horse with cow print, impressive sights. I just printed out your journals so I have some reading to do to get an update.

Take care and enjoy!

xxxxxxxxxx vicky

  Vicky Tsoutsanis Oct 22, 2008 10:10 PM

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