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

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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

2016 Cycle Greater Yellowstone Day 4: Whitehall to Dewey

2016 Cycle Greater Yellowstone Day 5: Dewey to Dillon

2016 Cycle Greater Yellowstone Day 6: Dillon to Ennis

2016 Cycle Greater Yellowstone Day 7: Ennis to Bozeman

Copyright 2016 by Katie Bradshaw

Cycle Greater Yellowstone 2015: Day 0

Well, another Cycle Greater Yellowstone ride is in the books, and I’m proud Bugman and I made it, though I’m a bit embarrassed to say that we sagged on portions of three ride days (more details in posts to come). We completed 376 miles of the original 523, though we had no intention of doing the optional century ride on day 5. That was an important rest day for us!

Many thanks to the volunteers who helped us along the way! I can’t say enough about those fine folks!

Screen Shot 2015-08-24 at 5.50.51 PMIt was a challenging ride this year, with rain, hail, wildfire smoke, snow, and WIND on the ride, along with some serious mountain-pass climbing.

EDIT: I'd forgotten to add the ride profile before I hit

EDIT: I’d forgotten to add the ride profile before I hit “publish”.

But that’s to be expected.

We’re in the mountains, so there is climbing. Day 3 alone was mapped at over 8,000 feet of climbing!

Also, we’re in the mountains, so there is weather. I heard the temperature extremes were 27 degrees overnight in Cooke City to 90 degrees mid-day in Powell.

I think there were some near if not full-blown cases of both hypo- and hyperthermia, and I heard of a rider who developed an infected/abscessed saddle sore (ow!). Truly, you need to be prepared for anything out there in those wild lands, a good portion of which has no cell service. (The payphone on the main drag in Cooke City is not there for nostalgic effect.) The ride is supported, but you need to be able to support yourself as much as possible.

It’s not a ride to be taken lightly, but still, I don’t consider myself to be a Hard Core Cyclist, and here I am, three days later, after having done CGY on a tandem (not the best bike for climbing), and the sore lungs and sore legs are long gone (though the saddle sores and wind-and-soap-ravaged skin are hanging around a bit longer). In fact, my legs feel really strong, like I want to go try to tackle some big hill again. RAOWR!

Most of all, I’m THRILLED that Bugman and I finally had the chance to ride the Chief Joseph Highway. We missed it during CGY 2013 due to a cracked rim, and it totally lived up to all the gushing descriptions we had plugged our ears not to hear that first year.

Jubilant at Dead Indian Pass (geez, I hate that name) on Chief Joseph Scenic Highway.

Jubilant at Dead Indian Pass (geez, I hate that name) on Chief Joseph Scenic Highway.

I much preferred Chief Joseph Highway, and the portion of Beartooth that we survived, to Teton Pass last year. Chief Joseph and Beartooth are engineered such that the grade is generally steady – I heard somewhere around 5 percent. If we stopped our tandem, we could get it started again. Not so on most of the climb on Teton Pass – it was too steep.

As I did in 2013 and in 2014, I will write a post on each day’s ride and add links to each post at the bottom of this page. Again I got lots of comments from people that my blog helped them decide to give CGY a try. Very cool! Hopefully they don’t regret it after this year’s crummy weather. Makes for good stories, though, eh?

I’m amazed that people recognized us, even off the bike. Several people said “Hey, it’s Bugman and . . . what’s your name again?” Ah, the curse of the writer using first person and having one’s name forgotten. So . . .

Hi. My name is Katie, which I often abbreviate as KT. I'm a writer. My husband, Jeff, AKA Bugman, is an entomologist. We're from Illinois originally, but we now live in western Nebraska, AKA Wyobraska. In 2013, we started riding a Co-motion tandem, Ferrari red (it goes faster, the dealer said). That same year we did our first CGY, and we keep coming back for more.

Hi. My name is Katie, which I often abbreviate as KT. I’m a writer. My husband, Jeff, AKA Bugman, is an entomologist. We’re from Illinois originally, but we now live in western Nebraska, AKA Wyobraska. In 2013, we started riding a Co-motion tandem. That same year we did our first CGY for our 15th wedding anniversary, and, for some strange reason, we keep coming back for more. I took this selfie above the treeline on Beartooth Pass this year, before the snow and wind made us sag.

A few statistics from 2015 CGY:

  • Youngest rider: 14
  • Oldest rider: 80
  • Average age: 55
  • Percentage of female riders: 33
  • Number of states represented: 47 (I think Delaware, Rhode Island and Hawaii were missing this year?)
  • Number of foreign countries represented: 3 (or was it 5?)

The ride was a little bit different this year, in that the number of riders was capped at 350, about half the number of riders in prior years. Registration numbers were down, and it didn’t make sense to double the support infrastructure without a comparable number of riders, so registration was cut off.

I noticed that the food lines were shorter, and there seemed to be less waiting at the “greenhouses” (portable toilets) in the morning. There seemed to be fewer bikes passing us out on the road, too. (We are slower riders, so we get passed a lot. Except on the downhill. Tandems are fast downhill.) The smaller number of riders would make it easier to find campsites for the group, I would think.

I wonder if the decline in registrations was because of Beartooth Pass being on the route. Bugman and I were “ambassadors” this year, and spoke with area cyclists about the ride. Some interested folks looked at the intimidating ride profile and said “uh, maybe next year.”

My ride bling this year. The orange rider ID band, green band for vegetarian meals (I'm not a vegetarian, but I don't eat very much meat, so I prefer to go the veg route on this ride), and the yellow

My ride bling this year: the orange rider ID band, green band for vegetarian meals (I’m not a vegetarian, but I don’t eat very much meat, so I prefer to go the veg route on this ride), and the yellow “ambassador” band, which entitled me to visit the ambassador tent, which had free drinks and a meat-and-cheese platter each evening.

To wrap up this post, a couple of pictures from Day 0 in Red Lodge, Montana:

Sherpa tents and bike corral, at our campsite for days 0, 2, and 7 in Lions Park. I'm glad we got to give Red Lodge another shout-out, since in 2013 wildfire scuppered our stay there.

Sherpa tents and bike corral, at our campsite for days 0, 2, and 7 in Lions Park. I’m glad we got to give Red Lodge another shout-out, since in 2013 wildfire scuppered our stay there. Alas, wildfire smoke moved into the area that evening and hazed the views.

Überbrew was one of the sponsors of this year's ride (along with presenting sponsors Montana tourism and Coca Cola, and other supporting and mile-marker sponsors). Überbrew provided free beer for the event - White Noise Hefeweisen, Stand Down Brown Ale, and (our favorite) Iconic Pale Ale - and donations to the cause were solicited in lieu of payment and tips. Überbrew got a standing O at the wrap-up on the evening of day 6.

Überbrew of Billings was one of the supporting sponsors of this year’s ride (along with presenting sponsors Montana tourism and Coca Cola, and other supporting and mile-marker sponsors). Überbrew provided free beer for the event – White Noise Hefeweisen, Stand Down Brown Ale, and (our favorite) Iconic Pale Ale – and donations to the cause were solicited in lieu of payment and tips. Überbrew got a standing O at the wrap-up on the evening of day 6.

Each night, Greater Yellowstone Coalition Executive Director Caroline Byrd spoke to the group before the evening lecture, announcements, and entertainment. The gent in the hi viz vest at left is Rob, the Head Honcho of Site Coordination. He was a very busy guy.

Each night, Greater Yellowstone Coalition Executive Director Caroline Byrd spoke to the group before the evening lecture, announcements, and entertainment. The gent in the hi viz vest at left is Rob (I think that is his name –  I could be mis-remembering!), the Head Honcho of Site Coordination. He was a very busy guy.

Evenings also meant live entertainment. The first night was, I think, the Thrift Store Cowboys. I have to admit that I didn't give most of the performers their due. I was usually too busy with some aspect of post-ride cleanup or camp setup or pre-ride planning or just jabbering with the neighbors. But it was nice to have something other than silence to keep the mood up. I was also glad that the bands stopped playing by 9, so I could get to sleep.

Evenings also meant live entertainment. The first night was, I think, the Thrift Store Cowboys. I have to admit that I didn’t give most of the performers their due. I was usually too busy with some aspect of post-ride cleanup or camp setup or pre-ride planning or just jabbering with the neighbors. But it was nice to have something other than silence to keep the mood up. I was also glad that the bands stopped playing by 9, so I could get to sleep.

Speaking of sleep, it was pretty hard to come by for me, most evenings. I am so glad I brought both earplugs and a sleep mask. You never quite know what the campsites are going to look like. In Red Lodge, our tent was directly adjacent to a business that had bright lights on all night.

Speaking of sleep, it was pretty hard to come by for me. I’m not generally a sound sleeper. I am so glad I brought both earplugs and a sleep mask. You never quite know what the campsites are going to look like. In Red Lodge, our tent was directly adjacent to a business that had bright lights on all night.

A final thought on some complaints I heard during the ride: this is primarily a volunteer-supported operation, the point of which is to get out onto the back roads and into the wilderness. It is not a five-star hotel.

The sherpa tents are designed to fit two people, snugly, for purposes of shelter – luggage will likely need to go under the rain fly outside. The gear trucks are not set up to transport delicate items like laptop computers, and you’ll struggle to find places to charge them and connect to wifi anyway. Yes, there are shower trucks, but you will most likely need to wait in line to use them (a good way to make some new friends!). The portable toilets are well maintained, but will inevitably smell bad at times. (An aside: check out the vanity license plates on the South West Septic trucks if you go next year & they are the vendors. They have a sense of humor!) There are meal buffets and rest-stop snacks for you to choose from, and while the caterers and volunteers are as accommodating as possible, you will not be able to order exactly what you want. There are multiple options, including vegetarian and gluten-free, but if you are a picky eater, you may be out of luck. And note that food produced in quantity will sometimes suffer in quality. (I got a good laugh out of the fact that I broke a plastic fork on a pancake one morning, only to have a nearby diner suffer the same fate a few moments later. The crew got up before dawn to make a huge batch so everyone could get fed and get on the road in a timely manner, and the pancakes had suffered from waiting around awhile in the warming pan.)

There is an option for you to book all your own hotel rooms each night and get transported to/from camp, but I think you lose a bit of the camaraderie this way. (Confession: I was pretty jealous of the hotel dwellers that frozen morning in Cooke City.)

If you are not OK with being outdoors a lot and enduring some inconvenience and discomfort in exchange for amazing scenery and bonding experiences with fellow cyclists, this may not be the ride for you.

Also, the point of the ride is to draw attention to the ecosystem in the Yellowstone region and to the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, which works to preserve and enhance that ecosystem. Expect some environmental proselytizing. Expect that you may begin to care deeply about the landscape you are riding through. It’s an amazing place.

2015 Cycle Greater Yellowstone Day 1: Red Lodge to Absarokee

2015 Cycle Greater Yellowstone Day 2: Absarokee to Red Lodge

2015 Cycle Greater Yellowstone Day 3: Red Lodge to Cooke City via BEARTOOTH HIGHWAY

2015 Cycle Greater Yellowstone Day 4: Cooke City to Cody

2015 Cycle Greater Yellowstone Day 5: rest day in Cody

2015 Cycle Greater Yellowstone Day 6: Cody to Powell via Lovell

2015 Cycle Greater Yellowstone Day 7: Powell to Red Lodge

Copyright 20125 by Katie Bradshaw

2014 Cycle Greater Yellowstone, Day 0

People keep asking how our cycling vacation was on Cycle Greater Yellowstone 2014.

Bugman responds “Great!”

I reply “Challenging!”

It was certainly both of those.

You cannot beat the scenery on this ride. It was my first time seeing the Tetons (also my first time being in Idaho), and I think I am in love. My photos (mostly taken from the backseat of a tandem bicycle) do not do the scenery justice.

The 2014 CGY ride circled the Tetons.

The 2014 CGY ride circled around and through the Teton, Gros Ventre and Wind River Ranges.

And the experience is not just seeing the scenery. On a bike, you are IN the scenery. It’s visceral. You can smell the sagebrush and the pine. You can feel the gushes of cool air cascading down the mountainsides. Much preferable to a car tour!

But with mountainous scenery comes climbing those mountains. The official CGY site boasts of 20,000 feet of climb over the 2014 course. Somehow, my mapping software, which we had trouble with because our phones kept dying while searching for signal in remote areas (wish I had read this discussion thread before the ride), measured 31,681 feet of climb!

Egad!!

I am proud that we did not SAG, not even on the rainy, windy days.

I think we had an easier time last year, since we missed the two main mountain pass climbs due to mechanical failure and forest fire, plus we’d been training for a marathon in 2013. This year, we rode every mile on the route, save for the “square” west of Driggs/Victor and the optional Sinks Canyon ride. This is definitely a ride you need to be in good shape for!

Yet this was not a ride solely for the stereotypical thin, young cyclist. There were a lot of 60-70-year-olds, as well as people like me, who buy cycling clothing in XL sizes and up.

When cycling in remote, beautiful mountainous areas, you also have to expect environmental challenges that are part and parcel of many a distance cycle tour: road construction, rain, the occasional jackass driver.

But the incredible organization and support offered by CGY helped to counterbalance those challenges. Yes, there were a few breakdowns in the organizational system along the way, but nothing critical. Though by the way some of the whiners on the trip responded, you would get the impression they thought the organizers were TORTURING THEM ON PURPOSE. Geez, people. Get a grip!

Speaking of people, I don’t know what the difference was between last year’s CGY and this one, but we made a lot more “ride friends” this time around.

A shout out to Bob and Linda from Oregon, Tom and Pat from Minnesota, Rhonda and Kurt from Georgia, Jody from Cody, and to Greg, Tom, Al, Mark, Greg, and all the other people we shared great meals and conversation with, whose names currently escape me (whether due to memory loss over time, or perhaps the quantity of beer consumed that particular evening).

Here’s the CGY rider map from 2014. It was fun when we could match up the people we met to their pins on the map. It was pretty easy to find our pins.  Bugman and I were the only two from western Nebraska; a total of four of us represented the Cornhusker state this year.

2014 cgy riders map

It was kind of funny that several people recognized me and/or Bugman from last year’s blog posts.

I was pleased that a few of them said something along the lines of “Oh! I read your blog! It’s part of why we signed up for the ride.”

“That’s called ‘impact factor,'” Bugman said.

So, to give a brief overview of life on the CGY ride for the newbie, some general info and images.

This is a well-supported ride. There are caterers and shower trucks, first aid service and SAG wagons, water and snack stops, gear haulers and (usually) plenty of porta-potties.

The food line at the Ranch Lot campsite in Teton Village on Day 0.

The food line at our campsite in Teton Village on Day 0.

You can camp in your own tent, rent a Sherpa Service tent, or get a shuttle ride to and from hotel rooms along the way.

We learned from our Sherpa-ing experience last year, and brought some bling for our tent, so we'd recognize it easily amidst the sea of identical tents.

We learned from our Sherpa-ing experience last year, and brought giant grasshopper bling for our tent, so we’d recognize it easily amidst the sea of identical tents.

Every night in camp, there is locally-sourced adult beverages and entertainment.

Nice slogan, Snake River

Nice slogan, Snake River Brewing.

And throughout the ride, there are hundreds of volunteers who support this little traveling city of cyclists, who help with food service, site setup, cleanup, rest stops, information services, and on-course encouragement. I’m grateful to these folks, and to the businesses and landowners who helped make this ride possible, enjoyable, and incredible.

A volunteer and Assistant Event Director confer about course details as a presentation is underway onstage at Teton Village. Every night, there is a presentation about some aspect of the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem and the challenges it faces, as well as updates on logistics for the following day's ride.

A volunteer and an Assistant Event Director confer about course details as a presentation is underway onstage at Teton Village. Every night, there is discussion about some challenge the Greater Yellowstone Coalition is addressing in the region, as well as updates on logistics for the following day’s ride.

I’ll write about each day of the tour, and post links below as they are completed.

2014 Cycle Greater Yellowstone: Day 1 Teton Village to Grand Targhee Resort / Victor

2014 Cycle Greater Yellowstone Day 2: Victor to Hoback Junction

2014 Cycle Greater Yellowstone: Day 3 Hoback Junction to Pinedale

2014 Cycle Greater Yellowstone: Day 4 Farson to Lander

2014 Cycle Greater Yellowstone: Day 5 Lander rest day

2014 Cycle Greater Yellowstone: Day 6 Lander to Dubois

2014 Cycle Greater Yellowstone: Day 7 Dubois to Moran Junction and the day after

Maybe we’ll see you on the tour next year!

UPDATE: Here is the intro link to the 2013 CGY experience, in case you want to read about last year, too.

Copyright 2014 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