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:


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.


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.)


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


Fishers, two kinds.


Our riverside rest stop at mile 29:


I wasn’t the only one capturing the scenery.


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.


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!


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!


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!


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!


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


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


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.


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.)


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


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.


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.


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

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