Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Great Divide Chapter 4: Lima, MT to Rawlins, WY

This stretch of the route was pretty diverse. It started in a plains/high desert type environment, passed through some forests and alpine regions, and then finished back in a high desert. By this point, we were very accustomed to life on the road; the routine of waking up, riding all day, and camping felt very normal.

Even after so many days on the road, I don't think I ran out of things to talk about, and Will hadn't gone crazy from my talking, so the days were very enjoyable and filled with a lot of funny conversations. Man, I loved this trip. Looking back, the town of Atlantic City, Wyoming was one of the oddest places I've ever been. I think it was certainly a highlight of the trip, and it's a place I would love to return to.

 Day 18 - Lima, MT to Colter Bay, WY via Idaho

This ended up being our biggest ride of the entire trip. It started out fairly unassuming, although we did plan to do a big day to begin with. The roads out of Lima, MT were different than most other places. It was wide open and fairly fast gravel. We moved along fairly quickly and stopped for lunch at a little campground in Montana off the side of a gravel road. It was pretty hot, and I remember baking in the sun at the picnic table. On the other side of the road was a mountain, and it was dividing line between Idaho and Montana. Also at the campground was a spring with nice, cold water. Much appreciated.

Making it into Idaho was pretty unremarkable, meaning, it's not like scenery suddenly changed. I think sometimes I have the incorrect notion that state borders somehow separate vastly different geographies. The only thing I noticed about Idaho was that the people seemed different. I'm not trying to offend anyone, and I mean this purely observationally, but Idahoans seem more redneck than folks in Montana.

We rode some pretty sweet doubletrack in Idaho on our way to Island Park, at resupply point. It was ideal riding, and pretty much what I'd imagine when someone says perfect biking.

In Island Park, we got some Subway (and saw another fella with a sick mullet) and resupplied at the gas station. A little further down the road, we stopped for a drink and ice cream at a little gas station.

We then turned onto a "bike path", which, contrary to what I had imagined, ended up being a sandy doubletrack path. It was pretty slow riding. Toward the end of the path, it popped out to a scenic vista overlooking a river and passed right by an old railroad tunnel. Very nice.

At the end of the path, we reached our intended campground. Note: I said intended. A park employee caught up with us and told us the campground was closed for bear activity. In fact, they were actively baiting in a bear to trap it, and he said a bear had recently torn through someone's tent. He wasn't sure what kind of bear, but it didn't really matter to us.

Despite his kind offer to "just pitch your tent up outside the campground sign, the gub'mint just don't want the liability inside the campground", we decided to keep riding.

We kept cruising into the sunset, first on some gravel, then a little pavement, then some more gravel. At the top of the first section of the climb, about 2,000 feet, we were planning to camp off the road. However, there was no good spot to set up our tents, so we decided to keep riding.

It got totally dark, and we started the second big climb. It was a really cool jeep road up the mountain, and before long, we crossed into Wyoming. If Will and I hadn't stayed in Idaho one night in the summer of 2021, I would've been sad about not spending a night in Idaho.

We reached the campgrounds around midnight, but the first site was taken. And so was the second. The third site seemed empty, so we biked in. We saw a tent set up and two bikes leaning there. Seeing as it was bikepackers, we figured they wouldn't mind if we set up our tents on the far side of the big campsite.

They must've heard us, and a voice called out "hello?"

I explained our situation, and they said it was no problem to stay there, in fact, they were happy to have some company in bear country I think.

We got a tent set up and finally went to bed sometime after midnight. The total for the day was 164 miles, and it was definitely one of the most memorable days.

The gas station in Lima, and a road in between Lima, MT and Idaho.

Some doubletrack in Idaho, and a gas station Pedialyte stop

The old train tunnel after Island Park, Idaho, and riding into the sunset in Idaho

Day 19 - Colter Bay, WY to somewhere in the Tetons

We slept in until just after sunrise, seeing as we got a lot of extra miles the night before. I was awake first and talked with the other bikepackers a little bit who were camping right next to us. They were both girls in their 20s, heading northbound. They were really friendly and seemed to have a pretty good setup, and they also seemed to be riding a fair amount of miles every day.

After getting packed up, Will and I rode out of the forest on a gravel road until we got back to civilization. We found a very fancy national park resort that served breakfast to the public. We walked in in our dirty biking clothes, sat down in the dining hall surrounded by wealthy tourists, and ordered the all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet.

We then rode a few miles from breakfast to a gas station in Colter Point, where we overpaid for a bunch of supplies like Oreos, trail mix, and other bikepacking essentials.

After leaving the gas station, we stopped to take a few pictures of the Tetons. It was a similar view to what Will and I saw the previous summer, 2021, when we drove through Yellowstone on our way to Oregon. 

Almost immediately after the pictures of the Tetons, we saw grizzly bears crossing the road in front of us. It was a mother and three cubs. Ordinarily, that would be a frightening situation, but there were cars all around so we felt pretty safe.

There was then a huge climb up Togwotee Pass (I believe pronounced Toe-Guh-Tee). It started off as gravel and turned into more a doubletrack near the halfway point. The scenery was gorgeous and the weather was pretty nice, although a storm loomed in the distance.

Halfway up the pass, the route turned onto the paved highway and we got to a gas station. We refilled with supplies and chatted with an older gentleman crossing the country on a recumbent bike, I believe, with a group of people.

After leaving the gas station, we saw three more grizzly bears off the side of the road. This time, it was a mother and two older cubs, who were play-fighting and wrestling with each other. We crossed to the far side of the road and made a plan of what do, since they were uphill from us. At one point the mother bear ducked out of view, and we were a little concerned that it would reappear directly ahead of us.

Eventually, after unsuccessfully trying to flag a car to scare off the bears, we waited for a passing semi-truck and sprinted ahead to use the truck as a shield. Maybe we were being over dramatic, but we didn't want to take any chances with a mother grizzly and her cubs. An unforeseen situation with us getting between the mother and cubs might not end well, so we wanted to be cautious.

Near the top of the pass, a storm let loose and we put on our rain jackets in high winds right at the summit. After the top, the route turned back onto a jeep road, where we passed a guy driving a pickup truck. Suck on that, Ford (or Chevy, or GMC... I don't remember).

The dirt descent was really pleasant, and right at the bottom there was a turn to a national park campground. The campground was really nice, and we relaxed a bit in the evening and had some ramen.

Riding into Colter Bay on some gravel, and then a great view of the Tetons

The bottom of Togwotee Pass, and some grizzlies halfway up the pass

The backside of Togwotee Pass, some of the best gravel in Wyoming

Day 20 - Tetons to Boulder, WY

Out of camp was a steady downhill on pavement before some big climbs. Today included Union Pass, a noteworthy climb to pretty high elevation. It was a mixture of some alpine terrain, some plains, and some forests.

There was a stretch of pavement on a highway that is pretty memorable, probably because of how desolate in was. In every direction was nothing, except for an occasional car passing by. When we stopped for food, I remember looking around and thinking it was really just me and Will alone out in the plains; there probably wasn't another person for quite awhile.

Our plan for the night was camping in the town of Pinedale, Wyoming, but when we got there, it seemed busier than usual. Before worrying about that, we grabbed some Mexican from a local place. A couple of people started talking to us about our trip, and they eventually paid for our whole meal. It was really generous, and it was great to save some money.

After eating, we tried to sort out of the camping arrangements. It turns out there was a mountain man festival, the Rendezvous, in town. This meant the town campground was occupied with the festival, and all motels in town were booked. Our only option was to ride another 10-12 miles on the route to a campsite in Boulder, Wyoming.

With a belly full of fajitas, riding another hour even after a long day is no problem. We grabbed some snacks from a gas station just before the campground, and got settled in at the campsite.

The campground was mainly an RV park, and they gave us a spot in a wide open grass field. No table, fire pit, or designated tent site, just a wide open field with directions to camp anywhere. Oh well, it wasn't ideal, but it would do.

Shortly after camp; the top of Union Pass

Backside of Union Pass; pavement toward Pinedale

Riding into Pinedale; pointing to where we were on the Cutthroat's map

Day 21 - Great Basin Part 1

We headed back to the gas station in the morning for breakfast and supplies. There was a restaurant attached to the gas station, and even though it was closed, the lady let us eat our microwaved chicken sandwiches at a table in the dining area. We bought a lot of supplies knowing it would be the last big stop before the Great Basin, and we also dropped off our bear sprays at the gas station. We told the lady to give our bear sprays to the next bike packer or thru-hiker she sees heading north into grizzly territory.

Shortly after the gas station, we passed a fellow named Odin who was walking up a mild grade on a gravel road. He was probably in his 60s and was not riding fast, but he was determined. He told us he often sleeps in the ditches off the side of gravel roads. Like me, right Dahn? 

His plan was to do a yo-yo, that is, ride the entire route north to south, and then turn around and ride it south to north immediately after. I saw on Facebook that a man named Odin reached the southern terminus, so hopefully right now he's successfully on his way back north.

After Odin there was a long stretch of exposed sun riding. After almost dying in the heat (not really, but it felt like it), we reached a little ghost town that was having a party the coming weekend. There was a little gift shop there, and we each bought a cream soda and an ice cream cone. It cooled us off a little, but we immediately went back out into the scorching heat.

I think this ended up being the hottest day of the trip; the temperature was around 96 degrees.

A few miles after the gift shop was the "town" of Atlantic City. We stopped into a restaurant that looked like it hadn't been renovated since it was opened in the 1890s. It was strange because when we walked in, no one acknowledged us. The waiter, the cashier, and everyone in the store completely ignored us. 

Finally, an older gentleman sitting at the bar with a revolver on his hip said to us, "You boys look like you've been riding a long time, take a seat".

We sat down and chatted with him for a while before a waitress came over. We each ordered a big burger with some chili on the side. The guy we talked to was in the Air Force for quite a while, and when we retired, he moved out to Atlantic City to escape crowds of people and live a simple life.

And a simple life it was. The town of Atlantic City couldn't have had more than 100 people, and most of them probably lived in little ranches surrounding the town proper. I would guess most people there were born there, and a few people moved there to escape the rest of the world. It would be a fascinating life, and often I think about what people are doing in towns like that right now as I type this sentence. There were maybe two restaurants in town, plus a gun shop and maybe one or two other stores, but I sort of doubt that.

Our food took a while to come out, but eventually, a man with a bad leg came out to serve us our food. He must've had a stroke or some other condition that partially disabled him. Regardless of his physical condition, the way he dressed and acted just seemed so much different from anything I had seen. It almost seemed a little bit like Norman Bates in Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho.

Also in the restaurant was a thru-hiker named Joseph. He was doing the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) for the second time, and it was his last hike to complete the double triple crown. That is, hiking the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, and the CDT two times each. Just doing one of those trails one time is amazing, so his feat was truly something remarkable. On his calves he had tattooed the trail names and the years he had finished them. He drank Banquet beers, and told us he always crushed many beers and lots of expensive food whenever he came into town. I guess when you're a property manager in Jackson, Wyoming, you have that kind of money and free time.

We were in no rush to leave, because we had only 110 miles left until Rawlins and we were planning to ride most of the night, We drank some more Powerade, talked some more, and finally got on our way.

The climb out of Atlantic City was a brute, especially with a full stomach and blazing heat. The riding was pretty incredible though, and it was some of the most remote and desolate terrain I've ever seen.

After maybe 20 miles, we came to the only reliable water source for 110 mile stretch from Atlantic City to Rawlins. It was called Diagnus Well, and it was a godsend. It was fenced in to prevent cows from contaminating the area directly around the well, but there was still lots of cow poop in the enclosure. We sat there for a while and drank lots of water while eating a few snacks, soaking in the views and relishing in our last water stop until Rawlins.

We left Diagnus Well and the sun was getting lower in the sky. We saw a huge herd of sheep in the basin, which we first thought were antelope. Turns out there are sheep herders out there who live with the sheep and protect them. Will had learned them in college, so it was great to see the sheep and the trailers where the herders live. Often, it's people from South America who take those lonely jobs, and I'm sure this was no exception.

Just before sunset, we stopped for dinner, which for me consisted of Ramen and peanut butter, separate of course. For Will, I think dinner was Ramen and peanut butter, mixed together. Yuck.

Right after dinner, we saw a dead coyote hanging on a fence, and Will said that ranchers do that to scare off other coyotes. We rode into the sunset as the desert cooled off, with an orange glow slowly surrounding us. That sunset was one of the most amazing things of my life, and despite varying opinions on the Great Basin from people I've talked to, I think it was magical.

When it got dark, our dynamo lights led us through the desert under the stars. We eventually started looking for a place to camp around 11:30pm, and after being disoriented by a distant light on the horizon, we found a place to sleep right off the road.

We got to bed around 12:30am I think, and set our alarms for 3 or 3:30 am. It wasn't much sleep, but we wanted to ride at night to avoid the heat.

Heading into the Great Basin after Atlantic City

A pronghorn; our bikes at Diagnus Well

A snack at Diagnus Well; the Basin as the sun was setting

Our dinner stop with an incredible sunset

Day 22 - Great Basin Part 2 to Rawlins

The alarms came around quickly, and we packed up in the dark before setting once more into the night. The sun's reddish glow finally showed on the horizon, and we stopped for breakfast on the side of the road just as the sky was brightening. The next miles got a little monotonous, especially after getting onto pavement, but how can you complain when you're bikepacking with your friend in the middle of Wyoming?

Seriously though, a boring stretch of the Great Divide beats an exciting day in the real world for me. Looking back, you forget that the 20 miles of pavement before Rawlins was boring and only remember the great scenery or funny conversations we had. For better or for worse, that's at least how my brain works, and I think it's another incentive to keep doing more trips.

After some desolate pavement, we reached the final climb and descent into Rawlins. It went by sort of slowly, but still, we rolled into Rawlins a little after 10am. We stopped at a McDonalds, grabbed breakfast, waited around for a while in the store, then grabbed lunch once their menu switched over.

Luckily, our hotel for the night in Rawlins let us check in early, and we had a really relaxing day just eating and getting some things re-organized on the bikes.

There was food delivery in this town, so we were able to order some Pizzas to the room. The last few days before Rawlins had been pretty busy, especially with multiple nights riding until midnight. It was really nice to take a pretty easy day.

Sunrise in the basin; some horses (maybe wild horses?)

More views of the Great Basin in the morning

No comments:

Post a Comment