Biking, Big Sky, & Bison

You would think after 30 Days of Biking, I would spend the next week doing something other than sitting on a saddle and peddling in circles, but couch surfing and trail running would have to wait until I finished another class and a weekend riding in Montana.
Montana - quiet roads & amazing views - under the Big Sky
Coincidentally, the annual Max Testa Festa was on May 1st to celebrate our season of indoor training.  Although I had thrown myself a 30 Days of Biking party the night before, I wasn't turning down another reason to celebrate.  The food was perfect (kale salad, veggie curry, fresh fruit) and the company even better (including a few BMC riders and other celebrity athletes) making for an enjoyable evening. I had a few beers with my classmates as we made plans for rides this summer.

The next night was our last (and toughest) training class.  Max had combined a bit of everything into 90 minutes, almost as if he didn't want us to forget the pain he can inflict.  Tradition can't be broken, so a few of us stuck around for a celebration drink.  My body was definitely confused and not sure if it could relax and prepare for the next party or needed to be alert for more riding.

We headed to Montana late Friday, so I took a 2nd day off and my body was appreciative. We hadn't traveled (for pleasure) since our back-to-back weekends to Butte in early November, and it was relaxing to spend some time on the road.  As we drove north, the temps dropped and it started raining, but the weather was offset by beautiful Montana views.
Montana - farming & ranching - under the Big Sky
We woke to wet roads and freezing temps, but at least there wasn't fresh snow.  We visited with Terry's parents and Grandma over breakfast, watched the Giro d'Italia, and waited for the sun to dry things out.

I promise I'll get to the bison story soon, but speaking of the Giro, bookmark this website.  The Manual for Speed team is following the Giro across Italy and giving their readers a unique view that focuses on the country more than the race results.  Their photos and experiences capture the culture and beauty and make me want to move back.

Around 10, we finally made a decision to drive into Bozeman for a Gallatin Valley ride then have dinner and walk around town.  Terry's Dad joined us and we went slow since he hadn't been riding much, which worked well for picture stops since it was absolutely gorgeous
Father and Son
Terry taking a picture of me taking a picture
No matter the weather, Montana lives up to its "Big Sky Country" nickname.  Just like Italy, I can definitely see ourselves living here someday.  We rode for several hours, then had pizza at MacKenzie River, a porter at Bozeman Brewing taste room, then stopped at the Co-op for dessert before driving back to Big Sky.
Gooch Hill Rd Views - Big Sky Country
Cottonwood Rd Views - Surrounded by Mountain Ranges
Cottonwood Rd Views - Bridger Mountains and Bozeman
Terry took full advantage of the winding road from Bozeman to Big Sky along the Gallatin River and I did my best not to get car sick.  Once I recovered, we drove up to Big Sky Resort and were rewarded with more "beauty".
Wildlife Beauty
Terry calls this picture "Vegan Friendly Elk on Fork"
Natural Beauty - Lone Peak
Beauty Salon - Big Sky Resort
Sunday morning, we got moving earlier and drove to West Yellowstone.  Terry's Dad rode again, but didn't plan on doing much so told us to go ahead.  We went out hard and as I held Terry's wheel, was pleased my training hours were paying off.  We saw several lone bison and then a large herd but all were far off the road.  We had to watch out for the tourists and it was easy to pick out first-timers vs locals.
Loaded up and ready to ride

Bison Herd
As we approached Madison Junction, we saw a few elk and another small herd of bison including a few babies celebrating their 1st days in this beautiful National Park.  We were feeling good so climbed the hill toward Old Faithful before turning back to meet everyone for lunch.
Bison Baby
Turnaround Point - Yellowstone Park
We figured with a tailwind and some downhill sections, we would make good time.  That was the case until we saw about 5 bison in the middle of the road walking our way.  When we lived in Billings and had the tandem, we rode in Yellowstone several weekends a month.  We had a few encounters with bison, the most memorable being a park ranger telling us to jump in his truck since he didn't like the way they were acting further down the road so he could drive us thru the herd.  In most cases, you could ride next to a vehicle and get by without issue, but they are very unpredictable and huge, so we are always cautious. 

Upon seeing "Bison on Road", we hit the brakes and talked about turning back.  There was a scenic road up ahead on the left and we could make it, but had no idea if there were more bison coming that way.  In that minute or so, more bison emerged on the main road among the cars that had stopped/pulled over.  A few were getting agitated and sparring but kept moving toward us.  A car came out of the side road and they told us it was clear so we decided to go for it hoping there were other cars that could protect us if needed.  A few minutes later, we realized that wasn't the best decision.
We were all smiles just a few minutes before the bison encounter
We crept down the side road keeping eyes and ears forward and to the right.  The trees were thick so we could barely see the main road, but as we rounded the bend it was obvious the large herd we saw on our way out was now migrating to a new area.  The first 5 were past the scenic road turnout and moving forward, but that meant we couldn't retreat.  To our right, out on the main road, we could hear a steady stream of bison hooves and snorts.  And now, in front of us where the roads met, were several big boys and they weren’t focused on moving forward.  We were stuck!

We had no cars to hide behind so we held absolutely still and tried to figure out an escape route if they came our way. We didn't have many options.  The freezing cold Madison River and a couple trees were behind us, so we were in bad shape.  There was only 1 car behind the stragglers but we couldn't get to it.  Just when we thought being patient was the key, an impatient driver was driving against the herd irritating them and pushing them our way!  I moved to a new level of nervous while trying to become invisible by standing still and trying not to breathe.
Madison River
The troublesome bison (that seemed to be growing larger by the second) turned right at us and started moving, albeit slowly. Oh bison patty, now what!  We held our ground, hoping that they would redirect toward the herd.  They stalled and seemed to be deciding where to go or maybe they heard us willing them to choose the main road. The one bringing up the rear literally started licking his rear, which was better than licking his lips at us.  Being the vegan in the family, I would surely be spared, but I was now preparing to throw my beautiful road bike at them to slow them down.

Thankfully, the lead car that had been patiently sitting behind the herd for what seemed like an hour, but was probably only 10 minutes, nosed forward and to the right enough to gently corral the 3 bison back onto the main road.  Thank you, Thank you! Now we just had to give them some time to get down the road and wait for Mr. Distracted to stop licking and join his buddies.  The cars were slowly starting to follow the herd, so we also had the option to ride out the side road and stay on the left side of the main road protected by metal until we were in the clear.  It didn't take long and as the last bison turned forward, we took off (without clipping in to stay quiet) and followed thru with our escape plan.
Side Road Viewpoint - almost free
Off we rode, shaking our heads in amazement and keeping a very close eye out for any other stragglers.  We were jumpy for the rest of the ride, but full of adrenaline and rode strong.  We saw a few more bison off the road and a beautiful herd of healthy elk toward the finish, but had no road encounters and didn't feel like pulling off to take photos.

This will now be our most memorable biking with bison story and hopefully last.  We had lunch and did some shopping at our favorite West Yellowstone shop Free Heel & Wheel before heading home back to civilized Park City, where moose and deer roam and are a little more predictable.

Capturing our most memorable Yellowstone ride