Days 60-63: The Continental Divide & The Grand Teton

This post, written one year after day 63, is drawn from the daily journal I kept, and is written as if it just happened.

July 21-July 24

Casper, WY >>> Colter Bay Campground, Grand Teton National Park, WY

260 miles


We woke up early the morning we left Casper and packed quietly.  We were all pretty sad about splitting up and none of us slept well – I don’t think Rachel ever went to sleep.  Before the sun was up, we found our way to highway 26 – our only road for the 100 mile day.  It was a nicer ride than I expected.  There was a solid shoulder the entire way and traffic was light.  The first 60 miles were a gentle climb up to Highland followed by 40 miles downhill into Shoshoni.  The cool temps we enjoyed climbing vanished once we crested at Highland and the headwinds picked up just enough for the downhill to feel like flatland.

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Hell’s Half Acre outside Casper
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Highland, WY.  “Welcome Bikers”  They’re talking about us, right?  Photo credit: Carl’s GoPro
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Descending to Shoshoni.  Photo credit: Carl’s GoPro

Carl was still riding really slowly – he’s trying to keep his struggle with the heat in check, and, I assume, make sure he doesn’t fall again.  He’s been such a trooper sometimes I forget he cracked two bones only four weeks ago.  But I couldn’t ride slowly.  I had a lot of pent up angry energy, and I just needed to bike it out.  I was actually surprised how much sprinting helped – my head felt a lot clearer when Rachel and Carl caught up at Hell’s Half Acre.  It wasn’t a permanent fix – I swung between rage and depression several times these last four days – but every time I wanted to jump out of my skin taking off gave some temporary relief.

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Pair #2 is down.  Photo credit: Rachel

To add to my frustration, my wheel isn’t true – of course now that I just left the only bike shop for who knows how many days/weeks – my sunglasses broke, and I got my first flat.  None of these are a huge detriment.  The wheel’s not that bad – it’s not even rubbing on the break, my glasses still sit on my face, they just look weird, and the flat happened at the very end of the day, so I was able to fix it in an air conditioned motel room.

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Approaching the Shoshoni furnace
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Fixin’ my flat in comfort.  Photo credit: Carl

The heat during the last 5 miles into Shoshoni was like nothing I’d ever felt.  Exhaling air felt cool on my lips.  The already oxygen depleted air seemed to be whipped away by the wind making it difficult to breath.

We stopped at the first air conditioned building in town – a gas station.  I was feeling like a badass on the bike – I had just ridden through a furnace on two bananas, a peach, and a soda.  But the moment I dismounted I thought I was going to pass out.  I just sat on an empty shelf in the gas station with my head between my knees.  After a few hours of eating sandwiches and ice cream sandwiches we walked the 1/4 mile to the motel which is when I noticed my flat tire.


So how do we follow up our wildly successful day from Casper to Shoshoni?  By riding another 100 miles from Shoshoni to Dubois of course – this time all up hill into the Rockies.  Rachel used her new air mattress stomping technique to get my butt out of bed and on the road at 4:30AM.  There were high winds (20mph) predicted around 1:30; we wanted to be finished before then.

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It’s 4:30 AM, here’s my best fake smile!  Photo credit: Rachel
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Daybreak.  Photo credit: Rachel
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Photo credit: Rachel

IMG_8239We were all pleased to enter agriculture country before the sun even rose – agg country means lower temps.  We, especially I, was far less pleased when I got another flat – this time in the rear.  Seriously!?  A thin metal wire had weaseled it’s way through my brand new tire and punctured the tube.  I think Carl was feeling bad for me, so once I had a new tire in he offered to pump it up with his superior pump.  The issue with his superior pump is it has this dumb valve attachment that, if you forget to hit the release button, takes the top of your valve off leaving you with a completely useless tube.  The loud hissing sound made it clear he’d forgotten to hit the release.  I removed the dead one and replaced it with my last tube.  This time Rachel offered to pump it up.  I had managed to force a laugh when it happened, but they probably noticed I was faking it – just trying to hold it together.  Forty five minutes wasted on flat tires.

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One of the gems from Carl’s GoPro

A few miles later we were invited into a bar (which wasn’t actually open yet) for coffee.  There were several farmer and ranchers sitting around the bar with mugs and they were happy to chat with us.  This was a fortunate invitation as Carl turns into a pumpkin without coffee, and we weren’t sure how long it would be before he could get some.  It was also fortunate as we met one of my favorite people on the trip.  I wished we could have spoken to him longer, but he had to get to work.  He eloquently explained his displeasure with the DNR ban on wolf hunting.  He understood the importance of protecting wolves, but he did not appreciate how the population goals are rolled out.  A number is stated, then once it’s reached they up it citing the need for a buffer population.  He understood the purpose of this buffer, but wished the DNR would just be up front about the real final goal.

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Who needs paved roads?  Let’s try this one.
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Guard sheep.  This guy came running out at us, stopping his hooves – this is his territory.  Photo credit: Carl
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Which rough road do we take to get back on 26?  Photo credit: Carl’s GoPro

Just a few miles passed the bar we joined Adventure Cycling Association’s Trans America Trail (TransAm) – their first and most famous route across the US.  It was developed and ridden for the US’s bicentennial in 1976 and, along with ACA, is celebrating it’s 40th anniversary this year.  Joining it meant we were officially done with the portion of the route I created – from here on out we’ll be on various ACA routes.  It was a bittersweet moment for me – a lot of work went into the 2,000 miles I mapped out between Niagara Falls and this spot in Western Wyoming where hwy 26 and hwy 287 merge.  I loved planning, modifying, and perfecting the route, and the vast majority of the roads worked out quite well, so I’m extremely proud of the achievement.  I just can’t believe we’re done with them – it’s like a mini ending to the trip.

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Still in the foothills – I assume.  Photo credit: Carl’s GoPro

Regarding the TransAm, I had joked it was going to be a bike highway, but I didn’t expect it to be true.  In the 2,000 miles I put together, we saw around six other cyclists touring.  It was startling to see 10 loaded touring bikes in the first 10 miles on the TransAm – and that number just kept growing as we went on.  I don’t think I like it.  I don’t seek out the amazed reactions from casual conversations with locals or other travelers, but I also don’t love being the 30th cross country rider to come through that day.

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This is not how I expected the Rockies to look
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If only we had a geologist with us to tell us about all these layers…
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…or about these sweet rocks
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Storm’s brewing.  Photo credit: Carl’s GoPro

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The route did take us on some stunning roads though.  As we continued the foothills gave way to exposed cliff faces and rock outcroppings, and there are rivers!  Actual free flowing water!  A feature not seen since the Mississippi in St. Paul, MN.  While it was beautiful, we kept stopping – it felt like every 10 miles.  I needed long, uninterrupted pedaling, so I told Rachel and Carl I’d meet them in town – it was only 15 miles away.  Just as the road pitched more steeply up the mountain, the wind, that was no longer forecasted suddenly appeared; twice as strong as it was supposed to be.  I pushed into the 40mph cross/ headwind.  I do not exaggerate wind.  My phone said it was 40mph.  I had to lean sideways and stick my leg out to keep my balance.  Hannah, a TransAm rider we’d met earlier, was actually knocked clear off her bike.  Eventually I gave up.  I couldn’t move forward.  Had I been in a better mood, I likely would have laughed at the ridiculousness of the wind as we had on way into Huron.  However, after everything that had transpired in the last 48 hours – the events in Casper, the three flats, the broken sunglasses, my untrue wheel, the heat, 200 miles in two days, and a 4:30AM departure to specifically beat this wind which arrive twice as strong and a 1/2 hour early – I couldn’t hold it together anymore.  I got of my bike and just started screaming into the wind.  I managed to pull myself together just before Rachel and Carl caught up.  Then it started raining.

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Hannah.  Photo credit: Carl’s GoPro

A few minutes before the 40mph winds ended, I realized they were likely part of a squall – that would explain their strength and the lack of forecast.  We waited it out and things returned to normal.  I chatted with Hannah the last 10 miles up to Dubois.  Carl and I were hoping to poach her from her group – they had all began the TransAm solo.  Hannah just graduated with a degree in geology and we wanted so badly to ride with her through these rocky landscapes and Yellowstone and Glacier and all the other geologically unique places.

 

 


When we finally reached Dubois, I was worn out.  Before entering town I said I didn’t know if I wanted to eat or just go to sleep and skip dinner.  I repeated it many times.  When we got to town Rachel and Carl kept rejecting food places for various reasons, closed, too hot, too crowded, etc.  We finally entered an empty bar, got some water and found out their kitchen didn’t open for another hour.  I sat patiently for 5 minutes while Carl and Rachel did things on their phones.  Carl was figuring out where we’d stay for the night – I had informed him of the warm showers host, but he was looking for other options.  I was not up for laying out the pros and cons of every possible place we could stay.  As calmly as I could, between gritted teeth, I stated, “this is neither food nor sleeping.  I’m going to find us a place to eat.”  I got up, walked next door to the too crowded place, waited for someone to leave, pounced on the table, and texted them to come over.

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Hangry Jenn arrives in Dubois.  Photo credit: Carl’s GoPro

If you find yourself in Dubois, go to The Cowboy Cafe.  I had an amazing burger, sweet potato fries, and raspberry rhubarb pie.  After eating I felt normal again – still tired, but I wasn’t going to take it out on an innocent bystander.  I believe this was the first time I experienced being hangry, and I did not enjoy it.

20160722_174012Over at St. Thomas Episcopal Church – the warm showers host – John took us through the seemingly most detailed overview of Yellowstone possible.  He then insisted we come next door to meet the taxidermy guy and see his shop.  I know all the Yellowstone information was useful, and the taxidermy guy, his stories, and his craft were all very interesting, but I could barely stay awake let alone retain information – I couldn’t remember the taxidermy guy’s name a couple hours later.  What I did retain was the overview of taxidermy – it’s part art, part biology.  I had no idea mounts are hides layed over sculped foam cores – I always thought they were stuffed.  This guy is a very talented sculptor who has created several large and complex scenes – some the animals even appear to be moving.  His background in biology aids him in designing the background or the piece the mounts stand on – he accurately includes replicas of plants and rocks present in that animals habitat, and he doesn’t just taxidermy creatures native to Wyoming.  Another bit of information we did retain was the bit about a mama grizzly and her two cubs who live/hang out at the pass we’d be riding over the next day.  Yikes!


I have developed a theory that, if I don’t shower, I don’t sleep well.  Several times I’ve woken up sweating – not because it’s hot out, and not because I’m overheating in my bag.  I just wake up in the middle of the night all sweaty, then I’ll start dozing, but wake up again freezing, then sweating, then freezing.  Every time I’ve had poor sleep due to an inability to regulate my body temperature has been after a day of riding when I wasn’t able to shower (or at least immerse myself in a lake).  It’s never happened after showering or swimming.  Carl and I are hypothesizing that the oil on my skin may be trapping heat which causes me to sweat.  Trying to stabilize it by getting in and out of my sleeping bag likely is causing the proceeding temperature fluctuations.  As there wasn’t a shower at the church, I didn’t sleep well, so I knew the ride to the Tetons yesterday was going to be bad.

Yesterday morning in Dubois didn’t start well.  There was a forest fire 16 miles NW of the city along highway 26.  We’d been following information regarding the fire via the fire’s webpage for days.  It consistently said “highway 26 remains open”.  Yesterday morning it switched to “crews are actively preventing the spread across 26”.  If the road closed we’d have to backtrack to Shoshoni, riding an extra 300 miles to get back on route.  I wanted to get moving as early as possible.  Rachel thought our lives were in danger – they don’t have massive forest fires in England, and she couldn’t wrap her head around how calm the town was given the haze of smoke and the smell of campfire.  Carl kept moseying around trying to find an official person to ask if the road would likely be open once we got there.  It took forever and we never found anyone since they’re all fighting the fire!  We didn’t leave until 10:30 – we could have been through it by then!  I kept trying to get us moving, but nothing worked.  I would have just ridden ahead, but if I got through and they didn’t…

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Rachel finally met her cowboy.  Photo credit: Rachel

To top it off, it was Cowboy Day in Dubois – a festival.  If the road wasn’t in danger of closing, we would have spent an extra day there.  Rachel has been dying to see a real life cowboy since we crossed the Mississippi!

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Leaving Dubois.  Photo credit: Carl’s GoPro

20160723_122822It took us 2 hours to ride the 15-18 miles to the fire – headwind, hills, and Carl taking it slow – but we could see smoke the whole time.  I’ve never seen a forest fire before.  Flames were leaping over the trees a 1/2 mile off the road.  Helicopters were dropping fire retardant around a ranch.  The whole thing was surreal for this Michigander.  Fortunately the wind was blowing away from the road (and the ranch) when we passed, so we did not have any smoke inhalation issues.

20160723_12424520160723_125000A mile or two past the main fire we stopped at Lava Mountain Lodge for a fantastic lunch and homemade ice cream sandwich.  There were pockets of fire we could see from the windows.  Rachel was still in awe that no one was in a panic.

The final 10 miles up to Togwotee Pass (9,600 ft, the Continental Divide, and our highest point of the trip!)  were filled with Beattle’s songs and other tunes Rachel and I made up.  We were trying to give fair warning to any mama grizzly that we were on our way and she and her cubs should lollop back into the woods.  I’d love to see a grizzly – but from a car.IMG_8281

After the trying morning, we were ready for a great decent.  The sign at Togwotee indicated a 6% downhill grade for the next 17 miles.  We were sorely disappointed as the downhill lasted for only two miles.  Two.  We just climbed for 100.  The rolling hills weren’t bad, just not what I wanted.  Then, as if the first lying sign wasn’t enough, another sign shamelessly indicated a 6% downhill grade directly before an uphill!  It was rough getting to camp.  We were descending into the Tetons – and I didn’t care.  I’d swung from anger and frustration into a depression that lasted the rest of the day.

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The sign say 6% downhill grade – do you see the uphill?  Arg!
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Outline of the Tetons.  Photo credit: Carl’s GoPro

We set up camp in the biker/hiker campground at Teton’s Colter Bay and took a $4.25 shower.  I was not losing another night of sleep – I would have paid $10 – though I wasn’t happy about it.  Back at the campground Carl was listing all the great things from the day – meeting actual cowboys, making it past the fire, the beautiful scenery, singing ridiculous songs while trying to bike up a mountain, etc.  I know it was a great day, I just felt terrible.

Today we took a day off the bikes to explore the Tetons.  After a good nights’ sleep, I’ve felt great all day.  I woke up early and did a coffee run – it was so early the Starbucks wasn’t open, and I procured two cups from the general store at the entrance 1.5 miles away.  I’m still not sure how I managed to return with two mostly full cups of searing hot coffee while riding in my full skirt and freezing off my fingers and toes.  When I did return Carl was elated to wake up with coffee inside he tent vestibule.  Unfortunately Rachel’s was stone cold by the time she woke up.

Not sure I’ve mentioned this before, but there’s no way I would have made it without Carl – all the guidance (I would say mentoring, but he hates that title) throughout the whole thing has been immeasurable.  I can’t imagine how I’d be doing if he didn’t come back after the fall.  And Rachel is just the best adventure partner ever.  She can roll with anything and is always just so grateful to be where she is.

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Kayaking in Jackson Lake.  Photo credit: Rachel
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Checking out an island.  Photo credit: Rachel
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Rachel – rolling with every punch.

After doing laundry and breakfast we rented some kayaks to explore Jackson Lake.  It was so nice.  Carl and I did a tandem kayak.  I was in the back with the idea that he wouldn’t overwork his shoulder, but of course he did all the work.  I swear that man is incapable of relaxing.  I’d paddle, paddle, paddle, gawk and the mountains around me and he’d just keep on paddling like we had a destination.  Then it happened.  Rachel lifted her phone to take a picture, it slipped, hit the side of her kayak and dropped into the deep lake.  After everything, Rachel has never faltered in her cheery attitude – when she dislocated her finger, when Carl fell, when a raccoon ripped a hole in her tent, when we’ve ridden long days through heat and wind.  She is clearly upset by the group splitting up, but she’s never stopped saying how great it is just to be out on a bike.  And she’s right.  But dropping her phone in the middle of Jackson Lake – it was the only way she was able to communicate with friends and family back in England, and it has so many of her pictures on it – I thought surely she’s going to lose it.  If there was going to be a time, now would be it.  She stared at the spot where it hit the water for a while, and then she looked up, sighed, and basically said, welp, that sucks, but look at these gorgeous mountains!  I want to be Rachel when I grow up 🙂

After kayaking we did a short, three mile hike, ate some really good food and had a lovely relaxing peaceful day at Grand Teton National Park.  And yes, it’s Grand Teton (not Tetons as we learned).  The mountain range is made up of the Teton Mountains, or Tetons, but there’s only one Grand Teton.

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Photo credit: Rachel

Notes:  I checked a few months ago on the Lava Mountain Fire.  No one was hurt and only one structure was partially damaged.

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