2015 Cycle Greater Yellowstone: Day 2 Absarokee to Red Lodge

The morning of day 2, we got to sleep in a wee bit longer, getting up at 5:30 a.m. instead of 5. Being slower cyclists, we always try to get out on the course right when it opens, and on this day, the course didn’t open until 7:30 a.m., by agreement with the Stillwater Mining Company, one of the ride’s sponsors.

They have buses that bring workers to their palladium/platinum mine, which we’d be going right past on our route to Nye, and they didn’t want us cyclists to slow up the clockwork of the commute. I suspect they briefed their truck drivers, too, as we had a lot of semi-truck traffic passing us on a portion of the course that day, and the drivers were generally pretty cool.

We got an early morning wave from a young dog walker.

We got an early morning wave from a young dog walker. Note the driveway cattle guard. We would encounter plenty of cattle guards later in the week, one of which took down a cyclist.

Coming up on Fishtail, Montana. We stopped there on our way back on the out-and-back portion of this route to grab a coffee at Potter's Rock Shop and Coffee House, apparently run by an adorable older couple. The lady making the coffee was a bit slow at it, but very nice.

Coming up on unincorporated Fishtail, Montana. We stopped there on our way back on this out-and-back portion of the route to grab a coffee at Potter’s Rock Shop and Coffee House, run by an adorable older couple. The Fishtail general store has some pretty good shopping, and there’s also a bar/restaurant and a fiber arts studio/shop.

Loved the way the morning light played on the hay bales. Made me think of Monet and his haystack paintings.

Loved the way the morning light played on the hay bales. Made me think of Monet and his haystack paintings.

A group of riders steaming around the curve ahead of us.

A group of riders steaming around the curve ahead of us.

Along a good portion of the ride out to Nye, the road slope was deceptive. It LOOKED like we were going downhill, but it was an optical illusion foisted on us by the sloped landscape. It was so convincing, we kept trying to coast, but we weren't going anywhere. Bugman noticed that a watercourse next to the road was flowing behind us.

Along a good portion of the ride out to Nye, the road slope was deceptive. It LOOKED like we were going downhill, but it was an optical illusion foisted on us by the landscape. It was so convincing, we kept trying to coast, but we weren’t going anywhere. Bugman noticed that a watercourse next to the road was flowing behind us. “We must still be going uphill!” It was the strangest thing. Lots of riders commented on it.

Here was one of the many semi trucks that passed us along the route. Not this truck, but the one before it, could be heard laying on the horn up the hill a ways as it passed the group of cyclists in the picture, perhaps because they weren't riding single file?

Here was one of the many semi trucks that passed us along the route. It was kind of intimidating with the hills and curves. Not this truck, but rather the one before it, we heard laying on the horn up the hill a ways back as it passed the group of cyclists in the picture, perhaps because they weren’t riding single file? I really appreciated the courtesy the drivers showed us, most of them slowing down as they passed.

Scenic place for a mailbox, Nye Road is.

Scenic place for a mailbox, Nye Road is.

Some really nice views on the way to Nye.

Some really nice views on the way to Nye.

Yaaay! Finally a downhill after 1,400 feet of climbing!

Yaaay! Finally a downhill after 1,400 feet of climbing!

You can see our little cyclist circus at the Nye School, our refueling stop and turnaround point.

You can just see our little cyclist circus at the Nye School (the green-roofed structure), our refueling stop and turnaround point.

The Nye School sign, with bikes.

The Nye School sign, with bikes.

The Nye School building, with our bike.

The Nye School building, with our bike.

The school has a lovingly maintained playground. I couldn't resist the colorful merry-go-round. They don't make these things anymore!

The school has a lovingly maintained playground. I couldn’t resist the colorful merry-go-round. They don’t make these things anymore!

The community had a restored park tour bus on display for us. I asked a random fellow rider to take our picture, and it turned out to be the same guy we'd asked to take our picture at the starting line on day 1!

The community had a restored park tour bus on display for us. (Check out this website with some info about vintage park buses.) I asked a random fellow rider to take our picture, and it turned out to be the same guy we’d asked to take our picture at the starting line on day 1!

Our snack at this rest stop was giant dill pickles, along with peanut butter pretzels. Bugman and I thought this was pretty funny, as just the day before someone was trying to convince us that the best-ever snack on a long ride was a dill pickle tucked into a peanut-butter-smeared tortilla. It wasn't bad, but it's not exactly something I would crave.

Our snack at this rest stop was giant dill pickles, along with peanut butter pretzels. Bugman and I thought this was pretty funny, as just the day before someone had been trying to convince us that the best-ever snack on a long ride was a dill pickle tucked into a peanut-butter-smeared tortilla. The pickle-peanut-butter-pretzel snack wasn’t bad, but it’s not exactly something I would crave.

I stopped this couple - Nico and Jean - on our way out of Nye. I *had* to get a picture of Jean's arm and leg warmers, to

I stopped this couple – Nico and Jeanne – on our way out of Nye. I *had* to get a picture of Jean’s anatomical-muscle-printed arm and leg warmers, to “prove that stokers are the muscle on a tandem.” (The stoker rides the back seat of the tandem; the front seat is occupied by the captain, who is generally the heavier person, for stability.) Stoker Jeanne flexed and Captain Nico played along, miming weakness. (No worries, Nico and Bugman – the captains are the brains of the operation, right? Need to get you guys some anatomical brain skullcaps.)

Back up the hill we go! Several riders noted on the signs the convenience of the Nye Cemetery, which might take them if the hill proved too much.

Back up the hill we go! Several riders noted the convenience of the Nye Cemetery down a side road, which might take them if the hill proved too much.

Had to grab a wildflower shot when we stopped for a breather. This is liatris, AKA blazing star or gayfeather.

Had to grab a quick roadside wildflower shot when we stopped for a breather. This is liatris, AKA blazing star or gayfeather.

It's the guy with the good news! This volunteer radio operator was stationed at the top of the hill, to help with communications. When we got up to him, gasping, he said,

It’s the guy with the good news! This volunteer radio operator was stationed at the top of the hill, to help with emergency communications. When we got up to him, gasping from the climb in both directions, he said, “This is the top!” Yaaay!

I had to take a picture of this sign. It amused me.

I had to take a picture of this sign. It amused me. “Please! DRIVE SLOW extreme -dust- conditions” Also, note the darkening sky. Go away, clouds!

As I mentioned already, on the way back, we stopped in Fishtail for coffee. I bought a postcard, and we ate some snacks at the rest stop there. Only 15 miles to lunch on Roscoe – we got this!

Those 15 miles felt like the longest miles on the whole trip. We hadn’t eaten enough for the climbing we did that day, apparently. We started bonking about 2 miles from Roscoe. Luckily, we had a stashed Clif bar that fueled us to the lunch stop.

With the thickening clouds, lunch in Roscoe was rushed. We were also among the last of the pack that day, and the volunteers were starting to wrap up their stations already. We gulped down our food and headed over to the bike. Just then, there was a clap of thunder, and it started to rain. Bugman put on this windbreaker again, and I pulled out my rain jacket. (SO glad I remembered to grab it at the last minute that morning!)

Just outside of Roscoe, there was the steepest hill I think we encountered on the whole trip – and on a full stomach! In the rain! Several other cyclists walked their bikes up that blankety-blank hill.

It rained pretty hard.

It rained pretty hard.

It kept raining for awhile. Without our rain pants and shoe covers, which were packed away with our gear in camp, we got pretty soggy.

It kept raining for awhile. Without our rain pants and shoe covers, which were packed away with our gear in camp, we got pretty soggy.

The rain did finally let up, thank goodness. This herd of horses ran out towards the road, stared at the cyclists for a little while, then ran away again.

The rain did finally let up, thank goodness. This section of the ride was challenging, with some pretty big rollers. A few horses ran out towards the road, stared at the cyclists for a little while as if to say “What are you doing here?” (Good question!), then ran away again.

One more big climb and . . . construction at the top of the hill. They'd warned us about this at announcements last night. We'd get to traverse a patch of road that had been stripped down to dirt. Oh goody.

One more big climb and . . . construction at the top of the hill. They’d warned us about this at announcements the night before. We’d get to traverse a patch of road that had been stripped down to dirt. Oh goody.

Here's what the road behind us looked like. Uh . . . those clouds look like they're moving towards us. Hope we get through that construction zone soon!

Here’s what the road behind us looked like. Uh . . . those dark clouds look like they’re moving towards us. Hope we get through that construction zone soon!

As per the plan, outlined the night before and reiterated by the friendly gal waving at the camera, we waited at the red light for a pilot vehicle. The pilot vehicle led the cars waiting at the light, and we cyclists as a group followed the cars. Thankfully, we were followed in turn by the radio operator in his pickup truck (in the hi viz vest at right). We cyclists were supposed to all stay together, but it started to rain, and there were muddy hills in that construction zone, so we got spread out a little. Having the radio guy driving backup made me feel better. While we were waiting, the radio guy had warned us about the weather in the mountains, how changeable and potentially deadly it can be for the unprepared. *foreshadowing*

As per the plan, outlined the night before and reiterated by the friendly, no-nonsense gal waving at the camera, we waited at the red light for a pilot vehicle. The pilot vehicle led the cars waiting at the light, and we cyclists as a group followed the cars. Thankfully, we were followed in turn by the radio operator in his pickup truck (in the hi viz vest at right). We cyclists were supposed to all stay together, but it started to rain (BUMMER!), and there were muddy hills in that construction zone, so we got spread out a little. Having the radio guy driving backup made me feel better. While we were waiting, the radio guy had warned us about the weather in the mountains, how changeable and potentially deadly it can be for the unprepared. #foreshadowing

Ick! Our bike and legs were soon mud-splattered. I was glad we have a belt drive on our bike instead of a chain - it can handle wet and mud better.

Ick! Our bike and legs were soon mud-splattered. I was glad we have a belt drive on our bike instead of a chain – it can handle wet and mud better. No need to de-grease – just hose it off!

The worst part was, there was some downhill in the construction zone. I was very impressed with Bugman's bike-maneuvering skills. In the wet and the mud, our disc brakes were shrieking like, well, shrieking eels.

The worst part was, there was some downhill in the construction zone. I was very impressed with Bugman’s bike-maneuvering skills. In the wet and the mud, our disc brakes were shrieking like, well, shrieking eels.

Just as we got out of the last part of the construction zone, the rain started to fall harder, so hard it kind of hurt. And it got colder.

Then, as we passed a cemetery a mile away from camp, the rain solidified. Hail!

Darnit! If only we hadn’t stopped for coffee, we probably would have beat the storm to camp!

Luckily, we were just coming up on the van used to pick up and drop off road signage, which was parked alongside the road. We leaned the bike up against the back of the van and dove inside, taking shelter with two other riders and their bikes.

With the cold soaking and the lack of movement, Bugman started to shiver. Uh-oh. He doesn’t handle the cold too well. I had him pull out my dry arm warmers from our waterproof bike trunk (a great investment, which we picked up after riding in rain on last year’s CGY). The dry arm warmers seemed to help.

The hail quit, though the rain continued. We consulted with the sign van crew. We’d prefer to sag back to camp. I draw the line at hail, and Bugman was cold and wet. We didn’t know it was only a mile to camp, but I don’t think we’d have wanted to ride that last mile anyway. Hills over 71 miles was plenty that day, thank you.

The two single bikes were pulled out of the sign van and put into another support vehicle, and our tandem was wheeled into the sign van. (I always wondered how the support crew would handle it if we needed to sag on our tandem. The sign van’s the answer!)

Sag van picture - everybody smile!

Sag van picture – everybody smile!

We were let off in camp, the volunteers parked our bike for us, and I ran around for a few minutes trying to find our tent, totally disoriented, when I should have recognized the Red Lodge camp setup from day 0. I was just concerned about getting Bugman into shelter and getting him dry. Thank goodness we used the tent sherpa service, so our tent was already set up with our bags inside!

It hailed in camp, too. You can see some little piles of hail under the tent fly (which hadn't been staked out), just beyond the pile of soggy, wet clothing I ejected from the tent. It felt so good to get into dry clothes and climb into my sleeping bag to warm up!

It hailed in camp, too. You can see some little piles of hail under the tent fly (which hadn’t been staked out), just beyond the pile of soggy, wet clothing I ejected from the tent. It felt so good to get into dry clothes and climb into my sleeping bag to warm up!

Thankfully, the rain quit and the sun came out again. The catering crew cooked meat for dinner on a giant BBQ grill.

Thankfully, the rain quit and the sun came out again. The catering crew cooked meat for dinner on a giant BBQ grill. With dry clothes and a belly full of mashed potatoes, the fleeting thought that had crossed my mind earlier, during the hailstorm – “the car is so close, why not just get in and go home?” – had vanished.

We had a problem, though. Our bike shoes were soaking wet. We learned last year that starting out the day with wet shoes can lead to very cold feet right quick. And we were supposed to head up a mountain the next day!

Solution: the propane heater in the Überbrew beer tent!

Solution: the propane heater in the Überbrew beer tent! We learned not to get too close to the heater. The pull strap on the back of one of my shoes melted!

The beer tent was a popular place that evening. So was the public bathroom adjacent to the park, which had hand dryers. Bugman spent a portion of that evening sitting in our car a few blocks away in the long-term parking lot, charging his phone and drying mittens and arm warmers on the car's heater vents. #foreshadowing

The beer tent was a popular place that evening. So was the public bathroom adjacent to the park, which had hand dryers. Bugman spent a portion of that evening sitting in our car a few blocks away in the long-term parking lot in Red Lodge, charging his phone and drying mittens and arm warmers on the car’s heater vents. #foreshadowing

At announcements that evening, we learned that there were storms forecast for Beartooth Pass the next day, but that they were not expected to start until after 11 a.m. The ride start the next day would be modified, with all riders being required to start between 6-6:30 a.m. (which means all the route crew and the caterers would have to be up and ready earlier, too!), so that we would all hopefully be up and over the pass by the time the weather hit. Laggards would be hopscotched ahead by the sag vans. Stacks of 8-hour handwarmer packets were handed out, too, a pair to each rider, which we were told to activate the next morning to help us manage in the cold up above 10,000 feet.

Hooboy.

Off to sleep, perchance to dream of mountain passes!

Copyright 2015 by Katie Bradshaw

5 thoughts on “2015 Cycle Greater Yellowstone: Day 2 Absarokee to Red Lodge

  1. Pingback: Cycle Greater Yellowstone 2015: Day 0 | Wyobraska Tandem

  2. Interesting how different individuals’ experiences of what would seem to be the same event can vary… My wife and I must have been a fair piece ahead of the Wyobraska Tandem on this day, because – while the skies were threatening and rain sprinkled on us intermittently, we did not have to deal with heavy rain and hail. We rushed through the construction zone (which was not yet muddy, but was mostly hard-packed at the time) and on into Red Lodge, with an eye toward the storm clouds behind us – accompanied for the last quarter-mile or so by a kid on a skateboard. (We assume that he did not ride from Absarokee also.)

    • Interesting indeed! Last year on day 7, we made it through Togwotee Pass with “just” rain. We spoke with someone this year who had ridden last year, and she sagged that day because she hit hail on the pass. I’m kind of chuckling about the idea of someone skateboarding from Absarokee to Red Lodge, though I bet there’s someone out there who’d do it!

      • Yes, we also hit (or got hit by) hail last year on the pass on Day 7. And I had a flat in the middle of it all to boot. We rate that ride as WORSE than Day 3 (Beartooth Pass) this year. But definitely close.

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