For our feature rider this week we look to John Murphy who captures the adventure journey he was on with team mates David Carreon and Brett Wartenberg. These riders rode in the Grand Tetons around Yellowstone Park. The story is just incredible.
CYCLING GREATER YELLOWSTONE
Is the Cycling Greater Yellowstone ride through Montana and Wyoming the right ride for you? Here are some the factors you may want to consider:
The weather in Montana and Wyoming can change dramatically and without warning, even in the middle of summer. The day before I flew into Billings with teammate Brett Wartenberg, the temperature was a blistering 100 degrees. Three days later, I was taking a hot shower in Red Lodge Montana after a 70 mile ride when I heard ban
ging on the roof of the shower trailer. I exited the trailer to find myself in the middle of a hail storm with violent winds. The following morning, at the summit of Beartooth Pass at 11,000 feet, snow began falling and quickly lefg three or four inches on the summit. We awoke the next morning at our campsite in Cooke City, Montana (elevation 8,000 feet) to find our tents and bikes covered in a thick coat of ice and temperatures in the mid-20s. As we rode east into Wyoming, however, the weather warmed considerably as we entered the high desert outside Cody. The temperatures were back in the 90s the next day when we did an 80 mile ride from Cody into Powell, Wyoming.
I had not slept in a sleeping bag or tent since doing a trip in the Carolinas with Outward Bound in 1988. The urge to return to sleeping in the great outdoors did not enter my mind over the ensuing 27 years. Some of this year’s participants opted to stay in local hotels each evening. However, the majority of riders either brought their own camping gear or used the services of Tent Sherpa which transported gear and set up tents for its clients each evening. The tents were roomy and comfortable and held up admirably through ice, hail, and gusting winds. Sleeping outdoors does, however, require that certain precautions be taken at times. Our campsite in Cooke City near the entrance to Yellowstone
Park sits squarely in the middle of grizzly bear country. In order to obtain a camping permit, our ride sponsors had to agree to provide a roving security patrol around the campsite the entire night to ward off any wandering grizzly bears. No bears were encountered and we rode safely out of Cooke City the following morning after waiting for the rising sun to thaw out our bikes.
I have identified some of the challenges associated with the ride but the rewards of undertaking this trip are many. I had not previously visited Montana or Wyoming. The towns we visited in Montana and Wyoming were remarkably friendly and welcoming. Red Lodge, Montana is an old mining town with a single main street that looks like it came straight out of 1950s America. Rumor has it that Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid robbed a bank in Red Lodge. It is difficult to walk or ride anywhere in Red Lodge without a stranger striking up a conversation. We spent our second night camping at the High School in Absarokee, Montana. Absarokee has a population of 1,200 people and at times it appeared the entire town had turned out to welcome us. The local church offered free internet to riders and pie and ice cream. The High School where camped our second night has a total of 87 students and plays eight man football given its limited enrollment. Cody (population 9,000) still has an old west feel to it with its rodeo, western wear shops and its local restaurant run by a granddaughter of Wild Bill Cody. On our day off in Cody, I take a taxi six miles out of town to Heart Mountain, the site of an internment camp for Japanese-American citizens during the Second World War. The camp held 14,000 men, women and children during the war, not one of whom had ever been tried, much less convicted, of any crime or act of disloyalty. While few traces of the camp remain, a new museum on the site recounts daily life in the camp.
They call this “Big Sky” country for a reason. Just about everywhere you turn, the scenery is breathtaking. On the road from Cooke City to Cody, we are surrounded by stunning vistas and mountain ranges. You are strongly tempted to stop every few hundred yards for more spectacular photos. The views from the summits of the 11,000 foot high Beartooth Pass and the 8,000 foot Chief Joseph Pass can only be described as a humbling, spiritual experience. The high desert country around Cody and Powell is reminiscent of the excellent cycling routes around Tucson, Arizona.
Endurance is far more important than speed on the Cycling Greater Yellowstone Ride. With 350 riders of varying abilities and ample SAG support, there is no need to speed though the daily ride. If you ride every stage of the seven day ride (including the optional day in Cody), you will have ridden over 525 miles with over 25,000 feet of climbing. However, shuttles are available for certain portions of the ride. Most riders take a day off on our layover day in Cody. Over 100 of the riders opted not to ride on the final stage of the trip from Powell to Red Lodge due to headwinds gusting up to 25 miles per hour over the 67 mile course. Only 50 riders actually complete the entire ride that day. Most riders end up doing at least 350 miles and 15,000 feet of climbing during the seven day trip. Most of the climbing is in the 3 to 6 per cent range. If you detest climbing, this is definitely not the ride for you. However, the climbing is not technically challenging and if you are willing to endure it, you can do it. After seven days of riding at altitude over substantial distances, you will return a stronger rider in the flatlands of southern New Jersey.
We had 350 riders on this year’s ride. They were an impressive bunch. Fifteen of the riders were over the age of 70. Many are experienced campers, as evidenced by the significant number who brought their own tents and pitched them every afternoon.After each day’s ride, we have hours to talk to the riders we meet along the road and in camp. Dave from Los Angeles is an executive with Toyota who is 64 years old and rides with type 2 diabetes. He regales us tales of riding Cycle Oregon and cycling along the Pacific Coast from San Francisco to Los Angeles. You will make lots of new friends throughout the ride but the best approach is to bring friends with you. I was very fortunate to have teammates Brett Wartenberg and David Carreon along for the ride. We logged many miles together along the roads in Montana and Wyoming and shared many meals together both before, during and after the ride. We endured the snow, hail and ice and the high desert heat and gazed in wonder at the natural beauty all around us. These shared experiences create a special bond.
So, is Cycling Greater Yellowstone the right trip for you? That all depends on you. If you want to be pampered at every turn, call a cruise line. But if a challenging adventure with fabulous scenery and great riding every day tickles your fancy, this may be just the ride for you.