2016 Cycle Greater Yellowstone Day 3: Bozeman to Whitehall

As we headed north out of Bozeman on Day 3 of Cycle Greater Yellowstone, I couldn’t help but notice the multiple new housing developments and lot-for-sale signs. I wondered how all this out-of-town development was affecting things like traffic, water quality, existing agricultural practices, and wildlife migration.

1 housing development

Speaking of migration, we heard a number of sandhill crane serenades as we pedaled along fields adjacent to the East Gallatin River and its tributaries. (Those dark specks in the field in the photo below are cranes.)

2 cranes

Oh, look – a ranch! The sign on the barn says so! House-moving operation, too. I wonder if the house was coming or going.

3 ranch

This was a speedy morning for Wyobraska Tandem, as the route was primarily downhill for the first 35 miles or so. We made good time to the water stop at the Dry Creek Church. I coughed a bit on the ride – wildfire smoke in the air. Luckily, we soon moved out of the smoky area.

4 dry creek church stop

Just past the water stop, we spotted two does and two fawns out standing in a field.

5 deer

A quick spin through Manhattan, population ~1,568 – home of the seed potato.

6 manhattan

Next rest stop: Sacajawea Hotel in Three Forks.

7 sacajawea hotel

The bison sculpture on the lawn was a popular photo backdrop and bike stand.

8 bison sculpture

We’d been by the Sacajawea Hotel in 2013, but I hadn’t taken the time to peek inside. This time, I did, being careful to take off my cycling shoes so as not to scratch the lovely wooden floor. What a gorgeous ceiling!!

9 interior of hotel

I’d had a pretty relaxing morning thus far, aside from a honker on a residential street in Manhattan. But the 7 miles on Highway 287? Not my favorite.

10 ride single file

Maybe I’ve become a wimp by choosing to avoid traffic-y routes on my training rides back home, but on that section of 287 after the gravelley shoulder disappeared, my spirit animal could’ve been a fanned-out porcupine, I felt so prickly. There was a lot of traffic passing us, heavy on the trucks, mostly at a high rate of speed, sometimes on blind hills and curves, sometimes way too close. I found myself muttering prayers of protection for us and for other cyclists.

Double-trailer, flammable material, coming through! (This was one of the more comfortable passes, as the driver had slowed down – THANK YOU, DRIVER!! – and I was actually able to take a picture instead of bracing for airwash.)

14 truck pass

When we found ourselves being trailed by an RV, we opted to pull out at a viewpoint for a pleasingly decrepit log house, to let built-up traffic pass.

13 pull off with old cabin

I looked back and saw a string of cyclists laboring among a train of semi trucks. Yikes! When the lead trucker in this photo went by, I waved and smiled as a thank-you for being courteous around the cyclists, but I got a frown and a shake of the head in response.

12 intimidating traffic

I was soooo glad to turn off Highway 287 onto Highway 2 towards Lewis & Clark Caverns State Park! My nerves were about shot.

16 turnoff to cavern

Also, it was getting pretty hot out. Cattle sought shade next to and inside of an old cabin.

15 cattle in shade of cabin

Rats! Uphill climb. We couldn’t manage more than 9 miles an hour, even with the temptation to mash the pedals to get a higher reading on the radar sign.

17 speed radar

On Highway 2, we passed a vast, dusty parking area that looked like it was meant for a crowd of thousands. Thousands of potentially unruly people, apparently. The signs plastered at every entrance read “NO PETS NO WEAPONS NO VIOLENCE.” There was a prominent, random “bridge over nothing.” I later learned this remote location is the site of a huge music festival: Rockin’ The Rivers. SO glad we didn’t intersect that event. I’m sure the traffic would’ve been a nightmare. (As it was, there was a pickup that unwisely passed us when there was a motorcycle oncoming. The motorcycle driver made a rude hand gesture.)

18 bridge near three forks

My favorite part of the day was the ice cream at lunch. YAY, ICE CREAM!!! Bugman was posing for a cheesy photo with the ice cream when Roger from Missouri jumped into the action, too.

19 ice cream

On the way out of our lunch stops, signs for the ride sponsors were scattered about. I thought I’d post a picture here and give them a shout out. Thanks, sponsors, for helping to make this First Best Ride in the Last Great Place happen!

20 sponsors

Before departing lunch, we slathered on more sunscreen and wetted down our arm coolers. Aaaaah! So refreshing!

The next couple of miles between the Caverns and LaHood were one of my favorite segments of the whole trip, I think: scenic, fairly flat, relaxed traffic, coolness emanating from the rock on the shaded side of the canyon.

21 jefferson river ride

22 jefferson river ride

My view from the back of the tandem. Not bad!

23 my view

At LaHood there was a historic point that actually had some shade, so Bugman and I stopped to drink and rest along with several other cyclists.

24 shade stop

As we rode along an I-90 frontage road, the driver of a passing semi on the interstate waved exuberantly at us. Wow. That was one friendly truck driver! (I later learned that some of Jennifer Drinkwalter’s family is in the trucking industry, and that the driver may have known exactly where all the cyclists came from that day.)

A funny sign from a gas station next to the interstate: “TOMORROW WE WILL EAT KALE BUT TODAY IS FOR ICE CREAM.” Yes!!!!

25 fun sign

More cattle taking shelter in whatever shade they could find. Hard to see them in this photo, as their dark color blends them into the shadow pretty effectively. It was uncomfortably hot out in the sun.

26 cattle in shade

H’lo, mules.

27 mules

As we approached Whitehall, we could see some colorful streaks on one mountain peak, with a barren slope below.

28 mining

I later learned it was the Golden Sunlight gold mine. Here’s a Google maps view, with the yellowish scar of the bared rock of the open-pit mine clearly visible to the northeast of Whitehall.

Screen Shot 2016-08-26 at 9.48.07 AM

I’ll admit to a bit of a BANANA (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything) reaction to the mine’s alteration of the landscape. But I felt like a hypocrite. I have a gold wedding band on my finger. My bike is made of metal. My car is made of metal. My cellphone and computer have bits made of rare mined elements. And mining provides critical livelihood and tax revenue for many people and communities (though it’s a tenuous source of income, given market fluctuations).

But open-pit gold mines are not benign. I had a recent conversation with a materials engineer who was overseeing part of the American Solar Challenge, and he noted that when you are mining for a particular element, lots of other potentially toxic stuff comes up with the desired material. People who live near mines or farm or ranch near mines or work in tourism businesses near mines would be wise to keep an eye on those mines. According to an abstract in the PubMed database from the journal Reviews of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology, there can be serious impacts to water supplies from open pit gold mining:

To prevent flooding in mine open pits, and to enable earth moving on a large scale, it is often necessary to withdraw groundwater and use it for irrigation, discharge it to rapid infiltration basins, or, in some cases, discharge it to surface waters. Surface waters are diverted around surface mining operations. Adverse effects of groundwater drawdown include formation of sinkholes within 5 km of groundwater drawdown; reduced stream flows with reduced quantities of wate available for irrigation, stock watering, and domestic, mining and milling, and municipal uses; reduction or loss of vegetation cover for wildlife, with reduced carrying capacity for terrestrial wildlife; loss of aquatic habitat for native fishes and their prey; and disruption of Native American cultural traditions. Surface discharge of excess mine dewatering water and other waters to main waterways may contain excess quantities of arsenic, total dissolved solids, boron, copper, fluoride, and zinc. When mining operations cease, and the water pumps are dismantled, these large open pits may slowly fill with water, forming lakes. The water quality of pit lakes may present a variety of pressing environmental problems.

The mining industry is aware of these problems and is working on solutions. For further reading, see Mission 2016 from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

But this brings me to a point the Greater Yellowstone Coalition staff made during presentations and side conversations on the group’s ride: while larger mining companies are working on solutions and taking care to select only the best sites, and there is an acknowledged need for metal mining IN THE RIGHT PLACES, some smaller companies with fewer resources appear to be going after some tenuous opportunities. Case in point, a proposal to explore a gold mine bordering Yellowstone National Park, on a site that looms over the Yellowstone River. Here’s a photo from the Greater Yellowstone Coalition‘s website:

static1.squarespace.com

This just seems the epitome of stupidity to me, since gold mining damage cannot be undone, and especially because the Yellowstone River, which supports a huge chunk of the Montana economy through tourism-related businesses, is already stressed by climate change and other human impacts. (ICYMI: 183 miles of the Yellowstone River, plus tributaries, was closed to all recreations activities on August 19 to try to prevent the spread of a deadly fish parasite outbreak thought to be enabled by warm water temperatures and low water flows.) There needs to be a place for mining – our modern world depends on it at the moment. But there are some places mines just should not go, and it seems to me the upstream borderland of Yellowstone National Park is one such place.

Back to the bike ride!

I was so glad when a course volunteer told me we only had a few more miles to go, that I could use a blue water tower on the horizon as a landmark for the finish line. I was hot, and I was tired.

Not so tired not to be delighted by the Pac Man fire hydrant I saw at the roadside in town, though. I wish I’d had the energy to get a photo of it and to go seeking more decorative fire hydrants. A community volunteer told me there’d been a contest, and I’m sure I could’ve created a fun photo compilation of them.

The Whitehall residents I spoke with were lovely, welcoming people. I got the sense not everyone was thrilled we were there, though. A pickup truck coal rolled the finish line just after I arrived. Not nice.

Shade was at a premium at our Whitehall High School campsite on this hot, dry day. A couple of cyclists took advantage of the shady area under the school’s renewable energy station. Solar panels: good for producing energy, and shade!

30 high school energy

The CGY organizers were cognizant of the need for shade as well and purchased a number of tarps to rig up into an impromptu sun shelter along the tennis court fence.

31 improvised shade

Many cyclists headed next door to cool off in the community pool.

I slept quite well in Whitehall. The well-watered grass was nice and cushy under the tents, and the sound of vehicle tires thrumming on I-90 about 1,000 feet away drowned out other sounds and soothed me to sleep.😀

Day 3 stats
76.5 miles
1,466 feet of climb
14.2 mph avg speed
low temp 43
hi temp 88
precip 0
wind 5-17 g 20 E

Copyright 2016 by Katie Bradshaw

2016 Cycle Greater Yellowstone Day 2: Livingston to Bozeman

Day 2 of Cycle Greater Yellowstone backtracked us back to Beall Park in Bozeman again. The full route included a 50-mile out-and-back down Paradise Valley, but, given that there was no rest day this year, our training was minimal, we had already ridden Paradise Valley in 2013, and the day was supposed to be hot, we opted for the shorter route of 35 miles of mostly hills back to Bozeman, which Jennifer Drinkwalter had described the day before as “up, down, up, down, up, up, down.” Not quite, but, still – hills. All uphill for pretty much the first 14 miles.

I started out the morning in a bad mood. I hadn’t slept well – for the third night in a row. We couldn’t buy a replacement water bottle for the hot day ahead, as the mechanics were sold out and the CGY help desk couldn’t help. We got on our bike and found it had a new, loud ticking sound that wasn’t there the day before. What the heck? Maybe our bike had fallen over in the wind the day before after we’d parked it (against a tennis court net, which offense apparently had enraged the local tennis court boosters – oops).

Yeah, I had a case of the Mondays on vacation. I was feeling junky.

1 junky

Thank goodness there was another rider – Ken from Illinois – who was babying a sore knee and “going slow” (AKA “our pace”) who rode with us and kept us distracted from the hill with conversation. That really helped! (Thanks, Ken!)

Here’s us with Ken at the first water stop on the 35-mile route, at Montana Grizzly Encounter.

2 bear encounter stop

The Grizzly Encounter place was a total surprise to me – I hadn’t been aware there was anything special. We all got to go inside to see the bears, which had been rescued from some unfortunate situation or another and couldn’t make it in the wild.

A wall of the compound made a good bike parking surface.

3 bike parking

Me and Dixie Hooper (a super enthusiastic gal I met last year as part of the CGY ambassador program) and a new friend. (Photo by Dixie’s beau, Andrew.)

4 me & Dixie

First things first: what to do if you encounter a bear at close quarters:

5 bear tips

Bugman watching the two bears out in the display yard that morning.

6 jeff and bear

A wee tiff?

7 bear fight

Back out on the road again (with our sun sleeves freshly wetted down – ahhhh, so cool!), we passed the quaint, octagonal Malmborg School.

8 malmborg school

Downhill. Wheeee!

9 downhill

Whoa. That’s a heckuva snowplow!

10 heckuva snowplow

My view from the back of the tandem. Not bad!

11 my view

Our next rest stop was at Lower Bridger School, which we had ridden past in 2013. We even got to go inside!

12 lower bridger canyon school

Next, we headed up Kelly Canyon Road. And I mean *up*. I have two words for that short-but-wicked ascent: UFF and DA. I got no pictures of us walking our tandem up the last yards to the summit – too demoralizing. It was simply too steep for us to continue pedaling and stay upright. We met some local cyclists up there, including a couple on a tandem. They commiserated with the steepness of the climb, noting that the grade was 18% at some point. Eighteen percent! Egads! No wonder we had to walk.

The coast down the other side was quite nice.

Closer into town, we got stopped by a train. Made me think of my dad.

13 stopped by a train

Somewhere after crossing this train track as we approached Bozeman, traffic got hairy. No honkers, but plenty of risky passing. Made me nervous! Also, we managed to roll into Bozeman during the traffic-y lunch hour. Not very fun. We wound up dismounting and walking our tandem across one particularly busy intersection. It’s just too hard to get started quickly when a traffic opening briefly appears.

Earlier that morning, as the Tent Sherpa crew was packing up the tent city while I prepared for our leisurely 8am start on this “short route” day, I had asked the crew if they might consider reorienting the layout for double-occupancy tents to allow access to both tent doors. In previous years we’d been able to use both tent doors and vestibules for access and gear storage, but this year, the tents had been set up so close together that we couldn’t use the back door or vestibule. When we rolled into camp in Bozeman, we found this:

14 camp back in bozeman

Yup – that’s our tent, on the end, with both doors accessible. There would be some similar accommodation for the rest of the double tents for the rest of the trip. Awesome crew!!

Our bag lunches were waiting for us in camp. For once, I was able to get into the shower without waiting in line. We took the opportunity to do laundry while there was no waiting as well. (So THIS is what it feels like to be a speedy person and get into camp early!) We were able to buy a new water bottle from the mechanics’ restocked supply, too.

Then, we wandered the shops of downtown Bozeman for a bit. (Well, I shopped, Bugman tagged along and checked work emails on his phone.) I mostly bought gifts, but I did buy two things for myself: a Halloween dishtowel with a cycling skeleton, and a book of poster art of National Parks done in the style of the old New Deal/WPA posters.

IMG_9816

As Bugman and I were headed back to camp, a young man on a bicycle hopped a curb towards us. As he did so, something fell from his bike, which he then ran over. He skidded to a stop next to us. “Dammit!” he said, looking back at what I now realized was a torn-open can of beer. “I biked six miles with that beer!”

I sympathized with the guy, but Bugman and I also got a good chuckle. #hipsterproblems

When we hiked back up to long-term parking in the fairgrounds parking lot to offload our purchases, we could smell smoke and could see a plume rising to the north. Uh oh.

15 grass fire

During announcements, Jennifer noted that the crew was keeping an eye on a grass fire near our morning route. That evening, flakes of ash fell on us in camp. Luckily, the fire was extinguished by nightfall, and the wind that came up in the night didn’t appear to restoke it.

Day 2 stats
36.7 miles
2,360 feet of climb
10.6 mph avg speed
low temp 47
hi temp 92
precip 0
wind 8-22 g 30 NE

Copyright 2016 by Katie Bradshaw

2016 Cycle Greater Yellowstone Day 1: Bozeman to Livingston

Ah, the first day of Cycle Greater Yellowstone, when all is fresh and new! I tend to take a lot of photos on day 1. This year was no exception. There are 50 photos in this post!

Here’s the only picture we got of us together. (Another photo we attempted at the top of a hill did not turn out – alas!)

1 headed out

Our Thing-1-Thing-2 getup attracted the attention of a TV reporter, and we wound up on the evening news. (Another rider dubbed us “The Things” and would greet us on the route, “Hey, Things!”)

The official start line! (With the TV reporter off to the side.)

2 start line

A grain elevator with a ghost sign. “IT’S THE WHEAT FLOUR . . . A PERFECT PRODUCT”

3 grain elevator

I did a double-take on this one. CaLfe? I looked it up. Stockyard Cafe. I get it! Calf-cafe. Ha!! To quote from their website: “This is recreational restauranting…. Stockyard Cafe…barely above camping :)”

4 stockyard calfe

The early morning light made the scenery glow. (Since we’re slow, we always try to be on the road when the course opens at 7am.

5 morning light

A high fire danger day. We were impacted by a bit of wildfire smoke on one day, and the organizers were keeping an eye on a grassfire near the route, but otherwise, we lucked out this year and avoided wildfire conflicts. I suspect wildfire season is part of the reason CGY organizers are thinking about moving the date into September next year.

6 fire danger

Bridger Canyon is lovely!

7 bridger canyon

I had to manipulate the photo settings to get the colors to show up – wonder if anyone else noticed the iridescent clouds that morning.

8 rainbow cloud.jpg

Hay bale art: a bonny Scottish coo? (Would explain the hair-over-the-eye look.)

9 bale buddy

I was loving the scenery!

10 more bridger canyon

But some drivers weren’t loving the bikes on the road. We encountered the first of the week’s honking drivers along this road.

I don’t know if it was the route, or if people’s behavior is changing, but there seemed to be a lot of rude and impatient drivers this year. I have a hypothesis that the increased speed limits on interstates and rural highways have made drivers more accustomed to higher speeds and more likely to get impatient if they have to slow down. Whatever the cause, I don’t like it. Not one bit.

This cow was offended by the rude honking, too:

11 shocked cow

We saw a lot of magpies along the route all week. You can just make one out in this photo, sitting on a fencepost.

12 magpie and mountain

Tandem shadow! On this section of route, we were passed by a number of vintage cars. Not all of them passed carefully. Some were so eager to pass the bicycles that they risked head-on collisions with oncoming traffic. You would think people driving classic cars would be a little more careful.

13 tandem shadow

Before it landed on the ranch gate, this raven flew behind us for several hundred yards. I watched it follow us in my rear view mirror. Corvids are pretty intelligent birds. I wonder what it was thinking.

14 raven ranch gate

Being slower on the uphill on a tandem, we got passed a lot on the first part of the ride.

15 being passed

A rest STOP.

16 stop

The uphill climb continues, we get passed some more.

17 passed again

My view from the back of the tandem. Not bad.

18 my view

Passed again!

19 passed again

At last – Battleridge Pass (elevation 6,372 feet). Mostly done with the day’s climbing!

20 pass stop

Zooming along on the downhill, cyclists tend to take the lane. You need more room to maneuver at higher speeds.

21 passed again

A cattle corral, with bees. You can’t see the bees in the photo, but when we went by, there were a bunch of what appeared to be honeybees crossing the road. One cyclist got a bee caught in her sunglasses and got stung next to her eye. Ow!

22 corral

This is a working landscape here. Lots of alfalfa, like this side-roll-irrigated field.

23 side roll irrigation

Bikes weren’t the only slow-moving vehicles on this road. Watch for farm equipment, too!

32 watch for farm equipment

The rest stop at the Sedan School was fun. As soon as we arrived, we were mobbed by youngsters offering to fill our water bottles for us.❤ We had our photo taken with a couple of girls. Our jerseys went well with their recent Dr. Seuss readings.🙂

24 water bottle helpers

I think the folks at the rest stop were keen on introducing us to roping, but the roping dummies were too attractive as bike parking.

25 roping dummy bike parking

The dummies also made for great silly photo opportunities.😀

26 roping dummy clowns

Then there was the slide . . .

27 giant slide

They sure don’t make ’em like that anymore! A few of us cyclists couldn’t resist a trip down that tall slide. It was high-diving-board intimidating at the top. The trick was being prepared for how it launched you forward at the end. I executed a rather ungraceful double-hop landing.

28 cannot resist

The source of our potable water at the water bar at the Sudan School stop: Black Magic!

29 black magic support truck

Everyone was exhorted to drink plenty of water and keep their water bottles filled. It was getting hot, and the air was dry. The SAG crew was sheltering in the shade of their van.

30 SAG crew

Gravel and a cattle guard on the turn into and out of the rest stop were a bad combo. Much easier to walk the tandem over the plywood.

31 rolling over cattle guard

The view west from the bridge over Flathead Creek.

33 meandering stream

A Historic Point, and a good excuse to pull over and rest, though we rarely did. Need to keep moving if you’re slower than most!

34 historic point

Did anyone see the elk? Haha.

35 elkhaha

When in Big Sky Country, don’t forget to look up.

36 big sky

We stopped for lunch at mile 47, at Clyde Park. I distinctly remember that lunch included gazpacho. It was divine. Cool, salty, cucumbery – the perfect meal on a hot day! The water bar was a popular place.

37 refill at water bar

Back on the road again. The road surface was unpleasantly gravelly in spots. I found this business sign amusing. “Have gravel will travel.”

38 have gravel will travel

We waved to a bikepacker family we met on the road. Mom was riding behind this dad and kid, waving her arm to try to slow traffic for safe passing. It didn’t work. Drivers flew past, taking risks I really wish they wouldn’t take.

39 bike packer family

As we turned west towards Livingston, the last 5 miles or so wound up being dab-on into a headwind. Not very fun at the end of a ride.

But we made it to Livingston! I love Sacagawea Park! It’s right on the Yellowstone River. I remembered it from the first year, but this time, we arrived in camp with plenty of time to get cleaned up and explore the downtown.

40 livinston tent city

There was a beautiful antique bus available to ferry us downtown. Downtown was only a couple of blocks away, though, so we walked. (Ah, that Day 1 energy!)

44 beautiful bus

Such an iconic historic-mountain-town view!

42 downtown livingston

Great vintage theater marquee!

41 livinston theater

We had to stop at a sandwich shop for some ice cream. The cone was stamped with a suggestion I followed: “EAT-IT-ALL”. Across the street was a bar advertising itself as a “husband day care center” while the wife shopped. Ha!

43 ice cream eat it all

My Überbrew pour that evening had a baristaesque touch: there was a heart in the foam!

45 i heart beer

After dinner, we retired to the banks of the Yellowstone River. I remember the river being higher and louder back in 2013. It had soothed me to sleep at the campsite that year, but this year I couldn’t hear it from the tents. Wonder if the channel shifted, or if the flow is low this year?

There was a family of osprey screaming around in the trees on the opposite bank. When I looked closer at a photo I managed to grab, I could see that the bird was carrying a fish!

46 osprey

I was having great fun playing with the colorful river rocks. (With thoughts of Andy Goldsworthy – one of my favorite artists. I am certainly no Andy Goldsworthy.)

47 colorful rocks

48 shades of grey

Alas, we broke one of our water bottles after dropping it on the rocks. Bummer! We’d need it the next day, which was predicted to be another hot one.

The sunset on the river was breathtakingly beautiful.

49 sunset phase 1

It kept getting better. I saw several people in camp rush to the riverbank with their cameras.

50 sunset phase 2

What a day! Can the first day be my favorite?

Day 1 stats
68.3 miles
2,501 feet of climb
12.5 mph avg speed
low temp 48
hi temp 88
precip 0
wind 5-16 g 22 east

Copyright 2016 by Katie Bradshaw

2016 Cycle Greater Yellowstone: Day 0 Bozeman Base Camp

If you ask me at the end of a long day of riding on Cycle Greater Yellowstone if I am having fun, my answer might not be in the affirmative. The long miles and climbing are pretty tough on me. I don’t particularly enjoy the multiple nights of camping-related poor sleep, the inevitable muscle soreness, or the constellations of saddle sores I tend to collect. It certainly didn’t help that this has been a travel-y/hot/hailstorm-y year, and Bugman and I only got in about 375 training miles on the tandem before the ride. (In past years we did more like 900 training miles. Thank goodness I was at least able to get in 500 training miles on my new single road bike!)

It was an especially challenging route for me this year, since there was no layover or option to be off the bike for a day to rest my derrière and leg muscles, and early hot weather encouraged those darned saddle stores to start up right out of the gate. Of the possible 512 course miles, we rode 434, opting for the shorter 35-mile route on day 2 (rather than 85), and sagging out on the last 25 miles on day 5 and 3 miles of hill on day 6 when either Bugman or I started bonking with all the climbing. (It’s extra tough climbing with a tandem!)

Screen Shot 2016-08-24 at 10.42.25 AM

But I do enjoy the camaraderie of a couple hundred other cyclists on this well-supported ride. I especially appreciate that many of my fellow riders are of retirement age or better (last year, the average rider age was 55). I see them as role models for maintaining long-distance cycling as a lifelong activity. Signing up for CGY is a good incentive for me to ride regularly and stay fit!

I also love discovering small communities and natural wonders along the way. I appreciate the scenery as it slowly moves by at a human speed, the opportunity to hear the birds and smell the greenery and ponder the various barbed wire fence designs. And I enjoy mulling over my experiences with the aid of photos, mostly taken from the back seat of our tandem.

I’ll share my experiences with the 2016 CGY ride in this post – look for links at the bottom, which I will update with posts on each day as I complete them. Look to other links for blog posts on the 2015, 2014, and 2013 rides. (Yep, this was our fourth time doing this ride on a tandem bicycle. We are crazy people!)

Since we live in western Nebraska only about 600 miles from the start in Bozeman, Montana, we packed the tandem atop the car and drove.

Along I-90 in Wyoming, the highway sign warned “BIKE EVENT TRAFFIC NEXT 15 MILES USE LEFT LANE.” Not everyone used the left lane, of course (see camper in photo, being passed by a semi truck).

bike event traffic.jpg

I wondered how scary it was for those riders on the interstate, and commented that I wouldn’t pay for the privilege of riding on the Interstate. (Heh. I should have studied the CGY course maps more carefully. To be continued . . .)

I never could find out what this ride was. If anyone knows, please comment!

We parked in long-term parking at the Gallatin County Fairgrounds. When you see a bunch of out-of-state license plates and bike racks like this, you know a big bike event is in progress!

parking lot

Ah, here we are at Tent City, at basecamp Bozeman in Beall Park!

camp tents

We met a couple of awesome camping neighbors here on Day 0, with whom we’d have some good conversations over the next week: Roger from Missouri and Sharika from Florida. (A special hat tip to Sharika, who is an Army veteran and participant in World T.E.A.M. Sports.)

After getting settled in, the next order of business: finding the beer tent! (Yaaay, Überbrew, for being a super-awesome ride sponsor again this year! All the money people paid for beer went back to the Greater Yellowstone Coalition.)

uberbrew tent

Right next to the beer tent was a booth selling bike-related pretty things from Glassisum Designs, which donated a special Überbrew “growler” bike panel for a fundraiser auction. (Alas, I didn’t capture the “pretty side” of the panels –  my camera wouldn’t cooperate with the backlighting that day.)

stained glass

As usual, announcements followed dinner. This year, during announcements there were raffle drawings for prizes provided by sponsors (including Roswell Bicycles). Since you had to be present to win, this provided an extra incentive for people to stick around for announcements. A great idea! (Although, why someone wouldn’t want to listen to important announcements about the campsites and course and weather updates in the first place is beyond me!) Here, CGY Coordinator Jennifer Drinkwalter hands off a prize to a lucky winner. The bike mechanic tent is in the background – another important aspect of daily camp setup (and on-course support), since breakdowns happen!

nightly drawings

A few other standards of camp:

The shower trucks. Oh, the shower trucks! This is one of the things that makes me love this ride: the ability to take a hot (or cold, depending on the weather!) shower at the end of each day’s ride. The stalls inside are very nice. (Yes, I felt slightly creeper-ish taking a picture in the showers):

shower

Along with the showers are also hot/cold sinks as well as a charging station for phones, cameras, bike computers, etc. You can leave your device there to charge and not worry about it walking off while you’re gone. It cost $20 for a 5-charge punchcard, I think. As part of the Sherpa tent service this year, we got a free charge punchcard. Nice!

Some folks had other methods of charging their devices. Go, Sol ☀️!

solar charge

A new option in camp this year was the laundry pod – basically a souped-up salad spinner for doing laundry. (This is the official pod explanation video, but this one is more fun.) Bugman and I used this option, since there was no rest day or midweek short ride with town access affording an opportunity to hit the laundromat. They worked OK, provided you soaked/agitated the clothing long enough, followed directions not to use too much soap, and didn’t try to wash too many clothes at once. Between the spin function and the hot, dry Montana weather, clothing dried pretty quickly! Filling the pods at the water bar:

laundry pod

When you think about other hygiene needs in rural Montana, you might think we had to resort to this (view across from Sedan School):

outhouse

But, no! We had access to modern portable toilets and handwashing stations at camp and rest stops, provided by family-operated South West Septic. (I enjoyed listening to Mary Smail tell the story of how she went from dental hygienist to septic business owner. “I’ve dealt with cleaning both ends,” she said. I love her sense of humor! Check out the company license place compilation on this page.)

Props to all the volunteers who helped us in camp and along the course, including the radio operators who made sure we stayed in contact in cell-signal-less areas!

radio volunteers

One of the benefits of camping in town is easy access to shopping and entertainment options. After dinner and announcements, Bugman and I poked around in downtown Bozeman. I liked it! It’s a bike-y place with interesting architecture, where people actually stop for pedestrians in crosswalks!

Lots of bike parking in downtown Bozeman:

bike parking

Although, if the parking wasn’t near where people went, light poles got used instead:

bikes parked

Some businesses participated in a discount program for people who bike to shop. Cool!

bozeman bike program

Some fellow CGYers window shopping at one of two downtown bike shops.

bozeman bike shop

I spy gargoyles!

bozeman architecture

A view inside the 1928 Hotel Baxter:

hotel baxter

While it was nice being close to such amenities, there were drawbacks to camping in an urban area. Train horns. Helicopter flyovers. Car alarms. Streetlights. I was glad I brought my earplugs and sleeping mask, especially since our tent was directly under the streetlight on the first night. No need for a headlamp when using the toilet in the middle of the night!

bright camping

And shortly, on to posts about the riding!

2016 Cycle Greater Yellowstone Day 1: Bozeman to Livingston

2016 Cycle Greater Yellowstone Day 2: Livingston to Bozeman

2016 Cycle Greater Yellowstone Day 3: Bozeman to Whitehall

Copyright 2016 by Katie Bradshaw

Bicyclist opinion, highway project prioritization meeting = round peg, square hole?

Sorry, folks – this is going to be kind of a longish and dullish post without pretty scenery pictures. Your eyes may glaze over.

But I have some thoughts I need to process after attending a Nebraska Department of Roads project prioritization meeting in Gering yesterday.

I didn’t really know what to expect, didn’t know whether it would be worth my time to attend (two hours on a weekday morning!), since this was billed as the second round of a project prioritization process.

Would my views as a bicyclist fit in?

Would there be an opportunity for me to express what I have heard over and over again from my fellow western Nebraska cyclists, what several of them asked me to bring up during this NDOR meeting? Specifically:

Roads need shoulders. Nice, wide, smooth ones. Shoulders should be maintained with the same level of care as the main traveled surface. A disjunct surface between the lane and the shoulder is bad. Surface cracks are bad – deep, spoke-breaking perpendicular ones, and also the deep, wheel-trapping parallel ones. We would much rather ride on the shoulder than in the traffic lane, but very few road shoulders exist or are in good enough shape to ride.

Alas, my answers to the above questions are “not really.”

I felt like I was trying to fit a round peg of an opinion into a square hole of a question.

The point of the meeting was to make comments on a list of 12 NDOR West Region Candidate Projects.

NDOR west region candidate projectsHere’s a screenshot of a portion of a handout from the meeting, which was the focus of the input NDOR was gathering:

NDOR west region candidate project list

For those unfamiliar with the term (I wasn’t), a “Super 2” is a two-lane highway upgraded with “passing lanes ~ every 5 miles, or as needed” and “variable width paved shoulders.”

For the the full NDOR West Region Candidate Project List, click here.

My top transportation wish-list item – replace the shoulder surface of Highway 71 in Banner County – was not under consideration. (To see why this is a priority for me, check out this video of a portion of my favorite riding route. The video is 2 minutes from my rear bike camera of spine-jarring, chain-rattling shoulder riding northbound on Highway 71 north of Highway 88. I weave back and forth on the shoulder a little, trying to find the least bad part of each crack to ride over. On some days, the assault from the shoulder cracks are too much for me to bear and I cross the rumble strip to ride in the lane, which is nice and smooth.)

I felt a little bubble of hope when NDOR Deputy Director Khalil Jaber mentioned the NDOR’s new tag line in conjunction with the new Nebraska slogan “Good Life. Great Opportunity.” (Thank goodness, something better than the Nebraska Tourism Commission’s “Visit Nebraska. Visit Nice.”)

good life great journey

“Good Life. Great Journey.” Heck, yeah, man! That’s what it’s all about!

But then, the metrics set in.

We have these 12 potential projects, see? And we have limited funding. So we have to use engineering performance, economic performance, and stakeholder input to set priorities.

Engineering performance means things like safety, traffic volume, congestion, time savings, cost.

Economic performance means things like jobs created, the wages of those jobs, and “gross state product.”

Stakeholder input means, well . . . for a two-hour meeting on a weekday morning, from what I observed, it means primarily the opinions of:  1. people who are paid to be there as part of their jobs, 2. people who are retired and have the time to dedicate to promoting their interests. In the half of the room in which I sat, the most vocal and numerous participants seemed to be those representing the Heartland Expressway Association (made up of business and local government interests) and some folks from Chadron who are riled about an idea to install a roundabout or any possibility of a Chadron bypass.

The gist of the atmosphere I absorbed from the discussion in the room about “engineering performance, economic performance, stakeholder input” were not things I associate with a “Good Life. Great Journey.”

More trucks. Move more vehicles faster. Take pressure off I-25. Nationally-important travel corridor. People and goods hurrying through.

I get it.

Jobs are important. The economy is important. Without cash in hand, it’s real hard to make the Good Life happen. And when I’m heading somewhere in my car on a timeline – the Denver airport, for example – I’m perfectly happy to speed along at 70 miles per hour.

Time and money are easily measurable. I get that. I’ve worked in both the “hard sciences” and the “soft social sciences.” Quantitative data is more satisfyingly . . . quantitative . . . than qualitative data.

But the “time and money” equation leaves something out: quality of life. The qualitative stuff that’s hard to measure. A part of that “stakeholder input” that the NDOR, to their credit, is trying to capture.

Is a fast, efficient journey “great”? Or does a great journey meander and discover? It depends on who’s speaking.

For a bicyclist, or for someone who specifically chooses to get off the rat race of I-80 to take state highways, a great journey is perhaps more “discover” and less “efficient.” (Side note: Hey, Nebraska Tourism Commission – how about “Good Life. Great Discoveries.”? You’re welcome.)

When it came time for the breakout session to discuss the 12 project options, I wanted to bolt. I didn’t really have a good picture of all the possible projects on the prioritization list. (What the heck is a “viaduct” anyway? Apparently there are some in Melbeta, Minatare, Lewellen, and Bayard that need fixing.) But I stayed anyway, and put in my two cents’ worth.

We breakout session participants were each given three dots to place next to project options we wanted to discuss. I put dots on just two projects, roads I had cycled on before: US 26 east of Minatare, and US 26 west of Morrill.

My comments were basically: 1. I’ve seen a significant amount of bicycle traffic on Highway 26 between Torrington and Scottsbluff – both leisure riders and commuters. 2. Having worked in the tourism industry, I know a lot of tourists journey on Highway 26 along the Oregon Trail. Oh yeah, and 3. With the Scottsbluff airport suffering of late, Highway 71 south of Kimball has become more important as a back route to the Denver airport.

I felt like my bicycle comments were a microdroplet in the bucket.

When I approached one of the NDOR presenters afterwards to pass along some written comments from a fellow Western Nebraska Bicycling Club member who could not attend and I began to talk about the importance of good road shoulders for bicyclists, I saw the person’s eyes glaze over (whether from fatigue at the end of a long series of listening sessions across the state, or lack of interest in the concerns of bicyclists, I know not).

But a participant from the Chadron delegation did come up to me afterwards and express appreciation for the “non-motorized transport” viewpoint – the ability of pedestrians and bicyclists to navigate a potential Chadron roundabout was a concern, he said. “The video from the DOR didn’t show any bicyclists or pedestrians moving through it.”

Come to think of it, the illustration on the NDOR Super 2 highway fact sheet doesn’t show any bicycles, either. Or shoulders, for that matter.

NDOR super 2 highway

I get the sense the Super 2 highway may be a preferred option because it’s cheaper. My question is, how well will the “variable” shoulders of a Super 2 highway accommodate bicycles?

But the hopeful thing is, NDOR is open to further comment on this topic, until July 29, 2016, at least. One of the handouts at the session was a sheet full of blank lines, headed with “We want to hear from you.” The contact listed on the sheet is:

Sarah Kugler
Public Involvement Manager
Nebraska Department of Roads
PO Box 94759
Lincoln NE 68509-4759
sarah.kugler@nebraska.gov

I plan to send a link to this blog post to Ms. Kugler, as well as to Nebraska Senator John Stinner (who was present at the meeting) and to U.S. Senator Deb Fischer (who had a representative present at the meeting).

If you have something to say about anything I’ve described or linked to, I’d encourage you to send your comments along as well. The deadline is July 29.

Copyright 2016 by Katie Bradshaw

 

 

Cloud ride at Scotts Bluff National Monument

This morning’s ride was magical.

As I pedaled through Gering for an early ride up Scotts Bluff National Monument before it opened to car traffic, I could see the top of the bluff peeking up out of a fog bank.

When I got closer to the bluff, I plunged in and out of the mist draped across the landscape, in full sun one moment, in shadow the next.

On my journey up Summit Road, I had to stop a couple of times to take pictures.

summit road fog pano

Panoramic shot at the beginning of the ride.

sun fog bluff

The scenery in front of the sun fighting through the mist tumbling across the bluff was otherworldly.

grass and fog

Closer to the top, the fog started to break up a bit.

As I neared a final turn, a ray of sunshine broke through and illuminated the fog particles as they rode a turbulent wind gust, around and around and down.

I paused in the parking lot up top to capture the wind in motion, made visible by the fog.

I took a short hike to an overlook, hoping the fog would break up and I could get an amazing shot of the bluff tops hovering above the clouds. Alas, the fog thickened.

Here’s an example of what I had hoped to see, from a photo posted August 6, 2015, on the Scotts Bluff National Monument Facebook page:

SBNM Aug 6 2015 fog

Photo credit: Scotts Bluff National Monument

The fog-filtered light atop the bluff – illumination without shadow – made the flora growing there seem distinct, distinguished.

cloudy sunlight

yellow flower

On my cautious, wet-brake descent, I stopped to take pictures of the tunnels. It was a little eerie looking to the side of the road and seeing nothing but cloud, easy to imagine being at a much greater height than I actually was.

summit road tunnel b

summit road tunnel a

So glad I decided on an early morning training ride today. What a way to start the week!

Copyright 2016 by Katie Bradshaw, except photo credited to Scotts Bluff National Monument