Cycling in the park’s fall beauty

Matt Queen, of Idaho Falls, takes a photo of snow-covered peaks in Grand Teton National Park as he rides near Jenny Lake on Saturday. (Jerry Painter photo)

On Saturday’s drive from Idaho Falls to Jackson, Wyo., our group discussed possible bicycle routes we could ride.

Our plan was to ride our bikes into Grand Teton National Park. I mentioned once riding off the top of Teton Pass down the highway into Wilson, Wyo.

Matt Queen looked at me with a childish grin and said, “I want to do that.”

So we pulled over at the top of Teton Pass and got out in the biting cold. There was snow covering the nearby mountains. It was about 9 a.m. Matt turned his car over to his son and daughter in-law and we rode down the steep, winding highway. I won’t lie — it’s a thrill. Your speed picks up to about 40 mph in seconds.

The sensor on my wheel had apparently been bumped during the drive over. As we sped down the hill, my bike computer showed zero. But I could tell we were cooking along at a fast clip.

When we arrived in the tiny town of Wilson at the base of the mountains (about 6 miles later), we paused to off-load a layer of clothes into Matt’s car, driven by his son Connor.

“You guys were doing 55 mph down the hill,” Connor said.

It was a thrilling start to the ride. From Wilson, we took a bike path to Teton Village and then rode into the park via the Moose-Wilson Road.

Along this road I heard an elk bugle — one of the wonderful sounds of fall in the Rocky Mountains.

At the main entrance to the park in Moose, Wyo., we took the bike path north all the way to Jenny Lake. We had a serious tailwind that made cruising at 20 mph easy, but I wasn’t looking forward to the return trip south. Along the way we passed a small herd of antelope sitting in the sun.

A little beyond Jenny Lake, we came upon a row of cars pulled over on the road. Out in the meadow, a large bull elk was lording over a harem of 30 cows. A dozen photographers with long lens were intent on capturing the scene.

We rode to the north entrance and took the scenic one-way road south along the lake. This road is protected from the wind by a thick forest, allowing us to keep a good speed. But as soon as we left the trees and got back on the exposed road south, we felt the full brunt of the wind.

Our intent was to ride the bike path along the highway back into Jackson to find Matt’s kids. The wind became stronger as time passed — I estimated 30 to 40 mph gusts. It was particularly strong after we left Moose and hit the open, tree-less flats. Wind can be demoralizing. I just told myself I was on a long, slow uphill and chugged along. Our speed hovered at about 12 mph. About 5 miles south of Moose, Matt had enough and called his son. No answer. We rode another mile and he called again. This time they connected and we arranged a pick-up just south of the fish hatchery along the National Elk Refuge. Our day ended after 55 miles of riding.

I highly recommend this fall ride, just pick a less windy day.

• • •

I have a heavy heart noting that two amazing adventurers have passed away. Inge Perkins and Hayden Kennedy died in the southwest mountains of Montana this past weekend. The pair lived in Bozeman, Mont., and often climbed and skied in eastern Idaho and western Wyoming. They were skiing up Imp Peak when an avalanche roared down the mountain and fully buried Perkins and partially buried Kennedy. He was able to free himself, but could not locate Perkins. She died at the scene.

“Hayden survived the avalanche but not the unbearable loss of his partner in life,” his father Michael Kennedy wrote in a public Facebook post. “He chose to end his life. Myself and his mother Julie sorrowfully respect his decision.”

While I did not know Hayden Kennedy, I have listened to his presentations at the International Climber’s Festival in Lander, Wyo. He was an elite Alpinist and climber.

I got to know Perkins while she trounced everyone at a bouldering competition in Rexburg last year. She would often show up at the Fins climbing area near Howe, and warm up on routes at my challenge level and then go on to project 5.14s (extremely hard routes). She also lent a hand at the International Climber’s Festival teaching clinics. These two bright stars have moved to different constellations.