June 15 -A month of poor internet access has prevented me from putting posts up on the blog. I’m now able to post, so it’s catch-up time. This post covers the ride across Wyoming.
Location as of June 3: Custer, South Dakota
Miles so far: 1,606 miles
Ascending feet: 65,304 ft.
Peak elevation: 7,422 ft.
Current Elevation: 5,375 ft.
Adventure Ride Day 16 – Madison Campground, Yellowstone Park to Colter Bay, Grand Teton National Park, WY
May 24 – During the night, snow had fallen around our campground, turning to rain before stopping around 6 am. The forecast was for a cloudy day in Yellowstone, and rain beginning at our destination in Colter Bay by 4 pm. It was cold outside, and rain started to fall again as I prepped the bike for the ride. Stephanie and I planned that we would meet in two places during the ride- once at Old Faithful and then again at Grants Village. I knew I could be cold and wet, and this is one day I really needed to take advantage of the luxury of having her support me on this ride. I headed off into the cold drizzle, south toward Old Faithful.
By the time I arrived at Old Faithful about an hour and a half later, my gloves were wet, my socks were wet, and my hands and feet were cold. Stephanie and I took a long break at the Old Faithful Snow Lodge, where I tossed my gloves and other wet things into a dryer in their guest laundry. I was able to dry out and warm up for the next segment of the ride to Grant Village. This could potentially be one of the more challenging segments of my ride, as I would have to climb a couple of passes over 8,000 feet, which would be slow and cold. We had purchased some disposable hand warming packs, and I put one in each glove to help keep my fingers warm.
The challenge of the ride to Grant Village was part of what made this one of the best rides I’ve experienced so far. As I climbed to the first big pass, snow started falling. The snow on the sides of the road and in the trees got deeper as my altitude increased. At one point it was probably at least a couple of feet deep, with some new snow on top of the melting snowpack from the winter. I was feeling comfortable on the ride, though. The road surface was in good shape, it was not icy, my clothing (with only 3 layers – jersey, insulating layer, rain jacket) was keeping my core relatively warm and dry, and the hand warmers were doing a great job of keeping my fingers from freezing, even though my hands were still sweating through the gloves. My legs, too, felt strong as I climbed. I’m sure they’d been getting stronger from my 3 weeks of riding (and of course the pre-training with Team in Training), and I could handle the steady 5.5% to 7% grade of these hills at a slow but steady pace without tiring.
Stephanie met me at Grant Village, with a sandwich, an opportunity to change out my jersey and socks for dry ones, and a few minutes to warm up in the camper. She is my lifesaver, in more ways than one. Then it was time for the final push out of Yellowstone.
This turned into a fun ride. I saw beautiful snowy mountain vistas, I climbed some of the highest passes I will face on this ride across the country, I handled some pretty cold and wet weather. And I crossed the Continental Divide not once, but three times. After the third crossing, it was time for a long downhill, headed to the southern entrance of Yellowstone and into Grand Teton National Park.
Avg. speed: 11.7 mph
Ascending feet: 4,224 ft.
Peak elevation: 8,519 ft.
Ending Elevation: 6,814 ft.
Net elevation gain: – 20 ft.
Adventure Ride Day 17 – Grand Teton National Park to Dubois, WY
May 27 – Today’s ride would be the start of the ride to the east, out of the national parks across Wyoming toward South Dakota. Our entire time in Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons has been rainy or snowy and cold. Luckily, I’ve found days to ride that have been at least partially dry. Today the forecast was for rain all day, and this could possibly be snow as I climb over the high pass that would finally get me to the east side of the Continental Divide for good. It was no day to be riding over 70 miles. But I’d seen forecasts of rain be nothing more than scattered showers, and I thought I was prepared for riding in the cold, wet weather. But I wasn’t really.
It was dry, just below 40 degrees, when I started, but the rain began about 8 miles out. Still, I was making good times, I had my handwarmers in my gloves, and I was ready for more. Then, at about 18 miles, it became clear that my front tire was losing pressure. It seemed to be a slow leak. It was raining and cold, and I really didn’t want to stop in these conditions to change the tire. I pumped it up with some CO2 to see if the tire would hold pressure long enough to get over the top of the pass, 15 miles ahead. But a mile further, the tire was clearly flat and I needed to change it.
By this time, I’d passed places that allow me to work under shelter, so I stopped on the roadside and worked behind the guardrail to change the tire. I had to take off my gloves to work the tire off the wheelrim and remove the tube. I couldn’t see any puncture or object in the tire or on the wheel that might have damaged the tube. So I put a new tube in, and worked the tire back onto the rim with my freezing thumbs. My fingers were now so cold that it was difficult to manage the valve. I was warming my hands under my armpits when Stephanie drove up in the camper and pulled over. Thank God.
The temperature had dropped to 37 degrees, and I still had 2,000 feet of elevation to climb to get over the pass. It would be colder there. And we knew it would be probably be snowing. Stephanie and I had a long talk. It had been important to me to cycle every mile of this ride. It was heartbreaking for me to admit that these were not conditions suitable for cycling by any reasonable person. I hadn’t found the cause of the flat, so I might see another before I reached the summit. I could deal with the weather at this point, but who knew how much colder and miserable it would be as I went higher. So I decided that today’s ride was not to be. So the bike went on the rack and we drove the rest of the way to our next planned stop in Dubois, about 40 miles ahead.
As we drove over the pass, it was clear that I’d made the right decision. It was winter up there, with deep snow and heavy snow coming down. And almost no place to stop to warm up or dry out. And in this part of the world, there was no cell phone coverage if I needed to call someone.
Oh no. My cell phone. It was nowhere in the camper, and I’d taken it off the bike when loading on the rack. It was now somewhere back where Stephanie picked me up, or it had fallen onto the road somewhere else. I asked Stephanie to take me back to see if we could find it. At that point, it was 20 miles gone. Now I didn’t just feel depressed about cutting the ride short, I felt really stupid. We made the trip back to the pickup point, and I went out into the cold wetness to look for the phone. Nothing. It could be anywhere, but not here. And Find My iPhone doesn’t work if there’s no cell signal. What a fiasco.
We drove again over the pass. This was the third time today. There’s no way I could ask Stephanie to wait for the weather to clear and bring me back again to satisfy my obsession to ride every mile. This would have to be the adventure for this 40 miles. It was enough. We drove quietly on to Dubois.
Avg. speed: 11.5 mph
Ascending feet: 948
Peak elevation: 7,306
Ending Elevation: 7,306
Net elevation gain: 458
Adventure Ride Day 18 – Dubois to Riverton, WY
May 29 – On the sign entering Dubois, the population is listed at 970 people. It’s a really small town, where everyone knows everyone else. Businesses don’t have many customers, and the school has class sizes of less than 10. Yet there is a main street with businesses, but only a few appear to have enough customers to really thrive. One of these is the Cowboy Café. It’s the town restaurant, so we sampled it for dinner. We were told that it has really good chicken-fried steak, so that’s what I ordered. What’s chicken-fried steak, you ask? It’s not chicken, and it’s not steak, but it is fried. The waitress said that it’s beef, so let’s just agree on that, along with a lot of breading and gravy. It’s fun getting to know the local fare.
The cold and rain from the day before continued, so we decided to stay in Dubois for the day for the weather to clear. Something I probably should have done before attempting the Togwatee Pass. So we had a day in Dubois to work on the blog, do some business. Had a nice breakfast at the Cowboy Café, and pizza for dinner at the other restaurant that was open in town, the Nostalgia Bistro.
The next day, the rain had cleared. I headed off to Riverton, which was a gentle descent over rolling hills. Wyoming has so few people and so few towns that the rides go on for miles, with the slowly changing landscape being the feature. Here are the photos:
One of the things you can see in this landscape, which has not been bulldozed and developed like more populated areas, is how glaciers, water, and wind, have eroded and moved the ancient sedimentary layers. Round pebbles and boulders left by glaciers can be found beside decaying shale on the side of buttes and mesas that survived the forces of erosion.
Once I got to Riverton, I found a Verizon store, so I could replace my phone. This time I bought some lost phone insurance, at least for the rest of the ride.
Avg. speed: 13.6 mph
Ascending feet: 1,562
Peak elevation: 6,931
Ending Elevation: 5,039
Net elevation gain: -1,877
Adventure Ride Day 19 – Riverton to Casper, WY
May 30 – Today’s ride is the longest so far. It had to be, because there is no place to stay between Riverton and Casper. So we got going early so we could finish the 120 mile ride before the day was done.
The ride went for miles and miles of sagebrush prairie. Occasionally there would be bison or a few cattle grazing or antelope running away. But this is the story of this part of Wyoming—lots of space, almost no people.
My legs began to get tired around mile 80, and the last miles into Casper went slowly. But eventually I made it in to the city. I was glad we had a hotel that night, and a rest day to follow to recuperate.
Casper has a relatively hip block of dinner spots, and we had an opportunity to have some good food and wine the next night. Our server was excited to learn about our adventure and took the time to explain a bit about Wyoming and Casper to us. We talked about the horse and gun culture, and about how the economy is heavily influenced by oil and gas extraction and delivery. The major swings in business in Casper happen as the price of oil moves, bringing people into town when the wells are profitable.
Casper is an area where several major historic trails pass. Many are ancient trails used by native tribes for trade, and later adopted by the settlers heading to California, Utah, and other points west. The Pony Express came through Casper until the telegraph made it obsolete.
If you ever make it to Casper, I recommend a visit to the National Historic Trails Interpretive Center. This museum, run by the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management, explains the waves of commerce, conflict, and migration that occurred over the Wyoming trails. Some were looking to strike it rich in California, some were looking for land for a better life, some were part of the Mormon migration to the Utah area. Most were passing through Wyoming, but their trails divided buffalo herds, and their numbers irrevocably the historic ecosystem supporting the native population.
Avg. speed: 13.4 mph
Ascending feet: 2,953
Peak elevation: 6,204
Ending Elevation: 5,252
Net elevation gain: 298
Adventure Ride Day 20 – Casper to Douglas, WY
June 1 – The ride from Casper was through more sagebrush prairie, though with a few more hills. The importance of making as much as possible of the land resource was more evident. Oil wells and storage tanks occasionally dotted the prairie, and oil service businesses were frequently near the small towns. Wind turbines took advantage of the prevailing winds in the space above the land.
Avg. speed: 12.7 mph
Ascending feet: 2,106
Peak elevation: 5,477
Ending Elevation: 4,948
Net elevation gain: -205
Adventure Ride Day 21 – Douglas to Lusk, WY
June 2 – Our last night in Wyoming was in Lusk, a tiny farm town. We camped in a small RV park, where a thunderstorm passed through. With the rain came a double rainbow.
Avg. speed: 13.1 mph
Ascending feet: 1,637
Peak elevation: 5,272
Ending Elevation: 4,954
Net elevation gain: 140
Adventure Ride Day 21 – Lusk, WY to Custer, SD
June 3 – This would be my last day in the vast sagebrush and grassland that is this part of Wyoming. The morning was more long, lonely riding along fairly empty roads. The roads are low, rolling hills that may rise only 25 feet, but do this for miles and miles. So with no other features to the landscape, the top of each rolling hill obscures the view beyond. A bicyclist always hopes that beyond the next horizon is a downhill. But in Wyoming, when you reach the crest of the hill, all you see is a miles-long gradual dip of a few feet followed by a miles-long rise to the next 25 foot crest miles down the road. What strikes you is the long distances and the same-ness. It’s easy to imagine the drudgery felt by the prairie wagons following these routes over a century ago at a pace of only 15 miles a day.
Just before leaving Wyoming, I spotted a pickup truck on the side of the road, and the driver was crouching by a barb-wire fence that ran along the road. As I passed, he motioned me over to ask for help in freeing a baby pronghorn antelope, which was seriously wrapped in the barbwire. The only way to free him was to cut through some hair and skin that was twisted into the wire. We freed him, but he was weak and could not stand. We gave him some water and left him for his mother, who was standing a hundred yards away. Now that our scent was on the baby, though, his prospects to be accepted by his mother may be low.
I then passed into South Dakota on the way to Custer. Gradually, the landscape evolved into the foothills of the Black Hills. Pine trees began to dot the landscape, and ancient rock outcrops appeared above the sedimentary layers. I passed through the tiny town of Edgemont and would not see another town for 40 miles, until almost to Custer.
Avg. speed: 12.3 mph
Ascending feet: 4,583
Peak elevation: 5,437
Ending Elevation: 5,375
Net elevation gain: 502