July 16th 97, Wednesday

Letter received c/o Casey O'Haire

And so I'm in Yellowstone National Park... This morning I got up at 5:30 and went down to the Madison River which meanders through a meadow next to the campground. It was very chilly out, and it was hard to make myself get up, but I did--because, down at the edge of the water in a secluded little curve in the river, is a warm spring bubbling up in a shallow, small, delightful pool. I got into my bathing suit as quickly as I could, and jumped into the bubbling, utterly warm and wonderful water. As I lay there, the sun began to rise, lighting up the clouds in the east. And then the light made its way over the mountain, and all of a sudden there were golden rays radiating across the sky. I must have stayed in there for an hour and a half. The river sang as it rippled by, and its song was soothing and beatutiful. After an hour or so, a young girl and her father came down to the spring, and we all lay in it together. They were from the Czech Republic, and the girl couldn't speak any English. Her father left after awhile, and the girl and I stayed in the steamy pool, communicating with smiles.

I got back to my campsite about an hour ago, at 7:30, and I was eating my breadfast when all of a sudden there was a loud "crunch CRUNCH" coming from the trees not 20 feet away. I looked over and saw two enormous bull bison, munching away at the grass (which happened to be growing right next to some other cyclists' tent!) I got up quietly and retreated behind the picnic table, since those 2,000-lb animals are certainly--imposing... If you bother the bison, they have been known to charge--but I had no intention whatsoever of going any nearer, and as I watched they slowly lumbered off into the woods...
Anyway. I got to yellowstone about three days ago, and I'll be staying in this campround for another two days before leaveing the park. I realized after the first day of riding on the narrow, crowded roads here, that it was just not going to be possible to sightsee like I would in a car. So, I am going to stay here-there are mountains, several rivers, relative peace and quiet, and a hotspring--who could ask for more?! Then on Friday I'm going to go meet Casey and Jacob O'Haire, and we'll ride back to their home in Bozeman, MT. before continuing on to Oregon.

When I was at Old Faithful two days ago, a man came over to me and looked appraisingly towards my bike. After a minute he said in a patronizing tone, "...camping across Yellowstone, Young Lady?" "No," I replied coolly, "actually I'm riding my bicycle coast to coast." I must say, that although I don't wish to be mean, it WAS quite satisfactory to see the look on his face!

Last night an English couple rode into the Hiker/Biker campsite on their loaded bikes, and I spent a while talking with them. They are riding across as many countries and continents as they can in a year... They left England in November, and have ridden through Thailand, Italy, Hong Kong, Switzerland and others, and just before they came to the USA they cycled across Australia. They are incredibly tan, and they said that there were several consecutive days in the bush when the temperature was 140f in the daytime and didn't go below 125f at night! Their trip sounds neat, though I don't know if the challenges they've encountered would be ones I'd want to spend so much energy on overcoming. They will be spending the rest of their trip in the United States--they return home in November.

Now let's see--the last time I wrote, I guess, was back in Lander when I dashed off that quick email.:) So I suppose I should tell you what I did the day after I wrote: it may not sound like a lot, but that day I rode 85 miles, mostly uphill and against the wind, and arrived in Dubois, Wyoming by dinner time... It is my longest day yet, mileage-wise. See, the family I stayed with in Lander told me about some more homeschoolers in Dubois, and I figured that I might as well try to get there. I was very happy that I'd pushed to make it, because the family was really great--they even took me square-dancing that night!
And then the day after that, I got my first glimpse of the Teton Mountains... There was a really tough pass to climb that day, and it was steadily and steeply upill literally for miles. But at the top, through a clearing in the trees, were those mountains. They truly are spectacular. The Tetons rise nearly 7,000 feet above the Jackson Hole, and with no foothills at all, their 12,000+ foot peaks seem to touch the sky. For the three days I was there, it felt as if the mountains loomed over everything... Even when it rained, they were right behind the mist, like ghostly apparitions.
It's so funny, because whenever the temperature rises above 80f or so here, everyone walks around saying, "Oh it's SO hot!" Back in Kansas, 80f was a cool day... It's interesting how people get used to their weather.
The one thing I am not enjoying about this part of the country is the mosquitoes. I guess I was lucky or something, but I really didn't run into any of them until Colorado--maybe it was because of the mostly-cool weather. But when I reached Jeffrey City, Wyoming, there were enough of those little flying needles to last me for a LONG time. I truly did not know that so many mosquitoes could live in one place like that, especially since Jeffrey City has maybe 6 people living there. I don't know who they eat when cyclists aren't camping in the city park... But, perhaps that's why, on that particular night, the mosquitoes were ravenous. I think I set some kind of record for setting up camp, making dinner, shoving all my stuff into the tent, and jumping in myself in the least possible amount of time. Most of the night, I could hear them buzzing on my screen, trying to get in.

I was in Yellowstone in 1989, and the year before there had been a massive forest fire--nearly 1/3 of the park was burned to some degree. But now, 8 years later, it is so fascinating to see how the fire really was a part of the cycle of life and death. Among all of the millions of toothpick-like, scorched trees, there is a new forest coming to life. There are gorgeous flowers, plants that can now grow as the light pours down where once it was dense woods, and of course there are now millions of baby trees that will soon grow into a new forest. See, there are some trees that are "fire loving" and produce cones ("cerotenous cones") that will only open and release their seeds when they are exposed to extreme heat. And so even as the fire was killing some plants and trees, it was already planting others...

5:00 P.M. (the same day)
I have had a lovely, lazy day... I keep hearing tourists here talking about "Doing" the different geyser basins, the falls, etc. They sometimes appear to be doing so much that they don't SEE anything. A woman came into the ranger station while I was there this morning, and walked up to the desk. She fidgeted while she spoke, as if she wished she could be doing more than just talking. "I'm going to be in the park for the rest of today," she said, "and I want to know what you think: should we Do Mammoth and Canyon only, or can we also Do the Norris Geyser Basin? I"m going to be leaving this evening from the opposite end of the park..." Taking into account driving time, this poor woman had MAYBE 3-4 hours of time to look around. It's kind of sad, really--there's so much to see here, and in a park nearly the size of Connecticut it's just impossible to "DO" everything.

I spent about two hours at the ranger station today, looking around and talking with the salesclerk at the bookstore and the ranger on duty, Noreen. I always like talking to the staff at national parks, because they know so much. I also talked with Noreen about what it's like to work for the park service, because it seems like it would be such an interesting and dynamic (and also difficult) job. On the one hand, you have to deal with tourists who ask youthing like "Are there any REAL bathrooms here (meaning not pit toilets)?" and "I have two hours in the park--what should I DO?"; but on the other hand, you live in an amazingly beautiful place, and you do get to meet wonderful people, too. After we'd been talking for a bit, Noreen said that she and some other rangers were going on a hike tomorrow (their day off)--did I want to come? YES! I said, Most definitely... So tomorrow will be fun, and I'm looking forward to it.
There are two inquisitive ground squirrels that live in my campsite, and they've been peeping and poking around all day. They are rather cute, scurrying all around, and they're agreeable companions--not quite as intimidating at the bison:)

Anyway, I'll try to write more soon about Montana...
until then, Love


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