This weekend, I kept my part of a deal I made with Mitch months ago: he would run the Yellowstone Half Marathon with me if I would ride the Cycle Yellowstone Old Faithful Tour - West Yellowstone to Old Faithful and back for a total of around 60'ish miles.
If you've been following my blog, you know that I've been a little uneasy about this adventure. I'm not a good rider and I didn't get as much training as I probably needed. In fact, my longest single ride before this event was 25 miles.
We took off on Friday. Getting a room in West Yellowstone was really expensive considering it is technically the off-season. So we booked our room in Belgrade, which is about 1.5 hours away from West Yellowstone. We needed to do our packet pickup on Friday and ride on Saturday, so that meant two round trips from hotel to event.
On the way, we stopped at one of our favorite small town bars for lunch in Big Timber. The Thirsty Turtle doesn't look like much when you drive by (nor does the town for that matter), but the food is out of this world. I had the pulled pork and bacon gravy grilled cheese sandwich. OMG! So good. I don't recall what was on Mitch's plate, but it looked good too. If you're ever in the neighborhood, you should definitely stop by and eat!
We stayed at the Quality Inn in Belgrade. Overall it was a decent place but we had the tiniest room I've ever stayed in. I think it was smaller than my bedroom! We had to bring our bicycles in to the room so they wouldn't be a target for theft and they took up enough space that getting around the room wasn't super easy. That being said, the service was good and they had a full breakfast better than some of the more expensive hotels we've been to.
60 miles on a bicycle means we should carb-load! Dinner was at The Wild West (bar and pizzeria) in West Yellowstone. We've been to this town many times and been to most of the restaurants. This one is our favorite.
After dinner we picked up our ride packets and headed back to the hotel. It was fairly late when we got back so we pretty much went straight to bed. After all, we'd have to turn around and make the hour and a half trip back in a few hours.
Ride start time was 9:00 - 9:15 a.m. The parking lot at the Visitors Center was bustling with cyclists of all kinds. We saw most every kind of rider: hand cyclists, tandems (2 person cycles), ElliptiGos (if you don't know, Google it) and a few other different contraptions as well as road bikes and mountain bikes.
Mitch is getting his bike ready. I have a thing about running shoes and I have several pair. I'm not sure my shoe collection comes anywhere near the number of jackets my husband owns. This bright yellow beauty is his newest addition - rain gear purchased because there was a good chance it was going to rain or show for this event. As you can see... barely a cloud in site. We had perfect weather, though a bit chilly early on.
I did not stop and take as many pictures as I would have liked. It was a pain to hold the bike up (which doesn't have a kick stand) and take my phone out of the holder mounted on the handle bars. It should have been more of a sight-seeing trip, but I was more focused on getting through the ride. I've never ridden in a group of people or in the amount of traffic we encountered on the road to Old Faithful. I expected the traffic to be relatively low in October but I was mistaken, for sure! It was pretty much constant.
The ride was very well supported so there were signs all along the way that warned drivers of the bicycles on the road. Most of the cars were good about moving over, but some... not so much.
The actual route was on the main roads only. Due to park concerns, they were going to send us on the scenic roads through Firehole Canyon and Firehole Lake. In the last couple of days before the event, the park allowed us to use the original route on the main road. We thought this was unfortunate since Firehole Canyon is one of the more stellar views in the Park. We took the scenic route anyway. Traffic is one way only and there was very little of it on the two mile road, but I know now why the event organizers didn't prefer it. That road is really bumpy!
On the main road, there is a brutal climb. Taking Firehole Canyon still had a wicked hill but it was shorter and since the view was amazing there were many reasons to stop and look around which was a welcome break for the legs.
I just wouldn't be a responsible blogger if I didn't take a selfie. I think this was in the Canyon, too.
There were two aid/feed stations on the entire route. Madison Junction (which we stopped at each way) and Old Faithful. At Old Faithful, we stopped for lunch which we pre-ordered when we signed up. The sack lunch consisted of a sandwich, chips, pasta salad, an apple and a cookie. There was way more food than I could eat.
Our picnic table was the ledge of the Visitor's Center patio. I was surprised that there were no picnic tables in the vicinity.
We arrived at Old Faithful shortly before 1:00 p.m. The geyser wasn't expected to erupt until 2:00. so we didn't stay to watch. Besides, we have spent many weekends in Yellowstone and have seen all of the main sites multiple times. Now when I go, I take in the sites by going on hikes in areas of the park that are off the beaten path.
If you did the math at all, you would know that it took us well over three hours to get to the turn around. With an overall gain in elevation (1000 feet) and a headwind, it was hard. I didn't think I would do the second half. I admit, there were tears on more than one occasion. I would get frustrated when I would get stuck behind someone and would be too afraid to pass them because of traffic. Also when I would put as much effort as I could muster on what seemed like a flat section and only be able to get my speed up to 13 miles per hour. Yep... tears. But I am tough and those moments were brief.
I should mention here that the event offered shuttles at pretty much any point along the course you could want one. You could hitch a ride for any portion of the course. All you had to do was find a turn out, watch for one of the shuttles and flag them down. You could ride to the next turn off, the next aid station or all the way to the end if you want. Many of the participants took the shuttle to Old Faithful and only rode back (and vice versa).
This was most likely why I made it all 63 miles actually. At Old Faithful I decided I would give it a try and see if the tail wind made it more bearable. I could always catch a shuttle if it was more than I could handle. Sometimes on the way back I would convince myself to ride just to the next turn off, but then I would keep going. Having left Old Faithful a bit after 1:00, we made it to the end by 3:30 so it was MUCH faster on the return trip.
So you might ask, "How does one feel after spending over 6 hours riding a bicycle?" Well obviously my butt hurt! My nether region started to argue that it was time to stop riding about 4 hours in. I'm surprised it took that long! What bothered me pretty much the entire day way my neck. It's still a little tender.
The last fifteen miles were from Madison Junction back to West Yellowstone. That might have been the hardest part for me because I was definitely ready to be done and was again fighting a head wind. When the West Entrance of the park came in to view I was never happier to be leaving Yellowstone National Park!
I expected to go through similar emotions as when finishing a marathon. After all, I spent as much time (longer) riding as it takes me to run 26.2 miles. But it wasn't the same. I certainly felt a great sense of accomplishment, but I didn't finish with tears of elation. In retrospect, I think maybe it's because I wasn't as dedicated to the process of training. If I ever sign up for something like this again, it will be with full commitment to preparing for it. I know this wasn't a race, but seeing that I only averaged 13 miles per hour for moving time was deflating.
Mitch was awesome. This is the only cycling event he signed up for this year and he hung back with me and my slow self all day. He would ride ahead from time to time and then wait for me. He loves riding hills, up and down and he is much faster than me. I'm pretty sure it would have taken him a couple of hours less if I hadn't been setting the pace.
Even after all I put my body through during this ride, the worst torture of the whole day came when we got back to West Yellowstone....
Yep. Getting that sports bra off was the hardest thing I did all day! Worse yet, I was trying to change clothes in a bathroom stall at the visitor's center.
Excuse the sideways picture. They served dinner after the ride: lasagna, salad, bread and dessert. There were others pasta dishes too. Who am I kidding? Lasagna is the ONLY pasta. Delicious!
We got back to Belgrade around 7:00 or so. We were in bed by 8:30. Pathetic, I know but we were damn tired!
Would I consider doing this ride again? Yes, I think I would. It was an enjoyable day and was a very well organized event. I had fun even though it was hard and it made me want to become a better rider. Maybe someday I could consider signing up for a Half Ironman, but not unless I can ride 60 miles in WAY less time!
Do you enjoy other sports outside of running? What are they?
What is your favorite National Park?
What is the longest amount of time you have spent doing an endurance event?