Days 71-73: Gorgeous, barren descents to Lander and (forced) rest

After the surprisingly beautiful ride into Rawlins I was pumped to get further into the Equality State, yet I didn’t do much research before I pushed off. I knew there was a lone gas station for water and food on the way to Jeffrey City, but I didn’t want to know anything else. The element of surprise at the physical landscape has become something I really cherish out here, and pushing north, Wyoming definitely didn’t disappoint.

Like when I saw an antelope on the side of Highway 287 on the way to the Continental Divide:

I got very excited by this. I wish I had seen some moose in Colorado, but no such luck. 

It was a short gradual climb to the Divide, my third time passing it.

Given the relatively painless road it took to get there, an exhaulted fist pump didn’t cross my mind. But I love passing the Divide. Good thing I’m definitely not done with it yet…

And then the road went down, as it always does after the Divide. But this time the road was descending into the Great Divide Basin. The desert landscape was gripping into me more and more with each mile pedaled:

And the descent just got better:

Photos can’t do justice to how massive the mountains are in the distance. They’re huge and wonderful and I couldn’t take my eyes off them.

I was riding through the Basin and felt like I was on a different planet. It was hot, very dry, And unlike any other riding I had done to that point. I was giddy with excitement – the desert is so far removed from where I’ve mostly lived, and every time I’m in the desert I marvel at it. This time I REALLY marveled at it. I stopped several times to take it all in. 

But then I had to make my way out of the Basin:

And back to the Divide:

The trend was still downward after that, and it was just as beautiful, with thick white patches of sand off the road:

The best kind of road to ride on – big shoulder, downward, and breathtakingly beautiful:

It’s always nice to see reminders to drivers to “pass with care”:

Granted, this is probably directed at passing other cars, but I’ve had good luck with drivers out here. No close calls.

I just couldn’t stop taking in the desert mountainscape around me. Such an unbelievable experience to ride through them. 

Eventually I made it to Muddy Gap for a recharge. It turns out the sole gas station there was literally the only thing in town. As such, a lot of travelers come through, and they all were welcome to leave their mark:

I did the same:

It was roughly a 25 mile push to Jeffrey City, and after a short, steep climb, it was downhill again:

Just look at how the road winds through the landscape. Seeing such a long stretch after a short climb or a bend in the road is always a highlight of the day:

I spent a good portion of the rest of the day to the west of the Rattlesnake Mountains, which was just fine by me:

I loved seeing the cloud shadows on the mountains. It’s been a joy since I entered into them way back to coming out of Denver:

And then more antelope!

It didn’t take long for them to hop away when they saw me, and even though that meant they were scared of course, the antelope hop is pretty fantastic.

And then I made it to the Split Rock historic landmark. Zoom on in and read about it if it suits you:

I’ve seen hundreds of dead animals in the last couple months, but never as bone dry (hehe) as this:

And then I made it to Jeffrey City! With a name like that it has to be the coolest, right? Well, it left a bit to be desired. It’s a town of about 50 people, but 30 years ago there were a few thousand more. It’s a modern day ghost town after uranium mining went bust in the 80s. But being on the TransAm bicycle route has kept this town alive, with this church that has basically been converted into a cyclist bunkhouse:

I had heard about it for days, and felt welcome right away:

It was so cool inside of there. The walls were white washed like the gas station at Muddy Gap, and the marks were decidedly more cyclist oriented:

I met Norm and Linda there. Here are their awesome Rohloff-equipped Thorn touring bikes in the space:

And my room for the night:

The church had a full kitchen with a super slow cold water trickle:

That’s as much as you got. Given how dry it is out here I couldn’t drink enough and the slow trickle was a lesson in patience. 

There were no stores in town, just a gaggle of trailers and collapsing buildings. But the Split Rock Cafe & Bar was open for business with free wifi, which was nice, because I hadn’t had cell service in miles and wouldn’t again until rolling into Lander the next day:

I had some food and talked to Dusty, the owner’s husband, as he pounded beers on the job. Eventually another tourist popped in, and for a change it was a local guy! Richard was a social studies teacher from Rawlins, out on a 750-mile Wyoming tour, one day away from home. It was great to chat with him. He was a really smart guy, and after all the usual touring talk and conversation we started delving into more worldly matters.  I don’t get a lot of smarty pants conversation out here, and it was a breath of fresh air.

Back at the church the good conversation continued with Norm and Linda, all four of us sitting around the kitchen table in the middle of nowhere. It was a great time, and the kind of thing you can only get out here. 

Around 9 we were all dozing off, and we each went to our respective rooms to rest up for the next day’s push. 

*** *** ***

I was up around 4 the next morning and the wind was already screaming through the desert brush outside the window. I wasn’t feeling it. Some days I’m itching to ride, others climbing on the bike is just something I do without thinking about it. There have been a handful of days, just a handful, where I just don’t want to ride. The morning in Jeffrey City was one of them. I thought briefly of sticking around and reveling in the weirdness of Jeffrey City with my book, but opted to push on. The mindset recently has been one of completion: while I don’t want to rush to the Pacific, I’m definitely ready to make my way there. I want to finish this thing. Not because I’m sick of it or want to stop riding; it’s more like I started this to ride coast to coast and even though it’s roughly a month away, I feel it’s close. Plus the amount of beauty ahead of me is only going to increase. I wheeled the bike out the door and started riding north:

Just like the past couple days, the desert didn’t disappoint. After a couple miles I was cruising. 

And I was cruising along the old Pony Express Trail, which was cool:

And then I saw the best kind of road sign a cyclist could see:

6% downgrade for 5 miles? Yes please!

But that was just the bow on the wrapped present. The descent went through the most vast, amazing desert canyon that I couldn’t stop gawking at. The usual disclaimers of pictures not doing reality justice apply:

I kept having moments where I’d say out loud to myself “are you kidding me? ARE YOU KIDDING ME?” I was blown away.

For a short while I was probably cruising along at probably around 40mph, maybe more. It was another tour highlight:


Soon enough I was just outside Lander and saw this:

How a name like this stuck must be one hell of a story. I had a hearty laugh at it. But then I climbed back on the bike and flew down to town, loving every bend in the road:

In Lander I opted for a hotel room for the night to rest up. Just as I was rolling by the Holiday Lodge I came across Jim, the teacher from Portland I first met and Walden a few days back. It was a huge surprise, and a welcome one. He invited me to join him to go see Star Trek in town, and that sounded just about right to me. It ended up being all right, better than the last one. It was a super cool theater in town though:

With an artsy, outdoorsy vibe. Apparently a lot of hikers and climbers are based out of Lander, and there are a lot of artists here too, like this guy who pulled a falcon out of his car to take to an art show:

    Alright then. 

      It had been five riding days since my last rest day, and I was feeling it. But Yellowstone is just around the corner. I made the decision to stay around another night to rest. 

      There are a couple reasons for this. The most pressing is that I haven’t really been that clean in the last few days, and that means saddle sores are back. They really make riding extremely painful, and the only way to take care of them is with soap, Neosporin, and airing them out. That means rest day. 

      But there are other issues as well. If I was feeling like I needed a breather anyway, I certainly need one before a two-day, 4000 foot climb to the top of Togwotee Pass, which will take me into the Tetons. But that pass is problematic right now – there are wildfires in the mountains, and the air is thick with smoke. I’m in no hurry to breath all that in for what I hear will be one of the most challenging climbs on the tour.

      So I went to bed without setting my alarm for the first time in a while, and that was lovely. Not many long nights of sleep recently. 

      *** *** ***

      Given the saddle sores, today was a day to not do a whole lot. I woke up and saw the smokey haze of the mountains and was glad I decided to take a rest day. I’m not worried about being consumed by flames but the smoke in my lungs is something I don’t need and was happy to not breathe it in any more than necessary, especially given the elevation and climbing ahead of me. I slept and lounged around most of the day, reading and watching political news despite my best efforts to avoid it.

      I did stop by The Bike Mill, one of the bike shops in town, to price out a possible bike fix – the bike works like a dream, as it always has, but thousands of miles means wear and tear. I ride in the second chainring (chainrings are the gears in the front) almost all the time, except for climbing and descending. The second chainring has started to slip when I really grind it out, like when I stand on the pedals. The teeth are worn, but as long as I’m spinning at 90rpm or so it’s not an issue. I’m hoping I can make it to the coast without having to replace the drivetrain. That’s nearly $100 in parts, and while I could easily fix it on my own, I can’t without tools, which means I would have to pay for labor as well. I can’t afford any of that so if and when the problem gets worse I’m going to have to get creative with my gearing. Cross your fingers for me. 

      I eventually called the fire service to see what was doing on the mountain. The word is that wildfires are a quarter mile from the road, but that given the wind, they didn’t expect road closures but they’re still possible. Hmmm…

      I was hanging outside my room when I met Andrew, a westbound bicycle traveller. We started chatting and I knew he was one of the good ones. He mentioned he was off to the Star Trek movie (24 hours after I saw it) but I invited him to join me for a beer after. 

      A few hours later we headed to Cowfish, a gastropub on Main Street, and proceeded to have an excellent conversation over excellent beer.

      I could tell you all the wonderful things we talked about, but I’m keeping that for myself. But meeting Andrew was one of the better encounters on tour. 

      Back at the hotel I was sitting on the porch when Alicia rolled up, fresh out of a wedding. Same deal with Andrew – one of the better conversations, and I’m keeping it for me. I thought her tattoo was pretty instructive though:

      *** *** ***

      Lander was a joy, and it’s another place I don’t really want to leave just yet. But it’s time to climb a mountain, see the Tetons, and make it to Yellowstone!

      -J

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