Wyoming’s Great Basin

Biking south from Pinedale we moved rapidly on a great road with downhill being the key part of it. A flowing downhill. The road would take us towards the big hills until we seems certain to be facing a climb, then a quick turn and we would slide through on a weaving trail back into the open desolate land. It is a dry rocky landscape where one should not tread without a good supply of water. The smaller hills we soon met head-on were like big ripples of irritation since the next one was so close to the one we had just climbed. Ceaseless. They were steep and too close for momentum to be of any help. I would be cussing them all day.

We traveled 86 miles today since there was nothing until we reached Atlantic City. The place is a long way from the ocean and a far cry from being a city but it is home for the night. I was very tired and hungry. We pulled into one of the two bar/restaurants. They had a cabin out back. We took it. A shower, internet, electric for charging our stuff and a washer/dryer for our clothes. Never would have imagined when we biked in.

One of the Italian bikers had given me a decal from their non-profit organization when we rode out of Crooked Creek Lodge the other morning. She said, “Look up who we are – what we are doing.” As I learned from their website Ciclistepercaso.com they are a very accomplished group of women. Linda Ronzoni is a graphic designer who heads a very successful firm. She is also a writer. Her friend, Sylvia Gottardi, is a former pro basketball player who was a member of the Italian National team. She is a sports media personality doing commentary and creates sports documentaries for television. She rode her pink car around the world raising 70,000 Euros for women’s causes. The other two women weren’t mentioned in the website.

This trip is fully funded for them including all of the equipment. The money they raise is spent on women’s causes through their non-profit.

We are a full day ahead of them now. Probably won’t see them again. It was inspiring to see their efforts on a really tough bicycle route. They will succeed – they are just as tough. Sent from my iPhone

Back in the Trees and Mountains, in Colter Bay

Our stay in Colter Bay started out with a little confusion. We had been looking forward to a full service real village. What we found was a giant government campground complete with a small grocery, a restaurant, a laundromat, and a gift shop. The campground had so many loops that you could easily find yourself lost. The RV’s always get the prime location and the tent area for hiker/bikers is in the outer fringe with no electric and a long walk for a shower. All that aside, it is a wonderful location.

Colter Bay is just a few miles south of the South entrance of Yellowstone. The Bay itself is on the north end of Jackson Lake in Wyoming. Looking across from Colter Bay to the west side you find the beautifully rugged Teton Range. Still snow on high in August. Grand Teton is in the mix. It’s very impressive. Jackson Lake Lodge is a few miles east and Jackson itself about an hour away.

What’s not to like about all this.

We managed to get showers, do laundry, get our internet work done, and have a great meal. The Tetons were hazy from smoke we assume was caused by the fire in the Dubois area a few days before. That evening we had the first rain since our initial day just out of Jasper. Like that first night this rain came after our cycling day was over. That’s 20 days of cycling with nothing but blue skies!

As we left Colter this morning, we met the four Italian women that we had kept hearing were just ahead of us cycling the Divide. We had caught up.

Our day today consisted of climbing Togwotee Pass. At 9658 feet, it is our highest point so far in the trip. Due to some problems with the regular route experiencing some cave-ins and wash outs, we took the Wind River Alternate route. At the end of the route we had a long winding gravel road climb to the country lodge for the night. It was tough. The climbs are much easier early in the day.

What makes a climb tough is not necessarily the total feet of climbing but the surface and the grade of steepness. A highway pass usually has a top grade of about 6 percent. The surface is smooth. A gravel road pass can be much steeper in grade since it has not the highway regulations.  We have had gravel/tote roads with grades exceeding 20 percent and often reaching 10 to 14 percent.   The gravel surface can be very rough. Often they are very washboardy as well.

Today’s ending climb was the rough gravel variety with steep grades.

We got a cabin in the small resort. About 4 hours later the Italians showed up. They looked as tired as they should after a tough ending climb.

Tomorrow on to Pinedale – considered just south of the Grizzlies range. If it weren’t for cougars we would ditch our bear spray. Sent from my iPhone

Just Puttin’ in the Miles

The rolling treeless desert hills of the bottom of Montana twist and wind their way south. We rolled along with them. Slowly the foothills spread wider until we found ourselves in a vast flat dry plateau. Pedaling was flat and mostly straight except for the 90 degree turns back across the flat to another road and another turn.

At some point in the day I found myself just putting in the miles. Watching the odometer on my GPS. It’s easy to zone out ones surroundings in such a place. There are very few people here and almost no traffic. Three or four ranches dominate the area. Just rough gravel roads.

Watching for the rocks, the holes and avoiding the washboard on the road kept my attention. That, and watching the miles on the GPS.

Midway through the day we came to a small wooden bridge in the midst of a small wetland in the middle of this desert plain. Time to pull over for lunch. The place was alive with birds. Mesmerizing. We sat to listen and watch. There were no other sounds. It was hard to leave. I would no longer just be putting in the miles today.

We stopped to camp at the Red Rock National Wildlife Sanctuary at the end of Red Rock Lake. This Sanctuary was created in 1935 as a haven for Trumpeter Swans. They were endangered at the time. The little campground reflected the diminishing resources devoted to maintenance in all our various national parks . Overgrown and rustic, it just looked abandoned. We claimed a spot.

There was a natural spring with a pipe flowing clear and cold. What a wonderful find for a couple of dusty bikers. After drinking my fill, I brought my towel and soap down and did the best I could.

We shared the campground that evening with two seasonal Montana DNR employees who were spending eight days studying wetland sites nearby. Sam, the young botanist, told us of all the bikers who had camped here during the week. All doing the Great Divide Trail just like we were. Heading south as well. He mentioned the four Italian women bikers. Also the Czech riding solo and the nine bikers staying here just last night. The only other tourists he had seen here in the last year were birdwatchers. There were only four of them.

This morning we were awakened by the sand hill cranes just behind us. We said goodbye to Sam and his co-worker, then headed south. Gradually we left the barren hills behind us. Trees started to fill our environment and the flowing waters of the Warm Springs River appeared next to us after we had passed the Continental Divide into Idaho.

We are staying on the river at a campground just one days ride from Colter Bay. We look forward to views of the Tetons tomorrow.

Remote Biking Life

We returned to the Divide Trail via an alternative route below Helena called the Boulder Alternate. It was a fabulous ride following the river as it courses through canyons and curves. Routes that are sweet flow along in a way that allows your momentum to always carry you up the next hill. This was a sweet ride. Nothing but smiles.

We spent the next couple of days following rivers through dark mountainous forests. Small limited service campgrounds were our homes for the night. We reached altitudes around 8000 ft. Gradually the valleys grew broader and the trees sparser. Large ranches started to dominate the terrain. Foothills replaced mountains. Shade was harder to find. We pedaled on.

There have been no stores, cafes or anything for several days. We are eating the food we made up before we embarked on this journey. Plenty of streams cross the route. Filters come out and hydration bags are filled. Our days are about 60 plus miles on average.

Last night we stayed at a large ranch. There were 3 cabins to stay in but were all taken by local ranch workers. We tented in the yard under some large shade trees. Tenting is free said the hand-written sign next to the ranch house door. Showers $10. We stuffed our money in the envelope that we put into the provided box. Never did see anyone in the house. Dust on these gravel roads finds its way into every pore on any exposed skin. Caked on. In your nose and ears. Takes a good amount of water and soap to get it all down the drain. Showers are a blessing.

After another day weaving our bikes down and up through the treeless dusty foothills we arrived at Lima. We had high hopes of a grocery store and a shaded campground. A nice restaurant where I could enjoy a glass of red. Re-filling our larder. Hopes hit the ground with a thud. The buildings were out of the 30’s and in ill repair. We sat next to the motel waiting for someone to show up. The rooms were low cinder block ovens. The diner across the way had a couple of cabins. We wandered over and took one of those. Original from the 40’s and a little sunken into place, they were welcome respite from the forlorn heat of the afternoon. This and some old fashioned food in the diner made our day. The grocery store was part of the gas station. Our larder for the next couple of days – basic.

The owner of diner/cabins told me that around 75 percent of his business is from cyclists like us. We are hearing similar reports at all the little towns along the Divide Trail. We feel welcome.

We reached 1060 total miles on our bikes today. That’s a little over 1/3 of the approximate 3000 miles of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Trail. We are a little weary but satisfied.

Llama/alpaca farm

Yesterday found Brian and I cycling over a remote pass on our way south of Lincoln MT. The route seemed to be heading to Stemple Pass where sane people go. Suddenly the GPS said take a right. We went immediately up a 20 degree plus hill then continued climbing on one of the steepest most unrelenting roadways I have traveled. I’m sure the contractor flunked S’s in school. He had a big ole D8 Cat and just pushed her straight up the hill. We peddled as long up and straight as we could. Finally near the top as I went up and up I could see around a corner that it just kept going up as steeply, I swung my leg off the bike and hollered back to Brian. “It continues.” He stopped next to me. We both waited till we could talk again, then pushed our bikes the little way up till it was bikeable again.

The downhill would normally scream but the surface of the little road was so rough, rocky and rutted that we had to pick our way down. Such is life on the Divide Trail.

After a seven mile descent we were swallowed up by a beautiful narrow valley of a few rugged farms with horses and downward sloping meadows. Near the bottom of this idyllic place lay John and Barbara’s Llama/ Alpaca farm. Finding themselves and their ranch right next to the Great Divide Trail, they had decided that it would be fun to host bicyclists coming by and needing a place to stay, a cold drink or just something to eat. They were both retired. John called their service, “paying it forward.” They moved a couple of cabins onto the property, put up a tent in the field, added an outhouse, and furnished each with everything a cyclist might need. There was no charge. They refused contributions. They greeted every cyclists as though they were long lost friends.

A very welcome sight for Brian and I after a very full day. We were assigned the smaller cabin while the larger one housed a group of four who were biking from Whitefish to Helena.

I find that when I sleep anywhere but in my tent I feel so disorganized. In the tent everything always gets put in the same place. It’s pretty damn simple because it is simple. It’s when we change things up that items get lost or forgotten. I did manage to bring everything down the hill to Helena with no problems this time.

We have been riding hard and long for thirteen straight days. I’m getting tired. Got to the bike shop in Helena about two. They wouldn’t be able to get my bike repaired till closer to six. We got a motel nearby and called it a day. A half day off feels really good. I ‘m satisfied. Sent from my iPhone

Ovando

Ovando, Montana has a population of 71. The Adventure Cycling map says “all services” for Ovando. “Huh.” We both start to chuckle. Rstaurant, lodging, tenting, groceries, internet and landromat? Must be a big convenience store sitting next to a park.

We were planning our next day’s bike ride. How far to ride is a decision that has to factor in what will be there when we do stop. How much climbing on the ride will there be? What kind of surface? How much single track? How much food do we have on the bike?

We are trying to average around 60-plus miles each day. Some longer and some shorter. If we stop in Ovando the mileage will be close to 70. Two big climbs in that effort. The next town would add another 30 miles. Too far.

We pulled into Ovando around 5 o’clock that afternoon. Dusty, sweaty and just plumb tired. Our first stop is to get some type of soft drink and just chug it. Then another. Slowly we become human again. We found our drinks in an old general store. They also have a few rooms for guests. We had heard that cyclists can camp on the lawn next to the Museum and by the “HooseGow” (jail). The old gentleman who owned the place pointed across the street. “You can sleep in one of the two cells in the jail or just put up your tents in the yard. It’s free for cyclists.” Help yourselves.

We did so. There was a 69-year old woman in one of the cells. She is on her third attempt to cycle the Great Divide. She started on the Mexican border this time and headed North. Just had to get to Banff from here. Karen told us about the $10 showers at the general store. Also the washers and dryers in the room next to the showers. Five bucks a load to wash and dry. Trixies just up the street a half mile serves food and beer. The restaurant across the street will have breakfast.

Showers were awesome for us dust-encrusted souls. Clean clothes! What a blessing that was. And full tummies plus a couple of cold ones.

Old fashioned hospitality in a little old-fashioned town. All with a genuine generous spirit. No strings attached.

The following morning we had breakfast with Karen. After wishing her her well, we got on our bikes to head for our next rest. About 60 miles down the Trail. We sure hope it will be as good as this one has been.

Bears

It was going to happen sometime. The only surprise is that it took so long.

During today’s ride, Brian and I saw a bear. Actually three of them – a sow and her two cubs flew off the gravel road in front of us and quickly disappeared into the pines. Black bear. Still no grizzlies and we’re not sorry about that.

We have met many cyclists on this route and most of them have grizzly stories. Michelle, from California, started in Banff and not that far into her ride, ran into a sow and two cubs who spent some time running just ahead of her. When they finally melted into the forest, another grizz started following her. This is on single track and old tote roads. It’s close enough to be personal there. This fourth bear was suddenly just not there. She wasn’t sure that it might just reappear behind her or maybe show up in front. It never did either. Michelle almost quit her ride right there.

We met other riders who were part of a group of 14 cyclists led by Adventure Cycling from Missoula. Each of them had had some type of encounter with grizzlies. Two of them found themselves being followed by a mountain lion. Most of the riders we do meet are internationals. A Danish couple. A couple pulling their three year old in a Tulle trailer. He is French and she is Japanese. A German solo rider who camped near us. A Dutch couple. The list goes on.

We have had a couple of long days with high mileage and lots of climbing. We need at least a half day to rest and DO LAUNDRY. Not sure how people put up with us. Last night camped at Holland Lake. Not sure about tonight. Sent from my iPhone