Yellowstone Grand Prix
BY TIM SANDLIN
ILLUSTRATIONS BY BIRGITTA SIF
THE LAST TIME Roger Ramsey and I met for coffee at Pearl Street Bagels he showed me a Jackson Hole Daily story about a guy who set a speed record for kayaking the Grand Canyon.
“This kid paddled 277.1 miles in thirty-four hours, two minutes. Broke the record that was three days old.”
I drank coffee. “Why?”
“Why would someone want to go through the Grand Canyon as quickly as possible? Did this person have time to admire the sunlight on the cliffs or the beauty of a side channel waterfall? I’d think the prize would go to the person slowest through the canyon.”
Roger chuckled at my naïveté. “That’s not how competition works.”
“Can you set a record for appreciating beauty? Speed meditation? Speed eating? There are things that shouldn’t be a contest. Dancing, music, mountain climbing, breathing clean air.”
“That’s not the American way. We have competitive yoga next week at the Center.”
“That goes against the purpose of yoga. Would you give an award for fastest prayer?”
“Last week, the World Sign Spinning Championship was held in Las Vegas. The worst job I can imagine would be wearing a bear costume and standing on a corner in 90-degree heat spinning a sign that says ARTHUR’S BAIL BONDS, and yet, even they have a world championship.”
“When I was a youth I once completed sex in a second and a half, but I didn’t expect a trophy.”
Roger got sidetracked by when the stopwatch started and stopped, and whether I really did time the experience.
I said, “She did.”
“You should talk to Myron Suggs. He holds the record for the fastest Yellowstone circuit. Three hours and seven minutes, Flagg Ranch to the upper loop and back to Flagg Ranch. In July. Now he owns Yellowstone Speed Tours. Takes clients on a complete vacation in four hours flat.”
“And people pay for this?”
“Lots of tourists these days only have a half-day to see all there is to see in Yellowstone Park. Myron’s their guy.”
Anecdote as we segue to Myron. True story. I was resting next to my bicycle at the Cathedral Group Scenic Turnout when a late-model Prius pulled in carrying what I took to be a man and wife. Their windows were down so I could hear.
Wife, looking down at a booklet: “What’s this?”
Husband reads the sign: “Cathedral Group Turnout.”
Wife checks a box on a list. “Let’s go. We’ve got three more before dinner.”
Bottom line: Neither one of these Prius people so much as glanced at the mountains. They experienced one of the most beautiful views in the world without experiencing it.
When I told this story to Myron, he understood perfectly. “It’s the bucket list fad. Death prep. The yahoos need to visit the one hundred nicest places before they die, and they’re in such a hurry they don’t see anything.”
“You hold the Yellowstone record for that.”
“I’d been to the park a thousand times. When they offered me an entry in the Yellowstone Grand Prix, I couldn’t pass it up.”
“I didn’t know Yellowstone has a grand prix.”
“It’s not publicized. We race in July, and we don’t always obey speed limits. My commercial trips are four hours instead of three, for safety reasons. No use running over wildlife unless you have to.”
“I take it in competition you don’t hesitate to create roadkill.”
Myron shrugged. “No guts, no glory.”
“I never heard that saying from a literal standpoint.”
“Look,” he said. “I’m taking a family up tomorrow. You should ride with us.”
We met at 7:45 a.m. at Flagg Ranch. Penny and Brick Chisholm, along with their five-year-old son, Brick Jr., tourists from Olathe, Kansas, who looked the way you would expect a Brick and Brick Jr. from Kansas to look. Heavy coats over T-shirts advertising a kindergarten casino night with plaid shorts and shoes appropriate for poolside lounging. Penny introduced me to the blue rag Brick Jr. was sucking on.
“His name is Mr. Magoo.”
Brick Jr. made a weird noise with his nose. “Mr. Magoo doesn’t like you.”
“That’s OK,” I said, “because the real Mr. Magoo is a cartoon character making fun of handicapped people, and I don’t care for him either.”
Myron said, “Let’s get started. We have a vacation to replicate before lunch.”
We loaded Myron’s Chevy Tahoe van. I sat up front with Myron while the Chisholms took the second row of seats. The third row had a cooler, a picnic basket of snacks, and a plastic funnel attached to a hose that ran under the seat and out the bottom of the van. That would be our bathroom.
As we shot toward the South Entrance, Myron explained the rules of the quickie Yellowstone adventure: We had to buy ice cream at Mammoth, and the Chisholms had to witness an actual Old Faithful eruption.
“Can’t fake Old Faithful on a screen like you can wolves,” Myron said. “I’d lose my guide license.”
We powered up the Lewis River Canyon at sixty, blowing through a bus tour from Taiwan. Selfie sticks scattered like antelope hit by a tornado.
“How do you time Old Faithful?” I asked. “Seems like you barely miss it, you’ll lose an hour.”
“There’s an app.” Myron steered with one hand and leaned over to show me his phone. “Old Faithful Eruption Predictor. $1.95 at your app store. More accurate than the Park Service.” He thumb-clicked the geyser icon. “She’ll go off at 11:22. We should hit it, if we make haste.”
Our first major obstacle came leaving West Thumb when we charged up behind a Winnebago with a MY OTHER VEHICLE IS A WHEELCHAIR bumper sticker going twenty miles an hour. Myron flipped a switch that turned on one of those high-volume European sirens—“WAH eeee WAH”—scaring the wadding out of the codger at the wheel. He froze dead in the right lane, and we flew around.
Brick Jr. whined. “Mr. Magoo has to go pee.”
Myron didn’t slow down. “Use the funnel behind you. We don’t have time for pit stops.”
“Mr. Magoo can’t go pee in a funnel.”
Myron used his soothing-crazy-tourists’ voice. “Your parents won’t tell you, Brick boy, so I will. Mr. Magoo is a rag.”
Brick Jr. burst into sobs, and Penny Chisholm told Myron he had no business destroying her son’s childhood.
“It isn’t like I told him the truth about Santa Claus,” Myron said.
Brick Jr. snuffled. “What truth?”
Brick Sr. lit a cigar. “Pretty day, ain’t it?”
Myron said, “You’ll have to look at your phone to be sure. I wouldn’t trust outside.”
I think we clipped a moose on Dunraven Pass. I’m not sure.
Penny said, “I’d like to see the moose.”
Myron said, “Too late. You can download out-of-focus photos on my website. Nobody will know you didn’t take it.”
Myron used the European siren on a buffalo herd that stampeded over a motorcycle club from Felt, Idaho, on their way to Sturgis. Harleys crunched like Fritos at a nacho bar.
At Mammoth, Myron told the Chisholms to wait in the van for ice cream. “Secret is, don’t let them out,” he said. “That woman would disappear in the ladies room, and we’d never leave.” We bought Rocky Road all around because it was softest—quickest to scoop.
The Old Faithful app ($1.95, don’t forget) said we had thirty-two minutes to make it to Old Faithful or it would go off without us. By Norris, the Chisholm family was too terrified to finish their ice creams. I had to pass a trash bag.
A flagman stood before a line of cars a half-mile long outside Madison Junction. Myron tore up the wrong side of the highway, pulled in front of the front of the line, rolled down his window, and held out a fifty-dollar bill.
The flagman said, “Go on through, sir. You’ll have to hurry to catch the pilot car.”
We careened around the Old Faithful cloverleaf with ninety seconds to spare. Myron whipped into an Employees Only driveway that cut around the side of the lodge just as Old Faithful erupted.
“There she blows!” Myron shouted. “You folks want to stay for the whole thing?”
Brick Jr. whined. “I can’t see.”
“Get out and stand by the van. You can see it through those people.”
This infuriated Brick Sr. “You didn’t tell us we’d have to leave the vehicle.”
Penny said, “There’s bears out there. I’m not going outside and neither is my son.”
“Suit yourself.” Myron popped the top off a Red Bull, and we watched Old Faithful while the Chisholms squinched down to see out the front window.
We hit Flagg Ranch with two minutes to spare.
Myron turned around in his captain’s chair. “There you go. The four-hour Yellowstone tour.”
Brick Jr. wailed. “Mr. Magoo!”
Brick Sr. asked, “Where did you see him last?”
“He hid in the pee funnel at the ice cream place.”
This brought on more wailing and teeth gnashing while Myron crawled under the van to see if Mr. Magoo got caught in the exit hose.
“Nope, folks. It’s extra wide in case of number twos. Mr. Magoo is long gone.”
More screams. More recriminations.
Penny Chisholm took a stand. “We have to go back.”
That’s when I said, “I’ll be getting out now.”