The idea of XPDTN3 is to show you can have great adventures in a very short amount of time (the 3 stands for 3 days). Our customers around the world have since followed in the tracks of our XPDTN3 Explorers, either by following their routes or by venturing out on their own.
Their stories (as well as expeditions that don’t fit into the 3 day timeframe) can be found in MY-XPDTN.
Living in a flat country, the size of the state of New York, I think you are naturally drawn to mountains and intrigued by open spaces and long distances. Fascinated by the grandness of the American Rockies and the sense of no-mans-land in the West, our yearning for Yellowstone was long overdue.
So in late September, we left Copenhagen, Denmark, for Salt Lake City in the north of Utah, dreaming of Yellowstone. We spent 8 days riding a loop route that exited Utah at the east, crawled up through Wyoming, showcased the Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks, cut out a corner of Montana, and slid down through the plains of Idaho back to Salt Lake. We rode 1.325 kilometers (or 830 miles) for more than 50 hours. We sought out peaks of 2.500 meters (or 8.200 feet), found solitude on backcountry roads, greeted bears, bison and elk, and met the hospitality of the people of the American West. Transcending dreams, this is our Yellowstone Adventure.
Day 1, Friday 20th of September 2019: Salt Lake City (UT) to Evanston (WY) 154 km, 2.100 vertical meters, 06:09 hours
On the back seat of a Honda Civic, ubering us through Salt Lake City, we were glooming out of windows covered in rain. We pulled up at Contender Bicycles, who were storing the bikes that would be taking us to Yellowstone. With a friendly smile, Ryan, the owner of Contender, met us in store. A local expert, we shared our route and expectations with Ryan, who enlightened us on some of the territories we would be conquering. He introduced us to machinery bound for victory: Our setup for the week was the 3T Exploro LTD running SRAM RED AXS ETAP. We had requested 700CC to take advantage of the many miles to cover. Crafty 37mm WTB Riddler tires would be capable of shredding the gravel patches ahead but also cruise on the paved stretches. We wrapped them in Apidura Expedition packs A 4.5L framepack, a saddlepack of 9L, and a handlebar pack of 9L. Spending an hour or so rigging and adjusting the bikes, we were good to go.
We left Contender Bicycles and headed east towards Emigration Canyon, gradually ascending out of Salt Lake City. Although skies had cleared somewhat, slight rain was falling and skies looked unfortunately dark. As we climbed above the 2,000-metre mark the increasing rainfall had turned to hail. Our summerly clothing had started suffering under the downpour. We closed in on the top, buried in a cloud that turned hail into snow, drenched to the core, shivering with cold. To our luck, the top of Emigration Canyon hosted a small shelter that allowed us to ditch the wet clothes and pull out dry apparel from the fortunately waterproof saddle packs.
The descent was cold but beautiful. Tucking in tight, hiding from wind gusts, we cruised past Little Bell Lake and the East Canyon Reservoir. As we arrived at lower altitudes, and the sun broke through the clouds once again, heat returned to our toes and fingers. Smiles reappeared. We headed further down through Henefer on picturesque backcountry roads and further on to Coalville.
Denise’s Home Plate, a small homely diner in the heart of Coalville, greeted us with cheerful spirits and double cheeseburgers. Sweet potato fries did the trick. “Where y’all headed on those bicycles?” asked a fellow customer, glancing at all our clothes hanging out to dry. “Yellowstone,” was our humble answer, “and back. By Friday.” we finished with cheeky smiles. Laughed out of the door with the blunt response that we were never going to make that, we were filled, not only with cheeseburgers but the feeling of determination. Our path was set: We were heading to the Rockies. Bears and bison in sight. And we were stoked.
A warm and sunny afternoon had replaced the wet and cloudy morning. No longer afraid of rain, we proceeded upwards to Evanston on backroads. The road to Evanston is a steady climb. The route profile on our Garmins was teasingly reminding us of it. What it had not informed us though, was the end of the paved road and the beginning of soft gravel, muddied by the morning rainfall. We raced through the mud, enjoying the versatility of the Exploros. The stoke of the tumbling characteristics of this bike on the tarmac was topped by the full-control, rolling feeling that we played our way to Evanston on in the midst of this no-mans-gravel-land.
As the sun set on Evanston, we parked the bikes in front of a local hotel. Conducting the good ol’ wash-a-bike-in-a-shower routine, we made a mess of the room, went for burgers and downed a couple of beers. The first day of our adventures had left us happy and excited but also anxious about the miles to come and the weather to expect.
Day 2, Evanston (WY) to Afton (WY) 141 km, 620 vertical meters, 05:18 hours
Riding through lower Wyoming left us with a mixed sense of delight and despair. Over Mexican food in Afton, we reflected on a rollercoaster day. From full-throttle segments on highway 89, crisscrossing the UT/WY border, to horse carriage back-tracking on muddy gravel patches, our state of mind was troubled but still curious of what was to come.
Early that morning, we had headed out of Evanston. It was cold and crisp, and our shoe covers were already proved their worth. It did not take long for the morning sun to rise and shed a golden light on highway 89. In the early morning hours, traffic was sleepy, and we took advantage of the gradual descent towards Randolph. We had a tailwind, lifting morale, as we raced our way north.
At Randolph, we pulled in at a gas station with signs of hot coffee. Restaurants were closed if they were even around. So we had our breakfast in the back of the gas station parking lot, in a sheltered sunny spot. We were back in Utah, staring at the Wyoming plains with the Mahogany Range in our back. Life was pretty good.
Pulling out of Randolph, the wind had changed. Heading further north, the road to Cokeville was rough. Rolling hills and relentless headwind was the menu for hours. Pulling into the small town of Cokeville, most notably known for a 1980s hostage crisis, we were ready for lunch. We paused our Garmins outside the Golden Buckle Grill. Smudging on delicious pastrami sandwiches – indeed one of the best meals of the whole trip – we were stoked at the seemingly short distance to Afton at the entrance to the Rockies. As a consequence, we decided to take the backroads to Afton, dodging the presumably heavy-traffic highway.
The afternoon turned on us though. At first, we were enjoying the solitude of the nicely paved back road to Afton. Then surprised by the end of pavement, but still confident in our do-it-all Exploros. Then concerned as dark clouds filled the sky and initiated rainfall. Then terrified as a local farmer pulled over, telling us there was no way to get through the mud awaiting us. This was about two thirds into the last stretch to Afton. We had no choice but to surrender. Disappointingly, we placed our bikes in the back of a horse carriage and slipped into the back seat of a pick-up truck. The bumpy ride back to Cokeville was nevertheless a pleasant encounter with friendly folks, devoted to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They quickly realized that we were out of daylight if we had to restart the ride to Afton on the highway. Their warm-hearted hospitality saved us that Saturday afternoon, as they offered us and the bikes a ride to Afton.
Back at the Mexican restaurant in Afton, we were somewhat in despair about the following days to come. The previous two days had reminded us how big of role weather can play. We spent the rest of the time over dinner romanticizing about bears while discussing whether to bring bear spray or even a pistol, which our hotel manager strongly recommend us.
Day 3, Afton (WY) to Flagg Ranch (WY) 202 km, 1.180 vertical meters, 07:09 hours
The third day was one of those days… Absolutely amazing. Absolutely breathtaking. Absolutely worth it. We left Afton in the shivering cold, pacing through a cloud with no visibility at all. As we approached Thayne, the Rockies appeared on the horizon as the skies cleared. It felt like we were being drawn in by the ranges, as we suddenly found ourselves at Yankee Doodle’s Café in Alpine Junction, staring at the mountains. We slipped in for oatmeal and pancakes and chatted for an hour or so with a local sports fan, preparing for Sunday Funday of the NFL with a couple of cervezas. Needless to say, traveling by bike in the U.S. starts so many conversations and sparks so much interest. We were fortunate to meet people of all tranches, all with a genuine interest in our travels, our mindset, our background, and our expectations.
After breakfast, we headed up the canyon towards Jackson. On a large but picturesque road that bent along the Snake River, we were stunned by the scenery. The day was heating up, and we found our selves in bibs and short sleeves for the first time of the trip. In Jackson, on the verge of Grand Teton, we stopped at Fitzgerald’s Bicycles to shine up the bikes after a few days of heavy gravel. Worth a visit, Jackson Hole was a gem in the midst of the mountains. To our luck, Fitzgerald’s informed us of road closures coming our way due to heavy bear activity. However, the picturesque road through Teton, adjacent to the mountains, was still open. To our surprise, it was equipped with a stunning cycling path and we were secluded from traffic. Amazed by the scenery, we swept north through Teton with a solid tailwind. Under the mountains, we stopped for burgers and beers at Dornan’s in Moose. Taking in sun rays, and smiling for days, we were lost in a dream. The Rockies were living up to their reputation and had blown us away.
We proceeded on the last stretch to Flagg Ranch. Riding past Jenny and Jackson Lake. Taking in spectacular scenery, we were not even feeling the 200 km (or 125 miles) we had left behind that Sunday. But it had to end, and soon enough we pulled in to Flagg Ranch on the border of Yellowstone. Taken by surprise, we were overwhelmed by the vast beauty of Teton.
At Flagg Ranch we stayed in a camper cabin. That is a cabin with no heat or electricity. Luckily, we brought power banks to charge our Garmins, our phones, and our lights. We managed to borrow some sleeping bags for the night. So, we got a hold of a six pack of beer and settled in. Ahead was a cold night, and a frosty morning start. But we were here – at the edge of Yellowstone.
Day 4, Flagg Ranch (WY) to West Yellowstone (MT) 202 km, 1.500 vertical meters, 08:06 hours
In what is most adequately described as a freezing shed, we woke and rose in the darkness. Scrambling our stuff together in the torch-lit cabin, covering our bodies in all possible layers, we ventured out in the cold dark for the day we had been waiting so long. A bare 10 minutes later, we crossed the park gates and entered Yellowstone.
From the south, the road into Yellowstone rises steeply to reach a plateau. In the morning hours, the road and surrounding woods were covered in a cloud, which we gently climbed through on empty roads. As we reached the top of the cloud, the sun broke through and the first light warmed our cold toes and fingers. The relief was only temporary though, as we once again dived into another cloud and in poor visibility paced our way north towards the Grand Loop Road.
After popping in for a view of the West Thumb Geyser, we cruised alongside Lake Yellowstone, as the clouds cleared once again. We had breakfast in Fishing Bridge and then continued our Yellowstone adventure in beaming sunlight. As we moved north through the park, crossing Hayden Valley, we finally got a peek at bison and bears. A bare 15 meters off the road, a grizzly was just hanging out. Further down the road, bison were grassing along the river. Speechless, and constantly on the lookout for wildlife, we had never ridden better miles on the bike…
We had lunch on the north side of the Yellowstone Grand Canyon. The park was constantly surprising us, and the canyon was just another one of them. The grandness of it! After ascending all day to Canyon Village, the descent began. As the sun moved across the sky, we sped west in heavy headwinds but on a nice downward slope.
We enjoyed the afternoon, acting tourists on two wheels, stopping every second to gaze at the amazing scenery. As the sun started setting, we pushed our way on a south-bound detour to the Grand Prismatic Spring. We strolled our bikes on the boardwalk crossing the red bassin. That is certainly a walk to remember!
In the last light of what had been an absolutely amazing day, we pushed through the last 30 km of a 200 km day. We saw wildlife alongside the road and enjoyed the golden hour in Yellowstone. We finished the day off with pizzas and local Montana beers, saluting that we made it through Yellowstone!
Day 5, West Yellowstone (MT) to Rexburg (ID) 163 km, 530 vertical meters, 07:07 hours
After four amazing days of riding north, we started heading south back towards Salt Lake City. Heading out of West Yellowstone and towards Island Park is mostly downhill, so we were expecting good hours on the bike. However, the next 50 km (and the rest of the day) was everything but easy. The headwind was harsh and unforgiving, and the struggle was real. We had to push hard even to keep the bike rolling. At this point, we started to feel the fatigue of some hard days on the bike.
In Island Park we made a turn out of the headwind heading west. We had our eyes set on lunch in the small village of Kilgore. Out of the headwind and with clear skies the spirits were up again. After an hour of easy riding, we passed a sign saying “Pavement Ends”, and marked the start of 25 km of tough gravel into Kilgore through amazing landscapes. Arriving at Kilgore General Store tired, hungry and thirsty we were looking forward to some rest before the last hours into Rexburg. Apparently, Kilgore General Store is closed on Tuesdays. Without any stores for miles, we headed back in the headwind towards Rexburg without refueling.
The road to Rexburg was on “Red Road”, and naturally we expected dirt road all the way, but to our great surprise, it was paved. Leaving Kilgore behind we headed into the plateau between the mountain ranges. The road was surrounded by open dry land and became more and more remote as we continued. With bullet holes in every sign, blue skies, and no cars for miles we felt pure solitude as we made our way towards Rexburg.
Exhausted after a 160 k’s of gravel, heat, and headwind we finally arrived in Rexburg. Heading straight towards the nearest burger place, concluding that riding 160 kms only on two bottles and three Cliff bars just isn’t enough.
Day 6, Rexburg (ID) to Pocatello (ID) 155 km, 170 vertical metres, 06:17 hours
After a brutal and draining day yesterday, we decided to sleep a little longer before heading out on day 6. As we started a bit later, we rode out of Rexburg in pure sunshine, and with high spirits. After about 30 minutes we hit the first unexpected gravel, which grew into more and denser plantation, and eventually reaching a fence. We had to pass private property to continue. Jumping the fence with a bike is not an easy task, but we made it work.
Back on public roads, we were in farming land. Passing tonnes of fields on an open straight road, which made the headwind brutal. The sun was out and we had to stop several times to reapply sunscreen. The landscape continued like this all day, yet never boring. Only interrupted by angry barking dogs at every other house.
We decided to stop at Colonial Inn in Blackfoot for lunch, but today wishing we did not! Lunch was terrible, credit card machine did not work and topped off by a flat. A quick stop quickly became 2 hours. Running out of daylight, we decided to push hard on the last 50 kms through fields and Indian reserves. Riding into Pocatello just before sundown, and headed straight to Portneuf Brewery. An easy day that turned out to be tough anyway.
Day 7, Pocatello (ID) to Logan (UT) 158 km, 600 vertical meters, 06:10 hours
Out of Idaho and back into Utah. Oh, those south-west winds… A full day of headwind. Our legs were sore. Our saddles were even more uncomfortable than the other days. But our spirits still high. Once again, we had moved our way into no-mans-land. The Teton Range rising on our left now, we moved our way south all alone on empty roads.
We had lunch at Papa Jay’s. Smoking sandwiches and a nice cool Gatorade. Back into the wind, we headed south. Our legs and minds were tired, and we were stopping more often. At breakfast, we had bought a small speaker and we were beaming out tunes in the empty plains. Dancing silly and laughing, we joked at the stupidness of riding 170 km a day for 8 days straight as a sort of holiday. Nevertheless, we knew we were loving it to the bone.
The highlight of our seventh day was the end. Exhausted from a long day on the bike, we pulled in at Rendezvous Gun Range. Parked our bikes in the foyer, grabbed a gun and headed inside in cleats and lycra. Oakley’s on, fire away. We shot a good 100 bullets – the first we had ever fired. After all, this is ‘Merica. We jumped back on the bikes and strolled the last 2 km in to town. Solid day.
Day 8, Logan (UT) to Salt Lake City (UT) 152 km, 920 vertical meters, 05:57 hours
The haul back to Salt Lake City was mixed. Although a bit rainy, the morning offered a beautiful gravel section. Resembling the end of the trip, we rode through foliage forests, ascending 400 meters over 15 km and descending sharply on gravel hairpins.
Heading into Ogden the ride turned on us somewhat. After 1200 km with no mechanical issues at all, we started having flat on flat. Out of luck, and tubes, we visited two different bike shops on the last 100 km of the trip. At the end, we had to patch up two old tubes just to reach SLC in time.
Kudos to the state of Utah for providing a nice cycling path into town. A bit south of Ogden we jumped the Old Railway Track cycling path and cruised (in between flats) to town in full sunshine. The relief of finishing tickling our toes.
We arrived back at Contender Bicycles at 4 pm. A week and 1.325 km later, we concluded a trip of a lifetime. We chatted with the guys at Contender, who were kind enough to lend us a shower, for an hour or so. Then stripped the bikes, sadly leaving them in the U.S., and drove straight to the airport. Looking down at Utah as the plane ascended towards L.A., we had a hard time believing what had just gone by. Traveling by bike is something different, something so good…
This trip is absolutely something you can do by yourself. With modern GPS-devices you can plan everything before departure. We did the trip in 8 days, which is the bare minimum for this adventure. You could easily spend 14 days going around this route. However, if you plan to do it in 8 days be sure to be in shape, as it will be demanding. Feel free to reach out if you have any questions (firstname.lastname@example.org or @stenbroen.cc on Instagram)
There is no direct flight from Copenhagen to Salt Lake City, so we flew from Copenhagen into L.A. and onwards to Salt Lake City. We did not bring the bikes on the plane, but if you do, make sure to leave enough time in L.A. to clear immigration and customs with the bike. In Salt Lake City we picked up our bikes at Contender Bikes, which is an amazing bike shop. A good place to get the last supplies, and you can even buy a brand new 3T Exploro.
|Location||Utah, Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho|
|Distance||1.325 km (830 mi)|
|Ascent||7.620 m (25000 ft)|
|Best Time||Try to avoid the freezing months, from October to May, and you should be ok!|
|Terrain||A bit of everything really. Paved roads, dirt roads, small tracks, sand, but most importantly you are riding in the beautiful scenery all the time.|
|Weather||Depending on the season. We went out in late September, and encountered everything from snowstorms to pure summer weather. Be prepared for all kinds of weather. Bear in mind that you are riding above 2000 meters (6500 ft) of elevation most of the time, so the weather changes rapidly and mornings tend to be cold.|
|Tires||700C x 37mm WTB Riddler tires. A nearly perfect fit for this adventure. Slick enough for fast pace riding on paved road, but still plenty of grip on dirt roads.|
|Gearing||A few steep climbs along the way. We opted for the SRAM RED AXS 2x setup. 48/35 in the front and 11/28 in the rear. I would prefer this gearing. Again fast on paved road, but still low enough on to conquer rocky gravel climbs at 10 pct. gradient.|
|Don’t Forget||A hand pump and plenty of tubes. Bike shops are a rare sight in this area. Also, a hand pump allows you to take out air when riding gravel and apply more air on paved roads.|
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