August 13, 2016

Cycle Greater Yellowstone

The Greater Yellowstone Coalition has been running a multi-day cycling tour for the past few years. They choose a different route each year, always covering some portion of the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem. The map this year showed participants from nearly every state, as well as a few international visitors.

Map of the United States marked with pins representing the home locations of participants, Cycle Greater Yellowstone 2016.
When this ride crossed my radar screen last winter, I took notice. While it was primarily arranged as a camping event, they would also run shuttles to a few chosen hotels in each town to accommodate non-camping-types (like me). Even though they offer a “tent sherpa” option, where they provide, set up, and tear down a tent for you, I expected that I would not be a happy camper. If you don't get a good night's sleep, in the morning you still have to climb onto the bike and pedal.

CGY crew setting up camp in Beall Park, Bozeman, Montana.
The gray sherpa tents were tightly packed in neat rows; good luck if your neighbors snore ...

I walked over to the coalition's headquarters early enough to claim my bicycle, just as they were loading trucks to transport gear to our starting location at Beall Park. I was the first to park in the “bike corral;” later I would learn that the preferred technique is to loop the handlebars over the rope.

My bicycle parked in the bike corral, rows of gray sherpa tents beyond, Beall Park, Bozeman, Montana
There were all sorts of bicycles: road bikes, mostly, but a few mountain bikes, tandems, and full-on touring bikes with fenders. I didn't see any recumbents, but there was at least one Roundtail. A curious concept, for sure.

Roundtail bike parked next to a private tent, Beall Park, Bozeman, Montana
Our encampment was fully established, the corral packed with bicycles, by the time I returned for the first evening's festivities (dinner and announcements). Our leader, who I came to dub Headmistress Jennifer, was a stern taskmaster. Heed her directives, or else ...

Camp established, corral packed with bicycles, Beall Park, Bozeman, Montana
I sat on the fence for months before taking the leap last spring and committing to Cycle Greater Yellowstone. While the route would not entail much climbing, each day's ride would be long. If it rained, that would mean a lot of misery. We would also be riding for seven straight days without a day off. I wasn't sure I could do this.

If I didn't try, I would never know.

I signed up and navigated the logistics of booking nine reservations with the right hotels on the right nights in the right towns (including pre- and post-ride adventures). Pro tip: Track it all in a spreadsheet.

"This boulder marks the trail of the Lewis and Clark Expedition 1805." Bozemna, Montana
This rock in Lindley Park puts it all in perspective. The plaque is inscribed: “This boulder marks the trail of the Lewis and Clark Expedition 1805.” Two hundred eleven years later, I'm just here to ride a bicycle.

August 12, 2016

T Rex Territory

Taking a cue from my librarian ride-buddy friend (thanks, Miss C!), I did a little research before heading for Bozeman. Much to my surprise, I learned that there is a computer museum (!) in town—though I didn't manage to squeeze in a visit.

The utility-box-beautification trend is evident throughout town. Near the library, this wrap was so realistic I needed to take a closer look to convince myself it wasn't an actual bookcase.

Book-themed utility box wrap near Bozeman Public Library, Bozeman, Montana
The downtown area is very walkable, and my hotel was not far from the Gallagator Linear Trail (a rails-to-trails success).

Sculpture along the Gattigator Linear Trail, Bozeman, Montana
Close to town the trail passes through Bozeman's Sculpture Park, featuring works both abstract and whimsical, before continuing along fields and streams with views of the Bridger Mountains.

View of distant mountain peaks along Gattigator Linear Trail, Bozeman, Montana
Most conveniently, the trail would take me straight to the Museum of the Rockies, featuring artifacts from a distant point on the timescale of Planet Earth.

Full-sized replica of a Tyrannosaurus rex, Museum of the Rockies, Bozeman, Montana
In the larger scheme of things, humans are barely a blip. Terrestrial dinosaurs roamed the planet for more than 150 million years. Avian dinosaurs ... well, they're still with us.

The exhibits were so fascinating that I spent the better part of the day wandering through the galleries. I was puzzled when I caught a distinct whiff of vinegar, until I rounded a corner to peer through large windows at staff members gently scrubbing some fossilized bones with toothbrushes.

One remarkable display featured a Tenontosaurus that had apparently fallen prey to a pack of Deinonychus, accompanied by a thorough explanation of the scene. Scattered near the skeleton were many of the predators' teeth, lost while feeding—too many teeth to have been shed by just one of them.

Tenontosaurus fossil in situ, Museum of the Rockies, Bozeman, Montana
As late afternoon approached, I scurried off to pick up the registration materials for the main event—the bike tour that brought me to Montana. I spied a fellow registrant sporting a L'Étape du Tour bag. [Uh-oh.] What have I gotten myself into?

Having shipped my bike, I slid the box into a quiet corner to unpack and re-assemble it.

With that out of the way, I could relax over a nice dinner and a stroll through town. What better theme for the utility box in front of an auto repair shop than this?

Classic car-themed utility box wrap near auto repair shop, Bozeman, Montana
There's a lot to like about Bozeman. The locals say “Shhh ... don't tell anyone.” So I guess this will be our little secret.

August 11, 2016

Music on Main

Bozeman Public Library lit by the setting sun, Bozeman, Montana
Two women approached me in the hotel lobby. “We were on the same shuttle to the airport this morning!”

What are the odds? We flew to Portland before connecting to Bozeman. They traveled for a family reunion, though, not for biking.

Not having done my homework, I expected to find a somewhat dusty, possibly dated, western town. [Ha!]

Bike corral parking, Bozeman, Montana
I overheard someone liken it to Aspen, but it's not so chi-chi. It's a university town; there are multiple bookstores, fine places to eat, public art, and bicycles everywhere. Stylish bike racks abound, and there are even a few dedicated corrals (each occupying what would normally be a vehicle parking place—imagine that!)

Music on Main public party, Bozeman, Montana
This being a Thursday evening in the summertime, there was also a free concert: Music on Main. The street was closed downtown for a couple of blocks, with fun for adults and kids alike. Balloons, food trucks, beer. And of course, a band—with live streaming coverage for those missing the party.

The sun felt unusually bright, even with only an hour or two remaining before sunset.

It's the altitude (elevation: 4,820 feet). Hello, Bozeman!

August 7, 2016

A Little More

One of the club's annual getaways was this weekend, but I'm not much of a camper. A local ride fit the bill, though the route would be a tad shorter than I wanted. Riding to (and back from) the start would fix that.

The pace was mellow, the air seemed clear, the temperature was just right. It was a breeze, literally. We snaked through a maze of residential streets on our approach to Stevens Canyon. The group stayed together so well that there was no need for the first re-group we'd planned.

View toward Mt. Umumhum from the summit of Mt. Eden Road, Saratoga, California
A change in elevation was all we needed to spot the lingering smoky haze.

More than once I found myself keeping pace with, or gaining on, another rider on the downhill stretches—without trying. He was keen on optimizing aerodynamics, and I was just letting the Cervélo carry me along. When an unlucky bee caromed off my upper lip, I was reminded why it's important to keep your mouth closed (and your jersey zipped) while descending.

Roadwork (bridge construction) has continued on upper Stevens Canyon Road. It seemed particularly wasteful that they'd left two generators running, for no apparent reason. This being a Sunday, there were no work crews onsite. And even though I'd just cycled here a few weeks ago, I was surprised when I reached the gate—the last of the wood-planked bridges are gone! Safer for cycling, but kind of sad to lose them nonetheless. It is a mystery why the county is building such beefy bridges on this remote, effectively dead-end road.

At the top of our final summit, the group voted to reverse course rather than descend Highway 9. Having been undecided, I cast my lot with the majority. Highway 9 would be more direct, but ... did I really want to tangle with simmering beach-bound motorists, stewing in their cars? Diverted once again by the downtown street closures designed to keep them from clogging local neighborhoods.

I settled into my familiar commute pattern, strategizing about which route would be best to avoid the thwarted traffic as I got closer to home. My thoughts turned to lunch (“bike to eat,” after all) ... I could enjoy a nice sandwich at Erik's, but that might entail dancing with traffic. With a subliminal prod, perhaps, it dawned on me that I had just passed a different Erik's location. U-turn!

View across the Santa Clara Valley to the Diablo Range from the summit of More Avenue, Los Gatos, California
Thus fortified, and feeling strong, I needed More (Avenue). It seemed easier than I'd remembered. Until I got to the last bit, which was as steep as I'd remembered. (Yikes!) In the photo, notice how the road appears to drop off, like the edge of a cliff? Yup, it does that. (That's what I climbed.)

Flush with triumph, I decided to go exploring. I'd seen a cyclist turn onto a side street, let's see where that goes. Another right turn and I was heading downhill ... would I need to climb back up? [No!]

Back to my regular route, and ... there's the edge of the traffic. Decisions, decisions ... one lane is blocked, encouraging them to turn. Straight ahead for me, then! Till I caught up to the next clog. Left turn, bypass!

For whatever reason, I was still feeling frisky. I had actually passed some folks in our group on climbs today. It was still early, why not climb a couple more hills? [So, I did.]

For the day, 44 miles, 3,020 feet of climbing. That's respectable, I'd say.

July 29, 2016

Bike Buddy

Setting sun obscured by smoke from Soberanes wildfire, view from west-facing camera atop Lick Observatory, Mt. Hamilton, California
The Soberanes wildfire rages on in the steep canyons south of Carmel, sending some smoke north to the Bay Area. I have continued to check the air quality before riding; in the early morning, it's clean enough to bike to work.

In the evening? Not so much.

To encourage more folks to bike to work, our company recently started a program where experienced cyclists offer to show newbies the ropes. For our trouble, leaders are rewarded with “Bike Buddy” t-shirts. [Right. Like I need another t-shirt ... ] The logo features a tandem bicycle that only a non-cyclist could draw.

Two green Android figures atop a fanciful tandem, t-shirt design.
What's not to like about getting more people on bicycles? It's an off-season Bike-to-Work Day, any day.

I signed up. Ha, I thought; no newbie will tap me for a 20-mile commute.

Haha. The joke's on me. Someone did.

For our first trip, we joined the semi-regular Friday gang last week. Today, he was game to follow me on my normal route, which is a tad more direct. It's also a tad more advanced, bypassing the trail and entailing one merge across three lanes of traffic to make a left turn.

It worked out just fine. Traffic is especially light on summer Fridays. And he's a willing student, shadowing my every move at a safe distance.

There's more than self-satisfaction in this, for me; I do manage to pick up the pace when I'm not riding alone. It's all good.

July 26, 2016

The Weird and the Wild

Juvenile male pheasant, molting, Los Gatos, California
I was just telling a colleague that one of the things that discourages me from cycling to work more often is boredom. I've ridden the same route so many times. Lately I've been changing it up, seeking diversions that bypass stop signs and traffic signals. I gave up my game of trail roulette, though, after it became a little more chancy than I'd anticipated. (Some local miscreants caused at least one serious crash, and several near misses, by launching a skateboard into the path of an approaching cyclist.)

Yesterday morning I was rewarded with the sight of a small flock of wild turkeys rambling across a suburban lawn. I shuttled most of the way home, though, to avoid breathing the smoke drifting up from a huge wildfire scorching canyons some 70 miles to the south.

This afternoon I returned from another building and was surprised to feel something tap my arm as it dropped from my hair. There on the floor was a yellow jacket—a wasp. Crushing it was an option. But it had chosen not to sting me, so I chose to scoop it up and release it. Missing most of its left wing, I set it on some flowering shrubs and wished it well.

Heat waves and bad air quality are partners. I stepped from the cool comfort of the shuttle into a veritable blast furnace: 97F. No need for exertion today; I prepared for a leisurely pedal home.

What's that in the middle of the lane, I wondered, as I signaled my turn from a busy road onto a side street.

Feathers ... did someone hit a duck here? There shouldn't be a duck here.

I stopped. It was a pheasant. [Yes, a pheasant.] A youngster, molting into his adult plumage. In the middle of the road. He was alive, but in distress. Miraculously, no one had run over him (yet).

What to do, what to do ... He was breathing hard. In this heat, collapsed on the hot roadway was not the place to be. I assumed he was injured and I would need to pick him up, but he rose and started walking.

No, no, not toward the busy road! I formed a moving fence, guiding him slowly to safety (and, shade) under a bush on the corner and wishing him well, regretting that I had no water to share.

That bit about being bored with my commute? Rubbish.

July 23, 2016

Shifting Shadows

Bike parked against a tree, near Santa Cruz, California
There were many choices for riding today, all of which involved ice cream.

Most of the rides would end up at our club's annual Ice Cream Social, but all of those would involve baking in the hot summer sun.

Cool summer fun seemed like the better choice, so I headed over the hill for a ride that would end up on Ice Cream Grade.

I was sorry to skip the party, but much more comfortable in the redwood forest.

Bike parking at Swanton Berry Farm, Swanton, California
I was even downright cold as we dipped down toward the coast. We turned north into a mighty headwind and stopped to visit Swanton Berry Farm, where cyclists are welcome (and even get a 10% discount) on the treats, but it was just too windy and chilly for picnicking today.

Next Saturday, the Santa Cruz County Cycling Club will host their annual Santa Cruz Mountains Challenge, and today the volunteers were out on the course enjoying their workers' ride. Which meant that we saw more cyclists than cars on Swanton Road.

Coastal view near Davenport, California
Heading back, of course, meant ... major tailwind! With my top gear maxed out, I settled for a tad over 47 mph on the smooth descent to Scott Creek. The fog was blowing in, teasing us with wispy shadows on the road.

What goes down, must go back up. Fortified by a wedge of olallieberry pie, I made my way to Ice Cream Grade along Bonny Doon and past the cliffs on Martin.

After 37 miles, 3,865 feet of climbing, I was rightfully tired. I celebrated at home, with ice cream. (Of course!) And a long nap.