Days 65-71: Riding the Oregon Trail, and Show Me Your Tetons
9/27 Day 65: Lamont, WY to Sweetwater Station, WY 54 miles (3217 miles)
|A sample of the expanse in Wyoming.|
Jeffrey City is another in a long string of towns we've seen that is a near-abandoned husk of what it used to be when mining and industry were booming in this part of the state. Jeffrey City was once a bustling town of nearly 5,000 residents when the uranium mines nearby were still open, but, predictably, when the ore dried up so did the jobs; when the jobs dried up, people began to leave and present day Jeffrey City is a town of 100 folks (if you count dogs and cats twice). We stopped at the only bar in town, the Split Rock Cafe, and found the bartender, the daughter of the owner, to be a very genial, young woman who immediately engaged us in conversation about Wyoming and are surrounding her town. We had passed Split Rock (the actual geological structure) earlier in the day, and learned that it had long been a landmark in westward travel since the very first settlers blazed the Emigrant Road- which later became called the Oregon Trail. Later in American history, Split Rock was the site of a Pony Express relay station until the Pony Express's short life ended and the telegraph made it obsolete.
At the Split Rock Cafe, we complained of the strong wind over tacos (it being Taco Tuesday, of course) and were told by the bartender that 25 miles an hour was merely a breeze in this part of the country. "If the wind ever stopped here, we'd all fall over," he joked. In the 'windy season' the winds can be more than twice as strong, but that was sorry consolation at the time. After eating our fill of tacos, we went across the street to the local potter's shop, a run-down property with all manner of detritus strewn across the yard and obscured by a brightly painted trailer that sat out front. We met Byron, the potter, and after Mandi and Erin bought a couple pieces of his work, we got to chatting. Among other things, he mentioned that he had bought the building that served as his family's home and his studio for $5,000 dollars, and that the trailer out front was available for cyclists passing through if we'd like to stay. We declined the offer, hoping to make it a few more miles down the road, and bid him farewell. From Jeffrey City, we rode the remaining 18 miles into the gale on to Sweetwater Station- it took us a little over two hours, and by the time we arrived we were all seriously bushed.
Sweetwater Station is basically a rest stop on the highwayside, and we camped at a historical preservation site nearby commemorating the Mormons' journey along the Mormon Trail to Salt Lake City from points east. They had used carts pulled by hand instead of by pack animals, and lots of them died in blizzards- so we had a campsite. As we were making camp that night, we realized that Montana was getting close, and that once we crossed into that state we'd have only about 1,000 miles to go. We were nearly in the home stretch. We rinsed off in the sinks at the rest area, made some dinner, and fell asleep quickly. Out in the middle of the Wyoming near-desert, the coyotes were yipping, yowling, and otherwise coyodeling all through the night in what has now become a familiar nocturnal serenade under the intensely bright stars.
9/28 Day 66: Sweetwater Station, WY to Mountainview Campground, Lander, WY 50 miles (3267 miles)
We started our day with very little enthusiasm, since there was, yet again, little to look forward to. All we could do was hope to have the wind at our backs, because the scenery did not threaten to change for a few days and the towns would be very few and far between. We scrambled out of the Mormon Handcart historic site early to avoid any chance of having to pay to stay there, and made breakfast a half mile down the road at the rest area there. We had realized the night before that we had been riding for a full week, but wouldn't be able to take a day off until we were through Yellowstone, because many of the park's services and campgrounds would be closing after the coming weekend. We were also determined to press on because the following week the weather was predicted to take a turn for the worse in Yellowstone, which is supposed to be one of the coldest places in the contiguous U.S. So, between a rock and a cold place, we resolved to ride until Montana and take a break there.
The day's ride went extremely smoothly, since we managed to cover about 40 miles in three hours thanks to the long, fast downhills between us and Lander. The terrain was still the same: high, beige hills and cliffs, covered in sagebrush, but the heights before our descents offered up commanding views that were very scenic and possessing their own brand of beauty. Once in Lander, we took the chance to stock up on food, do laundry, send out some mail, and generally finally get some things done in the first reasonably sized town we'd seen in a while. Lander was a very productive and relaxing stop, which made us all feel a bit better after the hard, but short mileage slog we'd had the day before. We had resolved that since we couldn't afford to lose a whole day to rest, we would simply do shorter mileage until we could take a break, so as not to burn out.
We left Lander with full bags and gladder hearts, and only a short ride to camp. Just a few miles outside of Lander, we entered the Wind River Indian Reservation, a huge 4.5 million acre parcel of land set aside for the primarily Arapaho and Shoshone residents who live there under federal protection. It also wasn't long, then, until we ran into our first casino, the Shoshone Rose. We decided since we were running ahead of schedule for the day, and because camp was only a couple miles away, we could stop in and try pay for our stay with slots and blackjack. We set a $5 limit for ourselves and had fun running around the place drawing a lot of strange looks, as usual, because of our spandex and strange mode of transport, and losing our money. Erin and I lost all our money, while Mandi broke even and Ben hit the jackpot on some slot machine with his last 30 cents that nabbed him $17. We enjoyed ourselves, and could have spent more time gambling, but knew we should move along before someone had to pawn their bike to pay their debts. What followed was a quick pedal to camp where Luanne, a very sweet and talkative woman probably in her 70s, showed us around the place and made sure we were all aware of the campground's unique bathroom rules. Once apprised of the toilet flushing situation, we pitched our tents, showered off, and bedded down.
9/29 Day 67: Lander, WY to Dubois, WY 67 miles (3334 miles)
In the morning, Luanne had a pot of coffee ready to go for us promptly at 8AM, along with a batch of sourdough pancake batter, a few pieces of toast, and a lot of conversation. We spent the whole meal talking about astrology (Luanne and I have the same birthday), reincarnation, family, life, and how the fact that Ben is a Scorpio means he must have constant sexual urges. Imagine a 5 foot tall elderly woman asking, "Ben... do you have constant urges for sex?" that had us all laughing pretty hard over our breakfast. Luanne was a gem, and made our morning a memorable one- she cut us a deal on the price of our repast, and sent each of us off with a big hug. Well fed and feeling good, we hit the road to Dubois. Now, for some reason, in Wyoming they don't pronounce Dubois "Dew-BWAH," but "DEW-boyz." So, naturally, we spent most of the day's riding making jokes about the Dubois Fire Department, what we would do when we finally got to Dubois, and the general activities of the residents of that small mountain town.
|The red cliffs begin to appear in Wyoming, Mandi walks away.|
When we got to Dubois, we ate at the Cowboy Cafe where we all had their burger, beer, and dessert special for $12, wich included the best and biggest piece of German chocolate pie a la mode ever created. We then rolled over to the town KOA and settled in to an unimpressive tent site for an impressive fee. We showered off, and found our way into our tents as the darkness and chill set in around us.
9/30 Day 68: Dubois, WY to Signal Mountain Campground, Grand Teton National Park, WY 55 miles (3389 miles)
|Our first glimpse of the Tetons.|
The next 28 miles were slow, as we gained about 2,000 feet of elevation, but we had plenty to look at as several peaks loomed around us, and the Wind River provided ample, colorful scenery and kept us company up the hill to its source. We ground out the miles slowly at around 5mph, and were in for a surprise when we got about 1.5 miles from the top. There is a six year construction project nearing the end of its third year on the roads over Togwotee Pass, and the top is currently considered impassable for bicycles- so we were forced to put our bikes in the 'pilot truck' and accept a ride over the dirt and rock road. I was not thrilled with this, because I wanted to crest the pass under my own power, but we all took it stoically as a nice freebie. We weren't allowed to refuse the ride, and once I saw the terrain we were driven over, I no longer had any reservations about its necessity. We were ferried about 2 miles up and over the peak and down the other side a bit, where we stopped for a nice donut break. We then rolled down the 6% grade until we ran into yet another construction zone, this one robbing us of 7 miles of fast, fun downhill riding we'd already pedaled uphill to earn. Again, we had no choice, so on we rolled. At this point, however, the Tetons came into view.
|Us in front of Jackson Lake and the Tetons.|
The attendant at the campground was a friendly guy, and since the campgrounds all closed the next day, he didn't seem to care too much if we paid the full fee or not for camping so he charged us $5 and sent us on our way. We grabbed a few beers from the convenience store at the campground, cooked, and stowed our food/toiletries/etc in the bear-proof box on our campsite and settled in for the night in probably the most beautiful area I've had the good fortune of riding through in our entire trip.
10/1 Day 69: Signal Mtn. Campground, WY to Grant Village Lodge, Yellowstone National Park, WY 48 miles (3437 miles)
We didn't rush to get up this morning, and a lot of it had to do with the fact that the sun was slow in getting up over the trees to find where our tents were pitched. We basically can't get moving in the morning until the sun's warmth finds us now, it's just uncomfortably cold. We moved in slow motion, but finally got to the campground entrance where the sun's rays could recharge and warm us- and we headed out, with a bit of a chill still in our bones. We were very excited, though, to continue our ride through this part of the country which I'm convinced is the icing on the cake for our ride. I'm so glad we decided to travel east to west and not west to east, because it gave us a chance to really appreciate all the states that have come before this to their fullest. If we had gone west to east, I never would have thought the picturesque, pastoral hills in Ohio, or the winding roads through the eroded, ancient granite of the Ozarks were as wonderful as I did, because they would have paled in comparison to my memory of these mountains. Now, I have an appreciation for the amazingly diverse ecosystems and terrain that our country is home to- the U.S. really has everything: high deserts, lush forests, expansive plains... it's been wonderful just to to see the variety of landscapes one country can hold.
|Erin, Ben, and Mandi in front of the Firehole Cascades|
|The crew with Ray at dinner in Grant Village.|
|The steaming waters of the hotsprings join the Firehole River.|
10/2 Day 70: Grant Village, WY to West Yellowstone, MT 54 miles (3491 miles)
|Some amazing colored hotsprings.|
|Wow! A Geyser!|
|Carry on my wayward bison.|
|Wim and Devin in front of Old Faithful.|
We spent most of the day in the park, and when we exited Yellowstone (and entered Montana) it was probably around 5 o clock or so. Ray met us up at the edge of town, then we went to grab some pizza and beer. West Yellowstone is a cute little town right on the edge of the park, and has more to offer than we've seen in what feels like forever. After eating, we grabbed a bunch of beer from the grocery and proceeded down the street to the hotel. This hotel had everything we could ask for, and we spent the evening zoning out watching T.V., soaking in the hot tub, and reaping our reward for two weeks of uninterrupted riding over almost a thousand miles. We figured out the sleeping arrangement in our crowded room and went to bed anticipating a nice rest.
10/3 Day 71: Day off in West Yellowstone
We're spending the day dominating the hotel's continental breakfast, taking full advantage of their wi-fi, and wandering around West Yellowstone. Once I've updated the blog it's milkshake time, and then we're going to go check out the preserve in town that has a bunch of wolves and grizzlies who can't survive in the wild. We're thrilled to be in Montana, thanks for reading with us this far and keep checking the Tumblr and Flickr for updates.