Tag Archives: Bozeman

July 2015 Bicycle Journey Day 1: Bozeman to Chico Hot Springs

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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Bozeman, Montana; Where My Journey Begins

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“I had always known that we had the best downtown in all of Montana.  And then last year, we were voted the best downtown in all of Montana.”  At least that is how Bozeman was described to me by one of the locals, while giving me lunch recommendations.  He eventually told me that every place downtown was good, and to only avoid chain restaurants.

The first person I interacted with in Bozeman was the cab driver that drove me from the airport to the REI, where my bicycle had been shipped to, reassembled, and was waiting for me.  He described Bozeman as a “town full of expert skiers”.  With all of the other observations I had made while in town, and with the other interactions I had with people from Montana, it feels to me as if Bozeman is like a smaller and more extreme version of Denver or Boulder.  The cab driver indicated that the town almost shuts down on powder days, as everyone is headed to the mountains.  And, the people coming in and out of the bike shops appeared to be people that could ride a fair number of miles in challenging conditions.

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Bozeman is only 50-some miles from Big Sky, one of the most famous ski resorts in the country.  Locals, however, appeared more proud of their local ski resort, Bridger Bowl, only 16 miles from town, as indicated by this sign.  It was also described to me as “the only non-profit ski resort in the Country”.

However, my mind was not on skiing at the time.  My mind was on bicycling, as this was the beginning of a 3-day bicycle journey that would take me through some of the country’s most amazing natural features.  And, it would be the most challenging ride I have ever attempted.

After picking up my bike, as well as all of the necessary supplies I needed for my trip at the REI, I rode the first 1.3 miles of my journey, to the Bozeman Inn, where I would spend the evening.

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Having my bike shipped to the REI and assembled there worked out quite well for me.  The price to assemble the bike from the box is $40, and they pretty much made sure that nothing was wrong with the bike, which is something I really wanted for a bicycle journey that would take me through long stretches without bike shops.  They even checked the spokes, trued the wheel, and made sure everything else was working.  And, when they realized they still had my tire lock key, someone from the shop brought it to me downtown.

It would be nearly 10:00 P.M. before the sun went down that evening.  I had already checked into the motel, but was looking for some information about the town, maybe a bike map, or even a restaurant guide for the time I would be in Bozeman.  Instead, there was just a bar and grill located adjacent to the motel.  “Lights” by Ellie Goulding was playing quite loudly where people were drinking inside.  It was a clear reminder of what evenings were like on a normal night during my “normal life”.  So, I had the instinct to go inside, drink a little, enjoy the music, and try to meet some locals.  But, I knew better.  I was on the verge of something special.  It would be a challenging ride, and I needed my energy.

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I loaded up my bike with all of my supplies packed nicely into the panniers I had carried with me on the flight into Bozeman the previous evening.  I looked around me and saw mountains in all directions, reminding me that, yes, I was in for some challenging climbs in the coming days.

Spending the morning, and mid-day, in Bozeman gave me some time to mentally prepare for the challenge I knew I had ahead of me.  I decided to check out the attraction I had heard about the most; The Museum of the Rockies.

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This museum has somewhat of an interesting local take on geological, biological, and natural history.  Like the Field Museum in Chicago, it has an exhibit that displays how life evolved over time, starting with the single celled organisms that dominated the earth for Billions of years prior to the Cambrian explosion, through the time of the Dinosaurs and beyond in chronological order.

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This museum’s exhibit was way more dinosaur centric than the other life over time exhibits I’ve been to.  Their main attraction is the “Montana T-Rex”, the biggest T-Rex to be discovered inside the State of Montana.

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The museum is quite locally focused.  The exhibits on geological history contain a lot of information specific to the geographical area around Bozeman.  Most of the dinosaur exhibits are displayed along with a map of Montana which show where the bones were dug up.

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Seeing some of these specific exhibits actually changed the way I look at scenery.  Exhibits like this one, about the Beartooth Mountains, don’t just show how pretty they are, but show what rock formations can be seen, and how and when they developed.  The geological history behind all of these processes, from plate tectonics to atmospheric composition changes, and even processes involving air pressure changes and erosion all help explain why everything we observe is the color and shape that it currently is.  And, ultimately, for people who study natural history, all of these rock formations that we observe provided clues to Earth’s past, and helped these scientists discover what we now know.

I’ve looked at a lot of mountains, and a lot of natural scenery over the past few years.  It occurs to me that the scenery that we observe means something different to everybody.  Some people focus on the aesthetic nature of what they see, a beautiful mountain, a beautiful lake, a scenic overlook.  Others focus on the adventure.  Wow, this mountain would be great to climb, or this river would be crazy to kayak in.  But, still others are trying to deduce how this scenic view in front of them came to be.  They are the ones that see red rocks and see the process of rusting, which occurred over the course of 2 billion years, as early photosynthetic life gradually increased the oxygen content of the atmosphere, lead to the chemical reactions that made some rocks red, so long as they have had significant above ground exposure.  They are the ones that look at the rocks and see as story, a progression of events.

I almost felt bad, walking around the museum in my bicycle clothes, looking kind of like a bad-ass, talking to people about my bike trip, when the truth is, that I had only biked 7 miles so far, from the REI, to my hotel, and then to the museum.  It was the guy at the ticket window that had told me that Bozeman’s downtown was the best one in Montana.  He informed me that the museum and downtown were the two places to really see in Bozeman, so I decided to ride my bike downtown, get some lunch, and wait for my friend to join me.

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I was impressed by the downtown, particularly the bike parking.  After eating lunch at a Co-op (the kind of place that looks like a grocery store but sells fresh made lunch food to workers in downtown areas), I had some time to kill.  I was excited, getting kind of anxious, and my mind was active!  Maybe it was the 10 miles I had already ridden, enough to get my blood moving.  Maybe it was knowing what was to come.  Or, maybe it was the downtown, the vibrancy, and the unique-ness.

From book stores, to local shops, everywhere I went seemed to put me into an active process of deep thought.  For example, I saw a book.  It was titled “Faith vs. Fact: Why Science and Religion are incompatible.”  I thought to myself how ironic it is.  People become attracted to either Science or Religion, but usually do so due to the positive aspects of it; science and it’s intellectual curiosity, religion and the hope and purpose that it brings.  Yet, so many people, after choosing to love one or the other, spend more time focusing on the negative aspects of the other one, as opposed to the positive things that brought them to love either science or religion.

Just like that book, everything I saw brought me to some weird intellectual thought pattern.  I should go back to Bozeman sometime under different circumstances, and see if this is just the way the town works.  Is there something about the energy of this town that makes people just think in unique ways?

Many Montanans refer to Bozeman as “Boze-Angeles”.  In this part of the country, I am guessing this is not meant as a compliment.  That evening, after riding to Chico Hot Springs (more on that in my next post), a woman from Butte, MT would describe Bozeman as “pretentious”, and the place in Montana where one is most likely to be judged.  And, although I did not necessarily feel judged, I definitely sensed the pride here, consistent with what the cab driver, and others told me.  Still, I enjoyed the feeling of being adventurous, intellectual, and on the verge of a major adventure that would also be a major challenge, a major accomplishment, and open me up in a whole new way.