2016 Cycle Greater Yellowstone Day 7: Ennis to Bozeman

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

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

1 chilly morning

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

2 frosty table

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

3 pond mist

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

4 fellow tandem 1

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

5 tandem shadow

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

6 honker

Rolling out into the morning.

7 rolling into the morning

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

8 morning sun

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

9 conquering the hill

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

10 warm up hands

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

11 fellow tandem 2

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

12 tense descent

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

RANGBOOTLEFIGGERSCHNARK!
SIXTABLASTIDHANGDAFARGG!
HEGDOGGLETIZADONGER!
AAARRRRGH!

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

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

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

13-norris-boom-bax

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

14-walk-bikes

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

15-along-madison-river

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

16-lflies-and-fishing

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

17-rumble-bars

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

20-law-enforcement

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

18-my-view

Fishers, two kinds.

19-fishers-two-kinds

Our riverside rest stop at mile 29:

21-riverside-rest-stop

I wasn’t the only one capturing the scenery.

22-photo-opp

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

23-walk-the-gravel-hill

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

24-awesome-volunteers

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

25-another-hill

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

26-bear-knuckles

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

27-right-turn

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

28-three-montana-elements

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

29-montana-barn

T-H-E  E-N-D

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

30-the-end-at-cgy-hq

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

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

31-hotel-bottle-opener

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

32-bozeman-garbage

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

32-shirt-2

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

33-cattle-theme-extreme

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

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

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

Copyright 2016 by Katie Bradshaw

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.”

Gulp!

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