Monday, September 13, 2010

Kissing the Sky-the Beartooth Highway

The late Charles Kuralt once said that the Beartooth Highway along the Montana-Wyoming border is the most beautiful highway in America...and he didn't even go over on a bicycle!

Ken Billingsley and I took advantage of a recent pleasant weather trend to ride the highway from Red Lodge to Cooke City and back-a pretty typical randonneuring distance of 207 kilometers (129 miles). It's just that this ride has over 14,000 feet of climbing-which is way beyond typical. I proposed this route to Randonneurs USA as a Permanent last year, but extensive road construction delayed any planned attempt to ride it .

We left Red Lodge at 8:00 am on September 12, 2010 and headed up the mountain. The ride to Cooke City went well, but was very slow due to strong and peristent headwinds. I rolled into the c-store in Cooke City with only 16 minutes to spare on our randonneuring time limit-the closest I've ever come to being late to a checkpoint on a ride.

The altitude and headwinds weakend me and I couldn't recover sufficiently even with a tailwind on the way back-slowing to a speed barely above walking pace on the steep sections (which is most of the way). With 15 miles still to get to the East Summit and then the long downhill into Red Lodge looming ahead I decided to fall on my sword and hitch a ride. Ken, who was riding very strong, but was graciously waiting for me was free to fly. It was a good decision for both of us. I probably would have made it back within the 13 hour and 48 minute time limit-but we would have been riding the switchbacks all the way down in the dark-even with lights that's not an enticing proposition.

After being ferried to the east summit in the back of a stranger's pickup I got back on the bike and rode the fun, fast downhill to Red Lodge. After putting my bike in the car, cleaning up a bit, and downing a subway sandwich, Ken came rolling into town-with daylight remaining.

I'm disappointed in myself for not quite getting it done. Unfortunately I'll have to chew on my failure until next summer. The days are just getting too short and it's getting too frosty on the plateau to try it again this fall.

I didn't take very many pictures due to the intensity of the ride and the constant time crunch we were under, but I managed a few. The photo below was snapped by a passing motorist who saw us standing in front of the sign, stopped, and asked us if we wanted him to take a picture. Folks were nice all day-I got a lot of thumbs up from passing cars and very little harassment. I guess people realize there's no need to be in a hurry on America's most scenic highway.

Ken and I at the West Summit. 10, 947 feet above sea level!

Ken coming into the scenic overlook rest area-about 20 miles into the ride

The stark surface of the Beartooth Plateau-well above the tree line.

The Wyoming Border on the way up-still a few miles to the summit. Note the beautifully paved new road. It is magnificent and worth the wait.


Greg said...

Jason: I very much envy you for riding at least part of that spectacular route, about the same time I was gearing up to repeat the Last Chance 1200K (rode last week)... not nearly as scenic a ride!! I'm off to Australia next week, starting the long visit (2.5 months) in West Australia where I'll ride the Perth-Albany-Perth 1200K. Maybe next summer I can swing through Bozeman (or Red Lodge?) for another permanent, a brevet, or just to say hello. Regardless, "congrats" on completing the toughest part of the Beartooth permanent, that climb out of Red Lodge. Cheers, Greg

Jason Karp said...

Thanks Greg. Nice to hear from you. You'd love that Beartooth ride so come out sometime and do it. It may become a brevet on July 23, 2011 (good PBP training). I just finished up the Bremerton-Klamath Falls 1000k with the Seattle Randonneurs. I'll get a report up on this blog soon. Wow what a hard ride! But also incredibly scenic.

Eric Peterson said...

Great report Jason, it made me feel as if I was riding alongside you. The 400K seems modest in comparison to the full 1000K.
It was nice riding the L&C portion in Oregon with you.

Eric "Chicago" Peterson
(actually Naperville IL)

Jason Karp said...

Thanks Eric. It was nice meeting you. Hopefully you saw my photos-I got one of you.