2015 Cycle Greater Yellowstone Day 7: Powell to Red Lodge

As forecast, the wind did indeed come up during the night. Our tent rippled and flapped like mad, but stayed firmly planted to the earth. I inserted earplugs and tried to ignore the tempest and get some sleep.

Come morning, the wind had not abated. There were rumors, none true, that the ride start had been delayed, or that the day’s riding had been cancelled, though I think there had been some alternative arrangements made for people who had tight times schedules for meeting airport shuttles.

At breakfast (inside a building at the Park County Fairgrounds, thank goodness), as I juggled my plate of eggs and cup of coffee, one of the community volunteers asked if she could help in any way.

“Could you calm the winds down for us?” I asked, jokingly.

“I’m afraid not,” she replied with a sad smile.

Well, it was worth a shot, anyway.

The final day of CGY would be a long, hard slog into headwinds of 15-20 MPH, gusting to 30-40. On top of that, the day started out at 44 degrees, and we had an additional 3-mile detour that morning, to avoid some fresh chip seal in a construction zone.

As we bundled up and headed out, a few people asked, “You riding today??”

“Of course. It’s what we’re here to do.”

Sag 2 in the fairgrounds parking lot at 7:10 a.m. - probably the emptiest it would be all day.

Sag 2 in the fairgrounds parking lot at 7:10 a.m. – probably the emptiest it would be all day.

Wind, wind wind, wind, WIND! In our faces or buffeting us from the side. With occasional spray from windblown irrigation sprinkler mist. Ugh!

We had a brief moment of respite when the shower truck passed us on its way to Red Lodge and sheltered us in its lee. Then it was right back to the wicked, whipping wind.

“Come back, shower truck! Come back!”

Bugman’s shoulders kept tensing up from the strain of trying to keep the tandem headed in a straight line. Luckily, he travels with his own personal masseuse. 🙂 We took occasional breaks along the shoulder of the road so I could work the knots out of his muscles. Our noses were running from the cold.

About 14 miles into the ride, we came across a nice downhill that we remembered from 2013. It was windy back then, too, but not quite like this. We topped out at 20 MPH on the descent.

The hill on 294 west of Powell this year.

The hill on 294 west of Powell this year.

dfvdfv

The view from that same hill in 2013, sans wildfire smoke.

Finally! Our first rest stop, at the bottom of the hill. Bugman and I were exerting a lot of energy to buck the wind, so we made sure not to repeat our mistake from the Beartooth Pass ride - we made sure to eat! We chowed down a Kate's bar hunkered in the lee of the pickup truck.

Finally! Our first rest stop, at the bottom of the hill. Bugman and I were exerting a lot of energy to buck the wind, so we made sure not to repeat our mistake from the Beartooth Pass ride – we ate! A lot! We chowed down some Kate’s Stash Bars as we hunkered in the lee of the pickup truck. We would stop a few more times along the road to consume candy bars and other carb-heavy snacks.

At the rest stop, sag 1 was full. (Every time I saw the side of this van, the A-Team theme song would pop into my head. "I love it when a plan comes together.")

At the rest stop, sag 1 was full. (Every time I saw the side of this van, the A-Team theme song would pop into my head. “I love it when a plan comes together.”)

Sag 3

Sag 3, the “vulture.” Heh.

Despite the challenging conditions, this volunteer was chipper. (Love her hat!) I've forgotten her name, but I think she came up from Florida?

Despite the challenging conditions, this volunteer was chipper. (Love her hat!) I’ve forgotten her name, but I think I remember she’s a friend of Jennifer Drinkwalter who came all the way up from Florida to help out with the ride.

Bugman and I had to keep stopping to eat and drink. (It's too hard for him to do that on the run while piloting the tandem, even on a calm day.) At this stop, I spotted a salticid (jumping spider) on the signpost. I get a kick out of salticids. They have personality.

Bugman and I had to keep stopping to eat and drink. (It’s too hard for him to do that on the run while piloting the tandem, even on a calm day.) At this stop, I spotted a wee salticid (jumping spider) on the signpost. I get a kick out of salticids. They have personality.

9:49 a.m., mile 23. This is starting to feel like Desolation Road.

9:49 a.m., mile 23. This is starting to feel like Desolation Road.

We had two brief respites from the wind. At mile 27, we had a half-mile downhill with the wind at our backs. Joy!!!! It felt so good to get up over 10 MPH! Then, around our water stop at mile 33 on a school property near Clark (on a road not yet mapped by Google!), the topography sheltered us for awhile. It gave us a false sense of optimism that perhaps the wind was done with us.

Nope. It was another windy 20 miles to our lunch stop.

There was another cyclist who left the water stop at about the same time as us who was really struggling. When we would stop for a break, he often would, too. For a time, he drafted us, but then we hit a patch of downhill, and he couldn’t keep up with the tandem’s gravity advantage.

Some cyclists commemorating their passage back into Montana at mile 42.

Some cyclists commemorating their passage back into Montana at mile 42, around 11:45 a.m.

The further north we got into Montana, the more the wildfire smoke seemed to clear. Interesting!

The further north we got into Montana, the more the wildfire smoke seemed to clear. Interesting!

I swear, there were whitecaps on Clark's Fork.

I swear, there were whitecaps on Clark’s Fork.

There was a steepish ~100-foot climb outside of Belfry that about did us in. The buffeting we got from the wind at the top was rather disconcerting.

The cemetery 2 miles outside of Belfry seemed awfully inviting . . . but we knew we had to be close to our lunch stop and our opportunity to take a break!

Full disclosure: I took this photo the next day, on our way home. My photo reflexes were slowed due to fatigue, and I missed my opportunity during the actual ride.

Full disclosure: I took this photo the next day, on our way home. My photo reflexes were slowed due to fatigue, and I missed my opportunity during the actual ride.

Hooray for the Belfry Bats, my all-time favorite town/mascot combination!

Mile 53, 1 p.m. Hooray for the Belfry Bats, my all-time favorite town/mascot combination!

The school was kind enough to open up the atrium to the gymnasium to allow us a little shelter. My mood was kind of grim. I wasn't sure if we'd be able to complete the ride. But a couple of people on their way out were psyching themselves up, and their gumption rubbed off on me. "Maybe we can try making it to Bearcreek," I said to a skeptical Bugman.

The school was kind enough to open up the atrium to the gymnasium to allow us a little shelter. My mood was rather grim. I wasn’t sure if we’d be able to complete the ride. Especially that last hill into Red Lodge, which, as I recalled from two years ago, had a slope steep enough to slow us to a crawl – not a good thing on a windy day like this. But a couple of people on their way out were psyching themselves up, and their gumption rubbed off on me. “Maybe we can try making it to Bearcreek,” I said to a skeptical Bugman.

We headed out to find a sag driver, to discuss the possibility of arranging a pickup at the water stop in Bearcreek, 8 miles away. As it turned out, our fellow tandemites Nico and Jeanne had already talked to the support crew – they were planning to sag in the sign van with their tandem to the top of the hill, then ride the final ~2.5 miles to the finish. Peer pressure! (And, whew!) We would save ourselves some pain and join the sag.

We four loaded our two tandems into the sign van, then caught a ride in another vehicle, stopping here and there as the driver took pictures of other riders continuing up the hill under their own steam. We stopped at a pullout for an electrical service station at the top of the hill and were reunited with our bikes.

The "we're almost done" smile.

The “we’re almost done” smile.

Two tandems, ready to ride that final hill down into Red Lodge.

Two red tandems, ready to ride that final hill down into Red Lodge.

Our rescuers - Bruce, who drove the sag (who I mistakenly called "Jim." Oops.), and - darn! - I can't remember the woman's name. Thank you so much, Bruce and photographer lady, for helping us have a better time on our final day of CGY!

Our rescuers – Bruce, who was in the sign van (who I mistakenly called “Jim.” Oops.), and – darn! – I can’t remember the woman’s name. Thank you so much, Bruce and photographer lady. You could have taken us straight to camp, but you didn’t. You took the trouble to help us have the experience of a last downhill on our last day of CGY. You guys rock!

As we rolled across the finish at Lions Park in Red Lodge, we got a big cheer. I kind of felt like we didn’t deserve it, and corrected people that we had sagged up that last hill. But our cheerleaders dismissed my qualification. We’d had a tough day, and we deserved some accolades. Well, OK, then. 🙂

Bugman and I found our bags, checked into our hotel, and cleaned up.

Interestingly, the summer 2015 issue of Mountain Outlaw was in our room, and the feature story was about wildfire.

wildfire articleWe returned to camp to schlep our final bag and our bike to our car in long-term parking. A volunteer had offered to let us borrow her car, but we declined the offer – it wasn’t a very long walk, and we balanced the bag across the bike seats, so we didn’t have to carry any weight.

We got to the car and . . . the power locks wouldn’t work. Our battery was dead! Recall the #foreshadowing in the day 2 post? Bugman must have left a dome light on when he was drying our wet clothing. Darn!

No worries – there happened to be a cyclist from Boulder who was departing from his parking spot right next to us in the nearly-empty lot. We flagged him down and asked if he could give us a jump.

“I don’t have jumper cables,” he said.

“We do,” I said. In fact, we’d used them at the end of the 2013 CGY, when our car battery died after our radio malfunctioned. (What is it with our car battery and Red Lodge??)

No problem – I’ll just dive into the back of the car and fish the jumper cables out from under the cargo bin, where they live in a little storage compartment . . . except, they weren’t in the storage compartment. I rummaged around in the car, getting increasingly frustrated. Where the heck could those dumb jumper cables be? We wouldn’t have taken them out of the car. All of our other emergency supplies were there! What the heck?!??

I may have let my accumulated frustration get to me. I may have yelled and pounded on the car seat. It may have felt really good to do that.

The guy from Boulder was totally cool and overlooked my outburst. He offered to swing by camp on his way out of town and alert the CGY crew that we were in trouble.

Within minutes, a jeep pulled up, and Site Coordinator Rob asked, “Which side is your battery on?” Our car started on the second try. The CGY crew saves our bacon yet again!

We loaded up, moved our car to the hotel parking lot, and headed out on the town to celebrate the day, which was our 17th wedding anniversary. I was reeeally craving pizza, so we went to the Red Lodge Pizza Company, which we had enjoyed on our 2013 visit.

Toasting our marriage with some champagne-flavored jelly beans from the Montana Candy Emporium.

While we wait for a table, a toast with some champagne-flavored jelly beans from the Montana Candy Emporium.

The CGY crew happened to be having their end-of-ride celebration in a back room at the pizza place, so we saw lots of familiar faces going by.

2015 CGY Ambassador coordinator Dixie came over to our table to say hello, and she took a photo of our anniversary toast with our beer from Red Lodge Ale (a 2013 sponsor).

2015 CGY Ambassador coordinator Dixie came over to our table to say hello/goodbye, and she took a photo of our anniversary toast with our beer from Red Lodge Ale (a 2013 sponsor) and texted it to me.

It was a rough ride this year, but we came away unscathed, with some great memories of the places we saw and the people we met.

One of the reasons I appreciate Cycle Greater Yellowstone, other than the excellent organization and the amazing scenery, is that the challenge of the ride scares me and provides strong incentive for me to stay in shape, which also helps me to (hopefully) avoid or mitigate the types of health problems that have stalked the members of my family as we age.

We’ll see what 2016 brings!

Salud!

Copyright 2015 by Katie Bradshaw

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

I need to work on my camp sleeping skills. I did not sleep at all the night of day 2.

It was a combination of factors: clammy nylon sleeping bag, too-flat inflatable pillow, fussy sleep mask and earplugs, crackly air mattress that I just couldn’t get comfortable on. Oh, yeah – and then there was the fact that we were facing a total climb on day 3 of over 8,000 feet, up and over Beartooth Pass at 10,000-plus feet.

The prospect of the climb was definitely making me nervous. We had never ridden anything like that before. And then the added time pressure, to try to beat the forecasted storm. Egad!

I shut off my alarm before it sounded at 4:15 a.m., poked Bugman to wake him up, and started getting dressed. With the super-early start time, I developed a camp technique that I would use for the rest of the trip: pack the next day’s clothes into my pillowcase. That way, there was no frantic searching around in the dark, and also, my clothes were pre-warmed when I put them on.

We took off at 6:04 a.m. with our bike lights a-flashing.

The first picture of the day, a half-hour in. Mountains calling! And a clear sky! (For now.)

The first picture of the day, a half-hour in. Mountains calling! And what a lovely clear sky!

The route was pretty much all-climbing-all-the-time from this point, so we were getting passed a lot. The thick cover of young trees along the side of the road here made me wonder what kind of critters might be hiding in there, watching me go by.

The route was pretty much all-climbing-all-the-time from this point, so we were getting passed a lot. The thick cover of young trees along the side of the road here made me wonder what kind of critters might be hiding in there, watching me go by.

There was some of our emergency support crew up ahead, keeping watch on us riders. 7 a.m. now - a few clouds developing.

There was some of our emergency support crew up ahead, keeping watch on us riders. 7 a.m. now – a few clouds developing.

Entering Custer National Forest. The morning started out pretty chilly - in the 40s, I believe. It seemed to be getting colder.

Entering Custer National Forest. The morning started out pretty chilly – in the 40s, I believe. It seemed to be getting colder.

At the first rest stop at mile 11, I really appreciated the soothing sound of Rock Creek. I could have stayed there longer to rest, but I started getting cold just standing there.

At the first rest stop at mile 11, I really appreciated the soothing sound of Rock Creek. I could have stayed there longer to rest, but I started getting cold just standing there.

Nice scenery for a rest stop, eh? Bugman was getting cold, too. He already had his hand warmers in his flip-mitt long-fingered cycling gloves, but picked up an extra pair of warmers at this rest stop to tuck into his shoe covers. We brought pretty much all our cycling outerwear along on this ride, smushed into the bike trunk. We'd had another option. The ride organizers on this day had a reverse gear drop. Instead of picking up discarded clothing as they day warmed, the crew would haul a bag of warm clothes to the lunch stop at the top of the pass, for riders to wear on the descent. I'm glad we had all our stuff with us. We'd wind up needing it.

7:45 a.m. in this picture at the Rock Creek rest stop, and the sky was clouded over. Bugman was getting cold. He already had his hand warmers in his flip-mitt long-fingered cycling gloves, but picked up an extra pair of warmers at this rest stop to tuck into his shoe covers. We brought pretty much all our cycling outerwear along on this ride, smushed into the bike trunk. We’d had another option. The ride organizers on this day had a reverse gear drop. Instead of picking up discarded clothing as they day warmed, the crew would haul a bag of warm clothes to the lunch stop at the top of the pass, for riders to wear on the descent. I’m glad we had all our stuff with us. We’d wind up needing it.

8:45 a.m. - climbing, climbing - oh, the relentless climbing! Never too steep, but never ending!

8:45 a.m. – climbing, climbing – oh, the relentless climbing! Never too steep, but never ending!

About 15 minutes later, we saw the sign van pulled to the side of the road up ahead. Bugman and I checked in with each other: should we sag to the next rest stop? Our energy was flagging, and we still had a long way to go. Perhaps we’d not been eating enough. We always seem to need to re-learn that lesson. Also, I knew we were towards the back of the pack – maybe we would get hopscotched ahead soon anyway? And we couldn’t use a regular sag van – we’d have to take the sign van opportunity while we had it. We called it. After 15.5 miles and three hours of climbing, we were going to sag a bit and bypass the switchbacks.

We weren’t the only ones sagging there. Another couple on a tandem – a red Burley – loaded their bike into the sign van, too. Not sure where the two of them went, but Bugman and I rode inside the sign van, keeping a hold on the two tandems.

Sag van ride #2

Sag #1 of the day

The view from the sign van window, looking down, down, down at the switchbacks we were bypassing.

The view from the sign van window, looking down, down, down at the switchbacks we were bypassing.

The refuel stop at mile 21, at Rock Creek Vista, at which lived some of the most corpulent chipmunks I have ever seen. I was pretty hungry and wolfed down two packages of peanut M&Ms. I know we are not supposed to take multiple items, so as to leave enough for the rest of the folks, but I was needing energy, and the candy was the only thing that sounded good.

9:30 a.m. – the refuel stop at mile 21, at Rock Creek Vista, at which lived some of the most corpulent chipmunks I have ever seen. I was pretty hungry and wolfed down two packages of peanut M&Ms. I know we were not supposed to take more than one, so as to leave enough for the rest of the folks, but I was four hours past breakfast, and I was needing some serious energy, and the candy was the only thing that sounded good to me at that moment.

It was starting to drizzle, so Bugman put his full rain gear on.

It was starting to drizzle, so Bugman put his full rain gear on and we headed out to tackle the “hill” again.

10 a.m.: we've climbed up far enough to look down on the rest stop. The drizzle is changing to snow.

10 a.m.: we’d climbed up far enough to look down on the rest stop. The drizzle was changing to snow.

The snow got heavier.

The snow got heavier.

10:15 a.m. - we had to stop to remove layers. We were working so hard on that climb above the treeline, above 9,000 feet, that we were sweating. Bugman took off the rain pants. I took off my rain jacket and relied on my long-sleeved fleece. It was a difficult dance to thermoregulate on that climb. As soon as we'd stop for a breather, we'd start to get uncomfortably cold within 30-60 seconds. But if we put on more gear, we'd overheat when we got moving again.

10:15 a.m. – we had to stop to remove layers. We were working so hard on that climb above the treeline, above 9,000 feet, that we were sweating. Bugman took off the rain pants. I took off my rain jacket and relied on my long-sleeved fleece, constantly zipping and unzipping it. It was a difficult dance to thermoregulate on that climb. As soon as we’d stop for a breather, we’d start to get uncomfortably cold within 30-60 seconds. But if we put on more gear, we’d overheat when we got moving again.

Still snowing . . .

Still snowing . . .

10:45 a.m. - a moment of sun! It felt so much warmer! Oh, we could keep going if it would just stay like this!

10:45 a.m. – a moment of filtered sunlight! It felt so much warmer! Oh, we could keep going if it would just stay like this!

About ten minutes later, we crossed into Wyoming. The sun was coming and going in patches, but the wind was picking up. Bugman's responses to "how're you doing?" were becoming more noncommittal. His hands were getting really cold.

About ten minutes later, we crossed into Wyoming. The sun was coming and going in patches, but the wind was picking up. Earlier, my hands had gotten too hot inside my mittens with the handwarmers in them, but I had to put them back on at this point. Bugman’s responses to “how’re you doing?” were becoming more gloomy. His hands were getting really cold.

We were over 10,000 feet now. The clouds were broken up a bit, but it felt bitterly cold with the wind. Bugman's hands wouldn't work properly anymore. We had to stop. But if we stopped, we froze. I handed Bugman my rain jacket, and he wrapped his hands in it. I took the bike, and together we trudged upward on foot, awaiting an opportunity to sag. A sag van came along, but there was no space along the narrow two-lane road for a rescue, so the van continued a few hundred feet to a pullout above Twin Lakes, and we walked the bike alongside the road to meet them.

We were over 10,000 feet now. The clouds were broken up a bit, but it felt bitterly cold with the wind. Bugman’s hands wouldn’t work properly anymore. We had to stop. But if we stopped, we’d just get colder. I handed Bugman my rain jacket, and he wrapped his hands in it. Thick ski mitts were the only thing that would have kept him going, I think. I took the bike, and together we trudged upward on foot, awaiting an opportunity to sag. A sag van came along, but there was no space along the narrow two-lane road for a rescue, so the van continued a few hundred feet to a pullout above Twin Lakes, and we walked the bike alongside the road to meet them.

Twin Lakes, where we officially sagged off the course for good that day, at 11 a.m., after making it another 5 1/2 miles up the pass, but 6 miles short of the summit.

Twin Lakes, where we officially sagged off the course for good that day, at 11:20 a.m., after making it another 5.5 miles up the pass, but 6 miles short of the summit.

The sag crew didn't think they could get the tandem on the roof of the vehicle, so they radioed to request the sign van. Meanwhile, we joined the other cyclists inside the sag van to warm up. Several more people coming up the hill behind us decided to sag, too, including another couple on a tandem. There was no more room in the van. Bugman and I got out of the van and put on all our rain gear, to make room inside for others who were worse off. The sign van arrived, and we loaded up the two tandems and headed off for the lunch stop at the summit.

The sag crew didn’t think they could get the tandem on the roof of the vehicle, so they radioed to request the sign van. Meanwhile, we joined the other cyclists inside the sag van to warm up. Several more people coming up the hill behind us decided to sag, too, including another couple on a tandem. There was no more room in the van. Bugman and I got out of the van and put on all our rain gear, to make room inside for others who were worse off. The sign van arrived, and we loaded up the two tandems and headed off for the lunch stop at the summit.

Our speed profile that day. It's pretty obvious when we were sagging. The first part of the day, we were moving at 5-12 MPH. After the rest stop we sagged to, we were only managing 2-7 MPH.

Our speed profile that day. It’s pretty obvious when we were sagging. The first part of the day, we were moving at 5-12 MPH. After the rest stop we sagged to, we were only managing 2-7 MPH.

snow lunch tent wind

It was so good to eat food!!! Especially the soup!! I was also very thankful for the windblock around the food tent, and for the volunteers braving the cold to help us out, way up there at Top of the World. The snow was starting to accumulate, and gusts of wind would send clumps of snow sheeting off the top of the tent. Nobody was biking down now. One cyclist had tried, but he turned around because the visibility was so poor. We just hung around, waiting for a sag ride down to camp at Cooke City.

Überbrew has a good picture on their Facebook page of what the summit looked like when we left – a pile of bikes covered under a thin blanket of snow. I’ll share it here if they give me permission. One of the bikes was an orange tandem belonging to a couple from Iowa. They summited! Well done, Brian and Andrea!!

This is our decidedly non-triumphant Beartooth summit picture, from the inside of a pickup truck belonging to one of the radio volunteers. Oh well. You win some, you lose some. I'd probably consider this one a win, though. We didn't get hypothermic. As we passed dozens of cyclists still out there pedaling away, braving the rain at the lower elevation, gutting up that final, awful climb into camp, I was in awe. There were a lot of tough people out there!

This is our decidedly non-triumphant Beartooth summit picture, from the inside of a pickup truck belonging to one of the radio volunteers. Oh well. You win some, you lose some. I’d probably consider this one a win, though. We didn’t get hypothermia or frostbite. As we passed dozens of cyclists still out there pedaling away, braving the rain at the lower elevation, gutting up that final, awful climb into camp, I was in awe. There were a lot of tough people out there!

When we got to camp, it was definitely warmer than up top. It had started to rain, but the precipitation didn’t last long. The sun came out and was oh so welcome!

Our grasshopper-bedecked sherpa tent at our campsite in Cooke City. The site was a former ball field surrounded by a fence. Because of bear activity in the area, our camping permit required that we store all food and scented toiletries in a truck overnight, to avoid attracting bears into the campsite. I noticed all the garbage cans were packed away, too. We were also required to have a sentry up all night with a flashlight and bear spray, just in case. There were no bears that I know of, but I had the best sleep of the whole ride that night.

Our grasshopper-bedecked sherpa tent at our campsite in Cooke City. The site was a former ball field surrounded by a fence. Because of bear activity in the area, our camping permit required that we store all food and scented toiletries in a truck overnight, to avoid attracting bears into the campsite. I noticed all the garbage cans were packed away, too. We were also required to have a sentry up all night with a flashlight and bear spray, just in case. There were no bears that I know of, but I had the best sleep of the whole ride that night.

I’m glad I finally slept well. There would be another mountain pass to climb on day 4!

Copyright 2015 by Katie Bradshaw

2015 Cycle Greater Yellowstone: Day 2 Absarokee to Red Lodge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scenic place for a mailbox, Nye Road is.

Scenic place for a mailbox, Nye Road is.

Some really nice views on the way to Nye.

Some really nice views on the way to Nye.

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

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

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

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

The Nye School sign, with bikes.

The Nye School sign, with bikes.

The Nye School building, with our bike.

The Nye School building, with our bike.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It rained pretty hard.

It rained pretty hard.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sag van picture - everybody smile!

Sag van picture – everybody smile!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Solution: the propane heater in the Überbrew beer tent!

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

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

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

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

Hooboy.

Off to sleep, perchance to dream of mountain passes!

Copyright 2015 by Katie Bradshaw

2015 Cycle Greater Yellowstone: Day 1, Red Lodge to Absarokee

Oh, the excitement of setting off on Day 1 of Cycle Greater Yellowstone, feeling fresh and ready for (though perhaps apprehensive about) whatever the week may throw your way!

This post will likely include the most pictures of any about the week’s ride, as I was energetic and in a documentary mood.

We asked a random fellow cyclist to take our picture at the starting line in Red Lodge.

We asked a random fellow cyclist to take our picture at the starting line in Red Lodge.

We sailed through the very first traffic circle we've ever ridden on the tandem. Red Lodge was all torn up with construction while we were there, in the process of putting in road improvements like this one.

We sailed through the very first traffic circle we’ve ever ridden on the tandem. Red Lodge was all torn up with construction, in the process of putting in road improvements like this one.

Not sure what I was taking a picture of here, but an empty sag vehicle would become a rare sight later in the week. We LOVED this portion of the ride - it was all downhill for the first half of the short, 58-mile route. Our speed for the first 25 miles was from 20-25 MPH, which is really good for us! We wound up getting caught in the midst of a paceline, which has never happened to us before. I see why people do this - you fly right along when you're drafting another cyclist. Tandems don't play well in pacelines with single bikes on rolling terrain, though. We've got some 350 pounds on two wheels, so we go fast on the downhill and slow on the uphill. Our riding companions, probably annoyed with us, soon went their separate way. I was glad. While it's exhilarating to be in a paceline, it takes a lot of focus to ride so closely to other cyclists, and I think it takes away from being able to enjoy the scenery.

Not sure what I was taking a picture of here, but an empty sag vehicle would become a rare sight later in the week. We LOVED this portion of the ride – it was all downhill for the first half of the short, 58-mile route. Our speed for the first 25 miles was from 20-25 MPH, which is really good for us! We wound up getting caught in the midst of a paceline. I see why people do this – you fly right along when you’re drafting another cyclist. Tandems don’t play well in pacelines with single bikes on rolling terrain, though. We’ve got some 350 pounds on two wheels, so we go fast on the downhill and slow on the uphill. Our riding companions, probably annoyed with us, soon went their separate way. I was glad. While it’s exhilarating to be in a paceline, it takes a lot of focus to ride so closely to other cyclists, and it kind of takes away from being able to enjoy the scenery.

Very soon, we were already at the break stop in Joliet at mile 35, in a lovely little treed park. I asked Bugman to give me a Pop Tart smile.

Right quick, we got to the break stop in Joliet at mile 35, in a lovely little treed park. I asked Bugman to give me a Pop Tart smile.

Mmmmm . . . strawberries!

Mmmmm . . . strawberries! Much tastier than Pop Tarts, IMHO.

I also opted for a 4-H donut. Gotta support those young entrepreneurs, you know. As we headed out of Joliet and onto the road towards Columbus, which required a little backtracking, we overheard some cyclists who were confused and kvetching about how stupid it was to require backtracking for a snack stop. That kind of got my hackles up. First of all, the organizers needed to find a comfortable place big enough to accommodate all us cyclists and our support crew. Secondly, if they'd listened to the announcements the night before, they would have known about the backtracking. Geesh. Maybe I'm just getting old and crotchety, but I'm finding myself with less tolerance for whiners these days.

I also opted for a 4-H donut. Gotta support those young entrepreneurs, you know! 

As we headed out of Joliet (no, Illinoisans, not that Joliet) and onto the road towards Columbus, which required a little backtracking, we overheard some cyclists who were confused and kvetching about how stupid it was to require backtracking for a snack stop. That kind of got my hackles up. First of all, the organizers needed to find a comfortable place big enough to accommodate all us cyclists and our support crew. Secondly, if they’d listened to the announcements the night before, they would have known about the backtracking. Geesh. Maybe I’m just getting old and crotchety, but I’m finding myself with less tolerance for whiners these days.

Enroute to Columbus, Montana, we saw this:

Hm. Not sure what it means, but it doesn't seem particularly welcoming.

“If provoked will strike.” Hm. Not sure what it’s referencing, but it doesn’t seem particularly friendly.

A typical recharge stop: (cereal) bars on cars (or pickup trucks). Also, gear drop boxes, where you can offload the warm things you put on that morning when it was still cold out.

A typical recharge stop: (cereal) bars on cars (or pickup trucks). Also, gear drop boxes, where you can offload the warm things you put on that morning when it was still cold out.

Our cyclist group was always trailed by at least one ambulance, which, thankfully, was rarely needed.

Our cyclist group was always trailed by at least one ambulance, which, thankfully, was rarely needed.

There was a great view from that hilltop headed into Stillwater County. The volunteer flagger visible at left was very helpful - they would wave the flag if there was a vehicle approaching from the blind side of the hill, both to warn the cyclists not to proceed and to warn the approaching motorist to slow down.

There was a great view from that hilltop headed into Stillwater County. The volunteer flagger visible at left was very helpful – they would wave the flag if there was a vehicle approaching from the blind side of the hill, both to warn the cyclists not to proceed and to warn the approaching motorist to slow down.

Wheeee! That was a nice descent!

Wheeee! That there was a nice descent!

Lots of familiar farm and ranch scenes out this way: here, baling wheat straw, with a band of yellow sunflowers blooming in the background. Many of the crops are ones Bugman works in, advising producers through University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension.

Lots of familiar-to-us High Plains farm and ranch scenes out this way. In this photo: baling wheat straw, with a band of yellow sunflowers blooming in the background. Many of the crops we saw in the region are ones Bugman works in through University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension: wheat, alfalfa, sunflower, sugar beet, dry edible beans.

Our lunch stop was in Columbus' lovely Itch-kep-pe Park. (No idea what Itch-kep-pe means.)

Our lunch stop was in Columbus’ lovely Itch-kep-pe Park. (No idea what Itch-kep-pe means.)

The park was right on the bank of the Yellowstone River, and many of us cyclists went down to sit on the water-smoothed stones next to the river, to eat lunch and watch the incoming cyclists on the bridge above.

The park was right on the bank of the Yellowstone River, and many of us cyclists went down to sit on the water-smoothed stones next to the river, to eat lunch and watch the incoming cyclists on the bridge above.

Bugman, true to form, turned over rocks looking for invertebrates.

Bugman, true to form, turned over rocks looking for invertebrates.

We didn't see any of the "big five" (bear, wolf, bison, elk, moose) of the Yellowstone region on our journey this year. However, we did see quite a few sandhill cranes. Gotta love those feathered dinosaurs!

We didn’t see any of the “big five” (bear, wolf, bison, elk, moose) of the Yellowstone region on our journey this year. However, we did see quite a few sandhill cranes, both in the sky and on the ground. Gotta love those feathered dinosaurs!

We cyclists were repeatedly exhorted to ride single file. There was a great effort on the part of the organizers to avoid excessively annoying the local motorists, and on no-shoulder, narrow roads, riding single file helps. I think there was still some ambiguity, though. Some cyclists felt comfortable riding the often-narrow, often-rocky pavement to the right of the rumble strip, while others preferred to ride out in the lane - thus effectively creating two lanes. At other times, faster cyclists would pass slower cyclists, thus creating double-riding for a time. I think there were some instances of motorist aggravation during the week when a faster bike or bikes would pass slower ones regardless of traffic coming from behind. I would think it would be safer to wait for traffic behind to clear before passing, but people did not always do this, and seemed to assume that overtaking vehicles would adapt to the cyclists' presence. It's always a delicate dance when riding highways like that - how to be both safe and courteous.

We cyclists were repeatedly exhorted to ride single file. There was a great effort on the part of the organizers to avoid excessively annoying the local motorists, and on no-shoulder, narrow roads, riding single file helps avoid cyclist-motorist conflict. I think there was still some ambiguity, though. Some cyclists felt comfortable riding the often-narrow, often-rocky pavement to the right of the rumble strip, while others preferred to ride out in the lane – thus effectively creating two lanes of cyclists. At other times, faster cyclists would pass slower cyclists, thus creating double-riding for a time. I think there were some instances of motorist aggravation during the week when a faster bike or bikes would pass slower ones regardless of traffic coming from behind. I would think it would be safer to wait for traffic behind to clear before passing, but people did not always do this, and seemed to assume that overtaking vehicles would adapt to the cyclists’ presence. It’s always a delicate dance when riding highways like that – how to be both safe and courteous – particularly in a large group like ours.

At one informal stop at a roadside pulloff, we were greeted by a couple of local cyclists, representing the self-proclaimed "Montana bike mafia" (one of them was born in Canada, the other in Wisconsin). :-D  They gave us a heads up that a church group in Absarokee was proffering pie and ice cream. Pie and ice cream?? Let's get a move on!

At one informal stop at a roadside pulloff, we were greeted by a couple of local cyclists representing the self-proclaimed “Montana bike mafia” (one of them was born in Canada, the other in Wisconsin). 😀 They gave us a heads up that a church group in Absarokee was proffering pie and ice cream. Pie and ice cream?? Let’s get a move on!

finish line

The finish line at Absarokee High School! Woohoo! It’s rare for us to get into camp this early, before 1 p.m. We had the relatively short route, the downhill elevation profile, and the good weather to thank for that. We would actually have time to go into town after getting cleaned up!

Sherpa tents, and beyond them, the bike corral, and a horse pasture.

Sherpa tents, and beyond them, the bike corral and a horse pasture.

There were a couple of horse-drawn conveyances to take us into downtown Absarokee. These two hard-working creatures were named Rose and Beauty.

There were a couple of horse-drawn conveyances to take us into downtown Absarokee. These two hard-working creatures were named Rose and Beauty.

Aha! There was the aforementioned church selling sugary delectables!

Aha! There was the aforementioned church selling sugary delectables! There was also a VFW booth across the street with dozens of cookies for sale. I’m afraid they may have overbaked. We did our part and bought a half-dozen “cowboy cookies.”

Action shot of the pie-serving area.

Action shot of the pie-serving area.

Ohhh, baby! That was some good strawberry-rhubarb pie!!!!

Ohhh, baby! That was some gooooood strawberry-rhubarb pie!!!!

I loved that the town prepared bike parking for us. Unfortunately, pretty much none of us had kickstands, so the bikes downtown were parked propped against walls and railings.

I loved that the town prepared bike parking for us. Unfortunately, pretty much none of us had kickstands, so the bikes downtown were parked propped against walls and railings.

Back in camp: somebody brought several hula hoops along for the ride. Bugman gave it a whirl.

Back in camp: somebody brought several hula hoops along for the ride. Bugman gave it a whirl.

There was a sheltered area inside the school bus barn for serving food. It was real nice to have that, in the event the weather took a turn for the worse.

There was a sheltered area inside the school bus barn for serving food. It was real nice to have that, in the event the weather took a turn for the worse.

Off to sleep and on to Day 2!

Copyright 2015 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

Cycle Greater Yellowstone: Day 7 ride to Red Lodge

Day 6

Distance and elevation gain (per my mapping software): 84.29 miles, 3,037 feet

Min temp: 62, Max temp: 82, Winds 10-20, with a random gust of 49 between 3-4pm, Precipitation: 0.09 inches, mainly before the ride set out

The morning got off to a bit of a later start than we’d wanted. There was a long line at breakfast. The power in the kitchen truck had gone out that morning in the drizzle, so there was only one food line open for the first chunk of the morning. Since the dining canopy had blown down, the organizers had not wanted to have it up overnight again, so we sat on wet chairs around wet tables to eat. But the rain quit by the time it was time to hit the road.

Shoshone River northeast of Cody.

Shoshone River northeast of Cody.

Heart Mountain. I'd recognized its silhouette from the artwork I saw on display in the Cody library - done by a Japanese internment camp resident during WWII.

Heart Mountain. I’d recognized its silhouette from the artwork I saw on display in the Cody library – done by a Japanese internment camp resident during WWII. Don’t know the story about how the United States imprisoned thousands of innocent people? A stop at the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center might be in order. I’d heard Heart Mountain mentioned in hushed tones by some of the older Japanese women I met in western Nebraska.

We had a rest stop in Powell, Wyoming, where we momentarily got hung up on a curb at a traffic light. (I should not unclip when we stop for traffic. I best serve the tandem team by providing power on the start.) An older lady waved and waved at the cyclists from her front porch as we went by. That made me smile.

Beyond Powell, we entered high desert territory. It looked a lot like the scenery back home, but with less bunchgrass.

dfvdfv

This was a ya-hoo-hoo-hooey! downhill, especially with the wind suddenly buffeting us side to side. I tucked down out of the wind as much as I could to try to help stabilize the bike.

Our lunch stop on rocky high desert soil was buffered by cardboard boxes under our bums.

Our lunch stop on rocky high desert soil was buffered by cardboard boxes under our bums.

At the lunch stop was a booster club from the school in a nearby town: Belfry, Montana. When Bugman and I had driven past Belfry on our way to the ride earlier in the week, I said, “Oh, wouldn’t it be awesome if their school mascot was a bat?”

Guess what?

I am now the proud owner of a Belfry Bats booster club t-shirt.

AWESOME!!!

We had a rest stop at the Belfry school. I bought a couple of ibuprofen from the bike mechanics. My bum was mighty unhappy about being on that bicycle seat, despite the stand-and-pedal technique Bugman and I had worked out:

Call out “stand and pedal?” Get an affirmative. Call “off” to stop pedaling. Shift gears. Call “up.” Stand up and pedal for 20 counts, sitting down on the 20th. Shift gears. Resume pedaling the normal way.

I totally would have shopped in the Belfry Country Store, except they were closed - gone for a family event or something.

I totally would have shopped in the Belfry Country Store, except they were closed – gone for a family event or something.

There's the smoke from the dadgum fire that rerouted our bike tour.

There’s the smoke from the dadgummed fire that rerouted our bike tour.

Back in Belfry, a course monitor let us know we were just a few miles away from pie.

Pie, you say . . .?

Hungry Bear Cafe

Mmmm . . . pie . . .

Bearcreek has been better days. The highest and best use of this old building might just be bike parking.
Bearcreek has been better days. The highest and best use of this old building just might be bike parking.
Smith mine historic photo

Just outside Bearcreek is a historical marker on the Smith Mine Disaster. This photo was on the plaque near the marker.

present look of mine

Here is a present-day view of the mine site, left in memory of the 74 people who died in the 1943 explosion. A few of the miners lived long enough before being overcome by noxious gasses to leave notes behind. One such note engraved on the marker read: “Walter & Johnny. Goodbye Wives and Daughters. We died an easy death. Love from us both. Be good.”

And that last hill into Red Lodge . . . oh my . . .

3.5% AVERAGE grade for 7 miles . . . I think this included 2 miles of 7% grade . . .

It doesn't really show in this picture, but if you knew where to look, you could see some more bikes on the road waaay down there, which was part of the hill we'd just come up (there was more hill to go from here!).

The grade doesn’t really show in this picture, but if you knew where to look, you could see some more bikes on the road waaay back there, which was part of the hill we’d just come up (there was more hill to go from here!).

I felt pretty good when a passing cyclist complimented us on how well we were tackling the hill. (We were on a tandem – tough on the uphill, remember?)

I didn’t feel so good physically, but we made it all the way to the top without stopping. (And the pie stayed down!)

Beautiful, beautiful descent into Red Lodge!

Beautiful, beautiful descent into Red Lodge!

We rode right down the main street of town to a park at the “official finish.” I heard some pedestrians gasp “They just rode 500 miles!” (Not quite, but I’ll accept the awe and admiration all the same.)

As we snacked on a frozen chocolate malt and tried to politely back away from an overly talkative community booster, a firefighter helicopter hoisted a load of water into the sky from the airport atop the hill west of town.

fire copter

All the downtown business windows sported small yellow signs: "thank YOU firefighters"

All the downtown business windows sported small yellow signs: “thank YOU firefighters!”

Bugman and I briefly stopped by the baggage drop area in a park a few blocks north, then biked the final-final mile of the ride back to our car on the fairgrounds adjacent to the airport. That last hill included a segment of 10% grade. A biker headed in their car the other direction rang a cowbell of encouragement as she passed. I appreciated that.

When we got back to the car, the power locks seemed kind of slow. Got the bike up on the car, ready to leave, turn the key and . . . nothing. Dead battery!

Remember back on day 0 when we headed out on our trip, and the radio quit working? Well, the radio must have come back to life, because the stuck CD had been spit out, and our battery was dead.

I grabbed our jumper cables (which, ironically, we had received as a wedding gift 15 years earlier) and stood by the side of the road through the fairgrounds making the “thumbs down” sign, and the next biker headed out with his car stopped to give us a jump.

We motored back to the baggage area and took turns going back to get our bags so we could leave the engine running and keep the alternator charging the battery.

A mighty fine-looking porter. Raowr.

A mighty fine-looking porter. Raowr!

We got checked in at the lovely Pollard and took lovely showers.

Then we went scrounging for food. (When you’re burning an extra 1,500-3,500 calories a day, food suddenly becomes an obsession.)

Our first meal was at Más Taco.

Chips and salsa

Chips and salsa

The yummy something Bugman ordered.

The yummy something Bugman ordered.

My scrumptious tacos.

My delish tacos.

Next stop: Montana Candy Emporium. While this shop is not necessarily tops in terms of sheer variety of candy (perhaps they were letting their stock diminish in the lead-up to the slow winter season?), it is better than most and has a bonus atmosphere created by old shop cases and scads of random antiques to gaze at.

Giant chocolate-covered caramel marshmallows on sticks. With sprinkles.

Giant chocolate-covered caramel marshmallows on sticks. With sprinkles.

Our second meal was at the Red Lodge Pizza Co. Did not take a photo, but the pizza was excellent. So was the company. We recognized a fellow cyclist, an Australian, across the way, eating alone, so we invited him to join our table.

After second dinner, we and the Aussie hiked just north of town towards Sam’s Tap Room at the Red Lodge Ales brewery where the ride afterparty was being held (Red Lodge Ales was another ride sponsor).

On our walk to and fro, we saw a bat, an owl, and a deer.

The music in the taproom was too dang loud, so we went into the bar area instead.

Another brewery pint glass to add to our collection!

Another brewery pint glass to add to our collection!

We had toyed with the idea of getting up early the following morning and riding the reopened Beartooth Pass, but Bugman had a work meeting on Monday morning.

We slept well and deeply, ate a filling breakfast, and headed home.

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