On the Road: Saratoga to Dubois

Finally some consistent internet time…

I am now in Wisdom, Montana, camping stuff an RV park next to a green pool of still water. Needless to say I am confined to my tent or the bathhouse out of fear of mosquito swarms. In an effort to catch up on the many days from my last post to now, I will likely provide cliffs notes, a funny story from a specific day, an anecdote, etc. Any attempt on my part to describe the shear beauty of National Parks would be impossible. I only saw a small glimpse, mainly by roadside and a few short walks through paths. All of the views were something like I have never seen before. From the windswept expanses of Wyoming, to the majestic backdrop of the Grand Tetons to the dense forest of Yellowstone (and geyser country) and the big skies of Montana, one constantly finds themselves in awe.

July 21: Saratoga to Rawlins (48 miles) J

Woke up early to a beautiful sunrise over the lake. Was driven back into the tent almost immediately by thick throngs of mosquitos (or as the Brits call them “mozzies”). We collectively decide that Rawlins will be our next stop as there are limited services, food or water for some time after Rawlins.

This is also the first and ideally second to last time we ride on an interstate, I-80. It was a 13 mile stretch of road filled with loud trucks, varying shoulder conditions and massive amounts of truck tire tread. To make matters worse, there was a strong headwind. We all put our heads down and pedalled with inspiration through fear. Fear may be a strong word, but it was an uncomfortable stretch of road. The experience ended quickly as we averaged 18 mph on most flats.

We arrive in Rawlins and grab supplies for the coming two days at Walmart. Another stop at a post office provides a local enough time to scare us about bears, desert heat, wolves, snakes and tremendous climbs. We then take off for our campsite for the night, a Kamp Grounds of America or KOA. While camping could have been better, crotchety management and loose sand for pitching a tent, we had gorgeous skies after a lightening storm. Of course a lightening storm started as we were about a mile out from the grounds. There was ample space to cook a nice dinner and get our bags rearranged. That night we went to bed with considerable winds shaking our tents.

July 22: Rawlins to Jeffrey City (72 miles)

Day started off with considerable climbing, but an incredible descent into the Great Divide. The mountains appeared to be flat in the distance, but then offered amazing textures, almost wavelike as we eventually passed. Road conditions ranged from impeccible to “ride in the dirt, the rumble strip or in the road with 18-wheelers chasing you down”. We often attempted to ride the few inch gap between rumble strip and off road. This unfortunately does not allow one to enjoy their surroundings as nearly all attention is needed staring at the pavement in front of you or in the rear view mirror for traffic.

Wiped out by the heat and mental strain of poor roads, the group decides, upon arriving to Jeffrey City, to go to the one and only bar in town for a cold drink. The bar has a surly bartender who challenges each patron at every chance. It turns out Isebel is the owner, bartender, cook, server, bouncer, DJ of the Split Rock Cafe and Bar. She earns our respect immediately with cold beer, hilarious jokes and delicious food.

Soon I have 30 credits in the juke box playing much too loud for the 5 of us, being the only patrons besides a young family eating in the adjacent cafe. Around 4:30 PM some local start pouring in. From where, I am not sure, as Jeffrey City is nearly abandoned. We shoot pool, watch WWE on TV and hang with a couple of cowboys just off the ranch, with spurs, hats and cattle dog.

Before long Isebel has joined us at our table and decided to offer a merit based system of drinking, allowing us to go behind the bar and grab beers. We make note and carry on. At one point Richard and Tash offer their culinary support and cook pork chops for other guests. With the night getting late she tells us that we can settle up our tabs at breakfast, not a big issue when she is the only show in town and the next place for food is a long ways away.

Getting attacked by mozzies, I slowly pedal down sandy backgrounds until I find the church that allows cyclists to crash. I find a room with a mattress in the basement area and set up shop. The room is musky and the mattress broken so I move to the floor. Freshly showered I fall asleep fairly quickly.

July 23: Jeffrey City to Lander (66 miles)

I wake up in the middle of the night to realize that the musky smell is not a damp basement. It smells like thick cigarette smoke and death, potentially a rotting rodent. I end up moving to the kitchen area and sleep on a folding table until people are ready to see Isebel for breakfast. Happy to be in her presence again, she serves us massive pancakes and let’s us settle up. Prior to setting back out on the road, it felt like we were leaving a dear friend.

Jon and I ride most of the day together. We leap frog a few in our group throughout the day, including a new addition, Peter. Peter had met Rich and Tash early in their trip. He also nearly got himself killed as he passed me at over 40 mph on this beautiful descent. He failed to look behind him before getting in the middle of the road when a tour bus sized RV also happened to be passing. Fortunately for Peter, the driver anticipated the bonehead move and went wide into oncoming traffic.

We arrive in Lander, a gorgeous town and grab cold drinks and food. The next stop is to find the city park which allows free camping. After setting up our tents, Jon and I rinse off in the cold waters of the local river. The rest of the group joins as their is no shower alternative. Domino’s is delivered to the park and we meet a crazy ultra-marathoner named Andrew. Andrew is recently over a 7 year relationship and quick to make friends. He is super goofy, but very kind. He fits right in.

July 24: Lander to Dubois (78 miles)

Wake up to the sprinkler scare. Apparently we had camped on the wrong side of a tiny creek, right in the aim of automatic sprinklers. After packing quickly, we grab some food at a local bakery and hit the post office to send some gear back to lighten the load. The group enters an Indian reservation which is gorgeous, part of the Wind River Valley. “Wind” is right, as a headwind beats us up for the last 30 miles of a considerable climb. Jon and I considered cutting the day short in Crowheart, but decided to push on as the other riders decided. This would allow a full rest day in Dubois and a hot dinner. Crowheart’s offerings was a lawn behind a firehouse for camping and a gas station that closed at 6 PM for food.

While an easy decision to sleep inside of a church in Dubois, getting there was a test of wills. Jon and I were physically and mentally beaten by wind that slammed us in the face with every twist and turn of each mile. A small tailwind gave us a brief moment of hope before it was crushed. With Jon running low on water I decide it’s time to ask someone on route for water. We pull of into a home of people with a horse ranch and ask for water. The young man does not hesitate to give us cold bottles. The father comes out and offers us even more which we accept. The two also confirm we are entering bear country and that bear spray is a must. They also do a great job of calming any anxieties of bear attack, by using common sense.

With cooled minds and bodies, we take off again for the last 12 miles. During this last brutal stretch, I destroy my phone charger, but we eventually make it to town. We head straight for a bar with food and a few beers and chat up some fellow vacationers.  Wet towelette showers are taken prior to going to bed. I sleep very soundly knowing I do not have to be back on my bike for over 24 hours.

The rest day is spent doing laundry and showering (in the same place), eating a ton, reading and napping. Oh and buying bear spray for $52 a can.

One stop shopping: Laundromat, showers and car wash.

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