Jason Karp, Montana’s RBA, selected a Spanish derivation of the word ‘Mountain’ (la montaña) as the brevet ‘Word of the Day’. It proved to be an accurate representation of what I was to experience for most of the next 17 hours.
Beginning in Bridger, MT on August 1st, we departed promptly at 6:00 a.m. Myself, along with four Montanan’s (three of whom were riding their final brevet prior to Paris-Brest-Paris) left the Bridger Hotel along Main St. and headed south to Belfry passing fields of wheat, freshly cut hay, and grazed pasture. It was a great way to ease into the ride. The valley of Clark’s Fork afforded us a comfortable air temperature, and it would be the only time during the day when we’d enjoy cool conditions at this lower elevation (<4000 feet).
(Rolling out of town)
Prior to leaving, the morning couldn’t have been more stressful. I uncharacteristically overslept, giving myself less than 30 minutes to prepare and eat breakfast, change into cycling clothes, and complete a final check of my gear and bike. I made it in time, but not before worrying Jason’s wife, Brenda, who knocked on the hotel door at 5:50 a.m. (“Yes, I’m just about ready… …sorry!”). I rolled out of my room just in time for the group photo.
[Chief Joseph 300k participants (L to R): Ken, Karel, Ken, Jason, Mark]
It was an ambitious loop, ascending Bear Creek Hill before passing through Red Lodge, over Beartooth Pass, into Cooke City (over Coulter Pass), back over Coulter Pass going east, then southeast over Dead Indian Pass before turning north on Wyoming Hwy 120 for the last 43 miles. The day would include 14,000+ feet of climbing, with a maximum elevation just shy of 11,000 feet. Our time limit was 20 hours, meaning we’d have until 2:00 a.m. Sunday to complete the brevet.
We were fortunate to have nearly perfect riding conditions over Beartooth Pass, with clear skies, a light breeze, and temperatures ideal for a hard climbing effort. For me, this climb (and an all-too-brief descent) was the highlight of the day.
(PBP riders Karel, Ken, and Jason leading the charge up Beartooth Pass)
(Almost to the east summit)
(Brief stop at the west summit)
[Karel adjusts his GoPro for the descent (click here to view)]
(One of many high elevation lakes on the other side of the pass)
(Motivation to keep pedaling, fast!)
(Onward to Cooke City)
The climb over Coulter Pass proved to be the most difficult part of the day. With temperatures in the high 80s, no breeze, and an absence of shade along the road, my pace slowed considerably. Karel, who had been riding strong all day, pulled ahead to arrive in Cooke City first. I wasn’t too far behind, joining him at the Exxon C-Store for lunch (deep-fried hotdogs!) and a well-earned break.
(Main thoroughfare in Cooke City, MT)
I loaded up on water before leaving, realizing there would be at least 4+ hours of riding in high temperatures before the next checkpoint. I’m glad I did! It turned out to be a hot afternoon. I backed off my effort accordingly, stopping periodically to rest and enjoy the wonderful scenery.
(Clark’s Fork of the Yellowstone River)
(Meadows! Trees! Mountains! Sky!)
(One last crossing over Clark’s Fork before climbing Dead Indian pass)
(After the final climb, an amazing descent on Chief Joseph Scenic Byway)
The final leg was along Hwy 120, which sloped slightly downhill nearly all the way back to Bridger. We lucked out with a moderate tailwind, which allowed for a decent pace into the evening (18-20 mph). The only challenge was avoiding the rattlesnakes that came out on the road after dusk. I dislike snakes, but they played an important role in the last 2.5 hours. I had no problem staying alert. Thanks snakes!
(Moving quickly north, dodging rattlesnakes along the way)
(One last push of calories and caffeine in front of the Silvertip Lounge, Belfry, MT)
(Arrived! 17 hours 7 minutes and 194 miles later)
The Chief Joseph 300k was a capstone cycling experience. For the distance travelled, I have a hard time imagining a more scenic, exhilarating, and challenging ride. Jason Karp pushed us hard with this route, and his wife Brenda provided timely support with food and drink in the last 40 miles. While I’m in a definite lull this year with my randonneuring, I am happy having completed this brevet. For me, the cycling year is complete.
Kudos to Jason and Brenda for setting the stage for unforgettable day. They are a great team. (Jason’s review of the ride can be found here). I’m also indebted to my wife, Susan, who had good eats and cold water waiting upon my return.
(Relaxing the next day in Medora, ND)