Thursday July 9
Today was a whirllwind. Literally! Our camping at the city park in Lander was as good as free camping gets. We were awake at 6:30 and a little after 7:30 we were pulling away. The plan was to find a non-smoking establishment and have a full breakfast since no money was spent camping. The first place we stopped at was a winner. The name escapes me now but the prices were OK and they had wifi. I had intended on eating a smaller breakfast since I’d been snacking on fruit and granola bars, but when I had to chose, I went for the big one. Donna had an omelette and Lewis had the french toast. We spent over an hour in there as the place was packed and there was only one waitress who also had to bus the tables and act as cashier. But she did this with a smile and everyone was sympathetic towards her. I didn’t mind waiting a little for our food as I was trying to load some pictures onto the blog which takes at least 5 minutes for each picture.
A little before 10:00 we were ready to roll. Almost. A quick stop at the local grocery store for some electrolyte replacement fluids (gatorade) and we were rolling out of town. The ride today was pleasant initially as the early morning temperatures were in the low 60’s with hardly a cloud in the sky. The wicked winds from yesterday had abated overnight and there was only the hint of a breeze which seemed to be coming from the side. There were some rolling hills which aren’t too bad but at about 25 miles we came to our only real climb of the day. This 1000 foot elevation gain would take us very near to our first possible spot for camping. Since the wind had not materialized the climb was difficult but not gut wrenching. It took the better part of an hour to ride the 4 miles that got us to the top of the hill. From there we had another easy rolling up and down ride to get to SweetWater Station. This would be the 40 mile point of our day. It was about 2:00 when we pulled into the rest area at Sweetwater and we noticed immediately that the wind was beginning to pick up just a bit. We didn’t pay it any attention and went about our business of preparing lunch. However the wind intensified dramatically in just 15 minutes, forcing me to change picnic shelters to one that had a better wind block as all of our stuff kept getting blown off the table. When I checked the direction of the wind I was ecstatic! It was literally howling in the direction that we would be riding when our lunch was done.
Not wanting to waste any of this free momentum, we quickly finished off our peanut butter and jelly burritos (Donna), peanut butter and chocolate chip and honey burritos (Lewis) and an onion bagel (Alan). We all snacked on potato chips and cookies and strawberries as well. With our water supply replenished, we were on our way. This would be the ride of the bike trip so far. The wind had to be in excess of 30 mph and literally blew us down the Wyoming Highway 287. Our average speed on the flats was about 25 mph and going downhill the tandem topped out at nearly 44 mph. The rolling hills that we would have normally put into low gear and tackled at 5 or 6 mph, were a piece of cake as we flew up them at 12 to 14 mph. This is what cycling tourist live for.
So we set our sights on the town of Jeffrey City which was a 19 mile ride from Sweetwater. In Jeffrey there is only one restaurant and everything else in town has gone under. This community of 30 people at one time had over 1000 inhabitants. That would have been when the Uranium mine was still productive and there were lots of jobs. Now it is as close to a modern ghost town as you will see. Everything is boarded up and most houses and places of business appear deserted. So we managed to pedal the 19 miles in just about an hour. There was no real campground in Jeffrey but the owner of the restaurant has been known to allow camping behind her establishment. But we also heard that she’s not a very pleasant person. Since the wind was still at our backs we decided to go for the next stop (Muddy Gap)which was another 22 miles down the same road.
This is when the direction of the wind changed enough for us to feel the difference. It wasn’t a head wind, but it also wasn’t as helpful as it was just minutes earlier. The 22 mile ride took nearly 2 hours but we had made Muddy Gap and in the process had set a new milestone for miles covered in one day: 82! The anticipated café to camp behind ended up being another 15 miles down the road, into the wind, so we stayed at Muddy Gap. This place isn’t even a community but rather the place where 2 highways intersect. There is exactly one establishment here which is a gas station which sells some overpriced groceries. They charged us $12 to dry camp beside the store which means we get no shower and there is no water to be had once the store closes at 9:00. But we could use the restroom to freshen up which we did.
This is a non standard campground as we are the only people here so Lewis is out of luck as far as finding a family to bond with. But never fear! Lewis discovered the joy of catching grasshoppers. Donna and I were relaxing in the tent waiting for the wind to settle and watching Lewis jumping around like a young coyote pup might do while trying to catch mice. It was hilarious. He was unaware that we were watching him which made it all the better.
Just before dark I prepared our dinner of Rice-A-Roni which we devoured ravenously. So the granola bars were brought out along with the potato chips. Everyone has dined and Donna is fading into sleep. Lewis wants a back rub so I guess I’ll sign off and do the rest of my catching up tomorrow.
Wednesday July 8
This day began with some threatening clouds but that’s all they (the clouds) could muster. We packed up and were ready to leave KOA before 8:00. This is like a new record! Had an impromptu breakfast consisting of glazed donuts and coffee at the Donut Castle. This brings back fond memories of my first big bike tour, having lived on junk like that for nearly 4 months! We haven’t had nearly as many donut or pastry breakfasts as we should have had by now. But there will be plenty of opportunities to correct this! Donna was a bit miffed as she couldn’t enjoy her breakfast due to someone smoking in the dining room. Wyoming is not with it as far as non-smoking regulations. We will from now on inquire about their policies before we decide to eat or go. After a 15 minute breakfast, we were ready to make miles. Our destination for the day was Lander Wyoming. This would be a lengthy ride of some 63 miles. The cloudy day was soon anything but as the puffy gray shapes gave way to mostly sunny skies. We were able to pedal an astonishing 50 miles before 1:00 pm having stopped just a couple times for snacks and once to buy some genuine Indian Beadwork Jewelry at Crowheart Wyoming. A late lunch (2:00) was taken care of at Fort Washakie Indian Reservation. This is when we noticed that the wind which had been moderate and mostly behind us, had intensified and was mostly now in our faces. Good thing we had covered so many miles early on because they were coming a lot harder after lunch.
The final 15 miles from Fort Washakie to Lander took nearly 2 hours with no stops. It was such a drastic change from the morning ride where both Donna and I felt euphoric while pedaling with little effort and making 17 to 20 mph. We were in the zone. And then just a few hours later we were cursing the wind. Funny how that happens. But we made it. First stop was at the museum where an hour was spent looking at historical stuff. Really neat place. Next we went to find the Junior High where a pool and showers were available. Without taking a shower, we left to hunt down the city park of Lander where we would be spending the night. Once we located the park we set up our tent and then set off on our bikes to get dinner. Tonite it was Lewis’ turn to pick dining establishments so we ended up at McDonalds. Yeah!
From McDonalds we wound our way through town back to the Junior High. For $5 we all got to swim and also enjoy the jacuzzi. They have a wonderful facility there with a rock climbing wall adjacent to the pool (photo). One of the swim team moms was outside the pool telling us about the history of Lander and their dominance of swimming in the entire state. The boys team have been State champs for 14 consecutive years while the girls team have only been State champs for 7 or 8 of those same years. Quite impressive. They kicked us out of the pool at 8:00 so we went back to the park but not before stopping at Safeway to get some groceries. And the tandem got stolen (bad joke, but couldn’t resist Stan). When we returned to the park we noticed that the number of tents had exploded. Evidently there is some kind of climbing festival taking place this weekend and the city park is where they all go to flop. We’re in good company! I spent an extra hour outside in the dark journaling while Donna and Lewis are sawing logs. Well, only Lewis was sleeping. The climbers have a lot of energy and didn’t quiet down for quite a while. But eventually everyone rested, including me. A long day of 78 miles, adios!
Tuesday July 7
We enjoyed a relatively peaceful stay at the Colter Bay Village campground. When we got around to leaving our tent we were surprised to discover that every other occupant in our area had already departed. This would have been at about 8:30. Donna realized that we evidently are not of the same caliber as most of the other cyclists. Perhaps we’ll work on this a bit. So we enjoyed our breakfast of fresh coffee, cream cheese coffee cake and a quart of chocolate milk and a half gallon of OJ. I think we’ve got the eating part down!
By the time we were packed up it was approaching, yep 10:00. But this doesn’t foul our mood in the least. The early riding is a lot of up and down which we can handle now. When the up and down gets replaced with just up and up, we’re still novices. This happened today. At about 25 miles we began the ascent of Togwotee Pass which will be the highest elevation in Wyoming at 9658 feet. Initially it wasn’t to bad as the gradient was gentle enough to ride in lower gears. But that only lasts so long on these monster climbs. So as we have been known to do on this adventure, we dismounted and began to push the bikes up the hill. Then we got back in the saddle and then we got off to push some more. We must have been approaching the halfway point in this climb and were doing one of the pushing instead of pedaling episodes and a guy pulled up next to Donna in an attempt to give her a hard time. “You’re supposed to ride the bicycle” he quipped. When Donna explained our theory of how the Universe would tip and everything might explode if we rode too many of these hills, he was satisfied. When he finally offered us a lift, we jumped at the opportunity.
We were quickly approaching the section of this highway where major construction was taking place. And when major construction occurs on steep highways, they always force the bikes to take a ride in the back of a pilot vehicle. We had a taste of this yesterday and were warned about the extent of todays construction. I had previously informed Donna and Lewis that it would be to our advantage to find a ride to the top of the pass so we actually thumbed it but to no avail. We had to be selective in finding a ride as the tandem doesn’t fit in just any vehicle. But every time we tried, we were ignored. So when the offer was made to Donna she accepted for all of us.
Don and his friend Sandy were on their way to Dubois which is where we had hoped to spend the night. Don has a regular full size pickup with a canopy. The bed was partially full of stuff but we were able to rearrange things and managed to first fit the tandem in (the rear wheel resting right on the edge of the folded down tailgate),and then we managed to wedge Donna’s bike in next to it. Don had some of those industrial strength tiedowns which we used to secure the bikes to his truck bed. The trickiest part of this maneuver was the wedging in of Donna and Lewis and myself into the tiny backseat area of the cab. He had the little fold down seats that might have been used for small children. But small children Donna and I are not. We managed to squeeze in then Lewis sat on my lap. Quite cozy to say the least. Within a mile or so we encountered the first construction stop and saw a large group of cyclists waiting for their turn to be loaded into the pilot truck. After 3 or 4 bikes had been loaded, the pilot truck took off with 30 or 40 vehicles following (one of which we were in). In 2 or 3 miles, the pilot vehicle pulls over, deposits the bicycles then turns around to lead the traffic back in the opposite direction. Since we were now safely situated in our own “Private Pilot Vehicle” we skipped the unpleasant task of loading and unloading that holds a certain amount of risk of damage to the bikes. In the 13 miles we rode with Don and Sandy, we avoided 4 separate stretches where the piloting would have been mandatory (not to mention the onerous task of pedaling the bikes up the remainder of the pass). And so long as neither of our bikes fell out of the back of his truck, we were going to be way ahead of the large group of cyclists that we passed. Bonus!
Don and Sandy deposited us just past the final construction site which was located just on the downward side of the pass. We took pictures of our first Guardian Angels of this trip (photo). Thanks again Don and Sandy. We sometimes flew and we sometimes pedaled our way to Dubois which was another 20 miles. The wind came out of nowhere and made the ride a bit tricky as it was pushing us all over the road, but we persevered!
We pulled into Dubois a bit after 5:00 and immediately found the KOA campground. The spot costs me $28 but with a pool and wifi, I figured it wasn’t too bad a deal. The wifi didn’t work for beans so I got screwed! Oh well, we did go swimming and even met another cyclist like us who was self supported. And as we were walking through the campground we heard “Alan, Alan, is that you?” It turned out that our guardian angels were visiting someone else in the campground. It truly is a small small world.
This brings me to a concluding comment on the large group of cyclists we passed earlier. They are doing what we are doing except that they aren’t really. They stay in motels every night and they have their meals prepared for them and all they have to do is ride their bike every day, carrying absolutely no gear. What fun would that be? Actually it sounds like a lot of fun but it also equates to a lot more money. These packages where everything is done for you typically run $4000 and up (significantly more if you choose hotels over campgrounds). We should be able to complete our adventure of a lifetime with out spending more that half that amount per person. We’ll have to wait and see but our expenses have averaged $50 to $60 a day. Total miles covered 63.