Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Montañas y Montana

For those of you who don't speak Spanglish like me, that's "Mountains and Montana".  'Cause that's what my last couple of weeks have been.  Except for the post-apocalyptic, Mad Max-like Great Divide Basin... but we'll get to that.

I'm pretty sure the last point that I updated y'uns on my travels was from Rawlins, WY.  That's pretty much down in the southern part of the state along I-80.  The TransAmerica route takes you diagonally north and west alongside the Wind River range (my favorite), into the Tetons and Yellowstone National Parks and then  you kinda sneak up into western Montana.  This entails many, many crossings of the Continental Divide which aren't too bad unless there is wind.  And there's always wind.

I have discovered a humorous situation:  the national parks that everyone loves the most and find the most scenic turn out to be my lesser enjoyed spots and don't seem as scenic.  The spots that I have come across in the national forests are significantly more beautiful and impressive and serene.  I know that the parks are still beautiful, but the crowds just turn me off.  Being narrowly passed by hundreds of lumbering RVs piloted by folks who don't know the first thing about them and trying to sleep in obnoxiously loud campgrounds kinda sours you on the parks.  I didn't even take a single picture in Yellowstone this time.  The same goes for the towns that you pass through.  The larger "destination" towns that have been gussied up for tourists don't seem too inviting.  But when you get to the small dusty outposts with a handful of residents, those are worth stopping at because they have real character.

Look at this pair of Trolls.  I was referring to the bikes.  This is Joe and Rhea whom I met in Rawlins, WY outside of a grocery store.  Minutes earlier, you would have been hard pressed to see them smiling.  Joe had lost a cleat bolt for his shoe (which helps clamp your shoe on your pedal for riding) and had been riding for 200 miles without it.  The bike shop in Rawlins had closed down.  When I produced a bolt and a spare for him out of my parts kit, they both smiled like kids on Christmas.  They are cycling the Great Divide route south.
Joe is a serious backpacker and has hiked the Pacific Crest Trail, the Continental Divide Trail, and the Appalachian Trail. In doing so, he's gotten adept at making his own gear.  He decided to make his own framebags, which I though turned out quite well.  He may go into business making them when he's done riding.  I'll be one of his first customers.
This is the Great Divide Basin which rests between two "branches" of the Continental Divide.  It comprises a stretch of ~120 miles between Rawlins and Lander where there is nothing.  There are a couple of places that one could make a stretch and call it a "town" and there may be one business open.  Most people I know would be afraid to drive a car through here let alone bike.  It was awesome.
Jeffrey City is one such "town".  In a 100 mile stretch of road, it is the sole habitation and contains maybe 50 residents.   This old uranium mining town has only one business, a bar, still open unless you count the pottery studio that is on the other side of the road.  The owner of the studio, who another cyclist referred to as "a modern Hunter S. Thompson" allows people to camp in his yard, or sleep in an old RV with a door that always accidentally locks you inside, or stay in his disheveled abode.  I have heard so many awesome stories from folks who have spent the night.  While at the bar, I was invited to wait around til the next day for the Twig & Berries festival- all you can eat bratwurst and Rocky Mountain oysters and all you can drink for $10.  Unfortunately I missed this scene of debauchery.
One night I camped at the Mormon Handcart Historic site in Sweetwater Junction,  WY.  It's actually the only thing there.  Young Mormons from around the world come to relive their ancestors experience of pulling a handcart west to the fabled lands of Salt Lake.  It was actually a pretty interesting spot.
I spent that evening with another cyclist, Lance.  Lance was in his late 60s and retired and knew how to relax.  He was also full of great information about touring.  One of his sayings that he came up with on the spot was "The wind taketh and the wind rarely giveth back".  So true in Wyoming.
Another one of Lance's sayings was "If you're not eating good food, then what's the point?"  Lance made me pancakes with peach mango jam and coffee one morning.  I couldn't argue with his logic after that.
In Lander, I could finally find fresh produce and prepare some good eatin'.  I know that everyone who has ever lived with me is saying, "Why doesn't he go to that effort at home?"
Sleepy time.
The Wind River Range peeking out from behind the Wind River Indian Reservation.
Oh how I love Mexican Coca-Cola.  It's bottled in Mexico and they still use real sugar cane so it tastes much better than the stuff in plastic bottles.  Typically you can't find it back East anywhere.
There are two families of six riding the TransAmerica route together.  They are riding tandem bikes with trailers.  I last met them in Booneville, KY months ago and then we were finally reunited here in the middle of the reservation.  The children's ages range from about 15 down to 7.  Yes, 7.  And he still pedals.
Here are their rigs.  All Co-Motion tandems made in Oregon with two wheeled Burley trailers.
I know.  I know.  I'm thinking the same thing.  Worst campsite ever.  This was at the top of Togwotee Pass heading towards Grand Teton National Park.  The ride up to the top at twilight was magical and camping in the national forest was the best night I've had on the trip yet.
Sunset over Togwotee Pass.
Descending Togwotee, you run dab smack into the Tetons.  There was so much haze from wildfires in the area that I never got a really good picture of the Tetons.  I assume you've seen better pictures elsewhere so I'll spare you.
I'm sorry, Ieva.  I was going to stage a photo shoot to appease your love of livestock.  I ran into a procurement issue.  Jackson, WY
In the national parks, you put everything that could possibly smell into the steel bear boxes provided.  I don't want to be woken up by Yogi Bear.  He'd probably want to talk about his baseball career all night and wrangle my Fig Newtons.
My friend, Jon, put me in touch with his friend Amanda in Jackson where she put me up for the night.  Upon seeing me for the first time, she promptly bought me lunch and continued to try and fatten my up.  When I left, she gave me a loaf of fresh banana bread.  It didn't make it out of the Tetons alive.
Welcome to Montana.  First bighorn sheep sighting of the trip!  I tried getting a photo of him squaring off with me in the road, but I wasn't fast enough.
Riding through the Madison River gorge and valley is so... Montana.  I really don't know how to describe it otherwise.
Kurtis is 75 years old and riding around the country by himself.  I told him that there was no way he was 75 for the great shape he was in.  "Cycling keeps ya young," he replied.  He showed me his license for proof.
I started cycling with Justin for a few days in Montana until we part ways in Missoula.  We were talking to a very interesting guy in Twin Bridges who told us we had to get the best Mexican food in the northwest.  It's a school bus converted into an eatery in Dillon, MT.  It was pretty good indeed.
I like where this bus is headed.
Here's Justin laboring up towards me at the top of Badger Pass.  The one day between Twin Bridges and Jackson, MT, we rode about 80 miles and climbed over two large passes with headwinds the entire way.  We were pretty beat at the end to say the least.  It was good to be riding together this day to keep spirits up.  There was lots of swearing, cursing the wind, and talk of what food and beverages we hoped to find in Jackson.


  1. Sigh. They don't rent the pigs, Tom. But did you ask if they SELL them? You see, biking with a piglet is sporting. You absolutely must get to your destination before he/she gets huge and cranky and grows those big yellow teeth.

    1. Ah, and then you can have a luau to celebrate the end! Why didn't I think of that? I really need to confer with you more often, Ieva!