There was no dramatic change to the cycling conditions after transitioning from Idaho to Wyoming, although we were treated to some lovely sub-alpine meadows with lots of flowers. It was a delightful place for a ride, and there was no headwind! Little did I know that this was very soon to change …
As I cycled on I came across a wagon train! Now that was quite a surprise. Ahead of the train there were several people walking and I stopped to chat with them. They were on an ‘adventure’. When I told them what I was doing they said that the Tour Divide is a *real* adventure. The commented that they were cold the previous night once their camp fire went out. They should try sleeping rough like we do in the race!
I had seen that the route turned into the ‘John D Rockefeller Parkway’ but it was marked as unpaved. I thought this was a mistake as who would give an unpaved road such a fancy name … the US Forest Service of course. In spite of the name it was a typical underdeveloped gravel road, with lots of ruts, potholes, and other damage.
I got to Flagg Ranch after 17:00 and went to the store to get some food. They told me that there was a good restaurant so I decided to treat myself. When I went in they said that it was 17:29 and I had to wait until 17:30 until they opened. I thought they were joking—but they were serious. That was an introduction to the exceptionally poor service Flagg Ranch restaurant offered. Add to that overpriced and undercooked food, and it was an event to forget. At least I got them to fill my hydration pack.
I was ready to go at 18:30 and was decided that I would try for Turpin Meadows, a ride of some 60 km. The road was good, except for the tourists who were often more interested in the scenery than keeping distance from cyclists, even on a wide shoulder!
I was treated to a lovely sunset on the mountains, with the lake in the forefront. I could see why this area attracts so many tourists.
I pressed on and as the sun went down so did the temperature. It was down to –2 C by the time I got to Turpin Meadows at 22:30 after 175 km. I had trouble finding the actual camp ground due to poor sign posting. I saw that the camp sites had ‘bear’ lockers for storing food. I was not inclined to unpacking my bags and so I decided to invoke my ‘Plan B’ for the first time: use the local restroom. It was ideal: enough room for my bike, dry and warm—if slightly fragrant. I locked the door, rolled out my sleeping bag and enjoyed sleeping until 05:30 when someone used the toilet next to me. I was told later that another rider stayed in a restroom in bear country, and during the night heard a bear scratching the door!
I was on the road by 06:30 and began what was to be a big day of climbing, with two major passes to cross. I was reassured that I had made the right call to crash in the restroom when I saw a sign on the trail that it was closed as they were trapping grizzly bears. Of course that didn’t deter me from using the trail … I found myself at the main road about 09:00 and resupplied at the petrol station before beginning the long climb up to Togwotee Pass—about 3000 metres high. The road was good and, as an engineer, it was interesting to see construction going on to widen the road and lay fibre optic cable.
Unfortunately there was no sign at the top of the pass to commemorate ‘summiting’. There was a delightful lake with restrooms so I stopped and had a short break, watching the fishermen and kayakers on the lake. There was a family playing in the snow who were from near Toronto. They had an easier time of getting there than I did! They had also been up in Alberta and were impressed that we had managed to ride through the Flathead valley in spite of the rain. Tell me about it.
Rather than enjoy a nice fast downhill run on a good road, our route instead went off to the left on a forestry road, one that was marked as only suitable for 4WD vehicles. This is quite typical for the Tour Divide. Why take a good road when there is a challenging, crappy one that you can take instead? That would make things too easy for us … Oh, and to add insult to injury, it continued to climb higher than the main road. It would be nice to have a break on this ride at some point!
The road wound its way up and we were treated with some incredible vistas. The photos below don’t do full justice to them.
Eventually the road headed downhill and it rejoined the main road. I came to a shop where I stopped and got some food and drinks, as well as checking the internet and calling my parents. Then it was a treat: downhill on a paved road! Of course the only problem with lots of downhill is that it inevitably means more uphill and that came all too soon when I turned off the road towards Union Pass (2800 m). I recalled this road from 10 years ago, but then it was quite different: there had been an amazing amount of development during the intervening period. At least the guest house where Shaun and I got food late at night was still open and I passed the place where we camped.
As I ascended towards the pass I met two cyclists from Colorado who were holidaying. She was Swedish and they had been to New Zealand on a climbing holiday. They were intrigued by the race and promised to follow us on the Internet. Kept climbing and climbing and then finally summited on a wind swept alpine meadow. As I descended I noted that whenever I stopped there was a flurry of mosquitoes. It was only be a matter of seconds before they pounced. Very unpleasant. I had planned to camp out near the trail but they led me to change my plans: I didn’t want to be eaten alive. It was about 65 km to Pinedale and even though it was about 18:30 I decided to make a run for it.
I passed two riders on single speeds doing the route who gave me an update on people ahead of me, and then a fellow riding on his own. It was another brilliant evening and perfect for riding. There wasn’t even a headwind. While the trail left a bit to be desired, I had little to complain.
Eventually I reached a paved road and I was pleased to see how little traffic there was. As the sun went down it got cold, but I didn’t mind as I just put on a few more layers. It was incredible how far I could see: even though Pinedale was 30+ km away it looked right next door. In keeping with the Tour Divide tradition, rather than taking me out to the main road and into Pinedale we turned left onto a very poor gravel road with a loose surface. Not fun for riding in the dark. Anyway, eventually I ended up on a paved road and at 23:15 after 194 km of riding I reached Pinedale.
My first stop was a petrol station to get some calories. They had closed and were cleaning up. They asked if I was with the race and when I said yes they invited me in saying that they knew how in need I would be for food. Quite the contrast with the hot springs from a few days ago! I stocked up and then went across the road to a 24 h Laundromat where I sat in the warmth eating my food. I then headed over to the KOA campground—which looked out of business—and pitched my tent. It was another very cold night, but at least I was well fed.
By 07:00 I was back at the store and then went to the Laundromat where I did some much needed laundry. Then it was off to a local cafe for breakfast before hitting the road again. It was east towards Boulder, where I stopped for some more food, before turning off to the less well travelled way. Not exactly a lot of traffic on this road—save for a group of cowboys herding cattle (and one of the riders was about 8 years old!)—but there was a surplus of mosquitoes again. I did a test: it took to the count of 4 seconds before they landed. In fact, for the first time I had them landing when I was still moving!
I stopped for lunch at ‘Big Sandy River’—which wasn’t particularly big. There were sheep grazing and I had a good snooze on the grass. There was a historical sign noting that this was a crossing point for pioneers going to Oregon and several were buried nearby. Unfortunately, there were fences keeping people away from the water so I wasn’t able to soak my feet. It’s such a pity that Americans don’t give public access to waterways.
It was very hot. Very dry.Very windy. But I was really enjoying the ride. My body had now adapted to the conditions—many hours in the saddle; many hills to climb; winds to overcome and mentally I was totally engaged in the ride. My confidence was increasing which was great as I had the challenge of the ‘Great Basin’ ahead of me. This was a 215 km section of desert riding with no services and only a single well about 40 km into the ride.
I turned onto the pavement and headed towards ‘South Pass City’, a restored 19th century mining town. There was a 20th century rest stop by the road where I was very grateful to refill all my water bottles, then heading along the paved road into a headwind before turning onto a gravel road to take me to South Pass City. I got there about 17:15 to find the store closed so I hoofed it (uphill and into a headwind) over ‘Atlantic City’ (Population 39 in 2000) where there was a restaurant and a store. All they were able to feed me was grilled cheese sandwiches, and the other riders had greatly depleted the supplies at the shop. However, I got enough to last me to Rawlins, especially fluids.
There was a hard uphill push out of Atlantic City and then I was treated to a nice downhill run into the Great Basin. I had decided to make it as a minimum to the Diagnus Well, further if I felt up to it. For a change I had a tail wind and I made relatively good time once the downhill faded away. The road was not very good but it was rideable. Boy was this place ever inhospitable. The photo to the left does not do justice to the place. I recall that when I rode it 10 years ago my companion Shaun said it reminded him of the desolate planets in the film Star Wars. There were a few birds, a few cows, and nothing else.
After being treated to a brilliant sunset, I got to the well about 23:00. It was about 150 metres off the road, but there was a clear path heading over there. My light was reflected back to me and I found that there were some other Tour Dividers sleeping there: it was Marco and Elena. I felt bad about waking them up. They commented that Prentiss was camping out behind us next to the road. I was surprised that I had not seen him. I pitched my tent and crashed but I felt bad because I was quite noisy: the fine desert dust was being blown into my tent and it triggered and asthma coughing fit. The next morning they politely said that I had not disturbed them.Right. I would have woken the dead.
They headed off before me in the morning. After refilling my water bottle at the well—a pipe pumping water out from a natural spring—I headed out. I passed Elena and Marco after about an hour as they were stripping off layers of clothes and applying sun screen. They were behind me for the rest of day.
I had felt a very clear impression from God that Prentiss was in need of some help. He was doing the ride on a very tight budget and was sleeping rough every night. I was impressed that he needed a good meal and a good night’s sleep so I resolved that if I came across him I would treat him to both in Rawlins. Lo and behold about 3 h later I saw a rider in the distance and it was Prentiss! I asked him how he was doing and he confessed that he was very low in spirits. He cheered up when I told him my plans on his behalf for Rawlins. We rode together for a while and then I stopped for some food while he headed on. I caught up to him again and we rode the rest of the way together.
The ride was very hard. Not only was it hot, but we had this energy sapping head wind for extended periods. It was a case of putting our heads down and pressing on just turning the pedals and hoping things would get better. The heat also radiated off the road and my thermometer read 38 C at one point. Felt hotter.
It was great having a riding companion for a while and we spurred each other on. Eventually we made it to the paved road which took us 90 degrees to the wind. A side wind is much better than a head wind—even when it does occasionally push us across the road! We celebrated with the photos below.
We headed towards Rawlins and eventually turned onto the main road for the final run. We were well and truly dehydrated—Elena and Marco told me later they went off the route and found some water before continuing to Rawlins—but pushed on. I recalled I had an emergency bottle which helped, but it was really touch and go. Prentiss was worse than I was and was feeling quite faint. I held back so that I wasn’t too far ahead in case he had a problem. We were overjoyed to reach the high point where we got some mandatory photos and then it was downhill to Rawlins.
Our first stop was a petrol station where we got some drinks. Then we stopped at a hotel and got 2 x rooms. Then to Pizza Hut for calories. After a good (well, good for Pizza Hut) meal, I left and met Elena and Marco who had just arrived. They had also found it a tough day. I went to the grocery store and got some more food before heading back to the hotel for a hot bath and a good night’s sleep.
The next morning I was happy to think that it would be my last day in Wyoming. After a hearty breakfast it was on the road to, just for a change, a headwind! The Great Basin and the Rawlins-Colorado sections are really tough and have broken their fair share of racers in the past. I slogged my way south and found that the road was a construction zone. As a road engineer I found this quite interesting. Elena found it even better. She has broken her seat rail and as she cycled through she saw some welders. They were able to fix it! You can see the weld just to the right of the seat clamp.
Elena and Marco had left before me and I found them having a rest stop. It was really hard cycling with the headwind blowing sand into our faces. I was glad to have my face mask. I took this photo of Elena and Marco when they stopped to don their masks. They are putting on a brave front: it was really hard riding with grades and winds blowing us all over the road. Wyoming did not want to make things easy.
One nice part of the ride was ‘Aspen Alley’, a tree lined section of the route. But this was followed by a long descent and ascent which was tedious to say the least. At least we were rewarded with a paved road which gave us a nice downhill run into Colorado. I was so glad to have Wyoming behind me.
I was feeling 100% physically and mentally, with over half the race now over, with the hardest sections that cause most people to drop out, I had no doubt that I would finish the race. Little did I realize that in a few short hours I would get news that would lead to my leaving the race.