Thursday, September 1, 2011

Fun in Jackson, frying on the plains of Wyoming.

In addition to this weeks photos, I have posted an album of photos from my phone which span the trip.  You can see the album HERE

8/28/11 Day 50: Jackson, WY to Dubois, WY: 87 miles

There is a theme beginning to develop on this trip. To little time, too many places. I left Jackson today hesitantly after 2 wonderful days off the bike. My time there was filled with friends and colleagues of years past, celebration, summer sun and lots of fantastic new people. If I was not on a time-line, I certainly would have stayed another day, perhaps 2. I might even have tried to find work and stayed for several months. I had a great time!

Not including Brad and Doug, with whom I was staying, I ran into no fewer than 5 former colleagues from Wilderness Ventures and/or NAL with whom I spent time and had good conversation. Eric D-F is now working at Great Harvest Bakery, and gets nearly as much free bread as he can handle every day he works. I definitely benefited from this, as well as a great party that he and his housemates put on during my last night there. I met so many cool people that night – it made me wonder why I was leaving.

On my second night in town (of 3), I went out with Zach, who is Brad & Doug's housemate, and some ladies who flew in from DC, one of whom is Zach's friend from college. We watched the last hour of a live Grateful Dead cover band (the Deadlocks) playing in the town square, and talked about climate change (all 3 of the ladies are environmental consultants in DC). Later on, Brad came out after work, and I also met Mandy, the volunteer coordinator for Habitat for Humanity in Jackson. Mandy and I got along very well, became quick friends, and I ended up volunteering at their job-site the next day. I spent most of that day hanging dry-wall in some low-income housing near a park. It was interesting to be on a construction site again after not having worked in construction for nearly 8 years. My skills were a bit rusty, but still useful. We wrapped up early due to some dark clouds and thunder that were moving in, and had a bar-b-que next to the park, where I tossed around a frisbee and ate a well-grilled veggie burger with some local micro-brew. An altogether great day.

Today, I got more than I bargained for. I knew that I would have to go over some mountains to go east, but I did not expect what I encountered. The first 30 miles of my day were heading back into Grand Teton NP, where I got some more great photos of the Tetons from different view points. I then turned east and headed toward Togwotee Pass, which I had been told was very beautiful. After another 10 miles, a gradual slope started, and I downshifted. A huge chunk of the hill had been stripped of pavement for repaving, and since it was Sunday, there was no one working. It was bumpy and rough, but the slope was quite manageable.

I figured that the pass would be somewhere between 7200 and 7700 feet, seeing as that is the height of the Yellowstone Plateau, and most of the passes are not much over 8000 feet. 7700 feet came and went, and I took a break at around 8400 feet to eat something and take some photos. While I was stopped, another cyclist came by with a detailed topographic map. It turns out, the section of highway I traveled today is on the American Cycling Association's “Transamerica” cross-country route. No wonder people seemed familiar with how to handle a cyclist on the road. The guy with the map, in his late 50s, told me that the pass was 9650 feet, and that the forecast was for severe thunderstorms. He was planning to camp at the next campground, 9 miles away. I had originally planned on going another 40 miles, and I had taken an extra day in Jackson, so I didn't want to wait out a storm which would put me behind schedule. Sure enough, the nice cloud cover that had been blocking the hot sun all day soon became dark, and rain fell for several hours. Meanwhile, I kept pedaling uphill. My rain jacket provided all the extra warmth I needed with such a continuous climb, but the skin on my legs, hands and feet were a bit numb from the cold rain. A couple miles from the summit, the pavement ended again, and I found myself pedaling up a river of mud. Thankfully, it was well packed, and everyone who passed me was very respectful. I got offered a ride again, which I declined.

I stopped a few hundred feet down the road from the summit to put on more layers for the downhill. My gloves were soaked, as were my shoes and shorts. Already, in just the few hundred feet of descent, my wet hands got cold in the wind. I threw rain-pants on over my wet shorts, put on a long sleeve shirt and my rain jacket back on top. Thankfully, the rain had petered out, and I didn't get anything else wet while digging through my bags for my warm clothing. The downhill was perhaps the nicest I have experienced yet. A gentle, continuous slope for at least 20 miles before the first little uphill. I got cold on the way down, but warmed up quickly pedaling back uphill. The rest of my ride into town was smooth and gently sloping downward. The scenery was relaxing – a lazy river meandering back and forth across the valley floor, dotted with log cabins and grazing cattle. Aspens shaking their fresh, green leaves in a gentle breeze. Snow-capped peaks in the distance. An excellent way to end a tough day.

Tonight, I am staying in the community room of the Episcopalian Church in Dubois. A young woman who called herself “Sprout” at the party last night, who has also done a cross-country tour by bicycle, clued me into the fact that they let people camp here, so I came and asked around, and a nice lady let me inside because she said they were expecting rain, and the sprinklers come on early. It is warm and dry and welcoming after a wet, cold day.

8/31/11 Day 53: Casper, WY to Ayer's Natural Bridge, WY: 51 miles

I am in the midst of having an experience of the type that I had hoped would happen more often on this trip. I asked Lou, the guy who I stayed with last night in Casper, about Ayer's Natural Bridge, and he recommended it highly. It is just a little blip on the map about 5 miles off of interstate 25, and I didn't know if it would be worth the effort. Lou did me a good one, because this place is a gem. Green lawns and big, beautiful old deciduous trees line the canyon bottom where the natural bridge straddles a big stream. The canyon has layered red-rock walls, reminiscent of those in Zion NP, and are quite a striking backdrop for the green trees and grass that fill the area. My plan was to stop here for an afternoon break, take a swim, a nap, and then move on, but I discovered that there is a free campground here upon my arrival. A quick loop around the place revealed several families having fun in the water and on the grass, a fisherman trying his luck in the stream, and the kind elderly care-takers being mighty friendly. These factors, in addition to the fact that my original destination for the night would have taken me 15 miles in the wrong direction (it was the only camping I could find on a map) made it an easy decision to stay for the night. This is the kind of thing I wish would happen more often – I'd meet a local who had a tip on the cool, out of the way places to visit, and I'd arrive to soak it in with time to spare. Thanks Lou!

For the last 3 days, I have been making my way across the flat lands of Wyoming. 3 days ago, I started my morning in Dubois at nearly 7000 feet, and it took most of a day to get down to 5000 ft. in Shoshoni, 95 miles away. The next day, I did 105 miles from Shoshoni to Casper. Wyoming is empty, and when the sun is shining, it's hot & dry. I couldn't seem to drink enough water to keep my mouth and throat from feeling dry, and it always caught up with me by the end of the day. The wind, which blows constantly, was thankfully with me, coming from the Southwest, but it ensured that whatever specks of moisture hung in the air were swept away promptly after the rain stopped falling. And rain it did, ever so slightly, almost every day. In this part of the country in the summer, the sky seems constantly filled with big, puffy white clouds which, in an instant, can decide to drop some moisture on the ground or not. Some other constants are sightings of Pronghorn scampering through the hills (they outnumber people in Wyoming), and wild sunflowers lining every roadside.

At one point a couple days ago I was feeling the heat of the sun quite intensely (I got pink yesterday, after 50 days of sun and a serious tan!), so I jumped into a reservoir which had a convenient recreation area right off the highway. The water was cold, and took my temperature down quickly. As I changed back into my bike shorts, my hair dried almost completely, and I got back on the road again. I followed a dirt road along an irrigation canal for a short while past some wild horses. As soon as I got back on a highway, there were dark clouds in front of me, reaching their smokey gray tentacles to the ground, as well as lightning striking in the distance. I rode on, and turned a corner onto the next road on my route, heading straight into the storm. The wind picked up, raindrops fell, and I put on my rain jacket to fend off what was now a cold, wet wind. Looking back at where I had just been, it was a beautiful, sun-lit valley with a lake and farms and fluffy white clouds all lit up in bright sun. Ten minutes later, the rain had stopped, and it got hot again. Craziness.

Three young ladies on touring bikes passed me going in the opposite direction just outside of Crowheart. We stopped and chatted for a while, took some photos, and wished each other luck on the way. They had started in Virginia, and were following an Adventure Cycling route into Oregon. You can see their blog HERE

I stopped at Hell's Half-Acre, a sight to see along the way. Actually 320 acres, there is evidence that this geologic sink was used by Native Americans to drive Buffalo into, and slaughter them when they broke limbs and/or couldn't find a way out. It was very much like looking into a miniature Bryce Canyon, with hoodoos and alternating red and white sediment layers. Lou told me that the movie “Starship Troopers” had been filmed there, and that the studio left a bunch of junk in the bottom of the formation, which people had then started climbing down to retrieve, so now they've fenced the whole thing off.

A dog chased me for about 100 feet, but I cranked on the pedals and outpaced it almost immediately.

Bunnies are eating the lawn in front of me.

Casper, where I spent last night, is a booming town despite the current state of the national economy. The energy industry here has provided more jobs than there are people to fill them. Wind farms, Coal plants, and large underground reservoirs of natural gas are the reasons for this. 2 of the 4 people who I met in Casper work in the energy industry, including Lou, at who's house I spent the night.

I met Lou through another couch-surfer, Monica, who was the only person of 4 who responded to my requests to stay in Casper. Monica was unable to host, but she invited me to an Ultimate Frisbee pick-up game, where I met Lou, and he graciously offered me a spare room for the night. Not enough people showed up for a real game, but we tossed discs around for an hour or so. Lou is an engineer working with oil-drilling companies throughout the mountain west. From him, I gained a very detailed and precise description of how directional drilling works, and he also offered me samples of two delicious beers and some home-made pasta sauce with prong-horn sausage. It was quite tasty.

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