A Hundred Miles A Hundred Emotions

Sunday morning I met Aubrey at our favorite coffee shop for an americano before taking apart the bikes and stowing them in the back of her small Audi. We stopped at the gas station for Gatorade and snacks and made the 90 minute scenic mountain drive out to West Yellowstone. It was a beautiful day. Blue skies, white fluffy clouds, everything was green. I made the mistake of reading in the car on the way there, and was feeling a bit carsick once we parked inside the west entrance. We got ready for the ride regardless, and started the first 10 miles nice an easy, warming up. I was having trouble regulating my heart rate - the ride began with about 700 feet of climbing, which we did not expect. We paused at mile 20 so I could try to slow down my breathing. It was very sunny and hot, with no shade, we had 3 miles of a continuous 8% grade, and I was nervous that I wouldn't have enough energy for the entire ride. Aubrey refused to let me turn around and after a little rest, we continued on. I peeked at my Garmin, “Aubrey no wonder I feel so lightheaded, we’re at 8,300 feet!” I felt better, knowing that we were riding at a pretty quick pace at over 4,000 feet above what we were used to. 

women's cycling apparel

At last: Canyon Village visitor center had a gas station and we decided to refill on water there. I bought a Pop Tart and was amazed how much better I felt after eating some “real food”. Feeling recharged, we set out for the next section of the ride. On our way to Fishing Bridge, we came up on some traffic- everyone had stopped on the 2 lane road for a bison directly on the side of the road, about 3 cars ahead of us. We tucked in behind a green sports car, and the bison slowly made its way onto the road, walking the double yellow line directly towards us. Aubrey and I crouched down and slowly walked our bikes around the other side of the car, keeping it between us and the enormous bison. He slowly walked on and we quickly hopped back on our bikes and took off. I glanced down at my Garmin; my heart rate monitor read 169. Absolutely terrifying moment! Just seconds after recovering from our close encounter with the wildlife, it began to rain. I immediately pulled over and stuffed my camera into the ziplock bag in my pocket. Just in time - we were instantly hit with a downpour of ice cold rain, and wind. We powered on, keeping a steady 17mph pace through it all. Neither of us had a jacket, vest, or arm warmers since the weather reports did not mention anything about rain or lower temperatures. (Thats the Rocky Mountains for you!) Aubrey was down in her aero bars, in the zone, just pedaling through it all. I looked at my computer; mile 51. I looked down at my socks, which were once white. Now a translucent gray against my soaking wet legs. Gravel, and and pollen starting to stick to my shins and arms. I looked up again, squinting against the dark sky. “We are literally chasing this storm!” Aubrey shouts over the wind and rain. I was wishing I had a taillight on my bike. It was only 1:30 p.m. but the sky had gotten so dark, all the cars had their lights on. Finally, 7 miles later, the skies cleared again. We took a quick photo by the lake to celebrate being past the halfway point. Passing mile 60, we encountered more rain. Both us and our bikes covered in a layer of yellow pollen powder, gritty chains grinding away through the bipolar weather. We kept climbing, up and up, wondering if we were ever going to descend. We stopped at West Thumb to refill on more water and then kept going. Both of us were feeling the distance, and the climbing in our legs. Ready to be done. Aubrey continued to pull against the gusty winds, keeping me safely in her draft. She was fresh off the podium in Idaho, finishing in second place in the half Ironman. I have just been taking a break from training, commuting everywhere, but not really paying attention to numbers. She was the stronger one for this ride, and there is no way I would have been able to go as far or as fast without her. 

We were low on water, and it was 17 miles to Old Faithful, and from there it was roughly 25 more miles to the car. We had a few good downhill sections, very windy and winding, I was gripping the bars tightly to keep my deep carbon rims on the white line, and not go off the small shoulder into the gravel or rocks. Again, the cars were all very considerate and gave us plenty of room, and we had no flats or mechanicals the entire day.

That 17 mile section felt like the longest ride. It was awful, it just didn't seem to end. Rollers kept teasing us with false summits, and we were both out of water. I focused on my breathing, and my mind wandered. Aubrey was convinced the geyser did not actually exist, even though she had been there before. I saw road signs as people... blurring pedestrians and speed limits as the same thing. My contact lenses were irritated from all the wind and pollen, I couldn't see clearly. After what seemed like hours, we finally arrived at the visitor center at Old Faithful. Aubrey grabbed bottles of water and food, and we went as quickly as possible, refilling for the final miles of the day. It was 5:00 p.m. and we were cooked. The wind gusts continued, and got even stronger as we found our way into the road again. Aubrey marched on; her strong, uniform cadence putting me in a daze as I hung on behind her, trying to stay close to her wheel. Many times she was stronger than me on the climbs, and a few minutes after getting to the summit, I would see her waiting for me at a turnout. Sometimes we would check in and chat, other times just say nothing at all and press on. I was hurting. I had forgotten my gloves and my hands were sore and red. The back of my neck ached. We talked about what food we wanted to eat when we got home. Fantasizing about hot, salty meals, and ice cold recovery drinks with a straw. Its funny how your mind drifts on those long rides. 

At last we approached the turn from Madison Junction towards West Yellowstone. Aubrey took off and I let her go. I tried to think about anything besides how much my knees were aching. Tried to enjoy the gorgeous scenery all around us. There was a lot more traffic now, truck after truck passing by at 45mph trying to leave the park too. I looked down at all the dirt and pollen collecting on the inside of my elbow. Wondered how many more hours it would be until I could take a shower. Kept doing the math, trying to guess how many miles were left. I squinted at each trailhead, looking for Aubrey’s little silver car. Finally I saw it... my math was wrong and we were done 4 miles earlier than we anticipated. I don’t think I could have done those few extra miles. We ended the day at 104 miles, and 5,904 feet of climbing in just over 6 hours. It felt so slow at the end, I am shocked we made it in that time. 

Aubrey and I loaded the car as quickly as we could and took fistfuls of baby wipes, wiping the pollen and dirt from our arms and legs and face. “I need chocolate milk now! Lets go.” She commanded. I didn't argue and collapsed into the front seat. So glad we did it, but so glad it’s over. We both agreed. What a day!

Amber Hoadley