Day 6. Winds, Drones and da’ Bears...oh my!

Start/End: Bozeman MT / Pray MT

Itinerary: Drive to Livingston, Explore museums and trails in Livingston: Livingston Nor Pac Depot. Ride Highway 89 South Walking and Bike Path & continue along abandoned section of Nor-Pac railroad. Camp at Snowbank Campground. Yellowstone Gateway Museum in Livingston offers a permanent exhibit highlighting transportation to Yellowstone including railroads.

Actual: Livingston Depot Center Trail (visit, not ride)

Trail: Highway 89 South Walking and Bike Path, Old Yellowstone Trail

Trail Surface: Asphalt, gravel-dirt mix

Riders: Lisa, Cori, Hope, Maya, Lana, Galen, Bob & Dee + Ginny (guide)

Miles rode: approximately 18

Today, we will be droned! This tiny insect camera-creature directed by the Drone brothers, Nick and Drew (not really brothers), will whirl around us, documenting the line of flags making our way through Paradise Valley, Montana, north of Yellowstone National Park, the first National Park in the U.S. But first we break bread and suit up on a stretch of trail hugging the side of Highway 89 South.

As we start out, just as Ginny is packing up the van and trailer, someone with much hair and much gesticulating and much to say comes out from their home to let us know how much we are trespassing. Private property vs. public domain.

We pedal away and onto the path. But the wind rises up behind us, catching the flags.

These usually docile floaty things are bucking formation. The wind tickled the flag underbellies, jerking them up, and slapping our backs. We tried biking on, but the flags ripped at their tethers wherever they could. Finally, each flag wriggled free, whipping around us, undoing its line.

Today, the wind and the flags were having none of our drone-ready 4 ½ ft formation. The wind pushed the bike line into a grove of trees, close to a rock face.

Bob, our flag whisperer, God bless him, tried to steady, then fix each flag, one by one. Like a clock tinkerer, he re-tied lines, reattached flags to poles, recouped all the jigsaw-maneuvering from whence we started. But the wild wind pushed us to stop and re-group again. His patience was unflagging but the wind made sure we knew it was in charge today. We limped along, trying to fight the flags bucking up over and over again. Finally, Captain L-Ray yelled ‘uncle’. We untethered the flags and the wind died down.

Here is an aspect of this 4 ½ ft Drawing 2 bike ride adventure. We all participate on this ride as if we are on a film shoot, especially today with our first drone film crew, trying to capture the line from above. All of us, all hands on deck, willing to do whatever it takes to capture the progression of the line in the landscape around us. Bob is our flag champion, wrangling with tangled lines, uneven and even broken rods, bent brackets, all the structural equipment which hold our flags in place. He and Dee and Cori took this on project like trainers dealing with exotic animals. And, calamity averted, flags refitted, drones set up, also bird spotting. Maya catches sight of a Cassiopeia.

Flags flying again, we proceed at a clip, with the buzzing drone tagging behind us like the red balloon. Rolling through a few bends and then into a vast valley of green, dotted with black cows. Somewhere in the near distance, we would pedal by a house belonging to the singer, John Mayer.


Paradise Valley unfolds before us, an enormous green bowling alley with snow-tipped guard rails under a big sky.


After a couple of miles, Highway 89 South Walking and Bike Path ends -- with the unconverted railroad inaccessible, we turn onto Old Yellowstone Trail, the first transcontinental highway through the northern states. We hug the dirt road and pedal for miles, followed by the drone and the bright sun. Eventually, everyone but me turns left. But I, being Ferdinand the bull who enjoys gazing at flowers more than bull fights, was always behind the pack, pedalled forward on and on, into the blazing sun. At some point, I realized that I wasn’t seeing my people, or the flags. My phone was dead. I was out of water and bonking but didn’t know it.

What does it mean when you think you’re OK but the sun makes you exhausted and you can’t think straight and you keep pedaling even though you don’t see any of the people you’re supposed to be bicycling with? Much later we had a conversation on bonking and how do we care for each other when something is happening that we don't understand until it's too late; could be too late for many things, reminds me of hypothermia or getting old. I suggested to the group that we all couple up into Bonk buddies. What about those folks coming into the US from the Mexican border, desperate, without enough water, probably getting bonked by the sun. My heart goes out to them.

Apparently, the drone brothers came by in a truck reaching out to me, asking if I wanted a ride. Apparently, I told them I was fine. I don’t remember a thing.


Later I was told that I waved them away. What I do remember doing was finally turning around and biking back to the spot where there was a turnoff, probably where I was supposed to turn. I pedalled into the east and towards a line of trees. When I finally saw our van and trailer, I was that horse aiming for her stall.

The team was dispersed around the van, some taking apart flags, some fixing bikes, some sitting in a sliver of shade, behind the van, drinking water, patiently waiting for me. I rolled up and into the pack, dismounted, leaving my bike leaning against the van. I sat down next to Maya, and told her I felt kinda woozy. Like an EMT, she jumped up and grabbed ice packs for my forehead, a cold water bandana for my neck, and plenty of water to drink. She brought me back to life. I felt so stupid, completely unaware of what had happened. I was told that I shouldn’t have declined the invitation of a ride. But evidently I was sun stroked, overheated and out of my mind. Done. I feel like such a wuss. I had watched Maya just a few days before, bonk from the heat and sun and altitude but hadn’t thought it could happen to me. I felt guilty for not providing her the care she easily gave me.

Once Ginny tethered all bikes to the roof, and everyone else got their gear stored, we were off. I poured myself into the way back, melted into the soft, bouncy seats of the van, relieved to be quiet, as we careened along, surrounded by our little world of stuff… a turtle but a wee bit faster. We wend along windy roads to our next campsite: Snowbank.


As we register, the camp warden points to a big sign, alerting us that we have company in our midst. We find our site, set up tents, prepare dinner, just in time for the mountains to hunch their shoulders up high so the sun runs away. While we sup, the Mill Dam River roars a mighty sound machine roar. fter we clean up and brush teeth, I put on all my clothes and lay me down to sleep, praying no food be near my tent. Yikes, Montana.