Yellowstone Cycle Tour – A Ride Review

Yellowstone Park.  You’ve probably heard of it.  Established on March 1, 1872, it was the first national park in the United States.  Some consider it the first national park in the world.  It truly is an international tourist destination.  This is evidenced by the droves of tourists arriving by the car and busload throughout the park.  For this reason, I’ve been hesitant to travel through the park by bicycle.  Sharing a road with a designated bike lane doesn’t get a second thought from me.  But sharing a narrow road with someone who may not know the park rules, local laws, nor speak the language or be able to read the signs AND being distracted by the geothermal features and wildlife is another.  Quite frankly, it wasn’t a risk I was willing to take, no matter how beautiful the scenery.

When I heard that there was an organized ride through the park in the fall, a little spark of hope was lit.  Riding a bike in my favorite season, through one of my favorite places, with support and lots of signage alerting drivers of the cyclists was just what I needed!

I did some online research and discovered the website www.cycleyellowstone.com.  Registration for the 2016 Yellowstone Cycle Tour would open on June 15, 2016 and close when sold out.  The ride was limited to 300 riders.  I marked my calendar and began to consider who I would ask to ride with me.  The drive to West Yellowstone would be a very long day in the car from Denver, and perhaps best suited for two days.  The ride from

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Kimberly is the only woman who could pair cycling clothes with cowboy boots and make it look good!

West Yellowstone to Old Faithful was 62 miles round trip.  In October, it could be snowing there.  Of all my family members and friends, Kimberly was the one person who just might be crazy enough to sign up for this adventure with me… and she did.

We arrived in beautiful West Yellowstone, Montana on the eve of October 7th.  Kimberly is a local in Bozeman and was able to score us a very nice room at the Bar N Ranch just outside of West Yellowstone.  We had an excellent dinner in the dining hall at the ranch and got up early Saturday morning for breakfast before our departure.  The ride was organized to depart in two waves.  The first wave was for what the ride organizers referred to as “more experienced riders” and the second wave was for the less experienced.  We departed somewhere in the middle between the two waves.  We settled into a slight prolonged climb for the next fifteen miles.  The buffalo and elk wasted no time and made their appearance very quickly into our ride.

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Lots of this type of signage was placed along the ride route.

The only aid station was located fifteen miles into the ride at Madison Junction.  We stopped for a bathroom break and visited the very well stocked aid station.  Ride organizers had provided an assortment of fresh fruits, candies, packaged bars, and liquids for riders.  The departure from Madison Junction was directly into a prolonged climb that leveled out on the top of a plateau about 500 vertical feet later at 7200 feet .  It was along this plateau about 7 miles from Old Faithful where the highlight of the trip occurred.  Kimberly and I were just riding along when we realized how quiet it had become because there was not another cyclist or car nearby.  The only thing nearby were the 20-30 buffalo bedded down maybe 30 feet from the road. This was the closest that I’d ever been to the giants and it was quite magnificent to see.  I very much wanted to stop for a picture, but did not want to stop for any wildlife near the road without having a car between us.

When we arrived at Old Faithful, the first order of business was to find the lunch tent.  The second order of business was to see whether Old Faithful was erupting or how long we might have to wait until the next predicted eruption.  We had about 45 minutes to wait and despite the fact that we’d both seen the eruption before, decided that it was worth the wait after pedaling for 30 miles.  We sat down to enjoy the lunch that was an option at registration.  Mine consisted of a very tasty PB&J, chips, an apple, and a cookie.  There were also other munchies available for riders at the tour tent.

After watching Old Faithful do its magic, we hopped back on the bikes.  Kimberly was vocal img_5681about her tushy not being very excited about being back in the saddle.  If she had wanted to catch the SAG wagon, she could have because they were plentiful.  But like all the Minkoff’s, she didn’t give up.   Eventually, we came back to the feed station at Madison Junction and stopped for sweets and coffee.  Much to our surprise, we found ourselves removing clothing because the weather was so warm.

On the drive back to Bozeman, we decided that despite our aches and pains, we had a fantastic time.  So much so that there is likely to be another cousins adventure next year.  Stay tuned!!

PS – Off road biking in Yellowstone is limited to very few (read: short) opportunities.  Check their website for details. Spots in the Yellowstone Cycle tour are limited and go fast.  We were essentially begged to ride single file to ensure that the event would be a go the following year.  If you are the kind of cyclist who is incapable of riding single file, don’t register for this event.  Don’t be the person who spoils this wonderful opportunity for others.  Just don’t.

 

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This is the Midway Basin Geyser area.  Yep, that’s a snow pole and it’s taller than me!

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Yep, those are buffalos laying in the meadow.  They were far enough away that I was willing to stop for a picture. (Madison Junction area)

 

Stay Calm and Take Calcium!

Have a conversation of any length with any cyclist and it will typically lead to a “JRA” story. A JRA story begins with “ I was just riding along…” Typically these words lead to an exciting or interesting cycling tale. A number of my JRA stories end with details describing how I was just riding along when I was thrown to the ground. While each of the stories is different in the circumstances of the crash, one thing remains consistent amongst all the stories, and that is my calm reaction following the crash.

After my first serious mountain bike crash, I remember being dazed and confused. One moment I had been upright, pedaling along with a gentle breeze on my face, feeling proud that I had reached the end of a long and technical ride, and in the next moment I found myself and my bike laying in the dirt. As I sat on the ground in a puff of dust examining my injuries, my radio beeped. I pressed the talk button and mumbled that I thought I saw bone. It turned out not to be bone, but was soft tissue that was not meant to see the light of day. It didn’t take long for my riding companions to return to my aid and get me to the ER for stitches. This crash happened so quickly and unexpectedly, that I didn’t have time to react with much more than surprise.

In my next serious crash, I had lots of time to think about the landing as I sailed though the air face first toward a boulder. At the last moment I curled my head backward to avoid hitting the boulder with my face and took the impact to my sternum. As I came to rest in the dirt, I remember trying to call out to my fast friend whom I was trying to keep up with. The exertion of attempting to yell hurt my chest and it came out as a whisper. It hurt to breathe and as I lay in the dirt, I wondered if this would be the crash that I was unable to pedal away from. After a few minutes had passed, I caught my breath, picked myself up off the ground, and giggled with joy.  I was joyful that I could get up.  I remounted the bike at about the same time my friend had come back to find me. Together we slowly rode back to the cars. An ER visit was not necessary, but a 6 week break from biking was.

When I crashed in late June, I was on a 25 mile ride beginning in Golden Gate Canyon State Park and ending in White Ranch Open Space in Jefferson County just outside Golden, Colorado.  It was a beautiful day without a cloud in the cobalt blue skies overhead as we pedaled away from the trailhead. Like an eraser on a chalkboard, enough moisture had fallen the night before to erase the tracks of trail users from the previous day. I could still feel the thickness of the humidity in the air. We settled into a prolonged climb on smooth, narrow singletrack. Eventually that smooth path gave way to rockier terrain surrounded by pine trees and aspen. It was on a rocky descent where I went down about 13 miles into the route. As I came to rest with my knee wedged between rocks and bike frame, I wondered how severe the damage to my bike and leg would be. I was grateful to be riding with a well prepared nurse because it was obvious the couple of bandaids tucked in my backpack wouldn’t be enough to handle the blood. There weren’t any broken bones, and I recognized from my first crash that soft tissue that isn’t supposed to see the outside world. Stitches would have been appropriate, however we were miles from anywhere without any cell phone signal. Walking or riding out were the only two options; it hurt less to pedal, so that’s  what I did.

MotoMan has been with me through all three crashes and he asked me the other day how I remain so calm afterward? It’s interesting he describes me as calm when I felt anything but calm on the inside.  Apparently I’m the only one who can hear my pounding heart. After some reflection on this question, I concluded that I stay calm because I like to be in control of what happens to me. If I’ve had a crash, it means I’ve lost control and, for me, that’s the worst part.  After the initial shock of the impact passes, I turn my attention to what I can control; like determining whether anything is bloody, broken or bent ~ on me or the bike. After that assessment, I take what action is necessary to get up and pedal away.

When it comes to stressful situations where others are hurt, I try to take a similar approach. If there is anything that I can control to contain the situation, I do that. At the very least, remaining calm can be comforting and contagious to the person in need.  I’ve heard that people are defined by their reaction to crisis.  How will you react in a defining moment?

Handlebars, headsets, and tunnels. Oh my!

Last year I did a couple of cyclocross races and got bitten by the bug.  I started shopping for a cyclocross bike in late July because bikes in my small size are few and far between.  I was scouring online forums and bike shop web sites for something, anything in my size so that I would be outfitted come race day in September.  It was suggested that I visit a certain bike shop in Boulder because it was known to be “the” cyclocross bike shop in the area.

I dedicated an entire afternoon to making the drive up to Boulder with the intention of test riding as many bikes as I could find to fit me.  The first (and only) bike that I rode was a Focus Mares CX Disc 105.  I rode along South Broadway in Boulder to some open space where I could take the bike on the dirt.  Overall the bike felt large and sluggish.  I gave this feedback to the sales rep who was helping me.  He suggested swapping out the stem so that I would feel less stretched out on the bike.  We went to the back of the store where he did this while we chatted.

He asked me to take the bike in a loop around the parking lot before departing for the open space just to get a general sense of whether it felt any better or not.  I gave him the thumbs up and once again headed south on the sidewalk parallel to Broadway.  I was bunnyhopping, jumping, and generally riding aggressively on the bike as I pedaled alongside the busy road.  By the time I reached the tunnel that passes under Broadway, it became evident that there was a problem with the bike.  As I entered the tunnel and it became darker, I became very confused about what was happening.  I realized that while I was still going straight forward on the bike, the handlebars were turning sideways.  I had absolutely no control over the direction this bike was going.  I gingerly placed one hand up to run it along the tunnel wall and bring the bike to a stop.  As I rolled to a stop in the dark tunnel, six kids came charging through the tunnel as they rode their bikes home from school.  I was subjected to bells ringing and verbal reprimands for stopping so foolishly in the dark tunnel, which only added to my confusion and fear.

After dismounting the bike and pushing it back into the light, I was able to confirm what had happened.  In swapping out the stem earlier, the sales rep had failed to properly tighten down the headset.  All the jumping and aggressive riding I’d done between the tunnel and bike shop had loosened the one bolt that he had tightened.  I started the walk back to the bike shop.  As I walked by all the obstacles I’d jumped, I wondered how it came to pass that I had not lost control of that bike and veered off into the traffic speeding by on that busy road.

When I finally arrived back at the bike shop, a couple of their team members snickered as I walked by with the bike.  I suppose it was quite a sight: me in my loose fitting shorts, t-shirt, and shop-loaned helmet walking a bike with the handlebars turned completely to the side.  When I entered the shop, one of the sales reps looked at the bike in horror asking what happened.  I rolled the bike toward her and told her I was sent out with a loose headset.  As the gravity of that sank in, I retrieved my driver’s license from the sales rep who swapped out the stem.  He seemed as appalled as I was by what had happened and took full responsibility for it.

Later that night I received an email from the shop owner inquiring about the situation.  He assured me that this incident was the first of its kind at his shops.  We exchanged a couple more emails and ultimately he reassured me that he’s ridden for years and nothing has ever stopped him from getting back on a bike.  I knew it wouldn’t stop me from riding either.  I’ve had too many good experiences on the bike to let one incident like this stop me from riding.  I also knew, however, that a most basic level of trust had been violated.  The nightmares I’ve had about biking since this incident confirm that it affected me on a very deep level.  As I said before, it hasn’t stopped me from riding, but it has stopped me from returning to this shop.

Finding Peace on Two Wheels

There are 365 days each year, most of which pass us by with little to no fuss.  But there are a few days each year that we anticipate ~ be it with excitement or dread.  The days I look forward to are primarily happy days: my birthday, my husband’s birthday, our anniversary, June 21st (the longest day of the year), July 4th (who doesn’t like fireworks?), December 21st (because it means the days are getting longer and we’re halfway to June 21st).  Someone queue Bon Jovi.

Then there’s my daughter’s birthday on February 9th.  It was certainly a life changing day and is one of the happiest days of my life.  Next month she’ll be 13; a teenager.  January has been my least favorite month for most of my adult life.  It’s such a dark, cold month.  There aren’t many January days that are good for outdoor riding.  Combine that with back to work and school following the holidays and it’s simply dreadful.   However, after I had my daughter I found a new way to make the passing of January more tolerable.  I went into birthday party planning mode January 2nd.  Now that she is getting older, the party planning has dissipated and the January winter doldrums have returned.

In 2010, on February 7th after my daughter’s 8th birthday party, we returned to our home.  It was a cold, snowy Sunday afternoon.  At that time, we still had a “land line” to our house.  The phone rang as soon as we walked through the door.  When I realized my husband had picked up a call from my mom and she was inquiring as to whether we had received the birthday gift she had sent, my daughter and I quickly bundled back up into our snow boots, coats, and hats and ran down the street to the mailbox. After retrieving the box from Texas, we ran back home as fast as we could. My mom got to be “with” us on the phone as my daughter tore into the box. It was a joyful conversation.  Later that night after the Superbowl, the phone rang again.  This time it was my dad calling to say that my mom had collapsed and died just a couple of hours before.  February 7th officially became the saddest day of my life.

When I started riding the bike in the fall of 2011, it was one of the best things I did for my mental health.  In another blog post I wrote about how I was not a cyclist when I joined my team, but quickly started pedaling my way to becoming one.  While I longed for someone to ride with in those winter months before my first race, it was more therapeutic that I was riding alone.  I’m not going to lie, there were many tears shed behind those sporty Smith sunglasses.  As winter turned to spring and spring to summer, I began to notice the birds chirping as I pedaled along.  One day, as I pedaled along a familiar road,

I heard the distinctive song of the meadowlark.  My mom always loved that sound and would point it out to anyone nearby whenever she heard it.  I started spending more time riding on this road because it was one of only two roads where I heard the meadowlark.  Being out on those deserted roads with the sound of the meadowlark made me feel closer to her.

As I gained strength and endurance during that summer of 2012, I began to ride further and further from my home, and further from that road where the meadowlarks sing. But I’m frequently drawn back to that road.  Sometimes I hear the meadowlarks calling to me as I go by; sometimes I call out to them.  Riding on that road is where I found peace on two wheels.

2014 Cycling Year in Review

I was recently inspired by Heidi Rides Bikes to take a look back at my 2014 racing season.  I competed in 12 races:

1 Road Race

Carter Lake Road Race - photo credit to Shawn Curry

Carter Lake Road Race – photo credit to Shawn Curry

2 Hill Climbs

2 Criteriums

2 Circuit Races

3 mountain bike races

2 cyclocross races

All but one race was finished – see more about that here.  I was involved in two crashes.  The first crash was in my first crit of the year.  After the injuries healed, I did another crit and was involved in yet another crash.  Smashing into the pavement was beginning to take a toll on my body, and I wasn’t interested in totaling my new Cannondale ride.  By this time it was nearly June, so I turned my attention to other kinds of races.  I did the Guanella Pass Hill Climb again, which is one of the few races that make a cyclist feel bigger than life.  I did my first endurance mountain bike race on Independence Day.  I finished off the racing season with two super fun cyclocross races.

Strava stats indicate that I put nearly 3,500 miles on my Cannondale since I got her in January.  While I rode outdoors in every month of the year, I raced in 8 of 12 months of the year.  On the non-racing side of the fence, I participated in my first Triple Bypass.  I also started using my bike as a mode of transportation rather than solely as a recreational or training vehicle, all be it sporadically.

While the racing season didn’t turn out as I had hoped in the criterium category, I was pleased with my results and the number of races overall.  But most importantly, I’ve come to respect what my body is capable of and learned to listen when it tells me it’s time to try something different.  I’m the first to say that it’s important to have a plan; but it’s equally important to allow those plans to change when the time is right.

For 2015, I’m looking forward to more crits and more commuting; to continuing to improve my cycling fitness; and to sharing cycling joy wherever and however I can!

2015 bike

One Race at a Time

It was a crisp Sunday morning and I intentionally had not pre-registered for the criterium race because of Colorado’s notorious winter-like weather conditions in the Spring.  It had been only 26 degrees and snowing the day before!  I arrived early at the Stazio Baseball Fields for the University of Colorado Stazio Criterium.  I sat and watched some of the collegiate races as the sun continued to burn off the crisp morning air.  I was exchanging text messages with a teammate and soon concluded that if I did register for the race, I’d be the lone representative in the peloton from my team.  I finally decided to end the procrastination and registered for the race.

I headed back to my car and bumped into a former teammate who was also racing.  We agreed to meet after warming up and head to the start line together.  It’s so nice to see a friendly face before a race!  The peloton was quite large with 30-40 cyclists as they had grouped both beginners (Category 4) with more experienced (Category 3) racers.  As we took off on our first lap, there was the usual shuffling for position as we rounded the first corner and started up a slight hill.  Then we crested the hill, headed downhill and around to the start line.  The second lap began much like the first.  As we circled back to the start line again, I noticed that the peloton slowed significantly as we rolled by the announcer and what few spectators were there.  I had moved to the outer left side of the peloton in anticipation of the right turn we would be taking.  Ahead of me, a couple of cyclists began to wobble back and fourth.  Suddenly, the woman to my left was thrown over her handle bars to the pavement.  I thought I was over far enough to avoid her and her bike.  No sooner had this thought crossed my mind when I found myself laying on my back on the pavement.  As bodies and bikes came to rest around me, I found myself still clipped in on both sides, struggling to free myself from the bike so I could get up.  A kind spectator came to my aid and helped me out of my pedals.  I laid on the street for a couple of moments, wiggling all ten toes and all ten fingers, trying to decide if I was going to be able to pick myself up.  Everything seemed to be in working order, nor was there any substantial pain or blood.  I slowly stood up to see a shocked crowd of people staring back at me.

 

I grabbed my bike and quickly inspected it for damage.  I knew the peloton would soon be coming around and I wanted to get back into the race without dwelling for too long on what had just happened.  The race official directed me on where to line up as the peloton approached.  I was off for the second time.   We did two more laps before the race was brought to a stop to allow for the ambulance to  pick up two injured cyclists who had not moved from the road since the crash.  We continued circling the parking lot in an attempt to keep our legs warm.  When it was time to line up and restart the race, I began to notice the aches and pains I had sustained in the crash.  Sharing the story of what had happened with understandably curious racers didn’t help me mentally.  As I started this race for the third time, my body was aching and my mind was no longer competitively engaged.  I had lost my race mojo for the day.  I just wanted to finish it and go home.

 

I had two opportunities to bail out on this race: one when the crash happened and another when the race was stopped for the ambulance.  I’m not exactly sure what it was that initially got me up and going again.  However, getting those two laps in with the peloton before the race was stopped for the ambulance was critical for me.  I was back in the race before I had the opportunity to overthink what I saw, heard, and felt during that crash.  Several people have asked me what’s next in terms of racing.  I don’t necessarily know the answer today… but I’ll figure it out come race day.  Just like I did at Stazio.

Becoming a “Cyclist”

Who goes out and joins a racing team without having ridden their bike consistently for ten years??  Um, I do.  Which is why I couldn’t help but describe myself as a cyclist, complete with air quotes for a very long time.  Sometimes a laugh would slip out when I said it because the idea of me, as a cyclist, seemed so preposterous.

All jokes aside, I was serious about becoming a cyclist. So I started to ride.  I rode at every opportunity that presented itself in the fall of 2011.  At first the rides were short, but they gradually became longer and faster as my fitness improved.  I had a lot of ground to cover ~ literally and figuratively ~ if I wanted to become remotely competitive with the other women on my team and in the sport.

I quickly realized that I needed to formulate a game plan for my “inaugural” racing season of 2012.  When the racing schedule came out, I picked the races I would do and began to “train” accordingly.  My first race would be the Oredigger Classic Lookout Mountain Hill Climb in Golden, Colorado in March of 2012.  To ride from my home to the top of Lookout Mountain and back is a round trip of about 35 miles with about 2500 feet of elevation gain, depending on the specific route ridden.  To an experienced cyclist, this seems like a very easy ride, but to someone new to the sport, this would fall into the category of  “long ride”, perhaps even “epic ride” given the right circumstances.    Complicating my training was the fact that most of it would be happening outside between December and March – winter in Colorado.

My approach to training was to check the weather forecast at the beginning of each week. On the warmest day (or two, schedule permitting), I would plan to ride up Lookout Mountain.  This also required driving to Golden because I was unable to ride the entire round trip from my house in Arvada.  As the weeks passed, I began to park further and further away from Golden, gradually building up my ability to not only pedal up the hill faster, but endure the miles before and after the climb.  Eventually, I simply left my car in the garage and pedaled to Lookout Mountain from my driveway.

lookout

Upon reflection, my approach to training for that first race was similar to the way that I had approached other challenges in my life.  Break the problem or challenge into smaller, more manageable pieces.  At the same time, try approaching the problem from different angles, similar to how I moved my car from place to place to build up endurance.  Sometimes a fresh approach to a problem is all the perspective you need to see the solution.

On race day in March of 2012, I certainly didn’t come in first.  I’m proud to say that I didn’t come in last either!  At some point that year, I was able to refer to myself as a cyclist without the air quotes; but I still smile and laugh about it because riding the bike has brought me a profound amount of peace and joy.

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