2016 Cycle Greater Yellowstone Day 7: Ennis to Bozeman

When the alarm on my watch started beeping at 4:45 a.m., I did not want to leave the warmth of my sleeping bag – my tent was cozy, my air mattress just the right firmness. But, the final day of riding Cycle Greater Yellowstone was at hand, and the route opened early today – 6:30 a.m. – to make sure the bulk of riders would make it through the canyon area east of Norris during our window of law enforcement support and before weekend traffic got too crazy.

At breakfast, everyone was bundled up in their cold-weather riding gear.

1 chilly morning

I was so grateful for the hot coffee, which defrosted a small portion of the table and warmed my hands.

2 frosty table

Mist was rising from the pond in Lions Park. That white dot on the water bottom right is the reflection of the moon.

3 pond mist

We hit the road at 6:45 a.m., along with another couple on a tandem – an unusual custom rig designed for the smaller rider to be in the front. We saw a total of three tandems on the ride this year, in addition to ours.

4 fellow tandem 1

Here’s another shadow shot of us on our tandem, since we didn’t get any photos of us on the ride aside from the camp shot on Day 1.

5 tandem shadow

The Saturday morning traffic out of Ennis wasn’t much more relaxed than the inbound traffic the day before, with several drivers feeling the need to lay on the horn to tell us we cyclists don’t deserve to be on the road. (At least that’s how I interpreted it. Perhaps I can be an optimist and think the horn blast was instead a gesture of support?)

6 honker

Rolling out into the morning.

7 rolling into the morning

Somewhere in this field, between the glistening barbed wire and the misty pond, sandhill cranes were having a croaking conversation.

8 morning sun

About 7 miles into the ride, we passed a pullout signposted as a chain up area. That’s when you know you’re in for a heckuva climb. I rather enjoyed this climb. It got me good and warmed up, and because there were two lanes on the uphill climb, traffic felt a lot more relaxed. It was also nice to have an opportunity to stop midway up the hill to remove layers (and take pictures). Here’s a cyclist conquering the hill. (It’s Jeff from Alberta, I believe.)

9 conquering the hill

Despite the heat generated from the climb, extremities could still be cold. Here, tandem captain Jim takes the opportunity to warm up his hands.

10 warm up hands

Jim and Janice passed us on the second phase of the uphill climb. Like me, Janice had the job title of tandem stoker / team photographer – several times I saw her wielding a camera from the back seat.

11 fellow tandem 2

Usually, after a climb like this you can enjoy a bit of downhill. For me the downhill into Norris wasn’t particularly enjoyable. This was partly because the windchill on the descent left me gasping and slightly dizzy, probably from hyperventilating from the plunge into the chill. But also because of traffic.

12 tense descent

On account of the narrow shoulder with occasional debris and the difficulty of spotting road hazards as our path alternated between shadow and sunlight, safety on the higher-speed descent dictated that we ride in the lane. One driver – in a maroon car with tinted windows – decided that this was an affront to common decency, and they passed us at exceedingly close range, laying on the horn. To work out the angerdrenalin, I started shouting made-up cuss words, à la A Christmas Story (after getting permission from my tandem captain so as not to startle him). An invented transcript follows:

RANGBOOTLEFIGGERSCHNARK!
SIXTABLASTIDHANGDAFARGG!
HEGDOGGLETIZADONGER!
AAARRRRGH!

Shortly afterwards, an oncoming driver apparently missed seeing us and decided to pull into our lane to pass another vehicle, threatening us with obliteration in a head-on collision. Thankfully, Bugman anticipated this move, and we slowed down and got as far right as we could without running off the road. Defensive driving pays!

I am really not a fan of riding on Highway 287 in Montana. But in a rural area, sometimes that’s the only option for getting from point A to point B.

By the time we passed this giant roadside boom box in Norris (what up, Norris?), my nerves were shot.

13-norris-boom-bax

We stopped at the rest stop to recalibrate. On account of the traffic, cyclists were asked to dismount and walk through the crosswalk to get to the rest stop. (View looking back towards the hill we had just descended. The next part of the route goes left in this photo, onto Highway 84.)

14-walk-bikes

I was ever so glad to leave Highway 287 behind and turn east onto Highway 84. It was a gradual, curving descent along Hot Springs Creek to its confluence with the Madison River. Lovely! A favorite route segment! We took advantage of a pullout to let an RV pass us and to take some pictures.

15-along-madison-river

I attempted to get a silhouette photo of some fly fishers, but my camera focused on the opposite bank, capturing instead some of the thousands of sunlit flying insects that stood out against the darkness of the shaded trees. “Good trout food,” Bugman commented.

16-lflies-and-fishing

Nine out of ten cyclists prefer Clif Bars to rumble bars. At the lowest point of the road, near a turnout for a recreational area, there were tooth-rattling (for a cyclist) full-lane rumble bar boxes in each direction. Because, you know, drivers need reminders to slow down.

17-rumble-bars

Another reminder to slow down was the state trooper patrol the CGY organizers had hired to watch over driver behavior on this winding, shoulderless road (see the lead vehicle, with the light bar in the rear window). I was grateful for the protection – it made a difference. We didn’t have any really scary or discourteous encounters with vehicles on this stretch of road. It’s sad that it takes direct supervision to ensure that drivers don’t needlessly endanger or antagonize cyclists. Or, maybe it was just chance.

20-law-enforcement

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

18-my-view

Fishers, two kinds.

19-fishers-two-kinds

Our riverside rest stop at mile 29:

21-riverside-rest-stop

I wasn’t the only one capturing the scenery.

22-photo-opp

The road down to the rest area was fairly steep, gravelly and washboarded. We, and a few other cyclists, decided to hoof it out of there.

23-walk-the-gravel-hill

On the other side of the rest area pullout, a volunteer flagged traffic to alert them to the cyclists that would be pulling out. Three cheers for CGY volunteers!

24-awesome-volunteers

If you’ve been riding along a river valley, chances are, you’re going to need to climb up out of that valley. The view behind us was lovely!

25-another-hill

As I was grinding away on the uphill, I had ample time to contemplate my newly-purchased Greater Yellowstone Coalition cycling gloves and the punny thought that I was now prepared if ever I got into a bear-knuckle brawl. Ha!

26-bear-knuckles

Our final destination of Bozeman was near! We could see signage! But, still, so far! It would be another long 13 miles before we could get off the bike for the day at mile 59. I was soooo grateful for the rest stop in a residential area at about mile 48. Props to the gear drop van for ensuring we didn’t miss the RIGHT TURN!

27-right-turn

Three elements of Montana: wheat, mountain, and sky.

28-three-montana-elements

A picturesque barn. I wondered how many hundreds of barns we saw on our ride.

29-montana-barn

T-H-E  E-N-D

We ended our ride at GYC’s HQ in Bozeman around 1 p.m., where there was a BBQ lunch in the parking lot.

30-the-end-at-cgy-hq

I was more than glad to get off the bike. My saddle sores were killing me. We couldn’t bear to sit on the saddle again for the last mile from the finish area to the fairgrounds where our car was parked, so we walked. (My gait might’ve had a touch of a bowlegged waddle.)

We picked up our bags, loaded the bike onto the car and checked in (15 minutes early) to our hotel in downtown Bozeman – The Lark. I approve of the place. Nice patio, and the rooms are well equipped. (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to try to use a hotel bed frame to open a bottle.)

31-hotel-bottle-opener

After showers and a snooze, feeling slightly more human, we headed out to wander Bozeman one last time.

32-bozeman-garbage

I loved seeing other riders wearing the t-shirts from the ride. It made for solidarity moments when we encountered each other. I loved this year’s shirt (color, softness, route map graphic), and was very glad to get it. Contrary to all prior years of the ride, we weren’t supposed to have gotten shirts as part of our registration swag. Instead, the plan was to give everyone a branded mess kit to use during the ride, to reduce our environmental impact versus using disposable plates and cups. Alas, the mess kits – ordered from China – got stuck in customs and didn’t arrive in time. Honestly, I liked the last-minute surprise t-shirt better. (I already have a mess kit anyway, which I’d used in previous years.) It’s just really fun seeing the flood of CGY shirts unleashed on the final day.

32-shirt-2

We ducked into a restaurant and wound up ordering more food than we could eat. Judging by the light fixtures and how my leftover pizza was wrapped, I deduced that the MacKenzie River Pizza Company takes its Montana cattle theme seriously.

33-cattle-theme-extreme

I was ever so glad for the night’s sleep and the chance to take pressure off my posterior before driving home. I was a lot more comfortable sitting in the car the next day than I had been on the short drive to the hotel.

Will we be at next year’s CGY? I don’t know. It may depend on the route. Also, the time commitment to train for the challenging ride has been hard to sustain over the years. And we’re considering an international vacation tied to Bugman’s research that would eat up our vacation time and budget. But it’s been a heckuva ride these last few years, and I’m glad to have been a part of it!

day 7 stats
59 miles
2,362 feet of climb
11.6 mph avg
low temp 40
high temp 80
precip 0
wind 4-9 g 10 SE

Copyright 2016 by Katie Bradshaw

2016 Cycle Greater Yellowstone Day 6: Dillon to Ennis

There was much joking (and grumbling) in camp that morning about the belltower clock somewhere in downtown Dillon that chimed the hour and half hour – All. Night. Long. Needless to say, many of us started Day 6 short on shuteye.

Bicycle steeds, waiting for their riders:

1 bike tree

The morning light pouring across the topography was most atmospheric. Painterly, even.

2 morning light

The colors of hay money: green and gold. The blueberry bruise of the sky in the distance indicated the rain that managed to miss us. The wind did not miss us. For 28 miles we bucked headwinds of about 9 to 25 miles per hour, gusting to 33. (What would a ride out West be without wind?) Oy!

3 money is green and gold

Sheep! (And a few goats.)

4 sheep

The sky northeast, the source of the wind, was a study of blue and gray.

5 clouds and cabin

A potato field. I could tell it was potatoes because a few of the plants on the edge of the field had the telltale white flowers.

6 potato field

Gosh, would you look at those mountains? The play of the light across the landscape mesmerized me. (Good thing I was on the back of the tandem and wasn’t “driving.”)

7 painterly mountains

Gosh!!! (And my pictures don’t do justice to the quality of the light.)

8 more painterly mountains

At a rest stop, one of the bike mechanics loaned me his binoculars (they have everything!) so I could scope out the waterfowl in the wetland down below: white pelicans and blue herons and assorted unidentifiable ducks.

9 wetland

The Beaverhead for which Beaverhead County is named. Also known as Point of Rocks. From this angle, it makes me think of a massive being that’s either groaning up out of or slinking into the earth.

10 point of rocks

On account of the narrow shoulder and the wind – particularly the wind, the traffic on this road was mighty unpleasant – particularly the trucks. At one point, we picked up a struggling rider in our draft who audibly gasped when a semi truck would rush by at an uncomfortably close distance. (As I can speculate the RV driver gasped when, just as they were passing us on our tandem, a couple of cyclists behind us decided to pass us at the same moment. Equal opportunity dumb moves out there.) I was not a fan of this road or the truck traffic. I was, however, a fan of this mailbox:

11 truck mailbox

Because of the wind, cyclists were grouping up in drafting lines, which saves a lot of energy for the riders behind, who don’t have to expend as much energy as the lead rider. There’s supposed to be a rotation so the lead person can fall back and rest while someone else takes a turn pulling the group. But poor, poor tandem riders. Nobody ever wants to pull us in their draft. Everybody drafts us and takes advantage of our energy and thanks us and says they will buy us a beer, but they never do. If anyone’s reading this who said they’d buy us a beer for drafting, how’s about you make a donation to the Greater Yellowstone Coalition instead, since that’s where the money from the beer tent went.

12 battling the wind

By the time we got to the rest stop at Twin Bridges, we were pretty bonked from fighting the wind. A cashew and Nutella sandwich was a-mazing!

13 cashew and nutella sandwich

But I wanted something hot. Coffee, specifically. Rather than fight the wind and traffic to traverse the couple of blocks from the rest stop to downtown Twin Bridges, we hoofed it along the narrow bridge sidewalk in search of a coffee shop.

14 walking to coffee

Google told us there were several coffee shops along and near the main drag in Twin Bridges. Google lied. We found faded signs and closed signs and nearly despaired until we saw a coffee shop attached to a grocery store. Such a cute painting in the window!

16 colorful window

Just inside the door, next to the checkout, were c-store-style coffee and soda dispensers and a few tables from which a couple of men in ballcaps watched us with closed expressions. I took a left into the liquor department, which was also a cafe and coffee shop and gift shop. I loved the décor: flowery umbrellas and deer mounts.

15 decorative coffee shop

The customer ahead of us, with whom we chatted about the weather, had ordered some sandwiches to go, so it took a good many minutes before we were able to order our coffees, meaning we were falling further and further behind the ranks of cyclists. Oh well. The wait was totally worth it to me. It helped my mood and energy level immensely. Well, that and also getting to turn the corner so our headwind was now a sidewind.

Rolling out of Twin Bridges, I saw that the bank sign alerted drivers of our presence. WATCH FOR BIKERS * ON ROAD TO ENNIS.

17 watch for bikers

Happy trails! Yes! Same to you, Twin Bridges! DRIVE CAREFUL, all you drivers. We’ve got 42 miles to Ennis.

18 happy trails

At the rest stop, hearsay was that a rider had grumbled something like, “We’re doing all this work riding into the wind, and the scenery isn’t even that good.” I took this picture just to dispute that latter assertion. This isn’t good scenery? Wow, whoever said that must live in a REALLY beautiful place!

19 barn

Random photo interlude for my family: look at the Union 76 ball peeking out from behind the old structure! (My dad used to work for that company.)

20 union 76 ball

Time to “look at the historical point” (AKA take a rest). This sign mentioned both the Innocents Gang and the Vigilantes. We’re totally talking Wild West here, folks. Also – dang, wish the coffee shack was open.

21 historical point breather

Saw a deer traipsing about in the shrubbery.

22 deer

At the lunch stop at a garden center, I instinctively moved out of the sun, but I was almost too chilly in the shade. One of the support vans made light of the day’s weather conditions. What else can you do but laugh about it?

23 singin in the wind

Back of the pack again – the crew was tearing down the lunch stop by the time we headed out onto the road. Thanks to the coffee earlier, I was still feeling pretty good. Bugman, on the other hand, was struggling. That’s the bummer – or the blessing – about a tandem: sometimes when one person bonks, the other person’s fine. My bonk day was yesterday. Today was Bugman’s.

24 packing up lunch

My view from the back of the tandem. Not bad. (Looks a lot like the bluffs of Wyobraska.)

25 my view

Building ruins. Not surprising, given the location we were riding in: Alder Gulch, which was called “Fourteen-mile City” during the gold boom times in the 1860s, because of all the people who settled along the corridor.

26 ruins

To our right I could see piles of rocks scattered across the landscape. I thought at first it was a construction site, but the piles went on and on and on.

27 alder gulch

Turns out, the landscape of Alder Gulch is pretty much one long landscape scar of hundred-years-ago gold dredging. (Thank you, historic point, for the timely info and excuse to rest.)

27 gold dredges

Ah, we must be at Virginia City, which ride organizers said would be a good place to stop. But wait – it says Virginia City AND Nevada City. Twin Cities?

28 14 mile city

Nevada City was first. This architecture baffled me. Was it nouveau faux mining style, or some really over-the-top historic miners’ homes? Since it doesn’t show up on the walking tour of Nevada City, I’m going to assume it’s nouveau faux.

29 curious architecture

Only about a mile to Virginia City, but what a long mile it was. This shade tree looked very, very inviting. If there’d been a hammock, we wouldn’t have made it past this point.

30 shade tree

Made it! The hitching post makes a convenient bike rack. We were told to seek out the ice cream at Virginia City. We tried the ice cream at the place in this photo (which building you can see a historical photo of on this page.) Then we discovered that another place up the street had superior ice cream. So we had some more.

31 hitching post as bike rack

While I was marveling at the old brick of one of the buildings, Bugman found another bug. “Some kind of longhorn beetle.”

32 another bug

I stopped to read a history plaque or two. I thought this story was pretty cool. An African-American woman owned and operated the Virginia City’s water utility company around the turn of the century.

33 sarah bickford

This mailbox padlock caught my eye. It looked old. There are similar ones for sale on Ebay, but I couldn’t get information about its history or confirmation of its obsolescence. Google-fu fail.

34 letter box lock

A pie in the window. Too cute!

35 pie in window

A street view on the main drag of Virginia City. Too bad cars are allowed here. Overall, Virginia City (and Nevada City) seemed on their surfaces to be kinda kitschy and touristy. Many of the older buildings are replicas or buildings moved from other places. But these stone and brick structures? Those, I bet, are authentic. Many of them had National Register of Historic Places plaques on them. I’m frustrated I can’t find an online source of information about the buildings in the town, or even a book. (Google-fu fail #2.) I really would like to come back here and learn more about the buildings.

36 stone buildings

Given that Bugman was wearing out and I was pretty tired, and that there were sag vans in Virginia City, we opted to sag the next couple of miles up a nasty 1,200-foot climb.

37 sag again

We sagged again with Thomas in the gear drop van. This time, Bugman was the tired one, so he rode up front. I rode in the back with the bike. From my vantage out the rear window, I saw that several other cyclists were walking up the grade. It was a tough climb at the end of a long day. I’m glad we sagged.

39 the view from the sag

We didn’t sag all the way to camp this time, though. Instead, Thomas dropped us at the rest station at the summit, so we could ride the triumphant descent into Ennis. As we were preparing to take off, I saw a train of what I remember to be three double-trailer bottom-dump trucks rumble past. There was virtually no shoulder on this road. I could feel dread in the pit of my stomach. I wasn’t sure I wanted to do this.

We lucked out and timed things just right, so no vehicles passed us on the main part of the descent. All the same, it was not a very fun descent. With the crosswind, at higher speeds you really had to concentrate not to get blown over. Bugman had the hard work as captain of the tandem. I mostly just hunkered down in the back, tried not to move too much, and tried not to think about what might happen if a truck passed us in this wind, on this road. The view was beautiful, but the dropoff was waa-hoo-hooo-hoooey!

41 thinking about death

On a clear bend with a bit of shelter from the wind, we maxed out around 35 miles per hour. That was brief, though, and, with motorized vehicle traffic behind us, we soon pulled over to catch our breath and get out of the way. With all the wind, and on a descent, the cyclists needed to take the lane rather than hug the shoulder to be safe. This, I think, royally pissed off a few drivers who had to slow down. I witnessed a couple unnecessary-layings-on-of-the-horn and a display of an extended middle finger. It was not very fun. I was thankful to get out of traffic in one piece and get into camp to shower and start to unwind.

42 around the curve

While standing in line at the beet tent, I had a cute attack over the band doing a warmup/sound check. Have baby, will banjo. 😀

43 banjo and baby

At announcements that night, we got very sad news. The cyclist who’d had a heart attack on the route the day before had died. His name was Jerry Parker, and he was a pretty righteous dude. We were later able to confirm that he was, indeed, the “older gent” we’d been with on the descent of Badger Pass. I deeply regret that I did not take a photo of him as we passed him on that glorious descent in the last hours of his life. I hope his family is able to find peace in the fact that he met his end in a beautiful place, accompanied by kindred spirits.

The sunset in camp that night was beautiful. (Cheers to you, Jerry.) I was so grateful that we were camped in the lush Lions Club Park adjacent to the Madison River, rather than the dry, shadeless campsite in a vacant field we’d made do with in 2013.

44 sunset in camp

The last night in camp is always a touch lugubrious. All the fellow traveling-circus-dwellers start their last goodbyes, and the concentrated activity of camp begins to relax and dissipate.

Bugman and I strolled around Ennis’ main drag. I rued the fact that several shops with interesting things in their windows were closed. Someone earlier had mentioned stopping in town for some buffalo wings. With my dinner well on its path to digestion, I was feeling kind of hungry again. Bugman and I stopped at a restaurant for some buffalo wings.

I slept better in Ennis than I had slept in a week. Maybe it was the buffalo wings.

Day 6 stats
68.9 miles
1,594 climb
11.7 mph avg for most of ride, 16.9 mph average on the downhill into camp
low temp 46
high temp 70
precip 0
wind 9-25 g 33 NE

Copyright 2016 by Katie Bradshaw

Cycle Greater Yellowstone: Day 1 ride to Ennis

Day 0

Distance and elevation gain  (per my mapping software): 71.86 miles, 1,191 feet

Min temp: 48, Max temp: 91, Winds 5-20, gusting to 39, Precipitation: none

While Bugman and I woke up at 5-something am to get dressed and packed and breakfasted in time for the 7 am route opening, we were still getting ready when a cheer went up as the first riders took off. I think we finally got started at 7:45 am. As we waited for traffic to clear (and watched one cyclist fall over – pedal clip fail) , we chatted a bit with a policeman about our bike. Lots of people were interested in our ride, as we were one of maybe a dozen tandems on the ride, and perhaps the only ones with a Rohloff hub and belt drive (which would become significant later).

As we pedaled through the cool morning air along Highway 287, I was full-to-bursting with joy. The photos here are simply not going to do justice to the feeling of cycling along with hundreds of other riders, passing pine forest and pasture, inhaling the fresh scent of green things upslope.

Our shadow on a bridge over Duck Creek.

Our Day 1 destination: Ennis, Montana.

A selfie at Hebgen Lake. We wore our “Thing 1 and Thing 2” jerseys on the first day and got lots of chuckles.

Beautiful view along Hebgen Lake.

Couple of guys fishing the Madison River. Gorgeous scenery!!

Another view of the Madison River in the Gallatin Range, a touch of wildfire smoke hazing the air.

Checking out a sign at Quake Lake, which was created after a 7.3-7.5 magnitude earthquake in 1959 that caused a landslide that killed 28 people and dammed the Madison River to create Quake Lake. The dead trees sticking up around the perimeter of the lake and the bare hillside opposite are testament to the dramatic landscape change.

A major portion of our ride was on highways, meaning that we were sharing the road with season-end tourist traffic and other vehicles. For the most part, we all got along pretty well (only witnessed two jerky honkers on the whole trip), but the RVs and two-trailer semi trucks still scared me a bit – particularly on portions of the highway where the rumble strip was set just 8-12 inches from the side of the road, giving us on our tandem less than adequate maneuvering room in case of wind and/or debris and forcing us to ride out on the roadway.

Day 1 rest stop at the parking lot of the (temporarily closed) Quake Lake visitor center. This first stop featured a product from one of the ride’s sponsors: Omnibars – made for omnivores – which contain beef, fruit, nuts, and grains. If I were to give it a tagline, it would be “It’s what bears would eat if they were distance cyclists.” It’s kinda like a fancied-up pemmican. I suppose it’s something I might crave on long cycle trips, since it’s got a little of everything in there. On my personal energy-food edibility scale, I’d put it ahead of Gu but behind a Clif bar or plain ol’ beef jerky.

I was more interested by the Nutella-and-banana-on-a-bagel option. All of our breads on this ride were provided by sponsor Wheat Montana. They make some good stuff!

Our day 1 lunch at the Reynolds Pass rest stop. Very filling meal! You could “trick or treat” your way down the table and take what you wanted – sandwich, fruit, chips, cookies, sodas. My “vegetarian” wrist band allowed me the vegetarian sandwich option at lunch. (Which I did mainly because I don’t eat a lot of meat and didn’t want digestive issues if the meals were meat-heavy.)

The afternoon’s ride north on Highway 287 was pretty hot – and windy. There was significant traffic on the highway and a narrow shoulder, so ranch driveways provided the only non-scheduled water stop options out there.

Almost to Ennis, spotted an osprey nest on a pole?

The next nest-on-a-pole, barely visible in this photo, appeared to contain a bald eagle.

I sure wish I’d had the camera out when we “crossed the finish line” at the rodeo grounds north of town. Artistically-painted trout sculptures flanked the finish and students cheered our arrival, as did a lady on horseback clad in a vintage dress (she must have been roasting in that getup!).

We found our tent, showered, and worked to set up camp on the dry, rocky ground. But, recall that I had a flat air mattress from the day before. (Bummer!) I flagged down a volunteer on a golf cart to ask if there was some water nearby where I could submerge my air mattress to find the leak.

The woman thought for awhile, and said that she couldn’t think of a place, but that she would be happy to take the mattress home with her and find and patch the leak, and if she couldn’t patch it, she could loan me a mattress.

Later that evening, I came back to my tent to find a loaner air mattress and a note with a phone number and address. I called the number. The lady said she hadn’t found a leak in the mattress, but was keeping it blown up overnight to be sure. I was welcome to use her mattress that night. I could find her in the morning at the baggage truck to get my mattress back, but I could keep her mattress and mail it back to her at the end of the ride.

Without that loaner mattress, there is no way I would have gotten a good night’s sleep.

God bless Pam B. of McAllister, Montana!

Getting back to Ennis camp . . . we purchased an iced chai from a vendor and cookies from a charity booth, stopped to talk to a community representative about the bike paths planned in the area, then caught a hayrack ride from camp into the downtown.

Lovely little downtown, Ennis has.

Do you suppose Ennis is the only place in the world with a park featuring a metal sculpture of a man hauling an elk carcass on horseback?

Stopped in at Willie’s Distillery for a bourbon-and-ginger-beer and listened to the music.

One of the trout sculptures downtown!

Back at camp . . .

This has to be one of my favorite photos from the trip: an ice cream truck out in the middle of nowhere. The truck driver was very eager to pose for the photo, making sure to don his hat and dig out one of every flavor of popsicle to display.

Yet another use for a skid-steer: bike parking.

A nearby fence was handy for both bike parking and drying laundry.

Interesting how the gray water from the shower trucks was handled: it went into a giant bladder, which then was apparently siphoned dry into another truck?

Day 2

Copyright 2013 by Katie Bradshaw

Cycle Greater Yellowstone

How do I even begin to describe the experience that was the “first great ride in the last best place”?

Wowza!

This was my and Bugman’s first-ever cycle tour, which we completed on our tandem to celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary on August 22. We’ve got the date for the 2014 Cycle Greater Yellowstone blocked out on our calendar already. How’s that for an endorsement?

The gist: some 700 cyclists and about 100 support crew and volunteers in a week’s time circumnavigated the north borderlands of Yellowstone National Park in this inaugural bike ride (route to change in subsequent years). The point of the ride was not just to provide an unmatched cycling experience but also to introduce a new crowd of people to the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and the issues the Greater Yellowstone Coalition (not to be confused with the Greater Yellowstone Coordinating Committee) is bringing to light, and to make connections with the communities surrounding the park.

The towns we stayed in or near are marked on this map: West Yellowstone, Ennis, Livingston, Gardiner, Cooke City, Cody, Red Lodge.

The towns we stayed in or near are marked on this map: West Yellowstone, Ennis, Livingston, Gardiner, Cooke City, Cody, Red Lodge.

I’ve gone deep into an Internet wormhole looking up information about the park and the ecosystem to include in this epic series of blog posts. I won’t come close to scratching the surface on the complexity of this region. I’ll try to touch on a few points here and there, but how’s this for a summary:

Yellowstone was established as the world’s first national park in 1872. The U.S. Army protected the park from poachers and other opportunists until 1917, when the park was transferred to the newly-created National Park Service.

From what I understand, the park boundaries were drawn up a bit arbitrarily, mostly with geologic considerations in mind. That creates some challenges when you start thinking in terms of functioning ecosystems, which, in the case of Yellowstone, has been estimated to encompass 20 million acres – not just the ~2 million acres in the park itself. The park’s iconic megafauna – the bison, elk, bears, and wolves that are the symbols of Yellowstone – rely on ecosystem webs that extend well outside the park boundaries. (And, in the case of climate change, which is affecting the whitebark pine and causing ripple effects throughout the system, the ecosystem webs extend well outside our nation’s boundaries.)

Arbitrary human boundaries create another complexity: jurisdiction. Within the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, the following governmental entities, at minimum, have authority: Department of the Interior National Park Service, Department of the Interior Bureau of Land Management, Department of the Interior Fish and Wildlife Service, Department of Agriculture Forest Service; administrations at two national parks, six national forests, and two national wildlife refuges; the states of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho; and a large number of local jurisdictions (counties, towns, conservation districts, irrigation districts, etc.).

Which points to another issue facing the region: what is the highest and best use of this land in the Yellowstone region? You’ll get a different answer depending on which person or governmental agency you ask. Wildlife protection. Tourism development. Economic development. Vacation homes. Mining, Agriculture. Ranching. Energy extraction. Camping, Fishing. Hiking. Boating. Hunting. Snowmobiling. Horseback riding. Bike riding … the list goes on and on.

Thus, the need for a coalition of interested parties to come together, work together, and work through the tangle of competing interests.

Which brings me back to the bike ride designed to bring some more interested parties to the table . . .

I must say – this was a VERY well-organized ride.

Some people booked hotel rooms in communities along the way, but most people camped. Bugman and I used the “tent sherpa” service. It was very nice having our tent put up and taken down for us every day – especially on the days when it rained. This tour provided ALL meals through a catering service that is accustomed to feeding wildland firefighters. Between those hearty meals and the well-stocked rest stops, I think I probably GAINED weight while pedaling 380-plus miles including 10,000-feet-plus of climbing. Another definite plus: the shower trucks! Two semi trucks outfitted with individual shower stalls and on-demand hot water! True luxury!!! Other amenities included SAG vehicle support, on-course bike mechanics, gear transport service, and nightly live entertainment.

I’ll give a truncated day-by-day recounting of each day, with photos. Check it out under the following links:

Cycle Greater Yellowstone: Day 0 West Yellowstone

Cycle Greater Yellowstone: Day 1 ride to Ennis

Cycle Greater Yellowstone: Day 2 ride to Livingston

Cycle Greater Yellowstone: Day 3 ride to Gardiner

Cycle Greater Yellowstone: Day 4 bus tour of Yellowstone National Park

Cycle Greater Yellowstone: Day 5 hitching to Cody

Cycle Greater Yellowstone: Day 6 out-and-back from Cody

Cycle Greater Yellowstone: Day 7 ride to Red Lodge
Copyright 2013 by Katie Bradshaw