Saturday, 30 June 2012

Dubois, WY

The Wind River at Dubois
It is 122 km from Lander (elevation 1,633 m) to Dubois (elevation 2,115 m). If it was a quick and easy ride this morning, and it was, at an average speed of 19.3 km/h, that was only because there was little or no wind. Against a strong headwind, it would have been a nightmare ride.

Most of the way, I was following the Wind River upstream. The river did not get its name for nothing. The wind blows through this valley constantly. In winter, it prevents the snow from lying and keeps the shrubs and grasses exposed as a food source for wildlife. The world's largest herd of Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep overwinters here.

I entered the Wind River Indian Reservation soon after leaving Lander and straight away came to a casino. Many Native American communities operate a casino as their tribal sovereignty limits the ability of the state to forbid it.

I cycled through Fort Washakie, noting the sign to the grave of Sacajawea (aka Sacagawea), too far off route to contemplate a visit. Sacajawea was a Shoshone woman married to one of the members of the Lewis & Clark expedition. She accompanied them and performed valuable services as interpreter and guide.

I paused for a snack at the Bull Lake rest area. A couple asked me about my trip. They were veterans of RAGBRAI. I confessed that although I had taken part in similar multi-day supported bike rides in Australia, the number of participants did not approach RAGBRAI's 14,000. In the past week, I have met an American who has taken part in the New South Wales Big Ride and another who once did a lot of cycling in Queensland and the Northern Territory.

Crowheart Butte
I stopped at Crowheart to buy and consume a chocolate milk, a sandwich, and a Gatorade.

Sophia and Alex, eastbound
I met two more eastbound cyclists, Sophia and Alex. Between them they had the two most popular touring bikes used on the TransAm Trail. She was riding a Surly Long Haul Trucker and he a Trek 520. Both had Brooks saddles.

The last part of the ride into Dubois was through an area of picturesque red rocks. Today has set me up to attempt a major pass crossing tomorrow, the highest on the route apart from Hoosier Pass, which I went over a week ago.

Friday, 29 June 2012

Rest day in Lander

National Outdoor Leadership School, Lander
Lander (population 7,400) is a good place for a layover. Although the highway runs along it, its main street is pedestrian-oriented and contains everything a resting cyclist could want, including a bike shop.

Mural in Lander
The Holiday Lodge, where I am staying, is friendly and my room is comfortable. One thing I especially like is that it has a large, stable, well-lit desk with conveniently positioned power points. In many motels, there is no work surface, the only decent light is over the wash basin, and the only power point is in the bathroom.

Main Street, Lander
I talked to a coach driver over breakfast. He has brought fifty people here from Utah for a four-day re-enactment of the Mormon handcart treks. In the 1850s, some Mormon migrants heading to Salt Lake City could not afford a horse or ox to pull a wagon. Instead they piled their possessions and smaller children into a handcart which they dragged across country themselves. They travelled about 8 km a day. Many families died crossing this high altitude semi-arid desert. In October 1856, one company was stranded in a blizzard near Sweetwater Station, where I was yesterday, until rescued by a party sent out by Brigham Young.

I've spent the day rather lazily, restocking my food supply, planning my stays for the coming week, and generally idling. With the temperature reaching 34C this afternoon, I preferred to stay out of the sun.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Lander, WY

Preparing to leave the church hall
The three Brits were off by 5:30am to beat the wind into Lander. Still tired after my long day yesterday, I decided to eat breakfast first at the cafe. It was supposed to open at 6am but was still dark and shuttered at that time so I ate a Clif Bar and set off without a meal.

First Baptist Church, Jeffrey City
Soon I saw Andy riding back towards me. He had left his bumbag behind containing his passport and money. He must have been half an hour behind me when he left the church for the second time but still caught me before Lander, demonstrating how strong a rider he is.

Sweetwater Station
There were no services on the route today except for a rest area at Sweetwater Station, about a third of the way along the 95 km. I stopped there to eat something more substantial from the food I was carrying. A truck driver presented me with four cereal bars. He said that the haze in the air was due to fires in Wyoming, not Colorado as I had supposed. It is the Colorado fires that are getting the media attention.

The road ascended to Beaver Rim from where there was a magnificent view across the valley to the Wind River Range. This came at the start of a splendid 8 km 6% downhill. There were also quite a few 6% uphills today, though none that long.

The whole ride was remarkable for the absence of wind. I pushed on in anticipation of a repetition of yesterday afternoon. When Andy caught up, he set the pace and I went a little faster than I probably would have on my own in my fatigued state.

The wind started in the afternoon in Lander, at one point blowing at 42 km/h from the SW with gusts to 56 km/h. Fire appliances rushed through the streets at about 5:30pm, sirens wailing. They were unable to prevent the destruction by fire of the town's community centre. It's not known what caused it.
Cyclist camp in Lander
I am having a rest day here tomorrow.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Jeffrey City, WY

Yesterday's weather forecast indicated that the wind from the SW would last two more days and become a westerly on Friday. My tentative itinerary called for a ride due west on Friday into Lander. To avoid a hard day into the wind, I thought it a good idea to reorganise the coming three stages into two days of one and a half stages followed by a rest day in Lander on Friday.

The feasibility of that plan depended on the wind today. From Saratoga, the route goes north for 33 km to Walcott then west for 33 km into Rawlins. I knew from Andy's blog that the westward section had caused the Brits a lot of grief yesterday. However, they had started it at about 10:30am. I hoped to be there earlier when the wind would probably be lighter.

This is my exit
I left Saratoga at sunrise, 5:35 am, and turned the corner at Walcott at 7:20 after having a snack at the gas station there. Most of the westerly section is on an interstate highway, the only one on the TransAm Trail and one of the few in the country where cycling is allowed. There is a good wide shoulder and although I kept to the right-hand edge of it, most trucks still moved over to the left lane as they passed me.

After 22 km, the route leaves the interstate to pass through the oil refinery town of Sinclair. The town was built by the Parco oil company in 1925 and sold to the Sinclair Refining Company in 1934. The architect's brief was to design a company town that was aesthetically pleasing as well as functional. Its name was changed from Parco to Sinclair in 1942. The company sold most of the town to local residents in 1967. It is still dominated by the refinery but the architectural highlight is the Spanish Colonial style Parco Inn.

Parco Inn, Sinclair
I had no problem with the wind and soon arrived in Rawlins, where my seventh map section ended and my eighth began. Saratoga to Rawlins is a standard stage on the route, albeit a short one. Given my concern about wind on Friday, I decided to implement my plan and go further, perhaps to Lamont. It is north of Rawlins, so there should be no problem getting there even if the SW wind strengthened. Harm, the Dutch cyclist I met on my way to Walden, had recommended to me the tepee accommodation there. I knew from Thomas's blog that he and Abi had also stayed there and liked it.

There were two crossings of the Continental Divide today, neither challenging.

Low quality shoulder before Lamont
There was moderate truck traffic on the road so I had to ride on the shoulder, which, as I drew closer to Lamont, deteriorated in quality.

Adam, Great Divide rider
I arrived in Lamont simultaneously with Adam, a rider on the ACA Great Divide mountain bike route, who had temporarily abandoned it, because of wind, to ride on the road. We ate lunch together in the cafe. Adam told me that straight after Lamont the shoulder improved immensely and that at Muddy Gap, 18 km further on, most of the traffic turned off the route.

It was now about 1pm. There was nothing and no-one in Lamont. If I stayed there I would have a dull afternoon. I decided to continue to Jeffrey City, 54 km further on. That would make today a full two stages.

Brian, eastbound
Soon I met Brian, cycling from Oregon to South Carolina. He confirmed what Adam had already told me, that the three Brits were a few hours ahead of me on this road.

At Muddy Gap junction, I drank a quart of Gatorade and turned west for the last 36 km to Jeffrey City. It was 2:30pm.

I arrived there just before 5:45, worn out after battling winds from the west -  no longer the south-west - of 32 km/h with gusts to 50 km/h. Twice I was blown off the road although I managed to stay upright. A couple of times I dismounted and walked for a minute, the force of the wind being too strong to allow continued pedalling. Much of the way was on a slight uphill gradient. The temperature was about 30C.

Split Rock
I had drunk a fair amount at Rawlins, Lamont and Muddy Gap as well as from my own water bottles but I was still dehydrated when I arrived in Jeffrey City. I drank a lot in the cafe there and continued drinking water all evening.

After eating a meal at the cafe, I went to the First Baptist Church, which allows cyclists to sleep in its hall. Alan, Andy, Miles and an eastbound cyclist, Ron, were already installed there. There is hot water but no functioning shower.

I cycled 178 km today, bringing my total for week seven to 670 km and my total since the start to 4,184 km.

View Week Seven in a larger map

Rawlins, WY

I've cycled 66 km this morning from Saratoga to Rawlins. It's still early in the day and so I am going to ride on into the wild. It may be a while before I get internet access again.

A reminder to Australians: this is your last chance before the end of the financial year to support the cause I am riding for. It costs as little as $300 for a surgical repair of a child's cleft lip or palate. Please help by giving what you can afford towards this amount. Click on this link to make a secure online donation.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Saratoga, WY

Early morning in North Park, Colorado

I arrived at the Moose Creek Cafe in Walden right on opening time at 6am. Three customers were already inside; within five minutes there were twenty. All were men in baseball caps. Service was efficient and I hit the road at 6:25 after eating a full breakfast.

I have been fortunate in Colorado not be affected by the wildfires that are sweeping the state. There have been many road closures and population evacuations but none directly on my route. I have also been lucky with the weather. I expected that in the high country I would be shivering in my warmest clothes from late afternoon onwards. In fact it has remained comfortable all evening and I have not needed anything beyond the lightest summer wear.

I rode to the end of North Park and over the hill to the new country beyond. After a while, I entered my seventh state, Wyoming. Here the land is vast and empty. Big skies, deserted roads, just me and the bike.

My route through Wyoming falls into two parts. In the south, where I am now, the dominating factor is the wind. Its strength and direction determine whether the riding is quick and easy or protracted and painful. Today, for example, the wind was from the SW. I was riding mainly north, which was fine, with two segments heading west, which was less fine. Nevertheless, I covered the 108 km to Saratoga at an average speed of 21.5 km/h, which I regard as excellent.

Is this a pronghorn?
In the second, northern part of Wyoming, beyond Togwotee Pass (2,943 m above sea level), lie the great national parks of Grand Teton and Yellowstone. Here I can expect spectacular scenery, high prices, and hordes of holidaymakers driving or towing vehicles (RVs, caravans) with whose width and handling characteristics they are unfamiliar.

The roads in Wyoming will be worse than any previously experienced on this trip. Up to and including Kansas they were nearly always first class. Colorado's were marked by cracks running the full width of the road every few metres which acted like isolated rumble strips. Bike and cyclist were constantly being jolted up and down. Wyoming's roads were fine today but I know from other cyclists that that will not last. Services in this state are generally far apart and on many days I will need to carry enough food and water to last until my destination.

Riverside, WY
Not today though. After crossing Canadian River, North Platte River, and Encampment River, I paused for second breakfast in the village of Riverside. The terrain was rolling with one long hill. My destination, Saratoga (elevation 2,068 m), lies on the North Platte River.

North Platte River in Saratoga

Monday, 25 June 2012

Walden, CO

The first 12 km this morning were still on the eastward road. This reminded me of one compelling reason to favour a westbound TransAm, except on days like today: in the mornings, when cyclists are on the road, you – and the truck driver behind you – are not blinded by the sun.

I turned north onto Route 125 and began the long slow climb to Willow Creek Pass (2,932 m above sea level), the third and last mountain pass on my route in Colorado. There was more climbing than I expected since in the early stages there was also plenty of downhill to take away the gains.

Willow Creek and dead trees
I followed Willow Creek back up the mountain between steep hillsides of dead trees. They shadowed the road, leaving it cool for longer than usual. Most days I can remove my second layer of clothing by 7am.

Mark from Arizona, eastbound
I finally emerged into sunlight and stopped for a moment. Just then, Mark from Arizona appeared from ahead. He is cycling from Florence, OR to Yorktown, VA.

With Chris of the HeartCycle group
Cheered as always by meeting another touring cyclist I continued up to the pass. There I met several members of a week-long supported bicycle tour organised by Colorado HeartCycle. Some had already hurtled past me on their way down the road I was climbing. I in my turn was to hurtle past the stragglers as they pedalled up the other side of the pass.

North Park, Colorado
Three days ago I cycled through South Park to Fairplay. Now, at the foot of the pass, I found myself in North Park. No cute cartoon characters here, just a bowl of lush grassland ringed by mountains.

There were no services on today's 98 km ride to Walden. At the only place on the way, Rand, which has a post office and not much else, I stopped and ate a snack from the supplies I was carrying.

Harm from The Hague, eastbound
Soon afterwards, another eastbound tourer came towards me. My first words to him were, 'Are you Harm?', for Mark had told me to expect a Dutch cyclist of that name. His first words to me were, 'Are you Dutch?', for he had spotted my Axa ring lock. This was the longest of my three conversational stops this morning. I was able to update him on Mark's movements. He told me he had met Miles yesterday. In this way, news of other riders travels up and down the line.

The last quarter of the ride through the Arapaho National Wildlife Refuge (none seen by me) was fairly flat and went quickly as I still had the wind with me. I found the inexpensive Westside Motel in Walden (elevation 2,469 m). In the evening, I had a superb three-course meal at the River Rock Cafe.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Hot Sulphur Springs, CO

Bike path from Frisco to Silverthorne

Westbound cyclists often have difficulty finding the way out of Frisco onto the bike path to Silverthorne. One of the benefits of overnighting in Frisco was the opportunity it gave me to make enquiries on this point. For the benefit of cyclists coming behind me, here is the route: from 6th Ave, turn right onto Main St, cross SR 9, and turn left onto bike path after the cemetery.

Turn left here down to Silverthorne
At the far end of the dam wall, take the signed turn hard left down the steep and twisty path to Silverthorne. Ride under I-70 and exit bike path by turning right onto Wildernest Rd then left onto SR 9. A Wendy's on the corner is a convenient place to have breakfast.

Blue River with Route 9 beyond
Early this Sunday morning, Route 9 was almost devoid of traffic. I whizzed along the Blue River valley in a NNW direction at a tremendous speed thanks to a glorious tailwind. The highway follows the east side of Green Mountain Reservoir. I turned off with the TransAm Trail to go along the even quieter west side. Nothing was open at Heeney.

Kremmling beneath its cliffs
The Trail returned to Route 9, which by now had lost its shoulder and acquired some traffic. Most of it was going in the opposite direction to me, or that is how it appeared as I raced along propelled by the tailwind. Between September and May, as a wildlife protection measure, a lower speed limit applies on this road during the hours of darkness and penalties for infringement are higher. At Kremmling (elevation 2,229 m), I finally left Route 9, which I had been on much of the time since Royal Gorge three days ago.

I made a ninety degree right turn here and headed, most unusually, eastwards on US 40. I still had some help from the wind, which either changed direction with me while I consumed a doughnut and Gatorade in Kremmling or had been from the SSW all the time. The new road sometimes had an excellent 2 m shoulder, but sometimes it had none at all. That was the situation when I crossed a touring tandem headed the other way. On the busy road it was impossible for either of us to stop. We waved greetings and pedalled on.

Colorado River at Kremmling
Just before Kremmling I cycled over the not-yet-mighty Colorado River and after it I followed the river upstream towards its headwaters in the Rockies. Road, railway and river occupied a broad valley which, approaching Hot Sulphur Springs, squeezed together through Byers Canyon.

I reached Hot Sulphur Springs (elevation 2,341 m) a minute or two before 12 noon. Distance for the day was 105 km. Tomorrow begins with a long climb up to a second crossing of the Continental Divide.