Rainstorms, a nerve-racking bear encounter, 5,000-foot ascents up mountain passes: Sounds exactly like a Rocky Mountain bikepacking trip. Three volunteers with Adventure Scientists’ Wildlife Connectivity project turned their data-collection trip into a week-long, 400-mile loop last summer. Read all about their experience in a new blog post by one of the cyclists, Conor O’Brian:

“I woke up one morning to see that I’d been tagged in an instagram photo by our friend Emily. A Montana based organization, Adventure Scientists, was looking for volunteer cyclists to ride through Montana to assist in a study on wildlife-vehicle collisions in the state. Matt, Emily and I applied that day, and were accepted shortly thereafter. Our task? Photograph and document roadkill we encountered along the Beartooth highway in southwest Montana – often described as one of the most scenic mountain passes in America. Photographing dead animals in the name of science? Finally – putting that Environmental Management degree to good use!

“In the days immediately after accepting our new roles as dead wildlife photographers, Matt, Emily and I organized a week-long bikepacking route that would take us through the Beartooth and Pryor mountains of Montana and Bighorn mountains of Wyoming (Thanks, Bikepacking.com!). The three of us would ride together that week, and then Matt and I would break off and organize ourselves to ride a 1,400 mile section of the Divide from northern Montana to Colorado. 

“Less than a week after that instagram tag, Matt and I were sitting in his fully packed Jeep Grand Cherokee, our beloved gravel bikes strapped securely to the roof rack. We aimed ourselves in the direction of the sky scraping mountains and vast plains of the American west we’d heard and read so much about. We smiled as we hit the gas. We were off.

“Beyond our excitement to explore a new area and engage in some environmental stewardship, we figured this first 400 mile, week-long loop would function as a perfect ‘dry run’ as Matt and I looked ahead to the Divide. High elevations, unpredictable and varied weather, grizzly bear country, extended time in the backcountry, sparse resupply options, and three separate 15+ mile climbs would put our bikepacking skills to the test. While Emily was also an experienced cyclist as a former bike tour leader, these challenges would be new for all of us.

“I couldn’t wait to embark on this unexpected summer journey with these teammates of mine.”

Check out the full “Bikepacking the West” post on Conor’s website and be sure to browse his incredible art prints inspired by his adventures. This one is titled “Rolling Toward Forever” and features Emily Hammel, Matt Duncan, and Conor on the approach to the Beartooth Mountains outside of Red Lodge, Montana.

Data from the trio’s trip will be used by wildlife and highway officials to find ways to reduce collisions between vehicles and animals. Adventure Scientists is now part of a larger coalition of groups working on the issue of wildlife-vehicle collisions. The field component of the project is paused as we align our goals with the larger coalition. Watch our social feeds and newsletter to stay in the loop! Learn more on the project webpage.

Thank you Conor, Matt, and Emily! We’re impressed and grateful for your contributions to conservation.