Saturday, 30 July 2011

Day 58: Long night, short day

Day 58
Twin Bridges to Dillon 28miles

Didnt have a great night last night. Leo and Sandy turned up later in the day, and we went for dinner and then back to the campsite.

They decided to put their sleeping bags on the floor of the hut, whilst I had my tent pitched outside. However, I didnt feel that safe. The park was always quite busy, with people stopping to use the nearby restrooms. It was also quite well lit, so was finding it hard to get to sleep. Sadly, my fears were realised when some people from started throwing stones at my tent. It stopped after a while, but I was worried something else might happen so couldnt sleep. A bit later I heard some people outside somewhere, and when I looked out they ran off. Think they were only young, but it was enough to convince me to move my stuff inside and sleep there. But still found it difficult to get off as every little sound had me on edge.

It's a shame, as it was my real negative experience with any locals. Its also made me a bit wary of camping in city parks again. Proper campsites seem a bit more secure, and usually more private so they are fine.

Anyway, in the morning we packed up. Leo and Sandy went for breakfast but I decided to head straight to Dillon. Was glad I was only a planning a short day, as I was feeling very tired. The ride to Dillon, about 28miles, was uneventful. I was actually heading south-west today, as I head over to main road which takes me up to Missoula. It was mainly a gentle uphill today, but it only took about 2hrs and I was in Dillon by 10:30. Found a motel which was cheap and would let me check in at 11:00, so went for some breakfast. Decided to get a huge breakfast as then I wouldnt need to eat again till dinner. As you can see, it was pretty big!

The rest of the day was spent relaxing really. Planning a very early night to catch up on sleep, and then set out in the morning. Got a couple of climbs, and then I'll see how I feel afterwards.

Hopefully last night was an isolated incident. Overwhelmingly, the people I have met have been great. So Im not going to let a couple of idiots spoil it for me.

Friday, 29 July 2011

Day 57: Cycling 8 miles in the other direction

Day 57
Ennis to Twin Bridges 44miles (plus about 8 of backtracking)

Sandy, Leo and I packed up and went for some breakfast before setting out. I think we were all aware that the first part of the day would be quite tough. After breakfast I wished them well and set off on the climb. As I am a bit younger and a bit faster than them I went off ahead. Although it's very possible we will see each other again. They also plan to finish around the end of August, like me. It's taken them longer to get this far, whereas I will be slowing down now so our daily mileages will be quite similar. Mine probably just wont take as long!

Soon after leaving Ennis, the climbing began. And it was probably one of the steepest I have had to do in the West. And it was pretty unrelenting. There were no flat sections to break up the incline. Most of the way up I was in my lowest 2nd or 3rd gears, and on some of the really steep bits I even had to use first gear! It was about 10-11miles of upwardness (dont think that's a real word) before I finally reached the summit. I didnt have to stop and push my bike at all, but it was tiring. And the view back down the hill into the valley was impressive, if a little hazy in the early morning sun.
I started off all the way down there!
Once I reached the top, I shot down the other side although a headwind (is there any other kind of wind!) did slow me up a little. Went through a couple of small towns, and then stopped in Adler for a drink and a snack. All seemed well, so I set off again. At this point I still had around 50miles to Dillon, my planned destination.

About 4miles up the road, a guy on a quad bike pulled alongside me and asked if I had stopped at the Post Office in Adler. I said I hadn't, but I had been in the store. He then told me I had left my wallet behind! I checked in my bar bag and sure enough my wallet, and my phone, were not there!

The guy didnt actually have my things, so I had to stop and turn around and do the 4miles back to Adler. I think I must have put my things somewhere on my bike whilst I sorted my drinks out, and then when I rode off they must have fallen on the floor.

Anyway, eventually got back to Adler and went to the PO. The woman asked me to take my sunglasses off so she could ID me using my driving license! Maybe they get a lot of stupid english cyclists leaving their stuff around in these parts! I was extremely thankful to whoever handed them in. But it did mean I still had to do another 4miles just to get back to where I was before I had turned around. Dillon was beginning to look a bit further away...

Once I got going in the right direction, with all my possessions, I came across a couple of cyclists headed down to Texas. They were very nice, and were obviously videoing each person they met. So I did a quick speech about who I was, where I was going and they also wanted a tip or suggestion! Its amazing how hard it is to think of one when put on the spot. In the end I came up with one about getting out early in Kansas and Wyoming to avoid the winds.

They told me about the bike camp place in Twin Bridges (about 26miles before Dillon), and it was starting to sound like a good place to stop.

About a mile up the road I made it to the town of Sheridan, where I met an eastbound TransAm-er. He was also very enthusiastic about Twin Bridges. By now it was well gone midday, I would have had to ride around 80miles in total to get to Dillon and I was feeling a bit tired from the earlier climb. So I decided to stop at Twin Bridges. Which was an excellent choice! The local community had turned a small part of the local park into the 'Twin Bridges Bike Camp'. Its a fantastic little facility. It has a shower, a toilet, an indoor area to get out of the sun, electrical sockets and even a little raised bike stand in case you need to do any repairs. If it had a hot tub, I might never leave!

No need for the fly sheet again today

There is also a selection of books. Im almost finished my current one, so will probably so a swap today or tomorrow.

Its good to see local communities realising the benefits that attracting cyclists can have. Twin Bridges has a population of around 400. They will probably get almost that many cyclists through each year. So we can be a big boost to the local economy. In the hut at the camp, there is even a small form asking about peoples trip, length of stay in Twin Bridges and how much $$ we spend in the town. Over the course of a year, that money will add up. And a good facility means people will be much more likely to stay here, than say 10miles up the road in Sheridan.

Decided to take a short day tomorrow and just do the 26miles to Dillon. By the time I get to Missoula, it will be around 10-11days without a break. So a quick ride tomorrow will be good for the legs. It also takes me to the bottom of a couple of climbs, after which it is flat or downhill all the way to Missoula. I want to get to Missoula during the week so I can go see the Adventure Cycling HQ (and get free ice cream). But even with a short day tomorrow, I should still get there tuesday or wednesday, so thats fine.

As I was pitching my tent, a woman came up and asked me what 'bike camp' was. After giving the slightly sarcastic, but in a jokey way, answer of “a camp for bikes”, I explained what I was doing and about how the locals had set up this facility. Turns out she was interested in doing some sort of bike tour herself, so I gave her a few tips and also the address of my blog as well as details about Adventure Cycling and their different routes.

Had a shower and then wandered into town. Spending a bit of time in the library to get out the heat at the moment. I do seem to have bought the sun with me. Ive noticed not so many places around here have proper air conditioning, presumably because it doesnt usually get so hot. Except when I'm biking through, and I bring a heat wave with me! Tomorrow I'll probably spend a bit of time in town, before heading off for the short ride to Dillon. It will be nice to not have to rush at all tomorrow.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Day 56: 3,000 miles and still going

Day 56
West Yellowstone to Ennis 71miles

Had a bit of a lie in today, so set off on the road about 9am. Its definitely a bit cooler in this part of the country and that, coupled with what looked like a mainly downhill ride today, meant I didnt feel the need to get out super early.

After leaving the tackiness of West Yellowstone, I soon entered a much nicer area. The first part of my day took me passed Hebgen Lake. This was a particularly pretty place, with a big lake surrounded on the far side by mountains. Certainly made for some nice scenery.

And after about 15miles, I hit the 3k mark. Certainly the most scenic surroundings of the 3 1,000mile milestones I have hit so far. It took me 21 days to do my first 1,000miles, 18 to do the second and this last one has come up in 17 days. The next 1,000miles might take a little longer, simply because I can afford to slow up a bit as I reach the finish. Currently around 6.5 days ahead of schedule so can afford to take it a little easy on the run in.

The ride round the lake was great, and then I started on a long, gradual downhill. After a while I caught up with Leo and Sandy, the couple I had seen yesterday. I was a bit faster than them, so after a bit of a chat I left them. We had discussed the idea of splitting a motel room tonight, and I would likely be the first one to our destination, it would be up to me to find one!

The rest of the ride went by without any real events. I stopped at the tiny town of Cameron (no sign of David) to post some postcards, and then shortly after arrived in the town of Ennis (no sign of Jessica), which was my stop for the night. Managed to find a nice room which had two beds in separate rooms within the same unit. So took that and waited for Leo and Sandy.

Spent the afternoon relaxing, cleaning my bike and doing some laundry. Today I cut up one of my t-shirts to use as fresh rags for cleaning my bike. My bike was pretty filthy after coming through the parks – they were quite dusty environments. Tomorrow begins with what looks like a pretty horrible 2,000ft climb, so I figure any weight I can shed is a good thing! It does now only leave me with one t-shirt for wearing out in the evenings, so I might buy another one at some point soon!

But overall it was a pretty easy days riding. Im slowly coming down out of the really high mountains. I think my elevation in Ennis is the first time I've got anywhere near being down around 1mile above sea level since somewhere in the middle of Colorado. And passing 3,000miles was really nice. It's starting to feel like I'm slowly making towards the finish, although there is still around 1,300miles left!

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Day 55: Wobbling my way into Montana

Day 55
Grant Village, WY to West Yellowstone, MT

Last night, I had a bit of a problem.

At some pint during the day, I had noticed that my back wheel had developed a fault. One of the spoke nipples had actually pulled through the rim a bit, cracking it. As you can see from this slightly blurry photo.

I had hoped to get to West Yellowstone, where there were a couple of bike shops listed and get a replacement.

A bit later last night (after I had written yesterday's blog entry) a tourer called Kevin turned up. Originally from Wisconsin, he now lived in Alaska. I showed him my problem, and as it turned out Kevin was a useful guy to have around. He has done the TransAm, the Northern Tier (a coast to coast ride which stays close to the Canadian border) and another cross country route he devised himself. At the moment he's just doing a bit more touring. He had an in depth knowledge of the bike shops in the West Yellowstone area, as well as in Jackson, which is south of Grand Teton NP. I also noticed I had lost a spoke, but as I tried to true my wheel, it just got worse. The usual procedure is to tighten the spokes around the area where the wheel is a bit out of shape. But this didnt work today. I imagine because the whole structural integrity of the rim was compromised. Basically, I ended up with one very wobbly wheel, and a couple of other nipples were also splitting the rim. It was so out of shape that I had to ditch my rear mudguard, as the tyre was rubbing against it.

This was all happening as it was getting dark, so me and Kevin were there with our torches trying to fix it!

Eventually hit my tent, but I had a lot on my mind so found it hard to sleep. In the end, I decided to try and nurse my wheel through to West Yellowstone. If I could get a replacement there then great, if not I would order one from Jackson and have to wait a day or two for it to arrive. As I would be around 6days ahead of schedule if I managed to reached West Yellowstone, this wasnt too much of a problem.

So this morning I set off early. Partly to get my bike fixed ASAP but also to beat the traffic. Its absolute peak season in the park right now, so trying to avoid the mass of cars, pick up trucks and RVs is a sensible approach.

After thanking Kevin for his help, I rolled out the campsite about 7am, back wheel wobbling away beneath me! The first part of the day involved two steep, but not too long, climbs, with a descent in between. I didnt want to go too fast down the hills as I didnt want my wheel breaking, and I also had to disengage the back breaks too stop them rubbing the rim! Each of the climbs also took me across the Continental Divide (I've given up counting completely now!) and then after that it was mainly downhill or flat.

Today's ride also took me past the area of Yellowstone where most of the geysers are situated, included probably the most famous, Old Faithful. This area is one of the most crowded of the entire park, although thankfully early in the morning it wasnt too bad. Im glad I have been to Yellowstone before, so I didnt feel the need to stop and wait for Old Faithful to erupt. I took a few photos of the general geyser area, but I was a bit more concerned about my wheel!

The last part of my ride took me through some lovely meadows alongside, first, the Firehole river, and then the Madison river. I was nearing the west exit to the park, and the traffic coming the other way was very heavy. Thankfully there were less people leaving the park, so I didnt have too much traffic trying to overtake me. By now I'd stopped worrying so much about whether my wheel would hold out, and was enjoying the ride.

About 2 miles before leaving Yellowstone, I passed a small but important road sign. I was now entering Montana, state number eight of ten. The sign was pretty simple, but I assume this was because it was inside the park boundary, and thus regulated by the NP service. All the road signs in the park are like this one. Simple wooden signs, with white writing. After passing through the park entrance, it hit me how nice it was to have things so simple. I immediately entered the town of West Yellowstone, and its a bit of an eyesore to be honest. Massive billboards everywhere, loads of tourist shops, rows of motels and RV parks. I guess you cant blame the locals, but a bit of refinement wouldnt have gone amiss.
7 done and dusted

A slightly more flashy sign in West Yellowstone

Went to the first bike shop, and the guy wasnt that helpful. The only rear 700c rim he had was for a fixed gear bike. So not much use to me. Thankfully the second one had a nice shiny new rim for me. Their mechanic was out for lunch, so I went to find somewhere to stay. The town was very busy, with most places having no vacancies. I had earlier met an eastbound TransAm-er called Tom, who had found one motel which had vacancies, so I booked a room there. The town seemed to be full of tourers. First I met an older couple from Pennsylvania who were doing the TransAm east to west like me. Although they had started around 3 weeks before me! They were planning on getting about 20miles down the road, but tomorrow we were both planning on getting to the same town, Ennis. So might well see them there. Also met another younger couple, doing a tour to Oregon although they were devising their own route.
Not quite the same as the real thing!

So once my wheel was fixed, I could relax and update my blog! Also at the end of the next section of maps, so be good to plan where I'm going to be stopping for the next week or so.

But overall I really enjoyed my time in the National Parks. Such amazing views. I definitely think that going west means you get the two parks, the rockies and the pacific coast as a reward. If you go east, you get most of the good stuff out the way early!  

Day 54: Parklife

Day 54

Colter Bay to Grant Village, Yellowstone NP 39miles

Bit of a thunder storm at some point last night. Nothing too major, but it did mean my fly sheet was a bit wet when it came to packing up my tent. Chatted to John and Ann-Marie, who were also packing up their kit. And we then set off together from the campsite, although not for long as they were heading further south into the Tetons, whilst I was heading north into Yellowstone. We wished each other well, and then I was on my way.

I really didnt want to rush through this section of the route. If I'd really wanted to, I could probably have got right through Yellowstone and into Montana today. But I wanted to be able to spend some time in the park, knowing how amazing it is.

The ride out of Grand Teton was nice (bar the odd bit of rubbish road surface) and the mountains looked great in the early sun.

Getting to Yellowstone did involve a fair bit of climbing, I had 2 steep climbs today. One to take me out of the Grand Teton, and then another taking me into Yellowstone. The pass you have to buy to get into Grand Teton is also valid for Yellowstone, so when I got to the park entrance I rode straight to the front of the long queue of vehichles, and flashed my pass. Then carried on uphill. I remembered this road from when I was here last year. It runs next to the Lewis river canyon, which gives some pretty spectacular views of the river below. Definitely easier by car though!

I was a bit worried when I entered the park, as a noticeboard said that Grant Village campground was full. Which was where I was planning on staying. I was hopeful they would be able to squeeze me in somewhere though.

Crossed the Continental Divide yet again (think Im back on the Atlantic side now, but I'm losing track!) and then got to Grant Village. Thankfully they also had a special hiker/biker section, and apparently will never turn hikers or bikers away. So for $6 I had a spot to stay for the night.

I'd got to the campsite pretty early, as I wanted to be able to enjoy the park. Including the wildlife. As I was unpacking my kit onto a picnic table by my site, I turned round and saw a couple of elk, no more than 15ft away, just watching me. Luckily my camera was on the table, so I was able to get a good shot of them as they strolled on. They didnt seem even slightly bothered by my presence – probably used to it.
David Attenborough has nothing on me

After pitching my tent and getting some lunch, I was after something to do. The only real problem with Yellowstone is that it's too big to explore by bike. The main roads follow a sort of figure of 8 pattern through the park, but it can be 30miles between each hub with little or no services in between. So I decided to stick close by, and go visit the West Thumb geyser basin. Even this was about 3-4miles from my campsite!

The basin was quite impressive. Lots of bubbling pools of bright coloured water, with great views out over Lake Yellowstone. I did see a wolf at one point, but he wasnt quite so keen to stand still and be photographed.

Just missed him

I also did a couple of small hikes, one which too you up a hill to get a great view of the lake, and the other took me to another, smaller lake nearby.

On the ride back to the campsite I saw a sight I recognised – lots of cars parked by the road. It meant one thing – some animals had been spotted! It turned out to be some elk. They were quite far away, and I didnt have the heart to tell people I had a much closer encounter earlier! Sadly havent seen any bison. I remember from last year they tended to be in the north and east parts of the park, where it's more large open plains. The area I'm in is much more forest like.

I was getting a bit concerned that I hadnt had too much rest. Even the showers (coin operated!) were a 10min walk from my tent, and then I also had to head back out on my bike in the evening to get some dinner. Hopefully wont be too tired tomorrow.
Blending in with my surroundings!

But its been a fantastic couple of days in this part of the world. Fantastic scenery and some lovely riding. Tomorrow I should get through the rest of the route within the park, and then out and into Montana. After a bit of early climbing, looks like it will be quite downhill or flat tomorrow which is good!

Day 53: A Grand day out in the Tetons

Day 53
Dubois to Colter Bay, Grand Teton NP

Decided to allow myself the luxury of a lie in today. Although last night I did dream about bikes. Somehow in my dream, my chain had managed to tie itself in a knot. Hope this doesnt happen in real life – they didnt cover that on the bike maintenance course I went on!

After some breakfast I set off about 9am. Today was going to be one of those days of two halfs – climbing in the morning, descending in the afternoon. My aim today was to get over the Togwotee pass, and into Grand Teton National Park.

The climbing was generally fine, not too steep and able to keep a reasonable pace going. Most of the day I was riding in the presence of one particularly striking peak. Trouble is, everytime stopped to take a picture, I got eaten alive by bugs. When your'e moving they dont attack, but as soon as you slow down its like an all you can eat buffet for them!

By about midday I was nearing the top of the pass. At over 9,600ft, the Togwotee pass is the second highest mountain pass of the entire trip. Unfortunately there wasnt a sign to greet me at the top. A large part of the road is undergoing construction work, so I guess they removed the sign to stop it getting damaged. There was, however, still some snow clinging to the mountain top as I started the descent. Crossing the Togwotee pass also meant another crossing of the Continental Divide – Im back on the Pacific side for a little while!

Togwotee pass: No sign, but a bit snow!

On the way down I stopped for a quick drink at a hotel/restaurant and met my first mountain bike tourers. There is an Adventure Cycling Association route which follows the Continental Divide from north to south, and involves a lot of off road riding, so you need a mountain bike. This brother and sister couple from New York were going south on the route. Since a lot of it is off road, they have to take a lot of their own food. And judging by the bandages they were sporting, it looks a lot more dangerous too!

When I got back on the road, I had a lovely downhill section ahead of me. But then I had to stop rather suddenly.

For the first time on my trip, I had to get a lift in a car (well, a pick up truck). This wasnt due to illness, injury or mechanical problems. It wasnt even because I just couldnt be bothered to cycle. No, it was because of insurance liability! The company carrying out the road works doesnt have insurance cover incase one of their vehicles hits a cyclist. So even if they just scratched my paintwork, the legal costs (this being America) alone would probably mean I ended up owning the company! So they insist on cyclists being driven through one stretch of the roadworks. Annoyingly, as this was a downhill section, I actually reckon I would have been quicker on my bike. The car drove at about 20mph the entire way.

People who complete the TransAm, staying on at least 90% of the official route and not not getting any motorised support can apply to be placed on the TransAm register. The ACA know about this particularly issue, so I think it is exempt. I bet that people going east pretend to be disappointed they have to get a lift, but secretly are glad to be driven up 4miles of 6% climb!

Anyway, once I was back in the saddle I soon made it into Grand Teton NP. The Teton mountains are spectacular. They seem to shoot straight out the ground without warning. They really do make for a stunning backdrop for a bike ride.
My first view of the Tetons

Down at ground level for a better view

Good work Mother Nature!

Eventually arrived at Colter Bay campsite, and had to pay the huge sum of $7 to camp (what a bargain!). They have a special hikers/bikers camp area, so I can mingle with similar people!

Ended up in the spot next to John and Ann-Marie. They were also doing the Great Divide trail, but a smaller part of it. Had a very nice chat, and they shared some beer with me. They also mentioned there was a path to the lake, which I went and explored. My god the view was amazing. Went for a swim and then went for a shower and dinner. Had a fantastic bowl of pasta – just what my body is craving.

We all agreed that the lake would make a fantastic sunset photo opportunity, so we plan to head down there later. I took the liberty of buying a bag of ice and a 6 pack of beer, so we can all toast it together!
Jackson Lake - my own private swimming pool

Spent too long drinking, so I just missed the sunset!

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Day 52: Taking the p***

Day 52
Lander to Dubois 76miles

Another early start. Im actually hoping that once I get over the Togwotee pass (which should be tomorrow), the weather will be cooler so I can start out later. A quick check of the forecast does seem to show that might be the case. Predicted high in Dubois, where I finished today is 32c, compared with only 24c in Grand Teton national park, where I hope to be in a days time.

Setting off so early, it was actually quite chilly until the sun got up a little. But this morning the weather wasnt my main problem. The big problem was my 'plumbing'! After about 7miles or so, just after entering Wind River Indian Reservation, I had to stop for a leak. I didnt think anything of it. Until another 7-8miles later I had to stop again. And then again another 8 miles down the road.

For those who dont know me as well, I have spent most of my working life in the field of medical research. I like what I do, and feel I am helping to make a difference. When I was an author on a paper published in the most prestigious medical journal in the world, where we showed the results of the first ever large trial for patients with a particularly nasty type of cancer1 I was very proud. The downside to this type of work though is that you always find out about lots of horrible conditions and ailments, so my brain immediately went into panic mode and I thought “Oh crap, my poor American diet has caused me to develop diabetes!” (excessive urine production is a symptom of new onset diabetes). Anyway, I soldiered on and got to the small town of Crowheart (birthday place of Lost's Matthew Fox apparently), which was about 45miles into my day. By this point, I had stopped no less than 6 times to relieve myself! Thankfully, I dont think I have diabetes. I think it was just my body having to work overtime. I went a bit crazy drinking milk last night – ended up drinking about 4pints over the course of the evening. I cant even blame it on alcohol, as I didnt have any last night!

But on the plus side, I got through 45miles of mainly uphill riding without thinking too much about the effort I was putting in, and all the constant stopping allowed me to take some nice pictures!

And it was a very scenic ride today. The road I was on was surrounded on both sides by high, steep hills for much of the day. And then towards the end of the day, I was riding along next to the Wind River (I cant for one moment how it came to get its name...) as it cut its way through the hills.
I think this was stop number 3

Crowheart Butte: The scene of a fight between 2 Indian Chiefs apparently

The Wind River

And again

Considering that I spent most of the day going uphill, it was actually very nice riding. I think it actually says a lot about how far I have progressed that I could do a 76mile ride, gain around 1,500ft in elevation and still fell pretty fresh at the end. The only reason I didnt go on is that there isnt much else on the road until it goes over the Togwotee pass, and the climb gets steeper near the top. But a very successful day, and a good example of making use of a rest day to ensure I was fresh to take on a reasonably challenging ride. Even the wind behaved itself more or less today. It started playing up when I had about 4miles to go, but by then I didnt really care.

Got to Dubois, and got chatting with some guys who were driving their classic cars around the country. I think this was my favourite.
Sweet ride...

...but I'm sure you'll all agree this one is better!

Probably head out for a beer later. Then the next few days are in Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks. Now I have been to both of these before, so I know just how stunning they will be. And Im very much looking forward to it. Blog updates will probably cease online for a couple of days, as they dont have things like internet in Yellowstone (at least they didnt last year), because the whole idea is to celebrate the wilderness for being wild. Im also planning some short days in the park, so I can spend a couple of days enjoying the scenery. I think of it as like a little reward for travelling almost 3,000miles. All being well, next time I resurface I'll be in Montana!

1) paper

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Day 51: Not much to report

Day 51
0 miles

Short and sweet entry today. Basically as I did very little on my rest day. Except rest!

Woke up reasonably early, and just sat by my tent for a while reading. After showering I went for a walk into town to try find a hairdresser. But for some reason, both the ones in town are closed on a saturday! I have noticed this is quite common in the States. Shops, particuarly service ones like barbers, work reduced hours or dont open at all on a saturday. Very different to the UK, where a business like that would expect saturday to be one of their busiest days as less people are at work. Guess I'll have to put up with a few more days of helmet hair!

Then came back to my tent and packed things up. Decided to upgrade to a room for tonight. It means I can get out of the sun for a bit in the afternoon (its pretty hot here) but also be packed up ready for the morning, as I want another early start. Got a long day in store tomorrow, mainly uphill, so it might be quite a tiring day in the saddle.

But I'm nicely rested up, and looking forward to getting into the Tetons and Yellowstone sometime this week.

Day 50: Setting a Land-er speed record

Day 50
Jeffrey City to Lander 58miles

A half century of days on the road. If I make it to 100 then something has gone seriously wrong, and I will also have missed my flight home!

And what better way to start my 50th day than a 5:20am alarm. Well actually, I can think of plenty of ways! I decided I wanted to try and get away as early as possible to avoid as much of the wind as I could. Seemed to have particular trouble packing my tent away (probably out of practice!) but eventually I was on the road at about 6.30am. Didnt bother with breakfast.

What I was hoping would be the good thing about today's ride was that overall it was quite downhill. Although for the first 19miles I gained a bit of elevation, but it was very gradual. Even this early in the morning, I could feel the wind was having an effect. It wasnt yet strong enough to slow me right down, but it was kind of limiting my speed. Today was also another very sparse day with regards to services. There was a rest stop (toilet to you and me) at 19miles, and that was about the extent of it really! Luckily by starting off early, I avoided the main heat of the day.

After doing the 19miles to Sweetwater Station and then a few more miles of gentle uphill, I was then on the crest of a fantastic downhill, and also some spectacular views. I've seen a few roads signs that have made me chuckle whilst out here, but one which says “6% grade for next 5miles” put a huge smile on my face! And as the landscape dropped away before me, the scenery was amazing.

I managed to set a couple of speed records whilst descending. Reached a new top speed of 45.5mph. Actually would have got higher, but I started braking as I wanted to stop and take a photo of the view. I also, according to my Garmin, covered a mile in 1min and 29seconds – an average speed of 40.1mph for that mile! I cant see my beating that one anytime soon. And because the road was a) very little motor traffic b) wide and good quality and c) not twisty I didnt feel unsafe at those speeds. Im just glad I didnt have to climb up it! It does seem like quite a few of the big climbs on the trip are easier when riding from east to west. We have to put up with the headwinds though.

After the descent, the winds got a bit stronger and did slow me down a bit. Thankfully today was a reasonably short day (58miles) so they didnt have so much time to get me. And because I was heading on a more northerly bearing today, for some of the time they were across and a bit against me, rather than full into my face.

I eventually made it to Lander in about 4hrs. I hadnt eaten yet, and I had only used a single bottle of water all morning. I must be getting better at this whole cycling thing!

I headed straight for the Holiday Lodge. For $10 I got a place to camp in a lovely secluded spot by the river, use of some hot showers, the hot tub, breakfast in the morning and they also had a coin-op laundry. Pretty good value I reckon!

I pitched my tent and then had my first shower since yesterday morning. Because the weather is so nice, I havent bothered with the fly sheet on my tent for the last couple of nights.
Perfect camping spot

Went and had some breakfast at a nearby restaurant, and then hit the hot tub. Or just plain 'tub'. It wasnt that hot, not cold but just kind of warmish. I also met my first ever Native American in the hot tub! She was in Lander to attend a Pow-Wow. Apparently she did a lot of traditional Native American dancing and there was a competition later in the day. She also seemed very excited to meet someone from London. She wanted to know if people in London wear hats like she saw in the Royal wedding all of the time. I think she was a bit disappointed when I said they were usually only for special occasions! 

Went in to town a bit later to get a couple of things from a bike shop (some lube for my chain and some lube for my, erm, undercarriage). Then spent the rest of the day doing a bit of reading, bit more hot tubbing and then went for a couple of beers and some food.

Decided to take tomorrow as a rest day. Put on some pretty good miles since the last one (even after doing zero miles tomorrow I'll still be over 250miles ahead of schedule), and the next couple of days riding are all uphill to take me over the Togwotee pass. So decided to give my legs a bit of a rest before that. Might try for a haircut tomorrow too!

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Day 49: High winds on the high plains

Day 49
Rawlings to Jeffrey City 68miles

So it's now 7 weeks on the road. A good deal over half way in terms of time, and also even more so in terms of distance. It feels like so long ago now that I was struggling up the steep slopes of Virginia!

For today, I wanted to have a bit of an easier day after yesterday's exertions. I also tried to get out reasonably early to try and avoid the worst of the wind.

Set out at about 8am in the end, and initially the riding was really good. There was a definite change in the scenery today. Quite desolate, like eastern Colorado, but with many more hills and mountains lining the route. It was also a very empty place. Even when heading through the long stretches of Kansas where there were no services, there were at least farm houses and other signs of life. Here there was absolutely nothing outside of the small towns I passed through. And even those barely had anyone in!

But there were certainly some nice views!

Its pretty isolated out here!

Within the first 35miles or so, I crossed the continental divide twice and then headed downhill to Muddy Gap. This was a possible destination if the wind was too horrible, but thankfully it was still behaving itself at this time.

However, once I got to about 50miles in, the wind got up and was even worse than yesterday. And just like yesterday, the last part of my ride was pretty much directly into the full force of it. There was one point on the route where, due to road works, traffic was only allowed in one direction at a time. I had to wait for a while till it was our turn to go, and took this photo to give some idea of how strong it was blowing. Not sure it really conveys it though!
Sadly I was headed the other way!

Those last 18miles or so were horrible. Mainly uphill, with the wind slowing me to a crawl. Each mile seemed to take forever, and the closer I slowly got to Jeffrey City, the slower I seemed to get. It was like I was always an hours riding away. When I was 10miles away, I could manage 10mph and when I got to 8miles away I had slowed to 8mph!

Eventually limped into town and headed straight for the Split Rock cafe. I had read this place was very friendly to cyclists. Which is good as there wasnt much else in town. Jeffrey City used to be a town of 5,000 people when there was a uranium mine. Now the mine is gone, and only about 50 people live here.

Kelly, the owner of the cafe, also lets cyclists camp outside her house. So after having a bit of rest I pitched my tent. And pretty much got eaten alive by mosquitoes! I seem to have so many bites at the moment.

With not much else to do, I went back to the cafe to hang out and grab some food. They also have wifi, so I can update my blog and send a few emails. Sadly tonight there is a memorial service for someone who lived locally, so the atmosphere is a bit sombre. I'm keeping out the way in the cafe part of the building.

Tomorrow I'm planning on setting off super early to try and avoid the worst of the wind. It was another tough old day in the wind today. It really does just sap your will to live very quickly! Hopefully in a few days I'll be out of the basin and then maybe the winds will stop!

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Day 48: Another state, another ton and a bad case of wind

Day 48
Walden, CO to Rawlings, WY 110miles

I'm racking up more centuries than Alistair Cook on an Ashes tour! Although today I fell 1 short of a Nelson. (Note: If you dont follow cricket, the previous sentence will mean very little to you!)

Set off at about 8 this morning. Sad bye to Tom, who was only planning on doing a shortish day today. Which is sensible for what would be only his 3rd full day on the road. I, on the other hand, had kind of thought about putting in a big day today and trying to make it Rawlings, and the end of the current set of maps. Overall, today would be a bit downhill, but not by a huge amount. But I thought I would try for it.

The first point of order for the day was to make the crossing into Wyoming. It was about 22miles from Walden to the state line and the early morning riding was pretty good so I got there nice and quick. Stopped for the obligatory shot of the sign, and also one of the scenery with the moon still high in the sky.
"Forever windy" would be more appropriate!

Then it was back on the bike. My plan was that if I made it to Saratoga by around lunchtime, I would then push on to Rawlings. There was nowhere in between to stay, and a distance of around 42miles between them, so if I committed to it, there was no going back!

I had read that the winds in this part of Wyoming can be pretty strong. And it didnt take me too long to experience them. On a road into the small town of Riverside (it was next to a river), it was right in my face and slowed me right down. The wind was coming from the west. Most of my day was spent heading north, so it was generally across me, but I could still feel ho strong it was. This didnt bode well for later...

Arrived in Saratoga at about 12:30ish, so after some lunch decided to try for Rawlings. Naively, I thought “well if I can keep at 15mph then I'll be there by 4 easily”. Didnt quite work out like that!

The first part wasnt too bad. The wind was across me, but not really slowing me down. I also came across Jeff, who was riding from Astoria to Peublo. I didnt find out exactly where he was from, but judging by his accent, if he wasnt from Texas I'll eat a cowboy hat! He was very helpful, and gave me a few good places that I can stay in the next few days. The 120miles or so after Rawlings are pretty barren, so I was grateful for the advice. For my part, I told him about Paul's place in HSS, and about Bill in Guffey. We had quite a long chat, and his parting words of “Enjoy Wyoming, they beat the hell out of me!” didnt fill me with confidence.

The last 22miles or so of the day bought a new experience - I'd be riding on an Interstate. Interstates are like motorways in the UK, and have many of the same restrictions regarding the type of vehicles that can and cant be used on them. However, some sections of some interstates do allow cyclists to ride on the hard shoulder. The stretch of I-80 I rode on wasnt actually that bad. It was only 2 lanes in each direction, so wasnt really any difference from a few other roads I'd cycled on already on this trip.

The big problem was the wind. This last section would take me pretty much due west. Directly into the face of the wind. I knew it would be bad, but it turned out to be even worse!

As soon as I got on to the road from the on-ramp, the wind just hit me. It was much, much stronger than anything I had experienced back in Kansas. It just slowed me right down. I quickly decided that if I could keep above 10mph I'd be doing well. I didnt do very well!

It was so strong, you almost had to laugh. Probably the funniest bit was when I was going down a hill and still only managing about 8mph! In fact, some of the uphill sections were actually easier to ride as the ridge I was climbing over acted a bit like a windbreak. But once I got to the top...

All in all, it took me almost 3hrs to do the last 22miles! The wind just never stopped. Apparently it's like this a lot in Wyoming!

But despite the wind, it was a very good day. Another ton-plus day is always good, and puts me nicely ahead of schedule. I might well do a shortish day tomorrow, and start a bit later. One of the good things (from my limited experience) about this area is that it doesnt seem to get the sudden, violent storms that I saw in Colorado. Last night, me and Tom went for some food. Walked back in lovely weather, and within 10minutes it was chucking it down, blowing a gale and a whole load of hail was coming down! Not being so closely surrounded by mountains here (I'm now in the area called the Great Divide Basin) obviously helps. So probably do some camping in the next few days.

I need to sit down later and look through the next set of maps and work out where I'm going to stay. Blog updates might be a bit sporadic for the next few days as there isnt a great deal of civilisation until I get to Lander. Also, my phone hasnt had reception for days so havent been able to call anyone!

But 6 states now done and dusted. Making some steady progress now.