August 16, 2018
I met Rita in the shuttle en route to Cody. She had a container full of Indian food and was joyfully apologetic for its non-existent odor. We talked on and off over the next three hours. I mostly listened. She was endlessly cheerful and eager for the event to start. Her face lit up when she explained the experience of waking up in a new, beautiful place she’d never get to see otherwise with so much enthusiasm I couldn’t wait to go to bed so I could wake up in Cody.
I wake up to that scene at 5:15 each morning on this cycling tour, and Rita has been up since 4. She’s one of the many volunteers making the experience for us cyclists incredibly special.
People like Rita work behind the scenes and while we sleep or ride, getting work done for our comfort. Jennifer Drinkwalter is the face of CGY, and she is well-known by all off us. She is adored and appreciated. I know she hears a lot from us, and she handles our mistakes, requests, and complaints with grace and candor. She pitches her tent each night in the dark, long after I’ve entered REM state. She probably rises with Rita. And she even manages to get out on the road to ride her bike with us for a handful of miles each day.
Jennifer, of course, isn’t the only one I share the miles with. My mom, who has participated in this ride four times now, invited my little sister and I to join her this year. Mom is a strong cyclist and can push some serious watts on race day. But she also knows how to slow down and take in the scenery of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, or “tootle along,” as she puts it.
Kelsi agreed to join Mom as well, and she has put in some hard work getting ready. Her tenacity mile after mile is inspiring. She and I still get the giggles when we’re overly tired, as if we were both under the age of 10 again. Mom still puts up with us and joins in. Mom’s friend Abi is part of our little crew of Wyoming locals. Abi thinks Kelsi’s sense of humor is a hoot, and she is the most generous teammate a tired blogger could ask for: She brings me wine while I beg the cell phone gods to post my photo to the CGY histogram feed and charge the Kindle for more writing with half-open eyes.
We also share our days with 350 fellow cycle tour-ists. Yesterday I made a friend, whom I could only identify by the crank-set and crossroads tattoo on his right calf. We teamed up in the face of an unyielding wall of wind the last 15 miles into Dubois, trading turns blocking the wind and pulling one another, one long half-mile at a time. I don’t know if he was working as hard as I was, but we were having a blast, helping one another through a challenge, exchanging one-line jokes that the wind carried away behind us.
That’s how a lot of exchanges go on this trip: Quick comments when passing or being passed on the highway, short anecdotes of humorous or whining variety, big “thank you!!”s directed at a helpful volunteer or staff member in a telltale green shirt.
Short or extended, repeated or one-time interactions, the people of Cycle Greater Yellowstone are as intrinsic to this experience as the ecosystem we are exploring.
Posted in Notes From the Field