• Mark Lewis

Black Guys Biking, Hiking & Road Tripping - Part 1


This blog post, similar to others, is about travel and photography. Also, it's about education, being active, and spending time getting to know people from different places and backgrounds.

An Introduction

My brother Eric and I are avid mountain bikers and we have a lot of really good technical single track just north of New York City, which is where we live, as well as in northwest NJ. For non-mountain bikers technical single track is a trail about the width of the bike strewn about with rocks, roots and other elements that make riding quite challenging for the rider to navigate. Mountain biking is by far the best form of exercise I've ever experienced and I do it as often as I can. It has afforded me the ability to meet people from many different backgrounds and has helped shape my perspective of the world.

While we have some very good mountain biking locally, Eric and I both love to travel and discussed taking another mountain bike trip to the western part of the US for some time but nothing materialized until May 2016, which is when we took an epic trip of a lifetime. Eric brought up the idea of hitting several states out west as part of a two week journey which would combine mountain biking, hiking and a lot of driving to get to all of the destinations we would eventually map out. I can honestly say that was one of the best ideas my brother has ever had!

Pssst....Black People Do Mountain Bike & Hike...For Real!

I couldn’t resist including this section in this blog post. Before the trip my wife told me about this video with Blair Underwood on a site called Funny or Die. The video is called The Black Hiker and it’s hilarious! I must have watched it about 4 or 5 times before going on the trip and a couple of times since. My brother and I sometimes do get looks of curiosity while we’re mountain biking. We both know it’s uncommon to see siblings mountain biking together let alone African Americans but we are out there.

The Route

I have a knack for the details and planned out two routes. Each route spanned about 2,100 miles of driving through no less than 4 states. We opted for the route we thought would give us the best biking, hiking and photography along the way. We nailed down the route and opted for flying into western Montana and then heading south to Wyoming, Utah and ending the trip in Arizona. Our main decision for starting in Montana and ending in Arizona was that we could get a direct flight from Phoenix back to NYC. After spending 10 days, that’s right people count ‘em TEN days straight with your sibling, wouldn’t you want to get home as fast as possible too?

Photography Opportunities

From a photography perspective a large portion of the images I shot on this trip were captured on the road from a moving car and consisted of rolling down the window, changing the settings to shutter priority to freeze the action and snapping away when I saw interesting things to shoot. At times when I didn't have my camera we used our iPhones.

Montana

We touched down in Kalispell Montana, picked up the car and drove to the first of many hotels / lodges over the next two weeks, the Lodge at Whitefish which sits on Whitefish Lake. We chose Whitefish Lodge as one of Eric's clients travels frequently to Whitefish Montana and recommended it. We walked into the lodge, a fantastic place to stay with great rooms and friendly staff, and the first thing to greet us was a stuffed Kodiac bear standing about 10 feet tall on its hind legs weighing in at about 1200 lbs! Check out the iPhone photo below.

I can only imagine encountering something so massive in the wilderness and I hoped that was all it would ever be, an image in my head. Leaving the bear behind me, we navigated to the bar and had a few beers, the first of many on this trip. Eric struck up a conversation with two other brothers from Minnesota, who both happened to be pilots and who visit Whitefish Montana two or three times every year. They told us to put northern Minnesota on the list of places to visit at some point and they’d show us around. We knocked down a few beers and told them we just might take them up on that.

The next day we went to Glacier National Park and hiked the Avalanche Trail . Glacier National Park is one of those most beautiful places I’ve ever traveled to. It has over 1 million acres to explore and activities range from hiking, cycling, camping, fishing, boating and cross-country skiing.

After doing some hiking in the park we hit the Bonsai Brewery Project a great local hip pub in Whitefish for some food and drink and ended up chatting with some locals and listening to some music. Nothing but nice people happy to tell us about their community and wondering why and how we chose to visit Whitefish Montana. They were curious about NYC just like we were curious about their community. One guy told us that we came to Montana at the right time as it was just after winter but before the main summer season when the locations including the national parks we planned to hit would be swarming with tourists.

Over the next couple of days in Montana we visited Flathead Lake, which at over 30 miles long and over 16 miles wide is one of the largest lakes in the country. It was cold and rainy that day so we didn’t spend much time there but we did discover the Flathead Lake Brewing Company on Highway 35. We had the chance to meet and talk to two of the nicest people, Chloe and Mike. Chloe was the bartender and Mike was a regular customer.

Both of them are Montana locals and Chloe was happy to tell us about the area including some great hikes nearby that only the locals know about. Neither my brother nor I were experienced hikers but we learned one thing real quick; never hike anywhere in these parts, even on well-traveled routes without bear spray! Any of the locals we spoke to at one point or another had a story to tell about coming into contact with black and grizzly bears. Most of the times nothing happened but there are times when all did not go well. I didn’t want any part of that.

Mountain Biking in Whitefish MT

On day 3 we finally got the chance to mountain bike. We rented two Kona Process 650b full suspension mountain bikes from Glacier Cyclery, a really cool bike shop. In addition to the bikes, the guys in the shop gave us some good information on the local trails and off we went to explore, both of us with bear spray of course. Below are a couple of shots from the phone.

The trails we rode in this location weren’t that technical but we were happy to get some riding in, enjoyed the flow and we were in the beautiful state of Montana. It was in the mid-40s during the ride and pretty much raining the whole time. Eric’s feet got so cold and wet and eventually he couldn’t feel his toes so we headed back to town the way we came in. All in all a good day as we rode about 16 miles and we got to try out two bikes we had heard about.

East Glacier MT

There’s a road that passes through Glacier National Park called the “Going to the Sun Road”. This road wasn’t fully open during the time of our trip as there was still about 50 feet of snow from the previous winter piled in some sections of the road. We were strongly encouraged to visit East Glacier but we’d have to take the long route to get there. We were game and out came the camera along the way.

The Brothers Lewis had a great time in Montana but it was time to hit the road; our next stop would be West Yellowstone, on the border of Montana and Wyoming. We were driving south from Whitefish Montana to the north west tip of Wyoming and I was snapping photos from the car on the way down.

We planned to spend a couple of days checking out Yellowstone National Park, the oldest national park in the United States.

Because we traveled in the spring we were afforded the luxury of being able to book hotels on the fly for the rest of the trip. We opted for this flexibility in case we wanted to stay more time in one place and less in another. While Eric was driving I was on my phone finding the next hotel in West Yellowstone.

West Yellowstone MT

We reached West Yellowstone and checked into the Days Inn for a couple of days. Once settled we were hungry and searched for some food and drink nearby. This time it was The Buffalo Bar, walking distance from the hotel. This bar is a cool local spot with some tourists and business travelers with good American food and beer. We grabbed a seat and eventually ended up chatting with the bartender and several others such as Steve, a former well known professional motorcycle racer, Russ, a business man, Mike, a non-local in town for business (in the photo below), and Chris, an avid hunter who uses a bow and arrow to hunt elk and what he kills he eats (in the photo below). We talked about all different kinds of things and it ended up being a good long night at the bar.

The next day we navigated into Yellowstone National Park, a land full of boiling geothermal hot spots, bison, bears and all kinds of other creatures. We didn't see any bears but we did come into contact with Bison. The park rangers tell you when you enter the park and in pamphlets / signs not to get close to these animals as they are wild and can hurt or kill you. A large adult male Bison can get to about 1400lbs. While we were at the Buffalo Bar we did hear some stories of tourists not paying attention or doing stupid things and endangering the animals and in other cases getting hurt or killed themselves.

We thought about spending another day in Yellowstone but were eager to mountain bike so we opted to head to our next destination, Jackson, Wyoming.

Jackson WY

We stayed a couple of nights at the Snow King Hotel in Jackson, a stylish place with easy access to town and biking. Once settled, we hit the town and walked around a bit. Jackson is quite touristy and was more crowded than Whitefish but ‘crowded’ is relative since I live in NYC. Jackson is a happening town with lots of shops and restaurants etc… and the Tetons are a magical sight to see. It didn’t take long to end up at the Town Square Tavern.

Once there we got to talking to the bartender and he informed us that there is a saying in Jackson which is “Jackson is a drinking town with a skiing problem”. My brother and I looked at each other and knew we’d like the place.

A guy named Joel sat down next to us and we struck up a conversation. We got to talking about how everyone in Jackson is pretty humble and very active. He said peoples' humbleness can be the result of knowing that there are some amazing athletes in Jackson and you never know who you're talking to so it's best not to be boastful. This led to him telling us about “The Picnic”. The picnic is an endurance race which consists of a 20 mile road bike ride with elevation, a three mile swim across Jenny Lake, climbing the Tetons and back. Each person attempting this madness must complete it within 24 hours. The record at that time Joel told us was about 12 hours. I asked if he did this race and he said yes as a matter of fact. I said I’ll stick to my mountain biking and ordered another beer.

A funny part of the conversation was when he commented that he knew we weren’t from around those parts as he knew all three black people who lived in Jackson and two were working at an event he had just left. My brother and I increased the black population in Jackson by almost 70% for the short time we were there!

Mountain Biking in Jackson Hole, WY

The next morning we went to Hoback Sports to rent some mountain bikes. We ended up renting two top of the line Specialized 650b Fattie Carbon bikes. The guys at the shop gave us a trail map and mapped out a route for us. We loaded up on nutrition and water in our hydration packs and went to the trailhead. We immediately started climbing on switchbacks. We eventually found the trails mapped out for us. The trails out here went on for miles across these huge mountains. As we weren’t yet fully accustomed to the elevation we lost our breath rather quickly but got in a rhythm as we got further along. The trails were laid out well with some technical bits but mostly long single track everywhere.

We ended the day back at the hotel satisfied from a great ride. This was our last night in Wyoming and it didn’t let us down. The next day we were back on the road and headed south to Utah. My next blog post will cover the rest of the trip through Utah and Arizona.

You can see more of my Montana and Wyoming photos in the Scapes section of my site.

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