Cycle Greater Yellowstone: Day 5 hitching to Cody

Day 4

No biking to report on, since we rode in a car over Chief Joseph Pass. Not a whole lot of pictures, either.

The dining tents at sunrise under Pilot Peak. Since we weren’t riding, and since there we were in a wilderness area with no community volunteers, Bugman and I helped the volunteer crew, packing up tables and chairs and loading bags onto the gear truck. (There were definitely bags exceeding the 65-pound weight limit. The people with the heavy bags should have been sentenced to bag-hauling duty, IMHO.)

Our ride stopped at Absaroka Bicycles (for the record, it’s pronounced ab-SOR-ka or, to some, ab-SOR-kee) in Cody so we could check in. I plugged in my near-dead phone and was able to check my email and the tracking updates on our bike rim – it had been loaded onto a truck in Cody that morning and would arrive at the bike shop before noon. The guys at the shop knew whose truck it would be on, even. (Not surprising. Cody’s population is less than 10,000 people.)

The original plan had been to pick up the parts and take everything back to camp for the mechanics to work on. However, the guys at the shop had blocked out time to build the wheel for us, one of the guys mentioned that he was a certified wheel-builder and had talked with the bike manufacturer about specs, and it seemed best to get it done sooner rather than later. We agreed to pick our bike off the gear truck when it arrived and wheel it over to the shop, which was only a couple of blocks from our campsite at the Park County complex.

Our ride dropped us off at the Park County Public Library so we could charge our phones and wait for the gear truck.

The library is GORGEOUS!

I wandered out around 11 to see if any help was needed in assembling camp that day. (No need for help – there were plenty of Boy Scouts on hand.) Soon, I spotted the gear truck. I approached the truck captains about getting our bike out when it was convenient, and they dropped what they were doing to help. (Wow! Thanks, guys!! Really appreciated!!!)

At the bike shop, Bryce the Wheel Builder and, I believe, Rick, the shop owner, consulted online guides to make sure they knew how to take apart our Rohloff wheel hub, since they’d not encountered one before. As we spoke with Rick about this, he pointed out that if we were going to get serious about long-distance touring, we would probably want to downgrade our bike to something more common. Otherwise, we’d risk getting stuck waiting for parts (case in point!) and would probably need to learn to do most of the maintenance ourselves. Rick and Bryce also walked us through lessons on modern bike wheel geometry and materials, how the weight of a bike is supported across the spokes, and the benefits of having a higher number of “holes” in the hub (for a higher number of spokes) on touring bikes (or tandems) carrying more weight than a normal bike. Bryce also got to talking about some of the other long-distance riders he has built wheels for, some of whom have sent in postcards hundreds of miles later, saying that the wheels he built were still holding true. He about gets a tear in his eye when a wheel he has built goes out into the wild, wide world.

(Note: Bryce tightened up the spokes on our front wheel again, too. As I type this, the spokes on our rear BryceBuilt wheel are still firmly in place. The spokes on the front wheel, which was built elsewhere? At all different tensions again. You can’t beat a BryceBuilt!)

In summary, I can highly recommend Absaroka Bicycles and the folks who work there. Check them out if you are in Cody!

Awesome bike shop in Cody, Wyoming, on the south side of town, in a strip mall: 2201 17th St # 7, 307-527-5566

While our wheel was being built, we followed a recommendation and headed downtown to the Irma Hotel for lunch. The food was okay, but, man, was the interior of that place interesting to eyeball. It was built in 1902 for “Buffalo Bill” Cody and still has its original cherrywood bar.

We wheeled our bike back to camp and parked in the bike parking, which was created by stringing sturdy ropes between trees or metal posts.

Bike parking in Cody. There's another tandem in there - see?

Bike parking in Cody. There’s another tandem in there – see it?

We ended our day with a trip to the farmers market, coming away with a cinnamon roll nearly as big as my head. We sat down by our tent to share the treat, which attracted plenty of attention from passers-by. It was our wedding anniversary "cake." I have been blessed to have spent 15 years with you, dear Bugman. Cheers to another happy 15!

We ended our day with a trip to the farmers market, coming away with a cinnamon roll nearly as big as my head. We sat down by our tent to share the treat, which attracted plenty of attention from passers-by. It was our wedding anniversary “cake.” I have been blessed to have spent 15 years with you, dear Bugman. Cheers to another happy 15!

We had a little rain prior to evening announcements. On another topic - see that little green tent with three holes in it? Those ZeroHero recycling stations were posted in all of our camps. Over the course of a week, we were trained in the fine art of recycling: recycle, compost, trash, paper, cardboard. The ride organizers wanted to reduce the footprint of all us riders in these small communities - thus, the recycling, and also the encouragement for all the riders to bring mess kits, so we could further reduce resource use. There were wash/rinse/sanitize stations at each camp for those few of us who used our own plates/cups/utensils. Frankly, I think I avoided weight gain by using my petite camping bowl/dish to control portion sizes instead of using the monster paper plates the caterers made available.

We had a little rain prior to evening announcements. On another topic – see that little bronwish-green tent with three holes in it at left? Those ZeroHero recycling stations were posted in all of our camps. Over the course of a week, we were trained in the fine art of recycling: recyclables, compost, trash, paper, cardboard. The ride organizers wanted to reduce the footprint of all us riders in these small communities – thus, the recycling, and also the encouragement for all the riders to bring mess kits, so we could further reduce resource use. There were wash/rinse/sanitize stations at each camp for those few of us who used our own plates/cups/utensils. Frankly, I think I avoided weight gain by using my petite camping bowl/dish to control portion sizes instead of using the monster paper plates the caterers made available.

While everyone else that evening was raving about the fantastic views from the day’s ride over Chief Joseph Pass, we plugged our ears.

Lalala! We don’t want to hear about what we missed!

We’ve got to make it back there someday . . .

Day 6

Copyright 2013 by Katie Bradshaw

Cycle Greater Yellowstone: Day 3 ride to Gardiner

Day 2

Distance and elevation gain (per my mapping software): 58.49 miles, 1,946 feet

Min temp: 64, Max temp: 89, Winds 8-26, gusting to 32, Precipitation: none

We started the morning with a visit to the mechanic tent to get those obviously loose spokes tightened up. Spokes should not wiggle easily back and forth – especially less than a week after having been retensioned!

The mechanic didn’t have a spoke tensiometer on him, so he gave it his best guess, taking care not to overtension the spokes, and at least got the spokes to the point where they didn’t rattle and the wheel to the point where it was nice and true again. I plucked the spokes like harp strings, and they all sounded pretty much the same – plink, plink, plink, plink – except for one spoke on that pesky back wheel that the mechanic could not get to tighten – plunk! We had discovered loose spokes on a 94-mile ride back home just before we got the wheel trued and didn’t seem to have any problems, so we figured the job would be good enough to get us through, and we’d stop back by the mechanic’s tent that evening to have the spokes checked again.

This is the bridge over the Yellowstone River in Paradise Valley – a very beautiful place where we almost clocked a fellow cyclist who, along with many other cyclists, had dismounted on the bridge to take pictures but, unlike the other cyclists, had failed to look for traffic before she walked out into the road. Another advantage of the tandem: I don’t have to watch the road or steer, so I can take all these pictures from the back of the bike without risking getting clocked by traffic.

Paradise Valley was pretty smoky that day from the Emigrant wildfire. The night before at announcements, the ride organizers had checked the forecasts and said that smoke would likely be “moderate” and would not bother most people, but if anyone was concerned, there would be a physician available in the morning to see patients and prescribe inhalers if needed. Have I mentioned that this ride was well organized?? These folks thought of everything!

Bikes on the road in Paradise Valley. I’m sure a lot of locals knew about the ride and were expecting to see cyclists, but I wonder what the uninformed thought when encountering miles of cyclists along the road. Side note: some of the fanciful ranch names in Paradise Valley: Jumping Rainbow, Dancing Wind, Paradise Found, Imagine Ranch.

Another cute little Montana schoolhouse

Lunch stop at River’s Edge Bar & Grill in Emigrant.

After lunch we were far enough south to be upwind of the Emigrant fire – no more breathing smoke.

Rest stop on Montana DOT land.

We crossed onto Gallatin National Forest land (Paradise Valley is a narrow private-property “V” into the national forest) and were met with a “bison on road” caution sign. Didn’t see any bison, but the scenery was beautiful.

We rolled into Gardiner around 3 pm. While everyone else was lining up their bikes to be loaded up for shipment to our next campsite after our rest day and bus tour of Yellowstone the following day, we and headed for the mechanic tent to have our loose spoke checked on.

As a mechanic approached and I bent down to show her the problem, I noticed – OH NO!! – a crack in our rear wheel rim at the loose spoke!

And we’ve got that fancy-schmancy Rohloff hub. No at-hand replacements for us!

Cracked rim! Dun dun duuuuuun….

We talked through our options with the head mechanic. The next day was a rest day, so we had a day to get things done without cutting into the ride. If our future rides were like today’s ride – 56 miles and no serious hills – we could probably ride the cracked rim a bit longer. But the scheduled ride in two days was through from Pilot Creek to Cody via Chief Joseph Pass (6 miles of 5 percent grade followed by a helluva descent that could really get a tandem rolling fast). That would not be safe to ride on a cracked rim. We’d have to get things fixed.

We got our bike in March, so it was less than 6 months old and had less than 700 miles on it by this point, so the bike would still be under warranty.

We tried calling the bike shop in Denver where we purchased the bike. It was Tuesday. They were closed.

Next, we spent several frustrating minutes trying to look up the bike manufacturer’s phone number via a barely-there cellphone Internet connection. We found the number and got through to a live person right away. I explained our dilemma and directed my attention back and forth between the bike mechanic’s suggestions as he thought things through and the bike company guy.

Could we have a rim overnighted to a bike shop in the Silver Gate / Cooke City area, our next stop?

Probably not a good idea. It’s rural Montana, the delivery might not make it even if overnighted, and the mechanics had not been able to contact a bike shop in that area.

How about 2-day shipping to the bike shop in Cody? It would mean we would miss a day’s riding – purportedly the most beautiful day to ride. But 2-day shipping was a more reasonable cost, and we would be responsible for covering the difference in cost between regular and expedited shipping for the warrantied rim replacement. There had been solid contact with the shop in Cody. We could pick up the rim and have the mechanics rebuild the rear wheel in the evening at camp.

Was there still time to make the UPS pickup at the bike manufacturer in Oregon? Yes. We still had 30 minutes.

I gave the bike manufacturer guy my credit card number to cover the cost of the shipping, and that was all we could do for the time being.

We added our bike to the line to be packed up and transported to the next camp and went about our business.

View of wildfire smoke from our tent in Gardiner. It was interesting to note how the smoke “pulsed” over 24 hours – dying back at night and flaring up again with the heat of day.

After we got cleaned up, we left our campsite on the Gardiner school football field, at the corner of Main Street and Main Street (??), to run some errands.

The Gardiner laundromat is probably the cleanest one I have ever been in. Just please don’t wash your horse blankets there.

While we were waiting for the laundry to be done, we decided to go find a beer. We walked into the Two Bit Saloon only to walk out again a few minutes later after the bartender got into a loud argument with a patron. Oookaaaayyyyy…Walked to the Blue Goose Saloon, but there was heavy metal music blasting inside. Not our scene.

We settled for ice cream cones instead. While we were sitting outside the shop eating the ice cream and looking out over the Yellowstone National Park fence, we spotted our first megafauna.

A slightly lost elk on the wrong side of the fence.

I guess I hadn’t realized that the community we were in was literally at the gate of Yellowstone.

Our evening announcements in Gardiner featured the Roosevelt Arch in the background.

Sunset concert in Gardiner – with Little Jane & the Pistol Whips.

A few minutes later, Bugman pointed out the ride’s professional photographer focusing his lens towards the gate. Full moon perfectly framed!

Full moon framed by the Roosevelt Arch, as interpreted by my point-and-shoot camera.

Soon there was a photography scrum at the stage.

The wine tent in Gardiner sure was pretty. I loved how different local wines and beers were featured at our campsite concerts.

Our campsite runway. Every night there were solar-powered yard lights set up to help guide us around camp. (See? The organizers thought of everything!)

Day 4

Copyright 2013 by Katie Bradshaw

Cycle Greater Yellowstone: Day 2 ride to Livingston

Day 1

Distance and elevation gain (per my mapping software): 116 miles, 4,209 feet

Min temp: 48, Max temp: 91, Winds 5-15, gusting to 21, Precipitation: none

Because of the day’s long ride, the route opened at 6am instead of 7. We tried to hit the road at 6, but with the lines at breakfast and at the bike pump station, and with having to rendezvous with my camping gear angel at 5:30, we didn’t actually hit the road until 6:45, which was still before sunrise in the valley.

Sunrise. Dang! Wish my stinkin’ camera had focused properly!

About 7 miles into the morning ride, we encountered a hill.

A doozy of a hill.

Which meant a free ride on the other side, courtesy of gravity.

7 percent grade for the next 2 miles? Wheeeeeeeee!

For those who have not ridden a tandem bike before, one of the major differences is weight. Our two wheels were supporting close to 350 pounds. The thing handles like a semi truck. Anyone who has driven I-80 through Iowa will know the phenomenon of which I speak: slow on the uphill, FAST on the downhill. A tandem also has a turn radius similar to a semi. Not real manuverable in tight spaces.

Heading back on the road after a water stop.

Ranchers care for their land and animals

After a lunch stop in Sacajawea Park in Three Forks, we crossed the Madison River and biked on an I-90 frontage road.

At mile 60 at a four-way stop in Manhattan, Montana, we faced a choice: turn right, call it a day, and catch a bus to Livingston, or turn left and crank out another 56 miles. We chose the latter. (As I would later say to a fellow cyclist gasping up a hill, “Whoever said this was not a suffer fest lied.” The fellow cyclist replied, “We chose this.” True, true. Seemed like a good idea at the time . . . )

Where are we? Why, the Land of Magic, of course! (It’s a steakhouse. Go figure!)

There were tiny little schoolhouses in abundance in the Montana mountain valleys. Can’t see it in this pic, but the Dry Creek School had an outhouse out back.

Typical Montana scene: cattle grazing, a wheat field ready for harvest, mountains, a vast blue sky.

At around mile 74, we hit our first “uh-oh.”

We had stopped at a water stop, purported to be stocked with oh-so-welcome popsicles. The popsicles had run out, but the dear 4-H crew staffing the station had gone out to get more. I was getting a tad nervous about our timing – if the popsicles were gone, it meant we were likely some of the last riders out on the course. I’d been wondering, as we’d seen nary a rider since we left Manhattan. The folks said they would be closing up the stop in about 30 minutes. How close were we to the cutoff, after which riders would be removed from the course??

While we waited in the shade of an outbuilding for the popsicles, one of the kiddos at the station called out “someone’s tire’s hissing.”

Yay. It was our front tire. Our thorn-resistant inner tube had sprung a leak near the valve stem.

Luckily, we had a spare tube and pump.

Bugman sheltered in the shade of an electrical box to pump up the tire. I helped a little – ran my finger inside the tire to check for foreign objects and worked the pump for a little bit – but Bugman did the bulk of the work with that mini pump. Figures that just as we were rolling back out again the SAG truck, presumably containing a full-sized tire pump, rolled by. We did get our popsicles, by the way. Bomb-pop variety. My favorite!

It was really getting hot out. The water truck driver offered to hose down a few of our fellow riders as he packed up the truck to head to Livingston.

We wound up stopping at a “renegade” water stop, perhaps somewhere near mile 79? They were offering free ice but charging for water and Gatorade. Not sure what they were raising money for. We bought a couple of Gatorade bottles and chugged them on the spot. That may have been what saved us from the SAG wagon that day.

We made the time cutoff for the rest stop at Sore Elbow Forge on the northeast side of Bozeman by about 15-20 minutes. The Omnibar guy was already packing up his gear.

“Not good,” I was thinking. “But, we only have about 30 more miles to go. . . .  And a significant hill.”


Brain starting to go a little goofy from fatigue. I knew the “M” stood for Montana State, but I found it funny to voice in a Sesame-Street-like intonation: “M! Mountain! M!” So nice of them to help visitors by labeling the scenery!

Caught the tidily-painted outhouses behind the Bridger school in this photo.

Gosh! Beautiful scenery!

We stopped several times on the ascent up Jackson Creek Road to take a breather and drink water. A portajohn would have been most welcome at that point. When we finally crested the hill, the SAG wagon was there. They gave us a water refill and let us know it was only about 3 more miles to the rest stop at Malmborg School, and that it was mostly downhill. We had 20 minutes to get there before we were swept off the course.

Hurrah! We think we can make it!!

We cruised to the next water stop, hit the toilets, and snarfed down a bruised bananna – about all that was left at the rest stop. Apparently we missed a hockey team that had earlier made out like bandits selling snow cones.

I tottered out into the street to photograph the mileage marker:

One hundred miles! My first century ride!

Then course-manager-in-chief Jennifer Drinkwalter arrived on the scene. I knew her name from the numerous preparatory emails we’d gotten from her on the leadup to the ride. She was there to check on the ride stragglers, to judge if we were in any condition to safely complete the remaining 16 miles into camp.

“You’ve got about 5 minutes to get back on the road, guys,” she announced to the few cyclists left at the stop.

I noticed that when the SAG vehicle pulled up, there were several bikes on top. I think the heat really zapped a lot of people that day.

But Bugman and I are used to cycling in western Nebraska – we’re used to that kind of dry heat!

We wheeled back out into the road, assuring Jennifer that we were fit to continue….and then….

“Oh, no! Flat tire!!”

Yep. The front tire that we had replaced earlier that day had gone flat again.

Jennifer was a champ. She pointed out that the mechanic just across the parking lot could have us pumped up again and rolling in no time. She wouldn’t pull us off the course when we were so close.

The mechanic figured that our tube had gone flat from a puncture from one of the many goathead thorns we had embedded in our tires from back home. We didn’t have to worry about them before. The thorn-resistant inner tube had taken care of that. But with the wimpy regular inner tube, there was just enough thorn poking though to do some damage. The mechanic used a dental tool to pick out the thorns, installed a new tube, handed us a fresh tube, just in case, and $10 and 10 minutes later, we were headed out on the course again . . . officially the LAST cyclists on the course, with the SAG vehicles and an emergency radio vehicle on our tail pretty much the whole rest of the way.

There was one last little hill to conquer. Coming at the end of 100 miles of riding, in 90-degree temps during the latter part of the day, at 4,000+ feet above sea level, with a few other hills thrown in there for spice, that last uphill grade of 1 mile at 3 percent was just painful.

When we finally topped the hill, my fatigued brain read the “Absaroka Range” sign as “Assabroka Range.”

But at least after all that climbing, we were due for a downhill. Whew! We made pretty good time on those last 15 miles, I think.

Evidence of how rough the day was: Bugman’s black jersey was crusted white with perspiration salt. We were both pretty salty-crusty.

On the descent into Livingston I photographed this going-lenticular cloud, thinking it was interesting. That same cloud had been hovering on the horizon all day. Took me awhile to convince myself that it was not a thunderstorm but was actually wildfire smoke.

The scenery on approach to Livingston was mighty nice. Not sure it was worth all that climbing, though.

I am grateful to the course marshals who stayed out there to cheer and flag home us two flagging cyclists – the last ones to finish on our own power that day.

We parked our bike in the corral (a fenced-in tennis court), checked our wheel spokes because there has been some clicking noises and a bit of a wobble on the fast descents and found we had several loose spokes AGAIN, decided to deal with it in the morning, found our tent, dropped a few things, and went right to dinner. We weren’t the only crusty-jersey-clad cyclists in the meal line. I recognized a few other faces from the 116 mile route. The great part about being among fellow cyclists in a buffet food line instead of being among “civilians” is that the fellow bikers don’t take three steps back and try to breathe through their sleeves when standing in line behind you.

This was the only meal where the vegetarian option (artichoke and kidney bean paella on this day) was gone by the time I got there. All that was left were cooked carrots (ew) and unappetizing-looking blobs of chicken (ew). I ate some salad bar stuff and some white rice laced with Tabasco sauce. But it was all OK because there was ice cream with chocolate sauce for dessert.

I got the last of the chopped peanut topping.

Headed off to the shower and appreciated the cool, fluffy grass at our campsite in Livingston’s Sacagawea Park. We stayed up later than we wanted to so we could have a beer and catch a bit of the band in the Miles Park Bandshell. It was a fabulous campsite. Wish we’d had time to visit the downtown . . .

THIS was next to our campsite. Water burbling over rocks as I crashed to sleep . . . bliss . . .

Day 3

Copyright 2013 by Katie Bradshaw