Montana update: Days 13 – 16

June 15 -A month of poor internet access has prevented me from putting posts up on the blog.  I’m now able to post, so it’s catch-up time.  This post covers the cold, wet days in Montana in May.

Location as of May 23: Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Miles so far: 1,073 miles
Ascending feet: 47,291 ft.
Peak elevation: 7,422 ft.
Current Elevation:  6,829 ft.

Adventure Ride Day 13 – Dillon, MT to Ennis, MT

May  18 – We stayed in Dillon for a day to wait out the rain forecast for the day. It looked like there might be a window of opportunity to ride the next day, when showers were forecast only for the late afternoon in West Yellowstone. But this day would be spent in the campground doing laundry while using the WiFi to work and update the blog. Our breakfast was at the Klondike Inn and casino, which was just a little place with a few tables of what appeared to be retired folks exchanging construction tips. Ladies sat and chatted with each other while the men sat at their own tables talking shop, but they all left together. Giant plates of potatoes and eggs would provide us enough for tomorrow’s breakfast as well.

The next day provided the window of dry weather I was looking for to make it to Ennis. I left the KOA campground and headed back into ranch country. I passed Beaverhead Rock, which the native tribes and Lewis & Clark all used as a major landmark. It was a waypoint for hunters heading to the buffalo-hunting grounds to the east, and Sacagawea guided Lewis & Clark past it on their westward trip to meet up with the Shoshone tribe, from whom they hoped to acquire horses for the next part of their journey.

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Beaverhead Rock

I climbed out of ranch land into old gold-mining territory. In Alder Gulch, you can see the remains of massive gold-mining operations at the end of the 19th century, with piles of stones and sand in ribbons along the river downstream from Nevada City and Virginia City. It appears Harvard University played a role in this mining operation, according to this historical marker:

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Continuing the climb through Nevada City and Virginia City. These are now preserved ghost towns, telling some classic stories of the Old West.

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I climbed over another pass and saw beyond me another valley of ranchland bordered by high mountain peaks covered in snow.

The wind was whipping me around as I got higher, and the temperature was dropping. Battling strong crosswinds on the downhill into Ennis and headwinds in the flats, I made it to our campsite for the night. But by now my fingers and face were ice cold. I was glad to have some time to warm up in the camper, and take a long hot shower at the campground. I knew, though, that this cold would continue tomorrow, and I’d need to prepare for a long, cold, possibly wet ride to West Yellowstone.

Miles:  74.87 miles
Avg. speed:  11.5 mph
Ascending feet:  2,779 ft
Peak elevation:  6,944 ft
Ending Elevation:  4,979 ft
Net elevation gain:  -167 ft.

Adventure Ride Day 14 – Ennis, MT to West Yellowstone, MT

May 19 – We woke to a cold, blustery day in Ennis. The wind was still howling as I opened the camper doors to an icy chill. The weather forecast was for rain later in the day. I wanted to make it to the RV Park in West Yellowstone because we had reserved our campsite in Yellowstone National Park for the next 4 nights, and I did not want to risk losing it by being a no-show on the first night. So despite the cold and the wind, I was going to do this 70 mile ride. The problem is that I had not planned on riding in weather this cold and possibly rainy and I needed to figure out how to dress for this.  I needed to stay as warm and dry as possible.  Because I didn’t really have a good warm underlayer to wear under my bike jacket, I decided to wear my big winter coat for the top part of my body, and my baggy rain pants over my tights for the bottom. This was an improvisation, and it’s really a picture of “what not to wear” on a bike ride in traffic.
Can you see what’s wrong with this picture?

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Overall: too dark, not high visibility (please keep other opinions to yourself)
Top: Bulky, not layers to handle temperature changes, not breathable so the sweat will stay in. And while the coat is repellent, the look is as well.
Bottom: While the shapeliness of my legs isn’t necessarily a feast for the eyes, a little more form-fitting would at least reduce wind resistance. These have some reflective striping, but not a lot of visibility.
Gloves: Warm as long as they breathe and stay dry. These could be better. Again, dark and invisible.
Feet: Visible rain covers for the shoes. I think these are ready for the runway.

This experience is teaching me what I need for the coming days. With luck, I’ll find some better clothing at a future stop.

Stephanie and I made plans to meet 2 ½ hours into today’s ride, because there would be no town or store along the way that would offer a place to warm up or dry off.

So out on the road I went in frigid, windy weather. I was lucky, today the wind would be at my back, pushing me along. The scenery continued to be the vast pastures, cattle, streams and hillsides of Montana. But the clouds were low, obstructing the mountain peaks still dusted with snow. I made good time with the tailwind, and around mile 35 I came upon an actual official rest stop with a bathroom and heat. By this time my fingers were cold and my improvised garb had become damp with sweat, so this was a good opportunity to air out and warm up. I texted Stephanie, who was just a few minutes behind me after finishing errands in Dillon, so we met at the rest stop, where I could change into some drier clothes and have a sandwich.

(I am so lucky to have Stephanie with me on this ride. Not only is she giving me the physical support for the ride, we are sharing our experiences every day. I can’t imagine how much lonelier and less satisfying this ride would be if I were doing it without her.)

The second half of the ride was completely different from the first. I left behind the cattle ranches and entered the hills and valleys following the Madison river upstream, climbing to Yellowstone. Today was the first day of fishing season, and dedicated anglers all along the way were wading into very cold water on a practically winter day to get their first catches of the season.


Markers around Earthquake Lake told the sad story of the Rocky Mountain earthquake in 1959, which surprised family campers along the Madison River with shaking, followed by an avalanche of crushing boulders, burying families and blocking the river, followed by a rush of water back into the valley submerging campsites. It was called the “Night of Terror”.

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I made it over a couple of passes and the end of the ride was fairly flat around Hebgen Lake to the turn onto the road that would take me into West Yellowstone, about 8 more miles. There were a few scattered showers along the way, but I had successfully beaten the rain (and snow) that would come later. Signs warning of bison along the road were true:

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I was feeling pretty sluggish at the end of the ride into West Yellowstone. About 2 blocks from the RV park I looked down and saw that I was running on a completely flat rear tire (again). I have no idea how long I’d been dragging the flat tire with me—I thought I was just tired and slow. I decided to ride the last two blocks on the flat and check it out in the morning.

Miles:  73.08
Avg. speed: 12.2
Ascending feet: 3,192
Peak elevation:  6,781 ft
Ending Elevation: 6,708 ft
Net elevation gain: 1,793 ft

Rest Day – West Yellowstone and Yellowstone National Park

May 20 – It was 30 degrees and snowing when we awoke in West Yellowstone.

We’re taking a few days of rest from the ride to see Yellowstone. So this morning I fixed the bike tire (found a small sharp rock that had wedged its way into the tire on the wet road, puncturing the tube). I’d educated myself on tire-changing since the trip to Sula, and had a much easier time getting the tire over the lip of the wheel. The trick is pushing the deflated tire’s lip down into the deep center of the rim on one side so that the tire’s lip is higher on the rim on the other side. Then with the tire all pushed to one side the last bit of the tire’s lip is much easier to ease over the rim. It worked like a breeze and the tire was fixed in minutes.

We took the morning to run errands: I went to a bike shop to find a better cold weather insulating layer and gloves that might breathe better. While I did that, Stephanie restocked our groceries. Then we headed into Yellowstone, stopping first to top off our diesel and propane for the camper. For the next 3 days, we explored the park.

Yellowstone is amazing because of two things: its unique geology, and its preservation of the habitat for wildlife that was once common in the northern plains, but is now rare. People come to see the geysers and hot springs spouting from an ancient caldera, which has exploded several times over the millenia, most recently about 650,000 years ago in a blast many times larger than that of Mt. Saint Helens. Now a crust has evolved over the volcano, and parts of the earth’s mantle are close to the surface, heating ground water that bubbles through mud, or steams through vents, or builds pressure until it explodes into a geyser. The boiling hot environment creates ecosystems of minerals and bacteria that create unique features in the landscape.

 

The protected habitat in Yellowstone has allowed the population of bison to grow into the thousands, from the brink of extinction early in the 20th century due to unfettered hunting. There are also elk, antelope, grizzly and black bears, wolves and foxes.

This amazing ecology has been preserved for people to enjoy, and this is both a blessing and a curse. We are here so early in the season that visitors are coming in low numbers, relative to the peak summer season. But getting around the park is accomplished only by motor vehicle (or bicycle), and there is essentially one two-lane road that loops around the park. Even though we saw hundreds of bison in our three days here, the sight of even one near the road will bring traffic to a halt, as every car stops in the middle of the road for the photo opportunity. I, of course, took my own photos, and probably contributed to the problem.

 

 

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Adventure Ride Day 15 – West Yellowstone, MT to Madison Campground, Yellowstone Park

May 23 – Because of the cold, wet weather on the day we left West Yellowstone, I decided to defer my short 15-mile ride into the park campground until a later day of our visit, hoping that the weather would improve. I considered riding beyond our campground to shorten the next day’s ride south to Grand Teton National Park. We started the day doing some more exploration of the park, including a trip to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River.

By the time we’d had enough of exploring Yellowstone, and headed back into West Yellowstone to top off the fuel and propane in the camper, it was about 4:00. Time enough for me to do the 15 miles to the campground, but not enough to extend it further. The weather was still cold and wet, so at least I got to try out my new insulating layer. It was a good test—I discovered that there is such a thing as too many layers. I had an underlayer, jersey, arm warmers, vest, the new insulating layer, and the rain jacket. I didn’t get wet from the rain, and the cold could not get it, but by the time I had finished I was wet from sweat that had not been able to breathe out. I decided to reduce the number of layers for the next day’s long and cold ride to the Grand Tetons.

 

Miles:  14.53 miles
Avg. speed:  11.9 mph
Ascending feet:  449 ft.
Peak elevation:  6,852 ft.
Ending Elevation:  6,829 ft.
Net elevation gain:  162 ft.

 

One thought on “Montana update: Days 13 – 16”

  1. Hey Steve, Enjoyed the update. I’ve been looking forward to it for awhile. Your adventure sounds challenging and very exciting. Looking forward to the next update. Say hi to Stephanie for me.

    Like

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