Motorists crossing the Bighorn Mountains this week were sharing the roadways with hundreds of cyclists pedaling along in the margins. It’s a sign that one of Wyoming’s most popular outdoor recreation events is casually, but determinedly, underway.
The Tour De Wyoming is not a race, as any of its participants will point out.
“We’re just racing death, really,” joked first-timer Jeremey Rizer, who had stopped to strategize with his tour companion Kelly Palmer midway up the Ten Sleep Canyon. It’s about “making it from point A to point B in one piece and enjoying the ride along the way.”
The casual nature of the fully supported tour is evident when observing the participants’ choice of cycle. In addition to the sleek road bicycles one would expect to see in a roadside bike event, riders cruised along on e-bikes and recumbent tricycles. Even tandem bikes are making the trek.
There was no concern about times or setting new records, and there was no shame in loading bikes onto the pilot vehicles patrolling the route and getting a ride to the next overnight stop. Stopped riders were often taking in sights and reading historical markers while catching their breath.
Even Tour Director Amber Travsky admits she stops when something catches her eye.
“I like to stop and look at things,” she said. “At the start, I was riding toward Ucross, and there’s a whole flock of wild turkeys, and of course, I had to stop and look at them. The other day it was a moose cow and calf.”
From Small To International
Travsky has served as tour director since she conceived and organized the first Tour De Wyoming in 1997. At the time, Travsky was chair of the Governor’s Council for Physical Fitness and Sports.
The first tour was a far cry from what the event has evolved into.
“We started with 44 riders,” Travsky recalls. “My dad was Rest Stop One and Three. My sister was Rest Stop Two.”
In 2023, 250 riders were selected through a lottery system. Roughly three-fourths of the Tour De Wyoming’s participants come from outside the state, with riders from more than 30 states and Canada on this year’s tour.
“It’s like moving a small Wyoming town every day,” Travksy said.
Travsky favors Wyoming’s smaller towns and communities when planning each year’s route, finding that they offer less traffic and more hospitality. But after a quarter of a century (excluding two years canceled because of COVID-19), the Tour De Wyoming has passed through 65 communities throughout the state.
This year’s route was planned to be “strictly Wyoming,” with no routes or stops in any other state. Riders left Buffalo on July 15, powering themselves on a scenic journey through Ucross, Sheridan, Dayton, Shell, Greybull and Basin.
On Day 5, riders took an 86-mile trip through Ten Sleep and a laborious ascent up Ten Sleep Canyon to reach the Meadowlark Ski Area in Bighorn National Forest.
Ski areas are being used as overnight stops on the tour for the first time in 2023, giving Meadowlark and Antelope Butte Ski Areas much-appreciated business in their off-season.
By its conclusion, riders will have ridden 349 miles in six days, going up and over the Bighorn Mountains twice.
You Don’t Have To Be A Pro
The affordability of the Tour De Wyoming is one of its most attractive aspects.
“From the start, we tried to charge a minimal amount,” Travsky said. “Sometimes it's scary to spend a lot of money on a bike tour. Then they can spend all that money on a new bike.”
Money raised through the tour supports biking infrastructure throughout the state — from bike racks in Laramie and repair stands in Dubois to new cycling trails in Curt Gowdy and Glendo state parks.
When it comes to cycling, most resources and attention are put toward the development of gravel and offroad trails for mountain biking.
The Tour De Wyoming is for “roadies,” as Travsky describes herself and the tour’s participants. “Roadies” need paved roads for their excursions, something Wyoming doesn’t have much of from a cycling perspective.
Rash Of Roadies
Wyoming can be a treacherous place for serious “roadies.” The lack of paved roads (compared to other states and cycling hotspots) is somewhat offset by the lack of traffic.
But while Travsky is seeing improvements in road infrastructure — good shoulders are especially appreciated — she’s concerned about increasing traffic on Wyoming’s roads and vehicles driving at higher speeds.
In an ideal world, Travksy would like to see more questions about bicycling in Wyoming’s driving tests. In her experience, most Wyoming drivers are unsure how to drive or change their driving when they encounter a cyclist.
“I don’t think most drivers know how to deal with us,” Travsky said. “They don’t know how to get around and bike and why we do what we do. We don’t get in their way on purpose. Usually, there’s a good reason why we’re not over as far.”
Awareness could be the greatest investment in Wyoming’s cycling future.
“The key to getting around cyclists is to shut off that need to go as fast as you can,” she said. “People will say, ‘Why ride it?’ And I’ll say, ‘I can’t not ride it. I’m a roadie.’”
Wheels Turn At The Local Levels
When it comes to executing a safe and successful tour, Travsky will give much of the credit to the tour’s Planning Committee — mostly Cheyenne and Laramie residents who “meet by potluck” to work on the tour’s logistics — and 25 dedicated volunteers working relief stops along the route.
But many cyclists are keen to give Travksy her due.
“She’s too humble,” said Kasey Abbott, a Tour De Wyoming participant and tour director of Ride Across South Dakota, another annual bike tour.
Abbott admitted he and other tour directors have used Travsky’s two-and-a-half decades of experience to enhance their own events, citing her as an inspiration with an unprecedented amount of knowledge.
After a brief turn down a dirt road, the “roadies” ended Day Five by rolling into the cluster tents and campers encircled alongside Veteran’s Cove at the Meadowlark Lake Lodge. However, Travksy anticipated the area would be completely empty by 8 a.m. Friday — if not earlier — in the eagerness to make the final descent to Buffalo.
“They can smell the barn,” Travsky said.
The route and days for the 2024 Tour De Wyoming will be announced around Thanksgiving.