Cycle Montana

Photo by Shuyuan Huang, borrowed from
St. Mary Lake, east of Logan Pass

Adventure Cycling's Cycle Montana 1995, began at the KOA Campground at West Glacier. Approximately 150 riders saddled up and rode 55 miles on the Going to the Sun Road across the Continental Divide, up to Logan Pass, and down to St. Mary on the other side of Glacier National Park. We gained approximately 3,000 ft., in the last 6-8 miles up the pass. It frightened me that the ride leaders had kept warning us about the climb on Day 11, to Beartooth Pass, and only casually mentioned this climb. It scared me because I felt I had barely mustered enough strength to reach Logan Pass at 6,670 ft., and the Beartooth is almost 11,000 ft..

The second day was cold and rainy for most the 82 miles from St. Mary to Dupuyer. I had never seen anything to compare with the vastness and lack of civilization. As I recall, there was only one store/post office during the first half of the ride, which took us to Browning where we visited the Museum of the Plains Indian, and ate our brown bag lunches. Back on the road, after about 65 miles of rain, the sun came out and warmed us for the rest of the ride to Dupuyer. This was the most memorable day of the trip to me. Somehow my spirit soared as I pedaled alone through mile after mile of rain and prairie with only faint glimpses of the Rocky Mountains in the distance.

Day 3 was 62 miles, from Dupuyer to Augusta, and day 4 was 73 miles to Helena. Our campsite was a beautifully landscaped city park with an amphitheater. Day 5 was our first layover day of the trip. The portable shower trucks that followed us to each campsite were available for the two days we were in Helena. Yellowstone Kellys, the food caterer for our trip, was also there. The first evening the rain returned. Many of us went to see a movie downtown. The rain stopped sometime during the night and a warm wind dried the campsite and our tents. It was not to last though, as we spent most of our layover day walking or sightseeing in the rain. I took advantage of the bike shop in town to buy warmer gloves and shoe covers in preparation for the infamous Beartooth Pass ride (they said it could even snow on us).

Day 6 was 79 miles to Three Forks, another gorgeous campsite. Day 7 was 56 miles to Livingston. Day 8, 57 miles to Gardiner. This campsite was within view of the stone archway at the North entrance to Yellowstone National Park. Day 9 was our second layover day and those of us who were lucky enough to get a seat on the only tour bus still running in Yellowstone (the tourist season was over) took a very interesting 180 mile tour of the park, seeing all of its major waterfalls, Yellowtone Lake, and of course, Old Faithful. We could see Bearthooth Pass in the distance, and the driver added to our fear of that particular challenge. Of course we loved all the comments the driver made about us and how strong we must be to attempt such a ride.

Day 10 we rode under that stone archway into Yellowstone, through northern Wyoming, and exited the Park at the Northeast entrance. We rode a total of 56 miles, to Cooke City. The last two miles was steep up hill to our camp at approximately 7,500 ft. elevation. It was partly cloudy and cool, which yielded the best sunset of the trip. We were in bear country and had to lock all of our snacks, toothpaste etc, in the luggage van. I fully zipped up my down mummy bag and found it very hard to get out of it in the morning. When I finally emerged from my tent everything was covered in frost. I dressed very warm, ate an especially hearty breakfast, then hit the road for... 11! It was a steep grade from camp up to Colter Pass at 8,000 ft., followed by about 8-10 miles of screaming downhill. Once that bottomed out at about 7,000 ft., we began our 24 mile climb to Beartooth Pass. My body had become accustomed to long easy grades out in the prairies. I kept looking for something like the climb to Logan Pass, where I was gasping for air and stopping every few tenths of a mile to rest my legs. After a while, I noticed cars way up high on a distant road, and above them were other cars up even higher. Then I realized they were on the same road I was on and that there would be several switchbacks in the road up to the Pass. It was a long way up, but I rode slow and enjoyed the challenge. When I began to notice snow filled crevices in the surrounding hills I realized I was almost there. Beartooth Pass has two summits, the first slightly higher than the second going toward Red Lodge. There is a parking area with the great overlook shown in the photo below. If you look closely you can see some of the switchbacks in the road I had ridden up there, but much of the road disappears due to the terrain. I am grateful for the guy who suggested the pose with my bike overhead.

Beartooth Pass, Wyoming, Elev. 10,947'

After the second summit at Beartooth Pass, it was an awesome 20 mile downhill ride to Red Lodge. If it hadn't been for the hairpin turns with sand on the road I believe I could have reached over 50 mph but I chickened out, wisely I think.

Day 12 was almost all downhill from Red Lodge to the end of our ride in Billings. The 50 mile ride took only 2 hours with no sweat. I am so grateful that I did this Cycle Montana, with over 650 miles total. The1996 and 1997 rides were about half that, and I read that 1998 will be a loop ride with no Logan or Beartooth Pass to conquer. What a shame.

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