There is no feeling like actually beginning something you had set out to do. Lots of people talk about what they would like to do, or think about what they will someday do. And, sure, anticipation is fun. But it certainly does not compare to that feeling you get when you actually start something major. For years I had been thinking about traveling long distances by bicycle. The idea of traveling a significant distance under my own power had always thrilled me. So, I read stories of others who had traveled by bicycle. I looked at bicycle travel routes, particularly from the Adventure Cycling Association. I bought the necessary equipment. I trained. And, finally, I planned an actual trip. Well, I decided to join my friend’s cross-country bike ride for a three day segment, from Bozeman, Montana to Jackson, Wyoming.
When I met up with my friend in Bozeman along his journey, Thursday, July 2nd finally became “Day 1”. They say that the journey of 1000 miles begins with one step. In my case, it begins with one pedal stroke. And, when I started to pedal, headed East out of town, I finally had a “Day 1” of my own. I was finally doing it. I was traveling by bike. What was once just an idea, something on a bucket list, had matured, first into detailed plans, and than into action!
The fact that I was finally on a bicycle journey of my own felt ever more real when I left town. After all, many people bike around town all the time. I had biked around town quite a bit earlier in the day- roughly 10 miles total. And, none of that really felt like I was actually on my way. It was when i departed from town that I truly achieved that “Day 1” feeling.
That feeling soon got complicated with another first, bicycling along an interstate highway. At the REI, I found out that the route I had originally intended on taking was not paved, leaving no other choice but to basically follow I-90 from Bozeman to Livingston; roughly 25 miles. Unfortunately, there is a five mile stretch where I-90 does not have a frontage road. This actually occurs quite frequently in the West, particularly in canyons. In many cases, there are no other roads in which to use to get from one town to another. And, for this reason, many Western states, unlike their Eastern counterparts, permit bicycling on Interstates.
The fact that it was completely legal for me to cycle down I-90 did not make it any less scary. In some sections, the shoulder width was not nearly as wide as they are on typical interstates. It felt like a mere 6 feet of distance separated the edge of the right lane and the guard rails, all on a road with a speed limit of 75! Needless to say, when we were able to exit the highway, I was relieved.
A couple of miles later, I had reached the top of what is referred to as Bozeman Pass, and completed the first climb of my trip. I did not take this climb too seriously. I stayed in my big gear the entire way up. For part of it, I was more concerned with 80 mile per hour traffic. But, when I looked down at what I had just climbed, after reading one of the many Lewis and Clark related information boards along this route, I realized that I had actually climbed a significant amount.
On the other side of the pass, I rapidly descended into Livingston, a town we would not spend too much time in.
We pretty much just took a bathroom break, filled up on water, and headed out, southbound, towards Yellowstone, or at least that is what pretty much all of the signs for Highway 89 south say as one heads out of town.
This road follows the Yellowstone River into an area known as Paradise Valley. This particular area was stunning to travel through. Paradise Valley is a wide river valley surrounded by mountain ranges on both sides. When one travels through this valley, particularly when they cross the Yellowstone and follow the less traveled MT-540/ East River Road, they cannot help but truly feel the solitude that this region offers.
One will often see a lone building, a lone animal, a lone boat on the river, and even a lone cyclist making the journey through the region. It is almost as if every single person, and every single animal came here to experience the solitude that is oh so elusive in their daily lives.
There were a lot of small climbs on East River Road, as the road periodically climbs up to an overlook of the river, only to descend back down towards the level of the river. It was also an overall gradual ascent, as we were headed upriver in the direction of Yellowstone National Park. I felt somewhat exhausted on this part of the ride despite the fact that I would only ride 61 miles on the day (and I had fresh legs). I wondered if I had burned myself out going over Bozeman Pass. Should I have taken it slower up that hill? I knew I had a really challenging day of riding ahead of me. Was I not pacing myself properly?
As the journey continued, and I approached the end of the day, I realized that I was not properly fueled. I had eaten a moderate lunch, as I had recently been trying to avoid unnecessary weight gain, which would have made this journey tougher. I had also not taken my water needs too seriously, not stopping for water too terribly frequently, as I was energized, excited about finally starting my journey, and my mind was filled with anticipation.
When I arrived at Chico Hot Springs resort, I grabbed some of the beef jerky I had with me, and drank a good amount of water. I felt much better for it, and came to the realization that, on bike journeys, you need to take care of your body. On a bike trip, your body is your engine, not your bike. I’d always thought of the bike as being the vehicle that we use to get places when traveling by bike. I went to great lengths to ensure that my bike was properly prepared for this journey. On this day, I learned that our bodies, and particularly our need to be properly fueled and hydrated, probably need to be taken just as seriously.
After some time in the pool, we ate dinner at the resort. It was a bar/pub type of place. Upon being seated, the smell of chicken wings overwhelmed me, as they were being served to someone. I cannot even being to tell you how good that smelled to me after all that cycling today. Still, I restrained myself. This is a bicycle trip. It is not about the food.
I was fortunate enough to spend the evening in a nice cabin, where I would get plenty of rest for the next day, a day when I would take precautions to make sure I am properly fueled and hydrated, but a day where I would also take on the challenge of cycling in Yellowstone National Park.