Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Tour Divide 2016 - Idaho and Wyoming

It was just after 6 am when I reached the top of the Red Rock Pass and crossed into Idaho. It felt like a huge milestone to move out of Montana which I had been in for the last 6 nights. A fast descent with some nice woodland trails towards the end led to breakfast at the Island Park gas station.

Dean rolled up as I was preparing to leave so we had a quick chat before I hit the rail trail heading down towards Warm River. This section gets a warning in the ACA maps that extremely soft volcanic soils can be hard work. They are tricky for the first section, especially as the ATV's that have used the old railway line have turned it into a series of roller-coaster bumps, but fat tyres make this manageable. After a while the track improves and leads to a lovely trail descending beside the beautiful Warm River.

A few road miles led me to the Squirrel Creek Ranch where I topped up with burger, chips and ice-cream while chatting to a couple of English guys who were riding north touring the route. It turned out that one of them had worked with a good friend of mine in Antarctica, so we exchanged some stories of adventures we had shared with Stuart.

Back on the road I caught up with Luke Bodewes as the road started to climb towards the Wyoming state line. It was good to chat to Luke for a while as he had a lot of experience - this was his third time on the route despite being only 17 years old! We passed into Wyoming without any fuss - two state lines in one day meant that this one didn't feel as special as the last one.

We carried on through the woods and I stopped to dig out some food while getting attacked by a swarm of ravenous mosquitoes who chased me for a good few miles afterwards.

Soon after this I rounded a corner to see a black bear strolling onto the track. The bear became aware of me riding towards it and quickly spun round and retreated back into the forest. I slowed right down and as I came to the point where the bear had been I saw it watching from among the trees. I snapped a quick photo before riding on - a fantastic encounter with this beautiful creature.

The trail led to Flagg Ranch where I bumped into a rider who was doing the Trans Am Bike Race which intersects the Tour Divide route here. We sat down together for dinner in the rather posh restaurant and swapped stories from our rides. After a visit to the shop to restock I got back on the road.

The route skirts the edge of the Grand Teton national park and I had a superb view of these mountains from as I cycled past.

Tetons from across Jackson Lake
As darkness fell I found myself at the base of the Togwotee pass and began climbing with tired legs. I found a meadow where I could get off the track and bedded down for the night. Thoughts of bears were in my mind after the earlier sighting, but none came to disturb me. Instead I was woken by a truck coming down the track at 2 am. The truck stopped and shone a bright spotlight at me. I was waiting for the door to open and someone to come and tell me to get off their land, but was relieved when the truck drove on. I didn't sleep well for the rest of the night as I suspected they might come back.

The next morning started with a huge climb, first off road and then on, to the top of the Togwotee pass which I reached after about 3 hours of riding. At the top of the climb I stopped to change my disc brake pads - the only time in the race that I needed to do this. Unfortunately my brakes didn't seem to want to work with the new pads - I couldn't decide if the altitude was causing the problem or something else - it seemed like there was air in the system. I ended up having to let some hydraulic fluid out of the system to get them working without dragging continuously.

I picked up a couple of muffins and a coffee at the Java Mountain Lodge campground (rather disappointed that they weren't serving proper breakfasts at the cafe) then set off into the Union Pass area. This was probably the most frustrating section of the whole ride for me. Every summit seemed to be a false summit, there were no real views to get a perspective on where you were going and the track always seemed to be loose, slow and difficult to ride. After following this track for several hours I was really fed up, and was delighted when it finally dropped down to the Green River. I encountered a fierce headwind here which blew dust devils up from the dirt road. Reaching a paved road was a big relief even if there was still a headwind.

By the time I reached Pinedale I was both mentally and physically exhausted, so I checked into a motel and went out to search for food which I found, along with nice beer at the Wind River Brewery.

Next morning I felt a little daunted knowing that the Great Divide Basin lay ahead. I stashed an extra water bottle on the bike and loaded up with plenty of snacks then headed off towards Atlantic City. The first section had a fantastic tailwind and I flew along enjoying the views and the wildlife - vultures and pronghorns.

Atlantic City Mercantile is pretty much the only place to get food in this tiny former mining town. The interior is filled with antiques and has an old frontier town atmosphere. Dean was there when I arrived, just finishing off his burger. I also ate a burger and ice cream and ensured my water bottles were all full. Bailey Newbrey and Justin Chadwick arrived just before I set off, so I wished them well before heading off into the Great Divide Basin.

The vast emptiness of the Great Divide Basin.

The continental divide is a line following the ridges for most of its length, but in the Great Divide Basin it splits, and the rain that falls in the Basin does not flow to either the Atlantic or the Pacific, but flows into pools where it is absorbed or evaporated. It was mid-afternoon by the time I left Atlantic City, so the desert heat was starting to reduce a little.

Most of the way across the Basin I had tailwinds which made it much easier to deal with. I think I only saw one vehicle in crossing the Basin, but I saw plenty of wildlife - pronghorn and mustangs being the most interesting of these. I also passed Dean who was taking it steadily on his singlespeed and Jose who had punctured.

As night fell I was treated to a fantastic desert sunset with the Wind River Mountains which I had passed in the morning just still visible on the horizon.

Desert sunset.
I rode on into the darkness eventually reaching signs of human activity as I approached the hydraulic fracking town of Wamsutter. Then I saw a bright white light approaching me in the distance. As it became nearer I realised it was another bike rider. It turned out to be the first northbound racer. We both stopped and said hi - he told me that he had just seen Pavel who was only a few miles ahead of me.

Soon after that I arrived at the 24 hour service station on the I80 interstate at Wamsutter. The Subway was still serving food, so I ordered a footlong sub and also grabbed some more snacks and a coffee before topping up my water and getting back on the trail.

I wasn't really sure how long to keep going, but I didn't feel too tired, so I carried on until about 2 am when I lay down beside a fracking depot for about 3 hours of sleep.

The next section was very dry and had no shade, so even though it was early morning it started to get hot very quickly. I disturbed a sunbathing snake on the trail which quickly slithered away into the undergrowth.

Not sure what kind of snake this is. Prairie Rattlesnake maybe?

After a long, gradual climb and some short, steep annoying climbs I rolled into Savery where I was surprised and happy to find that the Little Snake River Museum had laid on an honesty shop for riders. I ate some snacks and filled up on water while enjoying a few minutes out of the sun before continuing up the road to the Colorado state line.

Next section - Colorado

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