Day 32: Going for it! — Bozeman, MT to Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone National Park, WY – June 9

Daily miles – 89. Total miles – 1778.
This morning started off with very bad news. We packed everything up, made arrangements to get the bike and bags to Bangtail to pick up the crank arm that Dave sent us and were ready to change it out and make a late start toward Yellowstone. Right before we left to go to the shop, I called Dave one last time to be sure the crank arm was sent. He apologized profusely and said he had spaced sending it. So bummed! Chandra trimmed some branches from Abbie’s front trees for “catharsis” while I was bummed, but figured I had done everything in my control to deal with my error of yesterday and that we would just have to deal.

I was pretty much ready to bide our time for another day when Chandra suggested going to the shop one last time to see about filing down the teeth and making it fit at least to limp the bike to Cooke City where we will meet Matt and Lori. She suggested they could pick up the crank arm which would be sent the next day and we could change it out then. As usual, an excellent idea. The guys at Bangtail debated amongst themselves whether the damage was repairable, and in the end said they couldn’t do it anyway – backlog…So, at their suggestion, we went to Ace hardware, picked up a couple files (chainsaw blade-sharpening files) and went to Abbie’s to set to work. Amazingly, it took little time and we were able to get everything back assembled and looking reasonably good before noon. We took a little test ride around the block and felt pretty good about it. The smashed teeth inside the crank arm mean that the arm lies closer to the frame a bit. But…luckily this doesn’t impact chain line too much since the timing chain is really long. Not ideal, but we felt like we could go for a while at least. Abbie said she could fetch us if we needed so, with that safety net, we ate lunch (we wouldn’t get too far on coffee and pastries!) and set off around 1 pm. Dave told us on the phone that the part was for sure en route this time, we made arrangements with Matt to pick up the package and started toward Livingston.

The Bozeman Pass between Bozeman and Livingston is about 700 feet higher than Bozeman and much of the climb was on I-90. We are handling the Interstate well, when we need to be on it, but this section was under construction and all traffic was sharing the westbound lanes with a concrete barrier between the closed eastbound lanes and all the traffic. There was an oversized-load mandatory exit but we though it was a forced turnaround or a pilot car situation or something so we stayed on the westbound side. It was far and beyond the most harrowing part of the journey so far! There was literally less than two feet of clearance between us and all manner of semi trucks, cars, vans – everything in a constant stream with very few breaks. The trucks were generally obeying the 35 mph speed limit so not much air turbulence, but they had to get so close and we had nowhere to go! If we drifted into the sand right next to the concrete barrier, we would lose control and most likely fall under the wheels of a truck. So, we had to hold our line. I couldn’t even wipe the sweat from my eyes since that would push us into the lane too much! Mamacita! A couple trucks honked and flipped us off – we just had to toe the line though…This went on for three miles and, with three more miles of construction left, we took and exit and rode on the closed section. We really thought we were in danger on the main road. The closed section was totally empty save for a few road workers who didn’t say anything about us riding on the closed road. We stayed on it until we were able to bail onto the frontage road. From then on, we didn’t have to get on the interstate again and had a great ride.

South from Livingston, we finally started to see the Absoraka mountains come into view. This really marked the beginning of Phase 3 of the journey. This terrain is familiar to me from childhood – my first backpacking experience was here, Brady and I Climbed TIHS mountain back there. It felt surreal not only approaching on a bike, but approaching from the west. These mountains framed the eastern edge of the Paradise Valley that would lead us up to Yellowstone.

We checked the crank to be sure that it was not coming loose and it performed fine. The temporary fix was totally effective and we felt comfortable pushing on. As we expected, it was a late night. We pulled into the Roosevelt arch entrance to the park around 7. 5 more miles, but first we had to pay the fee. Another example of a failure of logic….A car or gas-guzzlng SUV carrying any number of people costs $25 for 7 days. A motorcycle is $20. A hiker or biker is $12. But – a tandem bike is charged as two individuals so it is $24. That is consistent with the way the rules are laid out, but does it really make sense to charge less for a motorcycle using gasoline and carrying two people than for a bicycle with the same number of people but using fewer resources and not polluting. The young girl working the station has no authority, so we didn’t push too hard with her. We are going to write a letter though.
The last 5 miles climbed over 1000 feet, including a couple miles at 7% grade. It was a good warmup for more mountains to come and probably was good to push the crank arm which didn’t budge. We pulled into the hiker-biker site at Mammoth Hot Springs around 8:30. There was a tent in the hiker-biker area already and a Santana tandem! We’ll have to figure out who they are in the morning.

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