Pedaling through Wyoming
When you have reached a certain age, the first few days of bikepacking can leave you feeling like someone has been hitting you with a baseball bat. Sleeping on the ground, no chair to sit on, packing up every day and putting in hours of pedaling can be pretty hard at first. It gets easier over time but it was not hard for me to convince Karen that we should take a day off when we woke up in Pinedale. I had put a hole in the side of my tire on the descent down to the Green River and needed a new one. Our out of date Adventure Cycling map said that the only bike shop in town was at the A to Z Hardware Store and as we rolled in on a Sunday afternoon, there it was. I went in and met Dale, who actually has a great little bike shop in the back of the store that has been in business for 30 years. I went back the next day to get my new tire and Dale had me set up with tubeless and rolling in 20 minutes; just as soon as he finished loading up some feed.
Pinedale is also a stop on the fly fishing highway and has a brewpub, making for a great place to take a rest day. We spent the day doing laundry in our motel sink (bicycles make great laundry drying racks), restocking at the grocery store, and eating. We had left a resupply box with the local tourist information center so we picked that up and organized and repacked for the days ahead.
The route out of Pinedale is smooth pavement for a long ways and as we glided along I noticed once again that a lot of folks in rural western states America like to put up large gate structures on their driveways. Often they have the name of the place in big letters or a depiction of an elk or a buffalo or some other western theme. In Europe the small casas and villas often have a colorful sign, but here in the US of A the gates and signs are often much bigger and made out of metal. I noticed on this stretch of road that a lot of the locals had adopted a different mode of signage; sticking with the western theme but downsizing to make it more practical.
55 miles later we were ensconced in a perfect Wyoming campsite with a nearby creek and a great sunset.
This section has some of the smoothest mag-chloride roads that we encountered on the whole trip. It was always disappointing when we got into a new county and a new maintenance regimen without the smooth roads. Our next stop was Atlantic City, a historical remnant of a town that is the last outpost before heading out across the Great Divide Basin; the longest treeless and waterless stretch we would face on our trip. Everyone has different strategies for getting across-our strategy began with burgers and beer in the middle of the day at the restaurant in Atlantic City. If someone will sell us food that we don't need to cook, we are all in on that deal. We missed the part about the steep climb out of town so the first few miles were pretty painful but eventually we made it to our camp on the Sweetwater River. Our plan was to wake up early and ride to Diagnus Well, fill up with enough water to spend the night and see how far we would get. There was a surprising amount of steep short climbing so our pace was slow initially but we moved faster as the day wore on. We were partially shrouded by wildfire smoke and the day gradually darkened as we got closer to the next water source. Finally, a thunderstorm and lightning forced us into a gully just off the road and we struggled to get the tent up in a windstorm. The Great Divide Basin is an amazing place, but Karen says that she is glad to never have to go through there again. In the morning we found the water source and rode through a long and hot day to end up in Rawlins, WY.
In Rawlins our plan was to take the morning off to resupply and head out later in the day. But it was too hot and too smoky to leave in the afternoon so we found another hotel and declared a rest day. Our decision may have been influenced by the great Thai restaurant that seemed to be the only place open downtown. We ate there twice and packed the leftovers for another meal. Rawlins is an oil and gas town that lacks a brewpub, but they do have the historic Wyoming Penitentiary, located just a few blocks from our hotel. While Karen iced her soon to be surgically replaced knees, I played tourist and contemplated the macabre and unsettling
It is a lot easier to get out of town early when you leave from a hotel room and soon enough we were riding out of Rawlins as the sun rose. The fastest time on the Tour Divide Race was set by the late, great Mike Hall in 2016. He rode the 2700 miles in less than 14 days. If and when someone breaks that record, it will be in part because the route is being improved and you can go faster. The section we rode that day has been paved since 2018 and as we rode up and down the steep grades I thought of Mike and other racers testing themselves against a changing route and a challenging landscape. For us mortals, it is amazing to see them racking up 200 miles a day. We were actually pretty glad to be on new pavement.
In 2018 we met other riders quite often, but in 2020 there were a lot less folks out on the road; except on this day when we were passed by 5 other riders. It is very exciting to spend a few minutes chatting with other folks and briefly sharing stories, especially when we have only been talking with each other for what seems like a year.
That night we pushed on into the first trees we had seen for a while. Eventually we were climbing into the late afternoon and reached the last creek before the crest. We had learned that water access law in Wyoming is different than other states. It turns out that you can be in the water-like floating down it, but you cannot touch the bottom of the creek or go on the bank if it is private property. This makes it hard to get water, especially since every bridge features tight fencing that is intended to bar access to the creek. We eventually just climbed over and through as needed to get to the water, but it was not always very easy. At least in Colorado and other states you are allowed to be on the shore within 10 feet of the water.
Dipping in creeks and filtering water are a big part of our days.
As usual, putting up the tent that night involved finding a clear space amongst the cow leavings. Cows are one of the defining features of the GDMBR. They are everywhere, sometimes running down the road in front of you and pooping everywhere, especially on the places we wanted to camp. Whenever I see a group of them I try to warn the young ones about the truck that will come to get them in the fall. I tell them all to run when it comes but they don't seem to listen to me.
Our final morning in Wyoming began with an early morning climb through Aspen Alley. The Brush Mountain lodge was closed (another 2020 covid casualty) so we did not get to sample their renowned pizza and hospitality towards Great Divide riders. Perhaps we can go back in the future if we are ever tempted to ride the route again. We took the Columbine Alternate and had a great lunch in Clark before our highway roll into Steamboat Springs.
The last hill in Wyoming led us to into Columbine, Colorado. We were back into green trees and ski towns and out of the smoky haze and long dusty roads of Wyoming.