Sunday, July 20

The total mileage for the trip was about 3,140km as of this morning, but I forgot to look. We got up at 5AM after a reasonably good, but too short, sleep in the motel. We're scheduled to meet Ewart and Luc, who have gone ahead and camped out, in a place called Dayton up ahead at 6AM. We're early and establish radio and visual contact at 5:59.

I effect a vehicular rearrangement: Andrew gets to drive my car, with me as passenger -- Luc also comes along -- so that Andrew can use its modest performance to have some fun ahead, because we're going straight over those Big Horn Mountains we saw yesterday, a climb and descent of about 4500 feet vertical.

On the high plateau on top, we are stopped by first a herd of cows, then a very large one of sheep crossing the road. Funny, no yellow diamond "cow crossing" sign to be seen anywhere. I'm always joking about the crazy places you see those signs, like at the edge of a cliff on California's coast highway or in the middle of the most parched desert (honestly). Maybe this is some sort of inside joke by the road authorities.

The descent is very mountainous, with sharp switchbacks and rugged scenery. After some very spirited driving, we want to make a photo stop, but the intense smell of the front brakes convinces Andrew not to do it -- you can warp brake rotors by just stopping when they are this hot due to uneven cooling. The brake pedal also pulsates slightly. After taking it much easier for a while, all returns to normal.

Now we are cruising gently and levelly through a basin of some sort, elevation about 4000ft. We have another mountain range (the Absaroka Range) to cross eventually before we reach Yellowstone.

Old Aircraft
We pass by an airfield on the right (South Bighorn County Airfield according to Mapsource). There are some intriguing looking old planes on static display here, one of them from the Royal Canadian Air Force. Further in the field is a long row of large multi-engine propeller planes, ranging in condition from pristine to obvious scrap. We drive in as far as we can, Andrew gets busy with his telephoto lens, and I jog back out the access road to get some pictures with my more humble camera. Very photogenic even if you don't know anything about airplanes.

The basin expands. I understand about "Big Sky Country" even though this is not Montana - the highway converges to a dot in the distance, the ground is flat, though rising toward hills in the distance on either side. Andrew is driving at 160-180km/h on the perfect highway, slowing go a civilized 140km/h or so when other traffic is near. Hard to believe this vast flat openness is enclosed by mountains on virtually all sides.

After many miles we arrive in Cody WY, doubtless to do with "Buffalo Bill" Cody, since there is a Buffalo Bill Dam and many other Buffalo Bill things. We grab a drive-through McBreakfast here.

Ewart: This is the first time I have ever been through a MacDonalds, or MacMuckYucks as I prefer to call it, drive-thru. I refuse to order anything from this establishment myself, but take the orders for the others in the van. I have real difficulty understanding Caroline's pronunciation of "hash browns", with her heavy French accent, and not having heard of "hash browns" before/not being familiar with MacTalk. After 3 unsuccessful attempts at trying to understand what she wants, we mutually decide that it is probably better for Caroline to place the order herself. The MacGal on the other end of the microphone is a few slices short of a loaf. As Caroline speaks "Sausage and egg MacMuffin with cheese, and hash browns" into the microphone, she is asked whether she wants cheese, and to repeat the last portion of her order. At this point, Peter and I are in laughter. On repeating, Caroline is not sure that she has included the "hash browns" as the price for the order has not changed. We drive through to the hatch to pick up the order, at which point the MacGal asks her to repeat the last part of her order again. So I am not the only one that does not understand Caroline's MacParlez. I begrudgingly accept the brown bag through the hatch, and pass on to the occupants to consume.

The road goes up into a pass and threads its way gently through a mountain valley next to a wide river. It is very beautiful here, and still the highway is very suitable for fast, efficient driving. This is definitely a good place to drive.

We reach the Yellowstone National Park entrance. Our drive out west is officially complete! We will of course go further west later. Fairly heavy traffic at this point, slow campers and RVs. Many people stop at the Yellowstone sign to take each others' pictures in front of it.

We gain admission. Inside the park the road again rises, quite spectacularly hugging mountainsides in places. We reach Yellowstone Lake. It is vast, and blue, and glittering, and has snow-capped mountains on the far side. We do not stop to gaze though, as our focus is on getting to the area where we want to go hiking. We need a permit. The first ranger station we go to is closed, so we go to another at a marina. The odometer shows that my car has driven 3,774 kilometres since the Nortel parking lot back home in Ottawa.

It turns out that to get the backcountry permit, the whole group must watch a "how to" video on preserving nature and not getting hurt by bears. We watch it intently, then we go out and get our packs ready right there in the sun-baked parking lot.

Peter: We plan a backpack into Yellowstone, but before we can get started we have to watch the bear video. Bears are a serious issue in yellowstone. So are mosquitoes we soon discover. The trail in is smooth and picturesque, but the mosquitoes are unrelenting. Many pictures will show people in Gortex jackets, even though it is warm and dry.

Typical scenery on the hike in
We are running only slightly behind our scheduled hike start time of 1pm when we get to the trailhead. The packs are unloaded, then Andrew and I go to drop off my car at the point, 10km down the road and only a kilometre or so from the Old Faithful geyser, where we will emerge the next day, hiking along the Firehole River.

The hike in to Shoshone Lake takes us through a wide, flat valley with lush swamp grass and a creek meandering down the middle. With forested hillsides bracketing it and the lake in the distance, it is very pretty.
Approaching Shoshone Lake
It doesn't take us long to get to the lake, where a beautiful coarse sand beach awaits us. Oh, to strip to shorts and go into the water. But we must push on, we have to go along several kilometres of shoreline, then across land to another finger of the lake, to get to our campsite.

The mosquito density increases and we all apply bug repellent. But even with that, it is best to keep walking, surrounded even then by a cloud of mosquitoes. If you stop, they start biting immediately, through t-shirt and even rad pants. I am not wearing enough bug repellent, and with Andrew's constant assurances that the hike is almost done, I figure I'll just slog it through to the end, where I will go into the water anyway. But the hike drags on and on, and we have to stop frequently to keep the group together, and eventually the bugs get to me so much that I explosively empty the top pocket of my pack (wallet, passport, car keys, snacks scattered all over) to get to the bug repellent as the mosquitoes are even biting the hands doing the digging. Finally, liberal quantities of the blessed 95% pure Muskol and relief. On we march, as ever banging sticks together and making other noise, as instructed to avoid surprising any bears.

After many small uphills and downhills, accompanied by much hard breathing since none of us are acclimatized to the 8200ft elevation, we finally reach the blessed camp site. It is very nice. The waves lap the shore, a nice breeze comes in off the lake and keeps the bugs under control as long as you stay close to the water's edge. Everyone goes for a dip. I have a problem: I desperately need to get caught up on sleep tonight, and no level tent sites are to be found. Andrew wants to camp on the beach (and
Camping on the beach
we lugged in only one tent for the two of us). We eventually compromise by leveling our own spot in the sand. Andrew puts the tent up while I finally get to go into the water. Everyone else thought it was too cold, but compared to the water temperature last time I went swimming at my parents' camp, it's not bad at all, and I enjoy it thoroughly. I even wade out with camera in hand to get a couple of shots from the water.

Ewart and Caroline cooking
After we have eaten, it is time to hang the food bags off a conveniently provided crossbar roped to a couple of tall bare tree trunks. An argument breaks out over how to best attach the other end of the cord to a tree. A bear might break it and thus bring the bags down. "What we're expecting here is something not smarter than the average bear", quips Peter.

Ewart: Ewart jokingly suggests to Andrew that he document his proposed design in a DD (Detailed Design) document, and have it reviewed prior to implementation. Andrew decides to over-ride due process.

Luc preparing to brave the mosquitoes without a tent
(he changed his mind)

The breeze dies down and the bugs attack with renewed ferocity. All of us except Ewart cram into my tent, which, without its fly is basically just a screen house, and have a nice pow wow until bedtime. During lulls in the conversation we can hear the steady drone of hundreds of mosquitoes outside.

Ewart, as ever in shorts, has waded into the lake until the waters cover his bare legs, and is grimly enjoying killing mosquitoes that land on the remaining exposed flesh.

Ewart: There are very few things more satisfying in this world than being in a zipped-up tent, hearing literally hundreds of mosquitoes outside trying to find a way in and knowing that they cannot, and through one's actions earlier on knowing that many of them have lost relatives! They will of course try and take revenge in the morning, but that is still many hours of sound sleep away.

Finally, bedtime. I am so tired, the very act of stretching out on my air mattress is a pleasure.

Alas, sleep does not come easily and I just can't get fully comfortable and wake up several times in the night. By morning, my objective of catching up on lost sleep is not achieved, in fact I think I'm further in the hole now.

Peter: We eat our meals and set up camp for the night. Somewhere during the night I discover my food had too much lactose in it. So I creep into the night lit by my bluish LED headlamp in a very "blair witch" like setting. My imagination is running wild with all the bear info that we had recently, as I creep around looking for the pit toilet. I was WIDE awake with adrenaline, but saw no bears, just more damn mosquitoes as I wandered about in my search.

All pictures for this day

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