The Yellowstone madness starts early. As Terry, Mike and myself eat breakfast at the Great Western motel we are surrounded by excited Japanese tourists, quickly grabbing a bite to eat before their bus takes them to join the mayhem in the park. For all it’s beauty we are glad to be heading the other way – further into Montana.
They don’t call the state ‘Big Sky Country’ without good reason. As we cycle north up the Madison Valley the countryside has opened up into rich grasslands, mountains and Hebgen Lake to our left. But it’s the sky that grabs our attention. It’s so blue with rafts of fluffy white clouds, the sort of simplistic sky you paint when you are a child at school.
Along the Madison River fishermen cast long whippy lines across the shallow water. Their lure is given just a few seconds to ride the surface and tempt a trout before it’s pulled clear and cast again. Most of those fishing wear long waders, but some take to boats, expertly steered by oarsmen who know every rock and sandbank to avoid. It must be cold out on the river though, despite the sunshine for most of the day I’m wearing four layers, including a thermal.
At Beaver Creek we see a lodge and learn why these creatures are so important for creating wetlands and how their populations were decimated in the past by hunters to provide fur for hats. Earthquake Lake provides a stark reminder of how fragile life can be. In 1959 a massive earthquake hit this part of Greater Yellowstone, killing 28 people camping in the Madison Valley and blocking the entire valley with debris. An excellent visitor centre tells the story as well as monitoring for further seismic activity.
But the rest of the day was spent admiring the vast open landscape and those fabulous skies along a long sweeping road which took us to Ennis – home to far more trout than people. It’s also home to Willie’s Distillery and soon we were hooked into trying a selection of bourbon, moonshine, cherry liquors and Grappa. And the owners even let us camp for free in the back garden.
So tents up and we cross the street to spend the evening in a sports bar topping up on calories for another big ride tomorrow. Imagine enjoying a giant bowl of brownies and ice-cream (the local speciality is Huckleberry) and knowing you’ll burn it all off by the following lunchtime. It almost makes the hill that faces us in the morning seem worth it. Almost.
Today’s Miles: 71
Miles since First Landing: 3183