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

img_5655

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.

img_5684

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.

 

img_5665

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

img_5683

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

IMG_5112

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.

DSC_2879

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.

IMG_4846

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.

Riding the Beartooth Pass

Riding the Beartooth Pass

The Beartooth Pass is on US Highway 212 between Red Lodge, Montana and Cooke City, Montana.  The highway meanders along the borders of Montana and Wyoming high on the plateau of the Beartooth Mountains and eventually leads right into Yellowstone Park.  It’s closed in the winter and occasionally on other days throughout the year, given the right weather conditions.  The day before I pedaled up the pass on July 30, it was closed due to snow.  At its summit, this road is the highest elevation highway in both Montana and Wyoming.

I’ve driven over Beartooth Pass several times on my way to or from Yellowstone Park over the years.  The views never disappoint despite the wind and cool temperatures on top of the plateau.  When I started this cycling journey four years ago, riding up Beartooth Pass on my bike was  always a thought in the back of my mind.  I guess you could say it was on my “ride bucket list”.  Yes, cyclists have such a thing as I suppose motorcyclists do as well.  However, each summer when I returned to Montana, there was always some reason why I couldn’t do the ride: last year, I brought a mountain bike, the year before I was too busy… the list goes on.  This year I was feeling overwhelmed with all that is involved with moving from one home to another and felt a sense of urgency about returning to Colorado.  However, after seeing the weather forecast for the remaining week of my visit, I decided to stay just long enough to fit in the ascent.

I got up early on the morning of July 30, loaded my bike into the car, and departed Billings for Red Lodge.  As I

The sign just outside Red Lodge where I parked nearby and started my ride.

The sign just outside Red Lodge where I parked nearby and started my ride.

approached the mountains I realized there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.  I unloaded my bike, suited up, and pedaled away.  I had done better research for this ride than my previous ride on Alkali Creek Road and knew that I could expect to pedal for about 25 miles to the summit on a paved road.  I could expect the ride to take me approximately 2.5 hours based on the results of other cyclists I had seen on Strava.  I also knew that the climb to the summit would be gradual, at about 4% on average.

As I pedaled along, traffic was minimal on this beautiful late July day.  I saw many more motorcycles than cars.  The switchbacks started at nearly 7 miles into the ride.  As I approached the scenic overlook turnout, I passed 5 other cyclists, all of whom pulled off into the overlook parking area.  I kept going because I knew it was about halfway to the summit and I don’t like starting and stopping on prolonged climbs; it’s hard to get the legs going again.  Besides, there was no need.  I had plenty of fluids and food tucked in my pockets.

At about 19.5 miles into the ascent, I came to a place where I had to descend and then climb again to reach the summit.  I’m not going to lie, I was cold and considered calling it good and turning around.  But then that little voice in my head chimed in with “I didn’t come this far just to turn back now, especially when I can see the summit in the distance.”  I got as aero as I dared and

Elevation 10,947 feet

Elevation 10,947 feet

descended as quickly as possible, so as to minimize how much colder I would become before the final climb.  My garmin showed about 23 miles at the summit.  I took turns with all the motorcyclists taking pictures in front of the summit sign.  Then I slipped on my wind jacket for the descent.

What I didn’t realize when I had done my ride research was exactly how much climbing the ride would entail.  The total elevation gained was 5,262 feet… just 18 feet shy of a mile, give or take.  Hmmm.  That’s interesting considering the fact that I now reside in the “mile high city”.  A city known for more than just it’s elevation,  if ya know what I’m sayin‘.

On the descent, I stopped and took some pictures along the way…Enjoy!

So many motorcycles up there!

So many motorcycles up there!

IMG_4407

The Beartooth Mountain range. Look closely for the triangle shaped precipice on the horizon over the upper right corner of the sign. That’s the bear’s tooth. The next picture zooms in on it.

A closer/cropped shot of the bear tooth.

A closer/cropped shot of the bear tooth.

The Importance of Researching a Ride Route

While Colorado is my home, I remain a Montana girl at heart.  Every year I make it a priority to visit my family in Montana, where I spent most of my adolescence.  This year I brought my Cannondale Evo along to ride during my visit.  Billings is just large enough that there are parts of the town that I’m not familiar with.  I grew up on the west side and rarely ventured to the other parts of town.  Therefore, I wasn’t exactly sure where each of my rides would take me.  This “from the saddle” discovery is one of the funnest parts of riding and has the potential to turn each ride into a fun adventure ~ or not.

The view from Molt Road.  The wild turkeys didn't make it into this pic.

The view from Molt Road. The wild turkeys didn’t make it into this pic.

On my first ride, I decided to take the Molt Road out of Billings.  I was planning to ride out and back and expected at some point I would see a sign indicating how many miles it was to Molt.  Since there was no sign- or because I missed it – I just rode until it was time to head back to Billings for other commitments.  I could see Molt in the distance, but would have to save the complete ride for another day.

On the next ride, I went to the Billings Heights part of town.  I happened upon a bike lane and followed it until it ended.  I ended up riding in a big loop.  I then came upon a pretty nice bike path along Alkali Creek Road and decided to see where it went.  After a few miles, I caught up to three women out for their morning training ride.  I rode with them for a few miles and it turns out one of the gals was on the committee that plans the Billings bike path.  She was a wealth of information on the bike path system and gave me some helpful directions and ideas about where to ride in Billings.

The route for my next ride was inspired as I drove down Highway 3 northwest of Billings. IMG_4388 It had been a long day in the car because we had decided to drive from Banff, Canada back to Billings all in one day.  As we neared Billings, we passed a street sign out in the country that read “Alkali Creek Road”.  I had just ridden on the bike path along Alkali Creek road the other day when I rode through the Heights.  At that time, I had wondered if it connected with another road, and here I had just driven by the intersection of Highway 3 and Alkali Creek Road.  My ride route for the next day was planned!

As I set out on Alkali Creek Road the following morning, I started my ride on the bike path.  Eventually the bike path ended and the houses became fewer and further between along the road.  I wondered how far of a ride it would be until I hooked up with Highway 3 – a detail I had neglected to look up online before departing.  I came upon a man walking toward me and figured he was a local who might be able to tell me how far I had to go to Highway 3.  I slowed, said hi, and then asked him if he knew how many miles it was until Highway 3.  Instead of answering yes or no to my question, he looked at my bike and said “you’ll never make it on that bike with those skinny tires.”

“Really.” I replied.  He went on to say that the road turned to gravel around the bend.  The gravel was so treacherous that he had a difficult time with it on his mountain bike.  I told him thank you and said that I would go see this gravel for myself and pedaled away.  I was annoyed that I hadn’t done proper research before embarking on this ride and was left to ask a stranger a simple question that he refused to answer.  When I saw the gravel, I agreed that it was in fact deep.  Deeper than I would have liked to have ridden under normal riding conditions.  But I’ve ridden on gravel roads before, and if it was only a short distance, it was certainly doable.  But now I wasn’t riding under normal riding conditions; I had been challenged.  And  nothing makes this girl more determined to do something than a boy telling her what she can’t do.

Shortly after embarking on the gravel, I remembered to check the mileage on my Garmin.  After about two miles, I bagan to wonder if I might be better off turning back.  And then I remembered the challenge.  The gravel was unlike any of the gravel roads I had ridden in Colorado.  It was more like I was riding through someone’s deep landscaping rock, rather than down a dirt road with the occasional washboard and rocky sections.    I kept creeping along the road and thought I may have seen cars moving along Highway 3 in the distance.  As I pedaled along, I became more and more annoyed with my failure to research the ride more thoroughly; with the fact that I didn’t notice the road being gravel as I sped by the other night; and with my stubbornness that wouldn’t allow me to turn around.  I considered letting some air out of my tires so that I might have some traction, but I didn’t want to have low pressure for the remainder of the ride after reaching the highway.  Onward I went.

After about 4.5 miles had slowly passed, I finally reached Highway 3.  There wasn’t anyone around to witness my superior dance, so i kept right on pedaling onto Highway 3 and back to Billings.  Will I do better research for my next ride in unfamiliar territory?  Maybe.  Finding your way is a big part of the adventure.  And if it takes a little longer to get there… that’s not necessarily a bad thing when you’re on a bike.

The Beartooth Mountains are just barely visible on the horizon.  More on that adventure coming soon!

The Beartooth Mountains are just barely visible on the horizon. More on that adventure coming soon!

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.