Over the last several days, I've gone from Kremmling, CO to Walden, CO to Saratoga, WY to Rawlins, WY to Sweetwater Station, WY to (now) Lander, WY. The scenery has been quite variable, the route having taken me through beautiful canyons, along rushing rivers, amidst vast desert valleys, over huge mesas, into absolute swarms of relentless mosquitos, and with or against SERIOUS winds.
Distances have been variable: 79, 67, 45, 85, and 47 miles. The short days have felt much longer due to the insanity of the winds I've been battling, and the long days have been just an all-out march against Mother Nature all day long. Fortunately I've either missed or been able to wait out all thunderstorms lately and I haven't gotten wet at all.
After leaving my friend Diana in Kremmling, I headed out alone, up and over the Continental Divide for the second time, to Walden, CO. It was super pretty:
That night, camping in the city park in Walden, I finally met the unicyclist I've been chasing since Virginia. Shockingly, it's literally taken me nearly two months to catch up to a guy pedaling on just one wheel. His name is Skye and he's an interesting dude. He has to travel so light it's almost unfathomable how he can manage this huge journey; he has no tent, a tiny sleepsack and tarp, very little clothing, no real toiletries, and a whole lot of courage! I rode with him off and on from Walden to Saratoga and the way he has to ride is fascinating. See, his unicycle doesn't have multiple gears like a regular bicycle does - he only has one; therefore he cannot ever stop pedaling and coast. In reality, what that results in is him BLASTING past regular touring cyclists up the hills (we're going about 6-8 mph and he comes by at 10-12 mph). On the downhills, though, we can make up some ground because we can hit speeds anywhere from 15-45 mph while Skye is forced to use his pedaling stroke to slow his unicycle down and he can only reach 12-15 mph. On the flats he is able to cruise at the same or greater speeds as a regular bicycle and I have to say that I was surprised at how humbling it was to try to ride with him. We couldn't really ride together for much time unless it was completely flat, which is rare out here. On the long, long uphill grades in the Rockies he left me far, far behind and he'd be gone by the time I got to the top of a hill; it was only after many minutes or a few hours that I'd finally catch up to him when some real downhills came. Here is Skye:
That day after leaving Walden, CO, I crossed into southern Wyoming. Southern Wyoming has proven to be really desolate and really, really windy, with a lot of flats, rolling hills, and broad mesas. There isn't much out here and the distance between towns with any food/water available in some places is quite astounding.
I started riding with a guy named Robin (from Philly) on the same day I rode some with Skye. I've been riding off and on with Robin for several days now. We camped out at Saratoga Lake, WY. There was a delicious dock out in the lake that we could dive off of and the lake was the perfect cool temperature after a long, hot day of riding in the relentless Wyoming sun and wind.
In one of the funniest, most fun, and most ridiculous moments of the trip, Robin and I were enduring the first (and hopefully only) experiences of riding on a large interstate (I-80) when we discovered that when riding conditions are tough we will sometimes both turn gangsta rap on on our iPods and rap out loud along with it. (This is usually only done when very much ALONE.) Anyway, the ride that day from Saratoga to Rawlins, WY was a windy one and riding on the interstate sucked...so we synced up our iPods and rode along together busting out nasty raps along with N.W.A.. How ridiculous...but a unique and hilarious moment to remember from this trip, for sure.
Somehow a storm never materialized out of this, though I was riding into a stout headwind:
In some parts of Wyoming, there are a lot of pronghorn loping in the large, empty expanses I pass through:
And there are more than a few of these fabulous friends on the road on hot, sunny days, though unlike this one, most are dead (run over):
Don't believe he's a rattlesnake? (And this is why I pee from the pavement instead of getting off my bike and walking out into the weeds.)
Here is Fred and Barb, 77-year old Aussies riding the TransAm on a tandem bicycle. Very cool folks!
I am no longer surprised to see elk (or deer or moose) heads on walls in random places like gas station convenience stores:
This dude Terry I met by the side of the road one afternoon in the middle-of-nowhere, WY. He last year sold his house, quit his well-paying corporate job, and hit the road to tour the U.S. by bicycle and also teach kite-surfing in various places around the world. You go, Terry! (And I love the camouflage paint job on your Surly Long Haul Trucker bike...wish I'd've gotten a picture of the back trucker's mudflap with the chick on it!!)
Thank GOD for the Mormons. (Did I really just say that?!) There was literally nowhere to get any food or water out here on one windy, hot, long, 85-mile day of riding. Then, the "Sweetwater Station" Mormon Handcart site appeared. Historically, this is the site where a large group of Mormons migrating and pulling handcarts from either Missouri or Illinois on their way to Salt Lake City back in the mid-1800's were stranded for the winter, and many died of starvation. (And, just like the movie "Alive", where the jetliner crashed in the Andes, many of the Mormon survivors ate their dead brethren to survive longer themselves - though the Mormons themselves didn't tell me that - I learned it elsewhere.)
Anyway, the uber-nice Sister and Elder Jorgenson welcomed me with open arms, took my five bucks for a campsite, and in an unexpected and thoroughly generous move, brought a road-weary cyclist a much-needed dinner consisting of a frozen pizza, sliced oranges and strawberries, and a bag of caramel corn. Also on site, there was a camping group of about 200 Mormons from Utah who were there recreating the original Mormon migration (not the death part, I assume). They were pulling handcarts for miles in the desert and fording the Sweetwater River, all while wearing the hot and heavy, long-sleeved period clothing, in an effort to better understand what their ancestors had had to endure on their march to the promised land.
Also super generously, the next morning the leader of that group of 200 came over to where Robin and I were camping and insisted we come over and get a plate of french toast, ham, oranges, and bananas for breakfast so that we'd be properly nourished on the road. As we were finishing our plates, Sister Jorgenson arrived again with plates of pancakes and homemade peach syrup. We of course had no problem putting down all that food, given all the calories we're burning out here on this crazy march to the Pacific Ocean.
After leaving the Mormon site, Robin and I rode to Lander, WY. It was a very short day of only 40 miles, but again we battled a headwind for many miles. Even with some serious downhills, we were only able to manage 10 mph over the four-hour ride. On a non-windy day, that ride would have taken 2:00 to 2:15, tops. We started to get into some more mountainous and beautiful Wyoming territory, with the Wind River Mountains appearing in the distance, alerting us that we are getting closer and closer to the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Parks, which are just a few days away to the northwest.
So, now having entered Lander WY, it is time for a rest day. Lander is a GREAT little town of about 7000 people, has a thriving little downtown with a lot of activity for its size, and is a really friendly place. Robin, Nick (he caught back up), and I are camping in the Lander City Park which is refreshingly mosquito-free (due to regular chemical spraying, but at this point I don't care). Here we are (blurry) at the coffee shop:
We got our bikes worked on yesterday at the one bike shop in town and the guys there were amazing, taking time to show us how to do what they were doing and just generally being very accommodating and customer service-based. A really sweet girl that worked there even said we could camp out in her backyard if there were any problems camping up at the park. We've met a bunch of local folks at the bike shop, the mountain shop, the coffee shop, and the pub, all willing to share advice/tips about how to make the most out of a stay in Lander. We hear that the 4th of July celebration here (and even the local doctor's personal 3rd of July fireworks show) is an insanely big party and many folks are encouraging us to stay for that, but it would require 2-3 rest days here rather than the planned one so I am not sure what we'll do. There are other great places to be just up the road (Jackson, Grand Teton, and Yellowstone) so it's a no-lose proposition.
Skye, the unicyclist just rolled on into town, as did Zack, some dude Nick's cycled with for a few days recently. Combined with several cool rock climbers we've met who're also camped out in the city park, I'd imagine tonight will be a fun little gathering. It's nice to get these random groups coming together now and then...it really balances out all the alone time/work out on the road.
So, I'm off to enjoy more of Lander for today. Maybe I will leave tomorrow, maybe I'll stay for the 3rd of July fireworks show. Whatever. I can do whatever I like. Life is good. :)