Mustache Riders on the Storm
“The sport of winds: All these, upwhirled aloft, fly o'er the backside of the world far off into a Limbo large and broad, since called The Paradise of Fools” –John Milton, Paradise Lost
After over a year devoid of any bike overnights in one another’s platonic company, my roommate and I scratched our collective head ruminating on a worthy overnight goal. We had both been on bike trips already this summer, but separately and distracted by women. The idea to ride the 100 miles together from Bozeman, Montana, to Chico Hot Springs and back floated to the top of our list as we sought to soak in the Paradise Valley’s most soothing spring. After a careful inspection of our route’s elevation profile, we realized it closely resembled a stately, well-groomed mustache. The Mustache Ride was born.
The Mustache Riders were Tony, Justin, and Erica, a trio of ‘stacheless volunteers from the Bozeman Bike Kitchen. We decided to leave Bozeman at 10 a.m., and departed promptly at 11:30, figuring that the 50-mile ride would take about four hours. As it turns out, we were only off by about three hours.
The beginning of our route took us through Bozeman via various multi-use trails to the base of Bridger Canyon. Riding north out Bridger Canyon, we were passed by many local recreationalists headed into the mountains. In addition to forming a part of the ‘stache, our circuitous route through the Bridgers circumvented a short stretch of interstate riding along I-90. As we approached the summit of Jackson Creek Road, our first climb, the weather reared its ugly headwind and retarded our progress for the remainder of the journey.
Justin and Erica begin the climb up Jackson Creek Road as we get our first taste of the endless headwind.
From the top of Jackson Creek Road we descended to its intersection with I-90 and past Montana Grizzly Encounter, a bear rescue and education center. At a railroad crossing shortly thereafter we had a grisly encounter of our own: a BNSF train parked so as to impede our progress as though in cahoots with the retarding winds. And impede it did, for the better part of a half hour as it waited along with us for a westbound train brimming with Montana coal likely bound for China, dusting the countryside with said cargo along the way.
Erica (L) and Justin lament the presence of a train in our path.
As the train vanished into Montana’s notoriously big sky, we were whisked onto a poorly maintained dirt road, heightening our awareness that it was opening weekend of hunting season. As we passed a Styrofoam cooler lid painted with bull’s-eyes 50 yards downrange from a dilapidated singlewide, the road turned to mud. We feared it was a trap. However, we quickly reached the paved Trail Creek Road, at which point things turned south both literally and figuratively. The unrelenting headwind funneled into a notch at the pass ahead, slowing us to a sub-jogging pace. Soon, we achieved our second climax of the day as we crested the pass. The road turned to dirt and gravel. As we pedaled downhill in our little chainrings, we had our only mechanical failure of the trip: Erica’s cargo rack. The rack was initially mounted via a convoluted network of zip ties, bolts, and pixie dust, and the vibrations of the gravel road eventually eroded the system’s structural integrity. Heroically, Justin sacrificed a screw from his bike so Erica could keep riding.
By now, we were hours behind schedule and our 'staches of morale had been nearly depleted. We pedaled in silence toward the Yellowstone River at the bottom of Paradise Valley as the sun set behind us. As we prepared for a brief ride on busy US-89, we created what we called the “Safety Sandwich.” Tony, having a very bright dynamo headlight and reflective safety vest, would ride in the front. Justin, having an obscenely bright flashing tail light and high-visibility jersey, would ride in the back of the pack. Erica, wearing dark clothes and being sans illumination and of slight of stature, would ride in the middle of the peloton, shielded from danger by the men’s flashy lights and apparel.
Tony leaps for joy at the sign announcing we're a mere 2 miles from Chico.
We rode east into the dark, motivated by the promise of soaking. The last two miles of the ride featured a steady climb from the Yellowstone River to Chico Hot Springs. Upon arrival, Justin entered the resort lobby to ask if we could camp on the premises somewhere. As expected, he met the same response he was given the previous day when he called the resort with the same inquiry. However, this time he was able to observe the look of bewilderment from a makeup-caked woman that suggested she had never experienced any accommodation more rugged than a Motel 6. She looked equally surprised when the crazy man who had arrived by bicycle produced legal currency to enter the hot springs, seemingly unable to comprehend the ability of a non-motorist to drive the economy. Hot spring admission in hand, we continued on in search of a campsite.
Fortunately, there is Forest Service land just beyond the hot springs. Reaching our Eden, we pitched our matching one-man tents and Erica sprawled in her spacious two-person nylon castle. After erecting our tents, we ate our dinners and returned to Chico to soak.
We soaked our rippling cyclist muscles and privately mocked all the soft, wimpy hot spring patrons who drove motor vehicles to their destination. We ate poolside cheeseburgers and laughed about the day’s adventure. We reasoned that at least the headwind would be a tailwind when we left in the morning.
In keeping with the theme of the story, we were wrong to be optimistic.
No sooner had we laid down than the wind and rain started. We all laid awake, nervous about the seemingly inevitable tent collapse as sideways rain pummeled our tents. We estimate we got two or three hours of sleep each amidst the pounding storms.
After a groggy start Sunday morning, we took advantage of a brisk tailwind and rode 15 miles in 45 minutes to the Pine Creek Café. As we sipped coffee and ate various breakfast meats, we watched snow clouds build to the west. We ordered many refills of coffee and re-routed our return to avoid the worst of the weather.
Justin and Erica are totally jazzed to leave the Pine Creek Cafe and get back into the wind.
When we finally left, our tailwind had become a crosswind, and would soon became a heinous headwind. There was no escaping our Sisyphean plight. Our final reserves of optimism blew away as horizontal rain began to sting our eyes.
Leaving Pine Creek we formed a tight pace line into the impending storm. Reaching Livingston, we turned west into the aforementioned heinous headwind aiming for the frontage road that would take us back to the I-90 exit at Jackson Creek. Managing only a modest walking pace into the wind, and each being filled with coffee, considered a diuretic by some, we decided to seek shelter and relief at a gas station. Having relieved ourselves, we received what was perhaps the greatest relief of all as we sheltered from the weather: Justin got a phone call from his amazing girlfriend. She had come looking for us in her car because the wind was alarmingly intense and it had begun to snow in Bozeman. She asked if we wanted a ride back to town and completely understood if we felt compelled to keep pedaling. Gazing up at a rain-obscured Bozeman Pass nobody wanted to admit defeat, but everybody was amenable to bailing on the ride. We reluctantly and gratefully accepted her offer. After all, wouldn't it have been rude not to? We watched with wind-induced tears as the black Subaru wagon rallied into the gas station parking lot with more urgency than was warranted, executing a glorious power-slide on the gravel surface where we were waiting. Our chariot had arrived--the perfect deus ex machina ending to a hopeless situation. The mustache had been ridden, but we hadn’t gone all the way.
Tip for this adventure: Check the weather forecast. Even when the weather is nice in Bozeman, there's a good chance of high winds in Livingston and the Paradise Valley.
Favorite local bike shop: The Bozeman Bike Kitchen is a non-profit community bike shop where staff will work with you to teach you how to fix your bike. Proceeds go to give bikes away to those who need them.