So yes, it’s really “Beartooth Highway” and it’s beautiful. It’s also only open to car traffic in summer, and as the snow flying outside my window would attest, the Rockies are still a longs way from dog days. The solution? Head up on two wheels.
This is easier said than done. Beartooth highway straddles the Wyoming/Montana border and has an impressive 20 peaks reaching over 12,000 feet in elevation. It is also the highest elevation highway in Wyoming (10,947 feet), Montana (10,350 feet) and the entire Northern Rockies region. All these stats add up to one inarguable fact: cold, thin air.
That morning, we loaded up the car in pleasant 55° weather in Billings, Montana. Folks cautioned us that Red Lodge, about an hour away, would be about 10° cooler. Down to 45° in Red Lodge, we began climbing up the open portion of Beartooth highway as the temperature settled to somewhere around freezing. As we lifted the bikes off the roof of the car, I mentally chastised myself for bringing bike shorts and no tights, but reasoned that it wasn’t that cold – until I saw him.
He was the owner of the other car parked at the gate and he was covered– as in the only skin visible was from his eyes to his nose. His ragged bike tights revealed an additional layer of long underwear and I stared as his big winter mitts enviously while I thought, “oh shit”. Regrouping, I decided that I could adapt my clothes to be bike friendly. I pulled my comfy yoga pants on over my bike shorts and found a rubberband to cinch the pants around one ankle and a few hair ties for the other. I also rummaged through my emergency winter stash (which is really a year-round stash in Wyoming) by the spare tire in my car and pulled out my own pair of fluffy mittens. My favorite cute and function Lululemon jacket has a rad collar that zips up to my nose with (and this is the genius part) a hood completely independent of the collar. My ratcheting bike helmet allowed a quick resize to accommodate the raised hood while the chinstrap slipped under the high collar without interfering with the heat-saving hood. I’ve always thought the zipperpull on this jacket was another place to shout “LULULEMON!”, but the bulky three-disk design proved genius when I could grab it through bike gloves layered with bulky mittens on top.
Unfortunately, my winter stash had nothing for my partner. While the ride up was peaceful and surprisingly not-SO-steep (bear in mind my comparative point is Teton Pass), the way down was brutal. We had pedaled high enough for the air to get cooler and while we enjoyed the wind at our back on the way up, it was full-on in our face on the way down. So full-on that we actually had to pedal while careening down the mountain. We stopped more than once to warm my partners hands while I furiously wiggled my cold toes.
By the time we arrived back at the car, my toes lacked any and all circulation. My core temperature had also dropped and I hurriedly leaned the bike against the car and broke into a fast succession of jumping jacks. There were some overweight tourists in an SUV pointing and laughing. Soon enough, the car was pumping out heat and we were enjoying a delicious dinner in Red Lodge. But adventure always make dinner taste better.