Day 6: To Red Lodge Montana - Yellowstone and Grand Tetons 2004 - CycleBlaze

September 2, 2004

Day 6: To Red Lodge Montana

I went to bed without putting the rainfly on the tent. It wasn't very cold and the sky was clear. Of course the one time I do this is the one time it rains. About an hour before sunrise I had to jump out of the tent and struggle to put on the rainfly in a strong wind and find 4 large rocks to anchor the guy ropes because it was impossible to drive stakes into the hard ground. It was still raining when I got up at 7AM. I made breakfast and folded up the tent in the rain.

The rain had almost stopped when I hit the road at 8:45AM, but the rain grew stronger as I rode east towards Cody, gradually downhill with a tailwind. It seemed like the storm system had almost passed me by, but riding east put me back under the storm clouds. After 20 miles I got to a picnic area on the shore of Buffalo Bill Reservoir and stopped to take refuge at a covered picnic table. I could see a bit of blue sky to the west, so I decided to wait there for the storm clouds to pass. The temperature was 50F (10C) and I was getting chilled after stopping, so I unpacked the stove and made some tea to warm up. The rain stopped after half an hour and the sky partially cleared after an hour.

Buffalo Bill reservoir.
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After the long stop I continued east along the shore of the reservoir under mostly overcast skies. Right next to the dam the highway enters a 3/4 mile (1.2km) long tunnel. Fortunately the tunnel is well-lit and all downhill, allowing me to go 25-30 mph (40-48 km/h) through the tunnel.

Entrance to a 3/4 mile long tunnel.
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Then two more short tunnels after that. Later I read that the total length of the 3 tunnels is slightly over 1 mile, and that these tunnels bypass a scenic deep and narrow section of Shoshone Canyon which I could have seen from the dam.

Two more shorter tunnels.
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After the tunnels it was only 3 more miles to the edge of Cody. I passed the rodeo grounds which proclaims Cody as "Rodeo Capital of the World". Then on to downtown Cody. I stopped briefly at the Sierra Trading Post store to buy a new pair of gloves. I've ordered from their catalog before but had never seen one of their stores.

Rodeo grounds in Cody.
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Cody, Wyoming.
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In Cody I stopped at a Pizza Hut for the lunch buffet. I always get my money's worth when I eat at a pizza buffet on a bike tour. A giant high-calorie lunch is just what I need for a long day like today, with another 50 desolate miles to Belfry Montana. I didn't think I could spare the time to stop at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center. So I headed northeast on US Hwy "Alt 14" into the countryside. Cody has a population of 9000 and is by far the largest town I will pass through on this tour. The elevation is 5000 feet. The area is much more arid than anything I had seen before on this tour. Everything was brown except where it is irrigated. A few miles past Cody I crossed the Shoshone River for the last time.

Irrigated field east of Cody.
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Last view of the Shoshone river.
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Stark contrast between barren badlands and the irrigated pasture.
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Then a few miles later I turned north on Hwy 294. I had a strong tailwind heading northeast on Alt 14. But for some reason I had a very strong headwind after turning 45 degrees onto Hwy 294. I was still trending downhill but suddenly my speed dropped from 15 mph to 9 mph. Still 40 miles to Belfry Montana, my planned destination. It was a long and depressing ride with such a strong and unexpected headwind. I had to just keep going and going. Not that there was much of a reason to stop other than taking pictures. There was virtually no traffic, very few houses, and very few crossroads. The open range land has no trees or large bushes to give shelter from the wind.

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Irrigation courtesy of the Shoshone river.
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After a couple hours I got to the intersection of Hwy 120 and continued north towards Belfry. There were big mountains to my left (the Beartooth Range), but I was still in the open arid area, gradually dropping to 4000 feet elevation which is the lowest elevation of the trip. I was following the Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone River but rarely saw the river from the road. 12 miles from Belfry I crossed into Montana.

Beartooth mountains ahead.
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Momentary sunshine near Belfry, Montana.
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I finally got to Belfry at 7:10 PM, a few minutes before sunset. I had hoped to camp or get a motel in Belfry but there was no campground or motel. Only a couple of restaurants and a tiny casino. It didn't look like an appealing place to free camp, so I reluctantly decided to press on another 16 miles to Red Lodge, which I knew had motels. I was very tired after already going 85 miles, with half of that distance into a strong headwind. I also knew it was all uphill and upwind from Belfry (elevation 4000 feet) to Red Lodge (elevation 5600 feet), and that it would be dark before I got to Red Lodge. But I just didn't want to stay in Belfry.

So onward it was. The wind decreased as the sun set and the grade was gradual for the first few miles. But the last few miles to Red Lodge were very steep. About halfway to Red Lodge I switched on the 1W LED headlight. The light was more than adequate to see because I was going only 4 mph. But every few minutes a car came the opposite direction, usually with its high beam headlights on. I learned that it's difficult for a blind person to balance a recumbent bike at 4 mph. So there were a few dicey moments. But I just kept going and going.

I finally got to Red Lodge at 9:30 PM, an hour after it got completely dark. By then the temperature had dropped to 50F and I was getting chilled. I stopped at the first motel I got to, the Yodeler Motel. The only room available was a large room that cost $78 after tax, but I was in no condition to shop around. In the room I ate cold cereal and snacks, spread out my wet tent to dry, and plopped in bed.

This was planned to be a long day but it turned out to be much longer than expected. 102 miles with rain, strong headwinds, and a steep night-time climb at the end. Today's high temperature was only 60F (16C) even though the elevation is much lower than a couple days ago when it was 75F. I'm lucky that the cold spell came when I was at the lowest elevations of the trip, and that it didn't rain while I pedaled after dark. I'm extremely tired but tomorrow should easy day because I'm ahead of schedule now.

Some people might consider this to be the "day from hell", with rain, headwinds, and 100+ miles that required an hour of night riding. But it really didn't seem too bad. Maybe because the adverse conditions occurred one at a time and not all at once. I never had any doubt that I would make it and wasn't concerned about how long it would take. With a positive attitude, conditions don't necessarily dictate whether it's a good day or a bad day.

Distance: 102.2 miles (163.5 km)

Climbing: 3030 feet (920m)

Average speed: 11.0 mph (17.6 km/h)

Maximum speed: 38.2 mph (61.1 km/h)

Hiking: none

Today's ride: 102 miles (164 km)
Total: 311 miles (501 km)

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