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?

Shifting Gears

Ascending a hill begins with pedaling as long as you can in whatever gear you happen to be in.  As turning the pedals becomes more difficult, you shift into an easier gear with the push of a finger or two.  Leg muscles and lungs quickly adapt to the change in tension. When you finally get to the easiest gear, you settle into a rhythm and keep pedaling.  When you crest the hill, more tension is added with the push of a finger and once again the body adapts in a matter of seconds.

Wouldn’t it be great if our minds could adapt to change as quickly?

Fourteen years ago I became a mother.  My first mother’s day can best be described as weird.  When my daughter was born, I’d spent over 30 years making  Mother’s Day special for my mom.  My mom’s birthday just happens to be May 13th.  Some years, Mother’s Day and her birthday would fall on the same day.  No matter when Mother’s Day was observed, my brothers and

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Me, my mom and brothers on my 1st birthday.  Angel food is still my favorite!

 

I attempted to keep the two separate and special.

But there I found myself, at the center of attention on a day that felt like it was about anyone but me.   Eventually I shifted gears and settled into the rhythm of enjoying Mother’s Day, just like my mom must have done when it was new to her all those years ago.  After she died, I once again found myself in a strange place with Mother’s Day.  While I had been a mother for eight years at the time of her death, I’d spent nearly four decades making that day special for her.  I guess you could say I failed to shift gears and allow myself to adapt to a new meaning of Mother’s Day.  I could no longer look at cards for my mothers-in-law because they all made me cry.  The flowers at the store, commercials I saw on TV, and pictures on Facebook only reinforced what I no longer had.  If you haven’t lost someone you love, you might not understand what I mean when I say that she is never far from my thoughts.  The absence of that loved one leaves a large void  in each and every day, but especially on days like Mother’s Day or birthdays.

Motoman and I were talking recently and the subject of Mother’s Day came up.  I told him I no longer do Mother’s Day since I don’t have a mother.  He looked at me and replied “well, you should since you have a daughter.”  In that moment, recognized my failure to adapt to the new meaning of Mother’s Day.   I realized how selfish and unfair I’d been to my own daughter for the last six years.  She’s spent her entire life making Mother’s Day special for me and here I was, refusing to shift gears and adapt to life as it remains.

It’s been a challenging ride, but I think it’s time to find the right gear for the rest of this climb, settle into a rhythm, and keep pedaling.

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Spring 2002 – shortly after Sierra was born. 3 generations.

Adventures in Retrofitting

My first official cyclocross season came and went without amounting to much of anything.  I found a bike in September, just before the season’s first race.  Finding the bike had been a challenge of it’s own.  Let me put it this way: had there been a handful of cyclocross bikes to choose from, I may not have ended up with the one I’m riding.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great bike, but it’s mine simply because there wasn’t another choice.  There just aren’t many bikes available in the small size I ride, which is probably fodder for another blog post.  Nevertheless, I finished a couple of races and then experienced a series of flats which resulted in a few DNF’s (Did Not Finish).

Since I had only one wheel set, I very quickly found myself in a place where I needed to make some changes to said wheel set in order to get back into the races AND finish.  The choices were 1. to use a conversion kit on the stock wheels that would result in a tubeless setup or 2. to upgrade the wheel set to a tubeless ready system.  In other words, choice 1 costs around $80 and choice 2 closer to $500 and up.  Since I wasn’t sure how long I would keep the bike, I decided to go with choice 1 and consider choice 2 next year after I had a few more races under my belt and a better sense of whether I wanted to keep the bike.

After doing some web searching, watching videos, and reading step-by-step instructions, I was confident in my (husband’s) ability to successfully complete the conversion under my supervision*.  The Stan’s No Tubes web site even states “Converting requires very little mechanical ability but it is important to follow the Instructions.”  I was confident that even a non-bike mechanic gal like myself could supervise this project flawlessly.

I purchased the cyclocross conversion kit.   The process of cleaning the wheel, drilling the valve hole, and applying the rim tape was easy enough.  The problem we encountered was that the rim was chewed up enough to leave a gap large enough that the rim tape, tire, and sealant combined weren’t enough to close that gap.  Yes, we tried the compressor.  It resulted in a shower of Stan’s sealant all over a friend’s garage before we finally gave up.  Here’s an image of the rim to give you an idea of the kind of ding that prevented this conversion from working.

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I wish the very thorough instructions and videos on the Stan’s web site would have mentioned that your rims need to be ding free in order to work with the conversion kit.  Unfortunately for me, the conversion kit was a failure and waste of money.  On the bright side, I have a sweet new wheel set on a bike I may or may not keep and another wheel set that is very likely to become wall art. I’d say everyone won in this case!

*Disclaimer:  I’m not a bike mechanic.  I don’t even play one on TV.  But I do have a very handy husband who helped me with the conversion.

Keep Left… or Not

My dear friend JQ has been a great riding buddy and friend since I met her four years ago.  We normally mountain bike together.  I’d hurt my tailbone recently and couldn’t do anything too strenuous, so we decided to take to the road in Bear Creek Lake Park.  It was planned to be a slow, chatty ride so we could catch up on all the recent changes in our lives.  As we pedaled along the bike path, I couldn’t help but be astonished by the fact that there was an entire paved loop throughout the park that I had never ridden.  I typically ride the dirt there on my mountain bike, so this was an exciting discovery for me!  I’d always wondered what people were referring to when they talked about riding the loop through Bear Creek clockwise or counter clockwise.

As we climbed up a hill on the southeast side of the park, the path forked and I started to veer to the right.  JQ called out to keep left.  A bike in the distance caught my eye.  It was laying in the dirt beside the path with what appeared to be a sweatshirt or coat beside it.  I thought it seemed odd that there was a bike there, without a person nearby.  They do tend to go in pairs.  I looked left and then right again as JQ repeated to keep left.  I didn’t see anyone around the bike and decided to go investigate.  As I approached the bike, I realized the clothing on the ground was, in fact, on a person who was laying there, entangled in the bike.  I dismounted and approached the man as he lay in the dirt bleeding from his nose and head.  He was unconscious but breathing.  Beside him was a puddle of blood.  I started talking to him to see if he would open his eyes or speak.  After a few seconds we decided to call 911 and summon help.  I didn’t find any identification on the man and his phone was of no help.  We managed to get his name ~ Mark ~ and remove the bike whose handlebars had somehow found their way around his leg.  He was in obvious pain and could barely move.  As he moved in and out of consciousness, we kept him calm and still as the paramedics made their way up the bike path.

As the ambulance drove away, we observed 10 feet or so of silver scrape marks on the sidewalk that led directly to the puddle of blood.  It appeared Mark was descending when something went dreadfully wrong.  The few cyclists who had gathered had a brief discussion about the risks of riding alone. Phones that require a touch ID or key code are of absolutely no use to a complete stranger trying to offer help to someone incapacitated.   Some of us were wearing our Road ID‘s, others were not.  Each of us keenly aware that it could have been any one of us laying there in the dirt.

Have you ever observed how people come into our lives at just the precise moment when we need them?  Then, when their job is done, they’re gone. I’ve observed this a number of times in my life and the timing of this phenomenon never ceases to amaze me.  It’s sort of like the ebb and flow of the ocean tide.  As you walk along a beach, you’ll encounter shells and sand washed in by the waves.  Some of the shells will catch your eye, some will not.  Some will end up in your pocket to keep and others will disappear back into the water as quickly as they appeared.  And like the grains of sand under your feet that make your path of travel easier, some people are simply there to lend a hand when you are unable to help yourself.  I’m not sure what compelled me to go right rather than left.  I guess on this occasion, I was meant to be the grain of sand. beach

The Emergency Commute

I frequently commute via bike to my job…it’s only a 3 mile trip, so there isn’t really a good excuse not to ride to work!  Because North Table Mesa sits between my house and work destination, sometimes I’ll take the dirt around the base of the mesa.  When I opt for this route, I usually select either my mountain or cyclocross bike.  Most days, however, I ride my road bike in the hopes that I’ll have the opportunity to tack on some additional mileage to my commute.  I’ve written in other blog posts about how I like to be prepared for the unexpected when I ride.  However, I found myself dreadfully unprepared last week when my phone rang and my husband informed me that he was on his way to the Emergency Room at St. Anthony’s Hospital.

a + cMaybe I should clarify… I was prepared to fix a flat tire, or to use the multi-tool I keep in the pouch under my saddle to adjust something, or to ride for 40 miles if the opportunity presented itself.  I was not prepared to go to an ER.  Where would I put my bike, especially since I didn’t have a lock with me?  Would it take longer to ride there than to pedal home, get the car, and turn around and drive right past where I was sitting to get to the hospital?  The biggest question of all was whether Motoman was experiencing a blood clot in his lungs and if so, could I get there in time?  My mind was racing with questions.

I quickly used google maps to find a bicycling route from where I was to the hospital where Motoman was going.  Fortunately for me, I had chosen to ride the road bike on this day.  I knew my way through Golden by bike just fine, but riding through Lakewood was completely new to me.  I got a general idea of the way I wanted to go and good ole Google was showing it would take me an hour to ride there.  I was confident that on this occasion, Google was wrong.  I stuffed my crocs in my backpack so I’d have something besides cycling shoes to wear when I arrived at the ER, strapped on my shoes and helmet, and pedaled away.

I arrived at St. Anthony’s ER 42 minutes later.  Security was kind enough to watch over my bike for the few minutes it took to track down Motoman and get the key to the car he’d driven to the ER.  I’m sure they would have held onto the bike indefinitely, but I’ve never trusted complete strangers with any of my babies.  I locked the bike in the car and spent the next couple of hours with Motoman.  He was later discharged with a diagnosis of Atelectasis – a complication of the surgery he’d had two days before.

Since that day, I’ve toyed with the idea of carrying with me a locking cable no matter what kind of ride I’m taking – leisure or commute.  But the reality is that I’m not sure I want to be prepared for a trip to the ER.  So for now, the lock will stay in the garage until my next commute to the grocery store.

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.