I’m thinking I did it all wrong.
I started riding the Cycle Yellowstone event on Saturday and my pace kicked in and off I went.
I still saw the amazing scenery, waterfalls, hot pools, bison and elk, just at a faster pace. I told myself I couldn’t dilly-dally because I left my wife back in West Yellowstone, Mont., sitting in the car with all the money.
There was one spot along the ride I almost stopped and snapped some photos of four bison crossing the Madison River, but I figured by the time I got into position and dug my camera out of my bike jersey, they would have crossed. Still it was an interesting scene seeing the bison, holding their chins just above water, plowing along like hairy, horned tug boats.
It was a frosty morning in West Yellowstone where the ride began. Many roofs were coated with ice. Bicyclists lingered inside the visitors center/chamber of commerce where ride packets were passed out and temperatures were comfortable. I wore leg warmers, thick gloves, a shell jacket and a buff on my head. I was just warm enough as I rode.
One of the things that impressed me in the park was the traffic. Here it was Sept. 29 and the park was packed with constant traffic.
Several cars pulled over to the side of the road, slowing traffic at regular intervals. At one point, I looked up to see elk trotting through the forest, their breath puffing out like a hot tea pot — and nearly rear-ended a car from Arizona who stopped in front of me. How many accidents happen in the park from these critter jams?
One bison spooked me as it stood next to the road out of sight until I was right next to it. No big deal when you’re in a car, but more nervy when you’re on a bike.
Years ago when I rode through the park with my son on a tag-along bike, we stopped at a bear jam. There was a giant adult grizzly bear trotting around a meadow a hundred yards away. It was a true grizzly with a silver-backed coat and giant size. My son asked what we would do if the bear charged toward us. I told him, we’d jump into one of these nearby cars and make instant friends.
On Saturday, there was no need for jumping into strangers’ cars.
The best part of the ride was the Firehole Canyon Road — a side road off the main park road along the river. The morning light was perfect on the deep gorge and waterfall section. The hill climb was fun and warmed me up. I passed the sign for the Firehole River swimming area with its wooden stairway that leads down to the beautiful pool in the river. The water isn’t hot, but it is lukewarm and plenty refreshing on a warmer day. No one was swimming on this chilly day.
On the ride into Old Faithful, the wind picked up a bit. It was most notable in the open meadow areas. My speed slowed a few miles per hour and I was wishing for some giant cyclist to draft behind. At Old Faithful there was a feed station for the cyclists but it was only 10:35 a.m. and I wasn’t hungry. I refilled my water bottle and ate some flavored popcorn.
The ride organizers told me that about 30 people took the shuttle from West Yellowstone to Old Faithful provided by the event and were riding the 30 miles back to town. I didn’t stick around long and headed back. I hooked up with a father and son riding back.
“My son is a former pro rider,” the father said. “He’ll pull us all the way back.” The pair were from Salt Lake City and weren’t part of the organized ride. “I don’t need another T-shirt,” he said.
The three of us cooked along all the way back to West Yellowstone. I did take a couple of turns pulling at the front. The son said he once rode for the Trek Livestrong pro national team for a few years. Now he just rides for fun.
As we rode past the expansive meadows west of Madison Junction, the biggest bison I think I’ve ever seen was strolling through the meadows. Cars lined the road to take photos.
Back in town, my sweetheart was waiting in the car, reading a detective novel. She exercised commendable restraint having only bought some snacks and earrings.
After lunch, we drove back into the park and to Mammoth Hot Springs to test the waters at Boiling River. This is a sweet spot where a huge flow of scalding hot water pours into the Gardner River. Despite the chilly winds gusting through, there were dozens of people sitting in the pools formed by rearranging river rocks. If you didn’t get it just right, one side of you could be burning while the other side could be freezing.